Commentary Magazine


Topic: Newsweek

Another Day, Another Security Leak

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.’” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.’” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Shahzad wasn’t the only crazed real-estate victim, you know. A sample: “The sack of Rome, in A.D. 476, was ordered by a barbarian named Odoacer, who had squandered the inheritance left him by his grandfather Attila on a Helvetian buy-leaseback garrison conversion deal brokered by a cabal of shady Brigantes. And the assassination of Julius Caesar was almost certainly triggered by Brutus’s getting scammed on a Transalpine Gaul timeshare deal by Marc Antony.” Read the whole hilarious piece.

Check out the best theoretical Newsweek cover lines: “The Jesus Twitter: How Social Networking Can Save Your Family (and your soul).”

The most succinct explanation of Democrats’ woes, from Charlie Cook: “The catch is they wanted to do the wrong things.”

What did we learn this week? “We’ve heard a lot about the enthusiasm gap between GOP and Dem voters. But turnout from all three primaries this week shows Dems really do have something to worry about — it’s hard to explain a dropoff in turnout virtually across the board, even amid competitive primaries. The DNC is about to spend $30M to get their voters to the polls; it’s no stretch to say the party’s entire hopes rest on that program’s success.”

It seems as though Democrats don’t like him that much either: Arlen Specter drops behind Joe Sestak in the latest Pennsylvania Senate primary poll.

The “most transparent administration in history“? — “The top GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee blasted Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday for having allegedly refused to brief senators on last weekend’s attempted Times Square bombing. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the intelligence panel, accused Holder of obstructing congressional inquiries into the attempted attack. ‘It seems Attorney General Holder is only interested in looking tough on terrorism on TV since he’s now told the intelligence community to skirt the national-security law and give only the details he wants and when to Congress,’ Bond said Saturday.”

As America recedes, Iran and Syria assert themselves in the Middle East: “President Michel Suleiman said Saturday that Lebanon ‘cannot and must not’ tell Hezbollah to disarm before reaching a deal on a defense strategy that would also address any future Israeli attacks. Israeli officials are concerned with Hezbollah’s recent armament. Head of the Military Intelligence’s (MI) research department Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz said on Tuesday that ‘weapons are transferred to Hezbollah on a regular basis and this transfer is organized by the Syrian and Iranian regimes.’”

Tom Campbell sounds as though he’s using Charlie Crist’s playbook: “Former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, taking criticism in the California Senate primary for his socially liberal positions, is making the case that his unorthodox issue profile makes him the strongest candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer this fall. Campbell supports abortion rights and gay marriage, and argues that Boxer’s greatest asset against either of his two Republican opponents, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, would be the state’s decidedly un-conservative social views.” But it has never really worked for him in two failed Senate runs: “‘Tom Campbell has made this argument during both of his previous candidacies for the U.S. Senate and guess what the outcome was,’ Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said. ‘He lost. And in 2000, he lost big.’”

Shahzad wasn’t the only crazed real-estate victim, you know. A sample: “The sack of Rome, in A.D. 476, was ordered by a barbarian named Odoacer, who had squandered the inheritance left him by his grandfather Attila on a Helvetian buy-leaseback garrison conversion deal brokered by a cabal of shady Brigantes. And the assassination of Julius Caesar was almost certainly triggered by Brutus’s getting scammed on a Transalpine Gaul timeshare deal by Marc Antony.” Read the whole hilarious piece.

Check out the best theoretical Newsweek cover lines: “The Jesus Twitter: How Social Networking Can Save Your Family (and your soul).”

The most succinct explanation of Democrats’ woes, from Charlie Cook: “The catch is they wanted to do the wrong things.”

What did we learn this week? “We’ve heard a lot about the enthusiasm gap between GOP and Dem voters. But turnout from all three primaries this week shows Dems really do have something to worry about — it’s hard to explain a dropoff in turnout virtually across the board, even amid competitive primaries. The DNC is about to spend $30M to get their voters to the polls; it’s no stretch to say the party’s entire hopes rest on that program’s success.”

It seems as though Democrats don’t like him that much either: Arlen Specter drops behind Joe Sestak in the latest Pennsylvania Senate primary poll.

