Commentary Magazine


Topic: Executive

RE: No Executive Privilege Invoked

The Obama Justice Department has dropped all pretense of acting in a lawful, transparent mode with regard to the New Black Panther case. In a letter responding to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the department in essence asserts: we don’t have to give you anything we don’t want to. And for this proposition, they cite not a single statute, regulation, Office of Legal Counsel opinion, or court decision. That is because there is none that would support the continued stonewalling.

Joseph H. Hunt of the Federal Programs Branch asserts that the “Department has designated Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights General Thomas E. Perez as the only Department witness to testify on its behalf before the Commission.” On what basis are they withholding percipient witnesses — including the trial team attorneys? Hunt doesn’t say. They just don’t want to. And Perez joined the department after the New Black Panther case was dismissed, so he really knows very little about the circumstances at issue. Yes, that is why he is the designee.

Hunt also makes clear that Perez is going to refuse to answer questions “concerning internal deliberation or other confidential matters.” Citation? None. Rationale? None. They don’t want to, I suppose.

Hunt writes in conclusion (with my comments in brackets):

Finally, we do not believe that the Commission’s subpoenas and requests override the well-established confidentiality interests in these types of materials that are integral to the Department’s discharge of its law-enforcement responsibilities. Thus, as we do in responding to congressional committees conducting oversight, we have sought to provide information to accommodate the Commission’s needs to the fullest extent consistent with our need to protect the confidentiality of the work product of our attorneys. [This is nonsense, by the way, since there is no attorney-client privilege between the executive branch and Congress; the American people are the “clients.”] The President has not asserted executive privilege, nor do we believe the President is required to assert executive privilege [because? citation?] for the Department to take appropriate steps to protect the law-enforcement deliberative confidentiality interests [now he’s just making stuff up] in this context. For the same reasons, we do not believe it is appropriate to appoint a special counsel. [The reason is circular — because the department thinks it doesn’t have to, it won’t appoint a special counsel to enforce the commission’s subpoenas. Yeah, no conflict of interest there, right?]

This is abject lawlessness, Nixonian in contempt for legal process. The Obama-Holder Justice Department is convinced that the executive branch can declare itself immune from scrutiny. The commission might choose to challenge the Justice Department in court, or wait for Congress to flip control and let a Republican majority subpoena the records and testimony. In the meantime, the Obama administration remains the least-transparent administration in history.

The Obama Justice Department has dropped all pretense of acting in a lawful, transparent mode with regard to the New Black Panther case. In a letter responding to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the department in essence asserts: we don’t have to give you anything we don’t want to. And for this proposition, they cite not a single statute, regulation, Office of Legal Counsel opinion, or court decision. That is because there is none that would support the continued stonewalling.

Joseph H. Hunt of the Federal Programs Branch asserts that the “Department has designated Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights General Thomas E. Perez as the only Department witness to testify on its behalf before the Commission.” On what basis are they withholding percipient witnesses — including the trial team attorneys? Hunt doesn’t say. They just don’t want to. And Perez joined the department after the New Black Panther case was dismissed, so he really knows very little about the circumstances at issue. Yes, that is why he is the designee.

Hunt also makes clear that Perez is going to refuse to answer questions “concerning internal deliberation or other confidential matters.” Citation? None. Rationale? None. They don’t want to, I suppose.

Hunt writes in conclusion (with my comments in brackets):

Finally, we do not believe that the Commission’s subpoenas and requests override the well-established confidentiality interests in these types of materials that are integral to the Department’s discharge of its law-enforcement responsibilities. Thus, as we do in responding to congressional committees conducting oversight, we have sought to provide information to accommodate the Commission’s needs to the fullest extent consistent with our need to protect the confidentiality of the work product of our attorneys. [This is nonsense, by the way, since there is no attorney-client privilege between the executive branch and Congress; the American people are the “clients.”] The President has not asserted executive privilege, nor do we believe the President is required to assert executive privilege [because? citation?] for the Department to take appropriate steps to protect the law-enforcement deliberative confidentiality interests [now he’s just making stuff up] in this context. For the same reasons, we do not believe it is appropriate to appoint a special counsel. [The reason is circular — because the department thinks it doesn’t have to, it won’t appoint a special counsel to enforce the commission’s subpoenas. Yeah, no conflict of interest there, right?]

This is abject lawlessness, Nixonian in contempt for legal process. The Obama-Holder Justice Department is convinced that the executive branch can declare itself immune from scrutiny. The commission might choose to challenge the Justice Department in court, or wait for Congress to flip control and let a Republican majority subpoena the records and testimony. In the meantime, the Obama administration remains the least-transparent administration in history.

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No Executive Privilege Invoked by White House in Black Panther Case

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived — that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived — that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

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Too Busy to Enforce Sanctions

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered revealing remarks yesterday during the first meeting of the Iran sanctions conference committee.

Berman noted that there have been five UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment and end its nuclear-weapons-related programs; that Iran has continued its march toward nuclear weapons and may already have enough low-enriched uranium for a bomb; and that “it remains to be seen when and whether a [UN] resolution will emerge.”

