Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Kelly

Iraq: Before and After Saddam

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship. Read More

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship.

With Iraq’s governing achievement in mind, it’s perhaps worth recalling the words of the late Michael Kelly, one of the greatest journalists and columnists of his generation. Mike, who covered the first Gulf war, had been deeply affected by what Iraq under Saddam Hussein had done to the people of Kuwait. He told about the innocent civilians who had been killed, ritualistically humiliated, robbed, beaten, raped, and tortured by Saddam’s forces. “Shattered people were everywhere,” he said. “I watched one torture victim, a big, strong man, being interviewed in the place of his torture by a BBC television crew — weeping and weeping, but absolutely silent, as he told the story.”

Kelly — who died in 2003 while on assignment in Iraq — went on to write this:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

Thanks to the sacrifices and beneficence of America, Iraq is now free from the boot. That may not be everything, but it is quite a lot.

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RE: Keeping the Boot Off

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

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Keeping the Boot Off

Bret Stephens loudly and appropriately cheers the latest demonstration of Iraqi democracy, a historic achievement he notes was arrived at “first by force of American arms, next by dint of Iraqi will.” And he reminds us of the words of journalist Michael Kelly, killed in 2003 covering the war:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

At what should be a moment of triumph — for the American military, the Iraqi people, and freedom itself — the administration is oddly and painfully muted. It is not simply in Iraq where the impulse to leave seems now to outweigh the desire to ensure the “boot” does not return. (We hear: “Mr. Obama, with the polls barely closed and no votes counted, promptly declares the election makes it possible that ‘by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq.’”) It is that democracy promotion more generally as an objective in our foreign policy has been downgraded. Democracy and human rights are simply items to be traded away for the sake of getting along with those who oppress their people and threaten our quietude. We’ll turn a blind eye to Syrian brutality, re-engage Burma and Sudan, turn down the volume on criticism of China and Russia, and accept the Iranian regime as the legitimate and inevitable victor in the battle with its people. And for what? If anything, our relations with all of these regimes have worsened and the despots’ behavior has become more outrageous.

There is a price to be paid by systematically ignoring and downplaying human rights and shunting aside the victims of despotic regimes. The immediate victims, of course, are the imprisoned and the oppressed who lose hope and who lack the material and assistance to keep up their resistance. The immediate beneficiaries are those regimes who are emboldened to tighten their chokehold at home and engage in mischief beyond their borders, secure in the knowledge that they’ll suffer few consequences, if any. But the harm to our collective memory and our moral antennae is not inconsequential. We are dimly aware that these are unpleasant regimes, but the extent of the brutality and the horror faced by their victims fades. We tolerate what was intolerable by averting our eyes and sloughing off the details. When we do not document and condemn atrocities, we accept dictatorships an inevitable and “normal.” And we lose our own bearings and sense of moral indignation.

If we continue on this path, the world will be less safe and free, and America will be less respected as a result. The triumph in Iraq should remind us what is at stake and help reaffirm American’s unique role in the world. Will it? One suspects not so long as Obama occupies the White House. This administration is very big on engagement, not so enamored of drawing sharp lines or making open-ended commitments — which are precisely what are required to keep the boot off the faces of millions upon millions of people around the world.

Bret Stephens loudly and appropriately cheers the latest demonstration of Iraqi democracy, a historic achievement he notes was arrived at “first by force of American arms, next by dint of Iraqi will.” And he reminds us of the words of journalist Michael Kelly, killed in 2003 covering the war:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

At what should be a moment of triumph — for the American military, the Iraqi people, and freedom itself — the administration is oddly and painfully muted. It is not simply in Iraq where the impulse to leave seems now to outweigh the desire to ensure the “boot” does not return. (We hear: “Mr. Obama, with the polls barely closed and no votes counted, promptly declares the election makes it possible that ‘by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq.’”) It is that democracy promotion more generally as an objective in our foreign policy has been downgraded. Democracy and human rights are simply items to be traded away for the sake of getting along with those who oppress their people and threaten our quietude. We’ll turn a blind eye to Syrian brutality, re-engage Burma and Sudan, turn down the volume on criticism of China and Russia, and accept the Iranian regime as the legitimate and inevitable victor in the battle with its people. And for what? If anything, our relations with all of these regimes have worsened and the despots’ behavior has become more outrageous.

