Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jane Harman

A Tea Partier Gets Some Unusual Defenders

Last week I wrote about the entertaining series of stories in which reporters asked Senate Democrats why they didn’t stand with Rand Paul during his filibuster of John Brennan over civil liberties concerns. I noted that congressional Democrats judge foreign policy stands on partisanship alone, and the Democrats’ confused responses to reporters last week signaled they thought reporters were in on the joke.

But there are Democrats outside of government starting to pipe up on the issue of drones and secrecy, and it suggests Paul’s filibuster was even more successful from a publicity standpoint than it seemed at the time. This is because when it began, Paul’s concentration on the seemingly farfetched possibility that the government would drone critics like Jane Fonda as they sat in Starbucks left the initial impression that the filibuster was going to be a political theater of the absurd. But Paul proved many doubters wrong not only by attracting other politicians and rallying support on Twitter, but because the drone-Fonda case highlighted something that made people uneasy: if the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t clearly deny its right to zap nonviolent people on American soil, was there anything the Obama administration would rule out?

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Last week I wrote about the entertaining series of stories in which reporters asked Senate Democrats why they didn’t stand with Rand Paul during his filibuster of John Brennan over civil liberties concerns. I noted that congressional Democrats judge foreign policy stands on partisanship alone, and the Democrats’ confused responses to reporters last week signaled they thought reporters were in on the joke.

But there are Democrats outside of government starting to pipe up on the issue of drones and secrecy, and it suggests Paul’s filibuster was even more successful from a publicity standpoint than it seemed at the time. This is because when it began, Paul’s concentration on the seemingly farfetched possibility that the government would drone critics like Jane Fonda as they sat in Starbucks left the initial impression that the filibuster was going to be a political theater of the absurd. But Paul proved many doubters wrong not only by attracting other politicians and rallying support on Twitter, but because the drone-Fonda case highlighted something that made people uneasy: if the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t clearly deny its right to zap nonviolent people on American soil, was there anything the Obama administration would rule out?

And that, in turn, led to many asking a related series of questions: what exactly do we know about the drone program? Does it have limits, and if so, what are they? Why, people wondered, didn’t they know exactly what the federal government’s guidelines are regarding these floating robot assassins suddenly the centerpiece of our anti-terror efforts? Sensing they were losing the spin battle, the White House had Attorney General Eric Holder finally respond with a terse note, basically saying the government cannot drone Fonda. Not good enough, says Jane Harman, a former Democratic congresswoman from California who was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and is now head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Still, the letter left more questions unanswered than answered. Indeed, a simple “no” is hardly reassuring when the policy it supports is not clear.

In the domestic context, drones should never be used against citizens unless there is an armed conflict on U.S. soil….

Only the Federal Aviation Administration has been tasked with reviewing safety of domestic drones – nothing related to legal or security issues….

In the absence of congressional action, more than 30 state legislatures are banning or contemplating bills governing domestic drone use. But we need a national solution – not a fragmentation of state and local laws.

Harman’s CNN.com op-ed is titled “Rand Paul is Right.” In a similar op-ed in the Washington Post, former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta writes that “The Obama administration is wrong” to withhold documents being requested by Congress that would shed light on the secret drone programs. Podesta writes:

It is beyond dispute that some information must be closely held to protect national security and to engage in effective diplomacy, and that unauthorized disclosure can be extraordinarily harmful. But protecting technical means, human sources, operational details and intelligence methods cannot be an excuse for creating secret law to guide our institutions.

In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days. And in keeping this information from the American people, he is undermining the nation’s ability to be a leader on the world stage and is acting in opposition to the democratic principles we hold most important.

And there is one Senate Democrat who isn’t dropping the issue, either. West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller objected to the freezing-out of Congress in a meeting with President Obama this week, Politico reports. According to those at the meeting, Obama offered a magnificently unserious and contemptuous response: “This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” the president said.

