Commentary Magazine


Topic: General

RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Read Less

The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

Read Less

Barak Pulls a Sharon

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

Read Less

Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

Read Less

New Facts Emerge in Abu Rahma Case

The IDF has released more details of its investigation of the bizarre death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a Palestinian woman killed near an anti-Israel rally near Bil’in. Palestinian activists have blamed her death on tear gas fired at the protest by IDF soldiers, but that claim has seemed increasingly dubious as more information has come to light.

The investigation initially found that additional medical issues were likely involved, and now the IDF has reportedly concluded that the woman died from medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital immediately after the rally:

Jawaher Abu Rahma, the woman who Palestinians claimed was killed a week and a half ago by IDF-fired tear gas during a demonstration near Bil’in, died as a result of the medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital, the commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division said on Friday.

Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon said that the IDF’s conclusion was based on new medical documents it received from the hospital which indicated that the woman received doses of different types of medication completely unrelated to tear gas inhalation.

According to previous information released by the IDF, Abu Rahma was given drugs that are typically used to treat cancer, poison, or a drug overdose. This led some to wonder whether the woman was suffering from cancer long before she was allegedly exposed to tear gas. But based on the new evidence, it doesn’t appear that cancer was what killed her.

Of course, there have been so many contradictory reports on this issue that it’s probably unwise to speculate on the true cause of her death, at least until the IDF releases its final conclusion. But it’s been obvious for a while that tear gas probably wasn’t the culprit — especially considering that Abu Rahma was reportedly about 500 meters away from the rally, and inside a house, when the non-toxic gas was fired.

But despite the growing evidence, anti-Israel activists are continuing to use the incident as a political pawn. Last Friday, activists dedicated an anti-Israel march to Abu Rahma, and others are distributing petitions in her name to ban the supposedly deadly tear gas.

The IDF has released more details of its investigation of the bizarre death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a Palestinian woman killed near an anti-Israel rally near Bil’in. Palestinian activists have blamed her death on tear gas fired at the protest by IDF soldiers, but that claim has seemed increasingly dubious as more information has come to light.

The investigation initially found that additional medical issues were likely involved, and now the IDF has reportedly concluded that the woman died from medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital immediately after the rally:

Jawaher Abu Rahma, the woman who Palestinians claimed was killed a week and a half ago by IDF-fired tear gas during a demonstration near Bil’in, died as a result of the medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital, the commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division said on Friday.

Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon said that the IDF’s conclusion was based on new medical documents it received from the hospital which indicated that the woman received doses of different types of medication completely unrelated to tear gas inhalation.

According to previous information released by the IDF, Abu Rahma was given drugs that are typically used to treat cancer, poison, or a drug overdose. This led some to wonder whether the woman was suffering from cancer long before she was allegedly exposed to tear gas. But based on the new evidence, it doesn’t appear that cancer was what killed her.

Of course, there have been so many contradictory reports on this issue that it’s probably unwise to speculate on the true cause of her death, at least until the IDF releases its final conclusion. But it’s been obvious for a while that tear gas probably wasn’t the culprit — especially considering that Abu Rahma was reportedly about 500 meters away from the rally, and inside a house, when the non-toxic gas was fired.

But despite the growing evidence, anti-Israel activists are continuing to use the incident as a political pawn. Last Friday, activists dedicated an anti-Israel march to Abu Rahma, and others are distributing petitions in her name to ban the supposedly deadly tear gas.

Read Less

More Progress in Afghanistan

The New York Times yesterday highlighted one of the more unsung good-news stories out of Afghanistan: the success that U.S. troops have been having in preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. As reporter Eric Schmitt notes, the Haqqanis have been linked to the 2008 attacks against the Serena Hotel (which killed six) and Indian Embassy (which killed 58), but they “have not conducted a complicated attack in Kabul since a suicide bomber steered his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy on May 18.”

U.S. commanders are naturally reluctant to publicly claim any kind of victory because they know that an attack could occur tomorrow but this is a testament to how effective the Joint Special Operations Command has been in targeting the Haqqani network with assistance of conventional American units. We should also not underestimate the contribution being made by Afghan security forces which police Kabul largely on their own. It has not gotten much attention but Gen. Petraeus has emphasized the need to secure the capital, where the largest concentration of the country’s population may be found, and then to expand the security zone outward. So far that plan is meeting with considerable success.

Which stands at odds with the UN findings, reported by the Wall Street Journal, which “show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season.” I am at a loss to explain how the UN can claim that things are getting worse when not only is Kabul much safer but so also are most of the key districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces targeted by coalition forces. Yes, there has been some deterioration in the north but it is nowhere as bad as the south had become–and it will never get as bad because the Taliban appeal only to Pashtuns and there are precious few in the north.

