Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lieberman

No Deal, Mr. President (Updated)

Whatever is going on with House Republicans, Senate Republicans seem to be holding firm on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. In the Washington Post, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was emphatic:

McConnell said Democrats have zero chance of passing Obama’s plan in the Senate. He said not a single Republican would support it, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster. “That’s a debate we’re happy to have. That’s the kind of debate that unifies my caucus, from Olympia Snowe to Jim DeMint,” McConnell said, citing the most liberal and most conservative Republicans in the Senate.

That plan, of course, is a combination of new spending and selective tax cuts while allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. It is not often that Snowe and DeMint are in lockstep, but the prospect of tax hikes in a recession has that effect. Moreover, a growing number of Democrats now support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Half a dozen Democratic senators and Senate candidates have voiced support for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich. In the House, more and more incumbents have also taken that position. Among them is Rep. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents a traditionally Republican seat in the Detroit suburbs. Peters told the Detroit Free Press last week that extending the cuts “is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery.”

Given all that, it is no surprise that Minority Whip Eric Cantor has put out a statement that makes clear he’s not about to allow a tax hike on “small business people and investors. Raising taxes in this environment is a non-starter for me and millions of American small business people who are struggling to keep the lights on and meet their payroll obligations.” Cantor is calling for “Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to allow all members of the House — Republican and Democrat — to vote on legislation that would prevent tax increases for every American.” That sounds like the emerging consensus for the GOP, as well as for moderate Democrats who want to hold on to their seats.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman has also joined the “No Deal” bipartisan coalition. He has released a statement that reads, in part: ” I don’t think it makes sense to raise any federal taxes during the uncertain economy we are struggling through. The more money we leave in private hands, the quicker our economic recovery will be. And that means I will do everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year and takes action to prevent the estate tax from rising back to where it was.”

Whatever is going on with House Republicans, Senate Republicans seem to be holding firm on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. In the Washington Post, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was emphatic:

McConnell said Democrats have zero chance of passing Obama’s plan in the Senate. He said not a single Republican would support it, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster. “That’s a debate we’re happy to have. That’s the kind of debate that unifies my caucus, from Olympia Snowe to Jim DeMint,” McConnell said, citing the most liberal and most conservative Republicans in the Senate.

That plan, of course, is a combination of new spending and selective tax cuts while allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. It is not often that Snowe and DeMint are in lockstep, but the prospect of tax hikes in a recession has that effect. Moreover, a growing number of Democrats now support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Half a dozen Democratic senators and Senate candidates have voiced support for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich. In the House, more and more incumbents have also taken that position. Among them is Rep. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents a traditionally Republican seat in the Detroit suburbs. Peters told the Detroit Free Press last week that extending the cuts “is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery.”

Given all that, it is no surprise that Minority Whip Eric Cantor has put out a statement that makes clear he’s not about to allow a tax hike on “small business people and investors. Raising taxes in this environment is a non-starter for me and millions of American small business people who are struggling to keep the lights on and meet their payroll obligations.” Cantor is calling for “Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to allow all members of the House — Republican and Democrat — to vote on legislation that would prevent tax increases for every American.” That sounds like the emerging consensus for the GOP, as well as for moderate Democrats who want to hold on to their seats.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman has also joined the “No Deal” bipartisan coalition. He has released a statement that reads, in part: ” I don’t think it makes sense to raise any federal taxes during the uncertain economy we are struggling through. The more money we leave in private hands, the quicker our economic recovery will be. And that means I will do everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year and takes action to prevent the estate tax from rising back to where it was.”

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Chuck Schumer Breaks with Obama on Israel

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

Wow. Yes, Chuck Schumer – who’s angling for Senate majority leader if/when Harry Reid loses in November — has had enough with the president’s Israel-bashing. First on sanctions:

We in the Congress, Senator Lieberman and myself, Senator Bayh, are working up our sanctions bill, which even if the UN sanctions are weak, we could have unilateral sanctions by the United States, for instance, if you cut of gasoline. Iranians do not produce their own gasoline, and by the way the Iranian people are ready to rebel and overthrow this regime, and if we would squeeze them economically that could happen.