Perhaps the usually humorless Obama was trying awkwardly to make a joke, and just isn’t very funny. But the Democrats in the meeting, especially Rockefeller, weren’t amused. According to Politico, the senators reminded Obama that if he were in the Senate and a Republican were in the White House, he would be outraged by this behavior. Obama apparently acknowledged that, yes, he was being quite hypocritical. Rockefeller also objected to the fact that when he was finally allowed to see a couple of memos in a secure room, the White House sent a babysitter in to watch him.

The White House has tried to make it abundantly clear that they don’t appreciate oversight or transparency from Congress, least of all from members of the president’s own party. But those outside of Congress are starting to feel more comfortable openly challenging the president on executive authority, and going on record in support of Paul. The Kentucky senator is winning a second week’s worth of news cycles on this issue. The president may not consider himself accountable to Paul, but neither can he ignore him.

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What’s the Purpose of Pro-Israel Jewish Organizations?

In her primary, Democrat Jane Harman prevailed against Marcy Winograd, an avowed Israel-hater and great supporter of the terrorist flotilla. Her website proclaimed that she wanted to pursue “war crimes” prosecutions in Gaza and southern Israel, end the Gaza blockade, and remove Israeli settlements. She favors a “one or two state solution.” OK, pretty far out there, right? She got 41% of the vote. And to be clear, her Israel-bashing was not an incidental part of the campaign.

Elections like this and ample polling concerning the partisan divide in support for Israel should provoke some soul-searching in mainstream Jewish organizations. It would be swell to maintain a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition. It flourished for decades, to the benefit of our and of Israel’s national security. But that requires two parties fully committed to that coalition. With a Democratic president summoning an international inquiry to investigate Israel and slow-walking toward “containment” of a nuclear-armed Iran – and a Democratic Congress unwilling to cross him — this is quite hard.

It’s admirable to strive for bipartisanship to provide the widest possible support for Israel. But with a Democratic Party that has a significant number of Israel-haters (remember that 54 congressmen signed on to the Gaza letter) and others who cheer the lowest common denominator in every situation to avoid  annoying their leftist colleagues and base (fake sanctions, wish-washy letters to the president), the result is not a robust bipartisan coalition but an ineffective one, which merely legitimizes the Obama assault on the Jewish state. In less than two years of this administration, “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises—the United States—has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared virtual war against the Jewish State.” That’s a statement on Obama’s mendacity and on American Jewish leaders’ impotence, if not irrelevance.

I can attest to the schizophrenia this causes among Jewish leaders. Publicly and in the presence of Obama or other members of his administration, they are restrained, polite, even enthusiastic about the president’s actions. In private they grouse and fret — why did he carve out Russia from sanctions? How in the world could he support an international inquest of Israel? Perhaps they think they are doing good, working “behind the scenes,” they say, to persuade and cajole the administration. But look at the results. Obama’s behavior toward Israel is getting worse, not better, even as he tries to “charm” the Jewish community. If the result of “working behind the scenes” is a Swiss-cheese sanctions agreement and administration support for an international inquest on the flotilla, it’s time to concede that the strategy is a failure. And those who argue that it could be “worse” delude themselves. It is not their good offices but rather the financial and electoral support that Jews afford Democrats that provides the only restraint on the administration. And that isn’t much considering the Jews’ “sick addiction” to the Democratic Party, which Obama exploits to the hilt.

Mainstream Jewish organizations have to decide: lose their patina of  bipartisanship (most are avowedly Democratic in membership) and their insider status (which comes with never rocking the boat all that much) – or risk losing their souls and their mission. They are there to promote a robust Israel-U.S. relationship, not to work against Israel’s interests for the sake of comity. If they can’t  fulfill their mission, it is time to either drop the “bigger the bipartisan coalition, the better” mentality or frankly to close up shop. “Never annoyed Barack Obama” is not a legacy to be proud of, nor is easing the consciences of lawmakers who can’t bring themselves to give full-throated support to the Jewish state.

