Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ford

Loughner, McVeigh, and Ted Kaczynski

Over at the Daily Beast, the suddenly hawkish Peter Beinart is incensed that nobody else has the guts to call Arizona gunman Jared Loughner a terrorist. According to Beinart, there’s only one logical explanation for this — Americans are unaware that white people can be terrorists too:

Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah?

I’m curious about whom Beinart is accusing of not acknowledging that white people can be terrorists. It certainly couldn’t be the conservatives — you could barely turn on Fox News during the 2008 election without hearing the phrase “unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.” And it’s clearly not the left, which seems to constantly live in fear that right-wing anti-government terrorists are on the verge of taking over the Republican Party.

Still, Beinart needlessly goes on to inform readers (just in case we weren’t aware) about the history of Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh. Yes, Beinart, we all realize that these two white men are terrorists — the media brings it up only every single time an Islamist terror attack occurs in this country.

But it seems that he isn’t the only person struggling to twist the Arizona tragedy into a denouncement of America’s racial attitudes. At the Huffington Post, Charles D. Ellison makes a similar argument, claiming that Loughner’s skin color has prevented people from calling him a terrorist:

When a “crazy” white guy with a gun, wound up on polarized talking points and manifestos, indiscriminately kills innocent Americans in broad daylight, it takes several days in the aftermath before the larger public will even accept a hint of premeditation. Typically, the collective American psyche will initially trivialize the event by calling the perpetrator “deranged” or “mentally unstable.” The social response script is fashioned to fake us into a false sense of security. It’s isolated, they say. Just one crazed nut with a gun.

It’s worth noting that the left vehemently attacked any suggestion that the Ford Hood shooter was a terrorist in the days after the incident, even though there was a great deal of evidence that Nidal Hasan was motivated by radical Islam. But even that’s besides the point. The reason Jared Loughner hasn’t been called a terrorist has nothing to do with his skin color — it’s because there isn’t enough evidence at this point to conclude that his actions were (a) politically motivated and (b) meant to intimidate or coerce for a political purpose. Not all acts of violence, no matter how horrific, meet the definition of terrorism.

Of course, the left can’t grasp that, since it views the entire issue of terrorism in terms of race. To them, any type of crackdown on terrorism is seen as a concerted effort to target all Muslims, not just Islamic radicals. And, in that respect, in seems like they’re the ones who should probably stop focusing so much on skin color.

Over at the Daily Beast, the suddenly hawkish Peter Beinart is incensed that nobody else has the guts to call Arizona gunman Jared Loughner a terrorist. According to Beinart, there’s only one logical explanation for this — Americans are unaware that white people can be terrorists too:

Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah?

I’m curious about whom Beinart is accusing of not acknowledging that white people can be terrorists. It certainly couldn’t be the conservatives — you could barely turn on Fox News during the 2008 election without hearing the phrase “unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.” And it’s clearly not the left, which seems to constantly live in fear that right-wing anti-government terrorists are on the verge of taking over the Republican Party.

Still, Beinart needlessly goes on to inform readers (just in case we weren’t aware) about the history of Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh. Yes, Beinart, we all realize that these two white men are terrorists — the media brings it up only every single time an Islamist terror attack occurs in this country.

But it seems that he isn’t the only person struggling to twist the Arizona tragedy into a denouncement of America’s racial attitudes. At the Huffington Post, Charles D. Ellison makes a similar argument, claiming that Loughner’s skin color has prevented people from calling him a terrorist:

When a “crazy” white guy with a gun, wound up on polarized talking points and manifestos, indiscriminately kills innocent Americans in broad daylight, it takes several days in the aftermath before the larger public will even accept a hint of premeditation. Typically, the collective American psyche will initially trivialize the event by calling the perpetrator “deranged” or “mentally unstable.” The social response script is fashioned to fake us into a false sense of security. It’s isolated, they say. Just one crazed nut with a gun.

