Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joseph Lieberman

McCain’s Stance on Cybersecurity Is Wrong

There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”

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There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”

The only way to raise our level of preparedness is to give the federal government more authority to protect civilian infrastructure. As things stand, Alexander’s NSA can mount offensive cyberoperations against other countries but can only protect Defense Department networks in this country. The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to protect the civilian networks on which we all depend–and whose disruption via cyberattack could cripple our economy. But DHS does not have the resources or authorities to get the job done. Understandable concerns about privacy have made it impossible to fix this situation on Capitol Hill. Lieberman’s legislation is a start toward fixing this major vulnerability but, thanks to objections from Sen. McCain and the Chamber of Commerce, the bill has been watered down so the cybersecurity standards will now be optional. Optional standards make sense when it comes to governing the size of sodas–not when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure.

While the federal government has undoubtedly extended its reach into all kinds of areas where it does not belong, national defense remains its core responsibility–and in the 21st century that must mean defense from cyberthreats as well as physical ones. Until Congress moves to fix our vulnerabilities, we will remain wide open to attack by China, Russia, and other countries in the forefront of developing offensive cyberwarfare capabilities.

One only need look at the damage that the Stuxnet virus–cooked up by the U.S. and Israel–did to the Iranian nuclear program; now imagine the Iranians returning the favor with a virus that incapacitates major parts of the American electric grid. That is a nightmare scenario that we must worry about, and Congress’s failure to act will only encourage the world’s cyberpredators to continue developing and deploying ever-more fiendish computer weapons against us.

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A “Plan B” on Syria Urgently Needed

It’s good to hear the Obama administration may be searching for a Plan B on Syria. One is certainly needed—and urgently. Plan A was the UN-brokered cease fire which, as no less an authority than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon notes, is not being implemented by the Assad regime. Indeed, there are numerous reports of regime assaults continuing on opposition bastions while the rebels have little equipment with which to defend themselves.

Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman just got back from Turkey where they meet with Syrian rebel leaders. “The most stunning, unsettling conclusion I drew from the leaders of the Free Syrian Army was that they have essentially got no help from anyone. They are literally running out of ammunition while Assad’s forces are being resupplied by Iran and Russia,” Lieberman told a reporter afterwards.

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It’s good to hear the Obama administration may be searching for a Plan B on Syria. One is certainly needed—and urgently. Plan A was the UN-brokered cease fire which, as no less an authority than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon notes, is not being implemented by the Assad regime. Indeed, there are numerous reports of regime assaults continuing on opposition bastions while the rebels have little equipment with which to defend themselves.

Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman just got back from Turkey where they meet with Syrian rebel leaders. “The most stunning, unsettling conclusion I drew from the leaders of the Free Syrian Army was that they have essentially got no help from anyone. They are literally running out of ammunition while Assad’s forces are being resupplied by Iran and Russia,” Lieberman told a reporter afterwards.

That being the case, what a Plan B might be answers itself: simply provide more aid to the Syrian rebels and also help Turkey to set up safe zones inside Syria where refugees can come to escape annihilation. Those options, which could be combined (but don’t have to be) with air strikes on Syrian regime targets, are hardly new, but the case for them is becoming more compelling as it becomes clear there is no real alternative–unless we are simply willing to sit back and watch a close Iranian ally maintain his bloody rule in such a vital state.

 

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Is There Really a Consensus Against Iran Containment?

If President Obama means what he says about stopping Iran from going nuclear, he has bi-partisan support for that stand. That’s the upshot of a Senate resolution introduced today with 32 co-sponsors that rejects the notion a nuclear Iran can be contained. Proponents of the resolution such as Senator Joseph Lieberman say Iran has only two choices: disarm or face the consequences.

The introduction of the measure prompted some of its Republican sponsors to point out that their position is identical with that of President Obama’s statements on the issue. As South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham noted, “All I can say is, we’ve found something we’re united about.”

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If President Obama means what he says about stopping Iran from going nuclear, he has bi-partisan support for that stand. That’s the upshot of a Senate resolution introduced today with 32 co-sponsors that rejects the notion a nuclear Iran can be contained. Proponents of the resolution such as Senator Joseph Lieberman say Iran has only two choices: disarm or face the consequences.

The introduction of the measure prompted some of its Republican sponsors to point out that their position is identical with that of President Obama’s statements on the issue. As South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham noted, “All I can say is, we’ve found something we’re united about.”

The question for the senators, as well as the nation, is whether the president is as serious about not considering a policy that would view “containment” of a nuclear Iran as a viable option. Though Obama has insisted he will not let Iran go nuclear, speculation continues that the administration’s reliance on sanctions to stop Tehran is, at best, overly optimistic. With Washington acting as if it is more worried about Israel acting on its own to eliminate an existential threat, the Senate resolution is a timely reminder to the president that he should not think he can get away with a policy that seeks to avoid confrontation until after the November election. With influential figures such as Obama sycophant Fareed Zakaria advocating containment in the Washington Post yesterday, Graham’s assumption is that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are in agreement on Iran.

Zakaria, who has been a White House favorite in the last three years, has been a consistent opponent of confronting Iran. His latest piece attempted once again to make the case a nuclear Iran could be contained as easily as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. He claims the “lessons of history” show the attempt to stop Iran is a rerun of the rush to war in Europe in 1914. According to Zakaria, Israel’s concerns about a nuclear Iran are similar to those of the fools who launched the slaughter of World War One. That’s an unfair and distorted slap at a Jewish state that faces the possibility a tyrannical regime led by Islamist fanatics already pledged to their destruction might get hold of a genocidal weapon. Just as absurd are his comparisons between a nuclear Soviet Union and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran.

