Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Klein

Early Media Warnings About Deifying Obama

Yesterday I wrote about an interview in which ABC’s Barbara Walters, in speaking about Barack Obama, said “we” thought he would be “the next messiah.” I drew attention to some other comments by journalists and historians that illustrated just how much deification of Obama was going on a few years ago.

To their credit, some journalists called attention to this phenomenon at the time. Take CNN’s Jake Tapper, one of the best journalists in America. While at ABC News in 2008, Tapper posted a piece, “And Obama Wept,” in which he cited writers like Kathleen Geier, an Obama supporter who, in describing various encounters with Obama advocates, wrote this:

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Yesterday I wrote about an interview in which ABC’s Barbara Walters, in speaking about Barack Obama, said “we” thought he would be “the next messiah.” I drew attention to some other comments by journalists and historians that illustrated just how much deification of Obama was going on a few years ago.

To their credit, some journalists called attention to this phenomenon at the time. Take CNN’s Jake Tapper, one of the best journalists in America. While at ABC News in 2008, Tapper posted a piece, “And Obama Wept,” in which he cited writers like Kathleen Geier, an Obama supporter who, in describing various encounters with Obama advocates, wrote this:

Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of ‘coming to Obama’ in the same way born-again Christians talk about ‘coming to Jesus.’…So I say, we should all get a grip, stop all this unseemly mooning over Barack, see him and the political landscape he is a part of in a cooler, clearer, and more realistic light, and get to work.

Others, like Time magazine’s Joe Klein, offered similar warnings about the “mass  messianism” we were witnessing. Tapper wrote, “I’m not saying there shouldn’t be enthusiasm in politics. I’m merely touching on the fact that some Obama supporters’ exuberance seems to be getting a little out of hand.”

Indeed it was.

It’s a credit to journalists like Tapper and writers like Geier and Klein who warned about the cult-like effect Mr. Obama was having on people then rather than to those who, having bought into it five years ago, are now left scrambling to explain why Obama turned out to be merely mortal.

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Who’s Advising Obama on Israel?

We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

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We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

In Obama’s defense, it must be admitted that he has done nothing to sabotage the alliance. He has, in fact, done the right thing in continuing existing funding lines such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, though his attempt to claim credit for a project that was initiated under George W. Bush is insufferable. While he has undermined that alliance by doing more to undermine Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than any predecessor and broken new ground with his attempt to make the 1967 lines the basis for negotiations, he has also done the right thing at the UN and said the right things about the Iranian nuclear threat–even if he hasn’t done anything about it yet.

It should also be stated that some of those in the meeting are respected voices on the Middle East. Jeffrey Goldberg is a die-hared Obama cheerleader, but he is also an intelligent and informed reporter on the Middle East. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius is also a serious writer on the subject, even if he is wrong much of the time. But Beinart, Klein and Remnick are obsessive critics of Israel’s government who have conclusively demonstrated during the years that they don’t have the faintest idea of what makes Israelis tick or what the problems on the ground there really are. And though Klein and Remnick are virulent and foolish in their anger at the refusal of Israel’s prime minister to do what they tell him to do, they are, at least, knowledgeable about the country, something no one who has read Beinart’s book could credibly accuse him of being.

The point here is that the president of the United States needs advice from people who understand the reality of Israel’s peace process dilemma in which the Palestinians refuse to make peace under any circumstances. He also needs to hear from people who can help him deal with the Israel that actually exists, not the American Jewish liberal version of the Jewish state that exists in the imaginations of the likes of Beinart, who is currently touring the country advocating boycotts of some Israelis.

Contrary to Beinart, Klein and Remnick, Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself via American pressure. To the extent their views reinforce Obama’s existing hostility, the meeting is a harbinger of a second term that might make the first three years of Obama’s presidency look like a golden age for the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Beinart’s Argument Was Already Debunked

As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

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As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

Since he relied on NYRB, Beinart should at least have done his homework and taken into account what others had already opined in the Review on the same subject. It is a testament to how sloppy Jewish anti-Israel sanctimony is that the best argument on how the demographic argument is largely overblown should come from a Palestinian intellectual and an American former negotiator known for his pro-Palestinian sympathies.