It’s worth noting that the left vehemently attacked any suggestion that the Ford Hood shooter was a terrorist in the days after the incident, even though there was a great deal of evidence that Nidal Hasan was motivated by radical Islam. But even that’s besides the point. The reason Jared Loughner hasn’t been called a terrorist has nothing to do with his skin color — it’s because there isn’t enough evidence at this point to conclude that his actions were (a) politically motivated and (b) meant to intimidate or coerce for a political purpose. Not all acts of violence, no matter how horrific, meet the definition of terrorism.

Of course, the left can’t grasp that, since it views the entire issue of terrorism in terms of race. To them, any type of crackdown on terrorism is seen as a concerted effort to target all Muslims, not just Islamic radicals. And, in that respect, in seems like they’re the ones who should probably stop focusing so much on skin color.

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Obama — a Weak Advocate for Free Trade

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

Obama’s international endeavors are going about as well as his party’s electoral efforts. The latest flop: “The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea were unable to overcome disputes over cars, cattle and domestic politics, potentially killing the biggest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has taken up in more than a decade.” It is worth examining why the president couldn’t make a deal.

In essence, Obama has refused to stand up to domestic advocates of protectionism — a failure that stands in contrast to the actions of past presidents from both parties. And, no doubt, the South Koreans calculated that they might as well try to wait him out. It sure doesn’t seem that Obama was on the side of the angels — or of free trade. This tells you all you need to know:

Labor leaders and some powerful politicians from both parties praised Mr. Obama for not going ahead with a deal they characterized as bad for U.S. workers. “President Obama is exactly right in holding out for a deal that puts working people’s interests first,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Translation: Obama caved to protectionist elements in the U.S.

As a result of this and Ben Bernanke’s printing press, we are increasingly isolated and becoming the object of our trading partners’ criticism:

The trade-talk failure came on top of criticism from other G-20 nations concerning the Federal Reserve’s move to pump billions into the U.S. economy, potentially weakening the dollar.

“This reinforces the opinion of many key global and business leaders that the U.S. isn’t really committed to global engagement and is instead pushing mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” said Matthew Slaughter, a former member of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

As for the particulars, it seems as though Obama wanted to hang on to some protectionist provisions just a little longer. (“One stumbling block was Korea’s refusal to change a provision in the 2007 pact that provided an immediate end to a 2.5% tariff the U.S. levies on imports of Korean cars. … The U.S. wanted the tariff reduced gradually, while Korea eliminates safety and environmental rules that U.S. auto makers, led by Ford, said help keep Korea the world’s most closed car market.”)

Congress has traditionally been more protectionist than the White House, the result of intense lobbying by both U.S. businesses and Big Labor. A strong presidential hand has been required to rebuff protectionist sentiment and negotiate free-trade agreements that are essential to America’s prosperity. To his credit, Bill Clinton did just that. But Obama has neither the will nor the interest in following this approach. This spells trouble for the U.S.:

Meanwhile, the European Union and other nations have signed far more bilateral deals than the U.S. since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect, displeasing some U.S. industrial companies. “We as a country have essentially taken two years off” from pursuing trade agreements while the rest of the world goes full speed ahead, said Eaton Corp. Chief Executive Alexander Cutler on Thursday. “If you want to have a vibrant economy, you have to have access to the fastest-growing parts of the world.”

You would think a president who ran on the promise to “restore our standing” in the world and end the supposed cowboy unilateralism of his predecessor would understand this.

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If Only King Arthur Had a Videographer Like Obama’s

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

Some 40 years ago, author Joe McGinniss shined a light on the way campaign imagery shapes our perceptions of politics with his The Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s 1968 run for office. Though aimed at the evil geniuses behind the “new Nixon” who beat Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous lines in the book recounted the way Nixon’s old nemesis John Kennedy had beguiled the American people with a White House that was sold as a new Camelot. As McGinniss put it: “We forgave, followed and accepted because we liked the way he looked. And he had a pretty wife. Camelot was fun, even for the peasants, as long as it was televised to their huts.”

