Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Klein

Tom Ricks’s Quote

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

Read Less

Continued U.S. Presence Best Hope for Democracy in Iraq

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Read Less

Joe Klein’s Unhinged Attack on COMMENTARY

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

Read Less

Klein of Arabia

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

Read Less

Is Barack Obama the Last Best Hope of Hamas?

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

Read Less

Joe Klein’s Almost Pathological Love Affairs

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Read Less

The Democrats Cast Aspersions

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

Read Less

The Middle East Has Always Been Hard

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

As Jennifer pointed out yesterday, President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with Joe Klein at Time magazine that he had been “too optimistic” about his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it’s “just really hard.” Those of us with experience in the region are thinking, “Well, duh,” right about now, but at the same time, I sympathize. In the first half of the last decade, I felt naively optimistic about the region myself.

Things were looking up after the demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party regime in Iraq, the termination of the second Palestinian intifada, and the Beirut Spring that ousted the Syrian military occupation from Lebanon. I was hardly alone in getting carried away. Middle Easterners felt it too — or at least some did. “It’s strange for me to say it,” Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said shortly after the uprising against Bashar Assad’s overlordship in his country began, “but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The Middle East’s “Berlin Wall,” so to speak, may have cracked, but it didn’t fall.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Because they haven’t beaten this one to death: “To minimize expected losses in next fall’s election, President Barack Obama’s party is testing a line of attack that resurrects George W. Bush as a boogeyman and castigates Republicans as cozy with Wall Street.” I imagine that the GOP will be gleeful if this is the best the Democrats can do.

Kathleen Parker thinks blaming Bush is so 2008: “George W. Bush is officially retired as the fault-guy for the nation’s ills, and Barack Obama owns the game. Whether he wants to or not.”

The CIA is apparently sick of being the fall-guy for the Obami: “‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’ But CIA bosses claim they were unfairly blamed at a time the covert government. . .Some CIA officials are angry at being criticised by the White House after Abdulmutallab, 23, was allowed to slip through the security net and board a U.S.-bound flight in Amsterdam despite evidence he was a terror threat.’” And then there is the special prosecutor who is reinvestigating the CIA operatives as well as the decision to take interrogation duties away from them. You can see why they are mad.

Marc Thiessen: “Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.”

Terrible news: the former Washington Post ombudsperson Deborah Howell, a classy lady, has been killed. R. I. P.

The Obami have apparently convinced themselves that those “crippling sanctions” will make them unpopular with the Iranian people who have been pleading for the U.S. to adopt a policy of regime change: “Sanctions will be a difficult balancing act for the administration, since it acknowledges that three previous rounds of sanctions have failed to deter Iran, and it also wants to avoid angering Iranians protesting in the streets by depriving them of Western goods. That is why the administration is focusing on the Revolutionary Guards, who are increasingly detested by the protesters, and who have built up billions of dollars of business interests in telecommunications, oil and construction.” And we think the Revolutionary Guards can’t figure out how to evade “focused” sanctions? Oy. So many excuses for doing so little. But at least they’ve figured out (when was it exactly?) that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was wrong about Iran’s nuclear program.

Remember when liberals used to be funny and artistic? Now they are humorless, while conservatives are the funny and poetic ones.

Marty Peretz notices that liberals are also shy these days: “Joe Klein, who spent a lot of print trying more or less to exonerate Dr. Major Nidal Malik Hasan by dint of his being a nutcase, has been curiously silent about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In fact, there’s been a certain shyness among the whole left-wing blogosphere (and among Democrats, generally) about the skivvies terrorist. There is no place for these journalists to hide and no logic, however dubious, with which they can transfer the guilt to us. And, believe me, if they can’t invent this, there is nothing to invent—nothing.”

Read Less

Klein’s Mad Again

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

Joe Klein is upset yet again–this time at Senator Joseph Lieberman. The source of his consternation is an interview Lieberman gave to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. When asked about a Hamas spokesman’s endorsement of Obama, Lieberman said that

John McCain obviously knows and has said that Senator Obama clearly doesn’t support any of the values or goals of Hamas. But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question “Why?” and it suggests the difference between these two candidates.