Then he gave a description of enforcement by the U.S. of prior sanctions legislation, indicating that it has had no effect whatsoever:

And let me address one more critical issue. In the years since the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act was first passed in 1996, there has been only one instance in which the President determined that a sanctionable investment had taken place. That was in 1998, and the purpose of President Clinton’s determination was to waive the sanction. Since then, there has never been a determination of sanctionable activity, notwithstanding the fact that recent GAO and CRS reports – and, for a time, even the Department of Energy website – have cited at least two dozen investments in Iran’s energy sector of sanctionable levels.

Berman argues that the pending bill needs to require the President to investigate all reasonable reports of sanctionable activity, determine whether the reported activity is sanctionable, and, “if it is, to go ahead and either impose sanctions or, if he chooses, waive sanctions.” But Berman knows that the Obama administration opposes even that:

I know the Administration officials don’t want our bill to require the Executive Branch to investigate each report of sanctionable activity. They especially don’t want the bill to require them to make the determination as to whether or not to actually impose sanctions. They want to be authorized to impose sanctions, if they so choose, but they don’t want to be required to impose them. They cite a number of legitimate reasons for their position: workload concerns, constitutional concerns, and foreign policy concerns.

Workload concerns.

Perhaps the administration could free up some people now reviewing housing permits in Jerusalem to work on this.

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Conflict — What Conflict?

Some might find it off-putting that the “most ethical administration ever” (or is that the Congress?) would see its White House counsel Greg Craig representing the administration’s juiciest and most fortuitous target, Goldman Sachs. How can this happen? Politico reports:

“A former White House employee cannot appear before any unit of the Executive Office of the President on behalf of any client for 2 years—one year under federal law and another year under the pledge pursuant to the January 2009 ethics E0,” said a White House official.

The official also said that the White House had no contact with the SEC on the Goldman Sachs case. “The SEC by law is an independent agency that does not coordinate with the White House any part of their enforcement actions.”

Well how do we know there was no coordination? In fact, the entire Goldman strategy is that this was a political set-up from the very beginning:

An attempt to discredit the Securities and Exchange Commission by painting the case as tainted by politics because it was announced just as President Barack Obama was ramping up his push for financial regulatory reform, including a planned trip to New York on Thursday.

“The charges were brought in a manner calculated to achieve maximum impact at point of penetration,” a Goldman executive said.

Among the points Greg Palm, co-general counsel, plans to emphasize on the call is “how out of the ordinary the process was with the SEC,” the executive said. The SEC usually gives firms a chance to settle such charges before they are made public. Goldman executives say they had no such chance, and learned about the filing while watching CNBC.

So if the White House was meddling, or doing so with intermediaries, and this is central to Goldman’s defense, what is Craig doing litigating against the U.S. government?

Some might find it off-putting that the “most ethical administration ever” (or is that the Congress?) would see its White House counsel Greg Craig representing the administration’s juiciest and most fortuitous target, Goldman Sachs. How can this happen? Politico reports:

“A former White House employee cannot appear before any unit of the Executive Office of the President on behalf of any client for 2 years—one year under federal law and another year under the pledge pursuant to the January 2009 ethics E0,” said a White House official.

The official also said that the White House had no contact with the SEC on the Goldman Sachs case. “The SEC by law is an independent agency that does not coordinate with the White House any part of their enforcement actions.”

Well how do we know there was no coordination? In fact, the entire Goldman strategy is that this was a political set-up from the very beginning:

An attempt to discredit the Securities and Exchange Commission by painting the case as tainted by politics because it was announced just as President Barack Obama was ramping up his push for financial regulatory reform, including a planned trip to New York on Thursday.

“The charges were brought in a manner calculated to achieve maximum impact at point of penetration,” a Goldman executive said.

Among the points Greg Palm, co-general counsel, plans to emphasize on the call is “how out of the ordinary the process was with the SEC,” the executive said. The SEC usually gives firms a chance to settle such charges before they are made public. Goldman executives say they had no such chance, and learned about the filing while watching CNBC.

So if the White House was meddling, or doing so with intermediaries, and this is central to Goldman’s defense, what is Craig doing litigating against the U.S. government?

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CPAC: Past, Present, and Future

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

One former VP, a former (and current) presidential aspirant, and a future rock star came to the CPAC gathering today. Two of them aren’t running for president in 2012, and you can bet the other is.

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance and, in essence, passed the baton to the generation of his daughter Liz. (She might be running for something before too long.) As for Marco Rubio:

The star of CPAC continued his rise in the Republican Party on Thursday with a story about his American Dream. Marco Rubio, who has surged to near-even with Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida GOP Senate primary, used his speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to bash President Barack Obama, Republican defector Sen. Arlen Specter and, by connection, the centrist Crist.

Rubio suggested that Crist would be another senator in the mold of Specter (D-Pa.), who in the face of a tough reelection last year fled the GOP to become a Democrat.

“We already have one Arlen Specter,” Rubio said, adding: “We already have one Democratic Party.”

Ouch. But it’s clear that his invocation of the American dream, his staunch position on the war against Islamic fascists, and his full-throated conservative economic message are a hit with the base, and will likely transfer comfortably to a general-election race.

Cheney and Rubio made clear that they will not be running in 2012. But Mitt Romney surely will. Ben Smith summed it up:

Mitt Romney has gone from being an overeager suitor to being a favored son of the Conservative Political Action Conference since he ended his presidential campaign here in 2008, and his speech today was well-calibrated to an audience basking in a conservative resurgence and eager for attacks on Obama.