American politics was played by different rules from 1961 to 1963. The image of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and their two adorable children was ubiquitous in American culture in those years, and the publication or broadcast of unpleasant truths about the president and his brother the attorney general was simply out of the question. Since then, no American president has received the same kid glove treatment from the press. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and the second Bush were all treated with little deference and much cynicism by the media.

But the election of the first African-American president in 2008 has changed the way the presidency is treated in popular culture. In the past two years, the images coming out of Barack Obama’s White House of the handsome young president, his beautiful wife, and two adorable daughters have been highly reminiscent of Kennedy’s Camelot imagery. That’s a big part of the reason why, despite the administration’s well-documented troubles in selling its hyper-liberal policies to the public, Obama’s personal popularity remains high.

Part of Obama’s dream machine was highlighted yesterday in a puff piece in The New York Times about Arun Chaudhary, the former New York University film instructor who is Obama’s full-time videographer. Chaudhary’s “West Wing Week” films may not be sweeping the nation, but they are part of the way the president’s personal image — and that of his family — have been carefully burnished. The midterm elections illustrated the rejection of Obama’s political agenda by the voters. But anyone who thinks that the 2012 election, in which the president will be personally on the ballot, will not be heavily influenced by the Camelot factor is not paying attention. With such loving images of Obama being beamed out regularly — not merely to our huts but to the peasantry’s computers, iPads, and phones — the task of defeating even a president whose policies are unpopular will be that much harder. Obama’s Camelot may not be impregnable, but it is buttressed by the sort of stained-glass image that has not been seen since the days of John Kennedy.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

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The Biden-Hillary Switch: Don’t Scoff

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.

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Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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How Bad Is Obamanomics?

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

Michael Boskin, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under the first President Bush, confirms just how bleak the economic picture is:

The Obama administration’s “summer of recovery” has morphed into a summer of economic discontent amid anxiety over the weakening economy. The greater than 4% growth and less than 8% unemployment envisioned by the president’s economic team are nowhere to be seen. Almost everything that is supposed to be up—the economic growth rate, the stock market, bond yields—is down. And almost everything that is supposed to be down—unemployment-insurance claims, new mortgage delinquencies—is up. …

How bad is it? In the data for the last few weeks and months, real personal disposable income was flat; core capital goods orders, a precursor of business capital spending, declined 8%; new home sales fell 12.4%, existing sales 27%, despite record low mortgage rates; single-family housing starts declined 4.2%; building permits, foreshadowing future construction, fell 1.2%; initial jobless claims spiked to over 500,000, leading forecasters to expect at best meager short-term private-sector job growth; the Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York Fed manufacturing indexes fell; and the trade deficit increased, as exports fell and imports rose.

Obama has done worse, much worse, than prior presidents when it comes to economic recovery. (“Compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed. The unemployment rate would now be 8% or lower at those higher growth rates.”)

As Boskin explains, Obama needs to reverse virtually every policy he has undertaken: slash spending, not increase it; cut taxes, not raise them; and address entitlements, not pass the buck to a do-nothing commission. It would certainly help if he were to stop imposing, and in fact cut back on, the draconian regulations, fees, and mandates he has saddled employers with.

What are the chances of this happening in the next two years? Very small. And accordingly, so are his re-election prospects.

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Tutu Chimes In

Recall that Obama awarded Medals of Freedom to both Mary Robinson and Bishop Desmond Tutu. What do they have in common? Well, this report (forwarded by a longtime reader) on a recent gala at Ford’s theater, gives you the answer:

Tutu said he “object[s] most strongly to the vicious attacks that have been leveled at Judge Richard Goldstone,” a South African whose report on the 2008-09 Gaza war concluded that both Israel and Palestinians had committed serious violations of international law.

