Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hugh Hewitt

The Left’s Ongoing Epistemological Closure

I recommend you listen to this relatively short but highly illuminating interview (courtesy of Mediaite) between radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and his guest, MSNBC’s Karen Finney.

Mr. Hewitt opened the segment by playing a clip of Ms. Finney comparing Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s rhetoric to the “paranoia” and “fear-stoking” of Joseph McCarthy. 

This is a lazy and stupid charge, one that is a frequent rhetorical tic on the left. But where Hewitt was so skillful was to bore in on Finney’s knowledge of history. He first asked her a general question, which is whether any Communists actually did infiltrate the American government. And then he pressed her on whether Alger Hiss was a Communist.

That’s when things get amusing. It’s not clear whether Ms. Finney is just ignorant or rigidly ideological, or both. In any event, she bobs and weaves and ducks the question. Hewitt, in a civil but persistent way, won’t let her off the hook. She says she won’t “go down a rabbit hole” with him and insists, “Hugh, I’m not doing this game with you!” Meanwhile Hewitt just keeps asking her to answer the question so they can go on.

Eventually Ms. Finney hangs up on him.

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I recommend you listen to this relatively short but highly illuminating interview (courtesy of Mediaite) between radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and his guest, MSNBC’s Karen Finney.

Mr. Hewitt opened the segment by playing a clip of Ms. Finney comparing Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s rhetoric to the “paranoia” and “fear-stoking” of Joseph McCarthy. 

This is a lazy and stupid charge, one that is a frequent rhetorical tic on the left. But where Hewitt was so skillful was to bore in on Finney’s knowledge of history. He first asked her a general question, which is whether any Communists actually did infiltrate the American government. And then he pressed her on whether Alger Hiss was a Communist.

That’s when things get amusing. It’s not clear whether Ms. Finney is just ignorant or rigidly ideological, or both. In any event, she bobs and weaves and ducks the question. Hewitt, in a civil but persistent way, won’t let her off the hook. She says she won’t “go down a rabbit hole” with him and insists, “Hugh, I’m not doing this game with you!” Meanwhile Hewitt just keeps asking her to answer the question so they can go on.

Eventually Ms. Finney hangs up on him.

So why call attention to this exchange? In part because it’s another chance to expose the political demonization that is so common among the left. Liberals don’t like Ted Cruz and so they turn him into a modern-day Joe McCarthy. Can references to Hitler be far behind? 

But more fundamentally, Ms. Finney embodies the epistemological closure that afflicts many liberals (though it needs to be said that it is not confined simply to liberals). The Hewitt-Finney exchange is a fantastic example of a person (Finney) who inhabits a mental world in which facts that are contrary to her philosophy are not only dismissed; they are not even entertained. They are not allowed to penetrate the ideological force field that she has been put in place.

Partisans like Finney are so afraid of a genuine engagement with different ideas that they grow angry–and eventually may even hang up–when calm reason and history are employed against them. And on those rare occasions when some on the left venture outside of their hermetically sealed world and engage an intelligent conservative, we see not just how closed-minded they have become but how ridiculous they appear.

 For more, listen to Hewitt v. Finney.

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The Tax Deal: Politics and Principles

Reaction to the tax deal is all over the lot, on both sides of the political spectrum. Paul Mirengoff thinks it is a very good deal for Republicans (John Hinderaker would go further and label it a great deal). Grover Norquist says it is a much bigger victory for Republicans than recognized. Mark Levin thinks it is a bad deal, and Hugh Hewitt is deeply dispirited.

Jonathan Chait thinks Obama got more from the Republicans than Chait thought he would. Jonathan Bernstein thinks it is actually a win for the Democrats. The New York Times thinks it is a disappointing retreat by the White House. Obama himself did not sound very happy.

We’ll find out who was right in two years, when all the issues will resurface in the middle of a presidential election.