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Joe Klein Needs to Hit the Books

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

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Some Thoughts on Civility

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one. Read More

There is a lot of talk about civility in public discourse these days. This is a matter on which Michael Gerson and I have written about before, including in COMMENTARY (see the end of this essay) and in City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (see chapter 6, “Persuasion and the Public Square”).

On this topic, then, I would make several points.

First, there are eminently practical reasons for public figures to use reasonably civil language. After all, they are engaged in efforts to persuade people, not browbeat them. Language that is reasonable, judicious, and sober tends to be preferred to language that is abrasive and abusive. People tend to be drawn to political movements and political parties whose representatives are winsome rather than enraged, who radiate a sense of self-possession and good cheer rather than what Nietzsche, in On The Genealogy of Morals, called ressentiment, or resentment.

Lincoln put it as well as anyone when he said:

When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim “that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to reason.

Among the gifts that political figures like Ronald Reagan and intellectual figures like Irving Kristol gave to conservatism was help in shedding its attitude of defensiveness toward the world. That is not a place to which conservatism wants to return.

In addition, treating people with civility is connected to a view of human beings and their inherent dignity. Making bad arguments obviously doesn’t make someone a bad person; and even when one is on the receiving end of ad hominem attacks (as many people in politics have been), there are still standards one ought to adhere to.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend for a moment this is easy or that I myself haven’t edged up to, or even at times crossed, the line separating spirited debate from inappropriate remarks. Readers of CONTENTIONS are free to review my exchanges with Joe Klein, Jonathan Chait, John Derbyshire, and others and decide for themselves. Suffice it to say that what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit” — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — are not in oversupply in politics. And for those of us who are engaged in politics and the philosophies and ideas behind it, the temptation to be drawn into the mud pit is a strong one.

Still, it’s not self-evident, at least to me, how one should respond when on the receiving end of unfairly personal, and even slanderous, attacks. I imagine the answer lies somewhere on the continuum between silence and a seething, equally libelous rejoinder.

A few other caveats are in order. Among them is that too often, civility is itself used cynically, as a conversation stopper, as a means to end debate. For others, civility is a synonym for lack of principles, for hollowed-out convictions, for those who believe in nothing and are unwilling to fight for anything. And still others make the mistake in believing that civility is the antithesis of passionately held principles, passionately expressed.

In fact, forceful arguments (like witty ones) are often the best arguments. Rhetorical tough-mindedness is not only appropriate but welcomed. Clarity often emerges in the wake of conflicting views. Too often, those who tell us to “tone down the arguments” simply want the arguments themselves to go away. But politics is, in its deepest and best sense, a series of ongoing arguments about perennially important matters like justice. (See the debate between Thrasymachus and Socrates for more.)

There is, in the end, no neat or easy prescription on how to conduct oneself in public life at any given moment. As a general matter, though, grace and generosity of spirit are to be prized. And if we’re lucky, they can even move us several steps away from a political culture based on enmity to one based on greater understanding and even, from time to time, a measure of respect and forgiveness.

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The Sky Isn’t Falling for Democrats. It Fell.

Here’s Mark Halperin’s analysis of the Democratic Party:

Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988, and I don’t remember a situation quite like this. The signs of a crack-up are everywhere.

Halperin devotes the rest of his piece to explaining why “Thursday seemed to have donkeys melting down all over the place.”

I should add that for months and months, Halperin’s colleague Joe Klein gleefully mocked those writing for CONTENTIONS (most especially yours truly) for predicting that “the sky is falling” (a phrase Klein used endlessly) for Obama and Democrats. That is because we predicted long before the election — based on perfectly easy-to-read-and-analyze polling data — that Democrats were going to be routed. And in fact they were.