According to Klein, Lieberman is

smearing Barack Obama re Hamas. He is entitled to his views about the Middle East, but for the past five years he has taken those Likudnik views a step beyond propriety–saying that those who disagree with him (i.e.–the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the Vice Presidency in 2000) are counseling “defeat” and “surrender.” And now this.  I wish Blitzer had been a bit more dogged and asked: “What could you possibly mean by that, Senator Lieberman–and please be specific. Why do you think Hamas “favors” Obama over McCain? What are you implying here, Senator?

Now one might believe Lieberman is wrong in what he said, but it is hardly a smear. In fact, Lieberman goes out of his way to stress that Obama does not share the values or goals of Hamas. His argument is a completely legitimate one: Obama would pursue policies that would (unintentionally) advance the aims of Hamas. It’s the flipside of an argument I presume Klein endorses: Bush’s policies–from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay to water-boarding–have helped the jihadists cause rather than hurt it.

It’s not a smear to make the argument that the policies of a President will have real-world consequences–in some instances making life easier for our enemies, and in some instances making life harder for our enemies. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the leaders of the Soviet Union were rooting for Carter in 1980 and Mondale in 1984?

Likewise, it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the policy Barack Obama embraces would lead to an American surrender and defeat in Iraq–just as it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that McCain’s policies would harm American interests. Political campaigns are supposed to be about such matters.

This is all part of what is becoming an increasingly tiresome reflex within the media and which Klein embodies as well as anyone. When Lanny Davis said that Obama’s relationship to Jeremiah Wright was a legitimate, troubling issue, Klein accused Davis of “spreading the poison.” Now Lieberman’s argument that it’s worth asking why Hamas would rather see Obama than McCain as President is a “smear.” And next week if Lindsey Graham criticizes Obama’s willingness to meet with President Ahmadinejad without preconditions, I suppose we can expect Klein to charge Graham with “character assassination.”

For a fellow who likes to rip the hide off of his critics, Klein has developed some fairly thin skin. Years ago Bob Dole asked, “Where’s the outrage?” The answer, is appears, can be found in the writing of Joe Klein. Outrage seems to be a perennial state for him these days.

Read Less

So It Does Matter?

Remember the flood of anger that poured forth from the Left over the temerity ABC’s moderators displayed in asking Barack Obama irrelevant, petty, and distracting questions? Well, now a few are letting on that this is the stuff that really matters. Joe Klein writes that

most people make their choice on the basis of “low-information signaling” — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin.

He goes on:

In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

I imagine the apology letters to ABC’s moderators are in the mail. Klein is not alone: more pundits are stepping forward to acknowledge sheepishly that all this “noise,” all this distraction, is precisely what has decided many elections. There is an air of “Obama is just too good for us” about this. But we already knew that–from the man’s own lips, via Snobgate.

Remember the flood of anger that poured forth from the Left over the temerity ABC’s moderators displayed in asking Barack Obama irrelevant, petty, and distracting questions? Well, now a few are letting on that this is the stuff that really matters. Joe Klein writes that

most people make their choice on the basis of “low-information signaling” — that is, stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin.

He goes on:

In the course of six weeks, the American people learned that he was a member of a church whose pastor gave angry, anti-American sermons, that he was “friendly” with an American terrorist who had bombed buildings during the Vietnam era, and that he seemed to look on the ceremonies of working-class life — bowling, hunting, churchgoing and the fervent consumption of greasy food — as his anthropologist mother might have, with a mixture of cool detachment and utter bemusement. All of which deepened the skepticism that Caucasians, especially those without a college degree, had about a young, inexperienced African-American guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin fluency with language. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the party about Obama’s ability to hold on to crucial Rust Belt bastions like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election — and to add long-suffering Ohio to the Democratic column.

I imagine the apology letters to ABC’s moderators are in the mail. Klein is not alone: more pundits are stepping forward to acknowledge sheepishly that all this “noise,” all this distraction, is precisely what has decided many elections. There is an air of “Obama is just too good for us” about this. But we already knew that–from the man’s own lips, via Snobgate.

Read Less

The Klein and the Fury

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program 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 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program 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 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

Read Less

More on Joe Klein

In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

Read More

In a rather stunning sentence that Ramesh Ponnuru flagged over at National Review‘s The Corner, Joe Klein, in saying that the “chronic disease among Democrats” is their tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right, wrote this:

This is ironic and weirdly self-defeating, since the liberal message of national improvement is profoundly more optimistic, and patriotic, than the innate conservative pessimism about the perfectibility of human nature.