But it is not too soon to note the intellectual collapse of one of Obama’s principal arguments. For the past two years, he castigated the Bush tax cuts as breaks for “millionaires and billionaires,” even though the across-the-board cuts primarily benefited people in the lower brackets (the proportion of millionaires and billionaires among taxpayers is one-third of 1 percent, according to the latest IRS statistics). In order to raise any real money from “millionaires and billionaires,” Obama had to define them as individuals making one-fifth of a million dollars (one-fourth in the case of couples) – because there were 10 times as many people in that group as real millionaires, and therefore (applying the Willy Sutton principle of public policy) that was the place to go.

The White House ended up opposing a “compromise” under which taxes would be raised only on real millionaires, since there was not enough money in that group to make that resolution sufficiently remunerative for the government. More than taxing millionaires and billionaires, the White House really wanted to tax the non-millionaires. When that proved impossible, the White House went in a different direction.

In contrast, the Republicans were unified around a set of principles easier to explain and defend: don’t raise taxes in a recession; don’t increase taxes on employers if you want more employment; don’t ask the public, which is fairly crying out for you to cut spending, to send you $700 billion more to spend. These principles are unlikely to be proved wrong in two years.

Reaction to the tax deal is all over the lot, on both sides of the political spectrum. Paul Mirengoff thinks it is a very good deal for Republicans (John Hinderaker would go further and label it a great deal). Grover Norquist says it is a much bigger victory for Republicans than recognized. Mark Levin thinks it is a bad deal, and Hugh Hewitt is deeply dispirited.

Jonathan Chait thinks Obama got more from the Republicans than Chait thought he would. Jonathan Bernstein thinks it is actually a win for the Democrats. The New York Times thinks it is a disappointing retreat by the White House. Obama himself did not sound very happy.

We’ll find out who was right in two years, when all the issues will resurface in the middle of a presidential election.

But it is not too soon to note the intellectual collapse of one of Obama’s principal arguments. For the past two years, he castigated the Bush tax cuts as breaks for “millionaires and billionaires,” even though the across-the-board cuts primarily benefited people in the lower brackets (the proportion of millionaires and billionaires among taxpayers is one-third of 1 percent, according to the latest IRS statistics). In order to raise any real money from “millionaires and billionaires,” Obama had to define them as individuals making one-fifth of a million dollars (one-fourth in the case of couples) – because there were 10 times as many people in that group as real millionaires, and therefore (applying the Willy Sutton principle of public policy) that was the place to go.

The White House ended up opposing a “compromise” under which taxes would be raised only on real millionaires, since there was not enough money in that group to make that resolution sufficiently remunerative for the government. More than taxing millionaires and billionaires, the White House really wanted to tax the non-millionaires. When that proved impossible, the White House went in a different direction.

In contrast, the Republicans were unified around a set of principles easier to explain and defend: don’t raise taxes in a recession; don’t increase taxes on employers if you want more employment; don’t ask the public, which is fairly crying out for you to cut spending, to send you $700 billion more to spend. These principles are unlikely to be proved wrong in two years.

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RE: RE: Palin and the Media

I share Pete’s and Jen’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s Fox interview yesterday — it is important for conservatives to be honest about Rand Paul and not to blame his unacceptable comments on the media that ferreted them out. But Palin was correct that Paul got it right on the second (or maybe third) try, and it is possible for people — particularly newcomers to the harsh glare of national politics — to learn from their experience.

As evidence that Palin herself has learned and benefited from the glare focused on her over the past two years, I would recommend watching her “I Can See November from My House” speech, which she gave over the weekend at the University of Denver — and especially the panel discussion featuring her, Dennis Prager, and Hugh Hewitt after her speech. The videos of both can be viewed at TheRightScoop. They are worth the time.

I share Pete’s and Jen’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s Fox interview yesterday — it is important for conservatives to be honest about Rand Paul and not to blame his unacceptable comments on the media that ferreted them out. But Palin was correct that Paul got it right on the second (or maybe third) try, and it is possible for people — particularly newcomers to the harsh glare of national politics — to learn from their experience.

As evidence that Palin herself has learned and benefited from the glare focused on her over the past two years, I would recommend watching her “I Can See November from My House” speech, which she gave over the weekend at the University of Denver — and especially the panel discussion featuring her, Dennis Prager, and Hugh Hewitt after her speech. The videos of both can be viewed at TheRightScoop. They are worth the time.

