Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harry Truman

The Folly of Sequestration and the Legacy of Andrew Jackson Higgins

On May 25, 1942, the waters off Norfolk, Virginia played host to a dramatic competition between military landing boats designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and those used by the Navy. Army Major Howard Quinn, after observing the contest, wrote to his commanding officer that “there was no comparison”–the Higgins boat was the better craft. Quinn was on hand to watch the competition along with a member of the Truman Committee, led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman to investigate waste in the U.S. military’s war production. The contest had come at the behest of Truman, whom Higgins had convinced of the superiority of his boat.

The switch was made; the boats were mass-produced, and were integral to the success of the landing at Normandy. Had the military not had the Higgins boats, Dwight Eisenhower later said, “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And it wasn’t just the boats. As William Lee Miller writes in his book about the intersection of the lives of Truman and Eisenhower, Truman claimed to have saved $15 billion with his committee’s recommendations, by tackling “the prodigious waste in constructing camps, the shortage of essential commodities like rubber, magnesium, and aluminum; the protection of the consumer economy and the expansion of the labor pool. The committee also exposed corruption in war production.”

The reason the committee was considered such a success is because it enabled the military to cut wasteful spending while improving military readiness, equipment, and combat capability. Six decades later, then-Senator Hillary Clinton sought to take advantage of the negative reporting and unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by invoking Truman’s name in a Wall Street Journal column full of righteous anger at perceived corruption and incompetence in war management during the Bush administration. The following year she was serving as the public face of the foreign policy of an Obama White House proposing to make cuts to the military decried by his own secretary of defense and whose devastating effect on military readiness has already begun to encroach on the line separating theory from reality.

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On May 25, 1942, the waters off Norfolk, Virginia played host to a dramatic competition between military landing boats designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and those used by the Navy. Army Major Howard Quinn, after observing the contest, wrote to his commanding officer that “there was no comparison”–the Higgins boat was the better craft. Quinn was on hand to watch the competition along with a member of the Truman Committee, led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman to investigate waste in the U.S. military’s war production. The contest had come at the behest of Truman, whom Higgins had convinced of the superiority of his boat.

The switch was made; the boats were mass-produced, and were integral to the success of the landing at Normandy. Had the military not had the Higgins boats, Dwight Eisenhower later said, “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And it wasn’t just the boats. As William Lee Miller writes in his book about the intersection of the lives of Truman and Eisenhower, Truman claimed to have saved $15 billion with his committee’s recommendations, by tackling “the prodigious waste in constructing camps, the shortage of essential commodities like rubber, magnesium, and aluminum; the protection of the consumer economy and the expansion of the labor pool. The committee also exposed corruption in war production.”

The reason the committee was considered such a success is because it enabled the military to cut wasteful spending while improving military readiness, equipment, and combat capability. Six decades later, then-Senator Hillary Clinton sought to take advantage of the negative reporting and unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by invoking Truman’s name in a Wall Street Journal column full of righteous anger at perceived corruption and incompetence in war management during the Bush administration. The following year she was serving as the public face of the foreign policy of an Obama White House proposing to make cuts to the military decried by his own secretary of defense and whose devastating effect on military readiness has already begun to encroach on the line separating theory from reality.

“Of course, we need far more than a Truman Committee,” Clinton declared back in 2008. “We need the Truman spirit in the White House, where the buck finally stops.” Clinton is strangely silent on her former boss’s proposal to slash the military unless he gets more tax increases (the president’s supporters in the media and blogosphere like to refer to this tactic as “hostage taking”–when Republicans do it). But perhaps she should speak up, unless back in 2008 she was merely playing partisan politics with the armed forces and grandstanding from her Senate perch instead of expressing genuine concern about the American military.

These cuts to the military are part of sequestration, intended to make a dent in deficit spending. Will risking “hollowing out” the military at least get our budget issues under control? No, it won’t. As Philip Klein writes over at the Washington Examiner, the Congressional Budget Office’s newest 10-year spending forecast expects federal annual tax receipts to increase by 65 percent, revenue as a share of the overall economy to increase, spending on social security to go up by 67 percent, spending on federal health programs to balloon by 94 percent, and defense spending to increase 20 percent over that time period, bringing overall defense spending as a share of the federal budget below the historical average. Klein concludes:

These numbers, taken together, make it abundantly clear that the only reason for additional tax hikes at this point would be to chase skyrocketing spending on entitlements. Paying for this spending wouldn’t be a matter of asking the very rich to pay a little more — it would necessitate large tax hikes on the middle class that far exceed historical levels.

Sequestration is not about cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” or improving the efficiency of the U.S. military. It is about raiding a piggy bank to pay (unsuccessfully) for an ever-expanding welfare state, to which the president’s health-care reform legislation will only add as costs continue to rise, premiums increase, Medicaid rolls are expanded, and insurance consumers are shoved off of employer health plans and into government-subsidized exchanges. The result will be a nation even more deeply in debt but now also, thanks to the president’s bright idea, far less able to defend itself from threats and less able to do its part on behalf of global stability and security.

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Truman’s Lesson for Presidents: Imagine the Farewell Address

Today President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, with a public swearing-in ceremony and a traditional inaugural address. There is and will be much written about what Obama said and what he should have said. No doubt the president has his plans for a second term, and his inaugural address was shaped in large part by his intentions. But another way to prepare such an address is for the president to imagine what he would want to be able to say in his farewell address, or his last remarks as president.

As it happens, this past week marked the 60th anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s farewell address to the American people, as he prepared them for the transition of power from the Democratic Party’s Truman to the Republican Party’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. As is often the case, Truman offers lessons of his own for modern presidents, but because of certain historical conditions he probably has even more to say for someone like Barack Obama. Both Truman and Obama had taken over from presidents who began their term in peacetime and would go on to prosecute America’s participation in a war that necessitated major changes in the country’s approach to national security, leaving that legacy to senators who rose suddenly and unexpectedly to the White House.

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Today President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, with a public swearing-in ceremony and a traditional inaugural address. There is and will be much written about what Obama said and what he should have said. No doubt the president has his plans for a second term, and his inaugural address was shaped in large part by his intentions. But another way to prepare such an address is for the president to imagine what he would want to be able to say in his farewell address, or his last remarks as president.

As it happens, this past week marked the 60th anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s farewell address to the American people, as he prepared them for the transition of power from the Democratic Party’s Truman to the Republican Party’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. As is often the case, Truman offers lessons of his own for modern presidents, but because of certain historical conditions he probably has even more to say for someone like Barack Obama. Both Truman and Obama had taken over from presidents who began their term in peacetime and would go on to prosecute America’s participation in a war that necessitated major changes in the country’s approach to national security, leaving that legacy to senators who rose suddenly and unexpectedly to the White House.

