Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eliot Cohen

Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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Why Woodward’s Portrayal Is So Devastating

Eliot Cohen’s must-read column looks at the way various figures — from President Karzai to Bibi to our generals — would regard the portrait of the White House painted in Bob Woodward’s book. The most compelling comes from a hypothetical general. A sample:

The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates — but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?

If the president felt he was getting bad advice, why didn’t he just stop his review until he got real options? Or fire the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Why does he write a six-page memo that reads more like a prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategy document?

… He says that if he continues with the war he can’t carry the Democratic Party with him. Has he tried? When was the last speech he gave on Afghanistan? Does he understand that leading soldiers, including generals, means not just being smart and picking an option as if he were ordering from a menu at a Chinese restaurant but also giving us some steel in the spine and fire in the belly when we begin to lose hope?

Other fictionalized reactions include Ahmadinejad and Bibi, who both must regard Obama as weak. It also, most poignantly, includes the father of a lance corporal. (“They’re sending my son where a bomb or a bullet may tear a limb or his life away. Do the people in the White House still believe in this ‘war of necessity’? And if not, can any of them look me in the eye?”)

Cohen captures the sense of bewilderment experienced by serious people (determined enemies, stressed allies, beleaguered generals, etc.) upon recognition (or confirmation) that our president is decidedly unserious.

Obama, in his public actions, has confounded supporters and infuriated critics. Why set a counterproductive deadline? Why beat up on our allies? Why telegraph that we want out of Afghanistan? He has confused supporters and opponents because they have given the president, to be blunt, too much credit. What Woodward has shown us, by pulling back the curtain, is a president who is exceedingly indifferent to facts, unmoved by professional advice, and driven almost entirely by concerns for managing his liberal base. In short, he behaves as if he is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Couple that with an excessive stubbornness, and you have an administration that refuses to adjust to reality. The settlement-freeze moratorium has driven Middle East talks into the ground? No, never mind. Keep at it. The generals and his cabinet insist the Afghanistan war troop deadline is helping our enemies? Whatever. Repeat it in a nationally televised speech. The same is true in domestic policy. The stimulus is a bust? Come up with a slogan instead. (“Recovery summer.”) The public hates ObamaCare? Assume the voters are dolts and tell them they’ll learn to love it.

It is ironic. The left painted George Bush as an inflexible and hyperpartisan. He was portrayed as an isolated know-nothing. In reality, he was none of these things. But Obama certainly is. And once you understand that, it becomes a whole lot easier to predict and understand what he’s up to.

Eliot Cohen’s must-read column looks at the way various figures — from President Karzai to Bibi to our generals — would regard the portrait of the White House painted in Bob Woodward’s book. The most compelling comes from a hypothetical general. A sample:

The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates — but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?

If the president felt he was getting bad advice, why didn’t he just stop his review until he got real options? Or fire the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Why does he write a six-page memo that reads more like a prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategy document?

… He says that if he continues with the war he can’t carry the Democratic Party with him. Has he tried? When was the last speech he gave on Afghanistan? Does he understand that leading soldiers, including generals, means not just being smart and picking an option as if he were ordering from a menu at a Chinese restaurant but also giving us some steel in the spine and fire in the belly when we begin to lose hope?

Other fictionalized reactions include Ahmadinejad and Bibi, who both must regard Obama as weak. It also, most poignantly, includes the father of a lance corporal. (“They’re sending my son where a bomb or a bullet may tear a limb or his life away. Do the people in the White House still believe in this ‘war of necessity’? And if not, can any of them look me in the eye?”)

Cohen captures the sense of bewilderment experienced by serious people (determined enemies, stressed allies, beleaguered generals, etc.) upon recognition (or confirmation) that our president is decidedly unserious.