As Ponnuru points out, can you imagine Klein’s outrage if the charge had been made the other way – that the conservative message of national improvement is more “patriotic” than liberalism? Actually, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Here is Joe Klein in “An Overdose of Invective,” one of his many angry columns from 2004:

To be sure, there is a bright line between tough and scurrilous. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth crossed it, and the Bush campaign joined them when presidential surrogates, including Bush the Elder, ratified the Swifties’ lies. (They can’t all be liars, the former President told Don Imus.) Zell Miller’s frontal attacks on Kerry’s patriotism at the Republican Convention also crossed the line-as did the President’s celebration of Miller’s speech in subsequent stump appearances. Indeed, Bush’s gleeful willingness to personally join in the mudslinging is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics. Usually Presidents leave the dirty work to others. Even Richard Nixon, an apotheosis of darkness, had Spiro Agnew do most of the heavy lifting.

Liberals have made a habit out of getting furious about having their patriotism challenged even when it’s not; in Klein’s most recent column we have an example of an explicit assertion that liberalism is more patriotic than conservatism, but without the sound and fury.

This charge, beyond its falsity, is also ignorant and shallow. For one thing, some of the best arguments on behalf of patriotism in recent years have been made by leading conservative intellectuals like Walter Berns in his book, Making Patriots; Norman Podhoretz in My Love Affair With America: The Cautionary Tale of A Cheerful Conservative; William Bennett in Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism (see in particular his chapter “Love of Country”); Yale Professor Donald Kagan’s November 4, 2001 lecture on patriotism; and Gertrude Himmelfarb’s May 1997 Commentary essay “For the Love of Country.”

Beyond that, is Klein really prepared to argue that the aim of the institutional strongholds of contemporary liberalism – whether we are talking about the academy or Hollywood or others – is to deepen our love for America and increase our civic devotion and pride? That their efforts will make us a more perfect union? Does Klein believe that during the last several decades liberals rather than conservatives have been more likely to reject cultural relativism and radical multiculturalism? Have liberals rather than conservatives been more vocal in arguing why the United States is better in every way than its totalitarian enemies? Is Ted Kennedy really more patriotic in his “liberal message of national improvement” than Ronald Reagan was in his conservative message of national improvement?

To be sure, patriotism is a complicated matter, as it has many elements to it and tensions within it. It is certainly not the property of any one political party. It is not blind support for America, just as it is not reflexive opposition to America. But what we can say, I think, is that, as Berns points out, part of what it has traditionally meant to be an American is to believe in our most cherished creeds – most especially that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Patriotism also demands that we hold an honest view of our nation — which, in the case of America, means we should acknowledge our injustices (past and present) even as we acknowledge that, in Allan Bloom’s words, “America tells one story: the unbroken ineluctable progress of freedom and equality.” And of course patriotism requires us to sacrifice for our country, to defend her when she is under assault, and to do what we can to help America live up to her founding ideals.

I would finally add this: Conservatives are not “pessimistic” about the perfectibility of human nature; rather, they are realistic about human nature, which is an admixture of virtues and vices. Conservatism is skeptical about grand programs to remake human nature itself, but it is risible to argue that conservatism is philosophically proscribed from making an argument for national improvement. Many of the greatest conservatives in American history have done just that. One could also argue that those who believe in the perfectibility of human nature tend to embrace the view that we are “citizens of the world” even before we are citizens of America.

Joe Klein has waded into ugly waters. Let’s hope he can make his way out of them before too long.

Read Less

Food For Thought For The Left

If nothing else, John McCain’s “Bio Tour” has gotten the MSM fretting over Barack Obama’s “patriotism problem.” Joe Klein correctly notes that this aversion to patriotic sentiment is a “chronic disease among Democrats.” He acknowledges:

Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama’s unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America “for the first time” in her adult life and the Senator’s own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is “American” enough.

Others not known to be enamored of McCain have figured it out:

There’s a deeper, more holistic messaging attempt at work. McCain often likes to say that the country owes him nothing, but McCain owes the country everything. By contrast, McCain advisers believe that Obama’s core message is arrogance: America has problems, and only Obama can fix them; he deserves the presidency. (An irony: the incarnation of JFK – Obama – cast as the foil to Kennedy’s most famous maxim.)

Will Obama recognize this as a problem and “correct” it ? Well, there is the problem of all those past writings and associations that show, at best, an indifference to patriotic fervor. (And it won’t be easy to disguise his comfort level with those who vilify America.)