Of course, while Truman may have even more in common with Obama’s predecessor, it is the nature of Truman’s experience in office that makes him the natural model for a certain kind of president: one who battles low approval numbers while in office, reshapes American policy in some fundamental way, especially with regard to national security, and sees himself as somewhat ahead of his time and destined to be vindicated by the history books and appreciated in hindsight. But most of all, Truman’s farewell address can serve as a guide for a course correction from Obama’s disappointing, highly partisan first term.

Truman began by explaining the responsibilities of the office, and famously reminded the public that the president “can’t pass the buck to anybody.” There is much Truman could have blamed on his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt, who made key strategic and political mistakes that Truman had to fix, and for which Truman gets far less credit than he deserves. Obama, unfortunately, has taken exactly the opposite approach, blaming his predecessor for the failure of his own economic initiatives; blaming a GOP-controlled House even though the Democrats control the Senate and the White House; passing the buck on Benghazi, and others. (Keith Koffler has a handy list of 13 problems Obama has blamed on others, especially the GOP and George W. Bush, here.)

President Obama’s excessive partisanship and relentless demonization of his opponents and their motives stand in sharp contrast to not only the behavior of most of his predecessors and the expected dignity of the office, but to Truman’s plea for unity and support for his successor, who bested Truman’s own party a few months prior:

I want all of you to realize how big a job, how hard a job, it is–not for my sake, because I am stepping out of it–but for the sake of my successor….

Regardless of your politics, whether you are Republican or Democrat, your fate is tied up with what is done here in this room. The President is President of the whole country. We must give him our support as citizens of the United States. He will have mine, and I want you to give him yours.

In matters of war and peace, Truman put special emphasis on his decision to go to war in Korea, which he called “the most important in my time as President of the United States.” Here there is another important lesson for Obama, who has derided calls for military action as the rash actions of men who have not considered the horrors of war. Obama then chose as his defense secretary a man who had served in Vietnam heroically, and whose experience, he said, has taught him the futility of armed conflict to such an extent that he made it his practice to publicly take the military option off the table so as to try and ensure it won’t even be considered, whatever the progression of crisis.

Truman also served with distinction, but didn’t believe his service required him to refuse to send others into the field. “I was a soldier in the First World War, and I know what a soldier goes through. I know well the anguish that mothers and fathers and families go through. So I knew what was ahead if we acted in Korea,” Truman said. But he also remembered what came before the Second World War, and had to allow history into his decision making process as well: “The Japanese moved into Manchuria, and free men did not act. The Fascists moved into Ethiopia, and we did not act. The Nazis marched into the Rhineland, into Austria, into Czechoslovakia, and free men were paralyzed for lack of strength and unity and will. Think about those years of weakness and indecision, and the World War II which was their evil result.”

Individual liberty and religious liberty are not to be trifled with, Truman warned. They are in large part the reason he predicted the demise of the Soviet Union and the success of the American tradition: “In the long run the strength of our free society, and our ideals, will prevail over a system that has respect for neither God nor man.” Those around the world yearning to be free, fighting against oppression and the injustice of dictatorship, must know the president of the United States is in their corner. America will win the Cold War and the battle of ideals, Truman said, but not through a policy of nonintervention born of perceived futility.

Sixty years after that speech, Obama—and any president, really—should take to heart Truman’s message, and the way history judges a leader who can honestly deliver such a farewell address.

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Greatest Foreign Policy President? The Case for Harry Truman

With the presidential debates coming up and foreign policy emerging as an issue in the election, CNN’s Global Public Square blog has asked a panel of historians and writers to weigh in on the following question: “Who was the best foreign policy president?” There are not many surprises–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush appear prominently. (Realists love Herbert Walker, and their votes for him can best be understood as a begrudging acceptance of the success of the Reagan administration he served without having to actually grit their teeth and name him.)

FDR and Reagan are fairly obvious choices, and not bad ones: Nazism and Communism are generally considered the twin evils of the 20th century, and each presided over the defeat of those ideologies. But there is someone else who deserves at least honorable mention, if not a nomination for the top spot himself. For although FDR and Reagan served decades apart, one president played a significant role in the achievements of both men, and whose foreign policy outlook eventually became the consensus: Harry Truman. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine, and it’s worth taking a stroll through his presidency and its legacy.

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With the presidential debates coming up and foreign policy emerging as an issue in the election, CNN’s Global Public Square blog has asked a panel of historians and writers to weigh in on the following question: “Who was the best foreign policy president?” There are not many surprises–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush appear prominently. (Realists love Herbert Walker, and their votes for him can best be understood as a begrudging acceptance of the success of the Reagan administration he served without having to actually grit their teeth and name him.)

FDR and Reagan are fairly obvious choices, and not bad ones: Nazism and Communism are generally considered the twin evils of the 20th century, and each presided over the defeat of those ideologies. But there is someone else who deserves at least honorable mention, if not a nomination for the top spot himself. For although FDR and Reagan served decades apart, one president played a significant role in the achievements of both men, and whose foreign policy outlook eventually became the consensus: Harry Truman. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine, and it’s worth taking a stroll through his presidency and its legacy.

It’s true that FDR got the U.S. involved in, and then successfully prosecuted, the Second World War, and there’s no reason to diminish that accomplishment. But it’s worth noting that FDR’s dismissal of Poland at Yalta opened the door to the spreading of Soviet influence that was only stemmed by Truman first at Potsdam and then in Greece. Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan will probably always be the most famous wartime decision of his presidency. But it was Truman’s resolve to use the bomb immediately upon hearing of its readiness while at Potsdam that stopped him from even considering giving Stalin the foothold in Turkey he wanted in return for Soviet engagement in the Pacific.

While Truman certainly is given most of the credit for the doctrine bearing his name, he is rarely considered the visionary that he was. A certain snobbishness had always greeted Truman in Washington; he was our last president not to have a college degree, and he was always viewed as something of an accidental president. (This is surely unfair to Truman, since the decision to drop Henry Wallace from the final Roosevelt presidential ticket was made with succession in mind. FDR was dying.) Additionally, Truman had the blessing and the curse of being surrounded by what was an all-star team of advisers and diplomats. Many of these men believed that Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes should have been president. Byrnes, who fashioned himself a kind of co-president to the ailing, but still globetrotting, FDR, certainly believed this. As such, Byrnes ran State as if it were the Executive Branch. Truman quickly reasserted his authority, but the underlying conflict sent Byrnes packing soon after.

