Commentary Magazine


Topic: Georgetown University

The Moral Case for Conservatism

William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal and George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, have intelligent columns (here and here) about Representative Paul Ryan’s address at Georgetown University last week. There are two elements to the speech worth drawing attention to.

The first is a commendable modesty in Ryan’s remarks. While Ryan, a committed Catholic, provided a robust defense of his budget, he readily admits there is plenty of room for differences over the prudential application of Christian principles to matters of public policy. Too often people on both the left and the right insist the New Testament and Hebrew Bible provide a governing blueprint. In fact, they say virtually nothing about what we would consider public policy. They simply do not offer detailed guidance on (to name just a handful of issues) trade; education; welfare, crime; health care; affirmative action, immigration; foreign aid; legal reform; climate change; and much else. And even on issues that many people believe the Bible does speak to, if sometimes indirectly – including poverty and wealth, abortion and same-sex marriage, capital punishment and euthanasia – nothing in the text speaks to the nature or extent of legislation or the kind of prudential steps that ought to be pursued.

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William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal and George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, have intelligent columns (here and here) about Representative Paul Ryan’s address at Georgetown University last week. There are two elements to the speech worth drawing attention to.

The first is a commendable modesty in Ryan’s remarks. While Ryan, a committed Catholic, provided a robust defense of his budget, he readily admits there is plenty of room for differences over the prudential application of Christian principles to matters of public policy. Too often people on both the left and the right insist the New Testament and Hebrew Bible provide a governing blueprint. In fact, they say virtually nothing about what we would consider public policy. They simply do not offer detailed guidance on (to name just a handful of issues) trade; education; welfare, crime; health care; affirmative action, immigration; foreign aid; legal reform; climate change; and much else. And even on issues that many people believe the Bible does speak to, if sometimes indirectly – including poverty and wealth, abortion and same-sex marriage, capital punishment and euthanasia – nothing in the text speaks to the nature or extent of legislation or the kind of prudential steps that ought to be pursued.

One may believe we have a scriptural obligation to be good stewards of the earth, but that doesn’t necessarily determine where one will stand on cap-and-trade legislation. An individual can take to heart the admonition in Exodus not to “oppress a stranger” and still grapple with the issue of whether to grant a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. A person of faith can embrace the words of Deuteronomy – “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” – and be on different sides of the welfare debate. Nor does the Bible tell us whether the 1991 Gulf War or the 2003 Iraq war was the right or wrong decision.

The Christian ethicist Paul Ramsey put it this way: “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.”

A second observation is that Ryan is making a moral argument for conservatism – laying out, with some precision, an affirmative case for conservatism based on advancing human flourishing for everyone in society, but most especially the poor, the weak, and the defenseless.

For almost as long as I’ve been interested in politics, it has puzzled me why conservatives have (with some honorable exceptions) more or less ceded the ground of compassion and humane politics to the left. A disinterested analysis shows, in my estimation, that conservative policies in economics, crime, welfare, and education — to take just four areas — have done more to save and better individual lives than the progressive movement. That isn’t the case all the time and in every instance, but it’s true often enough to draw certain judgments.

The reason for this rests in part on the awareness that at the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature, to paraphrase the 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann. The suppositions we begin with – the ways in which the picture is developed – determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, the policies we advance, and the civilization we create.

Conservatives believe in the mixed nature of the human person and the complexity of human society, in the dispersal rather than the concentration of power, in government encouraging excellence and promoting equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes, in the principle of subsidiarity and the crucial role played by the family and civic institutions, in eschewing utopianism while embracing reform, in the primacy of a strong national defense and the conviction that America, while an imperfect nation, has been a tremendous force for good in the world.

Those principles, as they work themselves out in the form of achievable policy solutions, will advance the common good, the moral good, and true humanism. That is at the core of what Paul Ryan was saying in his Georgetown speech. It is the frame which conservatives might consider placing around the political battles of the moment.