One partial explanation may be that the UN findings were made in October, thus ignoring at least two months of solid progress in the south. Another partial explanation may be that the UN is focusing on the uptick in fighting as coalition troops go into insurgent strong havens–rather than the result, which is less Taliban control. The early stages of any offensive always look messy; they certainly did in Iraq. And no doubt the UN was reporting in 2007 that the security situation was deteriorating in Iraq. But that was the price of breaking the insurgent grip. Something similar is happening now in Afghanistan. We can only hope the results will be as positive as they were in Iraq.

The New York Times yesterday highlighted one of the more unsung good-news stories out of Afghanistan: the success that U.S. troops have been having in preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. As reporter Eric Schmitt notes, the Haqqanis have been linked to the 2008 attacks against the Serena Hotel (which killed six) and Indian Embassy (which killed 58), but they “have not conducted a complicated attack in Kabul since a suicide bomber steered his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy on May 18.”

U.S. commanders are naturally reluctant to publicly claim any kind of victory because they know that an attack could occur tomorrow but this is a testament to how effective the Joint Special Operations Command has been in targeting the Haqqani network with assistance of conventional American units. We should also not underestimate the contribution being made by Afghan security forces which police Kabul largely on their own. It has not gotten much attention but Gen. Petraeus has emphasized the need to secure the capital, where the largest concentration of the country’s population may be found, and then to expand the security zone outward. So far that plan is meeting with considerable success.

Which stands at odds with the UN findings, reported by the Wall Street Journal, which “show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season.” I am at a loss to explain how the UN can claim that things are getting worse when not only is Kabul much safer but so also are most of the key districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces targeted by coalition forces. Yes, there has been some deterioration in the north but it is nowhere as bad as the south had become–and it will never get as bad because the Taliban appeal only to Pashtuns and there are precious few in the north.

One partial explanation may be that the UN findings were made in October, thus ignoring at least two months of solid progress in the south. Another partial explanation may be that the UN is focusing on the uptick in fighting as coalition troops go into insurgent strong havens–rather than the result, which is less Taliban control. The early stages of any offensive always look messy; they certainly did in Iraq. And no doubt the UN was reporting in 2007 that the security situation was deteriorating in Iraq. But that was the price of breaking the insurgent grip. Something similar is happening now in Afghanistan. We can only hope the results will be as positive as they were in Iraq.

Read Less

Obama Rebounds in December After Devastating November

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

President Obama has had a heckuva December, especially considering how dismal his November was. Just a month after suffering a midterm-election drubbing, he has bounced back with a renewal of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and now ratification of New START. Oh, and he also issued his AfPak review, which endorsed the counterinsurgency plan being implemented by General Petraeus.

It is hard to imagine a more skillful triangulation, offering something to both the right (tax cuts, toughness on the war effort) and the left (letting gays serve openly, passing an arms-control treaty). Actually, I’m not sure how left-wing even his liberal achievements are, since a number of conservatives (myself included) endorsed DADT repeal and New START passage. Considering that he is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office, he has done a surprisingly good job of moving to the center, as witnessed by the Republican votes he has managed to garner on DADT and New START — votes that were notably absent when he rammed his health-care bill through Congress.

The biggest challenge for the president in the 684 days remaining until the 2012 election is to address the two biggest threats to our long-term well-being: the ballooning national debt and the anemic pace of economic growth. He needs to work with the GOP Congress to cut spending, which will alienate his Democratic base; the economy will, I assume, rebound more or less on its own barring any more onerous regulatory or tax bills from Washington.

As for foreign policy, his biggest challenges are to make sure that the military campaign in Afghanistan progresses and that Iraq does not regress. He has caught an extraordinarily lucky break thanks to the Stuxnet virus, probably engineered by the Israelis, which seems to have set the Iranian program back another year or two. That means it’s very unlikely that Iran will go nuclear before the 2012 election — a calamity for which Obama would shoulder the blame. The biggest threat he faces is an unexpected crisis: e.g., war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan or a devastating terrorist strike on the American homeland as a result of a security breakdown. Barring such a calamity, and notwithstanding his weak poll numbers, I’d say he is looking like a prohibitively strong candidate for re-election — especially because there is not an obvious candidate of stature in the Republican ranks.

But of course, it’s still early. It is salutary to recall that in December 1990, George H.W. Bush had considerably higher poll numbers than Obama has today — 61 percent for Bush vs. 46 percent for Obama.