But the more fundamental issue is that Obama, as Michael Barone noted, can no more embrace full-throated patriotism than he can conceal his “insouciance or even indifference” to the outcome of the Iraq War. That’s just not his thing. Doing so would undercut his message that we should look to him (not to our country’s values, institutions, and fellow citizens) to find cures for what ails us.

If nothing else, John McCain’s “Bio Tour” has gotten the MSM fretting over Barack Obama’s “patriotism problem.” Joe Klein correctly notes that this aversion to patriotic sentiment is a “chronic disease among Democrats.” He acknowledges:

Patriotism is, sadly, a crucial challenge for Obama now. His aides believe that the Wright controversy was more about anti-Americanism than it was about race. Michelle Obama’s unfortunate comment that the success of the campaign had made her proud of America “for the first time” in her adult life and the Senator’s own decision to stow his American-flag lapel pin — plus his Islamic-sounding name — have fed a scurrilous undercurrent of doubt about whether he is “American” enough.

Others not known to be enamored of McCain have figured it out:

There’s a deeper, more holistic messaging attempt at work. McCain often likes to say that the country owes him nothing, but McCain owes the country everything. By contrast, McCain advisers believe that Obama’s core message is arrogance: America has problems, and only Obama can fix them; he deserves the presidency. (An irony: the incarnation of JFK – Obama – cast as the foil to Kennedy’s most famous maxim.)

Will Obama recognize this as a problem and “correct” it ? Well, there is the problem of all those past writings and associations that show, at best, an indifference to patriotic fervor. (And it won’t be easy to disguise his comfort level with those who vilify America.)

But the more fundamental issue is that Obama, as Michael Barone noted, can no more embrace full-throated patriotism than he can conceal his “insouciance or even indifference” to the outcome of the Iraq War. That’s just not his thing. Doing so would undercut his message that we should look to him (not to our country’s values, institutions, and fellow citizens) to find cures for what ails us.

Read Less

The Gore Option

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

It was not so long ago that, after a debate in Hollywood between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats (and some media cheerleaders) enthused that the party would do well to have either one of them as candidates.

Well, that was then and this is now. Clinton’s favorable rating sunk to 37% in the last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Democrats are fretting that Obama’s association with Reverend Wright and refusal to make a clean break with his “mentor” has doomed his chances with white, working class voters. John McCain now leads both Democrats in a number of key swing states including Ohio, Florida and Missouri.

What to do? Joe Klein offered up a solution: Al Gore. The superdelegates, he postulated, faced with a choice between a faltering Obama or a Clinton seeking to snatch the nomination from the pledged delegate winner instead, could turn to Gore “for the good of the party.” While Klein’s admittedly far-fetched scheme seems ripped from an Allen Drury novel, it does point to a troubling conclusion the Democrats are slowly reaching: neither one of their candidates matches up very well against John McCain.

Why would they turn to Gore? Well, he has no racial baggage, having never associated himself with a hate-mongering preacher or disparaged his opponent as another Jesse Jackson. He has actual experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has international stature as the guru of global warming. Gore even has a spouse who is not a liability. We can argue about the wisdom of his policy positions. But we’re dealing with Democrats looking for a deus ex machina.

And what does that say in turn about the most likely nominee, Obama? He is the un-Gore. Obama sports a giant potential liability in his association with Wright. He lacks any real governing expertise or track record. He has never been in any executive role. For independents he may simply seem too callow and untested to be trusted with national security. So it’s little wonder that Democrats are developing a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

It would seem then that the “Gore Option” is further proof–if any was needed–that Democrats are growing increasingly queasy about the person most likely to gain the nomination. Yet they just can’t bring themselves to accept Clinton as the alternative.

Read Less

More on Hillary’s Fabrication

I wanted to add my thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s fabricated story about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996. It is a damaging, and probably deeply damaging, blow to an increasingly weak and desperate candidate. It will now become fodder for late night talk show hosts. It also builds on other false claims she has made, from her role in the Northern Ireland peace talks to S-CHIP legislation. And the sniper fire tale reinforces an existing impression about the Clintons: they cannot be counted on to tell the truth in matters small or large, about them or about others, about policy or about their personal conduct. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Senator Clinton acknowledged the story was false only after indisputable video evidence (in this case from CBS News) emerged. Like her husband and the blue dress, the Clintons only concede their untruthfulness when they’ve been caught – on camera or via DNA – in their untruths.