 

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G’town Keeping Policy on Birth Control

Georgetown University’s student insurance program came under fire a few months ago during an unofficial congressional hearing after student and activist Sandra Fluke criticized its lack of birth control coverage. Since Fluke’s testimony, the university has been under mounting pressure to change its birth control coverage policy immediately. But today, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia confirmed in a letter to students that the university will not change its policy until it’s required to by law:

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

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Georgetown University’s student insurance program came under fire a few months ago during an unofficial congressional hearing after student and activist Sandra Fluke criticized its lack of birth control coverage. Since Fluke’s testimony, the university has been under mounting pressure to change its birth control coverage policy immediately. But today, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia confirmed in a letter to students that the university will not change its policy until it’s required to by law:

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

While the letter doesn’t mention Fluke directly, DeGioia clearly responds to several of her claims. In her testimony, Fluke argued that contraception coverage is necessary for health care reasons, and recounted a story about one fellow student who was allegedly forced to have an ovary removed after the university health insurance refused to cover the contraception that would have treated her polycystic disorder. DeGioia reiterated that Georgetown’s health insurance covers contraception as long as it is for medical reasons unrelated to birth control.

DeGioia also pointed out that students aren’t required to purchase the Georgetown health insurance and have the option to buy outside plans instead.

While DeGioia’s letter didn’t indicate that the university would take a public stance against President Obama’s rule requiring religious institutions to provide birth control coverage in their insurance plans, he did say he would be monitoring related developments. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has called for protests of the law this summer.

Full letter from President DeGioia below:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I write to you regarding Georgetown’s health insurance and contraceptive coverage in our plans.  Many members of our community have expressed different perspectives on this issue.  I am grateful for the respectful ways in which you have shared your opinions.

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control.  It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

After thoughtful and careful consideration, we will continue our current practice for contraceptive coverage in our student health insurance for the coming year, as allowed for under the current rules issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

There will also be no change to the University’s approach to contraceptive coverage for employees for 2013.

We will be monitoring further regulatory and judicial developments related to the Affordable Care Act. I hope this is helpful in clarifying a matter of concern to many of you.

You have my very best wishes as we conclude our academic year.

Sincerely,
John J. DeGioia

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Obama, Limbaugh and the Law Student

The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

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The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

Let’s specify that what Limbaugh said did nothing to advance the cause of civil debate on the issue. But those who decry the lack of civility in politics generally tend to limit their complaints to hyperbole uttered by people whose views they do not share. The same people who are voicing outrage at the hurt feelings of Ms. Fluke do not scruple at mocking or name calling when it comes to Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum or others whose beliefs on this or any other subject they believe to be antediluvian. The church and its adherents have been subjected to withering ridicule.

Moreover, though it has been lost amid the outcry against Limbaugh, he’s right to point out that, those who believe institutions ought to be compelled to fund free birth control are, in effect, demanding a subsidy for having sex. Of course, that is not the same thing as being a prostitute. Nor does it make anyone who wishes to take advantage of such a subsidy a “slut.” Such terms are abusive. But that is exactly why an entertainer like Limbaugh uses them much as Stewart and liberal comics employ similarly nasty terms to people they wish to deride. Need we really point out that comments made in the context of this sort of show is not the same thing as remarks recorded in the Congressional Record and should thus be judged by a slightly different standard?

Rush Limbaugh will survive this latest attempt to destroy him and may, in fact, benefit from being the subject of a White House barb. But conservatives and those who care about religious liberty should be dismayed by the way the left has been allowed to shield an ominous attempt to expand government power and subvert religious freedom behind a faux defense of women’s rights.

No one is trying to prevent Sandra Fluke or any other woman — or man — from doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own bedrooms. But what Fluke and President Obama are trying to do is to force religious institutions to pay for conduct their faith opposes. That, and not Rush Limbaugh’s scorn for Fluke’s birth control bill, remains the real issue at stake in this debate.

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Faith in Congress Erodes

According to Gallup:

Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession… Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work.

I have mixed feelings about the results of this survey.

On the one hand, the 111th Congress has earned the enmity of the public. This was, in some important respects, among the worst Congresses in our lifetime. It took actions that made many of the problems we face worse rather than better — and I certainly count myself among the 83 percent who disapprove of the current Congress.

On the other hand, the Framers of the American Constitution regarded Congress “the mainspring of the constitutional system,” according to Georgetown University’s George Carey. For example, Article I of the Constitution, which deals with the powers and duties of Congress, consists of 10 sections and more than 2,200 words; Article II, which deals with the powers and duties of the presidency, consists of four sections and slightly more than 1,000 words. The Founders, then, believed in the separation of powers but also congressional supremacy.

