Commentary Magazine


Topic: national security adviser

Morning Commentary

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

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Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

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What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

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What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

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Can’t Anybody Here Play This White House Game?

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

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If Rolling Stone Sank McChrystal, What Will Woodward Do to the Obami?

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

A “primer in rotten politics”: Assemblyman Vito Lopez is captured on videotape “threatening a group of old ladies during an effort to consolidate power as Kings County kingmaker.”

A chilling thought: Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes (who gets his Iraq info from Google) tells us that the Obami will make sure Iran’s nuclear intentions are peaceful before another fruitless round of engagement. “Just when will Iran have to demonstrate the peaceful intent of its nuclear program? After they build the bomb as a check on Israeli aggression, perhaps? And anyway, Ben Rhodes is not a national security adviser, or rather, would not be in any universe that made sense. He was Obama’s top foreign-policy speechwriter and was then made a Deputy National Security adviser … for Communications. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not only writing speeches but also dictating foreign policy, in which case it’s time I take my suicide pills.”

A dopey suggestion from Bill Clinton on the Ground Zero mosque: “Much or even most of the controversy … could have been avoided, and perhaps still can be, if the people who want to build the center were to simply say, ‘We are dedicating this center to all the Muslims who were killed on 9/11.’” Because Muslims should dedicate things only to Muslims, you see.

And a noxious analysis by the ex-president of the problem with Russian immigrants in Israel. Maybe he’s competing with Jimmy Carter for the ex-president limelight.

An exercise in self-delusion: Nate Silver says the generic polls don’t really mean that a debacle is ahead for the Democrats.

Another result of “reform” Obama-style: drug companies may hike prices to offset the ObamaCare drug discount. It was supposed to fill “the doughnut hole.” Instead, it may worsen the health-care inflation problem.

A 10-point plan for reducing unemployment: “If we truly want to create jobs, it is not enough to simply berate business to create them. We must address the dynamics that keep businesses from offering jobs and that keep people from accepting jobs. We can use policy to create jobs — we just have to care enough about the jobless to make creating jobs a political priority.”

A sign of a weak president and Senate minority leader: “In the face of a promised filibuster by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Democrats could not convince a single GOP senator to cross over and provide the 60th vote needed to begin debate on a defense spending bill containing the repeal measure. The vote to open debate failed, 56-43, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) joining all Republicans in opposing taking up the bill.”

An undersecretary of something’s bailiwick? No, the sort of mini-issue Hillary lives for: “She told the Clinton Global Initiative forum that the public-private clean stoves plan, dubbed ‘Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves,’ would seek to install the new, 25-dollar units by 2020.”

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How to Talk About Iraq

Former national security adviser Stephen Hadley provides some much needed perspective on the Iraq war:

From a national security perspective, the U.S. objective for a post-Saddam Iraq was an Iraqi government that would not pursue weapons of mass destruction, invade its neighbors, support terror, or oppress its people. That objective has been achieved. The governments that have followed Saddam—and those that are likely to govern going forward—have and will continue to meet these criteria because the Iraqi people have concluded that doing so is in their interest.

The U.S. objective was also to leave behind an Iraq that would be able to govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror. That objective has also been achieved.

Unlike Obama’s statements to date — we hope tonight’s speech will be a change for the better — Hadley gives credit where credit is due:

The Iraqi people are the main authors of this success. They endured great brutality under Saddam, suffered enormous hardship after the invasion, joined forces with us to liberate themselves from al Qaeda terrorism, and turned out to vote despite rampant violence. But even Iraqis admit that they could not have succeeded without the United States.

Perhaps the most critical moment was President Bush’s decision in January 2007 to add over 20,000 American combat troops and change the military strategy. He was actively opposed by a majority of the Congress and a commentariat that argued for everything from withdrawing immediately to partitioning the country.

Hadley is also gracious in the extreme, declining to point out Obama’s specific errors in judgment in deeming the war lost and opposing the surge. He chooses to focus on the positive instead: “To his credit, President Obama has built on this success. As promised, he is continuing to bring our troops home but without jeopardizing what has been achieved. His next task is to realize a long-term diplomatic, economic and security partnership between Iraq and the United States.”

Hadley is behaving more presidential than the current Oval Office occupant. But then the Bush team was always a class act. In that regard, Obama’s not-Bush behavior is all the more noticeable and disappointing.