In her primary, Democrat Jane Harman prevailed against Marcy Winograd, an avowed Israel-hater and great supporter of the terrorist flotilla. Her website proclaimed that she wanted to pursue “war crimes” prosecutions in Gaza and southern Israel, end the Gaza blockade, and remove Israeli settlements. She favors a “one or two state solution.” OK, pretty far out there, right? She got 41% of the vote. And to be clear, her Israel-bashing was not an incidental part of the campaign.

Elections like this and ample polling concerning the partisan divide in support for Israel should provoke some soul-searching in mainstream Jewish organizations. It would be swell to maintain a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition. It flourished for decades, to the benefit of our and of Israel’s national security. But that requires two parties fully committed to that coalition. With a Democratic president summoning an international inquiry to investigate Israel and slow-walking toward “containment” of a nuclear-armed Iran – and a Democratic Congress unwilling to cross him — this is quite hard.

It’s admirable to strive for bipartisanship to provide the widest possible support for Israel. But with a Democratic Party that has a significant number of Israel-haters (remember that 54 congressmen signed on to the Gaza letter) and others who cheer the lowest common denominator in every situation to avoid  annoying their leftist colleagues and base (fake sanctions, wish-washy letters to the president), the result is not a robust bipartisan coalition but an ineffective one, which merely legitimizes the Obama assault on the Jewish state. In less than two years of this administration, “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises—the United States—has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared virtual war against the Jewish State.” That’s a statement on Obama’s mendacity and on American Jewish leaders’ impotence, if not irrelevance.

I can attest to the schizophrenia this causes among Jewish leaders. Publicly and in the presence of Obama or other members of his administration, they are restrained, polite, even enthusiastic about the president’s actions. In private they grouse and fret — why did he carve out Russia from sanctions? How in the world could he support an international inquest of Israel? Perhaps they think they are doing good, working “behind the scenes,” they say, to persuade and cajole the administration. But look at the results. Obama’s behavior toward Israel is getting worse, not better, even as he tries to “charm” the Jewish community. If the result of “working behind the scenes” is a Swiss-cheese sanctions agreement and administration support for an international inquest on the flotilla, it’s time to concede that the strategy is a failure. And those who argue that it could be “worse” delude themselves. It is not their good offices but rather the financial and electoral support that Jews afford Democrats that provides the only restraint on the administration. And that isn’t much considering the Jews’ “sick addiction” to the Democratic Party, which Obama exploits to the hilt.

Mainstream Jewish organizations have to decide: lose their patina of  bipartisanship (most are avowedly Democratic in membership) and their insider status (which comes with never rocking the boat all that much) – or risk losing their souls and their mission. They are there to promote a robust Israel-U.S. relationship, not to work against Israel’s interests for the sake of comity. If they can’t  fulfill their mission, it is time to either drop the “bigger the bipartisan coalition, the better” mentality or frankly to close up shop. “Never annoyed Barack Obama” is not a legacy to be proud of, nor is easing the consciences of lawmakers who can’t bring themselves to give full-throated support to the Jewish state.

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Congress Speaks About Israel and the Flotilla

Even though Congress is in recess this week, the statements on the terrorist flotilla (should we call it an armada instead?) are pouring in. The overwhelming number are extremely supportive of Israel. There is a challenge to lawmakers and their staffs after a bunch of these have been issued — how to distinguish yours from the crowd? I’ll pull out two — one Democratic and one Republican in the spirit of bipartisanship (it’s actually “nonpartisanship”) — for special mention.