The administration’s Iran strategy is dependent on cooperation from nations such as China that show little sign of being serious about helping. That means sooner or later, the president may be faced with actually having to resort to force if he wants to keep his promises. The worry here is that Zakaria’s sophistry about a potential catastrophe is a better reflection of Barack Obama’s thinking than his public statements. If push comes to shove, Israel as well as the Senate will have to hope Obama’s actual beliefs on the subject are closer to those of Lieberman and Graham than Zakaria.

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Lieberman May Drop Out of 2012 Race

The Hartford Courant’s website is reporting that Senator Joseph Lieberman is poised to announce that he won’t run for re-election in 2012. Lieberman will announce his 2012 plans Wednesday in his hometown of Stamford, at an event where he will be surrounded by longtime supporters, adding to speculation that he will speak of the end of his political career in the place where he grew up. The decision not to wait is being linked to the announcement by Susan Bysiewicz, a popular Democrat who has served as Connecticut’s secretary of state and was ruled off the ballot last year for state attorney general by a technicality, that she will run for Lieberman’s seat.

The Courant speculates that the reason Lieberman is not waiting until later in the election cycle to pull out is because he wants to make his statement “while there’s still speculation that he could still win if he chose to run.” Maybe. But the only reason Lieberman is bailing now is because he knows he has no chance to win in 2012.

I wrote last month that indications that Linda McMahon was going to make another try for the Senate in 2012 made a repeat of Lieberman’s 2006 win as an independent virtually impossible because he would need the GOP to more or less not show up the way they did in that race. In response, some readers contended that if Connecticut Democrats nominated an unpopular hard-core left-winger, Lieberman could still squeak through. But given that the Democratic field is already shaping up as one populated by highly electable candidates like Bysiewicz and Rep. Joseph Courtney, who has also indicated interest, this is an extremely unlikely scenario. Sam Stein at the Huffington Post reports that Patty Murray, the new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has told Lieberman that her group might back him in a primary if he returned to the Democrats. But that seems like an empty promise, since even more Democrats are angry with Lieberman today than they were when he lost his party’s primary in 2006. With party activists in both parties dead set against Lieberman, he has no chance to win either party’s nomination, and if faced with two strong opponents rather than just one, which now seems to be a given, he has no chance to win.

Lieberman has had a remarkable run in elected office. He started out as a stereotypical liberal Democrat when he first ran for the State Senate from New Haven (the young Bill Clinton was a campaign volunteer). Lieberman later became state attorney general and then turned conventional wisdom on its head by running to the right of liberal Republican Lowell Weicker in 1988. Once in office, he became enormously popular, striking a balance between conventionally liberal economic stands while also articulating centrist stands on foreign policy and social issues. Lieberman came within a few hanging chads of becoming vice president in 2000, but the moral tone and foreign policy stands that helped win him that nomination would ultimately alienate him from fellow Democrats. His principled support for the Iraq war was the turning point for him, and it ultimately ensured that he would be the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats in the U.S. Senate. While he wasn’t always right on all the issues, his is a voice that would, come 2013, be greatly missed.

The Hartford Courant’s website is reporting that Senator Joseph Lieberman is poised to announce that he won’t run for re-election in 2012. Lieberman will announce his 2012 plans Wednesday in his hometown of Stamford, at an event where he will be surrounded by longtime supporters, adding to speculation that he will speak of the end of his political career in the place where he grew up. The decision not to wait is being linked to the announcement by Susan Bysiewicz, a popular Democrat who has served as Connecticut’s secretary of state and was ruled off the ballot last year for state attorney general by a technicality, that she will run for Lieberman’s seat.

The Courant speculates that the reason Lieberman is not waiting until later in the election cycle to pull out is because he wants to make his statement “while there’s still speculation that he could still win if he chose to run.” Maybe. But the only reason Lieberman is bailing now is because he knows he has no chance to win in 2012.

I wrote last month that indications that Linda McMahon was going to make another try for the Senate in 2012 made a repeat of Lieberman’s 2006 win as an independent virtually impossible because he would need the GOP to more or less not show up the way they did in that race. In response, some readers contended that if Connecticut Democrats nominated an unpopular hard-core left-winger, Lieberman could still squeak through. But given that the Democratic field is already shaping up as one populated by highly electable candidates like Bysiewicz and Rep. Joseph Courtney, who has also indicated interest, this is an extremely unlikely scenario. Sam Stein at the Huffington Post reports that Patty Murray, the new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has told Lieberman that her group might back him in a primary if he returned to the Democrats. But that seems like an empty promise, since even more Democrats are angry with Lieberman today than they were when he lost his party’s primary in 2006. With party activists in both parties dead set against Lieberman, he has no chance to win either party’s nomination, and if faced with two strong opponents rather than just one, which now seems to be a given, he has no chance to win.

Lieberman has had a remarkable run in elected office. He started out as a stereotypical liberal Democrat when he first ran for the State Senate from New Haven (the young Bill Clinton was a campaign volunteer). Lieberman later became state attorney general and then turned conventional wisdom on its head by running to the right of liberal Republican Lowell Weicker in 1988. Once in office, he became enormously popular, striking a balance between conventionally liberal economic stands while also articulating centrist stands on foreign policy and social issues. Lieberman came within a few hanging chads of becoming vice president in 2000, but the moral tone and foreign policy stands that helped win him that nomination would ultimately alienate him from fellow Democrats. His principled support for the Iraq war was the turning point for him, and it ultimately ensured that he would be the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats in the U.S. Senate. While he wasn’t always right on all the issues, his is a voice that would, come 2013, be greatly missed.

