Commentary Magazine


Topic: Max Boot

Obama’s Moment of Choosing

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

Read Less

Expert Opinions

A number of far-left and far-right websites are featuring excerpts from that classic work of historical scholarship, Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak by Victory S. Navasky, former editor and publisher of the Nation, and Christopher Cerf, a musician who is most notable for his contributions to Sesame Street (I’m not making that up). This is a collection of quotes regarding the Iraq War that is supposed to make supporters of the war effort look stupid. Judging by the mention of me in the excerpt posted online, it’s the authors who look stupid. They write:

On November 6, 2003, President Bush observed: “We’ve reached another great turning point…” On June 16, 2004, President Bush claimed: “A turning point will come two weeks from today.”

That same day the Montreal Gazette headlined an editorial by neoconservative columnist Max Boot: “Despite the Negative Reaction by Much of the Media, U.S. Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point.”

I didn’t recall the article in question, because I have never written a word for the Montreal Gazette. I have, however, written a lot of articles for the Los Angeles Times and other publications that have been syndicated and thus appeared in other publications such as the Montreal Gazette. But it took about ten seconds of digging by my industrious research associate, Mike Scavelli, to discover that the article they refer to ran in the Gazette on December 9, 2004, not on June 16, 2004.

That’s quite a difference: the U.S. mounted two assaults on Fallujah in 2004: the first in April, the second in November. The first assault failed, although U.S. government spokesmen initially tried to spin it as a success. I wasn’t buying it. I wrote about the earlier battle in a May 6, 2004, column entitled, “The U.S. Loses by Quitting in Fallouja.”

The second battle was more successful and my column reflected that. But notwithstanding the headline put on it by the Gazette editors (which contrasted with the more accurate L.A. Times headline: “What We Won in Fallouja”), I didn’t exactly call the second battle of Fallujah a turning point. What I actually wrote (quoting from my original L.A. Times column which was slightly altered in the Gazette) was this:

The news media . . . seem positively despondent over the battle of Fallujah.

It is right and proper . . . to mourn the death of 71 Americans and the wounding of hundreds more . . . But it is wrong to . . . [assume] as so much of the current commentary implicitly does, that war solves nothing and that all casualties are meaningless. In fact, many of the turning points of history have been battles, such as Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, which ended for two centuries, and counting, the threat of French expansionism in Europe.

Obviously, the battle of Fallujah will not be as decisive as Waterloo; few battles are. But that shouldn’t blind us to the accomplishments of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which led the offensive along with U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers.

My article ended with a warning:

Thus, for all their success in Fallouja, we should not expect U.S. troops to completely pacify Iraq anytime soon. What they can do — what they are doing — is to keep the insurgents from derailing a political process that, one hopes, will soon result in the creation of a legitimate government that can field indigenous security forces and defend itself.

Cerf and Navasky don’t actually explain what it is that each of their quoted “experts” got wrong. They seem to expect it should be obvious. Maybe I’m not as smart as a “Sesame Street” lyricist, but I fail to grasp the error in what I wrote.

A number of far-left and far-right websites are featuring excerpts from that classic work of historical scholarship, Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak by Victory S. Navasky, former editor and publisher of the Nation, and Christopher Cerf, a musician who is most notable for his contributions to Sesame Street (I’m not making that up). This is a collection of quotes regarding the Iraq War that is supposed to make supporters of the war effort look stupid. Judging by the mention of me in the excerpt posted online, it’s the authors who look stupid. They write:

On November 6, 2003, President Bush observed: “We’ve reached another great turning point…” On June 16, 2004, President Bush claimed: “A turning point will come two weeks from today.”

That same day the Montreal Gazette headlined an editorial by neoconservative columnist Max Boot: “Despite the Negative Reaction by Much of the Media, U.S. Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point.”

I didn’t recall the article in question, because I have never written a word for the Montreal Gazette. I have, however, written a lot of articles for the Los Angeles Times and other publications that have been syndicated and thus appeared in other publications such as the Montreal Gazette. But it took about ten seconds of digging by my industrious research associate, Mike Scavelli, to discover that the article they refer to ran in the Gazette on December 9, 2004, not on June 16, 2004.

That’s quite a difference: the U.S. mounted two assaults on Fallujah in 2004: the first in April, the second in November. The first assault failed, although U.S. government spokesmen initially tried to spin it as a success. I wasn’t buying it. I wrote about the earlier battle in a May 6, 2004, column entitled, “The U.S. Loses by Quitting in Fallouja.”

The second battle was more successful and my column reflected that. But notwithstanding the headline put on it by the Gazette editors (which contrasted with the more accurate L.A. Times headline: “What We Won in Fallouja”), I didn’t exactly call the second battle of Fallujah a turning point. What I actually wrote (quoting from my original L.A. Times column which was slightly altered in the Gazette) was this:

The news media . . . seem positively despondent over the battle of Fallujah.