Former national security adviser Stephen Hadley provides some much needed perspective on the Iraq war:

From a national security perspective, the U.S. objective for a post-Saddam Iraq was an Iraqi government that would not pursue weapons of mass destruction, invade its neighbors, support terror, or oppress its people. That objective has been achieved. The governments that have followed Saddam—and those that are likely to govern going forward—have and will continue to meet these criteria because the Iraqi people have concluded that doing so is in their interest.

The U.S. objective was also to leave behind an Iraq that would be able to govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror. That objective has also been achieved.

Unlike Obama’s statements to date — we hope tonight’s speech will be a change for the better — Hadley gives credit where credit is due:

The Iraqi people are the main authors of this success. They endured great brutality under Saddam, suffered enormous hardship after the invasion, joined forces with us to liberate themselves from al Qaeda terrorism, and turned out to vote despite rampant violence. But even Iraqis admit that they could not have succeeded without the United States.

Perhaps the most critical moment was President Bush’s decision in January 2007 to add over 20,000 American combat troops and change the military strategy. He was actively opposed by a majority of the Congress and a commentariat that argued for everything from withdrawing immediately to partitioning the country.

Hadley is also gracious in the extreme, declining to point out Obama’s specific errors in judgment in deeming the war lost and opposing the surge. He chooses to focus on the positive instead: “To his credit, President Obama has built on this success. As promised, he is continuing to bring our troops home but without jeopardizing what has been achieved. His next task is to realize a long-term diplomatic, economic and security partnership between Iraq and the United States.”

Hadley is behaving more presidential than the current Oval Office occupant. But then the Bush team was always a class act. In that regard, Obama’s not-Bush behavior is all the more noticeable and disappointing.

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For Secretary of Defense? (Updated)

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

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The Sound of Silence

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

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The Clown Show

The least controversial and most widely accepted comment in the Rolling Stone piece is this:

One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”

This is the worst-kept secret in Washington. For some time now, we’ve been getting hints that Jones is less than effective. More than a year ago, Michael Goldfarb reviewed news reports that Jones was keeping bankers’ hours. (“It seems like Jones’s primary goal as National Security Adviser is to get home for dinner. He doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice his life for his career.’ Is this really the best and the brightest?) In TV interviews, he has not inspired confidence. He was downright incoherent in discussing Iran with Candy Crowley earlier this year.

Moreover, Jones is often front and center in the anti-Israel onslaughts. It was Jones who went to speak to J Street last fall. Again, it was Jones who assembled the “Why not an imposed peace plan on Israel?” confab, and then leaked it to the media.

If the Obama foreign policy team has failed to come up with an effective plan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a good share of the blame is Jones’s. If we had a prolonged and agonized decision-making proces on Afghanistan war strategy, Jones again bears some of the responsibility. You say that the problem is with Obama? Well, certainly, but only the voters can do something about that. As for Jones, it is no laughing matter to have a national-security adviser who is widely perceived as being so ineffective — if not downright counterproductive to the formulation of “smart” national-security policy.

If Obama decides to follow John McCain’s advice and use the McChrystal gaffe as a housecleaning opportunity, he should include Jones. That move is long overdue. No joke.

The least controversial and most widely accepted comment in the Rolling Stone piece is this:

One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”

This is the worst-kept secret in Washington. For some time now, we’ve been getting hints that Jones is less than effective. More than a year ago, Michael Goldfarb reviewed news reports that Jones was keeping bankers’ hours. (“It seems like Jones’s primary goal as National Security Adviser is to get home for dinner. He doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice his life for his career.’ Is this really the best and the brightest?) In TV interviews, he has not inspired confidence. He was downright incoherent in discussing Iran with Candy Crowley earlier this year.

Moreover, Jones is often front and center in the anti-Israel onslaughts. It was Jones who went to speak to J Street last fall. Again, it was Jones who assembled the “Why not an imposed peace plan on Israel?” confab, and then leaked it to the media.

If the Obama foreign policy team has failed to come up with an effective plan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a good share of the blame is Jones’s. If we had a prolonged and agonized decision-making proces on Afghanistan war strategy, Jones again bears some of the responsibility. You say that the problem is with Obama? Well, certainly, but only the voters can do something about that. As for Jones, it is no laughing matter to have a national-security adviser who is widely perceived as being so ineffective — if not downright counterproductive to the formulation of “smart” national-security policy.

If Obama decides to follow John McCain’s advice and use the McChrystal gaffe as a housecleaning opportunity, he should include Jones. That move is long overdue. No joke.

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Should the General Be Called on the Carpet?