And George Kennan, author of the famous “long telegram,” is widely credited with the American policy of containment toward the Soviet Union. This credit is an egregious and outstanding overestimation of Kennan’s contribution. He correctly diagnosed the political situation in the Soviet Union and even correctly predicted how it would act, and how and why conflict would arise in the future. He was a pessimist of the highest order, but he was no saber-rattler. Had Kennan been in charge of policy the Truman Doctrine would have been much weaker, and so would have been Truman and the U.S. As Elizabeth Edwards Spalding has shown, the Truman Doctrine’s ideas were Truman’s. Reading Spalding’s account, in fact, it seems that if anyone deserves more credit than he receives, it is (and I can already hear the groans in contempt) the self-styled “wise man of Washington” Clark Clifford.

The following year brought another momentous decision when Truman immediately recognized the new state of Israel. The significance of this recognition by the world’s new democratic major power (and emerging superpower) cannot be understated. As we now know, this decision not only was Truman’s call, but it seems there were scant few who even agreed with it around the president.

It is often noted that the Korean War was unpopular. But the legacy of South Korea speaks for itself. Truman’s dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur was controversial to say the least; “The Kremlin should give you a 21-gun salute,” a woman from Texas told Truman, according to Stanley Weintraub. But Truman’s decision served to fend off the last serious challenge to civilian control of the military, which thus reasserted by Truman became a prerequisite for democratic governance.

Truman forged a friendship with Winston Churchill and permitted Churchill to speak for the Western world on the evils of Soviet Communism–something Truman was under no obligation to do, since Churchill was no longer prime minister, and something which, as I have written, Truman went out of his way to do.

He oversaw the Marshall Plan for European recovery, the gold standard of foreign aid. And he oversaw the creation of NATO–though of course Dean Acheson (another of Truman’s all-stars) would play an important role in that as well. FDR worked hard to oversee the inauguration of the United Nations, but this week’s UN General Assembly should tell you all you need to know about which multinational organization is still upholding the defense of democracy, and which is undermining it.

None of this is to suggest that Truman didn’t make mistakes, but the crucial and successful implementation of American policy from the last stages of World War II through the early stages of the Cold War were Truman’s. More than half a century later, it’s Truman’s world we’re living in.

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Is Obama Repeating Truman’s Error?

The Obama administration is signaling that, against the backdrop of genocidal rhetoric and faced with an existential threat from Iran, Israel cannot count on the United States. There is no greater sign than the wavering U.S. commitment to the Jewish state than the Obama administration’s decision to scale down considerably a forthcoming joint military exercise.

Obama may wish to express his displeasure with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he should realize that it can encourage war when enemies believe U.S. commitments to American allies are shakable. Here, the genesis of the Korean war should provide an important lesson. On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech in which he laid out U.S. interests in Asia:

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The Obama administration is signaling that, against the backdrop of genocidal rhetoric and faced with an existential threat from Iran, Israel cannot count on the United States. There is no greater sign than the wavering U.S. commitment to the Jewish state than the Obama administration’s decision to scale down considerably a forthcoming joint military exercise.

Obama may wish to express his displeasure with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he should realize that it can encourage war when enemies believe U.S. commitments to American allies are shakable. Here, the genesis of the Korean war should provide an important lesson. On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech in which he laid out U.S. interests in Asia:

In the first place, the defeat and the disarmament of Japan has placed upon the United States the necessity of assuming the military defense of Japan so long as that is required, both in the interest of our security and in the interests of the security of the entire Pacific area… The defensive perimeter runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus. We hold important defense positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and those we will continue to hold… The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands. Our relations, our defensive relations with the Philippines are contained in agreements between us. Those agreements are being loyally carried out and will be loyally carried out… So far as the military security of other areas in the Pacific is concerned, it must be clear that no person can guarantee these areas against military attack. But it must also be clear that such a guarantee is hardly sensible or necessary within the realm of practical relationship.

Acheson continued to advise those states not covered by the defensive perimeter to resist on their own or rely on the United Nations. “It is a mistake, I think, in considering Pacific and Far Eastern problems to become obsessed with military considerations,” he explained.

Kim Il Sung heard Acheson’s speech and interpreted his omission of South Korea (and Taiwan) from the defense perimeter as a green light to attack South Korea six months later. Had the Truman administration signaled an unshakable commitment to South Korea, it might have impacted Kim’s thinking.

Obama may not like Netanyahu, but by amplifying his antipathy into symbolic chastisement of Israel, the president may be impacting Iranian thinking in ways that will be very costly to the United States (not to mention Israel) and impossible to reverse.

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Obama, Truman and Israel: An Unfortunate Comparison

As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.” Read More

As I wrote earlier today, most Israelis are unimpressed with the Obama administration’s Jewish charm offensive which is aimed at convincing Jews that the president’s first three years of fights with the Jewish state was a figment of our collective imagination. But the fact that three quarters of Israelis don’t seem him as friend isn’t stopping the Democratic campaign from doubling down on this push. Predictably, Vice President Joe Biden, a man for whom hyperbole is as natural as breathing, is taking this effort to extremes. While, as Alana noted, most of Biden’s foreign policy address at New York University yesterday was devoted to trashing Mitt Romney, one passage in which he waxed lyrical about the president’s devotion to Israel deserves our notice. In it, he not only exaggerated Obama’s record in terms of helping Israel, he went way out on a rhetorical limb and declared, “no president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.”

As I have written previously, there is a case to be made for Obama as a friend of Israel or at least not a foe. But Biden’s taking credit for the Iron Dome missile defense system without noting that the project was conceived, initiated and funded first by the Bush administration is absurd. His claims about Obama’s efforts to isolate Iran have a leg to stand on but may also be undermined by the fact that the diplomatic process the president has embarked on is more likely to lead to a result that will please Iran than Israel. But by claiming that Obama is a better friend to Israel than any president since Truman — and that includes men like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who were ardent friends of Israel — the vice president is making an assertion that is so detached from reality that it boggles the mind. Yet even as we sort out this piece of hyperbole it should also be pointed out that the comparison with Truman is not as flattering as Obama’s fans might think.

President Truman is rightly revered by friends of Israel for his courage in standing up to the foreign policy establishment when he chose to support the partition of Palestine into one Jewish state and one Arab state in 1947. He also bucked the State Department and his Secretary of State, General George Marshall, a legendary figure whom Truman practically idolized, when he famously became the first to recognize the newborn State of Israel on May 15, 1948. These acts, which help set in motion the process whereby Israel joined the community of nations were of inestimable help to Israel and for doing so he is rightly honored as among the great friends of the Jewish people in the 20th century.

But to claim, as Biden did, that Truman aided Israel’s security more than his successors — or did anything in that regard — is simply not true.