There is a price to be paid by systematically ignoring and downplaying human rights and shunting aside the victims of despotic regimes. The immediate victims, of course, are the imprisoned and the oppressed who lose hope and who lack the material and assistance to keep up their resistance. The immediate beneficiaries are those regimes who are emboldened to tighten their chokehold at home and engage in mischief beyond their borders, secure in the knowledge that they’ll suffer few consequences, if any. But the harm to our collective memory and our moral antennae is not inconsequential. We are dimly aware that these are unpleasant regimes, but the extent of the brutality and the horror faced by their victims fades. We tolerate what was intolerable by averting our eyes and sloughing off the details. When we do not document and condemn atrocities, we accept dictatorships an inevitable and “normal.” And we lose our own bearings and sense of moral indignation.

If we continue on this path, the world will be less safe and free, and America will be less respected as a result. The triumph in Iraq should remind us what is at stake and help reaffirm American’s unique role in the world. Will it? One suspects not so long as Obama occupies the White House. This administration is very big on engagement, not so enamored of drawing sharp lines or making open-ended commitments — which are precisely what are required to keep the boot off the faces of millions upon millions of people around the world.

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Not Quite Camelot

Journalists, of the overt and covert liberal variety, went gaga yesterday over Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his dutiful son and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick, and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg endorsing Barack Obama and all but crowning him as the successor to JFK. A “Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces was arrayed behind” Obama, gushed The Nation. “Kennedy focused on Obama’s ability to channel JFK-levels of inspiration and use good judgment on foreign policy and other issues,” crowed the ever-earnest American Prospect. About 100 journalists were turned away from the event, which says something about reporters and their love for these sorts of staged, media-friendly spectacles.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Yet the Kennedy bug never quite rubbed off on me. In fact, my feelings toward the Kennedys have been quite the opposite from those of my parents’ generation. Perhaps it’s because I was born in 1983, long after the fabled days of “Camelot.” The Kennedys I grew up with weren’t Jack and Bobby, but Michael (who sexually molested his children’s 14-year-old babysitter and died skiing down a mountain while recklessly tossing around a football), William Kennedy Smith, and the aforementioned Patrick (whose antics frequently show that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is the most forgiving in the nation, second only to the entire state of Massachusetts). Worst of all might be Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman who now spends his days shilling on behalf of the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

And, of course, there was Ted himself. I was a very liberal and politically active teenager, but something always struck me as profoundly wrong with the way people in my state lionized Ted Kennedy. I had a foggy knowledge of Chappaquiddick, but it was enough. The fact that this man was re-elected, time and time again, shocked my faith in America’s system of justice. But more than that, it made me question my own liberal faith. That so many of my fellow liberals would apologize for and explain away a man who–were it not for his privileged station in life–would have served a long jail sentence, seemed to contradict the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, namely, equality before the law and opposition to political power accrued by dynastic lineage.

In light of yesterday’s endorsement, now is as good a time as any to go back and re-read the classic GQ story on Kennedy by Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic, entitled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” It’s a different animal entirely from yesterday’s herd-like and fawning press coverage of the Kennedy clan.

Journalists, of the overt and covert liberal variety, went gaga yesterday over Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, his dutiful son and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick, and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg endorsing Barack Obama and all but crowning him as the successor to JFK. A “Mount Rushmore of Kennedy faces was arrayed behind” Obama, gushed The Nation. “Kennedy focused on Obama’s ability to channel JFK-levels of inspiration and use good judgment on foreign policy and other issues,” crowed the ever-earnest American Prospect. About 100 journalists were turned away from the event, which says something about reporters and their love for these sorts of staged, media-friendly spectacles.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts. Yet the Kennedy bug never quite rubbed off on me. In fact, my feelings toward the Kennedys have been quite the opposite from those of my parents’ generation. Perhaps it’s because I was born in 1983, long after the fabled days of “Camelot.” The Kennedys I grew up with weren’t Jack and Bobby, but Michael (who sexually molested his children’s 14-year-old babysitter and died skiing down a mountain while recklessly tossing around a football), William Kennedy Smith, and the aforementioned Patrick (whose antics frequently show that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is the most forgiving in the nation, second only to the entire state of Massachusetts). Worst of all might be Joe Kennedy, a former Congressman who now spends his days shilling on behalf of the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

And, of course, there was Ted himself. I was a very liberal and politically active teenager, but something always struck me as profoundly wrong with the way people in my state lionized Ted Kennedy. I had a foggy knowledge of Chappaquiddick, but it was enough. The fact that this man was re-elected, time and time again, shocked my faith in America’s system of justice. But more than that, it made me question my own liberal faith. That so many of my fellow liberals would apologize for and explain away a man who–were it not for his privileged station in life–would have served a long jail sentence, seemed to contradict the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, namely, equality before the law and opposition to political power accrued by dynastic lineage.

