Commentary Magazine


Topic: McCain

A Game of JournoList Chicken

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

Tucker Carlson at the Daily Caller is sitting in the catbird’s seat. He has reams of JournoList e-mails revealing how vicious the blogospheric left is. They wish their opponents dead (Rush Limbaugh). Their contempt for conservatives runneth over. And they plainly are all on the same “team” — plotting, delegating, and coordinating their cheerleading for the Obami, as well as attacks on Obama’s opponents. Moreover, we now have a great mystery, a sort of D.C. parlor game: what else does Carlson have?

“Journalists” — what do we call such people (undercover activists)? — and their editors are waiting for shoes to drop. A case in point: Ben Smith ran a story on the potential involvement of Politico reporters. I then spotted in one of the Daily Caller’s releases the name Laura Rozen, who covers foreign policy for Politico. Her use of a blind quote to relate an accusation of “dual loyalty” against Dennis Ross was widely criticized in a range of Jewish and conservative publications.

A sample via Daily Caller:

Nov. 5

ALYSSA ROSENBERG, GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: I’ve gotta be all non-partisan on GovExec, so I hope you’ll all indulge me a minute here. On Monday night in Manassas, the band warming up the crowd before Obama arrived played “I Need You To Survive.” I think the core lyrics are pretty good statement of principles for progressives, especially going forward from a victory like this one:

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

A lot of horribly ugly stuff got repudiated tonight. But it doesn’t end here. We need to keep making the case to the folks who disagreed with us, the folks who booed McCain during his concession speech tonight.

MATT DUSS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: [Mccain aide] Randy Scheunemann Fired [last week]

LAURA ROZEN, MOTHER JONES (NOW POLITICO): Can you imagine if these bozos had won?

Nov. 7

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there ass to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

I e-mailed Ben and asked if Rozen didn’t “count” because these comments predated her employment by Politico. He promptly answered that he hadn’t seen this particular e-mail and would have included it and asked his editor about it if he had. He directed me to Jim VanderHei, who asked if I had seen any Rozen JournoList comments after she was hired by Politico. I answered that we were all dealing with what Daily Caller was doling out. He provided this explanation of Politico’s  approach to this issue:

We have an unmistakably clear rule that anyone hired here check their ideology at the door. That means no political contributions or activism — and no partisan comments on air, on Twitter, on Facebook, in print, anywhere. We recognize the people we hire are not dull, blank slates — and that everyone has personal opinions. What we demand is that those opinions remain personal (and private) once hired — and that they fully understand we are a nonpartisan media outlet. We have hired some people with partisan backgrounds and had great success in getting them to go through ideological detox and become straight news reporters. The Laura Rozen emails the Daily Caller reported on pre-dated her work here. I have not seen any emails she wrote as a POLITICO employee that trouble me.

This raises at least two issues. First, it seems that the JournoList participants now have a very high standard of objectivity to maintain, especially if they now want to act as real reporters. Are they really checking their ideology at the door, or are they tipping the scales? The problem with baring one’s partisan views — especially ones so personally vindictive — is that it creates a cloud of doubt about everything you write. Second, VandeHei and every other editor with a JournoList participant is now waiting to see if there are any other e-mails that “trouble” them. If more pop up, will heads roll?

I use Rozen as an example, but the problem is far wider. The Washington Post has been mute. What if anything do they do about Ezra Klein? (Maybe if they were aware of his hyper-nasty attacks on the right, the Post editors wouldn’t have taken his recommendation on Dave Weigel.) The JournoList crowd have done a bang-up job of undermining not only their own credibility but also that of their employers. (Even those who are opinion writers are revealed not to be principled purveyors of ideas but meanspirited attack dogs.) How widespread the damage is has yet to be determined.

Read Less

Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Read Less

RE: The Jihadist Attack on Times Square

John McCain is worried the Obami haven’t learned anything from the Christmas Day bombing attack:

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime leading Republican on national security issues, said he expected the suspect in the case could face charges that might warrant a death sentence if convicted.

“Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have,” McCain said during an appearance on “Imus in the Morning” when asked whether the suspect, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan.

“Don’t give this guy his miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” McCain added.

Well, that seems to be a good query for the Washington press corps. Did we even bother to assess the risks and benefits of Mirandizing a terror suspect this time around? Last time the administration seemed to operate on automatic pilot. We’ll find out if they have internalized any of the lessons of the Christmas Day bomber, or whether, as it always is the case with this crew, they simply didn’t get the communications plan right last time.

John McCain is worried the Obami haven’t learned anything from the Christmas Day bombing attack:

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime leading Republican on national security issues, said he expected the suspect in the case could face charges that might warrant a death sentence if convicted.

“Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have,” McCain said during an appearance on “Imus in the Morning” when asked whether the suspect, 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan.

“Don’t give this guy his miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about,” McCain added.

Well, that seems to be a good query for the Washington press corps. Did we even bother to assess the risks and benefits of Mirandizing a terror suspect this time around? Last time the administration seemed to operate on automatic pilot. We’ll find out if they have internalized any of the lessons of the Christmas Day bomber, or whether, as it always is the case with this crew, they simply didn’t get the communications plan right last time.

Read Less

Jewish Voters Deceived

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Read Less

A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

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Sen. Graham’s Bargain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Health-Care Backlash

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

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Uh . . . Never Mind

The New York Times dryly notes: “The Obama administration sent a forceful public message Sunday that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal.” Nowhere was this more evident that on Meet the Press, where Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, every way they could, sought to downplay and erase the 18-month deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that the president described in his West Point speech.

They had to, of course. The contradiction between the need for a full commitment to a critical war and an artificial date for withdrawal is too vast and unsustainable, both logically and politically. It is a tribute to conservatives who have argued strenuously against the imposition of such a deadline — and those lawmakers who have grilled the administration on the point — that the administration is essentially saying, “Never mind.” Gates explained:

It’s the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field. … It will begin in July of 2011. But how, how quickly it goes will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a significant number of forces in there … or some considerable period of time after that.

Clinton concurred that “we’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline. What we’re talking about is an assessment that in January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces.”

And what of the president’s nagging worry, apparently the origin of the artificial deadline that we would be there “forever” without such a date? Sen. McCain, also appearing on Meet the Press, debunked that shopworn argument:

Well, the rationale for war is to break the enemy’s will. That’s the whole rationale for war. Do you break the enemy’s will by saying, “We’re going to be there,” or send a message we’re going to be there for a year and a half or so and then we’re going to begin to leave, no matter what the circumstances are? Or do you tell them, “We’re going to win and we’re going to break your will, and then we’re going to leave”? That’s, that’s, that’s a huge factor in the conduct of war.

This suggests that the elaborate decision-making process and the highly anticipated speech were flawed and ill-conceived, now requiring a rather embarrassing and hasty effort to explain, refine, retract, and ultimately walk back the president’s own words. If McCain is right and success in a counterinsurgency depends on unnerving the enemy, reference to a withdrawal date was a significant misstep. On the other hand, it’s rather plain that no one in the administration is willing to defend a date-certain deadline.

Conservatives have won the point on the essential unworkability of troop deadlines, and the administration’s effort to mollify the Left has been unmasked as silly and unhelpful rhetoric. Overall, this has proved a significant accomplishment of the loyal opposition, one that hopefully will improve its chances for success and steer the president away from similar errors in the future.

The New York Times dryly notes: “The Obama administration sent a forceful public message Sunday that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal.” Nowhere was this more evident that on Meet the Press, where Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, every way they could, sought to downplay and erase the 18-month deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that the president described in his West Point speech.