But then he goes on a tear when asked why Obama is alienating Israel and American Jews:

[T]his is the question I talked to Rahm Emanuel about, and the President about this week. I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk. Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel, they, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there.

If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands, the Palestinians say, “Why should we negotiate?” So that’s bad and that should change and we are working on changing it. But the other two are very good, according to both the Israeli government and the Israeli military and the U.S. government. But we should make that known, why don’t they? I asked them to do just that, I said we should make it public because it will, at least, give people who are supportive of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, a little bit of solace.

Schumer then suggested that the Syrian engagement gambit had “stopped” (he should check with Hillary on that one) and that we had to apply pressure to Syria. But then he was back to the Palestinian issue:

Let me just finish this dialogue about Israel for a minute. All we have to do is leave things alone, and you might get the Palestinians more willing to sit down and actually discuss peace, because they would see the contrast. When Biden was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements which is in Israeli Jerusalem 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with, but they probably shouldn’t have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized, and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration, everything was fine.

But then what happened is the next day Hillary Clinton called up Netanyahu and talked very tough to him, and worse they made it pubic through this spokesperson, a guy named Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans—Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew–would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, “If you don’t retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.” Of course they did retract it.

Now what’s happened, and many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step.

That’s simply remarkable, albeit long overdue. It tells me several things. First, Schumer, who is nothing if not politically astute when it comes to New York politics, senses that there is no upside to sticking with the president on this. One wonders how many constituents he’s heard from and who is threatening to cut off the money flow to Democrats.

Second, one suspects that Schumer has gotten nowhere in private and is now forced to unload in public. It seems that while Schumer cares what American Jews think, Obama is unmoved by quiet persuasion.

Third, Schumer and other pro-Israel Democrats now have a dilemma: what do they do when the president refuses to sign on to petroleum sanctions? What do they do when the next round of bullying starts up again? They’ve been painfully mute until now, which has no doubt encouraged the White House. If Schumer is as outraged as he sounded on the radio, this will end.

We can hope this is an important step forward and will be followed by other Democratic lawmakers. Who knows, in a week or so some major Jewish organization might actually pipe up with an equally bracing evaluation of the Obami’s onslaught on the Jewish state.

One aside: Schumer also had this to say about the origin of his name: “It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian. My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov, and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate to be a shomer, to be a shomer for Israel.” Suffice it to say that if Sarah Palin ever said that God had given a name to her with a mission in mind, the chattering class would go bonkers. But of course, it is perfectly acceptable for liberals to get messages from God without cries of indignation echoing throughout the media. That said, if Schumer takes his name to heart, albeit belatedly, and shows some leadership in gathering other Democrats to his position (that’s what Senate leaders do, after all), there will be reason to celebrate.

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Sen. Graham’s Bargain

Following up on Jennifer Rubin’s post regarding the legislation that Sens. McCain and Lieberman have introduced to deal with detained terrorists, I note also this report that Senator Lindsey Graham — a close friend of Lieberman and McCain — has offered a grand bargain to the Obama administration:

In exchange for some Republican support for closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Graham is pushing the administration to prosecute those accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before a military commission, rather than in civilian court as the Justice Department intended.

Beyond that one case, though, Mr. Graham and others familiar with his proposals said he was seeking Mr. Obama’s support for comprehensive legislation setting detailed guidelines for handling all detainees. Such legislation would allow investigators to delay reading suspects their Miranda rights, send most top-level Qaeda figures to military rather than civilian courts and explicitly authorize the government to imprison some terrorism suspects without trials — not just Guantánamo inmates, but detainees who may be captured years in the future.

Graham’s grand bargain seems like a good one to me. He recognizes that the key issue is not the future of Gitmo — one holding facility — but the overall method by which detainees will be processed, held, and if necessary, tried. We need binding rules, and the best way to achieve them is through bipartisan consensus — assuming the Supreme Court would go along. If I had my druthers, I would suggest the deal include special National Security Courts within the federal judicial system, rather than military commissions, to try detainees, but that’s a small matter compared to the importance of denying high-level terrorist suspects the normal protections of the criminal-justice system.