In light of yesterday’s endorsement, now is as good a time as any to go back and re-read the classic GQ story on Kennedy by Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic, entitled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” It’s a different animal entirely from yesterday’s herd-like and fawning press coverage of the Kennedy clan.

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Shame on You

Of all the people on planet Earth, is there anyone who has less standing to utter the words “Shame on you” than Bill Clinton? Yet there he was yesterday, scolding a television reporter for asking him about criticisms by other Democrats that he is leveling unfair and inaccurate attacks against Senator Barack Obama. For a man of bottomless dishonesty and irresponsible behavior to act morally offended about anything, especially for being asked about his own role in spreading false charges against a political opponent, is a remarkable thing to see.

Today’s Washington Post recounts that exchange in a front-page story. According to reporters Alec MacGillis and Anne Kornblut,

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama, in what some Democrats said is part of an increasing pattern of hardball politics by her and former president Bill Clinton.

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the “politics of deception.” A onetime Clinton supporter, Harpootlian said the Clintons’ recent tactics have been “all about deceit.” “This is harmful to the party, it’s harmful to the state,” Harpootlian added. “And I understand they want to win, but this is about–should be about–a competition of ideas, not who can pull the hammer harder.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, ripped into the former president for what he called his “glib cheap shots” at Obama. “That’s beneath the dignity of a former president,” Leahy told reporters, adding: “He is not helping anyone, and certainly not helping the Democratic Party.”

Furthermore, according to the Post,

For some rank-and-file Democrats, the tack against Obama is prompting a reevaluation of Clinton and her husband. Bill Clinton gained enormous popularity among Democrats in the 1990s partly because of his ability to achieve tactical triumphs over Republicans. Now, watching the use of rough-edged tactics against a fellow Democrat, some of those who supported him then are having second thoughts. “They’re obvious distortions,” said Ralph Byrd, a retired electrical engineer in Greenville, S.C., who voted for Clinton in 1992 and 1996. “We’ve had enough spin in the White House the last eight years, and we don’t need any more. It’s deliberate distortion that we don’t need.”

On MSNBC’s Hardball last night, the liberal radio talk show host Ed Schultz, agitated and fed up, said this about Bill Clinton: “He’s lying on the campaign trail… Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama’s record . . . He is embarrassing poor Democrats.” Now they tell us.

Democrats who stood by Mr. Clinton when he and his wife perfected the politics of deceit and personal destruction in the 1990′s are now shocked, shocked that he and his wife are employing the politics of deceit and personal destruction. But it is hard to condemn what you once applauded and even delighted in.

The late Michael Kelly understood Bill Clinton as well as any journalist ever did. And about Bill Clinton he once wrote this:

This man will never stop lying. To borrow a hyperbolic description of another of the century’s historic prevaricators, every word he utters is a lie, including “and” and “the.” He will lie till the last dog dies.

Barack Obama, who seems to be a political figure of admirable integrity, now faces the most ruthless political machine we have seen in our lifetime. We will see how the politics of hope does against the man from hope. If Obama succeeds in ending the presidential aspirations of this deeply cynical and corrupt couple, he will have done both his party and his country a favor.

Of all the people on planet Earth, is there anyone who has less standing to utter the words “Shame on you” than Bill Clinton? Yet there he was yesterday, scolding a television reporter for asking him about criticisms by other Democrats that he is leveling unfair and inaccurate attacks against Senator Barack Obama. For a man of bottomless dishonesty and irresponsible behavior to act morally offended about anything, especially for being asked about his own role in spreading false charges against a political opponent, is a remarkable thing to see.

Today’s Washington Post recounts that exchange in a front-page story. According to reporters Alec MacGillis and Anne Kornblut,

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama, in what some Democrats said is part of an increasing pattern of hardball politics by her and former president Bill Clinton.

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the “politics of deception.” A onetime Clinton supporter, Harpootlian said the Clintons’ recent tactics have been “all about deceit.” “This is harmful to the party, it’s harmful to the state,” Harpootlian added. “And I understand they want to win, but this is about–should be about–a competition of ideas, not who can pull the hammer harder.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, ripped into the former president for what he called his “glib cheap shots” at Obama. “That’s beneath the dignity of a former president,” Leahy told reporters, adding: “He is not helping anyone, and certainly not helping the Democratic Party.”