Obama, in his public actions, has confounded supporters and infuriated critics. Why set a counterproductive deadline? Why beat up on our allies? Why telegraph that we want out of Afghanistan? He has confused supporters and opponents because they have given the president, to be blunt, too much credit. What Woodward has shown us, by pulling back the curtain, is a president who is exceedingly indifferent to facts, unmoved by professional advice, and driven almost entirely by concerns for managing his liberal base. In short, he behaves as if he is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Couple that with an excessive stubbornness, and you have an administration that refuses to adjust to reality. The settlement-freeze moratorium has driven Middle East talks into the ground? No, never mind. Keep at it. The generals and his cabinet insist the Afghanistan war troop deadline is helping our enemies? Whatever. Repeat it in a nationally televised speech. The same is true in domestic policy. The stimulus is a bust? Come up with a slogan instead. (“Recovery summer.”) The public hates ObamaCare? Assume the voters are dolts and tell them they’ll learn to love it.

It is ironic. The left painted George Bush as an inflexible and hyperpartisan. He was portrayed as an isolated know-nothing. In reality, he was none of these things. But Obama certainly is. And once you understand that, it becomes a whole lot easier to predict and understand what he’s up to.

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Obama’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Eliot Cohen writes: “The Obama administration has managed to convince most countries around the world that we are worth little as friends and even less as enemies.” Obama’s squeamishness about standing up to enemies and disdain for allies are apparent in virtually all the world’s hot spots, and this approach is a failure in each. As Cohen explains, U.S. equivocation on Gaza is a recipe for conflict and chaos:

When the U.S. accepted last week, albeit with some tut-tutting, the recent conclusion of the 189-nation nuclear nonproliferation review conference that singles out Israel but does not mention Iran, it was obvious that something is seriously amiss.

The folly here is to think that leaving the Israelis open to these kinds of diplomatic attacks will buy good will in a Middle East that gets its opinions from Al Jazeera and a venomous media that routinely prints outrageous lies and hate literature that echoes Nazi Germany. That part of the world, as Osama bin Laden once correctly observed, prefers a strong horse to a weak horse.

The still greater folly is to think that distancing ourselves from the Israelis will buy us leverage with them. When did the Israelis withdraw from Gaza? When they had a president in the White House upon whom they knew they could count. If, as is the case now, Israel is alone and desperate, is it more or less likely to conclude it has no choice but to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities?

But Israel is not the exception — it is only one example of Obama’s nonsensical approach to the world. Whether it is China or North Korea or Syria or Iran, Cohen reminds us:

There is no penalty for a foreign government crossing this U.S. president—unless you are the hapless prime minister of Israel visiting the White House, in which case, to paraphrase the deli bully in “Seinfeld,” “No dinner for you!”

The administration’s foreign policy, which appears to have sprung entirely from Obama’s textbook leftism (aversion to American power, contempt for Israel, revulsion at asserting American power and values, infatuation with multilateralism), is premised on the view that America is in decline and is so deeply flawed that it can only manage its descent, not reverse it. But in fact Obama’s policy is hastening that result. American power need not wane. What is needed is moral clarity, commitment to our allies, willingness to devote resources to our national security, and competent foreign-policy operatives. Obama has none of those. No wonder our enemies are on the march and our friends are exasperated.

Eliot Cohen writes: “The Obama administration has managed to convince most countries around the world that we are worth little as friends and even less as enemies.” Obama’s squeamishness about standing up to enemies and disdain for allies are apparent in virtually all the world’s hot spots, and this approach is a failure in each. As Cohen explains, U.S. equivocation on Gaza is a recipe for conflict and chaos:

When the U.S. accepted last week, albeit with some tut-tutting, the recent conclusion of the 189-nation nuclear nonproliferation review conference that singles out Israel but does not mention Iran, it was obvious that something is seriously amiss.

The folly here is to think that leaving the Israelis open to these kinds of diplomatic attacks will buy good will in a Middle East that gets its opinions from Al Jazeera and a venomous media that routinely prints outrageous lies and hate literature that echoes Nazi Germany. That part of the world, as Osama bin Laden once correctly observed, prefers a strong horse to a weak horse.