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“A Rough Version of Mr. Bush’s Dream May Yet Come True”

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico). Read More

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico).

The Post editorial concludes this way:

It’s still too early to draw conclusions about Iraq, though many opponents of the war did so long ago. Mr. Maliki’s government could easily go wrong; the coming year, which could end with the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops, will likely be just as challenging as this one. But the country’s political class has repeatedly chosen democracy over dictatorship and accommodation over violence. If that keeps up, a rough version of Mr. Bush’s dream may yet come true.

Four years ago this month may have been the low-water mark in Iraq, with the nation gripped by a low-grade but escalating civil war. The American public strongly opposed the war. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in Congress, with the honorable exception of Senator Joseph Lieberman, was in fierce opposition to both the war and what later became known as the “surge.” Republican lawmakers were losing their nerve as well. Three months earlier, in September 2006, Senator Mitch McConnell had asked for, and received, a private meeting with President Bush. Senator McConnell’s message was a simple one: the Iraq war’s unpopularity was going to cost the GOP control of Congress. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

President Bush, to his everlasting credit, not only refused to bend; he increased the American commitment to Iraq and changed our counterinsurgency strategy. And while the situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be undone — and while problems still remain and need to be urgently addressed (including the terrible persecution of Christians occurring in Iraq right now) — this is a moment for our nation, and most especially our military, to take sober satisfaction in what has been achieved. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been a noble and estimable one.

There is no need here to rehearse the names of the few who did not buckle at the moment when the war seemed lost. They know who they are. In the words of Milton, they were “faithful found among the faithless.” Their faithfulness, and in many cases their courage, is being vindicated.

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A Study in Contrast on Iran

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

Obama went to the UN and delivered namby-pamby remarks on Iran, eschewing any mention of the potential for military force. The sum total of his remarks:

As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities.  And that is what we have done.

Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.

Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

That is it. Bet they are high-fiving in Tehran.

Meanwhile, in the American reality-based community, more serious voices are being heard. Christians United for Israel have produced a remarkable video, featuring Pastor John Hagee, Harvard University Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Nobel Laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (Got to hand it to those community organizers). They are also circulating a petition that already has at least 118,000 signatures. The message: we should be indicting Ahmadinejad as a war criminal for “incitement to genocide.” Really, what’s the excuse not to?

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 50 Republicans yesterday to the president urged him to “take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. All options must be on the table.” They urged Obama to state “unequivocally” at the UN that we will prevent Iran from going nuclear. No such luck.

Why do private groups, members of Congress and citizens seem so much more serious than the president? Well, we’ve learned and relearned that foreign-policy commitments just aren’t Obama’s thing. Kudos to those who appeared in the CUFI video and signed the letter. Now, how about the largest Jewish organizations themselves going on record? Not only should the president be urged to take all action needed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans but it should be clear that this is not “an Israeli” problem. It is the West’s problem. It would be a sorry state of affairs if tiny Israel had to act in our defense. Nevertheless, that looks like the direction in which we are heading. The public, Congress, and private groups should prepare themselves to insist that if Israel does act alone, the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

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Jumping When Unions Holler

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.’”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.’”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

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Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

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The Lieberman Lecture

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the state of the Democratic party. It is a short version of the lecture Lieberman gave on Sunday night, May 18, at the annual COMMENTARY Fund dinner, and the entire lecture is worth reading at length. Lieberman goes directly at Barack Obama’s “talk without preconditions” line toward America’s worst enemies. And he says some very nice things about COMMENTARY. We’ve posted it here.

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Sen. Joseph Lieberman on the state of the Democratic party. It is a short version of the lecture Lieberman gave on Sunday night, May 18, at the annual COMMENTARY Fund dinner, and the entire lecture is worth reading at length. Lieberman goes directly at Barack Obama’s “talk without preconditions” line toward America’s worst enemies. And he says some very nice things about COMMENTARY. We’ve posted it here.

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Lieberman on Obama

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

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The Misuse of “Hack”

One of the oddest tropes on the Democratic liberal-left is the reference to Sen. Joseph Lieberman as a “hack,” which has been a fairly steady refrain on The New Republic‘s blog for two years now. No politician on earth would have wanted to take the journey Lieberman has taken — from his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000 to defeat in a primary battle in his home state six years later. To hold views so discordant with your long-time comrades and colleagues is the sort of thing that can cause even the strongest of men to lose faith in his own views. And most politicians, who must balance conviction with prudence, would go with prudence in Lieberman’s situation and work to stifle his difference with his party’s orthodoxy. That is precisely what keeps an actual hack in line — the fear of being out of step and losing favor with those who have favors to dispense.

By remaining steadfast on the war in Iraq when others in his party fled their vote and then blamed their inconstancy on the supposed “lies” of the administration. And by refusing to join the jackal-like feast on George W. Bush’s reputation, Lieberman earned the hatred of many fellow Democrats. That hatred caused a hugely rich man in his state to spend millions of his own money to oust Lieberman from his own party’s nomination after serving three full terms as senator.

And yet there he remained, and remains, unbending. This is the opposite of hackery. It is the antithesis of hackery. It is the quality everyone says he yearns for in Washington — principled consistency, a willingness to work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion, and a refusal to kowtow to the loudest voices merely because they are so loud. Last night, at the annual dinner of the Commentary Fund, Lieberman said he remained a Democrat precisely because he believes the strong foreign policy he espouses must have a bipartisan foundation. Interesting, and telling, that those who believe him to be a partisan turncoat use the mot injuste to describe him.