Following up on Jennifer Rubin’s post regarding the legislation that Sens. McCain and Lieberman have introduced to deal with detained terrorists, I note also this report that Senator Lindsey Graham — a close friend of Lieberman and McCain — has offered a grand bargain to the Obama administration:

In exchange for some Republican support for closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Graham is pushing the administration to prosecute those accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before a military commission, rather than in civilian court as the Justice Department intended.

Beyond that one case, though, Mr. Graham and others familiar with his proposals said he was seeking Mr. Obama’s support for comprehensive legislation setting detailed guidelines for handling all detainees. Such legislation would allow investigators to delay reading suspects their Miranda rights, send most top-level Qaeda figures to military rather than civilian courts and explicitly authorize the government to imprison some terrorism suspects without trials — not just Guantánamo inmates, but detainees who may be captured years in the future.

Graham’s grand bargain seems like a good one to me. He recognizes that the key issue is not the future of Gitmo — one holding facility — but the overall method by which detainees will be processed, held, and if necessary, tried. We need binding rules, and the best way to achieve them is through bipartisan consensus — assuming the Supreme Court would go along. If I had my druthers, I would suggest the deal include special National Security Courts within the federal judicial system, rather than military commissions, to try detainees, but that’s a small matter compared to the importance of denying high-level terrorist suspects the normal protections of the criminal-justice system.

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Making Iran Pay

An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

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An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

Of course, there is no way for the 1983 victims of the Marine barracks bombing to collect the money they have been awarded. Iran’s assets in the United States amount to no more than $20 million, almost all of it diplomatic property that the American government cannot touch. So this ruling, and the subsequent judgment, are both symbolic.

Typical of this symbolism was a portion of Judge Lamberth’s written decision, in which he stated that “this extremely sizeable judgment will serve to aid in the healing process and simultaneously sound the alarm to the defendants that their unlawful attacks on our citizens will not be tolerated.” His first contention—that the awarding of many millions of dollars (which they will never see) will “aid in the healing process”—is one that only the victims of this tragedy can judge. The second—that a force-less American court ruling (not the first of its kind) will somehow dissuade Iran from continuing its support for global terror—is even more dubious.

Iran’s involvement in attacks against American soldiers persists, at least according to General David Petraeus. At a news conference Wednesday after his congressional testimony, the General said, “The evidence is very, very clear. We captured it when we captured Qais Khazali, the Lebanese Hizballah deputy commander and others. And it’s in black and white.”

But according to many on the Left, Petraues is somehow a traitor for reporting such evidence. Others who make mere mention of the Iranian proxy war (most prominently, Senator Lieberman) are called “warmongers,” in the words of net-left favorite Matthew Yglesias. Through such effusions, these critics betray a belief that the Islamic Republic will stop killing our soldiers if we just abandon Iraq. But as last week’s court ruling reminds us, Iran has been killing Americans for decades—long before the 2003 invasion. There’s no reason to think the attacks on Americans suddenly will stop, and all kinds of reasons to think they will increase, should we capitulate.

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Moving away from MoveOn.org

Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.'”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

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Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.'”

Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.

The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.

But rather than following Senator Clinton’s lead, increasing segments of the Democratic congress—not just its activist base—are instead taking the cheapest possible shots against one of the most lauded generals in the field. Prior to yesterday’s testimony, an unnamed Democratic Senator told a reporter, “No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV. . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.” And, save for Senators Biden and Lieberman, no prominent Democrats have renounced MoveOn’s disgusting advertisement.

The important question is: where does the Democratic Party—which was not always so enraged by the sight of a man in uniform—stand on this slander? At yesterday’s hearing, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began her remarks by stating, “I offer my colleagues the opportunity to use this hearing to distance themselves from the despicable ad that was published today calling into question the patriotism of General Petraeus.” From off-screen, someone shouted “Point of order! No one has to distance themselves from something they weren’t associated with.” The Associated Press reports that it was Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii.