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Fox News tells us: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind — and completely addicted to Nintendo Wii. The Boy Scouts of America — a group founded on the principles of building character and improving physical fitness — have introduced a brand new award for academic achievement in video gaming, a move that has child health experts atwitter.”

Elliott Abrams: “Israelis are living under the threat of annihilation every day. … If the world does not act, I believe Israel will act, and I hope the U.S. will. We keep saying it’s unacceptable for Iran to have a bomb, but we don’t mean it. We mean it’s terrible, we don’t want it. But when Israel says it’s unacceptable, they mean it.”

In a three-way race, Charlie Crist still loses.

And his staffers aren’t sticking with him: “The adviser said that Mr. Crist expects to lose his entire professional campaign staff, and it isn’t clear who he will bring on as replacements. GOP officials have instructed party political operatives not to work in opposition to the Republican nominee, and Democratic campaign workers are unlikely to sign on to work against Mr. Meek.” No money and no staff — this campaign could prove even more anemic than his GOP primary bid.

Now that’s a funny joke: “At a cocktail party full of Washington whisperers one says to the other, ‘I hear Jim Jones just resigned.’ Says the other: ‘How can you tell?’” Unfortunately, it’s not funny that we have a national security adviser who many find “is the disconnected, remote chief of a system that has thus far seemingly favored lengthy (some might say dithering) process over the production of good, clear policies, a process that cuts out key officials, and one that has been too dominated by the circle of pols that are close to the president.”

The press finds Robert Gibbs funny: “Gibbs said at one of his briefings, ‘This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.’ Peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room.”

Depending on which poll you look at, John McCain is either in a dogfight or a walkaway Senate primary.

Republicans hung tough and got some concessions on the finance bill: “Senate Republicans say Democrats have made important concessions on a Wall Street reform bill and the chamber agreed by unanimous consent Wednesday evening to proceed to debate on the legislation. The bill was reported to the floor Wednesday night and debate is set to begin on Thursday. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) released a statement Wednesday afternoon touting ‘a key agreement’ to resolve disagreements over a $50 billion fund to liquidate troubled banks.” I wonder what would have happened had Ben Nelson done the same on health-care reform.

Fox News tells us: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind — and completely addicted to Nintendo Wii. The Boy Scouts of America — a group founded on the principles of building character and improving physical fitness — have introduced a brand new award for academic achievement in video gaming, a move that has child health experts atwitter.”

Elliott Abrams: “Israelis are living under the threat of annihilation every day. … If the world does not act, I believe Israel will act, and I hope the U.S. will. We keep saying it’s unacceptable for Iran to have a bomb, but we don’t mean it. We mean it’s terrible, we don’t want it. But when Israel says it’s unacceptable, they mean it.”

In a three-way race, Charlie Crist still loses.

And his staffers aren’t sticking with him: “The adviser said that Mr. Crist expects to lose his entire professional campaign staff, and it isn’t clear who he will bring on as replacements. GOP officials have instructed party political operatives not to work in opposition to the Republican nominee, and Democratic campaign workers are unlikely to sign on to work against Mr. Meek.” No money and no staff — this campaign could prove even more anemic than his GOP primary bid.

Now that’s a funny joke: “At a cocktail party full of Washington whisperers one says to the other, ‘I hear Jim Jones just resigned.’ Says the other: ‘How can you tell?’” Unfortunately, it’s not funny that we have a national security adviser who many find “is the disconnected, remote chief of a system that has thus far seemingly favored lengthy (some might say dithering) process over the production of good, clear policies, a process that cuts out key officials, and one that has been too dominated by the circle of pols that are close to the president.”

The press finds Robert Gibbs funny: “Gibbs said at one of his briefings, ‘This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.’ Peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room.”

Depending on which poll you look at, John McCain is either in a dogfight or a walkaway Senate primary.

Republicans hung tough and got some concessions on the finance bill: “Senate Republicans say Democrats have made important concessions on a Wall Street reform bill and the chamber agreed by unanimous consent Wednesday evening to proceed to debate on the legislation. The bill was reported to the floor Wednesday night and debate is set to begin on Thursday. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) released a statement Wednesday afternoon touting ‘a key agreement’ to resolve disagreements over a $50 billion fund to liquidate troubled banks.” I wonder what would have happened had Ben Nelson done the same on health-care reform.

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RE: James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

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James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.’”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.’”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

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Israel Prepares for the Enemy It Faces

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

Read Less




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