It turns out that the sky really did fall — and the man who portrayed himself as the professional among amateurs, the grizzled political reporter who has seen everything and heard everything, was really quite wrong on almost everything.

Here’s Mark Halperin’s analysis of the Democratic Party:

Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988, and I don’t remember a situation quite like this. The signs of a crack-up are everywhere.

Halperin devotes the rest of his piece to explaining why “Thursday seemed to have donkeys melting down all over the place.”

I should add that for months and months, Halperin’s colleague Joe Klein gleefully mocked those writing for CONTENTIONS (most especially yours truly) for predicting that “the sky is falling” (a phrase Klein used endlessly) for Obama and Democrats. That is because we predicted long before the election — based on perfectly easy-to-read-and-analyze polling data — that Democrats were going to be routed. And in fact they were.

It turns out that the sky really did fall — and the man who portrayed himself as the professional among amateurs, the grizzled political reporter who has seen everything and heard everything, was really quite wrong on almost everything.

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Counterinsurgency 101

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

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Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

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Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.” Read More

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”

For still others, Obama’s failures can be traced to James Madison. George Packer complains that Obama’s failures are in part institutional. He lists a slew of items on the liberal agenda items “the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.” Paul Krugman warns that the Senate is “ominously dysfunctional” and insists that the way it works is “no longer consistent with a functioning government.” For Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “The evidence that Washington cannot function — that it’s ‘broken,’ as Vice President Joe Biden has said — is all around.” The modern presidency “has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives.”

Commentators such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein place responsibility on “powerful structural forces in American politics that seem to drag down first-term presidents” (though Klein does acknowledge other factors). The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pins the blame on “structural factors” and “external factors” that have nothing to do with Obama’s policies.

Then there are those who see the pernicious vast right-wing conspiracy at work. Frank Rich alerts us to the fact that the problem lies with “the brothers David and Charles Koch,” the “sugar daddies” who are bankrolling the “white Tea Party America.” Newsweek‘s Michael Cohen has written that, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain.” And Mr. Krugman offers this analysis: “What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.” Krugman goes on to warn that “powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage” — including the “right-wing media.” And if they come to gain power, “It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too.”

What most of these commentators are missing, I think, are two essential points. First, the public is turning against Obama and the Democratic Party because the economy is sick and, despite his assurances and projections, the president hasn’t been able to make it well. And in some important respects, especially on fiscal matters, the president and the 111th Congress have made things considerably worse. Second, an increasing number of Americans believe Obama’s policies are unwise, ineffective, and much too liberal. They connect the bad results we are seeing in America to what Obama is doing to America.

But there’s something else, and something deeper, going on here. All of us who embrace a particular religious or philosophical worldview should be prepared to judge them in light of empirical facts and reality. What if our theories seem to be failing in the real world?

The truth is that it’s rather rare to find people willing to reexamine or reinterpret their most deeply held beliefs when the mounting evidence calls those beliefs into question. That is something most of us (myself included) battle with: How to be a person of principled convictions while being intellectually honest enough to acknowledge when certain propositions (and, in some instances, foundational policies) seem to be failing or falling short.

It’s quite possible, of course, that one’s basic convictions can remain true even when events go badly. Self-government is still the best form of government even if it might fail in one nation or another. And sometimes it is simply a matter of weathering storms until certain first principles are reaffirmed. At the same time, sometimes we hold to theories that are simply wrong, that are contrary to human nature and the way the world works, but we simply can’t let go of them. We have too much invested in a particular philosophy.

President Obama’s liberal supporters understand that he is in serious trouble right now; what they are doing is scrambling to find some way to explain his problems without calling into question their underlying political philosophy (modern liberalism). If what is happening cannot be a fundamental failure of liberalism, then it must be something else — from a “communications problem” to “structural factors” to a political conspiracy. And you can bet that if things continue on their present course, ideologues on the left will increasingly argue that Obama’s failures stem from his being (a) not liberal enough or (b) incompetent.

If the Obama presidency is seen as damaging the larger liberal project, they will abandon Obama in order to try to protect liberalism. They would rather do that than face an existential crisis.