“We cannot accept, unless we want to destroy ourselves . . . the blockade of Gaza,” Tutu said in an invocation calling for peace and recognition of human rights across the world “but especially that critical part of the world, the Middle East.” Tutu said that relief supplies brought in by ship should be allowed to land in Gaza and insisted that “true security is not something that comes at the barrel of a gun.”

There you have it — a perfect distillation of the left’s hatred of Israel. The hanging judge of Tutu’s South Africa is now a hero for misrepresenting facts and indicting Israel for defending itself. The blockade has to go because Israel really doesn’t have the right to defend itself. And it apparently should disarm because weapons aren’t going to allow Israel to defend itself. You see the pattern?

It’s the same line that J Street spouts, as do many liberal Jews who enjoy the protection of American armed forces (which from time to time wind up killing civilians) but who would circumscribe Israelis’ right to the same security. It is the Mary Robinson-Desmond Tutu-J Street mentality that finds great favor with this president, who showers attention on and  doles out accolades to those who share his view of Israel as oppressor, victimizer, and obstructionist.

Recall that Obama awarded Medals of Freedom to both Mary Robinson and Bishop Desmond Tutu. What do they have in common? Well, this report (forwarded by a longtime reader) on a recent gala at Ford’s theater, gives you the answer:

Tutu said he “object[s] most strongly to the vicious attacks that have been leveled at Judge Richard Goldstone,” a South African whose report on the 2008-09 Gaza war concluded that both Israel and Palestinians had committed serious violations of international law.

“We cannot accept, unless we want to destroy ourselves . . . the blockade of Gaza,” Tutu said in an invocation calling for peace and recognition of human rights across the world “but especially that critical part of the world, the Middle East.” Tutu said that relief supplies brought in by ship should be allowed to land in Gaza and insisted that “true security is not something that comes at the barrel of a gun.”

There you have it — a perfect distillation of the left’s hatred of Israel. The hanging judge of Tutu’s South Africa is now a hero for misrepresenting facts and indicting Israel for defending itself. The blockade has to go because Israel really doesn’t have the right to defend itself. And it apparently should disarm because weapons aren’t going to allow Israel to defend itself. You see the pattern?

It’s the same line that J Street spouts, as do many liberal Jews who enjoy the protection of American armed forces (which from time to time wind up killing civilians) but who would circumscribe Israelis’ right to the same security. It is the Mary Robinson-Desmond Tutu-J Street mentality that finds great favor with this president, who showers attention on and  doles out accolades to those who share his view of Israel as oppressor, victimizer, and obstructionist.

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Bashar Assad Takes the Measure of Barack Obama

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

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Ford Runs Over Democrats

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

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RE: How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

A sharp reader reminds me Ambassador Ford has not yet been confirmed. So perhaps there will be some informed discussion and debate at his confirmation hearing. A senator or two might ask him, with all due respect, what he could possibly accomplish and whether it’s best to actually get something in return before he appears with hand outstretched before Assad.

A sharp reader reminds me Ambassador Ford has not yet been confirmed. So perhaps there will be some informed discussion and debate at his confirmation hearing. A senator or two might ask him, with all due respect, what he could possibly accomplish and whether it’s best to actually get something in return before he appears with hand outstretched before Assad.

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How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

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Was There a Fort Jackson Cover-Up?

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

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What Will It Take?

Daniel Henninger writes:

The only good news out of the Fort Hood massacre is that U.S. electronic surveillance technology was able to pick up Major Hasan’s phone calls to an al Qaeda-loving imam in Yemen. The bad news is the people and agencies listening to Hasan didn’t know what to do about it. Other than nothing.

Next week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) will convene the Homeland Security Committee to find out if someone in the Army or FBI dropped the ball on Hasan. At Ford Hood itself, grief has been turning to anger as news of possible dropped balls has emerged.

Henninger says that this is the price we paid for the bend-over-backward effort to avoid casting aspersions on those with a take-offense-at-everything lobby on their side. He holds out hope that we will get serious about the nature of our enemy and put an end to the “rancorous confusion about the enemy, the legal standing of the enemy, or the legal status and scope of the methods it wants to use to fight the enemy.” His suggestion: “President Obama should do two things: Call off the CIA investigation. Then call in the guys who didn’t make the right call on Hasan and ask why not. Then, whatever set the bar too high, lower it.”