One of the oddest tropes on the Democratic liberal-left is the reference to Sen. Joseph Lieberman as a “hack,” which has been a fairly steady refrain on The New Republic‘s blog for two years now. No politician on earth would have wanted to take the journey Lieberman has taken — from his party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000 to defeat in a primary battle in his home state six years later. To hold views so discordant with your long-time comrades and colleagues is the sort of thing that can cause even the strongest of men to lose faith in his own views. And most politicians, who must balance conviction with prudence, would go with prudence in Lieberman’s situation and work to stifle his difference with his party’s orthodoxy. That is precisely what keeps an actual hack in line — the fear of being out of step and losing favor with those who have favors to dispense.

By remaining steadfast on the war in Iraq when others in his party fled their vote and then blamed their inconstancy on the supposed “lies” of the administration. And by refusing to join the jackal-like feast on George W. Bush’s reputation, Lieberman earned the hatred of many fellow Democrats. That hatred caused a hugely rich man in his state to spend millions of his own money to oust Lieberman from his own party’s nomination after serving three full terms as senator.

And yet there he remained, and remains, unbending. This is the opposite of hackery. It is the antithesis of hackery. It is the quality everyone says he yearns for in Washington — principled consistency, a willingness to work across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion, and a refusal to kowtow to the loudest voices merely because they are so loud. Last night, at the annual dinner of the Commentary Fund, Lieberman said he remained a Democrat precisely because he believes the strong foreign policy he espouses must have a bipartisan foundation. Interesting, and telling, that those who believe him to be a partisan turncoat use the mot injuste to describe him.

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Senator Lieberman’s Address

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

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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.

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Dionne’s Willful Refusal to Listen to Petraeus and Crocker

In his latest column, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes about the testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and Iraq more broadly. It’s worth examining what Dionne said.

According to Dionne,

The bottom line of the testimony this week from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is that even after the surge, what gains have been made in Iraq are, as Petraeus put it, “fragile and reversible.”

In fact this is not the bottom line, nor is it anything like a complete picture of what Petraeus and Crocker said. General Petraeus, in rightly saying that the gains we’ve made in Iraq are “fragile and reversible,” immediately went on to say this:

Still, security in Iraq is better than it was when Ambassador Crocker and I reported to you last September, and it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional forces to Iraq.

Here are the words of Ambassador Crocker:

Last September, I said that the cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq was upwards, although the slope of that line was not steep. Developments over the last seven months have strengthened my sense of a positive trend. Immense challenges remain and progress is uneven and often frustrating slow, but there is progress. Sustaining that progress will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment. What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible.

Ambassador Crocker, after discussing the political progress that’s been made in recent months (pension and amnesty laws, de-Baathification, et cetera), also said this:

All of this has been done since September. These laws are not perfect and much depends on their implementation, but they are important steps.

Crocker has also spoken about the positive change in attitude among Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders in Iraq. Read More

In his latest column, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes about the testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and Iraq more broadly. It’s worth examining what Dionne said.

According to Dionne,

The bottom line of the testimony this week from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is that even after the surge, what gains have been made in Iraq are, as Petraeus put it, “fragile and reversible.”

In fact this is not the bottom line, nor is it anything like a complete picture of what Petraeus and Crocker said. General Petraeus, in rightly saying that the gains we’ve made in Iraq are “fragile and reversible,” immediately went on to say this:

Still, security in Iraq is better than it was when Ambassador Crocker and I reported to you last September, and it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional forces to Iraq.

Here are the words of Ambassador Crocker:

Last September, I said that the cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq was upwards, although the slope of that line was not steep. Developments over the last seven months have strengthened my sense of a positive trend. Immense challenges remain and progress is uneven and often frustrating slow, but there is progress. Sustaining that progress will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment. What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible.

Ambassador Crocker, after discussing the political progress that’s been made in recent months (pension and amnesty laws, de-Baathification, et cetera), also said this:

All of this has been done since September. These laws are not perfect and much depends on their implementation, but they are important steps.

Crocker has also spoken about the positive change in attitude among Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders in Iraq.

Iraq in 2006 was in a death spiral. That has not only been arrested; it has been reversed. Under the extraordinary leadership of Petraeus and Crocker, we have made more gains than even those of us who were advocates of the surge could have hoped for. And the gains have been on almost every front: security, political, diplomatic, and economic. Those gains, while “fragile and reversible,” are also indisputable.

In their testimonies Petraeus and Crocker painted a nuanced, sophisticated, and accurate picture of the situation in Iraq. It would be nice if the war critics did the same.

Dionne also writes:

The administration and its supporters talk incessantly about winning but offer no strategy for victory, no definition of what it would look like, no concrete steps to get us there, and no real sense of where “there” is.

This sentence is riddled with errors.

The United States in fact does have a strategy for victory, one that is fundamentally different than what came before it. The new strategy, being executed and implemented by Petraeus and Crocker, involved sending around 30,000 more troops to Iraq beginning in early 2007; giving them a different mission (one that aims at securing, living with, and winning over the local population); building on the attitudinal shift among the Iraqi population, including Sunnis, against the brutal and extremist ideology of al Qaeda in Iraq; working closely with the Iraqi government to transition the Sons of Iraq (now numbering more than 90,000) into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) or other forms of employment; working with ISF to target “special groups” (Shia militia) that are being funded, trained, armed, and directed by Iran’s Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah; reforming the Iraqi police (which had been taken over by militias); encouraging provincial elections to be held later this year, which will give a greater voice to Sunnis who boycotted earlier elections; negotiating a status of forces agreement; helping design new procurement procedures for Iraq’s oil ministry; increasing the scope of the UN’s engagement in Iraq; and much else.