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Brutal for Obama and Joe Klein

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), President Obama’s approval ratings in the key states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are “brutal.”

How brutal?

In Florida, Obama’s approval-disapproval numbers are 39 percent v. 55 percent, with independents registering a 52 disapprove v. 36 percent approve rating.

In Pennsylvania Obama’s approval is 40 percent, while 55 percent of voters disapprove of him. Independents line up against the president by a 63/32 margin.

And in Ohio, Obama’s approval is 42 percent with 54 percent of voters disapproving of him — while the split among independents is 58/33.

These findings should be combined with Jennifer’s posting on the latest analysis by The Cook Report and the story she linked to in Politico, in which a Democratic pollster working on several key races said, “The reality is that [the House majority] is probably gone” and that that his data shows the Democrats’ problems are only getting worse (“It’s spreading,” the pollster said.)

I recall that once upon a time, Obama courtiers over at the New Republic and Time magazine ridiculed the amassing evidence Jennifer and I cited, warning of the impending political problems Democrats faced in the midterm. They would have none of it. The polls were nothing more than “white noise.” It was wishful thinking on our part. The election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts were anomalous and didn’t foreshadow a thing. According to Joe Klein, we were part of the “sky is falling” crowd. Democrats would be fine; the public would learn to appreciate all the wonderful achievements off Obama and his party.

Lately, I haven’t heard much from them about how baseless and irresponsible our analyses were, or how well things are shaping up for Democrats. In fact, poor Joe now refers to the “dismal electoral shape” the Democrats are now in.

Gee, that was a quick turnabout. And it’s so unlike Klein to experience such wide emotional and analytical swings.

By the way, I’m still waiting for an apology — or at least a note of explanation — from our liberal friends, Jen.

How about you?

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), President Obama’s approval ratings in the key states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are “brutal.”

How brutal?

In Florida, Obama’s approval-disapproval numbers are 39 percent v. 55 percent, with independents registering a 52 disapprove v. 36 percent approve rating.

In Pennsylvania Obama’s approval is 40 percent, while 55 percent of voters disapprove of him. Independents line up against the president by a 63/32 margin.

And in Ohio, Obama’s approval is 42 percent with 54 percent of voters disapproving of him — while the split among independents is 58/33.

These findings should be combined with Jennifer’s posting on the latest analysis by The Cook Report and the story she linked to in Politico, in which a Democratic pollster working on several key races said, “The reality is that [the House majority] is probably gone” and that that his data shows the Democrats’ problems are only getting worse (“It’s spreading,” the pollster said.)

I recall that once upon a time, Obama courtiers over at the New Republic and Time magazine ridiculed the amassing evidence Jennifer and I cited, warning of the impending political problems Democrats faced in the midterm. They would have none of it. The polls were nothing more than “white noise.” It was wishful thinking on our part. The election results in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts were anomalous and didn’t foreshadow a thing. According to Joe Klein, we were part of the “sky is falling” crowd. Democrats would be fine; the public would learn to appreciate all the wonderful achievements off Obama and his party.

Lately, I haven’t heard much from them about how baseless and irresponsible our analyses were, or how well things are shaping up for Democrats. In fact, poor Joe now refers to the “dismal electoral shape” the Democrats are now in.

Gee, that was a quick turnabout. And it’s so unlike Klein to experience such wide emotional and analytical swings.

By the way, I’m still waiting for an apology — or at least a note of explanation — from our liberal friends, Jen.

How about you?

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Joe Klein Joins the Chorus

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

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Dismantling Joe Klein

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this: Read More

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this:

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I reluctantly but foolishly said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical, and equivocal, in print–I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it–but skepticism and equivocation were an insufficient reaction, too.

Well, this admission marks progress of a sort, I suppose.

For the longest time, Klein denied ever having supported the war. He even complained about being criticized by liberals for his support of the Iraq war. “The fact that I’ve been opposed to the Iraq war ever since this 2002 article in Slate just makes it all the more aggravating,” Klein said.

