Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jennifer Rubin

Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

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Talk and Listen and Meet and Sail with COMMENTARY

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

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Vacation Stimulation—A Conference and Alaskan Cruise in One

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

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A Vacation with Benefits—a Conference with a Vacation Attached

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

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Did I Write That?

Judith Miller and David Samuels write in the Los Angeles Times:

While no one explicitly suggested that Hasan’s alleged response was commensurate with the insults he suffered, the subtext of the coverage was that he was simply another traumatized victim of America’s wars — and that his alleged actions should prompt us to offer a collective mea culpa.

That’s absolutely ridiculous. But in taking aim at the evasive psycho-babble that dominated early news accounts, the right has engaged in an equally dangerous bias that conflates Hasan’s radicalism with the religious beliefs of mainstream Muslims. In their narrative, any Muslim might suddenly “snap,” as Hasan apparently did, and reveal himself to be the enemy within.

Attacking what she called “head-scratching and obfuscation,” Jennifer Rubin argued on Commentary’s website that the fear of appearing “anti-Muslim” had led the Army and the American media to ignore “the role of Maj. Hasan’s Muslim beliefs” in the Ft. Hood massacre.

Even the sophisticated analyst Tunku Varadarajan of Forbes.com observed that “Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.” He also coined the phrase “going Muslim” — a play on “going postal” that even he found disconcerting — to describe the orgy of violence in which Hasan allegedly engaged. Adding sensibly that not all Muslims might be so inclined, Rubin and Varadarajan left it to more primitive commentators to draw the inevitable conclusion that all Muslims in the U.S. military should be viewed as potential traitors.

I contacted Ms. Miller to point out that the column distorts — badly so — what I have written. Am I really among those who contend that “any Muslim might suddenly ‘snap,’ as Hasan apparently did, and reveal himself to be the enemy within”? Why no. In fact, as I pointed out to the authors of that line that my posts say the very opposite. In fact, I wrote here:

To be clear: it is the ultimate red herring, a straw man of gargantuan proportions, to suggest that those pointing to Hasan’s motives and announced intentions (“I am going to do good work for God“) are suggesting that Muslim soldiers as a group are untrustworthy or suspect. No, there is no “backlash” in the works. What there is, and what elite opinion makers should recognize before the public’s fury builds, is that ignoring signs of  Islamic-fundamentalist-inspired animus toward America will get people killed. It has. And it will again unless and until we stop tip-toeing around the obvious link between a murderous ideology and murder.

And here I wrote:

It is the diversity obsession and the give-no-offense mentality that, we fear, allowed Hasan to avoid a stringent inquiry. I suppose Robinson can satisfy himself and those like-minded, squeamish souls who can’t bear to think they’re trampling on the sensibilities of anyone. But let’s be clear: the Army didn’t fail the “Muslim community”; it failed 43 wounded or slain people and their families. And to prevent it from happening again, we need to get over the diversity fetish (which imagines that Americans are too dumb to distinguish between nonviolent Muslims and those who’ve adopted a murderous ideology) and get on with the business of fighting a war against those who want many, many more Fort Hoods.

In short, I did not “leave it to more primitive commentators to draw the inevitable conclusion that all Muslims in the U.S. military should be viewed as potential traitors.” I have written to dispute that conclusion and have criticized those who would deploy the red-herring argument.

The irony is not lost on me: if you are going to criticize others for employing imprecise or inflammatory analysis, it is best to be accurate yourself. The authors were unmoved by actual citations from my work — why let what I’ve actually written get in the way of a good LA Times column? — and appear disinclined to correct or amend their distortions. So be it.

Judith Miller and David Samuels write in the Los Angeles Times:

While no one explicitly suggested that Hasan’s alleged response was commensurate with the insults he suffered, the subtext of the coverage was that he was simply another traumatized victim of America’s wars — and that his alleged actions should prompt us to offer a collective mea culpa.

That’s absolutely ridiculous. But in taking aim at the evasive psycho-babble that dominated early news accounts, the right has engaged in an equally dangerous bias that conflates Hasan’s radicalism with the religious beliefs of mainstream Muslims. In their narrative, any Muslim might suddenly “snap,” as Hasan apparently did, and reveal himself to be the enemy within.

Attacking what she called “head-scratching and obfuscation,” Jennifer Rubin argued on Commentary’s website that the fear of appearing “anti-Muslim” had led the Army and the American media to ignore “the role of Maj. Hasan’s Muslim beliefs” in the Ft. Hood massacre.

