Commentary Magazine


Topic: George Bush

Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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Where Have All the Anti-War Rallies Gone?

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

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The Definition of ‘Anti-Israel’

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally. Read More

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally.

That’s the entire point of the resolution before the Security Council. It’s meant to single out and scapegoat Israel for the delays in the peace process. In reality, there are many obstructions to the negotiations — the biggest ones coming from the Palestinian side — and neither Clemons’s letter nor the Security Council resolution mentions any of them.

What else can that be called except bias?

If Clemons seriously wants to see the end of settlement-building, I can’t imagine a worse way to go about it than by supporting a UN resolution. Historically, more progress has been made on curbing settlement construction when the U.S. has lobbied Israel privately (e.g., the secret agreements under Sharon and Bush). And I fail to see how humiliating one of our closest and most loyal allies in front of the world will help bring about further progress on peace negotiations.

The UN resolution demonizes Israel, unfairly scapegoats Israel and undermines peace negotiations. If that’s not anti-Israel, then what is?

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Morning Commentary

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

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Sen. Conrad’s Retirement and a GOP Senate Majority in 2012

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced today that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012, and chances look good that Republicans will be able to pick up the seat, helping them inch closer to a Senate majority.

There are several reasons for optimism. First, North Dakota is a safely Red State, with strong GOP majorities in both statewide seats and the state legislature, according to Real Clear Politics:

Republicans hold nine of the 10 statewide offices — their one miss is for superintendant of public instruction. Representative Earl Pomeroy, the longtime heir apparent to Conrad and Dorgan, lost his re-election campaign by nine points in 2010. And Democrats hold only 37 of 141 seats in the state legislature.

RCP also notes that the state has been trending Republican in recent years. Older North Dakota voters, who tended to swing toward Democrats, have been replaced by younger, more conservative voters in the past few election cycles. “North Dakota was one of the few states in the 2004 elections where young voters voted more heavily for President Bush than did voters over 60,” RCP reported.

Conrad was elected in 1986, and his ability to hold on to the seat in recent years was likely based heavily on that seniority. But now that the seat is up for grabs, it will be much more difficult for Democrats to retain it with a fresher-faced candidate.

Analysts say that the one Democratic candidate who may have a shot is former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, since he’s considered to be a more moderate Democrat. But since he lost his congressional re-election bid just last year, there’s doubt that he’ll be able to mount a successful Senate campaign.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have a bevy of strong candidates who could potentially pull off a win. The short list includes Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

Of that list, Kalk appears to have the head start. Even before Conrad announced he was stepping down, Kalk had expressed interest in challenging him, and he even formed an exploratory committee last week.

“Following the election of 2010, a lot of folks have reached out to me as potentially running against Sen. Conrad. Quite honestly, my wife and I are going to give this some serious thought and make a decision after the first of the year,” he said at the time.

Democrats were already facing an uphill battle next year, since only 10 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with 23 Democrats. So Conrad’s decision to step down is certainly cheering news for the GOP, which is now in a prime position to control both the House and the Senate.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced today that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2012, and chances look good that Republicans will be able to pick up the seat, helping them inch closer to a Senate majority.

There are several reasons for optimism. First, North Dakota is a safely Red State, with strong GOP majorities in both statewide seats and the state legislature, according to Real Clear Politics:

Republicans hold nine of the 10 statewide offices — their one miss is for superintendant of public instruction. Representative Earl Pomeroy, the longtime heir apparent to Conrad and Dorgan, lost his re-election campaign by nine points in 2010. And Democrats hold only 37 of 141 seats in the state legislature.

RCP also notes that the state has been trending Republican in recent years. Older North Dakota voters, who tended to swing toward Democrats, have been replaced by younger, more conservative voters in the past few election cycles. “North Dakota was one of the few states in the 2004 elections where young voters voted more heavily for President Bush than did voters over 60,” RCP reported.

Conrad was elected in 1986, and his ability to hold on to the seat in recent years was likely based heavily on that seniority. But now that the seat is up for grabs, it will be much more difficult for Democrats to retain it with a fresher-faced candidate.