Mr. Abercrombie in particular may not need to apologize, but the same cannot be said for his superiors. As a story in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine makes clear, MoveOn.org is closely tied to senior Democrats on the Hill, through a subsidiary group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (A.A.E.I), which was founded shortly after last November’s congressional election. A.A.E.I’s leader Tom Matzzie, according to the Times, “communicates on a near-daily basis” with the “offices of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.” A.A.E.I “coordinates extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Matzzie himself meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, ‘maybe once a month,’ he says, adding that he talks to their staffs ‘once a day, or at least a couple times a week.’ (Senior Democratic aides sometimes even join A.A.E.I’s conference calls.)”

Perhaps the reason why more Democrats have not spoken out against MoveOn.org’s slander against General Petraeus is that they are complicit in disseminating it.

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Prague, Part III

In addition to the very interesting speeches delivered by President Bush and Senator Lieberman at last week’s Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, there were some noteworthy moments during the panel discussions.

The most touching came during the remarks of Mithal Al-Alusi, a liberal secularist member of the Iraqi legislature. “We are fighting for you in Iraq,” he said, “because what we are fighting against is part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah axis.” Then he added that Iraqis were aware of and grateful for the losses of American sons and daughters in Iraq: “we have lost children, too.” What he was too dignified to mention was that he, himself, lost two grown sons to terrorists who were attempting to assassinate him after he had attended an anti-terrorism conference in Israel. He has somehow found the strength to continue the struggle to make his country peaceful and free.

The most welcome moment came during the remarks of Egyptian intellectual and leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been an advocate of dialogue with Islamists ever since his prolonged jailhouse exchanges with Muslim Brotherhood prisoners during his own long incarceration. Last summer, however, during the war in Lebanon, Ibrahim appeared to veer toward a closer embrace of Islamists, freely granting their democratic bona fides, a position I criticized in COMMENTARY.

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In addition to the very interesting speeches delivered by President Bush and Senator Lieberman at last week’s Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, there were some noteworthy moments during the panel discussions.

The most touching came during the remarks of Mithal Al-Alusi, a liberal secularist member of the Iraqi legislature. “We are fighting for you in Iraq,” he said, “because what we are fighting against is part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah axis.” Then he added that Iraqis were aware of and grateful for the losses of American sons and daughters in Iraq: “we have lost children, too.” What he was too dignified to mention was that he, himself, lost two grown sons to terrorists who were attempting to assassinate him after he had attended an anti-terrorism conference in Israel. He has somehow found the strength to continue the struggle to make his country peaceful and free.

The most welcome moment came during the remarks of Egyptian intellectual and leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been an advocate of dialogue with Islamists ever since his prolonged jailhouse exchanges with Muslim Brotherhood prisoners during his own long incarceration. Last summer, however, during the war in Lebanon, Ibrahim appeared to veer toward a closer embrace of Islamists, freely granting their democratic bona fides, a position I criticized in COMMENTARY.

In Prague, happily, the old Ibrahim seemed to be back. In addition to fighting the regime, he said, “we are also fighting against the darkness of the theocrats.” He added that because Arab democrats have to fight “both of these enemies,” they were up against a problem that “dissidents in other regions don’t face.”

Despite this problem, Ibrahim was hopeful. In Egypt’s most recent People’s Assembly election, the “autocrats” (i.e., the ruling National Democratic Party) won 19 percent of the vote; the “theocrats” (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood) won 4 percent; while 77 percent of the electorate did not vote. This “silent majority,” he argued, cared for neither the autocrats nor theocrats. In America we know that the non-voters usually differ little in their preferences from those who make it to the polls. But in Egypt, who knows?

Finally, I continued a long-running debate with Martin Kramer, of the Washington Institute, about democracy and the Arabs. (I am a democratic universalist, while Kramer takes a view more common among Israelis, who fear that free voting among Arabs will only stoke radicalism.) In Prague, Kramer coined a useful term—“consensual authoritarianism.” He was alluding, I inferred, to Egypt and the various monarchies of Jordan, Morocco, and the rest of the Persian Gulf, all of them stable and moderate, and almost none of them viciously tyrannical. My response was that to encourage the overthrow of these regimes would indeed be counterproductive. Rather, we should press them to democratize at a measured pace.