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Obama Alone

Jennifer, Obama’s camp can’t be thrilled with CNN, Fox, or any other news outlets tonight. Not so hidden in all this speculation about Hillary’s superdelegate argument is the media’s disenchantment with Obama and his charms.

So far, Hillary is ahead by 8 to 10 percentage points, and her win is being talked about in reverential terms reminiscent of her coronation 6 months ago. Hugh Hewitt is calling this Hillary’s “second comeback”. Hillary had supposedly needed to win by a huge margin in order to go forward, yet Campbell Brown is now saying, “a win is a win”. The pendulum has swung back.

Jennifer, Obama’s camp can’t be thrilled with CNN, Fox, or any other news outlets tonight. Not so hidden in all this speculation about Hillary’s superdelegate argument is the media’s disenchantment with Obama and his charms.

So far, Hillary is ahead by 8 to 10 percentage points, and her win is being talked about in reverential terms reminiscent of her coronation 6 months ago. Hugh Hewitt is calling this Hillary’s “second comeback”. Hillary had supposedly needed to win by a huge margin in order to go forward, yet Campbell Brown is now saying, “a win is a win”. The pendulum has swung back.

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The (Non)Conservatives Against McCain

The rabid strain of anti-McCain sentiment among media conservatives is, in fact, a betrayal of one of the most important principles of conservatism itself: the willingness to work with the concrete facts of a situation. The great strength of a politically conservative mindset is that it’s predicated on seeing the world as it is. When Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, and Rush Limbaugh threaten to deny McCain their vote because he’s not an ideal conservative, they come off more like quixotic Ron Paul undergrads or deluded moveon.orgers than like the realists they pride themselves on being. If it’s McCain’s lack of a consistent political philosophy that truly bothers this lot, then they can’t possibly mean it when they say they prefer Hillary. We know that the only politics she practices, and the only philosophy she abides, is that of the ferociously personal. So, what the McCain-haters are really doing is protesting the sub-Reagan Republican.

Recently, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a much needed reminder about the real Ronald Reagan. Hanson cited Reagan’s tax hikes, governmental bloat, and amnesty for illegals. The point is not that Reagan betrayed conservatives, but that his conservatism was not the pristine ideology-in-action that many now remember.

It’s liberals who are supposed to view political and cultural matters as they are not—in idealized hues. (And some describe neoconservatives as seeing the world as it could be.) But conservatives are supposed to size up a predicament for what it is, and make a non-sentimental decision. Conservatives do a cost-benefit analysis; liberals are the ones who take the ball and go home after an argument on the playground. Yet there they go: Rush, Michelle, Hugh, and Ann kicking up the dirt as they pout their way off the field.

The rabid strain of anti-McCain sentiment among media conservatives is, in fact, a betrayal of one of the most important principles of conservatism itself: the willingness to work with the concrete facts of a situation. The great strength of a politically conservative mindset is that it’s predicated on seeing the world as it is. When Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, and Rush Limbaugh threaten to deny McCain their vote because he’s not an ideal conservative, they come off more like quixotic Ron Paul undergrads or deluded moveon.orgers than like the realists they pride themselves on being. If it’s McCain’s lack of a consistent political philosophy that truly bothers this lot, then they can’t possibly mean it when they say they prefer Hillary. We know that the only politics she practices, and the only philosophy she abides, is that of the ferociously personal. So, what the McCain-haters are really doing is protesting the sub-Reagan Republican.

Recently, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a much needed reminder about the real Ronald Reagan. Hanson cited Reagan’s tax hikes, governmental bloat, and amnesty for illegals. The point is not that Reagan betrayed conservatives, but that his conservatism was not the pristine ideology-in-action that many now remember.

It’s liberals who are supposed to view political and cultural matters as they are not—in idealized hues. (And some describe neoconservatives as seeing the world as it could be.) But conservatives are supposed to size up a predicament for what it is, and make a non-sentimental decision. Conservatives do a cost-benefit analysis; liberals are the ones who take the ball and go home after an argument on the playground. Yet there they go: Rush, Michelle, Hugh, and Ann kicking up the dirt as they pout their way off the field.

