Commentary Magazine


Topic: Leon Panetta

Obama Leads From Behind Israel on Iran

Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

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Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Ignatius goes on to say Obama and Panetta have told the Israelis not to strike, because they think it will “derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold.”

Anyone wondering why the Israelis seem to be moving closer to deciding to attack on their own need only read that statement. The Israelis — and the Iranians — know the current sanctions program is nowhere close to stopping Iran. That is because Obama has not only hesitated to put the stringent sanctions recently passed by Congress (over his objections) into effect but also has never forced the Treasury Department to enforce the existing far weaker measures aimed at Iran.

Though Israel knows it cannot do the job of setting back Iran’s nuclear program as well as the United States can, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak may have arrived at the same conclusion their Iranian enemies have come to in the last three years: Barack Obama is too weak and indecisive to be taken seriously when he threatens Iran. That means the only alternative to sitting back and waiting patiently as the Iranians run out the diplomatic clock on a feckless Washington-led effort to restrain them, is for Israel to strike.

Clearly, the administration’s preference is for the Israelis to be sufficiently cowed by U.S. pressure into standing down. Obama and Panetta would like Netanyahu to believe the U.S. would cut off the Israelis the way the Eisenhower administration did in 1956 when it abandoned Israel during the Sinai Campaign. But, as Ignatius points out, an open breach with Israel during an election year would be political suicide for Obama.

So rather than take responsibility for dealing with a problem that threatens the peace of the world, once again the Obama administration is trying to lead from behind. Except this time it isn’t hiding behind France as it did in Libya but behind tiny Israel, who will face the risks of Iranian counter-attacks alone and under the threat of being cut off by its own ally. It is unlikely Israel can be convinced to back off by vague American promises of more negotiations or stepped up covert attacks. Neither plan offers much hope of success. That is why the Israelis may be on the verge of deciding to strike on their own.

Under these circumstances, Ignatius is right that Israel’s leaders probably feel they are better off on their own in this enterprise rather than being shackled by Obama. But with Iran once again vowing to destroy Israel, Netanyahu and Barak realize allowing Ayatollah Khamenei to have his finger on a nuclear trigger simply cannot be tolerated.

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Obama Should Make More Tough Decisions

Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

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Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

This does little to increase faith in the judgment of a vice president who, based on his track record, does not inspire much faith anyway–he was, after all, the senator who was for the war in Iraq but against the surge and called instead for breaking that country into three. But it reiterates that Obama is able to make tough decisions–sometimes. The president deserves, and will take, all the credit in the world for such gutsy calls as the bin Laden raid or the more recent SEAL mission in Somalia to rescue two hostages. I only wish he were wiling to make equally tough decisions by finding a way to keep troops in Iraq or avoid a premature drawdown in Afghanistan–or for that matter tackle the runaway entitlement spending which is bankrupting us.

 

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Panetta’s Shameful Paean to Turkey

I was still onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Turkey. According to the Armed Forces Network, Panetta was full of praise for Turkey and its role in the region.

Unfortunately, the more the Obama administration puffs up Turkey, the more Turkish officials see a green light to encourage radicalism and bash Israel. On the same day as Panetta’s visit, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu bragged, “It is our policies which made Israel kneel down in the region in front of us. We have always sided with people who demand democracy, not with authoritarian and oppressive regimes.”

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I was still onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Turkey. According to the Armed Forces Network, Panetta was full of praise for Turkey and its role in the region.

Unfortunately, the more the Obama administration puffs up Turkey, the more Turkish officials see a green light to encourage radicalism and bash Israel. On the same day as Panetta’s visit, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu bragged, “It is our policies which made Israel kneel down in the region in front of us. We have always sided with people who demand democracy, not with authoritarian and oppressive regimes.”

In Turkey, up is down and right is wrong. Turkey may be a model, but rather than be one for democracy, its anti-Israel and anti-Semitic leadership is instead transforming it into a model for incitement and Israel-bashing which makes that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia look mild.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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What About the Other CIA Witchhunt?

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

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Talks with the Taliban?

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

CONTENTIONS’ Max Boot takes Obama to task on his deadline for troop withdrawal: “The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything, it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out.” Unfortunately, Obama’s Oval office speech reiterated the deadline.

Byron York takes exception to making 9/11 into a community-service day: “Turning it into another AmeriCorps project drains away its meaning, which remains as important today as it was on September 11, 2001 itself.” Well, that’s the objective of the president and those pushing community service.