Read Less

One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

Read Less

Iraq’s Democracy Works but Needs Continued U.S. Presence for Long-Term Survival

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

Read Less

Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

Read Less

Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

Read Less

In-Country Analysis vs. Mud-Slinging Critics

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof. Read More

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof.

The notion that these are Potemkin tours designed to highlight only progress is ludicrous; in the past on a similar outing, I have been in a Humvee that was hit by a complex ambush in Mosul when it was the worst remaining area of Iraq. (Note: I am not claiming that the level of risk or discomfort I or others experience on such trips is remotely comparable to that of the average lance corporal; I always return in awe of the soldiers, Marines, and others who can endure such tough conditions and face such great risks for many months at a time — I realize how coddled we visitors are by comparison.)

To the critics of these fact-finding trips, I ask: What are they suggesting? That we would be better analysts if (like so many who write about Iraq and Afghanistan) we never visited at all? Or that there are analysts who are more deeply informed about events than we are?

I would agree that there are certainly people with deeper knowledge of the countries
in question than I possess, and I try to learn from them as much as possible. I would not dare to compare my country knowledge with theirs. But I think I can still make a useful contribution to the public debate by offering a broader view informed by my study of military history. If you want to disregard my analysis because I am not as deeply steeped in these areas as some others, be my guest. But keep in mind that even area experts are hardly infallible.

In general, I would suggest that commentators focus on the merits of the analysis provided by me, or by others, and stop slinging mud about our fact-gathering methods.

Read Less

Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

Read Less

The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Read Less

The President Shouldn’t Listen to Counsels of Despair on Afghanistan

The best indication that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan: a sundry collection of “experts” is ready to raise the white flag. A motley crew of academics and journalists (including my frequent sparring partner Nir Rosen) has just released an open letter to President Obama claiming that “the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago” and that “operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, are not going well.” Yet a few paragraphs later, the authors switch gears, writing, “The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.” So which is it: is the campaign failing, or is it suppressing the Taliban?

Having just visited Afghanistan, where I had the opportunity to visit Helmand and Kandahar provinces, among others, I return convinced that the campaign is, in fact, going well and that it is suppressing the Taliban. Obviously, the Taliban have not given up the struggle, as witness, for example, the terrible suicide bombing of a new Afghan-American patrol base in Kandahar’s Zhare district — an attack that killed six American servicemen. But keep in mind that Zhare has for years been one of the Taliban’s strongholds. The fact that the Taliban are still able to carry out an occasional suicide bombing there is much less significant than the fact that the area is now dotted with American patrol bases. U.S. troops have in fact had considerable, though still incomplete, success in pushing the Taliban out of many of their southern redoubts.

Once progress on the ground is further along, it is likely that elements of the Taliban will be eager to stop fighting. At that point, peace talks may produce some results. But that time is not now. Which is why the authors of the open letter are so far off base when they call on President Obama “to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.” The open letter claims that the “Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate,” which is true in the sense that the Taliban are happy to negotiate the exit of international forces in the expectation that they will then take over the whole country and reimpose their fundamentalist dictatorship. But they have so far shown little willingness to negotiate on terms acceptable to most Afghans or to the international community, which has sponsored Afghanistan’s post-2001 experiment in democracy. In fact, when some elements of the Taliban leadership showed a willingness to make concessions, they were promptly locked up by the Pakistanis, who don’t want to see their proxies surrendering without their say-so.

The notion “that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan” is simply delusional — at least for now. For talks to have any success, General Petraeus needs more time to pursue his comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Thankfully, it appears as if he will get that time from the Obama administration — which is far too sensible to listen to the counsels of despair from this open letter.

The best indication that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan: a sundry collection of “experts” is ready to raise the white flag. A motley crew of academics and journalists (including my frequent sparring partner Nir Rosen) has just released an open letter to President Obama claiming that “the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago” and that “operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, are not going well.” Yet a few paragraphs later, the authors switch gears, writing, “The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.” So which is it: is the campaign failing, or is it suppressing the Taliban?

Having just visited Afghanistan, where I had the opportunity to visit Helmand and Kandahar provinces, among others, I return convinced that the campaign is, in fact, going well and that it is suppressing the Taliban. Obviously, the Taliban have not given up the struggle, as witness, for example, the terrible suicide bombing of a new Afghan-American patrol base in Kandahar’s Zhare district — an attack that killed six American servicemen. But keep in mind that Zhare has for years been one of the Taliban’s strongholds. The fact that the Taliban are still able to carry out an occasional suicide bombing there is much less significant than the fact that the area is now dotted with American patrol bases. U.S. troops have in fact had considerable, though still incomplete, success in pushing the Taliban out of many of their southern redoubts.