Furthermore, according to the Post,

For some rank-and-file Democrats, the tack against Obama is prompting a reevaluation of Clinton and her husband. Bill Clinton gained enormous popularity among Democrats in the 1990s partly because of his ability to achieve tactical triumphs over Republicans. Now, watching the use of rough-edged tactics against a fellow Democrat, some of those who supported him then are having second thoughts. “They’re obvious distortions,” said Ralph Byrd, a retired electrical engineer in Greenville, S.C., who voted for Clinton in 1992 and 1996. “We’ve had enough spin in the White House the last eight years, and we don’t need any more. It’s deliberate distortion that we don’t need.”

On MSNBC’s Hardball last night, the liberal radio talk show host Ed Schultz, agitated and fed up, said this about Bill Clinton: “He’s lying on the campaign trail… Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama’s record . . . He is embarrassing poor Democrats.” Now they tell us.

Democrats who stood by Mr. Clinton when he and his wife perfected the politics of deceit and personal destruction in the 1990′s are now shocked, shocked that he and his wife are employing the politics of deceit and personal destruction. But it is hard to condemn what you once applauded and even delighted in.

The late Michael Kelly understood Bill Clinton as well as any journalist ever did. And about Bill Clinton he once wrote this:

This man will never stop lying. To borrow a hyperbolic description of another of the century’s historic prevaricators, every word he utters is a lie, including “and” and “the.” He will lie till the last dog dies.

Barack Obama, who seems to be a political figure of admirable integrity, now faces the most ruthless political machine we have seen in our lifetime. We will see how the politics of hope does against the man from hope. If Obama succeeds in ending the presidential aspirations of this deeply cynical and corrupt couple, he will have done both his party and his country a favor.

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End of an Era

The Obama wave, which has been building for months, reached the proportions of a tidal wave after Iowa. It is now about to submerge, sink, and drown the Clinton campaign, and with it, the Clinton era will come, finally, to a close.

The Clinton years lasted from 1992 to 2007. In the early days of January 2008, a young, graceful senator from Illinois, liberal and likeable, with only a few years of experience in the U.S. Senate, stood up to Hillary and Bill Clinton and the vaunted Clinton machine and ran rings around all of them. Every effort to try to derail Obama came back to hurt them. Just this morning Senator Clinton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Obama “is a very talented politician” but “if he’s going to be competing for president – and especially to get the Democratic nomination and go up against whomever the Republican put up – I think it is really time to start comparing and contrasting him as I have been scrutinized for all of this year.” Obama’s response on the same program? “I find the manner in which they’ve been running their campaign sort of depressing lately.” That is quite a clever response: short and true and devastating. Senator Clinton came across as peevish and angry during Saturday’s night debate.

I have said before that to watch Obama v. Clinton is to be reminded of watching Ali v. Foreman. The de facto knockout blow is about to be delivered tomorrow in the snowy streets of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t drop out after her loss; she will stagger on but prove unable to stop Obama. And to watch the Clintons’ rage and desperation grow in the last days of this campaign will not be pretty. They will lash out at everyone, including Obama, the media, her own campaign, and maybe, eventually, each other.

This is a couple not known for their grace or for holding lightly to their grip on power.

There are many things to say about the deeper meaning of this moment and what its passing will signify. Suffice it to say that it will be good, very good, for us to say farewell to the couple that brought you Carville, Begala, Blumenthal, and Ickes; the “war room,” the use of private investigators, and attacks on women like Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey; impeachment for perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a grand jury; contempt of court findings; the promiscuous smearing of those whom they viewed as threat to their power; the charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and assurances that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; and so much more.

On the eve of the New Hampshire vote and all it will mean, it’s worth recalling the words of the late, great Michael Kelly:

The lie at the heart of the vast and varied lie that is Bill Clinton’s defense is that lying is a victimless crime – and something that properly exists as a moral concern only between the liar and his maker and a few people immediately affected. But this is not so. Lying corrupts, and an absolute liar corrupts absolutely, and the corruption spread by the lies of the absolutely mendacious Clinton is becoming frightening to behold.

After she loses, Hillary Clinton will remain in the Senate, of course, and Bill Clinton will continue to make millions through his public speeches. They will not completely disappear from the national scene. But their days as a Democratic dynasty, and their center-stage role in American politics, are about to end.

The Obama wave, which has been building for months, reached the proportions of a tidal wave after Iowa. It is now about to submerge, sink, and drown the Clinton campaign, and with it, the Clinton era will come, finally, to a close.