Analysts say that the one Democratic candidate who may have a shot is former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, since he’s considered to be a more moderate Democrat. But since he lost his congressional re-election bid just last year, there’s doubt that he’ll be able to mount a successful Senate campaign.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have a bevy of strong candidates who could potentially pull off a win. The short list includes Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.

Of that list, Kalk appears to have the head start. Even before Conrad announced he was stepping down, Kalk had expressed interest in challenging him, and he even formed an exploratory committee last week.

“Following the election of 2010, a lot of folks have reached out to me as potentially running against Sen. Conrad. Quite honestly, my wife and I are going to give this some serious thought and make a decision after the first of the year,” he said at the time.

Democrats were already facing an uphill battle next year, since only 10 Republican senators will be up for re-election, compared with 23 Democrats. So Conrad’s decision to step down is certainly cheering news for the GOP, which is now in a prime position to control both the House and the Senate.

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The Berlin-Rome-Tehran Axis

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

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Is Loughner Insane or Evil?

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

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A ‘Historic Opportunity’ in Tunisia

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

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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?

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Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

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The Problem Will Not Be Solved with Adjectives

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

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MSNBC’s Selective History

Courtesy of Newsbusters, MSNBC is airing a promo for President Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union. It features video from previous State of the Union speeches. The presidents you see and hear from are, in order, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Following the clips, you read these words: “America Always Believes in a Better Future.”

So who might be missing from this pantheon? Try Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, just for starters. Perhaps at MSNBC, those Republicans are viewed as an obstacle to a better future.

The slogan “Lean Forward” might be better understood as “Lean Left.” And in MSNBC’s case, Very Left.

Courtesy of Newsbusters, MSNBC is airing a promo for President Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union. It features video from previous State of the Union speeches. The presidents you see and hear from are, in order, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Following the clips, you read these words: “America Always Believes in a Better Future.”

So who might be missing from this pantheon? Try Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, just for starters. Perhaps at MSNBC, those Republicans are viewed as an obstacle to a better future.

The slogan “Lean Forward” might be better understood as “Lean Left.” And in MSNBC’s case, Very Left.

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Was Obama’s Speech His Finest Hour?

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

Obama’s Tucson speech was the best of his presidency, and his challenge to fulfill the expectations of the girl who came to meet her congresswoman on the corner will be a lasting contribution to presidential rhetoric. The suggestion by Garry Wills in “Obama’s Finest Hour” that the speech compares favorably with Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses strikes me as a tad excessive, but Obama gave a beautiful speech at a critical moment and lifted both the country and his own presidency. Everything a speech can do, it did.

In some sense, it was a sermon to himself, since he bears as much blame (and perhaps more) as anyone for the divisive rhetoric that has marked the first two years of his presidency. If there will be no more presidential denigration of political opponents as “enemies,” “hostage takers,” “bitter clingers,” people he has to “clean up after” who should “not do a lot of talking” and ride in the “back of the bus,” both the country and his presidency will be better for it. The clearest test of the Tucson sermon will be how well he is able to adhere to it.

At this moment, it may be worth recalling the final question at George W. Bush’s final news conference on January 12, 2009:

Q … You arrived here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way, needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents on different issues. … It’s just the rhetoric got out of control at times –

Q Why?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know why. You need to ask those who — those who used the words they used. As I say, it’s not the first time it’s ever happened. … It’s happened throughout our history. And I would hope that, frankly, for the sake of the system itself, that if people disagree with President-Elect Obama, they treat him with respect. …  And so I wish him all the best. And no question he’ll be — there will be critics. And there should be. … I just hope the tone is respectful.

It would be a mistake to wish for a Kumbaya country; there are important issues that need to be debated and decided, on which the future of the country rests. But civility in debate can assist in their resolution.

And it would be an even bigger mistake to think that a speech is the solution in every situation. One of the reasons Obama’s sermon was a great speech is that a speech is what the occasion called for. In other situations, particularly in foreign affairs, an outstretched rhetorical hand has only limited efficacy; world problems are rarely resolved by declaring oneself a citizen of the world; and continually declaring that the time is now does not engender respect among the nations.