From Democrat Rep. Steve Israel, a pithy summation: “There is nothing humanitarian about lead pipes and knives. Israel unconditionally left Gaza and was rewarded with rocket fire. Israel established a blockade according to the rules of international law to protect itself from further rocket fire. A group of people chose to violate international law and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

And from Republican Rep. Connie Mack:

Since September 11 here in the United States, we have understood the necessity for increased surveillance of materials coming into our airports, seaports and borders. We recognize that screening for materials that can be used by terrorists to endanger our security must be a top priority. The terrorist regime Hamas rules over Gaza through force and remains a constant military threat to the safety and security of Israel and her people. Just as it is wise for us in the United States to ensure that cargo coming into our country is safe, so is it prudent for Israel to do the same and ensure that only non-military supplies are going into Gaza. However, yesterday’s flotilla was designed to avoid scrutiny. They could have had their materials sent through approved channels like the United Nations or the Red Cross, but instead, they chose to avoid the blockade and ship their materials directly to the terrorist-run regime in Gaza. Like the United States, Israel has every right to ensure its own safety and security. If those who sent the flotilla wanted these materials to go to Gaza for humanitarian aid, as they claimed, then they would have sent them through approved channels. It’s clear that this was a publicity stunt geared to break legitimate port security laws. Israel acted courageously on its own behalf. The Obama Administration should stand with Israel and support their right to keep their nation safe and secure.

He gets credit for making the comparison between Israel and the U.S. crystal clear and for reminding us that we are talking about a “terrorist-run regime in Gaza.”

Alas, at the other end of the spectrum is the loathsome Marcy Winograd, who is second to none in her hatred for Israel and her Cynthia Kinney–like fantastical theories. She posts a picture of the a man dressed in a “Free Gaza” T-shirt. And she cheerfully reports that one of her T-shirts was worn on the flotilla. The candidate from Hamas, I suppose. Then she puts out this drivel:

“I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza.”

Adds Winograd, “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace.”

One note: so far there has been no statement from Joe Sestak, who signed on to the Gaza 54 letter urging the lifting of the blockade. I imagine he and his staff are trying to figure out which is better: rank hypocrisy (reverse course and stand with Israel) or becoming the Marcy Winograd of the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Even though Congress is in recess this week, the statements on the terrorist flotilla (should we call it an armada instead?) are pouring in. The overwhelming number are extremely supportive of Israel. There is a challenge to lawmakers and their staffs after a bunch of these have been issued — how to distinguish yours from the crowd? I’ll pull out two — one Democratic and one Republican in the spirit of bipartisanship (it’s actually “nonpartisanship”) — for special mention.

From Democrat Rep. Steve Israel, a pithy summation: “There is nothing humanitarian about lead pipes and knives. Israel unconditionally left Gaza and was rewarded with rocket fire. Israel established a blockade according to the rules of international law to protect itself from further rocket fire. A group of people chose to violate international law and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

And from Republican Rep. Connie Mack:

Since September 11 here in the United States, we have understood the necessity for increased surveillance of materials coming into our airports, seaports and borders. We recognize that screening for materials that can be used by terrorists to endanger our security must be a top priority. The terrorist regime Hamas rules over Gaza through force and remains a constant military threat to the safety and security of Israel and her people. Just as it is wise for us in the United States to ensure that cargo coming into our country is safe, so is it prudent for Israel to do the same and ensure that only non-military supplies are going into Gaza. However, yesterday’s flotilla was designed to avoid scrutiny. They could have had their materials sent through approved channels like the United Nations or the Red Cross, but instead, they chose to avoid the blockade and ship their materials directly to the terrorist-run regime in Gaza. Like the United States, Israel has every right to ensure its own safety and security. If those who sent the flotilla wanted these materials to go to Gaza for humanitarian aid, as they claimed, then they would have sent them through approved channels. It’s clear that this was a publicity stunt geared to break legitimate port security laws. Israel acted courageously on its own behalf. The Obama Administration should stand with Israel and support their right to keep their nation safe and secure.

He gets credit for making the comparison between Israel and the U.S. crystal clear and for reminding us that we are talking about a “terrorist-run regime in Gaza.”

Alas, at the other end of the spectrum is the loathsome Marcy Winograd, who is second to none in her hatred for Israel and her Cynthia Kinney–like fantastical theories. She posts a picture of the a man dressed in a “Free Gaza” T-shirt. And she cheerfully reports that one of her T-shirts was worn on the flotilla. The candidate from Hamas, I suppose. Then she puts out this drivel:

“I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza.”