But what proved to be even more aggravating to Joe is when people like Arianna Huffington and me pointed out that Klein supported the war immediately before it began, thus contradicting his revisionist claim.

For the record: On Feb. 22, 2003, Klein told the late Tim Russert that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 UN resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send the message that if we didn’t enforce the latest UN resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

It’s worth pointing out that to make a false claim and revise it in light of emerging evidence is something of a pattern with Joe. After all, he repeatedly and forcefully denied being the author of the novel Primary Colors until he was forced to admit that he, in fact, had written it. It takes him a while to grudgingly bow before incontrovertible evidence. But he does get there. Eventually. When he has no other choice.

4.  According to Klein:

In retrospect, the issue then was as clear cut as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.

Presumably, then, Klein believes that Great Britain declaring war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland (Great Britain and Poland were allies and shared a security pact) was a violation of an “essential” and “immutable” principle. So was the first Gulf War, when the United States repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. So was Tony Blair’s intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (the latter widely viewed as successful in helping save that West African country from barbarism and dictatorship). So, arguably, was the American Civil War; after all, Lincoln could have avoided war, had he given in on the matters of secession and slavery.

According to Klein, no war is justified unless a nation has been attacked or is under the direct, immediate threat of attack — which means interventions for the sake of aiding allies, meeting treaty obligations, averting massive humanitarian disasters, or advancing national interests and national security are always and forever off the table.

Klein’s arguments are those of a simpleton. He has drawn up a doctrine that isn’t based on careful reasoning, subtle analysis, or a sophisticated understanding of history; it is, in fact, a childish overreaction to the events of the moment. What Klein states with emphatic certainty one day is something he will probably jettison the next.

Iraq is a subject on which Joe Klein has been — let’s be gentle here — highly erratic. He both opposed and supported the war before it began. After the war started, he spoke hopefully about the movement toward democracy there. (“This is not a moment for caveats,” he wrote in 2005, after the Iraqi elections. “It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement — however it may turn out — and for hope.”) Now he refers to it as a “neo-colonialist obscenity.” President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” went from being something that “seem[s] to be paying off” and that might even secure Bush the Nobel Peace Prize to a “delusional farce.” Klein ridiculed the idea of the surge, referring to it as “Bush’s futile pipe dream,” before conceding that the surge was wise, necessary, and successful.

This is all of a piece with Klein. And there is a kind of poignancy that surrounds his descent. Once upon a time, Joe was a fairly decent political reporter — but somewhere along the line, he went badly off track. He has become startlingly embittered, consumed by his hatreds, regarding as malevolent enemies all people who hold views different from his. In the past, his writings could be insightful, somewhat balanced, and at times elegant. These days, he’s not good for much more than a rant — and even his rants have become predictable, pedestrian, banal. Witless, even.

This cannot be what Henry Luce envisioned for his magazine.

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GOP Puts Principle Ahead of Politics and Backs President

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

Read More

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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The Nod and Smile Offensive

Earlier this week, Jen cited an AP report about President Obama’s Tuesday-evening meeting with 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, in which participants urged him to discuss publicly his commitment to Israel and to travel there. The interesting part of the report was what was missing from it: Obama’s response.

A Jerusalem Post report was slightly more informative. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said Obama “didn’t respond directly.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, “I think he nodded and smiled.” In other words, he said nothing.

This was not the first time the suggestion to travel to Israel was made only to receive a non-response. Last July, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times — in an article entitled Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? — and urged Obama to come to Israel. Benn noted that Obama had spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Africans – but had not bothered to speak to Israelis: “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.”

At the time, Joe Klein wrote that “Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public” and was “already planning to make this sort of effort — Israeli television interviews, etc. — in the coming weeks.” Jeffrey Goldberg thought a visit “soon” was a good idea, but when he asked two “senior administration officials” when Obama might do it, “or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel,” the officials were “non-committal.“ Neither the trip, nor the television interviews, nor the speech ever occurred.