Over the centuries, congressional power relative to the presidency has waxed and waned — but Congress as an institution is obviously indispensable to our republic. And to have it held in such bad repute by the public must, on some level, trouble us all.

It is hard for the citizenry to love its country if it holds a deep, persistent contempt for its governing institutions. Which is why the latest Gallup survey, while warranted, is also disquieting and discouraging.

According to Gallup:

Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession… Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work.

I have mixed feelings about the results of this survey.

On the one hand, the 111th Congress has earned the enmity of the public. This was, in some important respects, among the worst Congresses in our lifetime. It took actions that made many of the problems we face worse rather than better — and I certainly count myself among the 83 percent who disapprove of the current Congress.

On the other hand, the Framers of the American Constitution regarded Congress “the mainspring of the constitutional system,” according to Georgetown University’s George Carey. For example, Article I of the Constitution, which deals with the powers and duties of Congress, consists of 10 sections and more than 2,200 words; Article II, which deals with the powers and duties of the presidency, consists of four sections and slightly more than 1,000 words. The Founders, then, believed in the separation of powers but also congressional supremacy.

Over the centuries, congressional power relative to the presidency has waxed and waned — but Congress as an institution is obviously indispensable to our republic. And to have it held in such bad repute by the public must, on some level, trouble us all.

It is hard for the citizenry to love its country if it holds a deep, persistent contempt for its governing institutions. Which is why the latest Gallup survey, while warranted, is also disquieting and discouraging.

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What the India-Pakistan Conflict Should Teach the West About the Middle East

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

A New York Times analysis yesterday discussed how the 63-year-old India-Pakistan conflict is undermining a vital American interest, one to which Washington has committed almost 100,000 soldiers: stabilizing Afghanistan so that it won’t revert to being a base for anti-American attacks. Pakistan’s fear of India, the report explained, spurs Islamabad to support the Taliban — the very people America is fighting in Afghanistan — as a bulwark against Indian influence in Kabul.

In short, resolving the India-Pakistan conflict could be vital to achieving America’s aims in Afghanistan. So why is Washington making no effort whatsoever to do so? Because, the Times explained, the conflict is not currently resolvable:

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years. …

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

It’s not that outside experts haven’t proposed various solutions, from formally dividing the disputed province of Kashmir (which is already divided de facto) to letting Kashmiris decide their own fate via a referendum. It’s just that none of the proposed solutions has ever proved acceptable to the parties that actually have to sign the deal: India and Pakistan.

The parallels to another conflict of almost identical duration, the Israeli-Arab one, are obvious. Here, too, outside experts have proposed various solutions, but none has yet proved acceptable to the parties that must actually sign the deals: Israel, the Palestinians, and Syria. That’s why, despite years of intensive negotiations and massive international involvement — both far exceeding anything ever tried with India-Pakistan — no agreement has yet been signed.

But there’s one huge difference between the two conflicts. In India-Pakistan, the West has recognized its inability to effect a solution and is therefore not wasting any time, money, or prestige on fruitless efforts. In the Israeli-Arab conflict, the delusion persists that it’s easily resolvable; indeed, “everyone knows the solution.” That this “solution” has repeatedly proved unacceptable to the parties themselves is somehow dismissed as unimportant. Therefore, massive amounts of Western time, money, and prestige continue to be spent on it to no avail.

Ironically, the one party spending almost no time, money, or prestige on this conflict is the Arab world — that same Arab world that, according to Western pundits, deems the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its No. 1 priority. That’s because Arab countries, unlike the West, are willing to acknowledge the facts: that the conflict is currently unsolvable, and that despite all the rhetoric about its importance, it actually matters little to the real regional problems.

Thus far, the peace-process fixation has caused nothing but harm: thousands of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, and for Palestinians, an economic tailspin from which they have yet to fully recover. But the price has also been paid by millions of other people worldwide — all those to whom the time, money, and prestige the West has squandered on this conflict might actually make a difference.