Earlier this week, then, Petraeus and Crocker laid out, in mind-numbing detail, the concrete steps we’ve taken and still need to take in order to achieve a decent outcome in Iraq. As for Dionne’s charge that there is “no real sense of where ‘there’ is”: that statement is also false. Our goal is a stable, self-governing, and peaceful Iraq, one that operates under the rule of law and is an ally of America in the war against jihadism.

None of this is a mystery; it’s been said, in one version or another, dozens of times. What we don’t know – and what we could not possibly know, given the nature of warfare — is precisely when we’ll be able to withdraw most of our combat troops. That depends, as all wars depend, on the facts on the ground, on unfolding events, on contingencies and variables that are impossible to know with certainty. But to pretend that we have “no strategy for victory, no definition of what it would look like, no concrete steps to get us there, and no real sense of where “there” is” is simply and demonstrably wrong.

Dionne argues this as well:

Supporters of the war say its opponents are locked in the past, stuck on whether or not the war was a good idea in the first place. Whether the war was right or wrong, they say, it’s time to move on and focus on the future. This has it backward. It’s the war’s backers and architects, including the president, who are trapped in the past. They are so invested in the original decision to invade Iraq that they won’t even consider whether the United States would be better off winding down this commitment, relieving our military of the war’s enormous burdens, and redirecting our foreign policy. Instead, they want to push on, hoping that something turns up. They resemble their own parody of liberal do-gooders insisting on continuing flawed and foolish programs no matter how obvious it becomes that their efforts are doing more harm than good.

This “flawed and foolish” program has produced results like these: ethno-sectarian violence decreased by nearly 90 percent and total civilian deaths and coalition deaths decreased by more than 70 percent between June 2007 and March 2008. This is only one metric of progress; there are many others that are matters of public record. But to quote Dionne’s friend Senator Joseph Lieberman, the approach of anti-war critics is to “hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, and most of all, speak of no progress in Iraq.” They are hermetically sealed off from accepting, let alone taking encouragement from, authentic progress. It is a stunning thing to witness.

Dionne’s column gets to a deeper issue. Ambassador Crocker said during his testimony that “almost everything about Iraq is hard.” That is certainly true – and serious mistakes by the Bush Administration in the Phase IV planning has made things far more difficult than they should have been. But the President made necessary adjustments. And no person can seriously dispute that progress has been made, and that if we continue along this path, we have a good chance of achieving a decent outcome in Iraq.

But the critics of the war seemingly don’t care; they have turned hard against it and want to wash our hands of it. On some level they must know that if we followed their counsel the odds are very good that mass death and perhaps genocide would follow; that al Qaeda in Iraq would be revivified; that jihadists would gain a historic victory against America and the West; that Iran would benefit enormously; that the Middle East would become significantly more destabilized; that America’s word would be devalued; and much else. But they are tired and weary of the war and the costs of the war. And so this war now comes down to what many others eventually do: a matter of will. Having put in place the right strategy, will we see it through to success? Jihadists will not lose their will; they are hoping and betting that we will lose ours.

The voices of weariness are understandable; the human and financial costs of this war have been enormous. But those voices are also wrong and Ambassador Crocker is right:

As monumental as the events of the last five years have been in Iraq, Iraqis, Americans, and the world ultimately will judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has happened. In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came.

President Bush, David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker and others, who have seen good and patriotic people succumb to the weariness, have thankfully refused their counsels of surrender. If one message came through above the others during this past week, it is that Petraeus and Crocker agree with the words of St. Paul: We ought not to become weary in doing good.

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Thoughts From a Fellow Yalie

For what it’s worth, here’s my brief remembrance.

I first met William F. Buckley, Jr., as a freshman at Yale University. It was at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Yale Daily News (which Buckley had edited, stirring all manner of controversy) and I was sitting in a large hall listening to a panel of former Newsies riff on their college days. Buckley and his son, Christopher, sat next to me by sheer chance.

After the panel, I introduced myself to Buckley and we chatted briefly on the state of politics on campus. He gave me his email address and requested that we stay in touch (we would keep up a very informal and infrequent correspondence). Later that evening, I bumped into Buckley at the News building, where he was inspecting old black-and-white photos of previous editorial boards, including his own. He mentioned that his wife was unable to attend the celebratory banquet that evening and that he had an extra ticket for a seat at his table. Would I care to join him? As Joseph Lieberman–a former editor of the News himself–said today in remarks on the Senate floor, Buckley took a “warm, brotherly interest” in those working for the paper, but I never expected this sort of gratifying and flattering attention. Sadly, I was in a theatrical performance, and there was no understudy. But, I assured myself, there would be other such occasions in the future.

Sadly, there weren’t.  But a different sort of opportunity to become acquainted with Buckley arrived my sophomore year, in the form of a position as a research assistant to Sam Tanenhaus, the New York Times editor who is working on what will be the definitive biography of the godfather of American conservatism. Buckley had deposited hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of personal correspondence, press clippings, and his own written work at the library of his alma mater, a collection that he updated on a continual basis. My job was to research his 1965 run for mayor of New York City, one of the most entertaining political bouts in recent American history and the subject of this 2005 Times Magazine essay by Tanenhaus.

Through that experience, it became clear that Buckley was what most of us writing for political magazines hope to be: a change agent. While it’s wrong to suggest that the conservative movement would not have existed without him, it surely, without his influence, would not have been the force–judged by both intellectual and political heft–it eventually became. It might seem paradoxical that the most influential conservative writer of the 20th century (standing athwart history yelling “Stop”) would be a “change agent.” But that’s what he was.