Over the following year, the relationship with Israel worsened further — capped by the extraordinary public castigation over future Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, followed by the humiliation of the prime minister with an after-hours, side-door meeting with no pictures or joint statement. Administration officials are now engaged in endless “outreach events,” but the noteworthy point is that Obama has yet to speak publicly on the issue.

He held a private lunch with Elie Wiesel (no pictures or press) and a private meeting with Jewish Democrats, but there is still no trip to Israel, no interviews with Israeli media, no speech. He has also stopped holding prime-time press conferences at which questions on this and related foreign-policy issues could be asked. The charm offensive provides a kind of nod and smile to Jewish voters, but what Aluf Benn wrote a year ago remains true today — and the underlying issues remain as well.

Earlier this week, Jen cited an AP report about President Obama’s Tuesday-evening meeting with 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, in which participants urged him to discuss publicly his commitment to Israel and to travel there. The interesting part of the report was what was missing from it: Obama’s response.

A Jerusalem Post report was slightly more informative. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) said Obama “didn’t respond directly.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said, “I think he nodded and smiled.” In other words, he said nothing.

This was not the first time the suggestion to travel to Israel was made only to receive a non-response. Last July, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times — in an article entitled Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? — and urged Obama to come to Israel. Benn noted that Obama had spoken to Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Africans – but had not bothered to speak to Israelis: “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence.”

At the time, Joe Klein wrote that “Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public” and was “already planning to make this sort of effort — Israeli television interviews, etc. — in the coming weeks.” Jeffrey Goldberg thought a visit “soon” was a good idea, but when he asked two “senior administration officials” when Obama might do it, “or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel,” the officials were “non-committal.“ Neither the trip, nor the television interviews, nor the speech ever occurred.

Over the following year, the relationship with Israel worsened further — capped by the extraordinary public castigation over future Jewish housing in a Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state, followed by the humiliation of the prime minister with an after-hours, side-door meeting with no pictures or joint statement. Administration officials are now engaged in endless “outreach events,” but the noteworthy point is that Obama has yet to speak publicly on the issue.

He held a private lunch with Elie Wiesel (no pictures or press) and a private meeting with Jewish Democrats, but there is still no trip to Israel, no interviews with Israeli media, no speech. He has also stopped holding prime-time press conferences at which questions on this and related foreign-policy issues could be asked. The charm offensive provides a kind of nod and smile to Jewish voters, but what Aluf Benn wrote a year ago remains true today — and the underlying issues remain as well.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Pat Buchanan or Joe Klein? “Each new report of settlement expansion … each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Hard to tell these days.

Here’s someone who’s not confused about the meaning of Passover: “‘Next year in Jerusalem’ will be the refrain echoed by Jewish families as they finish their Seders. … It is a stark reminder that whatever the threats the Jewish people have faced, whatever the struggles, their connection to Jerusalem is ancient and unshakable. On this Passover holiday, our family sends our best wishes to all who are celebrating. Chag kasher V’Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.”

The Obami’s not-at-all smart diplomacy: “Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, described Washington’s scrutiny on Jerusalem as departing from previous U.S. administrations’ view that the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. ‘It’s bothersome, and certainly worrying,’ Begin told Israel Radio. ‘This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.'”

Sound familiar? “A consummate and genteel academic who holds degrees from two of the nation’s top universities.” The Los Angeles Times praises Tom Campbell. But maybe a Republican version of Obama (especially one so comfortable with Obama’s assault on Israel) isn’t going to win over Republican voters.

Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac poll on the public reaction to ObamaCare: “The Democrats said the American people will grow to love this. We’ll find out. At this point, they’re not exactly jumping up and down.” It sure isn’t helping Democrats in Missouri: “Missouri voters continue to be unhappy with Barack Obama and his health care plan and that’s helped Roy Blunt to take the lead in the US Senate race. Blunt is up 45-41 on Robin Carnahan, but that result probably has more to do with how the state feels about Barack Obama than it does about the candidates themselves.”