Sen. Scott Brown introduced Romney, sharing a bit of his new star power with the former governor, whose aides ran Brown’s campaign, and calling him perfectly qualified “to fix a broken economy.”

Romney’s prepared remarks lace into Obama on an array of issues, all hinged on a single theme: Obama has departed from American values.

Several things were noteworthy in his speech. First, unlike his potential competitor Tim Pawlenty, who’s taken to slamming the GOP and, indirectly, George. W. Bush, Romney wasn’t going there:

When it comes to shifting responsibility for failure, however, no one is a more frequent object of President Obama’s reproach than President Bush. It’s wearing so thin that even the late night shows make fun of it. I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly — he pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is — a war, and he kept us safe.

Classy, and, after a year of not-Bush in the Oval Office, I suspect the message will resonate with conservatives.

Second, Romney, who struggled to find footing with social conservatives and to establish his bona fides on abortion and other such issues,  focused almost exclusively on foreign policy and the economy. When he did talk about “strengthening families,” it was education and health care, not abortion and gay rights, that were his focus. If 2012 will be about “letting Romney be Romney,” then you’re going to hear less of the hot-button issues that rang as not quite authentic last time around and, rather, more of this: “Conservatism has had from its inception a vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda.”

Third, he has clearly found his focus, which is a conservative economic message that goes after the Democrats’ statist agenda and touts his own business background. He is laying the case that Obama simply doesn’t understand how the economy works and isn’t prepared, even now, to be president:

As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency at a difficult time. That’s the reason we argued during the campaign that these were not the times for on the job training. Had he or his advisors spent even a few years in the real economy, they would have learned that the number one cause of failure in the private sector is lack of focus, and that the first rule of turning around any troubled enterprise is focus, focus, focus. And so, when he assumed the presidency, his energy should have been focused on fixing the economy and creating jobs, and to succeeding in our fight against radical violent jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he applied his time and political capital to his ill-conceived healthcare takeover and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.

And finally, there is a reason Romney is saying nice things about both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney — he’s running against the not-Bush (and Cheney) national-security policy:

We will strengthen our security by building missile defense, restoring our military might, and standing-by and strengthening our intelligence officers. And conservatives believe in providing constitutional rights to our citizens, not to enemy combatants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

Romney never quite clicked with the conservative base last time. But Republicans are notoriously forgiving types and have a habit of going back to the runner-up. If he’s going to run as Romney the businessman, experienced executive, free-market advocate, and tough-as-nails commander in chief, it will be quite a contrast with Obama. But first he’s got to wow the conservative base and get by some formidable competition. Bringing along Scott Brown to introduce him was one small sign that he understands the need to connect with not just mainstreet Republicans but also with the grassroots tea party movement, which carried Brown into office. No easy task, but then again, we should all get a grip — it is still 2010.

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The Executive Deficiency

Sam Stein at the Huffington Post provides a dose of candor following the Evan Bayh bombshell:

In the wake of the Indiana Democrat’s announcement, a host of figures — from the progressive wing of the party to devout centrists — have chimed in to warn that failure in jobs and health care legislation have sapped the party’s momentum and fortunes. No one is asking them to go out on a limb and do something they didn’t first run by the American people,” [Daily Kos founder Markos]Moulitsas said, in an email to the Huffington Post. “The Dems are where they are because they got elected promising to be a party able to govern, and then spent the last year proving themselves wrong.”

The “we told ‘ya so” Clintonistas are back too. Lanny Davis, barely concealing his glee, tells us that “[President Obama’s] failure to pass something showed him to be an ineffectual president. And the absence of effectiveness combined with the cynicism of government because of that absence of effectiveness… is toxic.”

That was, in fact, the message that Bayh was trying to deliver:

“My advice to my fellow Democrats is the only way we can actually govern in this country is make common cause with the independents and moderates,” the Indiana centrist said during an appearance on MSNBC. “Sometimes half a loaf is better than none.”

But on trudge the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika. Pushing health care — maybe via a reconciliation sleight of hand — and spinning the Obama budget as fiscally responsible. The collapse of the bipartisan jobs bill in the Senate (too many tax breaks to please Reid), we are told, may have been the final straw for Bayh. But it was also more evidence of what can result from a president who never ever sends up his own legislative proposals. Where is Obama’s jobs bill? He doesn’t have one.

I await the mea culpas from those who assured us that Obama had lots of executive talent. (Which will arrive shortly after the “He really is a Zionist” crowd atones for conning wary American Jews.) He hasn’t much. But he has plenty of hubris, which prevents him from finding a new team that could help him with his deficiencies. That’s the price of electing a “sort of God” who sort of never did anything before running for president.

Sam Stein at the Huffington Post provides a dose of candor following the Evan Bayh bombshell:

In the wake of the Indiana Democrat’s announcement, a host of figures — from the progressive wing of the party to devout centrists — have chimed in to warn that failure in jobs and health care legislation have sapped the party’s momentum and fortunes. No one is asking them to go out on a limb and do something they didn’t first run by the American people,” [Daily Kos founder Markos]Moulitsas said, in an email to the Huffington Post. “The Dems are where they are because they got elected promising to be a party able to govern, and then spent the last year proving themselves wrong.”