Even the sophisticated analyst Tunku Varadarajan of Forbes.com observed that “Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.” He also coined the phrase “going Muslim” — a play on “going postal” that even he found disconcerting — to describe the orgy of violence in which Hasan allegedly engaged. Adding sensibly that not all Muslims might be so inclined, Rubin and Varadarajan left it to more primitive commentators to draw the inevitable conclusion that all Muslims in the U.S. military should be viewed as potential traitors.

I contacted Ms. Miller to point out that the column distorts — badly so — what I have written. Am I really among those who contend that “any Muslim might suddenly ‘snap,’ as Hasan apparently did, and reveal himself to be the enemy within”? Why no. In fact, as I pointed out to the authors of that line that my posts say the very opposite. In fact, I wrote here:

To be clear: it is the ultimate red herring, a straw man of gargantuan proportions, to suggest that those pointing to Hasan’s motives and announced intentions (“I am going to do good work for God“) are suggesting that Muslim soldiers as a group are untrustworthy or suspect. No, there is no “backlash” in the works. What there is, and what elite opinion makers should recognize before the public’s fury builds, is that ignoring signs of  Islamic-fundamentalist-inspired animus toward America will get people killed. It has. And it will again unless and until we stop tip-toeing around the obvious link between a murderous ideology and murder.

And here I wrote:

It is the diversity obsession and the give-no-offense mentality that, we fear, allowed Hasan to avoid a stringent inquiry. I suppose Robinson can satisfy himself and those like-minded, squeamish souls who can’t bear to think they’re trampling on the sensibilities of anyone. But let’s be clear: the Army didn’t fail the “Muslim community”; it failed 43 wounded or slain people and their families. And to prevent it from happening again, we need to get over the diversity fetish (which imagines that Americans are too dumb to distinguish between nonviolent Muslims and those who’ve adopted a murderous ideology) and get on with the business of fighting a war against those who want many, many more Fort Hoods.

In short, I did not “leave it to more primitive commentators to draw the inevitable conclusion that all Muslims in the U.S. military should be viewed as potential traitors.” I have written to dispute that conclusion and have criticized those who would deploy the red-herring argument.

The irony is not lost on me: if you are going to criticize others for employing imprecise or inflammatory analysis, it is best to be accurate yourself. The authors were unmoved by actual citations from my work — why let what I’ve actually written get in the way of a good LA Times column? — and appear disinclined to correct or amend their distortions. So be it.

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What’s Going On Here at CONTENTIONS?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Jennifer Rubin and I are live-blogging a Democratic primary debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that is playing right now on ABC.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Jennifer Rubin and I are live-blogging a Democratic primary debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that is playing right now on ABC.

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Re: What A Harvard Education Will Teach You

Jennifer Rubin has fun at the expense of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson, and his “specious” comments on Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m.” TV ad. But this is what we have to look forward to if Obama wins: four years of the most intelligent (or at least, the most tenured) people in the country drawing on all their resources to explain why every critique of him is racially insensitive.

Patterson’s piece is a delightful example of what I call 360-degree criticism, because it can be made from every angle. There is no way to make that ad that would not have drawn Patterson’s ire. If the ad had featured an African-American family, Patterson would have criticized Clinton for attacking Obama while free-riding on his appeal as the bringer of racial harmony. If the family had been Hispanic, he would have argued that Clinton was trying to play Latinos off against African-Americans. And if they’d been of mixed race, he would have looked at who answered the phone and claimed that this somehow revealed the hidden hierarchies of race and privilege within the patriarchal bounds of the family.

This sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” approach is basically valueless, in that all it really tells us is that Patterson likes Obama a lot. The proper criticism of Clinton’s ad is not that it reveals her racism, but that it is silly. Obama has precisely as much experience with answering early-morning phone calls on vital national security issues as does Clinton: none at all.

Jennifer Rubin has fun at the expense of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson, and his “specious” comments on Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m.” TV ad. But this is what we have to look forward to if Obama wins: four years of the most intelligent (or at least, the most tenured) people in the country drawing on all their resources to explain why every critique of him is racially insensitive.

Patterson’s piece is a delightful example of what I call 360-degree criticism, because it can be made from every angle. There is no way to make that ad that would not have drawn Patterson’s ire. If the ad had featured an African-American family, Patterson would have criticized Clinton for attacking Obama while free-riding on his appeal as the bringer of racial harmony. If the family had been Hispanic, he would have argued that Clinton was trying to play Latinos off against African-Americans. And if they’d been of mixed race, he would have looked at who answered the phone and claimed that this somehow revealed the hidden hierarchies of race and privilege within the patriarchal bounds of the family.

This sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” approach is basically valueless, in that all it really tells us is that Patterson likes Obama a lot. The proper criticism of Clinton’s ad is not that it reveals her racism, but that it is silly. Obama has precisely as much experience with answering early-morning phone calls on vital national security issues as does Clinton: none at all.

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