Adds Winograd, “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace.”

One note: so far there has been no statement from Joe Sestak, who signed on to the Gaza 54 letter urging the lifting of the blockade. I imagine he and his staff are trying to figure out which is better: rank hypocrisy (reverse course and stand with Israel) or becoming the Marcy Winograd of the Pennsylvania Senate race.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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Circle the Wagons

The pattern in reacting to terrorism is now unfortunately all too familiar. First, the administration says, “The system worked.” But everyone knows that’s crazy talk. So a day or so later, we hear there was a “systematic failure.” The president, despite ample media reports, first tells us this was the work of an “isolated extremist.” But that’s just plain wrong. So he later tells us this was an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist. For days, administration spokespeople have pushed back on the notion that we should stop sending Guantanmo detainees to Yemen. Even Democrats like Rep. Jane Harman, and Sen. Diane Feinstein said it was preposterous to keep feeding the terrorist pipeline. Finally today we hear:

President Barack Obama has come under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen. “While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made right now — any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

So why is the administration the last place where the light bulb goes on? Again, you have to look to the top. The president, we are informed, “wants no more finger-pointing.” Well, especially at him. But if there is no blame assigned, there is also no accountability. And that still seems to be the name of the game here. Even after all of the criticism, the White House persists in doing the same old damage-control routine: deny fault, defend current policy, attack critics’ motives, and deflect blame. That is why they seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode, racing to avoid the fallout from the voters (and increasingly from the Democrats) who perceive that the Obami are simply not getting it.

When the political heat boils over, then the Obama team grudgingly reacts. But not before. Who really thinks they are capable of assessing themselves and making needed changes? If they did, someone might be seen to have been at fault. And the president says there will be none of that.

The pattern in reacting to terrorism is now unfortunately all too familiar. First, the administration says, “The system worked.” But everyone knows that’s crazy talk. So a day or so later, we hear there was a “systematic failure.” The president, despite ample media reports, first tells us this was the work of an “isolated extremist.” But that’s just plain wrong. So he later tells us this was an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist. For days, administration spokespeople have pushed back on the notion that we should stop sending Guantanmo detainees to Yemen. Even Democrats like Rep. Jane Harman, and Sen. Diane Feinstein said it was preposterous to keep feeding the terrorist pipeline. Finally today we hear:

President Barack Obama has come under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen. “While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made right now — any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

So why is the administration the last place where the light bulb goes on? Again, you have to look to the top. The president, we are informed, “wants no more finger-pointing.” Well, especially at him. But if there is no blame assigned, there is also no accountability. And that still seems to be the name of the game here. Even after all of the criticism, the White House persists in doing the same old damage-control routine: deny fault, defend current policy, attack critics’ motives, and deflect blame. That is why they seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode, racing to avoid the fallout from the voters (and increasingly from the Democrats) who perceive that the Obami are simply not getting it.

When the political heat boils over, then the Obama team grudgingly reacts. But not before. Who really thinks they are capable of assessing themselves and making needed changes? If they did, someone might be seen to have been at fault. And the president says there will be none of that.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

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Democrats Dismiss This NIE

When a summary of the N.I.E. on Iran’s nuclear weapons program was released in October 2007, Democrats wasted no time in citing its “findings” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Prominent party members dashed in front of cameras and microphones to bolster their claims that Tehran was ripe for dialogue and the Bush administration was wrong to think otherwise:

John Edwards: “The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.”

Harry Reid: “The Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”

Nancy Pelosi: “[T]he new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall.”

Chris Dodd: “Taken together these findings make a strong case for pursuing robust diplomacy to resolve our differences with Iran . . .”