How likely is that? Obama has been a prime malefactor in fanning confusion about the enemy and the means we will use to defend ourselves. He ran for president on pulling the plug on Iraq, although that was a central battlefield in the war against the same Islamic fundamentalists. Once in office, he not only declared war on the CIA by re-investigating its operatives and disclosing their methods, but he proposed closing Guantanamo and bringing detainees to the U.S. for trial and possible incarceration. In his grand address on health care, he tells the country it’s a shame we have to spend money fighting in Afghanistan. He has excised “war on terror” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our official lexicon. And he has declared we won’t be using enhanced interrogation techniques to extract any useful information from those who would carry out dozens of Fort Hoods.

The conclusion is inescapable: Obama has embodied the confusion and unseriousness that Henninger identifies. Some might hope that this or that event or crisis will shake the president and bring him to his senses. The obligation to develop a war strategy? That’s not done the trick; in fact, it’s brought out his worst qualities and revealed his faulty instincts. An act of terrorism by a homegrown jihadist? Maybe, but the Obami’s rhetoric suggests that they are still deep in the weeds of confusion and reality avoidance.

The invasion of Afghanistan shocked Jimmy Carter: Ah, the Soviets were aggressive! What will wake up Obama and impress upon him the need to put childish rhetoric and left-wing talking points aside? If the Fort Hood massacre doesn’t, nothing will.

Daniel Henninger writes:

The only good news out of the Fort Hood massacre is that U.S. electronic surveillance technology was able to pick up Major Hasan’s phone calls to an al Qaeda-loving imam in Yemen. The bad news is the people and agencies listening to Hasan didn’t know what to do about it. Other than nothing.

Next week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) will convene the Homeland Security Committee to find out if someone in the Army or FBI dropped the ball on Hasan. At Ford Hood itself, grief has been turning to anger as news of possible dropped balls has emerged.

Henninger says that this is the price we paid for the bend-over-backward effort to avoid casting aspersions on those with a take-offense-at-everything lobby on their side. He holds out hope that we will get serious about the nature of our enemy and put an end to the “rancorous confusion about the enemy, the legal standing of the enemy, or the legal status and scope of the methods it wants to use to fight the enemy.” His suggestion: “President Obama should do two things: Call off the CIA investigation. Then call in the guys who didn’t make the right call on Hasan and ask why not. Then, whatever set the bar too high, lower it.”

How likely is that? Obama has been a prime malefactor in fanning confusion about the enemy and the means we will use to defend ourselves. He ran for president on pulling the plug on Iraq, although that was a central battlefield in the war against the same Islamic fundamentalists. Once in office, he not only declared war on the CIA by re-investigating its operatives and disclosing their methods, but he proposed closing Guantanamo and bringing detainees to the U.S. for trial and possible incarceration. In his grand address on health care, he tells the country it’s a shame we have to spend money fighting in Afghanistan. He has excised “war on terror” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our official lexicon. And he has declared we won’t be using enhanced interrogation techniques to extract any useful information from those who would carry out dozens of Fort Hoods.

The conclusion is inescapable: Obama has embodied the confusion and unseriousness that Henninger identifies. Some might hope that this or that event or crisis will shake the president and bring him to his senses. The obligation to develop a war strategy? That’s not done the trick; in fact, it’s brought out his worst qualities and revealed his faulty instincts. An act of terrorism by a homegrown jihadist? Maybe, but the Obami’s rhetoric suggests that they are still deep in the weeds of confusion and reality avoidance.

The invasion of Afghanistan shocked Jimmy Carter: Ah, the Soviets were aggressive! What will wake up Obama and impress upon him the need to put childish rhetoric and left-wing talking points aside? If the Fort Hood massacre doesn’t, nothing will.