They had to, of course. The contradiction between the need for a full commitment to a critical war and an artificial date for withdrawal is too vast and unsustainable, both logically and politically. It is a tribute to conservatives who have argued strenuously against the imposition of such a deadline — and those lawmakers who have grilled the administration on the point — that the administration is essentially saying, “Never mind.” Gates explained:

It’s the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field. … It will begin in July of 2011. But how, how quickly it goes will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a significant number of forces in there … or some considerable period of time after that.

Clinton concurred that “we’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline. What we’re talking about is an assessment that in January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces.”

And what of the president’s nagging worry, apparently the origin of the artificial deadline that we would be there “forever” without such a date? Sen. McCain, also appearing on Meet the Press, debunked that shopworn argument:

Well, the rationale for war is to break the enemy’s will. That’s the whole rationale for war. Do you break the enemy’s will by saying, “We’re going to be there,” or send a message we’re going to be there for a year and a half or so and then we’re going to begin to leave, no matter what the circumstances are? Or do you tell them, “We’re going to win and we’re going to break your will, and then we’re going to leave”? That’s, that’s, that’s a huge factor in the conduct of war.

This suggests that the elaborate decision-making process and the highly anticipated speech were flawed and ill-conceived, now requiring a rather embarrassing and hasty effort to explain, refine, retract, and ultimately walk back the president’s own words. If McCain is right and success in a counterinsurgency depends on unnerving the enemy, reference to a withdrawal date was a significant misstep. On the other hand, it’s rather plain that no one in the administration is willing to defend a date-certain deadline.

Conservatives have won the point on the essential unworkability of troop deadlines, and the administration’s effort to mollify the Left has been unmasked as silly and unhelpful rhetoric. Overall, this has proved a significant accomplishment of the loyal opposition, one that hopefully will improve its chances for success and steer the president away from similar errors in the future.

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Obama’s Exit-Strategy Justifications

It occurs to me that I (and most other commentators) might be a trifle unfair to the president in our interpretation of the deadline he set to begin leaving Afghanistan: July 2011. I write in the Los Angeles Times today that “if Afghanistan is indeed a ‘vital national interest,’ as Obama said, why announce an exit strategy? Perhaps he is trying to head off criticism from his liberal supporters.”

Was I too hasty in dismissing the actual justifications for the deadline he offered in the speech? Let’s examine them. In Obama’s speech, he attacked those who might call for an “open-ended escalation of our war effort” by arguing:

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

The first concern, about the “reasonable cost,” is hard to square with the president’s willingness to fling countless billions of dollars at our health-care system and various pork-barrel projects in public works. Obama is no fiscal conservative, except when spending is proposed for projects about which he is unenthusiastic.

What about his second argument — that a time frame will instill a greater “sense of urgency” into the Afghan government to get its act together? This echoes a favorite talking point offered by Obama and other opponents of the surge in Iraq. They argued at the time that we needed to begin withdrawing American troops to force Iraqi politicians to make compromises. There is no evidence that troop withdrawals would have had this effect; more likely, they would have simply encouraged Iraqis to take more extreme positions to get ready for a looming civil war — something that was already beginning to happen in 2006 before the surge. Since the success of the surge, on the other hand, Iraqi politicos have started to get their act together. Even when they are stymied over a tough issue, such as the present election law, they are settling their differences through backroom horse trading, not guns and bombs.

The experience of Iraq is hardly dispositive, but it does suggest that American time lines are counterproductive. Incentives for compromise and reform are created by American commitments to stay. Otherwise, moderates lose ground, and radicals come to the fore.

In the case of Afghanistan, if Hamid Karzai is to move against corrupt officials implicated in the drug trade (including his own brother), he needs assurances that we will stick around and protect him. If he thinks we’re heading out the door, he will have no choice but to make deals with warlords — precisely the opposite of what Obama would like to see.