And the Clinton campaign’s national security director said

The assessment of the NIE vindicates the policy Senator Clinton will pursue as President: vigorous American-led diplomacy, close international cooperation, and effective economic pressure, with the prospect of carefully calibrated incentives if Iran addresses our concerns. Neither saber rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Put aside the fact that the NIE buried the most worrisome indication of Iran’s continued nuclear weaponization in a footnote. And forget that, even if Iran had halted its program, one could most readily attribute this to the display of American military might in Iraq. That’s old news. The question today is: What are Democrats saying about the new classified NIE that paints an encouraging picture of progress in Iraq?

“It’s much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership,” said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee.

There’s also suspicion about the supposedly funny timing of the NIE’s release, as General David Petraeus is scheduled to testify about Iraq before Congress next week.

“One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document,” said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Wall Street Journal adds, “He declined to say how the procedures were unusual.”

It’s the wrong NIE at the wrong time, as John Kerry might put it. That is, if someone could find him (or Hillary or Obama) to comment about what seems like a monumentally important document.

When a summary of the N.I.E. on Iran’s nuclear weapons program was released in October 2007, Democrats wasted no time in citing its “findings” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Prominent party members dashed in front of cameras and microphones to bolster their claims that Tehran was ripe for dialogue and the Bush administration was wrong to think otherwise:

John Edwards: “The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.”

Harry Reid: “The Administration should begin this process by finally undertaking a diplomatic surge necessary to effectively address the challenges posed by Iran.”

Nancy Pelosi: “[T]he new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall.”

Chris Dodd: “Taken together these findings make a strong case for pursuing robust diplomacy to resolve our differences with Iran . . .”

And the Clinton campaign’s national security director said

The assessment of the NIE vindicates the policy Senator Clinton will pursue as President: vigorous American-led diplomacy, close international cooperation, and effective economic pressure, with the prospect of carefully calibrated incentives if Iran addresses our concerns. Neither saber rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Put aside the fact that the NIE buried the most worrisome indication of Iran’s continued nuclear weaponization in a footnote. And forget that, even if Iran had halted its program, one could most readily attribute this to the display of American military might in Iraq. That’s old news. The question today is: What are Democrats saying about the new classified NIE that paints an encouraging picture of progress in Iraq?

“It’s much less insightful than other, recent products and focuses narrowly on counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi leadership,” said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee.

There’s also suspicion about the supposedly funny timing of the NIE’s release, as General David Petraeus is scheduled to testify about Iraq before Congress next week.

“One might ask whether the timing of the release and the apparent departure from usual procedures means this is more of a political document than an intelligence document,” said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The Wall Street Journal adds, “He declined to say how the procedures were unusual.”

It’s the wrong NIE at the wrong time, as John Kerry might put it. That is, if someone could find him (or Hillary or Obama) to comment about what seems like a monumentally important document.

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The Ten Commandments of the New York Times

The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

Read More

The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

As Purdy surely knows, among other things, the United States has a statute on the books—Section 798 of Title 18—that makes it a crime to publish classified information pertaining to communications intelligence. The Times has flagrantly violated this provision, as when it published James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s December 16, 2005 article disclosing a top-secret National Security Agency program to intercept al-Qaeda communications, a story that numerous government officials, including Jane Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, say caused serious harm to American counterterrorism efforts.

The Times‘s position seems to be that Section 798 is unconstitutional, although none of its reporters, editors, or lawyers has ever come out and actually said so. A debate can certainly be had about the constitutional status of Section 798. But as I point out in a sharp exchange with another Times editor in the current issue of the New Republic (which continued here for another half-round), it is up to Congress to pass laws and the courts then determine whether they are unconstitutional. Journalists, even powerful ones like the editors of the Times, are not free to pick and choose the statutes they wish to observe and then claim immunity from prosecution for violating the others.

Yes, the Times does go to “great lengths,” as Matthew Purdy says, to observe the law—British law, that is. Its adherence to American law is a different story. If nothing else, our newspaper of record has thus found a very imaginative way to observe its own Ten Commandments.

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