Commentary Magazine


Topic: news media

Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators Attack Reporters

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

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Iranian Nuclear Threat: Plan A Might Not Be Working

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

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The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

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RE: A Good Move. Now…

Jennifer, while agreeing with much of what you have to say about the McChrystal-Petraeus transition, I have to disagree with your reader who says, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” Perhaps that was once true; it is certainly no longer true. A general who neglects his public-outreach function is guilty of dereliction of duty. Indeed, that was part of the reason why General George Casey was unsuccessful in Iraq; he was hunkered down in Baghdad and he was not communicating effectively with people either in Iraq or in the United States to explain and defend his strategy.

For that matter, by neglecting the news media, a senior general cannot effectively communicate with his own troops. Like it or not, one of the most effective ways to reach an organization of hundreds of thousands of individuals is through the mass media.

Luckily, General Petraeus is keenly aware of the need to engage in strategic communication, which involves opening up the battlefield to the news media and academic experts and opening up the commander to interviews. This has made him somewhat controversial within the army, which has a traditional disdain for the news media — an attitude that will only be reinforced by the fallout over the Rolling Stone interview. It is significant, however, that Petraeus has never gotten into that kind of trouble, notwithstanding all the interviews he has given over the years. And he hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble by uttering platitudes or ridiculously rosy predictions. He has a rare gift for conveying sincerity without stepping over the line or making inappropriate and indiscreet comments of the kind McChrystal and his staff made. That is a skill that all successful generals must cultivate in the Information Age. “No comment” is simply no longer an option.

Jennifer, while agreeing with much of what you have to say about the McChrystal-Petraeus transition, I have to disagree with your reader who says, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” Perhaps that was once true; it is certainly no longer true. A general who neglects his public-outreach function is guilty of dereliction of duty. Indeed, that was part of the reason why General George Casey was unsuccessful in Iraq; he was hunkered down in Baghdad and he was not communicating effectively with people either in Iraq or in the United States to explain and defend his strategy.

For that matter, by neglecting the news media, a senior general cannot effectively communicate with his own troops. Like it or not, one of the most effective ways to reach an organization of hundreds of thousands of individuals is through the mass media.

Luckily, General Petraeus is keenly aware of the need to engage in strategic communication, which involves opening up the battlefield to the news media and academic experts and opening up the commander to interviews. This has made him somewhat controversial within the army, which has a traditional disdain for the news media — an attitude that will only be reinforced by the fallout over the Rolling Stone interview. It is significant, however, that Petraeus has never gotten into that kind of trouble, notwithstanding all the interviews he has given over the years. And he hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble by uttering platitudes or ridiculously rosy predictions. He has a rare gift for conveying sincerity without stepping over the line or making inappropriate and indiscreet comments of the kind McChrystal and his staff made. That is a skill that all successful generals must cultivate in the Information Age. “No comment” is simply no longer an option.

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The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama's] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama's] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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Where’s the Support for U.S. Civilians in Iraq?

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

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Why Shouldn’t Holder Be Fired?

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

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Only Thing “Spectacular” About Taliban Attack Is MSM Overreaction

So let me get this straight. Seven Taliban staged an attack in Kabul. They failed to blast their way into the Central Bank as intended. In the end they were hunted down by Afghan security forces. Five attackers were gunned down; two committed suicide. The entire attack apparently killed three soldiers and two civilians — far below the death toll of the Columbine massacre, to say nothing of Mumbai. And this is supposed to be a “spectacular attack” that shows the “resiliency” of the Taliban?

All it shows is their flair for publicity. True, the attack showed a fair degree of organization, but it was not terribly successful. More impressive than the attack was the Afghan response, which did not involve any American troops. Once again, the Afghan security forces showed themselves to be more proficient than the Indian security forces did in Mumbai. Unfortunately there will continue to be more such attacks as long as the Taliban know that the international news media will give  them publicity out of all proportion to their military achievements.

So let me get this straight. Seven Taliban staged an attack in Kabul. They failed to blast their way into the Central Bank as intended. In the end they were hunted down by Afghan security forces. Five attackers were gunned down; two committed suicide. The entire attack apparently killed three soldiers and two civilians — far below the death toll of the Columbine massacre, to say nothing of Mumbai. And this is supposed to be a “spectacular attack” that shows the “resiliency” of the Taliban?