It is right and proper . . . to mourn the death of 71 Americans and the wounding of hundreds more . . . But it is wrong to . . . [assume] as so much of the current commentary implicitly does, that war solves nothing and that all casualties are meaningless. In fact, many of the turning points of history have been battles, such as Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, which ended for two centuries, and counting, the threat of French expansionism in Europe.

Obviously, the battle of Fallujah will not be as decisive as Waterloo; few battles are. But that shouldn’t blind us to the accomplishments of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which led the offensive along with U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers.

My article ended with a warning:

Thus, for all their success in Fallouja, we should not expect U.S. troops to completely pacify Iraq anytime soon. What they can do — what they are doing — is to keep the insurgents from derailing a political process that, one hopes, will soon result in the creation of a legitimate government that can field indigenous security forces and defend itself.

Cerf and Navasky don’t actually explain what it is that each of their quoted “experts” got wrong. They seem to expect it should be obvious. Maybe I’m not as smart as a “Sesame Street” lyricist, but I fail to grasp the error in what I wrote.

Read Less

Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980′s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990′s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

Read Less

Coming In at No. 1

Keith Olbermann, the bloviating sportscaster turned bloviating chat show host (or is that redundant?), paid me a signal honor by making me the No. 1 story last night on his list of the “headlines breaking in the administration’s 50 running scandals.” What did I do to deserve this honor? I’ll let Keith explain:

And number one: We got ya, coming and going-gate. Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, one of administration’s consulting dumb asses who got us into the quagmire of Iraq, and is now pushing hard for a twin disaster in Iran. In an online debate yesterday, he insisted that the surge has worked because, quoting, “civilian deaths were down more than 80 percent, U.S. deaths down more than 60 percent between December of 2006 and March of 2008.”

But it appears he wrote for Rupert Murdoch’s “Wall Street Journal” on Monday, in that, Max Boot claimed that in the huge jump in American fatalities last month, 54, the most lost since last August. It, quote, “could be a sign that tough combat is under way that will lead to the enemy’s defeat and the creation of a more peaceful environment in the future. Unfortunate as the latest deaths are, they are in all likelihood, a sign of things getting worse before they get better.”

And there it is in all its beautiful elliptical, symmetrical, asinine Bushian glory. If fewer Americans die in Iraq, that’s because the surge is working. If more Americans die in Iraq, that’s also because the surge is working. And if the surge is working the troops have to stay longer to solidify its gains, and if the surge isn’t working, the troops have to stay longer to make sure it starts working.

And the point of the war in Iraq is to make sure there is a war in Iraq.

Aside from some invective uniquely his own, Olbermann’s attack was lifted almost word for word from a posting on Think Progress, the website of the Center for American Progress, a left-wing attack machine masquerading as a think tank.

I realize that both Olbermann and the Think Progress bloggers are interested in scoring points regardless of the facts. But I’m still having trouble grasping the supposed contradiction between saying that things are getting better because the long-term trend has been a reduction in casualties, while admitting that things are temporarily worse because of a short-term spike in casualties.

In my piece I went on to point out that sometimes an increase in casualties precedes a military victory. That’s what happened last year, when Olbermann and the Center for American Progress were writing off the surge as a failure before it had begun. You would think they might have learned something from that experience. But I guess not. I could think of a two-word term to describe their mindset (the first word starts with a “d,” the second with an “a”) but, hey, I don’t want to stoop to their level.

Keith Olbermann, the bloviating sportscaster turned bloviating chat show host (or is that redundant?), paid me a signal honor by making me the No. 1 story last night on his list of the “headlines breaking in the administration’s 50 running scandals.” What did I do to deserve this honor? I’ll let Keith explain:

And number one: We got ya, coming and going-gate. Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, one of administration’s consulting dumb asses who got us into the quagmire of Iraq, and is now pushing hard for a twin disaster in Iran. In an online debate yesterday, he insisted that the surge has worked because, quoting, “civilian deaths were down more than 80 percent, U.S. deaths down more than 60 percent between December of 2006 and March of 2008.”

But it appears he wrote for Rupert Murdoch’s “Wall Street Journal” on Monday, in that, Max Boot claimed that in the huge jump in American fatalities last month, 54, the most lost since last August. It, quote, “could be a sign that tough combat is under way that will lead to the enemy’s defeat and the creation of a more peaceful environment in the future. Unfortunate as the latest deaths are, they are in all likelihood, a sign of things getting worse before they get better.”