It is generally forgotten but prior to the Six Day War, the United States offered little aid to Israel of any sort. John F. Kennedy was the first president to authorize the sale of weaponry to Israel when he okayed a limit package of anti-aircraft equipment. It was only after 1967 that Washington began to look at Israel as a strategic asset and Lyndon Johnson helped lay the foundation for the alliance that blossomed under Ronald Reagan and was strengthened in turn by each successive administration.

As for Truman, as much as his diplomatic support was important, the United States never lifted a finger to help Israel during the life and death struggle of its War of Independence when approximately one percent of its population was killed. No arms were given or sold to Israel nor did the United States use its superpower clout to stop the Arab nations that invaded the new Jewish state on the date of its birth. In terms of its security situation, Israel was on its own during that war. Though Truman certainly wished it well, something that could not be said of his State Department, he was merely a bystander as the besieged and bombed new country fought for its existence.

Indeed, in a touch of historical irony that is rarely appreciated, it might be said that the Soviet Union did more for Israel’s security in 1948 than the United States since it allowed its Czech satellite to sell vital arms and ammunition to the Jews that it could not obtain from any Western source. It was those guns and bullets and not Truman’s telegram of recognition that saved Israel on the battlefield. Indeed, as Israeli veterans of that conflict will invariably point out, it was the sacrifice of thousands of Jewish youngsters — the “Silver Platter” immortalized in verse by poet Natan Alterman — that secured the Jewish state, not the words of diplomats.

In the years after the War of Independence, Truman offered Israel no assistance and, despite his goodwill, it often found itself isolated in the diplomatic world with even the U.S. calling for it to retreat from the 1949 armistice lines to accommodate the Arabs.

As for Obama, it must be said that Truman did far less than the current resident of the White House for Israel’s security. But as far as the Israelis are concerned the question is whether, like Truman, he will stand by and watch passively, if their lives are placed in jeopardy. That is hardly a comparison that Biden or any other Democrat should wish to make.

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Churchill, Truman, and the Origins of a Modern Alliance

In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

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In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

We remember Harry Truman as a hero and a visionary–and rightly so–but Truman was himself in awe of Churchill. When Truman met Churchill in Missouri, and the two prepared to spend a train ride in conversation, Truman asked Churchill to call him Harry. Churchill said he would, but only if Truman would call him Winston. Truman balked. “I just don’t know if I can do that,” he said. “I have such admiration for you and what you mean, not only to your people, but to this country and the world.”

Humble giants, they were. Today we are lucky to just get the humility from our leaders. The second story is one of nuance–something Churchill wasn’t known for, certainly, but at one point in his famous Fulton speech deployed with utter genius. Here is an otherwise forgettable and forgotten paragraph from the speech:

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me however make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

In a footnote, White adds that when he discussed that last line with Larry Arnn, the latter pointed out the subtle brilliance of it. As White writes:

What the audience saw was the former prime minister flanked by the president of the United States and his leading advisers. So, if they focused on “nothing” but what was in front of them, they, and Stalin, could not fail to behold unity between Churchill and Truman–and, ergo, Britain and America.

The symbolism of that, too, is important. So is the seemingly insignificant incident of the Obama team’s removal of the bust of Churchill kept in the Oval Office during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama White House explained that “every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.” Indeed they do.

We also have the Obama administration’s failure on two separate occasions to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a painfully easy call, and you would have to go out of your way to get it wrong and needlessly insult our allies–which Obama did.

The Republican candidates for president have been critical of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the British, so you might imagine Cameron, leader of his country’s conservatives, would drop them a line to say hello, the way Gordon Brown met with Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election when he came to visit Bush. The Telegraph reports this is not to be the case, though Cameron will be meeting important figures, such as “the actor starring in the American television series ‘Homeland.’” The Telegraph explains:

Downing Street aides insist that there is no “snub” to the Republicans by not meeting the presidential candidates. Senior sources say that the schedule was organized by the White House.

If only Cameron had a scheduler of his own! Or access to a phone. But don’t fault Cameron for his priorities, for although he does not arrive bearing the bust of Winston Churchill or with the promise of support over the Falklands, Obama did give him a lift on Air Force One.

As in 1946, “There is nothing here but what you see.” A bit less inspiring today, however.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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Reassessing the Bush Presidency

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

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He’s Perfect — Why Change?

Jonathan Last’s must-read piece on Obama eschews exotic or fanciful explanations for the president’s mindset and precipitous fall to earth. It’s not anti-colonialism that motivates him, or imitation of his absent father that propelled him to the White House. He’s not a secret Muslim. He is, rather, an egomaniac, Last posits. He’s got a ton of evidence for this, mostly in the form of cringe-inducing statements from Obama’s own lips.

This raises a few critical issues. First, the vanity explanation accounts for his super-sensitivity to criticism. Nothing provokes Obama like doubts about his sincerity (the trigger for his belated outburst against Rev. Jeremiah Wright) or his wisdom. He has so many “enemies,” as he referred to Republicans — Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, the news cycle, etc. — because he was so unaccustomed to criticism and so removed from rational evaluation of his abilities and positions. No wonder he is so angry at, and disdainful of, the American people. They are, unlike the sycophants who helped manufacture The Ego, no longer enamored of him. Nor is this president given to self-deprecating humor, for not even self-criticism in jest is tolerable.

Second, the colossal failure of his international endeavors, specifically his Muslim Outreach, is traceable to the faulty notion that one can construct a nation’s foreign policy based on the persona of its president. It sounds daft — why would the Israelis and Palestinian simply reach a deal because Obama has arrived on the scene? Why would the mullahs be enticed to curb their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions because he allegedly “understands” the Muslim World? The Ego has made hash out of foreign policy because he believes, as the saying goes, that the world revolves around him. He can’t imagine that rivals, foes, and allies are immune to his charms.

Most important, the vanity surplus would be less of a hindrance if he were an innovative policy wonk or a savvy analyst of the American electorate. This was the Bill Clinton model — an outsized ego and an utter lack of self-discipline, but an inventive mind able to zig-zag his way through choppy political waters. His intuitive understanding of his fellow citizens allowed him to maintain a bond with the American people. If Obama were as intellectually nimble as Clinton or as simpatico with the American people as Ronald Reagan or as steeped in common sense as Harry Truman, he wouldn’t be in such dire straits. It’s not merely the vanity that’s the problem. His undoing has been vanity that is divorced from his abilities and unaccompanied by executive skills or a well-developed knowledge of economics and international relations.