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The Laws of War Evidently Don’t Apply to Israel

The New York Times reported Monday on a U.S. soldier charged with killing Afghan civilians for fun. Yet much of the report was devoted to explaining why civilian killings by soldiers usually don’t result in indictments — like a 2008 case in which Marines allegedly fired indiscriminately at an Afghan road, killing 19 people and wounding 50. The case was closed because “the shootings began after a suicide bomber attacked the unit’s convoy,” and “the Marines said they had taken hostile gunfire after the explosion and had fired to defend themselves from perceived threats.” The Times explained:

It can be difficult to win a conviction, specialists in military law said, when defendants can make a plausible claim that they believed, in the confusion of the “fog of war,” that their lives were in danger and they needed to defend themselves.

“You often see cases of kids who just make dumb decisions,” said Gary Solis, who teaches the laws of war at Georgetown University. “But killings in the heat of the moment, they don’t usually try those guys. The guys you try are the ones who have an opportunity to consider what they are doing.”

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, added that it’s often hard to gather evidence in conflict zones.

In many cases, he said, months have passed by the time an accusation surfaces, and so units have rotated back from the tour of duty, records are poor, and it is difficult to find witnesses.

Moreover, in the Muslim world investigators are deeply reluctant, for cultural reasons, to exhume bodies and perform autopsies.

Astoundingly, even the lone human-rights advocate quoted agreed. “The large majority of civilian harm in both Iraq and Afghanistan takes place during legitimate military operations,” said Sarah Holewinksi, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.

Clearly, all the above considerations also apply to Israel’s military operations in Lebanon and Gaza. Civilian deaths occurred in the heat of combat, when soldiers could plausibly have thought themselves endangered. Few witnesses will talk to Israeli investigators, yet testimony given to nongovernmental organizations is problematic as courtroom evidence, because attorneys and judges cannot question the witnesses themselves or form an impression of their credibility. And most victims are Muslims, who have religious objections to autopsies.

Yet when it comes to Israel, these factors are somehow dismissed as unimportant. That same day, the Times reported on an Israeli court’s conviction of two soldiers for crimes committed during last year’s Gaza war. Altogether, it noted, 48 cases have been opened. A third are “still in progress,” a few produced convictions, and the rest were closed, for the reasons cited above.

“But human rights groups say that the military’s criminal proceedings are insufficient” and that Israeli troops committed “atrocities that require outside investigation.”

The principle that the law applies equally to all is a cornerstone of modern Western civilization. Yet too many Westerners seem to reserve the protections granted by the laws of war for their own soldiers while denying them to Israel.

By so doing, they don’t just undermine Israel. They undermine their own civilization.

The New York Times reported Monday on a U.S. soldier charged with killing Afghan civilians for fun. Yet much of the report was devoted to explaining why civilian killings by soldiers usually don’t result in indictments — like a 2008 case in which Marines allegedly fired indiscriminately at an Afghan road, killing 19 people and wounding 50. The case was closed because “the shootings began after a suicide bomber attacked the unit’s convoy,” and “the Marines said they had taken hostile gunfire after the explosion and had fired to defend themselves from perceived threats.” The Times explained:

It can be difficult to win a conviction, specialists in military law said, when defendants can make a plausible claim that they believed, in the confusion of the “fog of war,” that their lives were in danger and they needed to defend themselves.

“You often see cases of kids who just make dumb decisions,” said Gary Solis, who teaches the laws of war at Georgetown University. “But killings in the heat of the moment, they don’t usually try those guys. The guys you try are the ones who have an opportunity to consider what they are doing.”

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, added that it’s often hard to gather evidence in conflict zones.

In many cases, he said, months have passed by the time an accusation surfaces, and so units have rotated back from the tour of duty, records are poor, and it is difficult to find witnesses.

Moreover, in the Muslim world investigators are deeply reluctant, for cultural reasons, to exhume bodies and perform autopsies.

Astoundingly, even the lone human-rights advocate quoted agreed. “The large majority of civilian harm in both Iraq and Afghanistan takes place during legitimate military operations,” said Sarah Holewinksi, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.

Clearly, all the above considerations also apply to Israel’s military operations in Lebanon and Gaza. Civilian deaths occurred in the heat of combat, when soldiers could plausibly have thought themselves endangered. Few witnesses will talk to Israeli investigators, yet testimony given to nongovernmental organizations is problematic as courtroom evidence, because attorneys and judges cannot question the witnesses themselves or form an impression of their credibility. And most victims are Muslims, who have religious objections to autopsies.