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A Blogospheric Observation (Only for The Obsessed)

Andrew Sullivan likes to drip scorn upon Hugh Hewitt’s pate for indulging in boosterism where the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney is concerned. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? Hasn’t Sullivan turned into nothing more than an uncritical Barack Obama shill? And isn’t Hillary Clinton receiving the same kind of hostile coverage from Sullivan that John McCain receives from Hewitt — and for the same reason?

Andrew Sullivan likes to drip scorn upon Hugh Hewitt’s pate for indulging in boosterism where the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney is concerned. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? Hasn’t Sullivan turned into nothing more than an uncritical Barack Obama shill? And isn’t Hillary Clinton receiving the same kind of hostile coverage from Sullivan that John McCain receives from Hewitt — and for the same reason?

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What Hath Talk Radio Wrought?

Michael Medved, the polymathic conservative writer, has worked for the past dozen years as a radio talk-show host. Unlike many of his fellow conservative talk-show hosts, he has not spent the past year and a half in a toxic rage against immigration. Nor has he concluded that John McCain represents a dagger aimed at the heart of the Right.

In a brave post on his blog, Medved posits that McCain’s victory in South Carolina (along with the strong showing of Mike Huckabee) represents a threat not to conservatism but rather to the viability and influence of talk radio, and that the wound is self-inflicted:

For more than a month, the leading conservative talkers in the country have broadcast identical messages in an effort to demonize Mike Huckabee and John McCain. If you’ve tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you’ve heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck.

As always, led by Rush Limbaugh (who because of talent and seniority continues to dominate the medium) the talk radio herd has ridden in precisely the same direction, insisting that McCain and Huckabee deserve no support because they’re not “real conservatives.”

A month ago, the angry right launched the slogan that Mike Huckabee is a “pro-life liberal.” More recently, after McCain’s energizing victory in New Hampshire, they trotted out the mantra that the Arizona Senator (with a lifetime rating for his Congressional voting record of 83 percent from the American Conservative Union) is a “pro-war liberal.”

Well, the two alleged “liberals,” McCain and Huckabee, just swept a total of 63 percent of the Republican vote in deeply conservative South Carolina. Meanwhile, the two darlings of talk radio — Mitt Romney and, to a lesser extent, Fred Thompson—combined for an anemic 31 percent of the vote….In other words, even among the most right wing segment of the South Carolina electorate, talk radio failed – and failed miserably – in efforts to destroy and discredit Huckabee and McCain.

As the campaign moves forward, my colleagues in talk radio (along with program directors, general managers, advertisers and the other segments of our industry) ought to reconsider the one-sided, embittered negativity toward two of our four surviving candidates for President….

South Carolina demonstrates the utter ineffectiveness of concerted efforts by the conservative media elite to derail the campaigns of two popular candidates. Continued efforts in that direction will prove no more effective, and will hurt both our industry and the Republican Party.

In other words, the talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio.

Michael Medved, the polymathic conservative writer, has worked for the past dozen years as a radio talk-show host. Unlike many of his fellow conservative talk-show hosts, he has not spent the past year and a half in a toxic rage against immigration. Nor has he concluded that John McCain represents a dagger aimed at the heart of the Right.

In a brave post on his blog, Medved posits that McCain’s victory in South Carolina (along with the strong showing of Mike Huckabee) represents a threat not to conservatism but rather to the viability and influence of talk radio, and that the wound is self-inflicted:

For more than a month, the leading conservative talkers in the country have broadcast identical messages in an effort to demonize Mike Huckabee and John McCain. If you’ve tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you’ve heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck.

As always, led by Rush Limbaugh (who because of talent and seniority continues to dominate the medium) the talk radio herd has ridden in precisely the same direction, insisting that McCain and Huckabee deserve no support because they’re not “real conservatives.”