If Obama is ungracious (toward his predecessor), oblivious (to the desires of the voters), and frustrated (by the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ refusal to make a deal under his auspices), it is because he is unable to grasp that it’s not all about him. But the good news is that, as he reportedly did in the Senate, he may conclude that being president is really “so boring.” (He certainly doesn’t seem to be having fun, does he?) In that case, he might not really care all that much about trying to ingratiate himself with the voters. It very well might not be “worth it” in his mind to temper his views in order to get a second term. Freed from the burdens of the presidency he then might do what he loves best — write books and give speeches about himself. Or maybe he can give speeches about writing books about himself.

Jonathan Last’s must-read piece on Obama eschews exotic or fanciful explanations for the president’s mindset and precipitous fall to earth. It’s not anti-colonialism that motivates him, or imitation of his absent father that propelled him to the White House. He’s not a secret Muslim. He is, rather, an egomaniac, Last posits. He’s got a ton of evidence for this, mostly in the form of cringe-inducing statements from Obama’s own lips.

This raises a few critical issues. First, the vanity explanation accounts for his super-sensitivity to criticism. Nothing provokes Obama like doubts about his sincerity (the trigger for his belated outburst against Rev. Jeremiah Wright) or his wisdom. He has so many “enemies,” as he referred to Republicans — Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, the news cycle, etc. — because he was so unaccustomed to criticism and so removed from rational evaluation of his abilities and positions. No wonder he is so angry at, and disdainful of, the American people. They are, unlike the sycophants who helped manufacture The Ego, no longer enamored of him. Nor is this president given to self-deprecating humor, for not even self-criticism in jest is tolerable.

Second, the colossal failure of his international endeavors, specifically his Muslim Outreach, is traceable to the faulty notion that one can construct a nation’s foreign policy based on the persona of its president. It sounds daft — why would the Israelis and Palestinian simply reach a deal because Obama has arrived on the scene? Why would the mullahs be enticed to curb their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions because he allegedly “understands” the Muslim World? The Ego has made hash out of foreign policy because he believes, as the saying goes, that the world revolves around him. He can’t imagine that rivals, foes, and allies are immune to his charms.

Most important, the vanity surplus would be less of a hindrance if he were an innovative policy wonk or a savvy analyst of the American electorate. This was the Bill Clinton model — an outsized ego and an utter lack of self-discipline, but an inventive mind able to zig-zag his way through choppy political waters. His intuitive understanding of his fellow citizens allowed him to maintain a bond with the American people. If Obama were as intellectually nimble as Clinton or as simpatico with the American people as Ronald Reagan or as steeped in common sense as Harry Truman, he wouldn’t be in such dire straits. It’s not merely the vanity that’s the problem. His undoing has been vanity that is divorced from his abilities and unaccompanied by executive skills or a well-developed knowledge of economics and international relations.

If Obama is ungracious (toward his predecessor), oblivious (to the desires of the voters), and frustrated (by the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ refusal to make a deal under his auspices), it is because he is unable to grasp that it’s not all about him. But the good news is that, as he reportedly did in the Senate, he may conclude that being president is really “so boring.” (He certainly doesn’t seem to be having fun, does he?) In that case, he might not really care all that much about trying to ingratiate himself with the voters. It very well might not be “worth it” in his mind to temper his views in order to get a second term. Freed from the burdens of the presidency he then might do what he loves best — write books and give speeches about himself. Or maybe he can give speeches about writing books about himself.

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The Biden-Hillary Switch: Don’t Scoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hacks Weren’t the Problem

Michael Gerson sums up Bob Woodward’s portrait of Obama:

The more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires. Is there a historical precedent for an American president, in time of war, hoping to convey an impression of studied, professorial ambivalence about the war itself? Is it possible to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman purposely cultivating such ambiguity?

Yes, President Obama has sent more skilled, well-led troops to Afghanistan. But he has also created a strategic challenge for America. Our enemy is patient and determined. Our president, by his own account, is neither.

Gerson describes Obama as “reluctant,” which is a generous characterization of a commander in chief who never seemed to grasp the distinction between political horse-trading and military strategy. (“Are we supposed to be reassured that a president, of no proven military judgment, driven at least partially by political calculations, imposed a split-the-difference approach only loosely related to actual need or analysis?”)

It’s neither sufficient nor accurate to blame the political hacks in the room. Granted that “Generals” Emanuel and Axelrod had no business dragging political concerns into war-planning. But the biggest problem was the president himself. As Gerson notes:

It is the most basic duty of a commander in chief to pursue the national interest above any other interest. The introduction of partisan considerations into strategic decisions merits a special contempt.

So it wasn’t reluctance on Obama’s part so much as dereliction of his duties. We all would like to think that our presidents behave admirably in matters of war and peace, and that they understand the grave responsibility that goes with the office. But it’s time to give up the fiction that Obama is thoughtful or nonideological. He’s neither. He’s simply a Chicago pol who has risen above his abilities.

Michael Gerson sums up Bob Woodward’s portrait of Obama:

The more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires. Is there a historical precedent for an American president, in time of war, hoping to convey an impression of studied, professorial ambivalence about the war itself? Is it possible to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman purposely cultivating such ambiguity?

Yes, President Obama has sent more skilled, well-led troops to Afghanistan. But he has also created a strategic challenge for America. Our enemy is patient and determined. Our president, by his own account, is neither.

Gerson describes Obama as “reluctant,” which is a generous characterization of a commander in chief who never seemed to grasp the distinction between political horse-trading and military strategy. (“Are we supposed to be reassured that a president, of no proven military judgment, driven at least partially by political calculations, imposed a split-the-difference approach only loosely related to actual need or analysis?”)

It’s neither sufficient nor accurate to blame the political hacks in the room. Granted that “Generals” Emanuel and Axelrod had no business dragging political concerns into war-planning. But the biggest problem was the president himself. As Gerson notes:

It is the most basic duty of a commander in chief to pursue the national interest above any other interest. The introduction of partisan considerations into strategic decisions merits a special contempt.

So it wasn’t reluctance on Obama’s part so much as dereliction of his duties. We all would like to think that our presidents behave admirably in matters of war and peace, and that they understand the grave responsibility that goes with the office. But it’s time to give up the fiction that Obama is thoughtful or nonideological. He’s neither. He’s simply a Chicago pol who has risen above his abilities.

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Obama and Ideas of Force

I‘m in broad company, from what I can tell, in detecting from Obama’s speech last night no outline of a policy for Middle Eastern security or the use of U.S. power. As Peter Wehner and others point out, the president spoke emphatically of deadlines (especially regarding Afghanistan) and only vaguely of purposes. The strongest signal he sent was his intention to remove large formations of ground troops.

We rarely parse the mental idea leftists like Obama have when they speak of military force. Obama didn’t like the war in Iraq; he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan. But he seems fine with the growing war in Yemen, as he apparently is with the expansion of a similar kind of war in Pakistan. He is not opposed to all methods of imposing American will by force.