And there it is in all its beautiful elliptical, symmetrical, asinine Bushian glory. If fewer Americans die in Iraq, that’s because the surge is working. If more Americans die in Iraq, that’s also because the surge is working. And if the surge is working the troops have to stay longer to solidify its gains, and if the surge isn’t working, the troops have to stay longer to make sure it starts working.

And the point of the war in Iraq is to make sure there is a war in Iraq.

Aside from some invective uniquely his own, Olbermann’s attack was lifted almost word for word from a posting on Think Progress, the website of the Center for American Progress, a left-wing attack machine masquerading as a think tank.

I realize that both Olbermann and the Think Progress bloggers are interested in scoring points regardless of the facts. But I’m still having trouble grasping the supposed contradiction between saying that things are getting better because the long-term trend has been a reduction in casualties, while admitting that things are temporarily worse because of a short-term spike in casualties.

In my piece I went on to point out that sometimes an increase in casualties precedes a military victory. That’s what happened last year, when Olbermann and the Center for American Progress were writing off the surge as a failure before it had begun. You would think they might have learned something from that experience. But I guess not. I could think of a two-word term to describe their mindset (the first word starts with a “d,” the second with an “a”) but, hey, I don’t want to stoop to their level.

Read Less

Good Neighbors

For some reason, people are saying that Hamas just agreed to make peace, and to live with Israel “just like the neighbor next door,” if the Jewish state withdraws from the West Bank. Jimmy Carter even went so far as to say that “there’s no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel’s right to live in peace within the 1967 borders.”

Well, maybe there’s a little doubt. Max Boot has pointed out that Hamas is doing almost nothing on the ground to give credence to these words, and that its charter makes it seem less than likely. But we don’t need to work that hard: this is Jimmy Carter speaking. Hamas, for their part, explicitly denied saying anything of the sort. Sami Abu-Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza strip, said that any Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank would be “transitional”–meaning it would be a good starting point until the rest of Israel is wiped out. And while Hamas may be willing to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, they have been very clear about not actually recognizing Israel at that point. Here is Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas, speaking right after his meeting with Carter:

We agree to a [Palestinian] state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements, but without recognizing Israel. We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition.

In other words: We will stop butchering Jewish civilians for ten years, on condition that Israel gives up the West Bank, divides Jerusalem, and sets up a state where we will most likely rule after the first election, and will be free to continue building our forces in advance of a future confrontation with the Zionist enemy, which we will never recognize as a state. How . . . neighborly.

For some reason, people are saying that Hamas just agreed to make peace, and to live with Israel “just like the neighbor next door,” if the Jewish state withdraws from the West Bank. Jimmy Carter even went so far as to say that “there’s no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel’s right to live in peace within the 1967 borders.”

Well, maybe there’s a little doubt. Max Boot has pointed out that Hamas is doing almost nothing on the ground to give credence to these words, and that its charter makes it seem less than likely. But we don’t need to work that hard: this is Jimmy Carter speaking. Hamas, for their part, explicitly denied saying anything of the sort. Sami Abu-Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in the Gaza strip, said that any Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank would be “transitional”–meaning it would be a good starting point until the rest of Israel is wiped out. And while Hamas may be willing to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, they have been very clear about not actually recognizing Israel at that point. Here is Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas, speaking right after his meeting with Carter:

We agree to a [Palestinian] state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements, but without recognizing Israel. We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition.

In other words: We will stop butchering Jewish civilians for ten years, on condition that Israel gives up the West Bank, divides Jerusalem, and sets up a state where we will most likely rule after the first election, and will be free to continue building our forces in advance of a future confrontation with the Zionist enemy, which we will never recognize as a state. How . . . neighborly.

Read Less

What’s Missing Here?

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

Read Less

Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

Read Less

Be Careful About Those Charges of Ignorance, O Ignorant One

Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic thinks he has caught out John McCain:

More ignorance from John McCain:

When McCain made a foreign policy gaffe in Jordan on Tuesday, it was Sen. Joe Lieberman who quietly pointed out the mistake, giving McCain an opportunity to correct himself in front of the international press corps. In Israel yesterday, NBC’s Lauren Appelbaum reports, Lieberman once again intervened when McCain made an incorrect reference about the Jewish holiday Purim — by calling the holiday “their version of Halloween here.”

Admittedly this falls more in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category than in the “holy s–t he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category where the Iran/al-Qaeda confusion belongs.

This is embarrassing, true — but far more for Matthew Yglesias and NBC’s Lauren Applebaum. In the first place, it was Joe Lieberman who told McCain, who would have no particular reason to know this, that Purim was the Israeli Halloween. The holiday of Purim is the version of Halloween in Israel in the sense that it is the day on which children dress up in costumes and parade through the streets and get treats. (That’s what hamantaschen, the triangular cookies whose photograph illustrates Yglesias’s own item, are — treats.)  It’s a perfectly valid explanation of the holiday as it is celebrated in secular terms, and not only in Israel; my three-year-old daughter, for example, is getting dolled up as Cinderella when she goes to celebrate Purim this evening at synagogue, and she made a tie-dye t-shirt at her Jewish day school  for the goings-on tomorrow.