But it solved the enthusiasm gap, right? Uh, no. “Fully 55% of voters registered as GOPers describe themselves as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ enthusiastic about voting for Congress, while just 36% of Dems describe themselves the same way.”

Actually, the majority of the electorate is jumping up and down to repeal it: “One week after the House of Representatives passed the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal.”

That may include younger voters: “Health insurance premiums for young adults are expected to rise about 17 percent once they’re required to buy insurance four years from now.”

Who knew, right? “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government’s role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats. Those surveyed are inclined to fear that the massive legislation will increase their costs and hurt the quality of health care their families receive, although they are more positive about its impact on the nation’s health care system overall. … The risk for them is that continued opposition will fuel calls for repeal and dog Democrats in November’s congressional elections.”

CNN’s a ratings flop, explains the New York Times. But you have to read to the 14th and last graph to learn: “At the same time, Fox News, which had its biggest year in 2009, continues to add viewers.”

Pat Buchanan or Joe Klein? “Each new report of settlement expansion … each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Hard to tell these days.

Here’s someone who’s not confused about the meaning of Passover: “‘Next year in Jerusalem’ will be the refrain echoed by Jewish families as they finish their Seders. … It is a stark reminder that whatever the threats the Jewish people have faced, whatever the struggles, their connection to Jerusalem is ancient and unshakable. On this Passover holiday, our family sends our best wishes to all who are celebrating. Chag kasher V’Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.”

The Obami’s not-at-all smart diplomacy: “Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, described Washington’s scrutiny on Jerusalem as departing from previous U.S. administrations’ view that the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. ‘It’s bothersome, and certainly worrying,’ Begin told Israel Radio. ‘This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.'”

Sound familiar? “A consummate and genteel academic who holds degrees from two of the nation’s top universities.” The Los Angeles Times praises Tom Campbell. But maybe a Republican version of Obama (especially one so comfortable with Obama’s assault on Israel) isn’t going to win over Republican voters.

Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac poll on the public reaction to ObamaCare: “The Democrats said the American people will grow to love this. We’ll find out. At this point, they’re not exactly jumping up and down.” It sure isn’t helping Democrats in Missouri: “Missouri voters continue to be unhappy with Barack Obama and his health care plan and that’s helped Roy Blunt to take the lead in the US Senate race. Blunt is up 45-41 on Robin Carnahan, but that result probably has more to do with how the state feels about Barack Obama than it does about the candidates themselves.”

But it solved the enthusiasm gap, right? Uh, no. “Fully 55% of voters registered as GOPers describe themselves as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ enthusiastic about voting for Congress, while just 36% of Dems describe themselves the same way.”

Actually, the majority of the electorate is jumping up and down to repeal it: “One week after the House of Representatives passed the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal.”

That may include younger voters: “Health insurance premiums for young adults are expected to rise about 17 percent once they’re required to buy insurance four years from now.”

Who knew, right? “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government’s role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats. Those surveyed are inclined to fear that the massive legislation will increase their costs and hurt the quality of health care their families receive, although they are more positive about its impact on the nation’s health care system overall. … The risk for them is that continued opposition will fuel calls for repeal and dog Democrats in November’s congressional elections.”

CNN’s a ratings flop, explains the New York Times. But you have to read to the 14th and last graph to learn: “At the same time, Fox News, which had its biggest year in 2009, continues to add viewers.”

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Klein of Arabia (Again)

Joe Klein has a characteristically paranoid post in which he says that the criticisms of Barack Obama lodged by AIPAC and other “American Likudniks… teeter on the brink of treachery.” The AIPAC statement called on the administration “to take immediate steps to defuse the tension” with Israel. This is treachery? What happened to dissent being the highest form of patriotism? Klein adds:

They are making their case in ways that encourage right-wing American extremists who deny the legitimacy of our President. They are walking on very thin ice here.