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Bizarro World

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

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The Insider’s Outsider

Writing about the collapse of the McCain campaign in New York, John Heilemann offers up a well-tested cliché: praise for a Republican who has no real chance of winning. Heilemann is writing for an audience of readers who have probably had little personal contact with Republicans; it’s easy for him to tell them how badly off the GOP will be without McCain. Heilemann also believes that McCain’s only chance of survival is to “resuscitate his previous image” as a straight-talking iconoclast who boldly defies Republican Party elders (and, by the way, who also lost in the last presidential race).

Heilemann misses the most interesting point about McCain’s seemingly imminent departure from the presidential primaries: this will be the first Republican primary campaign in memory in which the establishment candidate does not end up the winner. Ford in ’76, Reagan in ‘80, Bush in ’88, Dole in ’96, and G.W. Bush in 2000 were all the choices of the establishment fund-raisers and veteran political advisers. For all his reputation as a maverick, McCain began this campaign as a Washington-insider establishment favorite. (The fact that Warren Rudman is one of his campaign chairmen is all you need to know.) Heilemann blames McCain’s woes on precisely this strategy, but historically, it’s been a primary winner.

The question remains whether any of the remaining viable candidates will try to get themselves anointed as the establishment choice. Giuliani, Romney, and Fred Thompson are all styling themselves, legitimately, as Washington outsiders. And that may be a good thing. History shows that the GOP predilection for choosing the establishment candidate doesn’t always work out so well: Ford in ’76, Dole in ’96…

Writing about the collapse of the McCain campaign in New York, John Heilemann offers up a well-tested cliché: praise for a Republican who has no real chance of winning. Heilemann is writing for an audience of readers who have probably had little personal contact with Republicans; it’s easy for him to tell them how badly off the GOP will be without McCain. Heilemann also believes that McCain’s only chance of survival is to “resuscitate his previous image” as a straight-talking iconoclast who boldly defies Republican Party elders (and, by the way, who also lost in the last presidential race).

Heilemann misses the most interesting point about McCain’s seemingly imminent departure from the presidential primaries: this will be the first Republican primary campaign in memory in which the establishment candidate does not end up the winner. Ford in ’76, Reagan in ‘80, Bush in ’88, Dole in ’96, and G.W. Bush in 2000 were all the choices of the establishment fund-raisers and veteran political advisers. For all his reputation as a maverick, McCain began this campaign as a Washington-insider establishment favorite. (The fact that Warren Rudman is one of his campaign chairmen is all you need to know.) Heilemann blames McCain’s woes on precisely this strategy, but historically, it’s been a primary winner.

The question remains whether any of the remaining viable candidates will try to get themselves anointed as the establishment choice. Giuliani, Romney, and Fred Thompson are all styling themselves, legitimately, as Washington outsiders. And that may be a good thing. History shows that the GOP predilection for choosing the establishment candidate doesn’t always work out so well: Ford in ’76, Dole in ’96…

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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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China’s Buying Spree

Yesterday, China announced that it is investing $3 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the Blackstone Group, a New York private equity firm. The investment gives Beijing a potentially higher return on its $1.2 trillion of reserves, which are currently invested mostly in low-yielding debt instruments.

There are few coincidences involving China, and the timing of the announcement comes at a crucial time in Sino-American relations. A large Chinese delegation arrives in Washington this week for the second round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue. It will have limited flexibility and, as I explained in an earlier post, will not be able to make many concessions to the United States. This is also a politically sensitive moment within China, on account of the 17th Communist Party Congress, which will be held later this year.

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Yesterday, China announced that it is investing $3 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the Blackstone Group, a New York private equity firm. The investment gives Beijing a potentially higher return on its $1.2 trillion of reserves, which are currently invested mostly in low-yielding debt instruments.