As Iran continues its efforts to change the Middle East, and with it the global balance of power, Obama’s challenge will be to summon not eloquence but resolution. His finest hour will require more than a speech.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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Why the Arizona Massacre Is Fodder for Liberal Attacks

Even before most of the country had even learned the facts of the Arizona massacre on Saturday, the headline on the homepage of the New York Times website proclaimed that “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions,” even though the publication of this story preceded most of the accusations of conservative responsibility for the attack that were soon heard on the left. In other words, the Times and other media outlets that immediately adopted this frame of reference for viewing the massacre were shaping the discussion about the event more than they were actually reporting it.

In the days since then, the evidence for any political motivation that could be attached to Loughner has been shown to be completely lacking. His bizarre behavior and beliefs are the stuff that speaks of mental illness, not overheated politics. But that did not stop the avalanche of libelous accusations of ultimate conservative responsibility.

To seize upon just one of the most egregious examples, the Times’s Paul Krugman claimed today that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “Climate of Hate” created by conservatives. Yes, this is the same columnist who wrote in 2009 that progressives should “hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of his opposition (albeit temporary) to ObamaCare. But just as those who accuse conservatives of spewing hate that leads to violence ignore the daily provocations of TV talkers like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, just as they ignored the unprecedented hate directed at President Bush, the Times Nobel Laureate thinks his own direct call for violence against Lieberman also doesn’t count.

Even worse, the facts about Loughner have not deterred the news departments of these media giants — as opposed to the opinion-slingers like Krugman — from reporting the story as one in which the right is guilty until proven innocent. For example, this afternoon the Times published a story that centered on the charge that conservative talk-show hosts were put in the dock as accessories to the crime while they “reject blame.” The same day, Politico led off with a story that claimed that the “Tucson shooting marks turning point for Sarah Palin,” which took it as a given that the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s future political career would forever be tainted by the Arizona shooting in spite of the fact that she had nothing to do with it. Read More

Even before most of the country had even learned the facts of the Arizona massacre on Saturday, the headline on the homepage of the New York Times website proclaimed that “In Attack’s Wake, Political Repercussions,” even though the publication of this story preceded most of the accusations of conservative responsibility for the attack that were soon heard on the left. In other words, the Times and other media outlets that immediately adopted this frame of reference for viewing the massacre were shaping the discussion about the event more than they were actually reporting it.

In the days since then, the evidence for any political motivation that could be attached to Loughner has been shown to be completely lacking. His bizarre behavior and beliefs are the stuff that speaks of mental illness, not overheated politics. But that did not stop the avalanche of libelous accusations of ultimate conservative responsibility.

To seize upon just one of the most egregious examples, the Times’s Paul Krugman claimed today that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “Climate of Hate” created by conservatives. Yes, this is the same columnist who wrote in 2009 that progressives should “hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of his opposition (albeit temporary) to ObamaCare. But just as those who accuse conservatives of spewing hate that leads to violence ignore the daily provocations of TV talkers like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, just as they ignored the unprecedented hate directed at President Bush, the Times Nobel Laureate thinks his own direct call for violence against Lieberman also doesn’t count.

Even worse, the facts about Loughner have not deterred the news departments of these media giants — as opposed to the opinion-slingers like Krugman — from reporting the story as one in which the right is guilty until proven innocent. For example, this afternoon the Times published a story that centered on the charge that conservative talk-show hosts were put in the dock as accessories to the crime while they “reject blame.” The same day, Politico led off with a story that claimed that the “Tucson shooting marks turning point for Sarah Palin,” which took it as a given that the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s future political career would forever be tainted by the Arizona shooting in spite of the fact that she had nothing to do with it.