The still greater folly is to think that distancing ourselves from the Israelis will buy us leverage with them. When did the Israelis withdraw from Gaza? When they had a president in the White House upon whom they knew they could count. If, as is the case now, Israel is alone and desperate, is it more or less likely to conclude it has no choice but to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities?

But Israel is not the exception — it is only one example of Obama’s nonsensical approach to the world. Whether it is China or North Korea or Syria or Iran, Cohen reminds us:

There is no penalty for a foreign government crossing this U.S. president—unless you are the hapless prime minister of Israel visiting the White House, in which case, to paraphrase the deli bully in “Seinfeld,” “No dinner for you!”

The administration’s foreign policy, which appears to have sprung entirely from Obama’s textbook leftism (aversion to American power, contempt for Israel, revulsion at asserting American power and values, infatuation with multilateralism), is premised on the view that America is in decline and is so deeply flawed that it can only manage its descent, not reverse it. But in fact Obama’s policy is hastening that result. American power need not wane. What is needed is moral clarity, commitment to our allies, willingness to devote resources to our national security, and competent foreign-policy operatives. Obama has none of those. No wonder our enemies are on the march and our friends are exasperated.

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Words, Words, Words — Obama’s Foreign-Policy Obsession

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of “Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated “the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of “Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated “the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

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Defending Samantha Power, Again

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

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Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

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The Scheuer Charade

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

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Encouraging Despots

“Here comes the world’s newest superpower,” writes Cahal Milmo in the Independent yesterday. “China is set to make 2008 the year it asserts its status as a global colossus.” Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece in Newsweek, agrees, predicting that 2008 “is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage.”

As we start a new year, predictions invariably mention that Beijing is set to take over the world. China in the past merely enticed and puzzled the West. Now, it threatens to dominate us. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins already calls the country “the most important power in the world.” Zakaria does not go that far, but he notes that “China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.”

So here’s a question for us: Is it possible to solve any problem when a turbulent Communist state blocks all remedies? If we want to know why geopolitical disorders continue, we need look no further than Beijing. The Chinese have caused some of these maladies and contributed to almost all of the rest. Today, China proliferates nuclear weapons technology, supports murderous regimes, and is emerging as the core of a coalition of authoritarian states. The Beijing Consensus, touted throughout the developing world, is now the alternative to the West’s model of representative governance and free-market economics.

Washington’s approach has been to integrate the Chinese into the international community, to make their country “a responsible stakeholder.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly correct when she said, replying to Mike Huckabee’s charge that the Bush administration has an “arrogant bunker mentality,” that it was “ludicrous” to say we have a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” The problem is not that we are going it alone. On the contrary, the problem is that we seek the assistance of unrepentant despots in solving the world’s most urgent problems.

So here is a question to ponder as we think about the coming year: Is it really a good idea to give increasingly aggressive autocrats a commanding role in shaping the global order?

“Here comes the world’s newest superpower,” writes Cahal Milmo in the Independent yesterday. “China is set to make 2008 the year it asserts its status as a global colossus.” Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece in Newsweek, agrees, predicting that 2008 “is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage.”

As we start a new year, predictions invariably mention that Beijing is set to take over the world. China in the past merely enticed and puzzled the West. Now, it threatens to dominate us. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins already calls the country “the most important power in the world.” Zakaria does not go that far, but he notes that “China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.”

So here’s a question for us: Is it possible to solve any problem when a turbulent Communist state blocks all remedies? If we want to know why geopolitical disorders continue, we need look no further than Beijing. The Chinese have caused some of these maladies and contributed to almost all of the rest. Today, China proliferates nuclear weapons technology, supports murderous regimes, and is emerging as the core of a coalition of authoritarian states. The Beijing Consensus, touted throughout the developing world, is now the alternative to the West’s model of representative governance and free-market economics.