All it shows is their flair for publicity. True, the attack showed a fair degree of organization, but it was not terribly successful. More impressive than the attack was the Afghan response, which did not involve any American troops. Once again, the Afghan security forces showed themselves to be more proficient than the Indian security forces did in Mumbai. Unfortunately there will continue to be more such attacks as long as the Taliban know that the international news media will give  them publicity out of all proportion to their military achievements.

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Iraq Casualties

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

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Expert Opinions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My article ended with a warning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My article ended with a warning:

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

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

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Bringing People Together

From the Left, the Right, and a number of Scott McClellan’s former colleagues we have agreement: if you’re going to betray your former employer, it is best to have been more capable yourself and to have spoken out when there was not a book deal at issue. Perhaps the most telling comment comes from David Gregory, one of McClellan’s chief antagonists, who finds it hard to believe that McClellan was even in the loop. (I am confident that, in a secret ballot election by the White House press corps, McClellan wouldn’t win any votes for the “most knowledgeable and connected press secretary in our time.”)

Despite the diverse criticism of McClellan, it appears that much of the news media (the same crowd that thought McClellan an ineffective bumbler at the time) is infatuated with the story because it is another excuse to trot out the “Bush lied, people died” mantra. (There is an occasional note of skepticism, and even a willingness to recite McClellan’s own words castigating Richard Clarke for his similar tell-all indictment.) And surely if the issue for the election in November is “Should George W. Bush get a third term?”, it’s curtains for the GOP. But the McCain team is trying its best to make the election about Barack Obama’s experience, knowledge, and judgment. And they have had some success in getting the media to focus on how much Obama knows and how ready he is to be commander-in-chief. We have seen lately that when Obama talks about his own positions on issues or his own version of reality, things can get rather dicey. So no doubt his media cheerleaders would be delighted to go back to talking about McClellan’s book.

From the Left, the Right, and a number of Scott McClellan’s former colleagues we have agreement: if you’re going to betray your former employer, it is best to have been more capable yourself and to have spoken out when there was not a book deal at issue. Perhaps the most telling comment comes from David Gregory, one of McClellan’s chief antagonists, who finds it hard to believe that McClellan was even in the loop. (I am confident that, in a secret ballot election by the White House press corps, McClellan wouldn’t win any votes for the “most knowledgeable and connected press secretary in our time.”)

Despite the diverse criticism of McClellan, it appears that much of the news media (the same crowd that thought McClellan an ineffective bumbler at the time) is infatuated with the story because it is another excuse to trot out the “Bush lied, people died” mantra. (There is an occasional note of skepticism, and even a willingness to recite McClellan’s own words castigating Richard Clarke for his similar tell-all indictment.) And surely if the issue for the election in November is “Should George W. Bush get a third term?”, it’s curtains for the GOP. But the McCain team is trying its best to make the election about Barack Obama’s experience, knowledge, and judgment. And they have had some success in getting the media to focus on how much Obama knows and how ready he is to be commander-in-chief. We have seen lately that when Obama talks about his own positions on issues or his own version of reality, things can get rather dicey. So no doubt his media cheerleaders would be delighted to go back to talking about McClellan’s book.

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They Figured It Out. So Why Didn’t He?

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have discovered the resentment toward Barack Obama and the media brewing among Hillary Clinton’s female supporters. The New York Times reporters seem to own up that their brethren in the mainstream media may have played a role in the Clinton dissing, declaring:

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama. Some even accuse Mr. Obama of chauvinism, pointing to the time he called Mrs. Clinton “likeable enough” as evidence of dismissiveness. Nancy Wait, 55, a social worker in Columbia City, Ind., said Mr. Obama was far less qualified than Mrs. Clinton and described as condescending his recent assurances that Mrs. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she liked. Ms. Wait said she would “absolutely, positively not” vote for him come fall.