For reasons having to do with religious Jewish political correctness, I expect, Joe Lieberman found it necessary to say that, of course, Purim is so much more, which it is; it is the commemoration of the salvation through wit and cleverness of the Jewish people from a genocidal threat emanating from Persia (which is to say, Iran). 

All in all, I think this falls in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category when it comes to Internet desk jockeys who evidently know relatively little about the customs of their own people. And as for the “holy s–t” stuff involving Iran and Al Qaeda, I think Mr. Yglesias should scroll through some posts here at Contentions down to Max Boot’s and learn something, maybe. Then go to shul this evening and get a glimpse of how there are actually children wearing…costumes.

Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic thinks he has caught out John McCain:

More ignorance from John McCain:

When McCain made a foreign policy gaffe in Jordan on Tuesday, it was Sen. Joe Lieberman who quietly pointed out the mistake, giving McCain an opportunity to correct himself in front of the international press corps. In Israel yesterday, NBC’s Lauren Appelbaum reports, Lieberman once again intervened when McCain made an incorrect reference about the Jewish holiday Purim — by calling the holiday “their version of Halloween here.”

Admittedly this falls more in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category than in the “holy s–t he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category where the Iran/al-Qaeda confusion belongs.

This is embarrassing, true — but far more for Matthew Yglesias and NBC’s Lauren Applebaum. In the first place, it was Joe Lieberman who told McCain, who would have no particular reason to know this, that Purim was the Israeli Halloween. The holiday of Purim is the version of Halloween in Israel in the sense that it is the day on which children dress up in costumes and parade through the streets and get treats. (That’s what hamantaschen, the triangular cookies whose photograph illustrates Yglesias’s own item, are — treats.)  It’s a perfectly valid explanation of the holiday as it is celebrated in secular terms, and not only in Israel; my three-year-old daughter, for example, is getting dolled up as Cinderella when she goes to celebrate Purim this evening at synagogue, and she made a tie-dye t-shirt at her Jewish day school  for the goings-on tomorrow.

For reasons having to do with religious Jewish political correctness, I expect, Joe Lieberman found it necessary to say that, of course, Purim is so much more, which it is; it is the commemoration of the salvation through wit and cleverness of the Jewish people from a genocidal threat emanating from Persia (which is to say, Iran). 

All in all, I think this falls in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category when it comes to Internet desk jockeys who evidently know relatively little about the customs of their own people. And as for the “holy s–t” stuff involving Iran and Al Qaeda, I think Mr. Yglesias should scroll through some posts here at Contentions down to Max Boot’s and learn something, maybe. Then go to shul this evening and get a glimpse of how there are actually children wearing…costumes.

Read Less

Who is Thomas P. M. Barnett?

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

Read Less

I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Read Less

Hillary Isn’t the Monster

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

Read Less

Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Read Less

The Scheuer Charade

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

Read Less

More on Mugniyeh

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

Just to follow up on Max Boot’s post about the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a major Hizballah figure. The Israeli news channels are talking about it as though it is clearly an Israeli operation, even though they are giving the formal nudge-nudge-wink-wink that it might not have been. Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Channel 2′s veteran analyst, calls the takeout “more important than taking out Hassan Nasrallah, on a par with Bin Laden.”

This might not be so off base. According to Ya’ari, Mughniyeh, as number 2 in the most sophisticated terror group on earth, is the one who personally invented the suicide bombing, used first in Lebanon before being adopted by the Palestinians; he turned Hizballah into a serious army; he was in charge of the organization’s ties with Iran and Syria; in charge of all its military operations; and masterminded almost every major attack on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in the last 25 years. He also was behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers which triggered the 2006 Lebanon war. Today Gideon Ezra, a government minister and former senior intelligence figure, called Mughniyeh the “Lebanese Carlos.”

This is what Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute on Counter-Terrorism, had to say (via the JPost):

It’s hard to imagine a figure more dangerous, more sophisticated or more experienced than arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Until his assassination on Wednesday, Mughniyeh served as the mastermind behind Hizbullah’s operations, an elusive figure linked to almost every attack executed by the organization since its inception in the early 1980s. In fact, it is impossible to name even one large-scale attack executed by Hizbullah that Mughniyeh was not involved in – from airplane hijackings to embassy bombings to kidnappings and more.