Thus neither rationale for the time line makes much sense. At least the second one sounds more sincere, if misguided. I still think the desire to placate his liberal base is a big part of the explanation, but so is another factor: the desire to placate a part of the president’s own mind. Does anyone doubt that if Obama were still in the Senate and President McCain were announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan, he would be in violent opposition? I don’t. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that he has gone against his natural instincts by ordering the surge. But there is obviously still a part of him that is uncomfortable with the policy. Hence the deadline.

It occurs to me that I (and most other commentators) might be a trifle unfair to the president in our interpretation of the deadline he set to begin leaving Afghanistan: July 2011. I write in the Los Angeles Times today that “if Afghanistan is indeed a ‘vital national interest,’ as Obama said, why announce an exit strategy? Perhaps he is trying to head off criticism from his liberal supporters.”

Was I too hasty in dismissing the actual justifications for the deadline he offered in the speech? Let’s examine them. In Obama’s speech, he attacked those who might call for an “open-ended escalation of our war effort” by arguing:

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

The first concern, about the “reasonable cost,” is hard to square with the president’s willingness to fling countless billions of dollars at our health-care system and various pork-barrel projects in public works. Obama is no fiscal conservative, except when spending is proposed for projects about which he is unenthusiastic.

What about his second argument — that a time frame will instill a greater “sense of urgency” into the Afghan government to get its act together? This echoes a favorite talking point offered by Obama and other opponents of the surge in Iraq. They argued at the time that we needed to begin withdrawing American troops to force Iraqi politicians to make compromises. There is no evidence that troop withdrawals would have had this effect; more likely, they would have simply encouraged Iraqis to take more extreme positions to get ready for a looming civil war — something that was already beginning to happen in 2006 before the surge. Since the success of the surge, on the other hand, Iraqi politicos have started to get their act together. Even when they are stymied over a tough issue, such as the present election law, they are settling their differences through backroom horse trading, not guns and bombs.

The experience of Iraq is hardly dispositive, but it does suggest that American time lines are counterproductive. Incentives for compromise and reform are created by American commitments to stay. Otherwise, moderates lose ground, and radicals come to the fore.

In the case of Afghanistan, if Hamid Karzai is to move against corrupt officials implicated in the drug trade (including his own brother), he needs assurances that we will stick around and protect him. If he thinks we’re heading out the door, he will have no choice but to make deals with warlords — precisely the opposite of what Obama would like to see.

Thus neither rationale for the time line makes much sense. At least the second one sounds more sincere, if misguided. I still think the desire to placate his liberal base is a big part of the explanation, but so is another factor: the desire to placate a part of the president’s own mind. Does anyone doubt that if Obama were still in the Senate and President McCain were announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan, he would be in violent opposition? I don’t. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that he has gone against his natural instincts by ordering the surge. But there is obviously still a part of him that is uncomfortable with the policy. Hence the deadline.

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“Less, Please”

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

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Might Experience Matter?

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

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Biden to the Rescue

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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The League of Democracies

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

In his Washington Post column, Jackson Diehl adds his voice to Robert Kagan’s in explaining why the League of Democracies–an idea that Senator McCain has advocated–is not a nefarious neocon plot. In fact, it has antecedents in the Clinton administration and it has a number of advocates on the left, including Howard Dean’s former foreign policy adviser, Ivo Daalder.

I doubt this will cause the reflexive scoffers to think again (see for instance this article and this one). But I hope that the vast majority of people are who are now agnostic will at least give this innovative idea some serious consideration. Sure, it has flaws. But it’s not as if anyone else has a better idea of what the global “architecture” of the future should look like. In fact, as Diehl suggests, the Obama campaign would be well advised to embrace this bipartisan initiative. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Fighting Back

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

The White House and the McCain campaign are both turning up the heat on mainstream media outlets, challenging their inaccuracies and going public with their complaints. In theory this sounds like a fine idea, a much needed correction to the obvious biases and just flat-out inaccuracies that any serious observer of news coverage can spot. And there is no easier way to “bond” with the conservative base than to rail against the liberal media, as John McCain did effectively with the New York Times’ lobbyist story.