Meanwhile, the Post picks up on the generational element:

To Veronica Tonay, 48, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Clinton supporter, Obama has become a pop star, the contestant on “American Idol” who wins votes because he’s cute, while the best singer is eliminated. “We are electing the leader of the free world, and that person has a finger on the nuclear launch code,” she said. “It’s not about likability.” Her stance was cemented when a young woman in one of her classes declared that she wouldn’t vote for Clinton because “she is not a beautiful woman.”

So what’s missing in all this? Perhaps a wee bit of analysis might be in order. How can a post-partisan, high-minded 21st century fellow like the Agent of Change participate in, even passively, in the conduct which brought this all about. As Abe has observed in other contexts, Obama is often delinquent in recognizing issues and has shown an unwillingness to take charge, guide the dialogue, and set an example. On an issue of personal dignity and equality, you’d think that he, of all people, would have been more on top of things.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have discovered the resentment toward Barack Obama and the media brewing among Hillary Clinton’s female supporters. The New York Times reporters seem to own up that their brethren in the mainstream media may have played a role in the Clinton dissing, declaring:

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama. Some even accuse Mr. Obama of chauvinism, pointing to the time he called Mrs. Clinton “likeable enough” as evidence of dismissiveness. Nancy Wait, 55, a social worker in Columbia City, Ind., said Mr. Obama was far less qualified than Mrs. Clinton and described as condescending his recent assurances that Mrs. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she liked. Ms. Wait said she would “absolutely, positively not” vote for him come fall.

Meanwhile, the Post picks up on the generational element:

To Veronica Tonay, 48, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Clinton supporter, Obama has become a pop star, the contestant on “American Idol” who wins votes because he’s cute, while the best singer is eliminated. “We are electing the leader of the free world, and that person has a finger on the nuclear launch code,” she said. “It’s not about likability.” Her stance was cemented when a young woman in one of her classes declared that she wouldn’t vote for Clinton because “she is not a beautiful woman.”

So what’s missing in all this? Perhaps a wee bit of analysis might be in order. How can a post-partisan, high-minded 21st century fellow like the Agent of Change participate in, even passively, in the conduct which brought this all about. As Abe has observed in other contexts, Obama is often delinquent in recognizing issues and has shown an unwillingness to take charge, guide the dialogue, and set an example. On an issue of personal dignity and equality, you’d think that he, of all people, would have been more on top of things.

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Stop the Presses!

Hold the front page! Heck, on second thought, hold three full inside pages as well. Notify the Pulitzer jurors. The New York Times has a blockbuster scoop. Its ace reporter, David Barstow, has uncovered shocking evidence that . . . the Pentagon tries to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.

Are you surprised? Outraged? Furious? Apparently the Times is: it’s found  a new wrinkle in what it views as an insidious military propaganda campaign. You see, the Defense Department isn’t content to try to present its views simply to full-time reporters who are paid employees of organizations like the New York Times. It actually has the temerity to brief retired military officers directly, who then opine on TV and in print about matters such as the Iraq War.

As I read and read and read this seemingly endless report, I kept trying to figure out what the news was here. Why did the Times decide this story is so important? After all, it’s no secret that the Pentagon–and every other branch of government–routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is
hardly unheard of for cabinet members–or even the President and Vice President–to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.

I think I got to the nub of the problem when I read, buried deep in this article, Barstow’s complaint that the Pentagon’s campaign to brief military analysts “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” But the Times would laugh at anyone who claimed that activities “subversive” of America’s national interest are at all problematic. After all, aren’t we constantly told that criticism–even “subversive” criticism–is the highest form of patriotism? Apparently it’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM. We can’t have that!

How dare the Pentagon try to break the media monopoly traditionally held by full-time journalists of reliably “progressive” views! The gall of those guys to try to shape public opinion through the words of retired officers who might have a different perspective! Who might even be, as the article darkly warns, “in sync with the administration’s neo-conservative brain trust.”

The implicit purpose of the Times‘s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs–conveniently enough–as the dominant shapers of public opinion.

Hold the front page! Heck, on second thought, hold three full inside pages as well. Notify the Pulitzer jurors. The New York Times has a blockbuster scoop. Its ace reporter, David Barstow, has uncovered shocking evidence that . . . the Pentagon tries to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.