The senior Hizbullah leader was responsible for suicide attacks on the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, which lead to the strategic withdrawal of American and foreign forces out of Lebanon. He was also wanted in connection to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy and the 1994 attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, attempted attacks in Asia and the Arab world and the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners in Lebanon throughout the 1980s.

Mughniyeh’s importance lies not only in his ability to execute extraordinary attacks against targets around the world – or even in his control of Hizbullah’s operational branch in Lebanon – but more significantly in the close connections he established between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. Mughniyeh positioned himself as the operational link between these actors. It is in this framework that Mughniyeh also served as al-Qaida’s contact within Hizbullah throughout the 1990s…. Unlike bin Laden, however, Mughniyeh’s influence was not derived from the image he created of himself, but by his actual deeds and capabilities as an initiator, planner, supervisor and executor of attacks on an international scale. In effect, these attacks tremendously strengthened Hizbullah’s capabilities in a variety of spheres, creating the deterrence that the organization was seeking to achieve vis-à-vis foreign states and Israel.

Today, Hizbullah is a mini-state so strong that the Lebanese army is unable to do anything about it; it is a terror cancer giving Iran and Syria a major base on Israel’s northern border and in the heart of an otherwise potentially reasonable Lebanon. This has all happened in the last twenty years, and the man who did it is now dead.

Read Less

Which Is The Good War, Again?

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

Read Less

Ron Paul’s Real Politics: The Case of Daniel Larison

One of the benefits of spending the past couple of weeks tracking down and reading Ron Paul’s old newsletters, interviewing his past and present associates and boning up on the history of libertarianism in America (see Reason editor Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, which I recommend) was learning about the strange history of libertarians and paleoconservatives (also explored today by Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez of Reason).

Daniel Larison is a prominent fixture in paleoconservative circles. He writes a regular column for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine and contributes to Buchanan crony Taki Theodoracopulos’s website. He also writes for the popular right-of-center blog The American Scene and is often cited by mainstream political bloggers and publications, including my own. He is no doubt an eloquent proponent of the paleoconservative cause.

He happens, in addition, to be a member in good standing (at least until 2005, when he celebrated ten years of membership) of the League of the South. A little background on the League of the South, which is the most prominent neo-Confederate group in America. The League describes itself as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” and “encourage[s] individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America.” For more on this merry band of would-be traitors, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2000 report on the League, which SPLC labeled a “hate group.”

Read More

One of the benefits of spending the past couple of weeks tracking down and reading Ron Paul’s old newsletters, interviewing his past and present associates and boning up on the history of libertarianism in America (see Reason editor Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, which I recommend) was learning about the strange history of libertarians and paleoconservatives (also explored today by Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez of Reason).

Daniel Larison is a prominent fixture in paleoconservative circles. He writes a regular column for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine and contributes to Buchanan crony Taki Theodoracopulos’s website. He also writes for the popular right-of-center blog The American Scene and is often cited by mainstream political bloggers and publications, including my own. He is no doubt an eloquent proponent of the paleoconservative cause.

He happens, in addition, to be a member in good standing (at least until 2005, when he celebrated ten years of membership) of the League of the South. A little background on the League of the South, which is the most prominent neo-Confederate group in America. The League describes itself as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” and “encourage[s] individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America.” For more on this merry band of would-be traitors, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2000 report on the League, which SPLC labeled a “hate group.”

Larison was stirred to write about his membership in the League after reading Commentary and contentions contributor Max Boot’s review of the pro-Confederate Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, the book Ron Paul recently blurbed. Larison challenges, shockingly, both Boot’s citizenship bona fides and his loyalty, writing of “the first-generation American (and I apply the term here very loosely) Boot.” Such charges of disloyalty, particularly against Jews (I have no idea if Max is Jewish, though he is a neoconservative, and there exists no such distinction for paleocons) is a common trope in paleoconservative polemics and Larison’s is no exception.

Larison’s open nostalgia for the Confederacy is a marvel to behold. While deriding the “freethinking, Yankee spirit and empire that has gone on to devastate so many other societies” he reveres “the humane and decent civilisation of the South that took root in the Southland.” As with most teary-eyed Confederate apologists, he makes no mention whatsoever of that “humane” civilization’s most inhumane practice, referring obliquely only to the fact that the Confederate-era South “was never without flaws.” And it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army who fought to restore America to its founding principles, but those who joined the internal rebellion against the United States, men “who rose to defend, first by the pen and oration and then by the sword, the true political inheritance of the Republic” (emphasis added).