The “we told ‘ya so” Clintonistas are back too. Lanny Davis, barely concealing his glee, tells us that “[President Obama’s] failure to pass something showed him to be an ineffectual president. And the absence of effectiveness combined with the cynicism of government because of that absence of effectiveness… is toxic.”

That was, in fact, the message that Bayh was trying to deliver:

“My advice to my fellow Democrats is the only way we can actually govern in this country is make common cause with the independents and moderates,” the Indiana centrist said during an appearance on MSNBC. “Sometimes half a loaf is better than none.”

But on trudge the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika. Pushing health care — maybe via a reconciliation sleight of hand — and spinning the Obama budget as fiscally responsible. The collapse of the bipartisan jobs bill in the Senate (too many tax breaks to please Reid), we are told, may have been the final straw for Bayh. But it was also more evidence of what can result from a president who never ever sends up his own legislative proposals. Where is Obama’s jobs bill? He doesn’t have one.

I await the mea culpas from those who assured us that Obama had lots of executive talent. (Which will arrive shortly after the “He really is a Zionist” crowd atones for conning wary American Jews.) He hasn’t much. But he has plenty of hubris, which prevents him from finding a new team that could help him with his deficiencies. That’s the price of electing a “sort of God” who sort of never did anything before running for president.

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It’s Not Too Late to Fix a Grievous Error

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have written a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging them to designate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” so he can be “questioned and charged accordingly.” The senators note that Obama himself has declared that “we are at war with al-Qaeda.” However, Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and, as others have reported, provided only 50 minutes of conversation to FBI agents who lacked the needed detail to elicit all the helpful material he might possess. The senators note that last week, Dennis Blair and other officials conceded in congressional testimony that the Justice Department “did not consult with leadership in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense for their input on whether or not to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal and read him his Miranda rights.” Senators also learned that the “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which the Department of Justice announced last August — more than four months ago — is not yet operational.”

The senators conclude that the president’s repeated admonitions that we are at war do not appear to “be reflected in the actions of some in the Executive branch.” But they note that the president can “reverse this error” and transfer the Christmas Day bomber to the Department of Defense.

This is a superb suggestion, which many conservative commentators have urged. There really isn’t reason not to do so — unless of course the criminalization of our national intelligence system and the self-imposed limits on our anti-terrorism efforts are in keeping with what the president wants. In that case, the actions of the executive branch have been in tune with Obama’s wishes, and we are all in a great deal of trouble. Let’s hope not.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have written a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging them to designate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” so he can be “questioned and charged accordingly.” The senators note that Obama himself has declared that “we are at war with al-Qaeda.” However, Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and, as others have reported, provided only 50 minutes of conversation to FBI agents who lacked the needed detail to elicit all the helpful material he might possess. The senators note that last week, Dennis Blair and other officials conceded in congressional testimony that the Justice Department “did not consult with leadership in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense for their input on whether or not to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal and read him his Miranda rights.” Senators also learned that the “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which the Department of Justice announced last August — more than four months ago — is not yet operational.”

The senators conclude that the president’s repeated admonitions that we are at war do not appear to “be reflected in the actions of some in the Executive branch.” But they note that the president can “reverse this error” and transfer the Christmas Day bomber to the Department of Defense.

This is a superb suggestion, which many conservative commentators have urged. There really isn’t reason not to do so — unless of course the criminalization of our national intelligence system and the self-imposed limits on our anti-terrorism efforts are in keeping with what the president wants. In that case, the actions of the executive branch have been in tune with Obama’s wishes, and we are all in a great deal of trouble. Let’s hope not.

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Tennessee Harold Ford’s Not Your Ordinary “Joe”

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

Harold Ford isn’t scared of Chuck Schumer or Barack Obama, let alone Kirsten Gillibrand. That’s nice, but is it enough to supply the former up-and-coming African-American star of Tennessee politics a raison d’être to run for the Senate in New York?  There’s reason to be skeptical of such a claim, but judging from today’s New York Times profile on Ford, it appears he thinks “independence” from his party’s leaders is enough to topple Gillibrand in a primary.

Finding issues on which to oppose the woman appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson isn’t easy for Ford. Both he and Gillibrand have flipped from being moderates to espousing the sort of hard-line liberal positions on guns, abortion, and immigration that win Democratic primaries. But Ford touts his unwillingness to take orders from New York’s senior senator as his main qualification. That’s certainly a virtue, at least in the eyes of independents and Republicans, but do Democrats really care?

Even worse, though Ford appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” television show from time to time, the story also paints him as anything but a regular Joe. According to the Times, Ford, who landed a seven-figure job at Merrill Lynch after losing a race for the Senate from Tennessee, lives a life that most New Yorkers wouldn’t recognize:

On many days, he is driven to an NBC television studio in a chauffeured car. He and his wife, Emily, a 29-year-old fashion executive, live a few blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line in the Flatiron district. But Mr. Ford said he takes the subway only occasionally in the winter, to avoid the cold when he cannot hail a cab. … Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, he mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city … Asked about his baseball loyalties, he responded: “I am a Yankees fan,” and added that he had yet to visit Citi Field, the home of the Mets. … He has breakfast most mornings at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and he receives regular pedicures.