I have thought for a long while now that Clinton Fatigue Syndrome was real, even among Democrats, and it would emerge as the campaign unfolded. It has, in many different ways – triggered by angry and false comments by Bill Clinton to this story to much else. It brings rushing back many of the bad memories from the 1990s and reminds people how the Clintons operate, both in campaigns and while in office. There is, at core, a corruption of character.

Monday night Joe Klein was on CNN downplaying the significance of Mrs. Clinton’s tall tale:

It’s a war story, and — and she exaggerated it. And it doesn’t speak well of her. And it’s very un-Hillary like. But could I just, for the sake of the fact that we’re in silly season now, and everybody — all these candidates are totally exhausted, just plead for charity, not only for her, but for the Obama supporters… I mean, these are not the important issues in the election. The important issues are two wars, an economic crisis, and — and the need for energy independence…. The question is whether you blow up these little exaggerations that everybody makes, including candidates, to the point where it obscures the real issues in the campaign. I’m willing to give her a break on this one, even though, as I said, it’s very much unlike her, and it’s clearly her telling a war story.

It’s not clear that this “exaggeration” is un-Hillary like. In fact, as I alluded to above, there are other examples. And of course she was a key figure in the Clinton White House which, as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote at the time, followed a “pattern of knowing and reckless disregard for the truth.” It strikes me that Klein was more on target when he wrote a 1994 cover story for Newsweek, “The Politics of Promiscuity,” in which he said this:

With the Clintons, the story always is subject to further revision. The misstatements are always incremental. The “misunderstandings” are always innocent – casual, irregular: promiscuous. Trust is squandered in dribs and drabs. Does this sort of behavior also infect the president’s public life, his formulation of policy? Clearly, it does.

Hillary Clinton will almost surely lose the Democratic nomination for president; the question is how much damage she will do to herself, and to Obama and her party, in the process. I suspect the answer is a fair amount.

I wanted to add my thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s fabricated story about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996. It is a damaging, and probably deeply damaging, blow to an increasingly weak and desperate candidate. It will now become fodder for late night talk show hosts. It also builds on other false claims she has made, from her role in the Northern Ireland peace talks to S-CHIP legislation. And the sniper fire tale reinforces an existing impression about the Clintons: they cannot be counted on to tell the truth in matters small or large, about them or about others, about policy or about their personal conduct. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Senator Clinton acknowledged the story was false only after indisputable video evidence (in this case from CBS News) emerged. Like her husband and the blue dress, the Clintons only concede their untruthfulness when they’ve been caught – on camera or via DNA – in their untruths.

I have thought for a long while now that Clinton Fatigue Syndrome was real, even among Democrats, and it would emerge as the campaign unfolded. It has, in many different ways – triggered by angry and false comments by Bill Clinton to this story to much else. It brings rushing back many of the bad memories from the 1990s and reminds people how the Clintons operate, both in campaigns and while in office. There is, at core, a corruption of character.

Monday night Joe Klein was on CNN downplaying the significance of Mrs. Clinton’s tall tale:

It’s a war story, and — and she exaggerated it. And it doesn’t speak well of her. And it’s very un-Hillary like. But could I just, for the sake of the fact that we’re in silly season now, and everybody — all these candidates are totally exhausted, just plead for charity, not only for her, but for the Obama supporters… I mean, these are not the important issues in the election. The important issues are two wars, an economic crisis, and — and the need for energy independence…. The question is whether you blow up these little exaggerations that everybody makes, including candidates, to the point where it obscures the real issues in the campaign. I’m willing to give her a break on this one, even though, as I said, it’s very much unlike her, and it’s clearly her telling a war story.

It’s not clear that this “exaggeration” is un-Hillary like. In fact, as I alluded to above, there are other examples. And of course she was a key figure in the Clinton White House which, as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote at the time, followed a “pattern of knowing and reckless disregard for the truth.” It strikes me that Klein was more on target when he wrote a 1994 cover story for Newsweek, “The Politics of Promiscuity,” in which he said this:

With the Clintons, the story always is subject to further revision. The misstatements are always incremental. The “misunderstandings” are always innocent – casual, irregular: promiscuous. Trust is squandered in dribs and drabs. Does this sort of behavior also infect the president’s public life, his formulation of policy? Clearly, it does.