A month ago, the angry right launched the slogan that Mike Huckabee is a “pro-life liberal.” More recently, after McCain’s energizing victory in New Hampshire, they trotted out the mantra that the Arizona Senator (with a lifetime rating for his Congressional voting record of 83 percent from the American Conservative Union) is a “pro-war liberal.”

Well, the two alleged “liberals,” McCain and Huckabee, just swept a total of 63 percent of the Republican vote in deeply conservative South Carolina. Meanwhile, the two darlings of talk radio — Mitt Romney and, to a lesser extent, Fred Thompson—combined for an anemic 31 percent of the vote….In other words, even among the most right wing segment of the South Carolina electorate, talk radio failed – and failed miserably – in efforts to destroy and discredit Huckabee and McCain.

As the campaign moves forward, my colleagues in talk radio (along with program directors, general managers, advertisers and the other segments of our industry) ought to reconsider the one-sided, embittered negativity toward two of our four surviving candidates for President….

South Carolina demonstrates the utter ineffectiveness of concerted efforts by the conservative media elite to derail the campaigns of two popular candidates. Continued efforts in that direction will prove no more effective, and will hurt both our industry and the Republican Party.

In other words, the talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Is There a Romney Future?

Hugh Hewitt offers the most optimistic take in the wake of Romney’s second consecutive loss:

When Romney had to beat a dominant Rudy Giuliani, he had to win one or both of Iowa and New Hampshire.  The fall of Rudy leaves a wide open field, and Romney’s two second place showings in Iowa and New Hampshire along with a win in Wyoming means he’s in the thick of the race.

The problem is that Romney faces the prospect of consecutive defeats without a significant victory.  Mike ,Huckabee is threatening in Michigan where is evangelical base is huge, and remains dominant in South Carolina. In Florida, even as Rudy slips, Romney is in fourth place with McCain rising. In California, Romney is running behind Huckabee.

The problem with second place is that it doesn’t create converts and it doesn’t drive up enthusiasm.  I agree with Hewitt that the race remains wide open and the seeming disappearance of the Giuliani campaign is reason for Romney to stay in. But the message out of Iowa and New Hampshire has to be that Romney, who spent more time and money in both states than anyone else, just can’t persuade enough Republicans to vote for him.

Hugh Hewitt offers the most optimistic take in the wake of Romney’s second consecutive loss:

When Romney had to beat a dominant Rudy Giuliani, he had to win one or both of Iowa and New Hampshire.  The fall of Rudy leaves a wide open field, and Romney’s two second place showings in Iowa and New Hampshire along with a win in Wyoming means he’s in the thick of the race.

The problem is that Romney faces the prospect of consecutive defeats without a significant victory.  Mike ,Huckabee is threatening in Michigan where is evangelical base is huge, and remains dominant in South Carolina. In Florida, even as Rudy slips, Romney is in fourth place with McCain rising. In California, Romney is running behind Huckabee.

The problem with second place is that it doesn’t create converts and it doesn’t drive up enthusiasm.  I agree with Hewitt that the race remains wide open and the seeming disappearance of the Giuliani campaign is reason for Romney to stay in. But the message out of Iowa and New Hampshire has to be that Romney, who spent more time and money in both states than anyone else, just can’t persuade enough Republicans to vote for him.

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A New Direction?

From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

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From the Politico today:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would bring a new Iraq measure to the House floor shortly to provide $50 billion in funds for the war, while requiring U.S. troops to begin redeploying out of Iraq immediately and conclude by the end of next year. “In last year’s election, the American people called for a new direction; nowhere was that direction more called for than in the war in Iraq,” Pelosi told reporters. “And so in the next day or so, we [will] once again bring to the floor legislation that makes a distinction, a clear distinction: choose a new direction from the Bush foreign policy in Iraq.”

This is yet more evidence—as if we needed it—that the goal of leading Democrats is to withdraw American troops from Iraq, even if withdrawal destroys our chances of success.

How can one come to any other conclusion? After all, the surge has been more successful than anyone could have imagined. This year we have seen progress made in Iraq on almost every front.