But in the region’s trouble spots, the very places where democratization efforts have come in for most criticism, there is and was no “consensual authoritarian” option. Could we have installed a dictator in Iraq instead of trying to build democracy? Perhaps, but every one of the problems dogging us there today would be worse. In Lebanon or Afghanistan, would the installation of dictators have caused less or more resistance than the current governments are facing? The answer is obvious. And what about the Palestinian territories? There, we did in fact help install a “consensual authoritarian.” His name was Yassir Arafat. And he is more responsible than any other person for the sorry state in which America, Israel, and the Palestinians now find themselves.

Just as I conceded part of Kramer’s point, he, I believe, conceded part of mine. No doubt, our debate will continue.

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Read Less

Broadening the Definition

According to a story in the January 16th New York Times, “Democratic congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center.” This newfound centrism focuses on social issues. Democrats are alarmed by 2004 exit surveys that showed that religious voters favored Bush by an overwhelming margin. Part of the response has been the creation of a “faith working group,” led by Representative James Clyburn, the new House majority whip. This group, according to the story, aims to “broaden . . . the definition of values-related issues . . . to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance, and shoring up Social Security.” “That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” says Clyburn.

This is the social-issues version of Michael Dukakis’s memorable ride atop a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign. He was trying to show voters that he was strong on defense, but the photo op backfired because many voters understood that if the Democrats, inveterate critics of defense spending, had had their way, there would have been no tank.

Back then, aside from riding on tanks, the Democrats tried to persuade voters that they were not weak on national security by seeking to “broaden the definition” of national security to include these very same social insurance policies that today they are claiming are “values” issues.

Whatever the merits of the minimum wage, Medicare, and social security, they are of little avail against foreign enemies or terrorists. And whatever they may do for your body, they do little for your soul. They make poor substitutes for ethics, self-discipline, and other traditional virtues that churchgoing voters presumably prize.

The Democrats’ problem for the past thirty-odd years has been that they are much more liberal than the electorate. Senator Lieberman was their one leader who was conspicuously devout. He also happened to be deeply serious about national security, so they hastened to chuck him out. In thinking they can solve their problem through semantic games, the Democrats are showing their contempt for the voters. Notwithstanding the anomalous results in 2006, the voters will continue to return the compliment.

According to a story in the January 16th New York Times, “Democratic congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center.” This newfound centrism focuses on social issues. Democrats are alarmed by 2004 exit surveys that showed that religious voters favored Bush by an overwhelming margin. Part of the response has been the creation of a “faith working group,” led by Representative James Clyburn, the new House majority whip. This group, according to the story, aims to “broaden . . . the definition of values-related issues . . . to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance, and shoring up Social Security.” “That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” says Clyburn.

This is the social-issues version of Michael Dukakis’s memorable ride atop a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign. He was trying to show voters that he was strong on defense, but the photo op backfired because many voters understood that if the Democrats, inveterate critics of defense spending, had had their way, there would have been no tank.

Back then, aside from riding on tanks, the Democrats tried to persuade voters that they were not weak on national security by seeking to “broaden the definition” of national security to include these very same social insurance policies that today they are claiming are “values” issues.

Whatever the merits of the minimum wage, Medicare, and social security, they are of little avail against foreign enemies or terrorists. And whatever they may do for your body, they do little for your soul. They make poor substitutes for ethics, self-discipline, and other traditional virtues that churchgoing voters presumably prize.

The Democrats’ problem for the past thirty-odd years has been that they are much more liberal than the electorate. Senator Lieberman was their one leader who was conspicuously devout. He also happened to be deeply serious about national security, so they hastened to chuck him out. In thinking they can solve their problem through semantic games, the Democrats are showing their contempt for the voters. Notwithstanding the anomalous results in 2006, the voters will continue to return the compliment.

Read Less




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