If you can stomach it, read his last paragraph:

The defeat of the Confederacy, though the Confederate political experiment does not exhaust the richness of Southern culture and identity, was a defining moment when the United States took its steps towards the abyss of the monstrous centralised state, rootless society and decadent culture that we have today. In sum, the Confederacy represented much of the Old America that was swept away, and with it went everything meaningful about the constitutional republican system, and the degeneration of that system in the next hundred years was the logical and ultimately unstoppable result of Lincoln’s victory. All of this is in recognition that we are beholden to our ancestors for who we are, and we honour and remember their struggles and accomplishments not only because they can be established as reasonable, good and true but because they are the struggles and accomplishments of our people, who have made this land ours and sanctified it with their blood in defense against the wanton aggression of a barbarous tyranny.

A 1988 edition of the Ron Paul Political Report put this idea much more succinctly:

Beginning with the Civil War and continuing to the present day, advocates of big government have sought to transfer the American people’s loyalty away from Constitutional liberty and to the government.

Larison’s neoconfederate sympathies form a crucial component of the “Old Right” tradition from which Ron Paul emerges. Indeed, the notion that this man is a “libertarian” is laughable; he is an equal mix of the paranoid nativism of Ross Perot, the conspiracy theorizing of Lyndon LaRouche, and the crude populism of Pat Buchanan.

Readers may recall that during the 2000 presidential election, John McCain got himself into serious trouble for far more tenuous ties to neo-Confederates, ties that were also exposed thanks to an article in The New Republic. It’s not my intention to play Kosher Cop (apologies to Larison for using such an un-American word, but my paymasters in Tel Aviv enforce a very strict quota) for the conservative movement. And of course, diversity of political opinion — Larison provides immoderate commentary in spades — is vital in any democracy. But it is inexplicable to me how respectable conservatives make room for views as repellent and noxious as these.

Read Less

Questioning Max

A few days ago, Max Boot cited my post about the reduction in terror in Israel in 2007, suggesting that this proves that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza strip was the right move. I’d like to question Max’s conclusions.

The arc of Israel’s conflict with the Arab and Muslim world is a long one, and it begins with the belief, prevalent throughout the Arab world, that if Israel cannot be defeated through direct armed conflict, it can be brought to its knees through terror. This was first employed in the early 1960’s–before Israel ever captured the West Bank and Gaza–when Egypt and Syria helped create Fatah and the PLO, the two Palestinian terror groups which were later united under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. The idea was that just as the French had been successfully driven from Algeria through terror, so too could the “colonialist” Zionists from Palestine. This has remained the central tenet of Arab terror, the article of faith upon which all of it seems to rest, whether it be “Islamist” or “secular.”

Read More

A few days ago, Max Boot cited my post about the reduction in terror in Israel in 2007, suggesting that this proves that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza strip was the right move. I’d like to question Max’s conclusions.

The arc of Israel’s conflict with the Arab and Muslim world is a long one, and it begins with the belief, prevalent throughout the Arab world, that if Israel cannot be defeated through direct armed conflict, it can be brought to its knees through terror. This was first employed in the early 1960’s–before Israel ever captured the West Bank and Gaza–when Egypt and Syria helped create Fatah and the PLO, the two Palestinian terror groups which were later united under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. The idea was that just as the French had been successfully driven from Algeria through terror, so too could the “colonialist” Zionists from Palestine. This has remained the central tenet of Arab terror, the article of faith upon which all of it seems to rest, whether it be “Islamist” or “secular.”

In conceding Gaza, Israel’s actions were interpreted as a major vindication of that reasoning. How else can we interpret Hamas’ immediate rise to power, when polls had previously shown only a minority support for that organization among Palestinians? Nor should we be too surprised at the ricochet effect to Israel’s north, in which Hezbollah, encouraged by a rising Iran and Hamas, needed to prove its own worth by throwing itself into a headlong terror conflict with Israel? That war last year, it will be recalled, began with Hamas’ successful kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, followed just days later by a copy-cat crime by Hezbollah. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza may have had a short-term benefit in Israel’s freedom to fight terror, but in the big picture, it seems unlikely that it did anything other than (a) bring to power an enemy far more hostile to any long-term resolution with Israel and the West, and (b) put a lot of wind into the sails of the West’s enemies.

Contrast this with the conditions which allowed Israel to turn up the heat on Hamas: It is true that world opinion shifted in favor of Israel. But such shifts have frequently proven to be of temporary value. They depend, to a great deal, on political winds that rustle like the autumnal leaves we are still enjoying in Jerusalem in January. Five or ten years from now, with a different Washington and a different Europe, Israel’s green light may have long turned red, and Hamas’ continuing rise may convince the diplomats of realism that Israel must deal with Hamas instead of Fatah as the new representative of the Palestinians. Israel’s defense will be forgotten, but the concession of land will be long remembered as the starting point for the next phase of war.