Earlier this week, for example, we learned from Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, that American forces have routed al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) from every neighborhood of Baghdad and that violence had declined since a spike in June. Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak, and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said. General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significantly, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

We’re seeing early reports (it’s still far too early to call it a trend) of refugees and displaced persons returning to their homes, which, if it continues, will be among the most compelling indicators of progress. People vote with their feet.

We have also seen substantial progress in the “war of ideas,” with Sunnis forcefully rejecting bin Ladenism. Earlier this week Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, told Hugh Hewitt about this development that took place in September:

Sheik Salman al-Awdah is a very prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself lionized this man. But on two occasions, most recently at the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that just concluded, Sheik Awdah condemned, personally condemned bin Laden. You know, my son, Osama, how long will this go on? You know, this stain on Islam. I mean, it was a direct repudiation of everything that bin Laden stood for.

Sheik Awdah’s “open letter to Osama bin Laden” asked:

Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocents among children, elderly, the weak, and women have been killed and made homeless in the name of al Qaeda? The ruin of an entire people, as is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . cannot make Muslims happy. Who benefits from turning countries like Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia into places where fear spreads and no one can feel safe?

This is a stunning and important, if largely ignored, development.

In Iraq we’re also seeing some encouraging news on the economic front and very encouraging, even dramatic, progress on the local political front; “bottom-up” reconciliation is continuing apace. The main problem in Iraq lies with the central government and its unwillingness, still, to share power. Nevertheless, almost every important trend line in Iraq is positive. And yet to the likes of Speaker Pelosi, it matters not at all. She and her colleagues are ideologues in the truest sense—zealous and doctrinaire people committed to a path regardless of the evidence. And the fact that good news in Iraq seems to agitate her and other leading Democrats is astonishing, as well as unsettling.

Nancy Pelosi’s effort to subvert a manifestly successful (if belatedly implemented) strategy in Iraq is reckless and foolish—and it may succeed in driving down Congressional approval ratings, already at record lows, to single digits. Which is about where they belong.

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John Burns

Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.
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Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.

You can read a transcript of his fascinating interview with Hugh Hewitt here. Some highlights: asked if the surge is working, Burns replies

I think there’s no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference. They’re definitely making a difference in Baghdad. Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American, and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties. And add in what they call the Baghdad belts, that’s to say the approaches to Baghdad, particularly in Diyala Province to the northeast, to the area south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and to the west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, there’s no doubt that al Qaeda has taken something of a beating.

He goes on to warn that this has not so far led to political reconciliation:

I think it’s probably fair to say that the Iraqi political leaders, Sunni, Shiia, Kurd in the main, are somewhat further apart now than they were six months ago. In other words, the Bush administration’s hope that the military surge would be accompanied by what they called a political surge, a movement towards some sort of national reconciliation, uniting around a kind of national compact, that has simply not occurred. Indeed, the gulf between the Shiite and Sunni leaders in the government is probably wider than it has ever been.

While this might be music to antiwar ears, Burns deflates one of the chief arguments made by Democrats who contend that their demands to pull U.S. troops out are putting pressure on the Iraqi politicians to compromise. Au contraire, Burns points out:

[T]he more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect. It has had an effect of persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there’s absolutely no…and we’re going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now?

He then goes on to warn about the consequences of an American drawdown:

[A]n accelerated early withdrawal, something which reduced American troops—even if they were placed in large bases out in the desert—to, say, something like 60-80,000 over a period of six to nine months, and in effect, leaving the fighting in the cities and the approaches to the cities to the Iraqis, I think the result of that would, in effect, be a rapid, a rapid progress towards an all-out civil war. And the people who are urging that kind of a drawdown, I think, have to take that into account.

There is much more of interest in the interview; you should read the whole thing. And while you’re at it, take a look at this Washington Post story. The lead sums it up nicely: “House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party’s efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.”

Given the positive assessments coming from such dispassionate analysts as John Burns and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, the chances of just such a positive report from Petraeus seem to be growing—and hence leftist activists’ hopes of abandoning Iraq seem to be fading. At least for the time being.

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