After his speech, the TV commentariat rose up to advance the narrative that Obama had no obligation to acknowledge Bush’s surge decision, because there was never a valid justification for regime-changing Iraq to begin with. This reminded me forcibly of the alternative proposed often in the period between October 2001 and March 2003 (and now looked back on with an affectionate nostalgia in some quarters): that is, simply continuing to “contain Saddam” with sanctions.

Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq represented a type of force approved by the political left. The UN sanctions were inaugurated under George H.W. Bush in conjunction with Desert Storm, but Bill Clinton continued them, presiding over refinements to them and dedicating the U.S. military as the principal enforcer. He combined them on several occasions with air and missile strikes. In theory, they were part of an overarching political effort centered on UN inspections of Iraq’s suspect facilities.

The containment of Saddam dragged on for more than 12 years. It necessitated a growing, permanently based U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf. It dramatically distorted the region’s economy, generated tremendous blockade-running revenue for Iran, and produced the spectacle of kickbacks through the UN Oil-for-Food program. A tolerable burden for American power, the sanctions on Iraq were an agent of change — for the worse — in global politics, regional relations, and UN practices. The one thing they did not change was Saddam.

It is easy, and not without utility, to view Obama’s antipathy to large formations of ground troops as part of a modern Democratic pattern of resisting that “level” of engagement. There’s some fairness to that. But there is a more important aspect of this pattern. Democratic presidents have been willing to use all kinds of other military options, for almost any purpose except forcing a change in the political situation that keeps the problem going. It’s the latter objective that typically necessitates ground troops to secure territory for political purposes. The objective itself is what no Democratic president since Harry Truman has felt able to justify.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama didn’t unequivocally endorse our success in Iraq. He belongs to a political faction that never saw its purpose — never sees any purpose of its kind — as justifiable. But the occasion of Obama’s speech is a good time to reflect on the alternatives to which modern Democratic presidents (along with some Republicans) have regularly resorted. The American people may not always be politically prepared for goals as decisive as regime-changing dictators, but containment is not really the low-impact alternative it often seems to be. It deforms the situations that concern us without providing any path to a conclusion. As with sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. can probably continue headhunting terrorists for years without breaking a sweat. And as with sanctions on Iraq, we are likely to induce changes in almost every aspect of the situation except the one that matters: the incidence of willing terrorists.

I‘m in broad company, from what I can tell, in detecting from Obama’s speech last night no outline of a policy for Middle Eastern security or the use of U.S. power. As Peter Wehner and others point out, the president spoke emphatically of deadlines (especially regarding Afghanistan) and only vaguely of purposes. The strongest signal he sent was his intention to remove large formations of ground troops.

We rarely parse the mental idea leftists like Obama have when they speak of military force. Obama didn’t like the war in Iraq; he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan. But he seems fine with the growing war in Yemen, as he apparently is with the expansion of a similar kind of war in Pakistan. He is not opposed to all methods of imposing American will by force.

After his speech, the TV commentariat rose up to advance the narrative that Obama had no obligation to acknowledge Bush’s surge decision, because there was never a valid justification for regime-changing Iraq to begin with. This reminded me forcibly of the alternative proposed often in the period between October 2001 and March 2003 (and now looked back on with an affectionate nostalgia in some quarters): that is, simply continuing to “contain Saddam” with sanctions.

Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq represented a type of force approved by the political left. The UN sanctions were inaugurated under George H.W. Bush in conjunction with Desert Storm, but Bill Clinton continued them, presiding over refinements to them and dedicating the U.S. military as the principal enforcer. He combined them on several occasions with air and missile strikes. In theory, they were part of an overarching political effort centered on UN inspections of Iraq’s suspect facilities.

The containment of Saddam dragged on for more than 12 years. It necessitated a growing, permanently based U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf. It dramatically distorted the region’s economy, generated tremendous blockade-running revenue for Iran, and produced the spectacle of kickbacks through the UN Oil-for-Food program. A tolerable burden for American power, the sanctions on Iraq were an agent of change — for the worse — in global politics, regional relations, and UN practices. The one thing they did not change was Saddam.

It is easy, and not without utility, to view Obama’s antipathy to large formations of ground troops as part of a modern Democratic pattern of resisting that “level” of engagement. There’s some fairness to that. But there is a more important aspect of this pattern. Democratic presidents have been willing to use all kinds of other military options, for almost any purpose except forcing a change in the political situation that keeps the problem going. It’s the latter objective that typically necessitates ground troops to secure territory for political purposes. The objective itself is what no Democratic president since Harry Truman has felt able to justify.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama didn’t unequivocally endorse our success in Iraq. He belongs to a political faction that never saw its purpose — never sees any purpose of its kind — as justifiable. But the occasion of Obama’s speech is a good time to reflect on the alternatives to which modern Democratic presidents (along with some Republicans) have regularly resorted. The American people may not always be politically prepared for goals as decisive as regime-changing dictators, but containment is not really the low-impact alternative it often seems to be. It deforms the situations that concern us without providing any path to a conclusion. As with sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. can probably continue headhunting terrorists for years without breaking a sweat. And as with sanctions on Iraq, we are likely to induce changes in almost every aspect of the situation except the one that matters: the incidence of willing terrorists.

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Some Thoughts About Last Night’s Speech

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth. Read More

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth.

2. On Iraq, Obama did say that while our combat mission is ending, “our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” But you could be forgiven for believing, amid all the talk of page-turning and missions ended and over, that Obama has detached himself from a war he opposed and wants to have nothing more to do with it. He clearly considers it a distraction from his larger ambitions to transform America here at home.

What was also notable in the speech is how Obama — apart from one perfunctory paragraph (he devoted four to the economy) — failed to appropriately acknowledge many of the estimable things that have been achieved by the Iraq war, including deposing a malevolent and aggressive dictator, helping plant a representative (if imperfect) democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and administering a military defeat to al-Qaeda on the ground of its own choosing. Obama hinted at some of this, but it was said without passion or conviction. And we all know why: for Obama, this was a war without purpose, a nihilistic misadventure whose only good result is its end. This is not only wrong; it is a disfigurement of history and a failure to acknowledge what a remarkable thing our combat troops in Iraq achieved.

3. On the most important matter before us, Afghanistan, Obama did substantial damage. The reason can be found in this paragraph:

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who-under the command of General David Petraeus -are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

What Obama did here was not simply to repeat his commitment to the (arbitrary) summer 2011 drawdown date; he underscored and deepened it. The president’s declaration that the pace of troop reductions “will be determined by conditions on the ground” was overwhelmed by Obama’s declaring that our forces will be in place for “a limited time” and that we should “make no mistake: this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

This statement occurred within a particular context. In his December 2009 address at West Point, Obama made essentially the same argument — though less emphatically than he did last night.