But, at least with regard to the McCain campaign, dangers lurk. Their opponent, of course, is Barack Obama–not the media. The “story of the day” is ideally not “McCain attacks CNN for bias,” but “Obama gets trapped in foreign policy misstatement.” For better or worse, the public doesn’t care much about media bias. Nor does the “everyone is out to get Republicans” meme appeal to most voters (many of whom would like to “get” those same Republicans).

It was, it seems, many conservatives and the McCain camp itself which ripped Obama for objecting to press scrutiny on Rezko and Wright. The contrast between McCain–who plunges into media scrums–and Obama–who shrinks from pressers–is an effective one, if the McCain message is transparency, openness and determination under fire. But it doesn’t help to turn around and bellyache that the coverage is insufficiently supportive.

This is a tightrope for the McCain camp: to walk the line between exposing media unfairness and keeping their eye on the ball. Frankly, there is a great deal in mainstream media coverage– whether of Obama’s latest conflict-of-interest problem or of his fumble on Iran–which has been exceedingly fair to the McCain camp. And in our current media universe, the McCain people may have an easier time than any other Republican presidential candidate in political history in getting their message out. After all, Ronald Reagan managed to get elected twice in a media environment utterly dominated by three networks and a handful of openly oppositional newspapers.

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Clean Hands, Empty Record

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

Barack Obama took a swipe at John McCain for his staff’s violation of the campaign’s stated ethics/lobbying policy. The McCain campaign blasted back. The media focused on a McCain spokesman’s eye-catching suggestion that the friend of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers did not want to get into the game of guilt by association.

We have seen the Obama camp play fast and loose with the identity and role of its advisors. Robert Malley really wasn’t one, we were told. Zbigniew Brzezinski really isn’t that important, we’re assured. Austan Goolsbee really isn’t an official spokesman, you see. All of this sets up a fog of unaccountability and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether conflicts of interest exist, and more importantly who has the ear of the presumptive nominee. So much for a new era of transparency.

In the case of supposedly tainted legislative actions, the McCain camp has scrambled to demonstrate that McCain acted independently of any lobbying influence, in keeping with his own policy viewpoints and/or as part of a bipartisan effort. (Somehow we don’t hear much about Obama’s $1M earmark for his wife’s employer.) But Obama hasn’t done much of anything in Washington and hasn’t sponsored or participated in many legislative battles small or large. So his hands and his associations in Washington can remain relatively pristine. And he’s attempted to transform his paucity of experience into an advantage. McCain is a “creature of Washington,” he says. But what is he? What is his comparable record of accomplishment? What are the means by which we can assess his ability to withstand illicit influence?

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Why Don’t They Like Him?

Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed amazement that Jewish voters have concerns about his candidacy. He has suggested, in essence, that they are irrational–seizing on his name or the remarks of other African-Americans or buying into internet chatter claiming he is a closet Muslim. And his defenders have insisted he doesn’t have a Jewish problem at all. But the available evidence suggests that he does, and there are a number of compelling reasons why Jews have not supported him to the degree that they’ve supported past Democratic nominees.

Stephen Herbits, recently retired as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress and an advisor to the Secretaries of Defense in four administrations, has provided an exhaustive analysis of the situation, must-reading for anyone serious about exploring this issue.

First, there is little doubt that Obama has a problem with Jewish voters, even Democratic primary voters who would be natural supporters insofar as many are high-income, high-education voters. Herbits explains:

In Pennsylvania, exit polls show that Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama by 24 percentage points amongst Pennsylvanian Jews, outpacing the general population by 13 points, and even outpacing the Protestant population which favored Senator Clinton by a ten point margin. With Jews comprising 8 % of the Pennsylvania primary electorate, these percentages are large enough to be determinative in a close general election race. Senator Clinton won amongst Jews by similarly large margins in states like New York and New Jersey. In Florida where Jews accounted for 9% of primary voters, the margin exceeded 30 points. In Nevada where Jews accounted for some 5%, the margin exceeded 40 points.