The Clinton years lasted from 1992 to 2007. In the early days of January 2008, a young, graceful senator from Illinois, liberal and likeable, with only a few years of experience in the U.S. Senate, stood up to Hillary and Bill Clinton and the vaunted Clinton machine and ran rings around all of them. Every effort to try to derail Obama came back to hurt them. Just this morning Senator Clinton told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Obama “is a very talented politician” but “if he’s going to be competing for president – and especially to get the Democratic nomination and go up against whomever the Republican put up – I think it is really time to start comparing and contrasting him as I have been scrutinized for all of this year.” Obama’s response on the same program? “I find the manner in which they’ve been running their campaign sort of depressing lately.” That is quite a clever response: short and true and devastating. Senator Clinton came across as peevish and angry during Saturday’s night debate.

I have said before that to watch Obama v. Clinton is to be reminded of watching Ali v. Foreman. The de facto knockout blow is about to be delivered tomorrow in the snowy streets of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t drop out after her loss; she will stagger on but prove unable to stop Obama. And to watch the Clintons’ rage and desperation grow in the last days of this campaign will not be pretty. They will lash out at everyone, including Obama, the media, her own campaign, and maybe, eventually, each other.

This is a couple not known for their grace or for holding lightly to their grip on power.

There are many things to say about the deeper meaning of this moment and what its passing will signify. Suffice it to say that it will be good, very good, for us to say farewell to the couple that brought you Carville, Begala, Blumenthal, and Ickes; the “war room,” the use of private investigators, and attacks on women like Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey; impeachment for perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a grand jury; contempt of court findings; the promiscuous smearing of those whom they viewed as threat to their power; the charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and assurances that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; and so much more.

On the eve of the New Hampshire vote and all it will mean, it’s worth recalling the words of the late, great Michael Kelly:

The lie at the heart of the vast and varied lie that is Bill Clinton’s defense is that lying is a victimless crime – and something that properly exists as a moral concern only between the liar and his maker and a few people immediately affected. But this is not so. Lying corrupts, and an absolute liar corrupts absolutely, and the corruption spread by the lies of the absolutely mendacious Clinton is becoming frightening to behold.

After she loses, Hillary Clinton will remain in the Senate, of course, and Bill Clinton will continue to make millions through his public speeches. They will not completely disappear from the national scene. But their days as a Democratic dynasty, and their center-stage role in American politics, are about to end.

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Not-So-Slick Willie

Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

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Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

The attempt to persuade us that Clinton was in favor of the authority to go to war but opposed President Bush’s decision to use that authority is not credible—but it is entirely predictable. After all, it is part of a well-known pattern when it comes to William Jefferson Clinton.

Bob Woodward put it this way:

People feel, and I think rightly, that they’re not being leveled with. . . . There is this tendency in Clinton which you see all through his life of, “How do we spin our way out of it? How do we put out 10 percent of the truth? How do we try to conceal or delay or obfuscate?” And that is a profound problem.

Michael Kelly, then of the New York Times, summarized things this way:

Mr. Clinton’s tendency to make misleading statements, renege on promises, and waffle on difficult questions has been a part of the story of his record in matters of public policy and politics, not just in personal terms.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey put it more bluntly:

Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good.

One can imagine that Bill Clinton, if asked under oath about this matter, would say something like: “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘the beginning of the war’ is.”

Bill Clinton’s comments cannot help Hillary Clinton, if only because it reminds people of some of the worst aspects of the Clinton presidency: the mendacity, the reckless disregard for the truth, the self-justification, self-indulgence, and shamelessness of the man. Hillary Clinton has enough negatives to last her a lifetime; her husband, in trying to rewrite history, is simply adding to them.

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Pundit Accountability

In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

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In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

Two weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts—his supporters would argue these are bedrock values—seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

And several weeks later he wrote this:

Under the enlightened leadership of Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority has played the democracy game with gusto. It has acknowledged the importance of Kurdish and Sunni minority rights and seems unlikely to demand the constitutional imposition of strict Islamic law. Most important, it has resisted the temptation to retaliate against the outrageous violence of Sunni extremists, especially against Shiite mosques…. If the President turns out to be right—and let’s hope he is—a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.

From support for the Iraq war to calling it the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President;” from possible vindication and a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush to his “naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it;” these are head-snapping turnabouts.

In his preface to The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill wrote, “I have adhered to my rule of never criticizing any measure of war or policy after the event unless I had before expressed publicly or formally my opinion or warning about it.”

Many columnists and commentators suffer from the opposite syndrome—though Klein more so than most. They write with passionate conviction and certitude at The Moment—even when what they believe at that moment is significantly different than, or even the opposite of, what they once said and believed. They are, to amend an observation Michael Kelly made about Bill Clinton, “the existential pundits, living with absolute sincerity in the passing moment.”

Politics has accountability in the form of elections. Punditry, it sometimes seems, is an accountability-free zone.

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