Are you surprised? Outraged? Furious? Apparently the Times is: it’s found  a new wrinkle in what it views as an insidious military propaganda campaign. You see, the Defense Department isn’t content to try to present its views simply to full-time reporters who are paid employees of organizations like the New York Times. It actually has the temerity to brief retired military officers directly, who then opine on TV and in print about matters such as the Iraq War.

As I read and read and read this seemingly endless report, I kept trying to figure out what the news was here. Why did the Times decide this story is so important? After all, it’s no secret that the Pentagon–and every other branch of government–routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is
hardly unheard of for cabinet members–or even the President and Vice President–to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.

I think I got to the nub of the problem when I read, buried deep in this article, Barstow’s complaint that the Pentagon’s campaign to brief military analysts “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” But the Times would laugh at anyone who claimed that activities “subversive” of America’s national interest are at all problematic. After all, aren’t we constantly told that criticism–even “subversive” criticism–is the highest form of patriotism? Apparently it’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM. We can’t have that!

How dare the Pentagon try to break the media monopoly traditionally held by full-time journalists of reliably “progressive” views! The gall of those guys to try to shape public opinion through the words of retired officers who might have a different perspective! Who might even be, as the article darkly warns, “in sync with the administration’s neo-conservative brain trust.”

The implicit purpose of the Times‘s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs–conveniently enough–as the dominant shapers of public opinion.

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The Weak, Silent Type

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

With the Texas and Ohio primaries now upon us, the painfully uninteresting Bill Richardson Endorsement Watch can officially come to close. Indeed, despite doing nothing newsworthy since ending his presidential bid–other than growing a beard that evokes a chad-hung Al Gore–Richardson has regularly appeared in the news media, announcing that he is not ready to support either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. His most recent declaration of non-endorsement came Sunday, when he told the Associated Press that he was “on the fence,” adding, “I may wake up tomorrow and do it. Then I may not.”

For Richardson, this sudden neutrality stands in stark contrast with his not-so-subtle backing for Clinton during a number of the debates. For example, when the other Democratic candidates accused Clinton of lacking foreign policy experience during an October debate in Philadelphia, Richardson rose to her defense, saying, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. That is bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” Meanwhile, during a January debate in New Hampshire, Richardson reproached Obama for berating Clinton, firmly saying, “this is the kind of Washington bickering that the public turns off to.” Indeed, as satirized by Saturday Night Live, it appeared as though Richardson was aiming to be Clinton’s running mate.

Yet despite Richardson’s very public waffling after months of positioning himself as Clinton’s partner, the media has continued promoting Richardson as a strong vice-presidential candidate. Nicholas Kristof has noted that Richardson would secure the Hispanic vote, while The Detroit Free Press has written that Richardson would “help fill Obama’s lack-of-experience vacuum.” Meanwhile, Richardson’s name has appeared prominently in virtually every article listing possible vice-presidential candidates-a blitz aided by Richardson’s own acknowledgement that he is “open” to the idea.

Still, Clinton and Obama would be foolish to invite him on their campaign trails. For starters-particularly given his support for Hillary during his final months as a weak presidential candidate-Richardson’s wavering smacks of disingenuity.

But even if we can forgive Richardson for rethinking his support for Clinton in light of Obama’s eleven consecutive primary victories since Super Tuesday, his failure to endorse either Clinton or Obama suggests a disturbing inability to make key strategic decisions. This makes him a serious liability to any Democratic ticket. After all, the eventual nominee will face John McCain, who fairly argues that he risked his political career in supporting the surge in Iraq-a testament to his decision-making and leadership qualities that are the best arguments for his candidacy.

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Putin’s Real Record

Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

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Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

Meanwhile, on a host of other measures relating to “public safety, health” and a “secure legal and property-owning environment,” Putin’s autocracy is doing no better, and in many cases worse, than the more democratic Yeltsin regime which preceded it.

McFaul and Stoner-Weiss cite a host of eye-opening statistics to make their point:

• “In the “anarchic” years of 1995-99, the average annual number of murders was 30,200; in the “orderly” years of 2000-2004, the number was 32,200.”

• “The frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia has increased under Putin. The two biggest terrorist attacks in Russia’s history — the Nord-Ost incident at a theater in Moscow in 2002, in which an estimated 300 Russians died, and the Beslan school hostage crisis, in which as many as 500 died — occurred under Putin’s autocracy, not Yeltsin’s democracy.”