There are few coincidences involving China, and the timing of the announcement comes at a crucial time in Sino-American relations. A large Chinese delegation arrives in Washington this week for the second round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue. It will have limited flexibility and, as I explained in an earlier post, will not be able to make many concessions to the United States. This is also a politically sensitive moment within China, on account of the 17th Communist Party Congress, which will be held later this year.

The Chinese have tried to lower the temperature before the Washington talks. They went on a buying spree of U.S. products recently—a tactic employed in the past—and on Friday they marginally loosened controls on the renminbi to defuse anger in Congress over their rigging of their currency. These maneuvers are transparent and will not help Beijing alter its well-deserved image as a trade outlaw. But the Chinese apparently think that the Blackstone investment could change the political calculus in this country—they rushed to close the deal before the talks, putting it together in just three weeks. It’s not far-fetched to see in this an attempt by Beijing to use its mountain of foreign cash to buy influence.

The investment in the Blackstone Group will not be as sensitive as China’s attempt, in 2005, to buy Unocal. Nonetheless, it may be more significant, foreshadowing a trend. As Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, stated earlier this year, China’s foreign-exchange reserves are sufficient to “buy Microsoft, Citibank, and Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as General Motors and Ford.” This is a good time to begin thinking about how much of corporate America should be owned by this authoritarian state.

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Who Is a Conservative?

George Will has written a sensible column on why conservative carping about the ideological flaws of the leading GOP presidential candidates is unjustified. As he concludes, “Conservatism comes in many flavors.” This point is often overlooked these days as commentators try to gauge whether Romney, McCain, or Giuliani is fit to inherit Ronald Reagan’s mantle.

The truth is that the conservative movement, especially inside the Republican party, has been broadly defined for some time. Members of the mainstream media seem incapable of seeing a Republican as something other than a “conservative” or a “moderate,” as if those were the only two possibilities. But the GOP has been influenced by a range of thinkers, from Kirk and Hayek to Buckley, Kristol, and Gilder. That’s why asking whether a Republican candidate for President is a “true conservative” doesn’t yield that much information. Far more important is whether the candidate can articulate a set of ideas that will foster a new conservative coalition.

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George Will has written a sensible column on why conservative carping about the ideological flaws of the leading GOP presidential candidates is unjustified. As he concludes, “Conservatism comes in many flavors.” This point is often overlooked these days as commentators try to gauge whether Romney, McCain, or Giuliani is fit to inherit Ronald Reagan’s mantle.

The truth is that the conservative movement, especially inside the Republican party, has been broadly defined for some time. Members of the mainstream media seem incapable of seeing a Republican as something other than a “conservative” or a “moderate,” as if those were the only two possibilities. But the GOP has been influenced by a range of thinkers, from Kirk and Hayek to Buckley, Kristol, and Gilder. That’s why asking whether a Republican candidate for President is a “true conservative” doesn’t yield that much information. Far more important is whether the candidate can articulate a set of ideas that will foster a new conservative coalition.

What might such a coalition look like? Noemie Emery has an interesting take in The Weekly Standard. She argues persuasively that important litmus tests of past Republican campaigns—abortion, gay marriage, guns—are no longer so vital; everyone in the party agrees that these are issues that should be decided by legislatures, not courts. According to Emery, this allows the less traditionalist conservative candidates to “make deals” with the social-conservative base.

True enough. But Republican primaries of the past have been about more than brokering deals. Almost every intraparty contest of the past 30 years has been a battle among personalities who all subscribed to some set of conservative ideas: Bush v. McCain in 2000, the fights with Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, George H.W. Bush v. Dole in 1988. Even the Ford-Reagan contest in 1976 was not a “moderate v. conservative” battle. It was more a dispute between established Republican leadership and forces for change within the party (remember that Cheney and Rumsfeld were then on Ford’s side).

The 2008 primary will be not be different. The press will insist that it is a fight between the “socially liberal” Giuliani and the “conservative” McCain or Romney. In fact, this will be another battle of outsized personalities, each trying to place his brand of conservatism at the philosophical forefront of the Republican party.

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