In the face of such deliberate distortions, we are forced to ask ourselves what lies behind these editorial decisions. The answer is fairly simple. The reason the editors of the Times and Politico have chosen to slant the reporting of the massacre in this fashion is that it reflects their own politically biased views about conservatives. They didn’t wait for some proof of Loughner’s political motivations to allege that, in some inchoate way, right-wing views influenced his criminally insane behavior and that conservatives would have to pay a political price simply because that was their immediate assumption. That is, after all, how liberal media elites think of conservatives. Indeed, if you read only the New York Times, the results of the November election would have come as a shock because the Gray Lady and other liberal-establishment forums consistently represented those protesters as a marginal outcropping of crazed extremists, not a genuinely grass-roots popular movement that expressed the anger of a large percentage of Americans about the excesses of both the Obama administration and the liberal Congress that stuffed an unpopular health-care bill down the throat of the country.

For the past two years, many newspapers and broadcast outlets attempted to falsely portray the Tea Party as a hate group that has uniquely debased the tenor of political debate in the country. So it should not surprise us that the same people are today trying to forge a fictitious link between Loughner and Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party.

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Defense Cuts Invite Someone to Test Our Will — and Power

My editorial in the new Weekly Standard criticizing plans to cut back defense, and especially to cut back ground forces, has sparked a fair amount of Internet chatter. Leaving aside the vast volume of ad hominem attacks (one of which I dealt with in my last post), much of the criticism has focused on two sentences.

Complaining about the 32 percent decline in army strength between 1991 and 2001, I wrote: “That 32 percent decline in active-duty strength severely limited our options for a military response to 9/11, practically dictating that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Then, suggesting that President Obama cannot be certain that there will not be some contingency in the near future that will require large ground forces, I wrote: “How certain is he that Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia won’t be the staging ground for another 9/11, thereby requiring another massive commitment of U.S. troops?”

Regarding the first point: critics say that Bush and his civilian and military officials decided to send a small force to Afghanistan and then Iraq not because of force constraints but because they were wedded to the ideology of the “small footprint.” There is a great deal of merit in this assertion, but even if they had been convinced that sending a large force was the way to go, they would have been hard-pressed to do so because of the post–Cold War cuts in army strength. Indeed as the Iraq war went along, it became clear that our force was too small to get the job done, but senior generals such as Casey and Abizaid did not push Rumsfeld to send more troops, in part because they thought there simply were not enough army troops available and they didn’t want to “break” the army. I recognize that they had other reasons for preferring to keep the force too small, but this was certainly a major part of their calculus.

Finally, in late 2006, Bush decided to disregard their (bad) advice and send more troops. He was able to send only five brigades when the architects of the surge had hoped for eight or nine at least. But there were only five available and even that was a stretch. Increasing our troop strength by just 30,000 required placing a huge strain on the force; many units were extended from 12-month deployments to 18 months, a long time to be in combat. Luckily, the five-brigade surge proved sufficient, but what if the situation had been so bad that we really needed eight or nine? In that case, we would have lost the war. That’s a risk we shouldn’t have to run.

Indeed, even as we were winning in Iraq, we were losing in Afghanistan, because we didn’t have enough troops to adequately garrison both countries. In the 1990s, it never occurred to force planners from the Bush and Clinton administrations that we would be making such large ground-force commitments, so they did not create an army big enough to handle such commitments. Today we are hearing the same refrain we heard back then: that there is scant chance we will fight a major ground war in the future, so why bother preparing for one? Unfortunately, history has a tendency to make a mockery of such certainties, in part because our very unreadiness to fight increases the odds that we will have to do so by encouraging potential enemies to test our will.

My editorial in the new Weekly Standard criticizing plans to cut back defense, and especially to cut back ground forces, has sparked a fair amount of Internet chatter. Leaving aside the vast volume of ad hominem attacks (one of which I dealt with in my last post), much of the criticism has focused on two sentences.

Complaining about the 32 percent decline in army strength between 1991 and 2001, I wrote: “That 32 percent decline in active-duty strength severely limited our options for a military response to 9/11, practically dictating that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Then, suggesting that President Obama cannot be certain that there will not be some contingency in the near future that will require large ground forces, I wrote: “How certain is he that Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia won’t be the staging ground for another 9/11, thereby requiring another massive commitment of U.S. troops?”