Democrats don’t take Obama seriously any more. His tax-credit stimulus plan is a bust with his own party. “Even as Mr. Obama sought to unite his party around his political message and his policy agenda, there was evidence that endangered Democrats would go their own ways.” The list of Democratic opponents is sure to grow.

Will the Dems take a position? “Democrats are increasingly likely to punt the huge tax vote until a lame-duck session after the November elections. President Barack Obama is sending mixed messages about his demands, calling for a rollback of the top income tax cuts while stopping short of threatening to veto a compromise bill that would temporarily extend all tax cuts.” And to make sure they don’t have to take a vote, they are fleeing D.C. a week early.

The Washington Post editors take a look at Obama’s Iran policy and find that “the ultimate goal of Mr. Obama’s policy is not limiting Iran’s prosperity but stopping its enrichment of uranium and forcing its compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By this measure, the administration has yet to produce tangible results.”

You didn’t take Obama at his word when he said that he would keep down health-care premiums, did you? Good: “Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections. Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.”

The Cook Report takes a look at ten more Democratic House seats. All are moving the GOP’s way.

It would be nice to have an administration which takes our enemies’ ideological motivations seriously. Leon Panetta pronounces, “The enemy is defined not by any religion, but by their actions — their atrocities. They represent no culture, but rather contempt for all cultures.” This is daft and dangerous, but not unexpected for an administration that excises “Islamic fundamentalism” from its vocabulary

Obama isn’t likely to take Doug Schoen’s advice to heart: “President Obama’s increasingly harsh campaign to revive the sagging fortunes of the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to fail. Instead of attempting to further divide an already polarized America with attacks against the Republicans for both creating the economic problems we now face and failing to propose constructive solutions to them, the president should do what Bill Clinton did in 1995 when he succeeded in winning support from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress for a balanced budget.”

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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Bibi Is More Than Holding His Own

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

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What Is Israel to Do?

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality — nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration — is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life — but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality — nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration — is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life — but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

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Panetta Stalls for Time on Iran

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

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When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

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Talking with Tehran

Suddenly, the Bush administration is prepared to sit around a table with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq. “Better late than never,” crowed Leon Panetta, one of the Democrats who served on the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. So, were Baker and Hamilton right when they proposed talks with Syria and Iran as a way out of our Iraq imbroglio?

The answer is no. The question is not whether to talk to Iran or Syria, but in what context. What else are we doing while talking? The ISG proposed to couple such talks with beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. This would make us the petitioner, looking to Tehran and Damascus to cover our back while we flee.

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Suddenly, the Bush administration is prepared to sit around a table with Iran and Syria to discuss Iraq. “Better late than never,” crowed Leon Panetta, one of the Democrats who served on the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. So, were Baker and Hamilton right when they proposed talks with Syria and Iran as a way out of our Iraq imbroglio?

The answer is no. The question is not whether to talk to Iran or Syria, but in what context. What else are we doing while talking? The ISG proposed to couple such talks with beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. This would make us the petitioner, looking to Tehran and Damascus to cover our back while we flee.

Given that Iran’s official slogan is “death to America,” and its president speaks of his dream of a “world without America,” why do sophisticated men like Baker and Hamilton need to be told the obvious: Iran does not want to help us. They might reply that they do not expect beneficence but rather a diplomatic deal. What, then, would Iran and Syria want in exchange for their help? The price is obvious: acquiescence in the former’s quest for nuclear weapons and the latter’s renewed domination of Lebanon. Is this a price we can afford?

In contrast to the ISG proposal, the Bush administration is, as the Democrats say, “escalating” the U.S. presence in Iraq (albeit not as much as I would like) in pursuit of victory. Along with that, why not talk to whomever?

The position of refusing to talk to some other party is always awkward and hard to defend. Regarding Iran’s nuclear drive, we have said that we will talk to Tehran if it freezes its enrichment activities lest we get drawn into a long, fruitless negotiation that serves only as a cover for the completion of Iran’s bomb. Sensible though this is, we still are chided, most recently by IAEA chief Mohamed el-Baradei, for refusing to talk.

Here is the solution. We should announce that we will talk to Tehran unconditionally, but not as a substitute for stopping Iran from getting the bomb. For its part, Iran can continue enrichment while we talk. For our part, we will continue to plan a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, and we will promise to carry it out soon—say, before the 2008 presidential primaries begin—absent some other solution. There is never harm in talking, as long as it doesn’t keep us from acting.

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