Many people (including me) underestimated just how harmful was Obama’s declaration that we would begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Mentioning that it would be conditions-based was almost completely overlooked by both our friends and our enemies. The message they believed was sent, and which they received, is that America’s commitment is limited and we will leave on time and on schedule, come what may.

Don’t take my word for it; here is what Marine Commandant General James Conway said a week ago about the 2011 deadline: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.'” Conway buttressed his claim by saying that intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year.

Knowing all this, Obama not only didn’t attempt to undo his previous error; he doubled down on it. This was an injurious message to send.

The Democratic Party can count several great wartime leaders among its ranks, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. John F. Kennedy, while denied the time and opportunities that FDR and Truman had, understood the stakes of the Cold War struggle and spoke with force and eloquence about America’s role in the world. These were admirable leaders, presidents whom our allies could count on and our enemies respected and feared.

In Barack Obama, we have someone very different — a president who is at times more eager to apologize for America than to defend her. He is a man not yet comfortable with his role as commander in chief. Obama views war not in terms of victory; he is above all committed to finding exit ramps.

President Obama has already inflicted enormous damage to our nation; last night he added to the wreckage.

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The Perils of Praise

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

Attempting to explain the Ground Zero mosque blunder, Margaret Carlson argues that Obama is too smart for us: “He is so supremely confident in his intellect that he forgets, on his way to the correct decision, to slow down and pick up not-so-gifted stragglers.” Well, supremely confident but not so smart. Does he truly not get the distinction between constitutional rights and moral persuasion? Does he not understand that an imam who can’t denounce Hamas, insists America is complicit in 9/11, and won’t disclose whether state sponsors of terror are funding his project isn’t seeking reconciliation?

To be blunt, Obama suffers from a lifetime of others excessively praising his intellect. It insulates him from ideas and facts that conflict with his pre-existing liberal rubric (so “every economist” believed his stimulus would work). It leaves him unprepared to engage in real debate with informed opponents (e.g. the health-care summit). It skews his understanding of how geopolitics works, as he imagines that his own wonderfulness can sway adversaries and override nations’ fundamental interests (the Middle East). Is he as well read as George W. Bush? As intellectually creative as Bill Clinton? As grounded in history as Harry Truman? Let’s get some perspective here.

But Carlson does get it partially right:

His coldly rational comments on the mosque were reminiscent of his remark during the campaign about people in struggling small towns who “cling to guns or religion,” or of when he said police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own house during a burglary investigation. The Obama mindset is dismissive of those who have never sipped espresso in the faculty lounge. Anyone who lets emotion creep in where Obama has let reason reign is wrong.

It’s a deadly combination — intellectual arrogance and lack of sympatico with the public — that leads him again and again to stumble. And when his shortcomings lead to embarrassment or failure, he strikes out in frustration — at Israel, at the media, and at the American people. The image of himself clashes with the results he achieves and the reaction he inspires. No wonder he’s so prickly. You’d be, too, if everyone your entire life had told you that you were swell but now, when the chips are down and the spotlight is on, you are failing so badly in your job.

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Obama to Israel: You’re on Your Own

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

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Realities of War

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

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Liberals Pin Their Hopes on an Obama Attack on the GOP

One liberal trope after the speech, voiced by Chrystia Freedland of the Financial Times on Charlie Rose, is that Obama is putting Republican politicians on notice he will go after them as the do-nothing impeders of progress. Republicans should pray this is the case, and it may be the case. The model here would be Harry Truman’s 1948 war on the “Do Nothing Congress.” The problem is that Truman was running against a Republican Congress. Obama will be asking the country to believe that some weird amalgam of a minority party in the House and Senate and the Fox News Channel is mystically interfering with the will of the people. The delusion that a the president in charge of a party with a 50-seat majority in the House and a nine-seat advantage in the Senate can successfully claim that the minority is in charge  is just that—a delusion. You don’t have to be following these matters closely to know that Democrats won a blowout two years ago and that this is their political moment. If Obama cannot get what he wants, everybody will know it will be due to his inability to convince the country of the rightness of his policy aims. That liberals like Freedland and Andrew Sullivan can’t see this, because they too are fogged over by their rage with a conservative vitality they did not expect, offers up the tantalizing possibility that the White House will be similarly blinded to reality, and will march with authority and vigor right over a political cliff.

One liberal trope after the speech, voiced by Chrystia Freedland of the Financial Times on Charlie Rose, is that Obama is putting Republican politicians on notice he will go after them as the do-nothing impeders of progress. Republicans should pray this is the case, and it may be the case. The model here would be Harry Truman’s 1948 war on the “Do Nothing Congress.” The problem is that Truman was running against a Republican Congress. Obama will be asking the country to believe that some weird amalgam of a minority party in the House and Senate and the Fox News Channel is mystically interfering with the will of the people. The delusion that a the president in charge of a party with a 50-seat majority in the House and a nine-seat advantage in the Senate can successfully claim that the minority is in charge  is just that—a delusion. You don’t have to be following these matters closely to know that Democrats won a blowout two years ago and that this is their political moment. If Obama cannot get what he wants, everybody will know it will be due to his inability to convince the country of the rightness of his policy aims. That liberals like Freedland and Andrew Sullivan can’t see this, because they too are fogged over by their rage with a conservative vitality they did not expect, offers up the tantalizing possibility that the White House will be similarly blinded to reality, and will march with authority and vigor right over a political cliff.

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We’re Already There

Joe Lieberman’s party allegiance is a much-discussed issue. One of the most interesting moments of Sen. Lieberman’s lecture last night came when he described his reason for staying in the Democratic Party.

As others here have mentioned, Lieberman believes it’s important for both parties to have strong national security wings. It’s frustrating to witness the Democrats’ shabby treatment of Lieberman, but his point is important. Lieberman’s going to the GOP would leave the Democrats the official foreign policy softies. National security is more than an ideological issue, it’s a survival issue, and if Democrats and Republican became strictly polarized in this regard, the decision to deal with threats would hinge on party affiliation.

Which is actually what we’re witnessing in the unofficial beginning of the general election, anyway. Barack Obama sees Iran as a “tiny” threat, and American SUV’s as a dangerous liability. John McCain sees Iran’s triple-threat of terrorism, hegemony, and nuclear technology for exactly what it is: deadly. Worse still, Democrats are scrambling to defend Obama’s official position of talking to Tehran without preconditions. The de facto politicization of national security is already here.

Senator Lieberman’s instincts are admirable. Unfortunately, one man, even with courage, does not a wing make. If and when the Democratic Party ever returns to the robust national security platforms of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, it will swing in that direction of its own momentum. Even a man as brave as Joe Lieberman is beyond halting an ideological wilting of this magnitude.