Military conflicts, like the football games that imitate them, are often a matter of momentum: When the tide shifts against one side, psychology kicks in, a narrative of defeat emerges in people’s minds, and collapse is at hand; when it shifts back, a narrative of victory prevails, and everyone gains the courage and strength to pull it together and muster new resources. Major events like the withdrawal from Gaza remain in memory for decades as a key building block to conceptions of who’s winning and who’s losing, of what is needed to defeat the enemy. Regardless of its (evident) advantages, the withdrawal was seen by most people in the region as a massive setback for Israel and a victory for the logic of terror. The effects of this go way, way beyond the number of terror attacks launched against Israel from Gaza–beyond into the West Bank, to Lebanon, even to Tehran, where the calculus of momentum is constantly being reconsidered. This is a price we may have scarcely begun to pay.

Read Less

Doubling Down in Pakistan

Washington is in disarray after Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The United States did not have a Pakistan policy. We only had a Musharraf one. Since Musharraf deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ended democracy in the 1999 coup, Washington has backed the man who returned the country to dictatorial rule. When the strongman in Islamabad appeared weak, the United States tried to arrange a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto, also a failed leader in her two stints as prime minister. The idea—“like putting two pythons in the same cage” according to a Bush administration official—was an act of desperation or perhaps just folly.

American policymakers always get themselves into trouble when they compromise the principles of the people they lead. Washington’s response to troubling events in Pakistan—as in other places—has been to try to broker even more cynical arrangements, doubling down and making the situation even worse. We are always in a dilemma, and so we continue to put off lasting solutions. This rationale underpins the Bush administration’s policy of supporting Musharraf. Yet as RAND’s Christine Fair noted on Thursday, “Six years into this mess, we’re still saying now is not the right time. There’s always an excuse to defer those things that need to be done.”

What needs to be done at this moment is to withdraw our backing for Musharraf. Of course he continues to do things that are inimical to the interests of the United States and the rest of the international community—he knows we will continue to stand behind him, no matter what. Why should he ever truly cooperate?

As Max Boot has regularly pointed out in this forum, the majority of the Pakistani people are in favor of democracy. It never occurred to the set in Washington that we should just let them run their own country. The longer we stand against their legitimate aspirations, the less likely the responsible center will hold. And one more thing: a political result engineered by the United States—even if one were possible—would lack legitimacy.

Yes, Pakistan has nukes and plenty of terrorists, yet these facts are not arguments for supporting whichever autocrat is in control in Islamabad. If anything, the facts should persuade us to permit an enduring solution as quickly as possible. Pakistan will continue to get worse until Washington allows the country to heal itself. This may be a particularly bad time to stop helping Musharraf, but the moments ahead will even be worse.

Washington is in disarray after Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The United States did not have a Pakistan policy. We only had a Musharraf one. Since Musharraf deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ended democracy in the 1999 coup, Washington has backed the man who returned the country to dictatorial rule. When the strongman in Islamabad appeared weak, the United States tried to arrange a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto, also a failed leader in her two stints as prime minister. The idea—“like putting two pythons in the same cage” according to a Bush administration official—was an act of desperation or perhaps just folly.

American policymakers always get themselves into trouble when they compromise the principles of the people they lead. Washington’s response to troubling events in Pakistan—as in other places—has been to try to broker even more cynical arrangements, doubling down and making the situation even worse. We are always in a dilemma, and so we continue to put off lasting solutions. This rationale underpins the Bush administration’s policy of supporting Musharraf. Yet as RAND’s Christine Fair noted on Thursday, “Six years into this mess, we’re still saying now is not the right time. There’s always an excuse to defer those things that need to be done.”

What needs to be done at this moment is to withdraw our backing for Musharraf. Of course he continues to do things that are inimical to the interests of the United States and the rest of the international community—he knows we will continue to stand behind him, no matter what. Why should he ever truly cooperate?

As Max Boot has regularly pointed out in this forum, the majority of the Pakistani people are in favor of democracy. It never occurred to the set in Washington that we should just let them run their own country. The longer we stand against their legitimate aspirations, the less likely the responsible center will hold. And one more thing: a political result engineered by the United States—even if one were possible—would lack legitimacy.

Yes, Pakistan has nukes and plenty of terrorists, yet these facts are not arguments for supporting whichever autocrat is in control in Islamabad. If anything, the facts should persuade us to permit an enduring solution as quickly as possible. Pakistan will continue to get worse until Washington allows the country to heal itself. This may be a particularly bad time to stop helping Musharraf, but the moments ahead will even be worse.

Read Less

A Turning Point?

At least one report has al Qaeda claiming responsibility for today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. When it comes to Pakistan, determining guilt for this bombing or that assassination is a humbling task. But if the former prime minister was, in fact, killed by al Qaeda, then they may have once again overplayed their hand.