So why are Jewish voters wary of him? Herbits contends that the issue is one of “credibilty.” He writes:

Senator Obama makes statements of solidarity with the Jewish community. Yet, his determination to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad runs counter to his professed sensitivity to Jewish concerns. His relationships with unabashed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel individuals calls into question his sincerity. His 20-year comfort with Jeremiah Wright, and his previous tolerance and defense of his pastor who preaches “Zionism equals Racism” reveals his ability to tolerate, defend and find comfort with others who share such views.

Although Obama professes concern for Israel, his willingness to meet directly with Ahmadinejad goes to the nub of the matter, Herbits contends:

Since the Holocaust, few individuals advancing dangerous anti-Semitic views have risen to lead nations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for the State of Israel to be wiped off the map and defies the international community by continuing to pursue nuclear capability. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – arming, training and directing groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. . . .

Such a meeting would be devastating to the psyche of entire Jewish world. Since 2005, Jewish communities around the world have been fighting to marginalize and contain Ahmadinejad. Jewish communities condemn Hugo Chavez and other radical leaders for welcoming Ahmadinejad. They condemn the Russian government for their relationship with the Iranian regime. Recently, the United States, Israel and Jewish communities around the world condemned the Swiss for an economic agreement with the Iranian regime.

Throughout Europe there is a multinational effort to designate Ahmadinejad persona non grata throughout European capitals and at the EU. For years, the United States has worked with begrudging allies to isolate and contain the Iranian regime. And yet, Senator Obama has pledged that as President of the United States he will be featured on the front page of newspapers around the world shaking hands with a rabid anti-Semite who supports terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, is pursing a nuclear capability, and denies the Holocaust. Such an image would be a victory for terrorism, a victory for extremists, and a defeat for peace and international security. The Jewish community will sooner vote for Senator McCain than be party to facilitating that meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Herbits goes on to detail Obama’s troubling associations with Reverend Wright, as well as with anti-Israel figures like Edward Said, Ali Abunimah, and Rashid Khalidi–all of whom raise red flags for Jews.

In short, the problem is real and the reasons for Jewish antipathy are based on facts about Obama’s stated policies and long-term relationships. But to recognize that would require Obama to address central concerns about his candidacy, concerns which might set off alarm bells for many non-Jewish voters, e.g. his outlook on the Middle East, his views on terrorism, and his proclivity to travel with radicals who spout anti-American and anti-Israel gibberish. Far better to deny the problem exists. Or to attribute it to those pesky, irrational American Jews.

Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed amazement that Jewish voters have concerns about his candidacy. He has suggested, in essence, that they are irrational–seizing on his name or the remarks of other African-Americans or buying into internet chatter claiming he is a closet Muslim. And his defenders have insisted he doesn’t have a Jewish problem at all. But the available evidence suggests that he does, and there are a number of compelling reasons why Jews have not supported him to the degree that they’ve supported past Democratic nominees.

Stephen Herbits, recently retired as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress and an advisor to the Secretaries of Defense in four administrations, has provided an exhaustive analysis of the situation, must-reading for anyone serious about exploring this issue.

First, there is little doubt that Obama has a problem with Jewish voters, even Democratic primary voters who would be natural supporters insofar as many are high-income, high-education voters. Herbits explains:

In Pennsylvania, exit polls show that Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama by 24 percentage points amongst Pennsylvanian Jews, outpacing the general population by 13 points, and even outpacing the Protestant population which favored Senator Clinton by a ten point margin. With Jews comprising 8 % of the Pennsylvania primary electorate, these percentages are large enough to be determinative in a close general election race. Senator Clinton won amongst Jews by similarly large margins in states like New York and New Jersey. In Florida where Jews accounted for 9% of primary voters, the margin exceeded 30 points. In Nevada where Jews accounted for some 5%, the margin exceeded 40 points.