Hillary Clinton will almost surely lose the Democratic nomination for president; the question is how much damage she will do to herself, and to Obama and her party, in the process. I suspect the answer is a fair amount.

Read Less

The Road Ahead

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

Read Less

The Creeping Cult of Obama

On his blog at ABC News, Jake Tapper has a great round-up of the messianism of Obama supporters (and to some extent that of the candidate himself). Tapper cites Obama fan Kathleen Geier, who writes of conversations with her fellow travelers:

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.’

Then there’s Joe Klein at Time:

Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

Here’s Chris Matthews:

I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament.

If level-headed observers are beginning to re-employ critical judgement as they consider Obama, we may see a split between acolytes and the participants of a backlash. The Obama enthusiasm seems to have become so gigantic that it suddenly has to answer for itself. This is precisely Hillary’s dream come true.

On his blog at ABC News, Jake Tapper has a great round-up of the messianism of Obama supporters (and to some extent that of the candidate himself). Tapper cites Obama fan Kathleen Geier, who writes of conversations with her fellow travelers:

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.’

Then there’s Joe Klein at Time:

Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

Here’s Chris Matthews:

I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament.

If level-headed observers are beginning to re-employ critical judgement as they consider Obama, we may see a split between acolytes and the participants of a backlash. The Obama enthusiasm seems to have become so gigantic that it suddenly has to answer for itself. This is precisely Hillary’s dream come true.

Read Less

Pundit Accountability

In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

Read More

In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

Two weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts—his supporters would argue these are bedrock values—seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

And several weeks later he wrote this:

Under the enlightened leadership of Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority has played the democracy game with gusto. It has acknowledged the importance of Kurdish and Sunni minority rights and seems unlikely to demand the constitutional imposition of strict Islamic law. Most important, it has resisted the temptation to retaliate against the outrageous violence of Sunni extremists, especially against Shiite mosques…. If the President turns out to be right—and let’s hope he is—a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.

From support for the Iraq war to calling it the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President;” from possible vindication and a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush to his “naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it;” these are head-snapping turnabouts.

In his preface to The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill wrote, “I have adhered to my rule of never criticizing any measure of war or policy after the event unless I had before expressed publicly or formally my opinion or warning about it.”

Many columnists and commentators suffer from the opposite syndrome—though Klein more so than most. They write with passionate conviction and certitude at The Moment—even when what they believe at that moment is significantly different than, or even the opposite of, what they once said and believed. They are, to amend an observation Michael Kelly made about Bill Clinton, “the existential pundits, living with absolute sincerity in the passing moment.”

Politics has accountability in the form of elections. Punditry, it sometimes seems, is an accountability-free zone.

Read Less

Contra Klein

In his blog Swampland, Time magazine’s Joe Klein writes that “We’ve seeing [sic] a fair amount of triumphalism from the usual suspects on the right about the situation on the ground in Iraq,” and he considers it to be “premature.” Klein then goes on to add this:

And yet: The reduction of violence is real. The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq—sneezed at by some antiwar commentators—is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom-up efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites across the scarred Anbar/Karbala provincial border, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, quite possibly reflect an Iraqi exhaustion with violence that has to be taken seriously as well. There is no question that the performance of the U.S. military has improved markedly under the smarter, more flexible, and creative leadership provided this year by General Petraeus. And the withdrawal of U.S. troops is beginning. The refusal of the antiwar movement—or some sections of it—to recognize these developments isn’t helping its credibility.

Klein continues:

Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America’s moral, military, and diplomatic status globally. It cannot be “won” militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shiite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us. . .

There are fewer votes now in Congress—and less cause—to cut off funding for the war than there were last Spring. A renewed campaign on the part of the hapless Democratic leadership to cut off the supplemental funds will only increase the public sense of Democratic futility. It will also play into the very real, and growing, public perception that Democrats are too busy wasting time on symbolic measures (like trying to cut off funds for the war) and shoveling pork (the water projects bill) to pass anything substantive for the public good. Too much time, and political capital, has been wasted fighting Bush legislatively on the war. I’m sure the President and the Republican Party are salivating over the prospect that Democrats will waste more time and capital over it this month . . . especially at a moment, however fleeting, when the situation on the ground seems to have improved in Iraq. Democrats need to think this over very, very carefully before they proceed.