After years of al Qaeda carnage, people reached a saturation point in Iraq when they found their every effort at forward momentum stifled. Pakistan may be nearing something like the nihilistic burnout that drove Iraqis to turn en masse on al Qaeda. The situations are different, for sure, but there are key similarities—the most important being the frustration of citizens as they approach democracy. As Max Boot has pointed out, Pakistanis are already underwhelmed by extremist efforts at responsible governance. Benazir Bhutto had her detractors, but she had more than enough support to put fear into President Musharraf. If Pakistanis have to endure another stretch of emergency crackdowns they’ll be loath to tolerate the further debilitating efforts of al Qaeda and their ilk. After all, hopes for the Parliamentary elections (slated to take place in two weeks) are now shot once more.

Reports of looting and rioting are coming in from Pakistan. Undoubtedly, that country is in the onset of dangerously violent convulsions. Security is the immediate concern, and restoring order will be a gargantuan feat. But after the dust settles, we may see the kind of organic desire for consensual government that no outside ally or diplomat has yet been able to consolidate or mobilize.

At least one report has al Qaeda claiming responsibility for today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. When it comes to Pakistan, determining guilt for this bombing or that assassination is a humbling task. But if the former prime minister was, in fact, killed by al Qaeda, then they may have once again overplayed their hand.

After years of al Qaeda carnage, people reached a saturation point in Iraq when they found their every effort at forward momentum stifled. Pakistan may be nearing something like the nihilistic burnout that drove Iraqis to turn en masse on al Qaeda. The situations are different, for sure, but there are key similarities—the most important being the frustration of citizens as they approach democracy. As Max Boot has pointed out, Pakistanis are already underwhelmed by extremist efforts at responsible governance. Benazir Bhutto had her detractors, but she had more than enough support to put fear into President Musharraf. If Pakistanis have to endure another stretch of emergency crackdowns they’ll be loath to tolerate the further debilitating efforts of al Qaeda and their ilk. After all, hopes for the Parliamentary elections (slated to take place in two weeks) are now shot once more.

Reports of looting and rioting are coming in from Pakistan. Undoubtedly, that country is in the onset of dangerously violent convulsions. Security is the immediate concern, and restoring order will be a gargantuan feat. But after the dust settles, we may see the kind of organic desire for consensual government that no outside ally or diplomat has yet been able to consolidate or mobilize.

Read Less

Your Tax Money at Work

In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

Read More

In what’s unlikely to be a surprise even to casual observers of the United Nations, an internal audit conducted by the international organization has discovered corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars regarding the disbursement of contracts for peacekeeping missions. The UN these days seems to be little more than an elaborate racketeering organization for wanna-be crooks and gangsters—too cowardly to participate in actual crime in their home countries, and thus taking advantage of the miserable and oppressed people entrusted into the organization’s care. This latest scandal is only rivaled by the Oil-for-Food heist of some years prior.

The results of this latest investigation are the latest fruit of the Volcker Commission, established in 2004 to investigate similar kickbacks and bribes disbursed under the ill-fated UN program in Iraq. The task force that uncovered the peacekeeping abuse had hired some of Volcker’s investigators, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to his credit, has requested that the investigative body’s mandate be funded further. Unsurprisingly, developing nations are using parliamentary tactics to hold up the reauthorization process.

The details of this latest scandal surround Abdul Karim Masri—a procurement officer for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo and a Syrian national (why a citizen of a terrorist sponsoring state is given such a prominent position at the United Nations has not yet entered into the conversation)—who has a long trail of corruption accusations behind him. The internal audit found an “extensive pattern of bribery” up to and including taking $10,000 from a boating company, diverting a contract to a friend, and getting contractors to paint his house and give him a discounted Mercedes. Your tax money at work!

None of this is to say that the mission of UN peacekeeping isn’t worthy; it’s the very worthiness of international conflict resolution that makes this latest episode of corruption so devastating. Yet once again it has been shown that the United Nations cannot be trusted with anything beyond providing political theater. Those serious about the notion of international peacekeeping could do worse than seriously to consider Max Boot’s proposal of using mercenaries for such missions. Unlike UN peacekeeping forces—which consist almost entirely of poorly trained and ill-equipped soldiers from third world countries whose governments offer them up to the UN in order to make a quick buck—mercenaries are expertly skilled warriors. Moreover, they have no pretensions about who they are or what they are fighting for—money, which they will earn only if the mission is completed successfully.

No doubt this story will garner the usual outcry from the international bureaucrats who feed off the teat of Western nations. These sorts of people swarm Washington and New York City with little to do, it seems, other than to attend think-tank functions and cocktail parties, and to undermine the United States. With this latest bout of bad news for the United Nations, it’s become increasingly difficult for the organization’s lonely defenders to explain why the body deserves American time or attention.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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