Of course, if leading the life of a spoiled member of the moneyed set were a bar to high office, most of the current members of the Senate would be forced to resign. But nevertheless, it does seem as if Ford is giving new meaning to the term “limousine liberal.” However, if supporters of his opponent are trying to disqualify him as a rich carpetbagger, that is more than hypocritical. This is Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat that we’re talking about. Ford may not be a native, but at least he’s lived here for three years, which is more than you can say about Clinton when she parachuted into New York to be anointed junior senator on her way to what she thought was a return to the White House. Put in that context, perhaps Ford seems like a regular New Yorker after all.

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Intelligence Policy

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

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The Perils of Executive Inexperience

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

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Nah! Really?

The New York Times, not the Onion, reports:

The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters during his regular briefing. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’

They are kidding, right? Nope. Dead serious. Even the usually supportive media and law-professor contingent is gobsmacked by this hooey:

“I’d completely fall out of my chair if they invoked Executive privilege with regards to a social secretary arranging a party,” said Mark J. Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason who recently wrote a book on Executive privilege. “There is no prohibition under separation of powers against White House staff going to Capitol Hill to talk about what they know.”

You recall how loudly Democrats squawked when Karl Rove and other Bush advisers involved in real matters of executive deliberation balked at testifying before Congress. Now the most transparent administration in history is invoking executive privilege (which, according to my former Justice Department gurus, doesn’t “count” unless the president invokes it himself) to prevent the social secretary from testifying about a security breach at the White House. The arrogance and, yes, lack of transparency over an issue that has no policy implications (but that may prove embarrassing for a pal of White House honcho Valerie Jarrett) is remarkable, even for the Obami.

The New York Times, not the Onion, reports:

The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters during his regular briefing. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’

They are kidding, right? Nope. Dead serious. Even the usually supportive media and law-professor contingent is gobsmacked by this hooey:

“I’d completely fall out of my chair if they invoked Executive privilege with regards to a social secretary arranging a party,” said Mark J. Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason who recently wrote a book on Executive privilege. “There is no prohibition under separation of powers against White House staff going to Capitol Hill to talk about what they know.”

You recall how loudly Democrats squawked when Karl Rove and other Bush advisers involved in real matters of executive deliberation balked at testifying before Congress. Now the most transparent administration in history is invoking executive privilege (which, according to my former Justice Department gurus, doesn’t “count” unless the president invokes it himself) to prevent the social secretary from testifying about a security breach at the White House. The arrogance and, yes, lack of transparency over an issue that has no policy implications (but that may prove embarrassing for a pal of White House honcho Valerie Jarrett) is remarkable, even for the Obami.

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Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

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Italy’s Iran Reversal

Italy, reversing its previous policy of putting commercial interests before strategic ones, has decided to endorse a series of additional EU sanctions against Iran–which include embargoing Bank Melli, Iran’s main commercial bank and a conveyor belt for terror financing. The motives for Italy’s government to have reversed its policy are less than noble, though. The outgoing left-of-center government, according to news reports, does not want to give the incoming new right-of-center executive the opportunity to portray Romano Prodi’s outgoing government as one that stood against “the whole European Union.”

Had Prodi’s policies–to say nothing of his foreign minister’s regular outbursts–not been so embarrassing, he would not have to worry about looking bad on his way out. Regardless, the portrayal of Italy’s outgoing government as “standing alone against the whole European Union” gives too much credit to Italy’s now-reversed stance on Iran. After all, the Italians are not alone in giving Iran a free pass–Spain, Greece, Austria, Cyprus, and some Scandinavian countries are likely to regret Italy’s change of heart. And with the EU still deadlocked on further measures to implement UN Security council Resolution 1803, the swing in favor of further sanctions is not as dramatic as it first appears.

Italy, reversing its previous policy of putting commercial interests before strategic ones, has decided to endorse a series of additional EU sanctions against Iran–which include embargoing Bank Melli, Iran’s main commercial bank and a conveyor belt for terror financing. The motives for Italy’s government to have reversed its policy are less than noble, though. The outgoing left-of-center government, according to news reports, does not want to give the incoming new right-of-center executive the opportunity to portray Romano Prodi’s outgoing government as one that stood against “the whole European Union.”

Had Prodi’s policies–to say nothing of his foreign minister’s regular outbursts–not been so embarrassing, he would not have to worry about looking bad on his way out. Regardless, the portrayal of Italy’s outgoing government as “standing alone against the whole European Union” gives too much credit to Italy’s now-reversed stance on Iran. After all, the Italians are not alone in giving Iran a free pass–Spain, Greece, Austria, Cyprus, and some Scandinavian countries are likely to regret Italy’s change of heart. And with the EU still deadlocked on further measures to implement UN Security council Resolution 1803, the swing in favor of further sanctions is not as dramatic as it first appears.

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Myung-Bak Wins

As expected, former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak seems handily to have won yesterday’s South Korean presidential election. Exit polls have him at between 40 and 50 percent of the three-man race. This is good news for South Korea, Asia, and the United States. Lee is not only an experienced businessman and politician, he is likely to bring a more realistic approach to Korean affairs, warm up relations with the U.S., and perhaps even take South Korea onto new paths of international involvement. For now, Lee has promised a “747” strategy: achieve 7 percent annual growth, increase South Korea’s per capita income to US$40,000, and put the country in the top 7 nations worldwide in terms of GDP.