For what it’s worth, here’s my brief remembrance.

I first met William F. Buckley, Jr., as a freshman at Yale University. It was at the 125th anniversary celebration of the Yale Daily News (which Buckley had edited, stirring all manner of controversy) and I was sitting in a large hall listening to a panel of former Newsies riff on their college days. Buckley and his son, Christopher, sat next to me by sheer chance.

After the panel, I introduced myself to Buckley and we chatted briefly on the state of politics on campus. He gave me his email address and requested that we stay in touch (we would keep up a very informal and infrequent correspondence). Later that evening, I bumped into Buckley at the News building, where he was inspecting old black-and-white photos of previous editorial boards, including his own. He mentioned that his wife was unable to attend the celebratory banquet that evening and that he had an extra ticket for a seat at his table. Would I care to join him? As Joseph Lieberman–a former editor of the News himself–said today in remarks on the Senate floor, Buckley took a “warm, brotherly interest” in those working for the paper, but I never expected this sort of gratifying and flattering attention. Sadly, I was in a theatrical performance, and there was no understudy. But, I assured myself, there would be other such occasions in the future.

Sadly, there weren’t.  But a different sort of opportunity to become acquainted with Buckley arrived my sophomore year, in the form of a position as a research assistant to Sam Tanenhaus, the New York Times editor who is working on what will be the definitive biography of the godfather of American conservatism. Buckley had deposited hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of personal correspondence, press clippings, and his own written work at the library of his alma mater, a collection that he updated on a continual basis. My job was to research his 1965 run for mayor of New York City, one of the most entertaining political bouts in recent American history and the subject of this 2005 Times Magazine essay by Tanenhaus.

Through that experience, it became clear that Buckley was what most of us writing for political magazines hope to be: a change agent. While it’s wrong to suggest that the conservative movement would not have existed without him, it surely, without his influence, would not have been the force–judged by both intellectual and political heft–it eventually became. It might seem paradoxical that the most influential conservative writer of the 20th century (standing athwart history yelling “Stop”) would be a “change agent.” But that’s what he was.

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Obama and American Jews

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has faced a series of disturbingly slanderous e-mails. Obama has been falsely accused of being secretly Muslim; studying in an Indonesian madrassa; and refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, among other charges. Sensing that these e-mails were particularly prevalent within Jewish circles, Obama held a conference call with Jewish journalists yesterday afternoon.

During the call, Obama sought to reassure the Jewish community by addressing Jewish identity issues. He thus declared his support for Israel “as a Jewish state”; expressed concern for continued rocket attacks from Gaza; stated that the Palestinian right of return could not be interpreted “in any literal way”; and opposed negotiations with Hamas so long as it denies Israel’s right to exist. He further denied that he had ever practiced Islam, and said that his church leader had made a “mistake of judgment” in honoring Louis Farrakhan. “My church has never issued anti-Semitic statements, nor have I heard my pastor utter anything anti-Semitic,” he said. “If I have, I would have left the church.”

The implication that Obama—by virtue of his church leader’s connections with Farrakhan—is anti-Semitic is hard to swallow. After all, Obama remains one solid degree removed from Farrakhan—highly significant in a political environment in which Joseph Lieberman declared his “respect” for Farrakhan during his 2000 vice-presidential candidacy. Moreover, it is saddening that Obama continually feels the need to address his non-Islamic faith, particularly when doing so insultingly implies that Islam is undesirable.

Yet one question remains legitimate: how can voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship be reassured that Obama’s staunchly pro-Israel declarations are not mere pandering? After all, Obama is on record as having called for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, just as the Palestinians commenced the Second Intifada following Camp David. According to Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, Obama’s pro-Israel epiphany occurred shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign—an about-face for which Obama apologized to Abunimah. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front,” Obama said at the time.

Obama’s apology to Abunimah—a major proponent of the one-state “solution”— indicates an unsophisticated view of American politics, in which success requires whispering sweet Zionist nothings to satisfy the almighty, one-issue Jewish electorate. Obama’s foreign policy advisers have similarly promoted this inflated vision of Jewish power. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak has assiduously noted, Obama adviser Samantha Power has declared that sound Middle East policy might require “alienating a domestic constituency”—guess which one. His staff further features Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest.

This mixture of prior statements and advisory influences suggests little regarding how Obama might act towards Israel if elected. Obama has repudiated Brzezinski’s call for dialogue with Hamas, while Power’s support for ending U.S. foreign military aid to Israel probably represents too radical a departure from historic U.S. policy to be taken seriously.

Rather, Jewish concerns regarding Obama’s candidacy should focus on whether Obama and his posse view American Jewry as a stumbling block in the way of promoting U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is the insidious crux of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, and Obama’s prior statements to Abunimah—as well as the writings of Power and Brzezinski—are hardly reassuring.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has faced a series of disturbingly slanderous e-mails. Obama has been falsely accused of being secretly Muslim; studying in an Indonesian madrassa; and refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, among other charges. Sensing that these e-mails were particularly prevalent within Jewish circles, Obama held a conference call with Jewish journalists yesterday afternoon.

During the call, Obama sought to reassure the Jewish community by addressing Jewish identity issues. He thus declared his support for Israel “as a Jewish state”; expressed concern for continued rocket attacks from Gaza; stated that the Palestinian right of return could not be interpreted “in any literal way”; and opposed negotiations with Hamas so long as it denies Israel’s right to exist. He further denied that he had ever practiced Islam, and said that his church leader had made a “mistake of judgment” in honoring Louis Farrakhan. “My church has never issued anti-Semitic statements, nor have I heard my pastor utter anything anti-Semitic,” he said. “If I have, I would have left the church.”