Regarding the first point: critics say that Bush and his civilian and military officials decided to send a small force to Afghanistan and then Iraq not because of force constraints but because they were wedded to the ideology of the “small footprint.” There is a great deal of merit in this assertion, but even if they had been convinced that sending a large force was the way to go, they would have been hard-pressed to do so because of the post–Cold War cuts in army strength. Indeed as the Iraq war went along, it became clear that our force was too small to get the job done, but senior generals such as Casey and Abizaid did not push Rumsfeld to send more troops, in part because they thought there simply were not enough army troops available and they didn’t want to “break” the army. I recognize that they had other reasons for preferring to keep the force too small, but this was certainly a major part of their calculus.

Finally, in late 2006, Bush decided to disregard their (bad) advice and send more troops. He was able to send only five brigades when the architects of the surge had hoped for eight or nine at least. But there were only five available and even that was a stretch. Increasing our troop strength by just 30,000 required placing a huge strain on the force; many units were extended from 12-month deployments to 18 months, a long time to be in combat. Luckily, the five-brigade surge proved sufficient, but what if the situation had been so bad that we really needed eight or nine? In that case, we would have lost the war. That’s a risk we shouldn’t have to run.

Indeed, even as we were winning in Iraq, we were losing in Afghanistan, because we didn’t have enough troops to adequately garrison both countries. In the 1990s, it never occurred to force planners from the Bush and Clinton administrations that we would be making such large ground-force commitments, so they did not create an army big enough to handle such commitments. Today we are hearing the same refrain we heard back then: that there is scant chance we will fight a major ground war in the future, so why bother preparing for one? Unfortunately, history has a tendency to make a mockery of such certainties, in part because our very unreadiness to fight increases the odds that we will have to do so by encouraging potential enemies to test our will.

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Selective Reading Results in Daft Analysis

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments. Read More

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments.

The army needs to tackle the task of “imperial” policing — not a
popular duty, but one that is as vital to safeguarding U.S. interests
in the long run as are the more conventional war-fighting skills on
display during the second Gulf War. The Army War College’s decision to
shut down its Peacekeeping Institute is not a good sign; it means that
the army still wants to avoid focusing on noncombat missions. The army
brass should realize that battlefield victories in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can easily be squandered if they do not do enough
to win the peace.

I picked up on this point in a 2005 Foreign Affairs article that Duss somehow ignores. I wrote:

Even if the Defense Department wanted to dramatically increase the size of the force in Iraq — a step that many experts believe is essential — it
would be hard pressed to find the necessary troops. As it is,
active-duty divisions are being worn down by constant rotations
through Afghanistan and Iraq, and the National Guard and reserves are
now feeling the strain as well. Essential equipment, such as Humvees
and helicopters, is getting worn out by constant use in harsh
conditions. So are the soldiers who operate them. Many officers worry
about a looming recruitment and retention crisis.

This points to the need to increase the overall size of the U.S.
military — especially the Army, which was cut more than 30 percent in
the 1990s. Bush and Rumsfeld have adamantly resisted any permanent
personnel increase because they insist, contrary to all evidence, that
the spike in overseas deployments is only temporary. Rumsfeld instead
plans to reassign soldiers from lower-priority billets to military
policing, intelligence, and civil affairs, while temporarily
increasing the Army’s size by 30,000 and moving civilians into jobs
now performed by uniformed personnel. In this way he hopes to increase
the number of active-duty Army combat brigades from 33 to at least 43.

These are welcome moves, but they are only Band-AIDS for a military
that is bleeding from gaping wounds inflicted by a punishing tempo of
operations. The U.S. armed forces should add at least 100,000 extra
soldiers, and probably a good deal more.

I have quoted extensively from my own writing to show what a crock this attack is. I have been consistently arguing for an increase in the size of our ground combat forces. Failure to increase end-strength more was one of the major mistakes that President Bush made — as I said at the time. I only hope that President Obama does not repeat this mistake.

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Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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