Especially audacious is Lee’s income doubling plan (currently South Korea’s per capita income is around US$20,000), and it harks to former Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato’s income doubling policy of the 1960’s, which put Japan on the road to economic superpower status. With a growing asset bubble around Seoul, corruption in the state and among private enterprises, and rising income inequality, Lee has his work cut out for him. But in bringing clarity to his political platform, he has given South Koreans a road map for moving forward.

Equally importantly, this is the moment for the U.S. to take advantage of having an ally in Seoul. The past decade of rule by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun has seen a near-collapse in U.S.-South Korean political relations. Both Kim and Roh pursued active engagement with Pyongyang, and most South Koreans saw nothing emerge from the policy except a nuclear North Korea. Lee has indicated that any further engagement with Kim Jong-Il depends on the North’s living up to the promises it has already made. This should give Washington an excuse to re-evaluate its policy of bending every deadline in the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang’s favor. Washington also has a unique chance to rethink the military reform projects put in place over the past several years, and to consider delaying the dissolution of the highly successful Combined Forces Command, a reform opposed by an overwhelming majority of South Korean uniformed officers.

Now is also the time to encourage South Korea to think about a larger role in East Asia, starting with improving relations with Japan, perhaps within a new trilateral arrangement spearheaded by the United States. The Japanese more forthrightly will have to address lingering historical issues to Seoul’s satisfaction, but the two should be natural partners in promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights in Asia. This should become a priority of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Yesterday’s election is a rare piece of good news in a region that needs it desperately.

As expected, former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive Lee Myung-bak seems handily to have won yesterday’s South Korean presidential election. Exit polls have him at between 40 and 50 percent of the three-man race. This is good news for South Korea, Asia, and the United States. Lee is not only an experienced businessman and politician, he is likely to bring a more realistic approach to Korean affairs, warm up relations with the U.S., and perhaps even take South Korea onto new paths of international involvement. For now, Lee has promised a “747” strategy: achieve 7 percent annual growth, increase South Korea’s per capita income to US$40,000, and put the country in the top 7 nations worldwide in terms of GDP.

Especially audacious is Lee’s income doubling plan (currently South Korea’s per capita income is around US$20,000), and it harks to former Japanese Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato’s income doubling policy of the 1960’s, which put Japan on the road to economic superpower status. With a growing asset bubble around Seoul, corruption in the state and among private enterprises, and rising income inequality, Lee has his work cut out for him. But in bringing clarity to his political platform, he has given South Koreans a road map for moving forward.

Equally importantly, this is the moment for the U.S. to take advantage of having an ally in Seoul. The past decade of rule by presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun has seen a near-collapse in U.S.-South Korean political relations. Both Kim and Roh pursued active engagement with Pyongyang, and most South Koreans saw nothing emerge from the policy except a nuclear North Korea. Lee has indicated that any further engagement with Kim Jong-Il depends on the North’s living up to the promises it has already made. This should give Washington an excuse to re-evaluate its policy of bending every deadline in the Six Party Talks in Pyongyang’s favor. Washington also has a unique chance to rethink the military reform projects put in place over the past several years, and to consider delaying the dissolution of the highly successful Combined Forces Command, a reform opposed by an overwhelming majority of South Korean uniformed officers.

Now is also the time to encourage South Korea to think about a larger role in East Asia, starting with improving relations with Japan, perhaps within a new trilateral arrangement spearheaded by the United States. The Japanese more forthrightly will have to address lingering historical issues to Seoul’s satisfaction, but the two should be natural partners in promoting democracy, free markets, and human rights in Asia. This should become a priority of the Bush administration in its remaining months. Yesterday’s election is a rare piece of good news in a region that needs it desperately.

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Google and America’s Defense

With a market cap of $215 billion, Google has become the second-most valuable technology company after Microsoft. An article in the New York Times provides a fascinating glimpse of how Google has pulled off that feat in less than ten years.

“Conventional software is typically built, tested and shipped in two- or three-year product cycles,” the article notes. “Inside Google, Mr. [Eric] Schmidt [the CEO] says, there are no two-year plans. Its product road maps look ahead only four or five months at most. And, Mr. Schmidt says, the only plans ‘anybody believes in go through the end of this quarter.’”

As an example of how this “quicksilver” culture works in practice, the article offers the story of a new Google product:

Early this month, Google released new cellphone software, with the code-name Grand Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail, and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.)

Grand Prix was born when a Google engineer, tinkering on his own one weekend, came up with prototype code and e-mailed it to Vic Gundotra, a Google executive who oversees mobile products. Mr. Gundotra then showed the prototype to Mr. Schmidt, who in turn mentioned it to Mr. [Sergey] Brin [Google co-founder]. In about an hour, Mr. Brin came to look at the prototype.

“Sergey was really supportive,” recalls Mr. Gundotra, saying that Mr. Brin was most intrigued by the “engineering tricks” employed. After that, Mr. Gundotra posted a message on Google’s internal network, asking employees who owned iPhones to test the prototype. Such peer review is common at Google, which has an engineering culture in which a favorite mantra is “nothing speaks louder than code.”

As co-workers dug in, testing Grand Prix’s performance speed, memory use and other features, “the feedback started pouring in,” Mr. Gundotra recalls. The comments amounted to a thumbs-up, and after a few weeks of fine-tuning and fixing bugs, Grand Prix was released. In the brief development, there were no formal product reviews or formal approval processes.