The implication that Obama—by virtue of his church leader’s connections with Farrakhan—is anti-Semitic is hard to swallow. After all, Obama remains one solid degree removed from Farrakhan—highly significant in a political environment in which Joseph Lieberman declared his “respect” for Farrakhan during his 2000 vice-presidential candidacy. Moreover, it is saddening that Obama continually feels the need to address his non-Islamic faith, particularly when doing so insultingly implies that Islam is undesirable.

Yet one question remains legitimate: how can voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship be reassured that Obama’s staunchly pro-Israel declarations are not mere pandering? After all, Obama is on record as having called for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, just as the Palestinians commenced the Second Intifada following Camp David. According to Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, Obama’s pro-Israel epiphany occurred shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign—an about-face for which Obama apologized to Abunimah. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front,” Obama said at the time.

Obama’s apology to Abunimah—a major proponent of the one-state “solution”— indicates an unsophisticated view of American politics, in which success requires whispering sweet Zionist nothings to satisfy the almighty, one-issue Jewish electorate. Obama’s foreign policy advisers have similarly promoted this inflated vision of Jewish power. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak has assiduously noted, Obama adviser Samantha Power has declared that sound Middle East policy might require “alienating a domestic constituency”—guess which one. His staff further features Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest.

This mixture of prior statements and advisory influences suggests little regarding how Obama might act towards Israel if elected. Obama has repudiated Brzezinski’s call for dialogue with Hamas, while Power’s support for ending U.S. foreign military aid to Israel probably represents too radical a departure from historic U.S. policy to be taken seriously.

Rather, Jewish concerns regarding Obama’s candidacy should focus on whether Obama and his posse view American Jewry as a stumbling block in the way of promoting U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is the insidious crux of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, and Obama’s prior statements to Abunimah—as well as the writings of Power and Brzezinski—are hardly reassuring.

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More Fascinating Details from Lieberman

In the stunning speech he delivered today, which I wrote about just below, Sen. Joseph Lieberman sheds some horrifying light on one of the issues that made last week’s Democratic presidential debate so contentious — the amendment he co-sponsored in the Senate declaring the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization for the purpose of imposing economic sanctions on the group. For her vote in the affirmative, Hillary Clinton came under withering assault from her rivals for supposedly giving President Bush a green light to attack Iran militarily.

Lieberman:

The reason for [the] amendment was clear. In September, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress about the proxy war that Iran—and in particular, the IRGC and its Quds Force subsidiary—has been waging against our troops in Iraq. Specifically, General Petraeus told us that the IRGC Quds Force has been training, funding, equipping, arming, and in some cases directing Shiite extremists who are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers.

This charge had been corroborated by other sources….It was also consistent with nearly three decades of experience with the IRGC, which has been implicated in a range of terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies—long before the invasion of Iraq.

In light of this evidence, Senator [Jon] Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a no brainer. Rather than punishing Iranians indiscriminately, it would apply a set of targeted economic sanctions against the part of the Iranian regime that was responsible for the murder of our troops in Iraq….

[Indeed,] a bipartisan group of 68 senators, including several of the Democratic presidential candidates, had already signed onto a piece of legislation introduced earlier in the year that asked for the IRGC’s designation along exactly the same lines as our amendment….

I was wrong….

First, several left-wing blogs seized upon the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, offering wild conspiracy theories about how it could be used to authorize the use of military force against Iran.

These were absurd arguments. The text of our amendment contained nothing—nothing—that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran. To claim that it did was an act of delusion or deception. On the contrary, by calling for tougher sanctions on Iran, the intention of our amendment was to offer an alternative to war.

Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories started to spread. Although the Senate passed our amendment, 76-22, several Democrats, including some of the Democratic presidential candidates, soon began attacking it….

I asked some of my Senate colleagues who voted against our amendment: “Do you believe the evidence the military has given us about the IRGC sponsoring these attacks on our troops?” Yes, they invariably said.

“Don’t you support tougher economic sanctions against Iran?” I asked. Again, yes—no question.

So what’s the problem, I asked.

“It’s simple,” they said. “We don’t trust Bush. He’ll use this resolution as an excuse for war against Iran.”

I understand that President Bush is a divisive figure….But there is something profoundly wrong—something that should trouble all of us—when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops. 

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base—even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

Remarkable. The full text of the speech, again, is here.

In the stunning speech he delivered today, which I wrote about just below, Sen. Joseph Lieberman sheds some horrifying light on one of the issues that made last week’s Democratic presidential debate so contentious — the amendment he co-sponsored in the Senate declaring the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization for the purpose of imposing economic sanctions on the group. For her vote in the affirmative, Hillary Clinton came under withering assault from her rivals for supposedly giving President Bush a green light to attack Iran militarily.

Lieberman:

The reason for [the] amendment was clear. In September, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified before Congress about the proxy war that Iran—and in particular, the IRGC and its Quds Force subsidiary—has been waging against our troops in Iraq. Specifically, General Petraeus told us that the IRGC Quds Force has been training, funding, equipping, arming, and in some cases directing Shiite extremists who are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers.

This charge had been corroborated by other sources….It was also consistent with nearly three decades of experience with the IRGC, which has been implicated in a range of terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies—long before the invasion of Iraq.

In light of this evidence, Senator [Jon] Kyl and I thought that calling for the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was a no brainer. Rather than punishing Iranians indiscriminately, it would apply a set of targeted economic sanctions against the part of the Iranian regime that was responsible for the murder of our troops in Iraq….