• “The death rate from fires is around 40 a day in Russia, roughly ten times the average rate in western Europe.”

• “At the end of the 1990s, annual alcohol consumption per adult was 10.7 liters (compared with 8.6 liters in the United States and 9.7 in the United Kingdom); in 2004, this figure had increased to 14.5 liters. An estimated 0.9 percent of the Russian population is now infected with HIV, and rates of infection in Russia are now the highest of any country outside Africa.”

• “Life expectancy in Russia rose between 1995 and 1998. Since 1999, however, it has declined to 59 years for Russian men and 72 for Russian women.”

• “In 2006, Transparency International ranked Russia at an all-time worst of 121st out of 163 countries on corruption, putting it between the Philippines and Rwanda.

• “Russia ranked 62nd out of 125 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index in 2006, representing a fall of nine places in a year.”

• “On the World Bank’s 2006 “ease of doing business” index, Russia ranked 96th out of 175, also an all-time worst.”

If he had not eliminated the independence of the press and made it virtually impossible for the opposition to field candidates, Putin might have been made to pay a price for some of these problems at the ballot box.

It will be interesting to see what fate will befall the Kremlin clique if oil prices fall in a big way. By then, of course, their power might be so secure that it won’t make any difference, but a collapse in oil prices would make clear for all to see what McFaul and Stoner-Weiss argue so persuasively: that autocracy in Russia isn’t really a success story.

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Brooks on Clinton

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

David Brooks has a fascinating and important column today. In it he recounts how in 1992 Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee, came up with a health care reform plan that drew bipartisan support but differed from Hillary Clinton’s plan (Cooper’s plan did not include employer mandates to force universal coverage). When Cooper met with Mrs. Clinton to discuss their differences, he found her “ice cold,” in his words. “It was the coldest reception of my life,” he said. “I was excoriated.”

When on June 15, 1993 Cooper told Mrs. Clinton (correctly) that her plan would never get through Congress, Clinton’s response, according to Cooper, was, “We’ll crush you. You’ll wish you never mentioned this to me.”

A war room was set up to oppose Cooper, who was planning to run for the Senate in 1994. His motivations were questioned by the Clinton crowd. People were dispatched to Tennessee to attack his plan. Mrs. Clinton denounced the Cooper plan as “dangerous and threatening” – and according to Newsweek, she brought an aide with a video camera to a meeting with senators and asked the senators to denounce Cooper on the spot.

“We’ll crush you” is an anthem for the Clintons. It, and “war rooms,” embody their approach to politics and governing. The record on this matter is clear and overwhelming: Team Clinton will try to destroy people whom they oppose and believe are a threat to their “political viability.” Of all the reasons to oppose Mrs. Clinton for president, this one ranks near the top. People like her and her husband should not be entrusted with power – and especially with the power of the presidency.

I would add this observation to David’s column. He uses his opening paragraph to declare he is not a “Hillary-hater” – and he supports this declaration by writing this:

She’s been an outstanding senator. She hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005. In this campaign, she has soldiered on bravely even though she has most of the elected Democrats, news media and the educated class rooting against her.

David clearly isn’t a Hillary-hater – he’s not a hater, period, which is one of the reasons he’s liked and respected by so many people – but he overstates things in order to purchase the right to criticize her. Brooks may feel Hillary Clinton is a fine senator – but to say she is “outstanding” is not warranted. If her name was Hillary Jones (D-Idaho) instead of Hillary Clinton, she would be viewed as a capable, liberal-leaning person who has served in the Senate for less than eight years and has no great legislative achievements to her name. On the merits, she probably ranks near the middle or slightly above among the 100 senators.

Beyond that, Brooks writes that she “hung tough on Iraq through the dark days of 2005.” Except that 2005 was not viewed as dark at the time. That was the year, after all, of the Iraqi elections and the “purple finger.” It was a year in which it appeared as if political progress was being made (in fact, the progress was largely illusory). The really dark year in Iraq was 2006 – and that is the year when Senator Clinton began to waiver and then went south on the war she once supported. Worse, she (along with Senator Obama) now supports a withdrawal of American troops and a counterinsurgency strategy that would undercut the enormous gains we have made since General Petraeus began his secure-the-population counter-insurgency operation. She wants to leave Iraq, come what may. It is a reckless plan that would do enormous damage to America, lead to mass death among Iraqis, and be a huge victory for everyone from jihadists to President Ahmadinejad.