Joe Lieberman’s party allegiance is a much-discussed issue. One of the most interesting moments of Sen. Lieberman’s lecture last night came when he described his reason for staying in the Democratic Party.

As others here have mentioned, Lieberman believes it’s important for both parties to have strong national security wings. It’s frustrating to witness the Democrats’ shabby treatment of Lieberman, but his point is important. Lieberman’s going to the GOP would leave the Democrats the official foreign policy softies. National security is more than an ideological issue, it’s a survival issue, and if Democrats and Republican became strictly polarized in this regard, the decision to deal with threats would hinge on party affiliation.

Which is actually what we’re witnessing in the unofficial beginning of the general election, anyway. Barack Obama sees Iran as a “tiny” threat, and American SUV’s as a dangerous liability. John McCain sees Iran’s triple-threat of terrorism, hegemony, and nuclear technology for exactly what it is: deadly. Worse still, Democrats are scrambling to defend Obama’s official position of talking to Tehran without preconditions. The de facto politicization of national security is already here.

Senator Lieberman’s instincts are admirable. Unfortunately, one man, even with courage, does not a wing make. If and when the Democratic Party ever returns to the robust national security platforms of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, it will swing in that direction of its own momentum. Even a man as brave as Joe Lieberman is beyond halting an ideological wilting of this magnitude.

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“Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

Read More

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It’s natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel’s founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world’s great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved — a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today’s oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn’t mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America’s closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel’s independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar — the key to the Zion Gate — and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, “Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day.” Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: “I accept this key in the name of my people.”

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless.

Read Less

In the Kitchen with Bin Laden

Senator Hillary Clinton has a new ad that describes the presidency as “the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything–especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing, and an economy in crisis.” The ad quotes Harry Truman–“if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”– and concludes with this question: “Who do you think has what it takes?”

Among the images in the ad is one of Osama bin Laden. It turns out that was too much for some of Barack Obama’s supporters. In his interview last night with Clinton, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said:

Let me ask you about the campaign and something you said in Pittsburgh today and again, let me read the quote about being president. “It’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything. Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” That is almost word for word the narration of this new ad that your campaign put out today, and that ad flashes a very brief image of Osama bin Laden. For nearly six years now since Senator Max Cleland was cut down by a commercial that featured a picture of bin Laden, that has been — that tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats. Is it not just, in your opinion, as much of a scare tactic for a Democrat to use it against another Democrat, as it is for a Republican to use it in a race against the Democrat?

Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, was on CNN making the same complaint:

What’s really disappointing about this ad is all of us should remember in 2002 when the Republicans ran an ad featuring Osama bin Laden against Max Cleland. And all the Democrats were upset about that, because they used Osama bin Laden to stir up fear. And now here we are again, watching Democrats use Osama bin Laden to stir fear against other Democrats.

The Max Cleland ad has become an urban legend in some quarters. According to this narrative, an ad run by Cleland’s opponent, Saxby Chambliss, questioned the patriotism of Cleland, a man who served in Vietnam and became a triple amputee. In point of fact, this ad did no such thing. Cleland had voted multiple times against a homeland security bill that would have given the President freedom from union rules which Bush had deemed necessary to make the new Department of Homeland Security more effective. Chambliss’s ad included pictures of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, underscoring the threats faced by America. At no point was Cleland’s patriotism impugned. What the ad did do was dispute Cleland’s claim that he had the “courage to lead” and that he “supports President Bush at every opportunity.”

So it has come to this: simply the picture of Osama bin Laden in an ad highlighting threats to America has become a “scare tactic” and a “bloody shirt for many Democrats.” Forget the fact that the threats we face are real, that bin Laden was responsible for killing almost 3,000 Americans on September 11th, and that he is leading figure in a jihadist movement that wants to destroy our country and kill many more of our people. Using the image of bin Laden is verboten.

This is yet one more example of the delicate sensibilities and manufactured outrage that makes people wonder about contemporary liberalism. I suspect Americans are more concerned with the threat posed by bin Laden than they are concerned by the use of his image in an ad. The public is right to be impatient with such childishness.

Senator Hillary Clinton has a new ad that describes the presidency as “the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything–especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing, and an economy in crisis.” The ad quotes Harry Truman–“if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”– and concludes with this question: “Who do you think has what it takes?”

Among the images in the ad is one of Osama bin Laden. It turns out that was too much for some of Barack Obama’s supporters. In his interview last night with Clinton, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said:

Let me ask you about the campaign and something you said in Pittsburgh today and again, let me read the quote about being president. “It’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything. Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” That is almost word for word the narration of this new ad that your campaign put out today, and that ad flashes a very brief image of Osama bin Laden. For nearly six years now since Senator Max Cleland was cut down by a commercial that featured a picture of bin Laden, that has been — that tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats. Is it not just, in your opinion, as much of a scare tactic for a Democrat to use it against another Democrat, as it is for a Republican to use it in a race against the Democrat?

Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, was on CNN making the same complaint:

What’s really disappointing about this ad is all of us should remember in 2002 when the Republicans ran an ad featuring Osama bin Laden against Max Cleland. And all the Democrats were upset about that, because they used Osama bin Laden to stir up fear. And now here we are again, watching Democrats use Osama bin Laden to stir fear against other Democrats.

The Max Cleland ad has become an urban legend in some quarters. According to this narrative, an ad run by Cleland’s opponent, Saxby Chambliss, questioned the patriotism of Cleland, a man who served in Vietnam and became a triple amputee. In point of fact, this ad did no such thing. Cleland had voted multiple times against a homeland security bill that would have given the President freedom from union rules which Bush had deemed necessary to make the new Department of Homeland Security more effective. Chambliss’s ad included pictures of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, underscoring the threats faced by America. At no point was Cleland’s patriotism impugned. What the ad did do was dispute Cleland’s claim that he had the “courage to lead” and that he “supports President Bush at every opportunity.”

So it has come to this: simply the picture of Osama bin Laden in an ad highlighting threats to America has become a “scare tactic” and a “bloody shirt for many Democrats.” Forget the fact that the threats we face are real, that bin Laden was responsible for killing almost 3,000 Americans on September 11th, and that he is leading figure in a jihadist movement that wants to destroy our country and kill many more of our people. Using the image of bin Laden is verboten.

This is yet one more example of the delicate sensibilities and manufactured outrage that makes people wonder about contemporary liberalism. I suspect Americans are more concerned with the threat posed by bin Laden than they are concerned by the use of his image in an ad. The public is right to be impatient with such childishness.

Read Less




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