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With a market cap of $215 billion, Google has become the second-most valuable technology company after Microsoft. An article in the New York Times provides a fascinating glimpse of how Google has pulled off that feat in less than ten years.

“Conventional software is typically built, tested and shipped in two- or three-year product cycles,” the article notes. “Inside Google, Mr. [Eric] Schmidt [the CEO] says, there are no two-year plans. Its product road maps look ahead only four or five months at most. And, Mr. Schmidt says, the only plans ‘anybody believes in go through the end of this quarter.’”

As an example of how this “quicksilver” culture works in practice, the article offers the story of a new Google product:

Early this month, Google released new cellphone software, with the code-name Grand Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail, and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.)

Grand Prix was born when a Google engineer, tinkering on his own one weekend, came up with prototype code and e-mailed it to Vic Gundotra, a Google executive who oversees mobile products. Mr. Gundotra then showed the prototype to Mr. Schmidt, who in turn mentioned it to Mr. [Sergey] Brin [Google co-founder]. In about an hour, Mr. Brin came to look at the prototype.

“Sergey was really supportive,” recalls Mr. Gundotra, saying that Mr. Brin was most intrigued by the “engineering tricks” employed. After that, Mr. Gundotra posted a message on Google’s internal network, asking employees who owned iPhones to test the prototype. Such peer review is common at Google, which has an engineering culture in which a favorite mantra is “nothing speaks louder than code.”

As co-workers dug in, testing Grand Prix’s performance speed, memory use and other features, “the feedback started pouring in,” Mr. Gundotra recalls. The comments amounted to a thumbs-up, and after a few weeks of fine-tuning and fixing bugs, Grand Prix was released. In the brief development, there were no formal product reviews or formal approval processes.

No formal reviews, no formal approval process—and just six weeks from conception to market. Now that’s speed!

Obviously other companies can learn from Google. But so can any other large organization, in particular the Department of Defense. America’s enemies are showing a dismaying ability to quickly adapt their tactics, techniques, and procedures on battlefields such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. armed forces have had trouble moving as fast, in part because they are saddled with an antiquated, Industrial Age bureaucracy. It is doubtful that they ever could or should become as bureaucracy-free as Google. More checks and safeguards are needed when people’s lives are at stake, not just profits. But it would make sense for the armed forces to study corporations like Google to figure out how to speed up their own bureaucratic metabolism, because our decentralized foes, such as al Qaeda, are organized more along the lines of Google than of the Pentagon’s elaborate hierarchy.

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The Friends of Lyndon LaRouche

Several days ago on contentions, I pointed out that Robert Dreyfuss, Senior Correspondent of The American Prospect, once worked as the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review newspaper. This is not news—nor is it a secret—but, to my knowledge, no one at The American Prospect has publicly addressed concerns that one of their writers has ties to the LaRouche organization. The only reason I brought it up was to point out the irony that a Prospect writer would express so much fascination with and heap ridicule upon the LaRouche movement, not seeming to understand that one of her work colleagues has a long history with the demagogue and cult-leader.

But the radio silence from The Prospect and its writers in response to my post has been rather odd. Here are some very simple questions for the Prospect (and the other publications for which he writes, not limited to The Nation and Rolling Stone), an answer to any of which would be warmly appreciated:

Did you know about Dreyfuss’s ties to the LaRouche movement when you hired him?

Has he in any way refuted his past work for LaRouche?

Why do you endorse and hawk his LaRouche-published book, Hostage to Khomeini, on your website?

To my knowledge, based on thorough internet searches, Dreyfuss has never renounced his past official affiliation with the LaRouche organization. So, for all we know, he still thinks favorably of LaRouche, having moved onto more ostensibly respectable work at The American Prospect. His journalism, however, characterized by unoriginal conspiracies about neo-con domination of American foreign policy, does not appear to have changed much from the tinfoil hat stuff characteristic of LaRouche. Perhaps the leading lights of the liberal blogosphere can explain why they aren’t troubled by The American Prospect’s employing a man with ties to what the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, liberal watchdog group Political Research Associates refers to as a “fascist movement.”

Several days ago on contentions, I pointed out that Robert Dreyfuss, Senior Correspondent of The American Prospect, once worked as the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review newspaper. This is not news—nor is it a secret—but, to my knowledge, no one at The American Prospect has publicly addressed concerns that one of their writers has ties to the LaRouche organization. The only reason I brought it up was to point out the irony that a Prospect writer would express so much fascination with and heap ridicule upon the LaRouche movement, not seeming to understand that one of her work colleagues has a long history with the demagogue and cult-leader.

But the radio silence from The Prospect and its writers in response to my post has been rather odd. Here are some very simple questions for the Prospect (and the other publications for which he writes, not limited to The Nation and Rolling Stone), an answer to any of which would be warmly appreciated:

Did you know about Dreyfuss’s ties to the LaRouche movement when you hired him?

Has he in any way refuted his past work for LaRouche?

Why do you endorse and hawk his LaRouche-published book, Hostage to Khomeini, on your website?