As for soldiering on “bravely” in the campaign: she is, after all, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and probably the favorite to be the next President. She travels well, her campaign is flush with cash, she speaks before mostly-adoring audiences, and for much of the campaign she has not endured harsh criticism. To the degree that she has, most of it is due to her and the words and actions of her husband. The fact that she is a dogged campaigner is impressive – but not anymore so than anyone else in the campaign. And to invoke the adverb “bravely” for what she is doing devalues the word.

But those are minor points in an excellent and illuminating column. It is a reminder, if we needed one, why her and her husband’s brand of politics ought to be put on the ash-heap.

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Two Shades of Black

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s September 24 speech at Columbia University seems like ancient history. The news media has long since turned its attention to other obsessions, such as what a helluva nice guy Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is, or just how low our expectations for the upcoming Annapolis conference should be. But professors at Columbia apparently have remarkably long attention spans, and the handling of Ahmadinejad’s speech remains deeply contentious among faculty members.

The fault lines of this dispute are numbingly predictable. Last week, over 100 faculty members signed a petition, protesting Bollinger’s leadership in light of the Ahmadinejad circus:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.

Not to be outdone, as of Monday, 70 faculty members had signed a counter-protest petition defending Bollinger, disputing the notion that the president’s combative introduction of Ahmadinejad allied Columbia with (heaven forbid) the Bush administration:

As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s September 24 speech at Columbia University seems like ancient history. The news media has long since turned its attention to other obsessions, such as what a helluva nice guy Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is, or just how low our expectations for the upcoming Annapolis conference should be. But professors at Columbia apparently have remarkably long attention spans, and the handling of Ahmadinejad’s speech remains deeply contentious among faculty members.

The fault lines of this dispute are numbingly predictable. Last week, over 100 faculty members signed a petition, protesting Bollinger’s leadership in light of the Ahmadinejad circus:

The president’s address on the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s visit has sullied the reputation of the University with its strident tone, and has abetted a climate in which incendiary speech prevails over open debate. The president’s introductory remarks were not only uncivil and bad pedagogy, they allied the University with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, a position anathema to many in the University community.

Not to be outdone, as of Monday, 70 faculty members had signed a counter-protest petition defending Bollinger, disputing the notion that the president’s combative introduction of Ahmadinejad allied Columbia with (heaven forbid) the Bush administration:

As the publicly available transcript confirms, these remarks addressed sequentially: 1) Holocaust denial; 2) Ahmadinejad’s stated intent to destroy Israel; 3) Iran’s funding of terrorism; 4) Iran’s proxy war against US troops in Iraq; and 5) Iran’s nuclear program. Only the fourth item refers to the war in Iraq, and only in the context of Iran’s role in financing and arming terrorist attacks against our troops.

Last week, my contentions colleague Noah Pollak applauded the pro-Bollinger professors for standing up to the “tenured thugs,” who have undertaken “the setting of ideological boundaries by purging and intimidating those who would ignore them.”

Yet, for everything that one finds troubling about the anti-Bollinger petition—most especially, the presumption that we should be hospitable to Holocaust-denying dictators—it is hard to sympathize with Bollinger’s defenders. Indeed, the debate among Bollinger’s supporters and detractors obscures the fact that, no matter ones views of Bollinger’s firm introduction of Ahmadinejad, the entire affair should never have occurred in the first place. By inviting Ahmadinejad, Bollinger granted an academic forum to a most academically dishonest leader, dangerously boosting Ahmadinejad’s credibility where the United States can least afford it: among Iranians.

Again, this is all old news and you’ve probably heard it before. But here’s a new twist: I hereby declare myself the first contentions writer openly to obey a Rashid Khalidi-signed petition: after all, the anti-Bollinger petition decries the “intervention” of outsiders in faculty matters. Thus, as it is impossible to choose between the president that invited Ahmadinejad and professors who would have been more accommodating, I abstain from taking sides. Bollinger and his miffed opponents deserve one another completely.