So why are Jewish voters wary of him? Herbits contends that the issue is one of “credibilty.” He writes:

Senator Obama makes statements of solidarity with the Jewish community. Yet, his determination to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad runs counter to his professed sensitivity to Jewish concerns. His relationships with unabashed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel individuals calls into question his sincerity. His 20-year comfort with Jeremiah Wright, and his previous tolerance and defense of his pastor who preaches “Zionism equals Racism” reveals his ability to tolerate, defend and find comfort with others who share such views.

Although Obama professes concern for Israel, his willingness to meet directly with Ahmadinejad goes to the nub of the matter, Herbits contends:

Since the Holocaust, few individuals advancing dangerous anti-Semitic views have risen to lead nations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for the State of Israel to be wiped off the map and defies the international community by continuing to pursue nuclear capability. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – arming, training and directing groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. . . .

Such a meeting would be devastating to the psyche of entire Jewish world. Since 2005, Jewish communities around the world have been fighting to marginalize and contain Ahmadinejad. Jewish communities condemn Hugo Chavez and other radical leaders for welcoming Ahmadinejad. They condemn the Russian government for their relationship with the Iranian regime. Recently, the United States, Israel and Jewish communities around the world condemned the Swiss for an economic agreement with the Iranian regime.

Throughout Europe there is a multinational effort to designate Ahmadinejad persona non grata throughout European capitals and at the EU. For years, the United States has worked with begrudging allies to isolate and contain the Iranian regime. And yet, Senator Obama has pledged that as President of the United States he will be featured on the front page of newspapers around the world shaking hands with a rabid anti-Semite who supports terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, is pursing a nuclear capability, and denies the Holocaust. Such an image would be a victory for terrorism, a victory for extremists, and a defeat for peace and international security. The Jewish community will sooner vote for Senator McCain than be party to facilitating that meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Herbits goes on to detail Obama’s troubling associations with Reverend Wright, as well as with anti-Israel figures like Edward Said, Ali Abunimah, and Rashid Khalidi–all of whom raise red flags for Jews.

In short, the problem is real and the reasons for Jewish antipathy are based on facts about Obama’s stated policies and long-term relationships. But to recognize that would require Obama to address central concerns about his candidacy, concerns which might set off alarm bells for many non-Jewish voters, e.g. his outlook on the Middle East, his views on terrorism, and his proclivity to travel with radicals who spout anti-American and anti-Israel gibberish. Far better to deny the problem exists. Or to attribute it to those pesky, irrational American Jews.

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Newsweek Gushes

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

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“I will never allow a second Holocaust.”

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

John McCain uttered those words in the second half of his interview with Bill O’Reilly on Friday. The subject was whether McCain would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran. Although McCain provided the usual caveats that he would need to know the circumstances and would not respond hypothetically, his remark (which he repeated a few moments later), expressed the stakes in a way few politicians do. It is hard to imagine Barack Obama, who after all wants to meet with Ahmadinedjad, saying anything similar. After all “it wouldn’t be helpful.”

On the topic of Iraq, McCain restated his position that a precipitous withdrawal would result in chaos and genocide and would inevitably require that we re-enter at greater cost. McCain was asked how he’ll avoid be tagged as Bush’s twin. He reeled off a list of issues – climate change, management of the war, and spending – on which he differed with Bush. But then he evidenced a recognition ( or was it a hope?) that the real issue for voters would be about what type of change they want going forward.

McCain in a one-on-one interview setting displays the feisty combativeness that helped gain him his “maverick” label. But he also displays on topics dear to him a fluency and command of detail. He’ll need that, not only in foreign policy, if he’ll convince the voters that he’s not the clueless, indifferent caricature of a Republican whom the Obama camp is making him out to be.

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Obama’s Lonely Planet Foreign Policy

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980’s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980’s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

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The McCain Kickoff Tour

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

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