Yet when it comes to Israel, these factors are somehow dismissed as unimportant. That same day, the Times reported on an Israeli court’s conviction of two soldiers for crimes committed during last year’s Gaza war. Altogether, it noted, 48 cases have been opened. A third are “still in progress,” a few produced convictions, and the rest were closed, for the reasons cited above.

“But human rights groups say that the military’s criminal proceedings are insufficient” and that Israeli troops committed “atrocities that require outside investigation.”

The principle that the law applies equally to all is a cornerstone of modern Western civilization. Yet too many Westerners seem to reserve the protections granted by the laws of war for their own soldiers while denying them to Israel.

By so doing, they don’t just undermine Israel. They undermine their own civilization.

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Harvard’s Double Standard on Gay Rights

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

On FOX News Sunday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in talking about the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, makes this helpful comparison:

On the one hand, Harvard accepts money from Saudis. Saudi Arabia, by the way, executes homosexuals, Saudi Arabia represses women, Saudi Arabia does not allow Christians or Jews to practice their religion, but Saudi money is fine. The American military didn’t have a policy. The Congress of the United States and the Clinton administration she served in had a policy. And for her to single out the military was an extraordinarily myopic position. And if you read what they said at the time, it was consistently focused on the military, and I just think that at a time when we have two wars, that’s a very inappropriate behavior.

This is a very good point for GOP senators to press Ms. Kagan on during her confirmation hearings. Apparently, accepting the money from a repressive government where sodomy is punishable by death is hunky-dory, but the military, in carrying through on the Clinton administration’s policy, deserves to be singled out for condemnation. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a “moral injustice of the first order,” according to Kagan.) How exactly does one explain the different Indignation Meters at Harvard Law School?

For the record, it appears that $20 million (and perhaps considerably less) is enough to silence Harvard on the matter of human rights for gays. Here’s a report from 2005:

A Saudi prince has donated $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University to advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud — whom Forbes magazine ranks as the fifth wealthiest person in the world, with assets worth $23.7 billion — is the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. “Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” Alwaleed said in a statement released by Harvard. At Harvard, the money will fund four new senior staff professorships as well as an endowed chair in the name of the 48-year-old billionaire. Harvard will also use the funds to begin digitizing historically significant Islamic texts and materials, and make them available for research on the Internet. “We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard,” President Lawrence H. Summers said. The gift is considered one of the 25th largest in university history.

Of course, Harvard, ever open-minded, wanted to “bridge the understanding between East and West” in order to advance the cause of “tolerance.” So Harvard, for the right price, can summon tolerance even when it comes to governments’ executing people for sodomy. Yet it showed considerably less tolerance for the United States military on the matter of not allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

How principled of Harvard.

All this is indicative of a twisted set of priorities by Harvard and worth exploring in some detail.

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Why Shouldn’t Holder Be Fired?

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

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She’s Not the Real Problem

Janet Napolitano’s the “system worked” remark is going to go down as one of those memorably idiotic statements that for better or worse become forever associated with an official’s name. It will be up there with Dan Quayle’s spelling “potatoe” and Al Haig’s assertion that “I am in control here” (following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan). But of course, hers is worse, because it is more than a personal gaffe. It reveals a fundamental policy cluelessness and sense of denial that we have learned, unfortunately, permeates the entire Obama administration. (She subsequently has tried to say that her words were taken out of context and that, of course, the administration isn’t pleased with how the system worked, but as Tom Bevan rightly points out “Again, the DHS Secretary appears to believe the American public are a bunch of morons.”)

The notion that the “system worked” is being widely ridiculed. This report provides a sample:

“Security failed,” said Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, Israel’s senior-ranking counterterrorism officer from 1997 to 2000 and a former national regulator for aviation security. It is of little comfort that Abdulmutallab was stopped only after he allegedly failed to properly detonate the bomb, instead igniting a fire that alerted fellow passengers, Bergerbest-Eilon said.”The system repeatedly fails to prevent attacks and protect passengers when challenged,” he said, adding that, in the minds of security experts, “for all intents and purposes, Northwest Flight 253 exploded in midair.”