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The Future of Afghanistan

Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

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Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

So far attempts to seal the borders between Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan have not borne much fruit. This is to be expected because of the difficult terrain involved, and because the same tribesmen are to be found on both sides of the frontier, which has always been more of a theoretical construct than an on-the-ground reality. It doesn’t help that both Iran and Pakistan appear to be involved actively in aiding the Taliban.

The case of Pakistan is particularly vexing because, unlike Iran, it is nominally an American ally, yet its armed forces have been either unwilling or unable to take strong action against the Taliban and their supporters, who have come to dominate the border areas.

This article raises questions about whether the Pakistani military is making good use of some $11 billion in assistance received from the United States since 2001. Much of the assistance has gone for high-ticket items like F-16′s that aren’t very useful for fighting shadowy insurgents; Pakistan wants them primarily for reasons of prestige and for saber-rattling with India. But the primary problem is summed up by a scholar:

“U.S. equipment is not being used ‘in a sustained way,’” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. “The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past,” making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.

This really comes down to an issue of Pakistani politics. Pervez Musharraf, the military chief and dictator, repeatedly has promised to crack down on the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups, but he has not delivered enough results. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned recently from exile, is talking a tougher game. As this New York Times article notes:

Using the news media unabashedly, Ms. Bhutto has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, saying things that few local politicians dare to against the religious and jihadi groups. She is the only politician in Pakistan saying loudly and clearly that suicide bombing is against the teaching of Islam. She has also attacked conservatives in the government, including officials close to the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accusing them of aiding and abetting extremists, and supporting the bombers who attacked her.

This kind of talk is brave and encouraging. The question is whether Bhutto (assuming she gets that far) would be able effectively to carry out an anti-terrorist agenda in office, given that she would be reliant on the very same armed forces that have so often collaborated with the Taliban in the past and that have repeatedly undermined civilian leaders, including Bhutto herself. American leverage is limited here; we’ll have to let the Pakistanis sort out their own problems.

But we should continue to make clear our commitment to a restoration of democracy and our willingness, à la Barack Obama, to act unilaterally, if necessary, to hit terrorist targets in Pakistan. If we can’t do a better job of stopping the terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s future will not be terribly promising.

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Petraeus the Communicator

There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.
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There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.

So, when the surge started making progress this summer, the American public didn’t have to rely on what the White House said to figure out what was going on. There were a larger number of independent observers who have traveled the battlefield extensively to provide an unbiased picture of what’s gone right, as well as what’s still going wrong.

Whatever the final outcome, officers in the future would be well advised to study Petraeus’s approach as a textbook example of 21st century “information operations.”

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The Media vs. the American People

Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

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Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the same judge who presided over the trial of Libby, is hearing the matter. Yesterday, he dealt a blow to the five reporters whose notes are being sought. “The names of the sources are central to Dr. Hatfill’s case,” he wrote in a 31-page opinion.

Is this good news or bad? Attorneys and lobbyists for the news media argue that forcing a breach of confidentiality in this way will impair the ability of reporters to gather the news. Government officials are unlikely to tell reporters what they know, goes the argument, if their identities might one day be disclosed.

True enough, but the law is the law. Journalists cannot merely declare themselves above it, whether they are disclosing U.S. counterterrorism programs or besmirching the reputation of an innocent individual. (Hatfill was never charged with any crime but in 2002 was named by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a “person of interest” to the investigation.) The press, of course, does enjoy First Amendment protection, but this is hardly unlimited and does not constitute a license to do or say as one pleases regardless of the consequences, as so many journalists seem to believe.

If members of press think we are ill-served by the laws as they stand, they can lobby to change them. A bill to do just that and establish a “shield” for journalists is currently before the U.S. House of Representatives. But successive congresses have considered such a bill only to reject it. I have argued, on a number of grounds, that such a bill is a bad idea whose time has not arrived. Thus far the American people, acting through their elected representatives, would seem to concur. Until such a law is passed, journalists are obliged to follow the rules as they stand or, as Judith Miller chose to do, defy the courts, which means defying the duly passed laws of the United States and taking the consequences.

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