[Indeed,] a bipartisan group of 68 senators, including several of the Democratic presidential candidates, had already signed onto a piece of legislation introduced earlier in the year that asked for the IRGC’s designation along exactly the same lines as our amendment….

I was wrong….

First, several left-wing blogs seized upon the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, offering wild conspiracy theories about how it could be used to authorize the use of military force against Iran.

These were absurd arguments. The text of our amendment contained nothing—nothing—that could be construed as a green light for an attack on Iran. To claim that it did was an act of delusion or deception. On the contrary, by calling for tougher sanctions on Iran, the intention of our amendment was to offer an alternative to war.

Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories started to spread. Although the Senate passed our amendment, 76-22, several Democrats, including some of the Democratic presidential candidates, soon began attacking it….

I asked some of my Senate colleagues who voted against our amendment: “Do you believe the evidence the military has given us about the IRGC sponsoring these attacks on our troops?” Yes, they invariably said.

“Don’t you support tougher economic sanctions against Iran?” I asked. Again, yes—no question.

So what’s the problem, I asked.

“It’s simple,” they said. “We don’t trust Bush. He’ll use this resolution as an excuse for war against Iran.”

I understand that President Bush is a divisive figure….But there is something profoundly wrong—something that should trouble all of us—when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops. 

There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base—even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

Remarkable. The full text of the speech, again, is here.

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An Unprecendented Speech by Joseph Lieberman

A lengthy excerpt of a fiery and unprecedented speech delivered today by Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Washington: 

Since retaking Congress in November 2006, the top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq, to abandon the democratically-elected government there, and to hand a defeat to President Bush….

 

Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there.

Part of the explanation for this, I think, comes back to ideology. For all of our efforts in the 1990s to rehabilitate a strong Democratic foreign policy tradition, anti-war sentiment remains the dominant galvanizing force among a significant segment of the Democratic base.

But another reason for the Democratic flip-flop on foreign policy over the past few years is less substantive. For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn’t pacifism or isolationism—it is distrust and disdain of Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular.

In this regard, the Democratic foreign policy worldview has become defined by the same reflexive, blind opposition to the President that defined Republicans in the 1990s – even when it means repudiating the very principles and policies that Democrats as a party have stood for, at our best and strongest….

Lieberman remains a Democrat in spite of the fact that he lost his state’s Democratic primary last year and won instead as an independent.

I cannot think of a speech delivered by a major figure in a political party (Lieberman was, after all, the Democratic nominee for vice president only seven years ago) as stinging about the status of his own party as this speech is. Ever. Perhaps commenters can come up with something comparable (but remember, I’m not talking about back-benchers or gadflies, but rather figures of central importance to their party).

A lengthy excerpt of a fiery and unprecedented speech delivered today by Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Washington: 

Since retaking Congress in November 2006, the top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq, to abandon the democratically-elected government there, and to hand a defeat to President Bush….

 

Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there.

Part of the explanation for this, I think, comes back to ideology. For all of our efforts in the 1990s to rehabilitate a strong Democratic foreign policy tradition, anti-war sentiment remains the dominant galvanizing force among a significant segment of the Democratic base.

But another reason for the Democratic flip-flop on foreign policy over the past few years is less substantive. For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn’t pacifism or isolationism—it is distrust and disdain of Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular.

In this regard, the Democratic foreign policy worldview has become defined by the same reflexive, blind opposition to the President that defined Republicans in the 1990s – even when it means repudiating the very principles and policies that Democrats as a party have stood for, at our best and strongest….

Lieberman remains a Democrat in spite of the fact that he lost his state’s Democratic primary last year and won instead as an independent.

I cannot think of a speech delivered by a major figure in a political party (Lieberman was, after all, the Democratic nominee for vice president only seven years ago) as stinging about the status of his own party as this speech is. Ever. Perhaps commenters can come up with something comparable (but remember, I’m not talking about back-benchers or gadflies, but rather figures of central importance to their party).

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Lieberman’s Vision

It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

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It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

The consensus view in the capital seems to be that while Iran makes war by proxy on the U.S., we are supposed to make nice with Iran. That was the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. But Iran continues to flaunt the can’t-we-all-get-along approach through shipping potent mines and rockets to anti-American fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, refusing to end its nuclear-weapons program, and its recent seizure of innocent Iranian-Americans as purported spies, among other offenses. The Bush administration reacts largely with rhetorical bluster, backed up by some sanctions and the movement of aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.

Lieberman quite rightly points out that our pressure has been insufficient to make Iran change its behavior and that stronger medicine may be in order. On CBS’s Face the Nation this past Sunday, he declared:

I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into—over the border into Iran where I—we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers. . . . They can’t believe that they have immunity for training and equipping people to come in and kill Americans. It’s just—we cannot let them get away with it. If we do, they’ll take that as a sign of weakness on our part, and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region, and ultimately right here at home.

This has earned Lieberman yet more rebukes, such as this bombastic article in the New York Observer, entitled “Lieberman’s Iranian War Fantasy.” In prose that almost parodies State Department thinking, the author, Niall Stanage, concludes: “Dialogue and diplomacy do not make for especially magnetic rallying calls. But they are a much more sensible idea than the dangerous chimera of a short sharp shock to Iran proposed by Mr. Lieberman.”

Stanage is right that the idea of using force against Iran—given its potentially serious repercussions—needs more careful study. But it is his own call for “dialogue and diplomacy” with mullahs who plainly reject both that is the “fantasy” here. Lieberman is willing to face up to the unpleasant reality of the Middle East today, while most of Washington prefers to look the other way as Iran makes war on us.

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