Once progress on the ground is further along, it is likely that elements of the Taliban will be eager to stop fighting. At that point, peace talks may produce some results. But that time is not now. Which is why the authors of the open letter are so far off base when they call on President Obama “to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.” The open letter claims that the “Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate,” which is true in the sense that the Taliban are happy to negotiate the exit of international forces in the expectation that they will then take over the whole country and reimpose their fundamentalist dictatorship. But they have so far shown little willingness to negotiate on terms acceptable to most Afghans or to the international community, which has sponsored Afghanistan’s post-2001 experiment in democracy. In fact, when some elements of the Taliban leadership showed a willingness to make concessions, they were promptly locked up by the Pakistanis, who don’t want to see their proxies surrendering without their say-so.

The notion “that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan” is simply delusional — at least for now. For talks to have any success, General Petraeus needs more time to pursue his comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Thankfully, it appears as if he will get that time from the Obama administration — which is far too sensible to listen to the counsels of despair from this open letter.

Read Less

The Obama Primary Challenger Issue and Why It’s Misunderstood

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it. Read More

With angry leftists starting to discuss the possibility of a primary challenge to Barack Obama, the general reaction from serious and clever political observers has been that the idea is a preposterous one. Ed Kilgore on the New Republic‘s website (trans-ideological congratulations, by the way, to TNR’s new editor, Richard Just), my former colleague Jennifer Rubin on the WaPo site, Dave Weigel in Slate, and many others have sensibly pointed out that such a challenge would be doomed. Obama’s approval ratings among Democrats is in the 80s and not much lower among liberals (despite the outrage this week about the tax-cut deal).

The fact that Obama can surely depend on nearly universal support from black Democrats makes a primary challenge even more unlikely, they say. And not only unlikely, but pointless. Rather than achieving the near-win Eugene McCarthy scored in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire against sitting president LBJ or Pat Buchanan’s getting 38 percent against Bush the Elder in 1992, Weigel suggests that the outcome would be more like the foolish bid by Ohio Republican Rep. John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in 1972 from the right, when Ashbrook got 9 percent there.

All worth considering. But in Kilgore’s case, the wish is father to the thought; he doesn’t want a challenge and is offering an analysis intended to talk interested Democrats and leftists out of attempting one. Weigel is giving voice to the “Oh, come on” school oft affected by those who spend most of their time thinking about politics and can’t imagine why anybody would make a political move that seems fruitless.

But here’s the thing. An Obama primary challenger wouldn’t be getting in the race to win. Pat Buchanan didn’t think he’d win, and I don’t think Eugene McCarthy thought so either. The question is whether a collection of factors next year — continued weakness in the economy and the fact that we haven’t pulled out of Afghanistan — creates the conditions under which a primary challenge will be staged. The point, which I make in my COMMENTARY article this month, is that one would arise in that instance because, in effect, the dynamic of the American political system would demand it.

First, presume that, if the status quo remains largely unchanged, Obama’s support will decline somewhat among Democrats and liberals. They won’t like the state of things; he’ll start to smell like a loser and people tend to desert losers; and many will be genuinely angry that his ideological concessions on taxes and war have not improved matters from their perspective. Someone would do it at that point because (and this sounds sentimental, but isn’t) he actually does hear the leftist body politic crying out for someone to represent its views. Protest candidacies are not about victory, which is why Hillary Clinton won’t stage one; they’re about protest.

Also remember that the cost of entry for a protest candidate is far lower than people realize. One would get in to make a showing in New Hampshire, which is not expensive to run in — and a protest candidacy that gets any kind of purchase will, in any case, be able to raise money very fast. (If Christine O’Donnell can raise a few million dollars in three days, so can Russ Feingold under the right circumstances, like the Huffington Post’s pushing his campaign.) The question then would be what kind of showing such a person could make in that one state. As it happens, it might well be built to help a leftist protest candidate.

For one thing, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the population of New Hampshire. (Remember: Hillary Clinton won here in 2008.) For another, independents can vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, which could allow some genuinely angry people to cast protest votes just to send Obama a message, even though such people would probably end up voting Republican in November 2012.

I have no idea whether there will be such a candidate, because I have no idea what things will look like next fall. I do know that if a candidate turns out to be less like Ashbrook and more like Buchanan, Obama will be in serious trouble. (Read my piece to find out more.) Right now, it is as foolish to presume there won’t be one, or to argue that such a candidate would be unable to make a bid damaging to Obama, as it would be to presume one will definitely rise up to challenge him.

Read Less

Afternoon Commentary

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

Read Less

To Get Arab Support on Iran, Take a Leaf from Bush Sr.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

Read Less

When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.'” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.'” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Read Less

Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.