To my knowledge, based on thorough internet searches, Dreyfuss has never renounced his past official affiliation with the LaRouche organization. So, for all we know, he still thinks favorably of LaRouche, having moved onto more ostensibly respectable work at The American Prospect. His journalism, however, characterized by unoriginal conspiracies about neo-con domination of American foreign policy, does not appear to have changed much from the tinfoil hat stuff characteristic of LaRouche. Perhaps the leading lights of the liberal blogosphere can explain why they aren’t troubled by The American Prospect’s employing a man with ties to what the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, liberal watchdog group Political Research Associates refers to as a “fascist movement.”

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The Closest of Strangers

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

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Bad Ad

In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

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In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

The Hoyt article is full of insights into the mindset of those who work at the Times. For one thing, we learn that Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the MoveOn.org ad, said that while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a “comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for the Times to print.” We also are told that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times and chairman of its parent company, said this:

If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue…. Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.

The trouble with this explanation, of course, is that what we are dealing with is not free speech so much as slander. The MoveOn.org ad accuses General Petraeus, a four-star general and war hero, of betraying his nation and “cooking the books.” These charges are false and malicious, yet in response, the best Sulzberger can say is that he believes that “perhaps”—perhaps!—the Times erred in this case. Sulzberger is almost Ratheresque in his ability to defend the journalistically indefensible.

One wonders if an organization ran a full-page ad accusing the publisher of the Times, without evidence, of being a traitor or a racist with strong ties to hate groups, he would view such charges as “giving greater voice to people.” Perhaps. And would those who work for him characterize such an ad as “rough” but “acceptable” speech for the Times to print? Perhaps.

We are also told that Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, “bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially.” Of course he does. And Jespersen, we learn, has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee—not, he said, because of its message, but because it pictured aborted fetuses.

Now isn’t that rich? The New York Times rejected an ad that is certainly “rough” but also has the virtue of being accurate—after all, it shows what aborted fetuses look like—but gave a huge discount rate to an ad that was “rough” but was also utterly false and slanderous. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Times—which took almost two weeks to correct its false claims and admit wrongdoing—is the same newspaper that regularly lacerates public officials (like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) for not being able to get their stories straight. Is it any wonder, then, that the New York Times is losing money, readers, respect, and credibility by the day?

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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This Old (Presidential) House

Generations of schoolchildren once learned that George Washington was the Father of the Country—a platitude, of course, but one that encapsulated an essential truth. Now an exhibition on the site in Philadelphia where he lived during his presidency will concentrate on his role as a slave-owner. This too is a truth, a tragic one that requires telling. But is this the central truth about our first President—that he hypocritically spoke of liberty while enslaving others?

This question has become urgent with the rediscovery of the first President’s house, where Washington (and later John Adams) lived between 1790 and 1800, when Philadelphia served as the country’s capital. The house was demolished in the early 19th century, leaving behind only a few print images, and its precise form and location became a matter of historical controversy. This was recently settled, and in spectacular fashion, by Edward Lawler, Jr.—not a professional historian but a singer. (Full disclosure: I knew Lawler in graduate school in the early 1980’s.)

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Generations of schoolchildren once learned that George Washington was the Father of the Country—a platitude, of course, but one that encapsulated an essential truth. Now an exhibition on the site in Philadelphia where he lived during his presidency will concentrate on his role as a slave-owner. This too is a truth, a tragic one that requires telling. But is this the central truth about our first President—that he hypocritically spoke of liberty while enslaving others?

This question has become urgent with the rediscovery of the first President’s house, where Washington (and later John Adams) lived between 1790 and 1800, when Philadelphia served as the country’s capital. The house was demolished in the early 19th century, leaving behind only a few print images, and its precise form and location became a matter of historical controversy. This was recently settled, and in spectacular fashion, by Edward Lawler, Jr.—not a professional historian but a singer. (Full disclosure: I knew Lawler in graduate school in the early 1980’s.)

Working systematically through original documents, Lawler disentangled two centuries of pious historiography to pinpoint the site of the house with forensic exactitude. His work made possible this year’s excavation, which has brought to light a surprising amount of the original house; it is easily the most important archaeological find for American history in a generation.

Finding the house was easy, however, compared to figuring out how to present it to the public. Designed by the Philadelphia firm Kelly/Maiello, the new museum that will rise over the foundations of the original house is an unfortunate object, both didactically and architecturally. The original executive mansion consisted of a front house on Market Street, a back building with servants’ quarters and a kitchen, and a stable to the rear. In a tiny wing connecting this stable to the back building lived Washington’s slaves. It is the physical remains of these slave quarters that dominate the museum’s educational program, whose six “substantive themes” are:

The House and the People Who Lived There; The Executive Branch of the U.S. Government; The System and Methods of Slavery; African-American Philadelphia, especially Free African-American; The Move to Freedom; and History Lost and Found.

One notes that Washington himself will not be a “substantive” presence in his house, other than as one of the “people who lived there.” The result will be, in effect, a museum of American slavery.

The issue of architectural merit may, perhaps, pale beside the larger questions this new museum raises. Still, it should be noted that the proposed design of the new visitors’ center is comically inept. Several generations ago, Americans celebrated their historical buildings by contriving plausible facsimiles (as at Colonial Williamsburg). Recently, Robert Venturi suggested a more imaginative approach when he reconstructed the lost Benjamin Franklin House—of which no contemporary images survived—as an abstract and ghostly lattice. The Kelly/Maiello design is an unhappy conflation of the two, a plaintively literal array of classical pediments hanging in the air that manages to starve both the eye and the imagination at the same time—no mean feat.

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