Washington’s approach has been to integrate the Chinese into the international community, to make their country “a responsible stakeholder.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly correct when she said, replying to Mike Huckabee’s charge that the Bush administration has an “arrogant bunker mentality,” that it was “ludicrous” to say we have a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” The problem is not that we are going it alone. On the contrary, the problem is that we seek the assistance of unrepentant despots in solving the world’s most urgent problems.

So here is a question to ponder as we think about the coming year: Is it really a good idea to give increasingly aggressive autocrats a commanding role in shaping the global order?

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Is David Remnick a Denier?

Does David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, tell us anything more about the “peculiar fantasies” entertained by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their new book, The Israel Lobby?

In a column in his own magazine, Remnick strenuously insists that the two men “are not anti-Semites or racists.” Rather, they are “serious scholars.” What is more, the strategic questions they raise are very much “worth debating.” And the pity is that, for their pains in raising them, they have been hit with “ugly attacks,” such as an op-ed by Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen under the headline “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”

All the same, concludes Remnick, after defending the duo from these charges coming from the likes of Cohen, Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument has been “badly undermined” by their depiction of Israel as a “singularly pernicious force in world affairs.” Although they “have not entirely forgotten their professional duties,” they come close to such dereliction, especially when they assert that “Israel and its lobbyists bear a great deal of blame for the loss of American direction, treasure, and even blood.”

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Does David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, tell us anything more about the “peculiar fantasies” entertained by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their new book, The Israel Lobby?

In a column in his own magazine, Remnick strenuously insists that the two men “are not anti-Semites or racists.” Rather, they are “serious scholars.” What is more, the strategic questions they raise are very much “worth debating.” And the pity is that, for their pains in raising them, they have been hit with “ugly attacks,” such as an op-ed by Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen under the headline “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”

All the same, concludes Remnick, after defending the duo from these charges coming from the likes of Cohen, Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument has been “badly undermined” by their depiction of Israel as a “singularly pernicious force in world affairs.” Although they “have not entirely forgotten their professional duties,” they come close to such dereliction, especially when they assert that “Israel and its lobbyists bear a great deal of blame for the loss of American direction, treasure, and even blood.”

But what has driven Mearsheimer and Walt to abandon scholarly rectitude? Remnick has an explanation: it is George W. Bush. Their book, “The Israel Lobby,” he confides, is a product of the moment:

The duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush administration, the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran—all of this has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby.

But Remnick’s explanation just raises another question. Why should these two “serious scholars” seize on the “Israel Lobby,” of all things, as the all-purpose source of this lamentable mess?

David Remnick is known as an astute observer and analyst. His striking refusal, in this instance, to call a thing by its proper name is nothing short of anti-Semitism denial.

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A Crisis in Generalship

In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

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In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

Yingling writes:

Despite engaging in numerous stability operations throughout the 1990′s, the armed forces did little to bolster their capabilities for civic reconstruction and security-force development. Procurement priorities during the 1990′s followed the cold-war model, with significant funding devoted to new fighter aircraft and artillery systems. The most commonly used tactical scenarios in both schools and training centers replicated high-intensity interstate conflict. At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. . . . Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. . . . After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. . . . After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. . . . The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.

Yingling goes on to suggest that the solution lies in more congressional oversight of the promotion and retention of generals. Senior officers who fail at their assignments could even be retired at a reduced rank.

Whether involving the barons of Capitol Hill more closely will resolve this crisis is, of course, debatable. But there is no disputing Yingling’s cri de coeur: “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

That has to change. And the most effective means of change is not more congressional micromanagement. It is a President who takes his responsibilities as commander-in-chief as seriously as Lincoln or FDR did. Although President Bush reportedly read Eliot Cohen’s book on the subject—Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime—he has not so far been nearly as vigorous as our most successful wartime leaders in holding military leaders accountable for their successes and failures. And, as Yingling notes, we’re paying the price in Iraq for that lack of oversight. Left to their own devices, generals often get it wrong.

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