Read More

In his blog Swampland, Time magazine’s Joe Klein writes that “We’ve seeing [sic] a fair amount of triumphalism from the usual suspects on the right about the situation on the ground in Iraq,” and he considers it to be “premature.” Klein then goes on to add this:

And yet: The reduction of violence is real. The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq—sneezed at by some antiwar commentators—is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom-up efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites across the scarred Anbar/Karbala provincial border, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, quite possibly reflect an Iraqi exhaustion with violence that has to be taken seriously as well. There is no question that the performance of the U.S. military has improved markedly under the smarter, more flexible, and creative leadership provided this year by General Petraeus. And the withdrawal of U.S. troops is beginning. The refusal of the antiwar movement—or some sections of it—to recognize these developments isn’t helping its credibility.

Klein continues:

Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America’s moral, military, and diplomatic status globally. It cannot be “won” militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shiite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us. . .

There are fewer votes now in Congress—and less cause—to cut off funding for the war than there were last Spring. A renewed campaign on the part of the hapless Democratic leadership to cut off the supplemental funds will only increase the public sense of Democratic futility. It will also play into the very real, and growing, public perception that Democrats are too busy wasting time on symbolic measures (like trying to cut off funds for the war) and shoveling pork (the water projects bill) to pass anything substantive for the public good. Too much time, and political capital, has been wasted fighting Bush legislatively on the war. I’m sure the President and the Republican Party are salivating over the prospect that Democrats will waste more time and capital over it this month . . . especially at a moment, however fleeting, when the situation on the ground seems to have improved in Iraq. Democrats need to think this over very, very carefully before they proceed.

I have several thoughts in response to Klein’s comments. The first is that if the war in Iraq has been “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President,” then you wonder why Joe supported it before the war. Here’s what Klein told Tim Russert on his CNBC program on February 22, 2003:

This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it—it’s—it—it probably is…. [Saddam] has been defying the world for twelve years. It is very clear—I mean, I—I—I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t believe that he’s hiding stuff there. And if there’s going to be a civilized world order, the—the world has to be able to act on its—you know, on—on—on its agreements. And—and there have been now seventeen UN resolutions calling on this guy to disarm, a—something that he agreed to do, and at certain—at a certain point, you have to enforce it.

Now you can quibble with the fact, you can argue with the fact that the Bush administration forced this judgment at this time in this way, but I think—and—but I—but I do believe that it was Bill Clinton’s moral responsibility and responsibility as leader of the country to do it in 1998, as we—as we were saying before. And—and I think that now that we’ve reached this point, where the inspectors are in and it has become absolutely manifestly clear that he’s not going to abide by this—you know, just look at his behavior in the days since the peace protests. All of a sudden, you know, he’s—he’s—you know, he’s defiant again. So I think that, you know, the—the message has to be sent because if it isn’t sent now, if we don’t do this now, it empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.

I wonder, then: Does Klein’s statement on Russert’s show therefore qualify as the stupidest endorsement of the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President? In any event, at least President Bush didn’t pretend (as Klein has) that he was against the war after he was for the war.

More important, though, is that Klein, a ferocious critic of the war and the President, is willing to concede that progress is real. He has documented that progress in his reporting, for which he deserves credit.

Obviously “triumphalism” is premature—Iraq remains a very complicated and difficult situation, progress that’s been made can be lost, and the outcome is still uncertain—but it shows that the good news is breaking through and is now undeniable. For example, we read in the Washington Times today that U.S. military fatalities are down from 101 in June to 39 in October; that Iraqi civilian deaths were also down from 1,791 in August to 750 in October; that mortar rocket attacks by insurgents in October were the lowest since February 2006; and that according to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni fighters in Baghdad has dropped 77 percent from last year’s high.

Klein, an excellent political reporter, is also correct in warning Democrats against trying to force the President to pull out prematurely. The Washington Post today reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “declared that Bush will not get more money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year unless he accepts a plan to complete troop withdrawals by the end of next year.”

This approach by Senator Reid is reckless and will be injurious politically. While the trajectory of events in Iraq is (finally) getting better, and in some important respects events are getting significantly better, Democrats are redoubling their efforts to pursue a policy that can only undermine progress and our chances of success.

This tells us all we need to know about the leadership of the modern Democratic Party. That of FDR, Truman, or JFK it ain’t.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.