I’m not sure what he’s getting at here, but it sounds like he’s saying that if something bad happens to Barack Obama, it will be because some Americans criticized the administration’s treatment of Israel, including 327 members of the House of Representatives. Klein is indeed an ugly paranoiac when it comes to American politics. But he is also a high-flying ignoramus about the Middle East. He writes that Hebron is “the largest West Bank city and home to 500,000 Palestinians.” And that:

[Jews who live in Hebron] claim, correctly, that Hebron was a Jewish city 3000 years ago (as, of course, Arabs can claim evidence of their presence throughout the current land of Israel as least as long-standing).

There are not 500,000 Palestinians living in Hebron — there are about 163,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Klein is confusing the Hebron governorate with the city of Hebron. The Hebron governorate comprises around half the southern territory of the West Bank. This is like confusing the region of southern California with the city of Los Angeles.

But the best Kleinism is the block-quoted text above, in which he says that the Arabs have been in Hebron at least as long as the Jews. He apparently isn’t aware of the Arab conquests. You see, the Arabs originally came from Arabia, and after the death of Mohammad in the 7th century, they emerged from the Arabian peninsula and swept across the Middle East and North Africa, even into Spain, spreading Islam and Arabic in what today Joe Klein would call an illegal preemptive war to spread colonialism and empire.

Perhaps the Arabs were actually the first neocons? Klein surely has an opinion (I think, in keeping with his high political ideals, he should call for the removal of the illegal Arab settlements in Hebron, which are an obstruction to the peace process). But one thing that is not up for debate is how long Jews and Arabs have lived in Hebron: the Jews have been there for over 3,000 years; the Arabs, since the 7th century CE.

When you read Joe Klein, it’s hard to tell which is worse, the sloppiness or the ignorance.

Joe Klein has a characteristically paranoid post in which he says that the criticisms of Barack Obama lodged by AIPAC and other “American Likudniks… teeter on the brink of treachery.” The AIPAC statement called on the administration “to take immediate steps to defuse the tension” with Israel. This is treachery? What happened to dissent being the highest form of patriotism? Klein adds:

They are making their case in ways that encourage right-wing American extremists who deny the legitimacy of our President. They are walking on very thin ice here.

I’m not sure what he’s getting at here, but it sounds like he’s saying that if something bad happens to Barack Obama, it will be because some Americans criticized the administration’s treatment of Israel, including 327 members of the House of Representatives. Klein is indeed an ugly paranoiac when it comes to American politics. But he is also a high-flying ignoramus about the Middle East. He writes that Hebron is “the largest West Bank city and home to 500,000 Palestinians.” And that:

[Jews who live in Hebron] claim, correctly, that Hebron was a Jewish city 3000 years ago (as, of course, Arabs can claim evidence of their presence throughout the current land of Israel as least as long-standing).

There are not 500,000 Palestinians living in Hebron — there are about 163,000, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Klein is confusing the Hebron governorate with the city of Hebron. The Hebron governorate comprises around half the southern territory of the West Bank. This is like confusing the region of southern California with the city of Los Angeles.

But the best Kleinism is the block-quoted text above, in which he says that the Arabs have been in Hebron at least as long as the Jews. He apparently isn’t aware of the Arab conquests. You see, the Arabs originally came from Arabia, and after the death of Mohammad in the 7th century, they emerged from the Arabian peninsula and swept across the Middle East and North Africa, even into Spain, spreading Islam and Arabic in what today Joe Klein would call an illegal preemptive war to spread colonialism and empire.

Perhaps the Arabs were actually the first neocons? Klein surely has an opinion (I think, in keeping with his high political ideals, he should call for the removal of the illegal Arab settlements in Hebron, which are an obstruction to the peace process). But one thing that is not up for debate is how long Jews and Arabs have lived in Hebron: the Jews have been there for over 3,000 years; the Arabs, since the 7th century CE.

When you read Joe Klein, it’s hard to tell which is worse, the sloppiness or the ignorance.

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Petraeus on Israel

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

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Obama Officials: Relax, We’re Just Trying to Break up Bibi’s Coalition

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

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RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

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