A Georgetown University terrorism  expert added, “This incident was a compound failure of both intelligence and physical security, leaving prevention to the last line of defense — the passengers themselves.” But the smartest observation comes from Ken Dunlap, security director of the International Air Transport Association: “We’ve spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers. . . Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people.” But that would entail being candid about who the “bad people” are. I would venture a guess that 90 percent of the public would agree with this sentiment:

Jacques Duchesneau, head of Canada’s Air Transport Security Authority from 2002 to 2008, and Bergerbest-Eilon said that instead of trying to push virtually all travelers through similar screening processes, authorities should improve and expand the use of intelligence and behavioral assessments to cull out those deemed to pose the greatest risk, and target improved technology to find them.

While such methods have been “wrongly perceived as racial profiling,” Bergerbest-Eilon said, “past events have taught us that we cannot rely on intelligence alone to thwart major terror attacks.”

Some are calling for Napolitano to resign. Granted that a randomly picked name from the phone book would probably be an improvement, but she is not the problem. The problem comes from the president and the perspective he has instilled in his entire administration. The Obami refuse to adopt a war mentality in the midst of a war on western civilization, and they eschew common-sense efforts to raise the alert on “bad people.” They insist that we treat those we catch after the fact as common criminals and that intelligence operatives behave like cops on the beat, ever-conscious of the legal peril they face if they ruffle the feathers of terrorists who may possess life-saving information. Unless Obama changes his perception and approach to terrorism, the American people may well demand, as Max points out, a more capable commander in chief to conduct the war against Islamic fanatics.

Janet Napolitano’s the “system worked” remark is going to go down as one of those memorably idiotic statements that for better or worse become forever associated with an official’s name. It will be up there with Dan Quayle’s spelling “potatoe” and Al Haig’s assertion that “I am in control here” (following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan). But of course, hers is worse, because it is more than a personal gaffe. It reveals a fundamental policy cluelessness and sense of denial that we have learned, unfortunately, permeates the entire Obama administration. (She subsequently has tried to say that her words were taken out of context and that, of course, the administration isn’t pleased with how the system worked, but as Tom Bevan rightly points out “Again, the DHS Secretary appears to believe the American public are a bunch of morons.”)

The notion that the “system worked” is being widely ridiculed. This report provides a sample:

“Security failed,” said Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, Israel’s senior-ranking counterterrorism officer from 1997 to 2000 and a former national regulator for aviation security. It is of little comfort that Abdulmutallab was stopped only after he allegedly failed to properly detonate the bomb, instead igniting a fire that alerted fellow passengers, Bergerbest-Eilon said.”The system repeatedly fails to prevent attacks and protect passengers when challenged,” he said, adding that, in the minds of security experts, “for all intents and purposes, Northwest Flight 253 exploded in midair.”

A Georgetown University terrorism  expert added, “This incident was a compound failure of both intelligence and physical security, leaving prevention to the last line of defense — the passengers themselves.” But the smartest observation comes from Ken Dunlap, security director of the International Air Transport Association: “We’ve spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers. . . Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people.” But that would entail being candid about who the “bad people” are. I would venture a guess that 90 percent of the public would agree with this sentiment:

Jacques Duchesneau, head of Canada’s Air Transport Security Authority from 2002 to 2008, and Bergerbest-Eilon said that instead of trying to push virtually all travelers through similar screening processes, authorities should improve and expand the use of intelligence and behavioral assessments to cull out those deemed to pose the greatest risk, and target improved technology to find them.

While such methods have been “wrongly perceived as racial profiling,” Bergerbest-Eilon said, “past events have taught us that we cannot rely on intelligence alone to thwart major terror attacks.”

Some are calling for Napolitano to resign. Granted that a randomly picked name from the phone book would probably be an improvement, but she is not the problem. The problem comes from the president and the perspective he has instilled in his entire administration. The Obami refuse to adopt a war mentality in the midst of a war on western civilization, and they eschew common-sense efforts to raise the alert on “bad people.” They insist that we treat those we catch after the fact as common criminals and that intelligence operatives behave like cops on the beat, ever-conscious of the legal peril they face if they ruffle the feathers of terrorists who may possess life-saving information. Unless Obama changes his perception and approach to terrorism, the American people may well demand, as Max points out, a more capable commander in chief to conduct the war against Islamic fanatics.

Read Less

Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

Read Less




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