The “most transparent administration in history“? — “The top GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee blasted Attorney General Eric Holder on Saturday for having allegedly refused to brief senators on last weekend’s attempted Times Square bombing. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the intelligence panel, accused Holder of obstructing congressional inquiries into the attempted attack. ‘It seems Attorney General Holder is only interested in looking tough on terrorism on TV since he’s now told the intelligence community to skirt the national-security law and give only the details he wants and when to Congress,’ Bond said Saturday.”

As America recedes, Iran and Syria assert themselves in the Middle East: “President Michel Suleiman said Saturday that Lebanon ‘cannot and must not’ tell Hezbollah to disarm before reaching a deal on a defense strategy that would also address any future Israeli attacks. Israeli officials are concerned with Hezbollah’s recent armament. Head of the Military Intelligence’s (MI) research department Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz said on Tuesday that ‘weapons are transferred to Hezbollah on a regular basis and this transfer is organized by the Syrian and Iranian regimes.’”

Tom Campbell sounds as though he’s using Charlie Crist’s playbook: “Former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, taking criticism in the California Senate primary for his socially liberal positions, is making the case that his unorthodox issue profile makes him the strongest candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer this fall. Campbell supports abortion rights and gay marriage, and argues that Boxer’s greatest asset against either of his two Republican opponents, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, would be the state’s decidedly un-conservative social views.” But it has never really worked for him in two failed Senate runs: “‘Tom Campbell has made this argument during both of his previous candidacies for the U.S. Senate and guess what the outcome was,’ Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said. ‘He lost. And in 2000, he lost big.’”

Read Less

RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

Read Less

Olbermann Tries to Pass for Sane

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Newsweek Squeak

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Heck of an ad campaign: “A threatening TV commercial appearing in Pennsylvania has residents of the state spooked by its ‘Orwellian’ overtones, and critics are calling it a government attempt to scare delinquent citizens into paying back taxes. In the 30-second ad, ominous mechanical sounds whir in the background as a satellite camera zooms in through the clouds and locks onto an average Pennsylvania.”

He may be on permanent vacation soon: “Despite White House claims of all hands being on deck to respond to the oil slick crisis in the Gulf, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned. Other leaders of the Interior Department, not to mention other agencies, were focused on coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was ‘work-focused’ nonetheless raised eyebrows within even his own department, sources told ABC News.”

Chuck Schumer declares there are “better ways” than Joe Lieberman’s proposal (to strip terrorists of citizenship and forgo Miranda warnings) to obtain information from terrorists. True, but this administration already outlawed enhanced interrogation.

Not a “lone wolf” at all, it seems: “U.S. and Pakistani investigators are giving increased credence to possible links between accused Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistan Taliban, with one senior Pakistani official saying Mr. Faisal received instruction from the Islamist group’s suicide-bomb trainer. If the links are verified, it would mark a stark shift in how the Pakistan Taliban—an affiliate of the Taliban in Afghanistan—and related jihadist groups in Pakistan pursue their goals. Until now, they have focused on attacks within Pakistan and in India, but they appear to be ramping up efforts to attack the U.S.”

The crack reporters at the Washington Post couldn’t figure out that the conservative blogger they hired wasn’t conservative. Well, that’s what they get for listening to Ezra Klein.

You knew this was coming: “Major donors are asking Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to return money contributed to his Senate campaign now that he’s running as an independent candidate. In a letter sent Wednesday, the 20 donors say Crist broke the trust of his supporters by not staying in the Republican primary.”

The new Newsweek is a bust and goes on the auction block: “The Washington Post Co. is putting Newsweek up for sale in hopes that another owner can figure out how to stem losses at the 77-year-old weekly magazine.”

Alas, not including Michael Steele, three more people leaving the RNC, but not to worry: “The official stressed that the departures had nothing to do with the turmoil that has rocked the RNC in recent months. Several top officials were either fired or quit the committee last month in the wake of a spending scandal involving a risqué nightclub.”

Read Less

Peace in Our Time: Ticker Tape, Early and Often

The hype surrounding this week’s serial announcements of a breakthrough in nuclear-arms talks is palpable. In more than 25 years of analyzing arms-control diplomacy, I don’t recall ever seeing news organizations report developments in it with so little skepticism or attention to detail. In each of its pieces on the arms treaty since the Kremlin’s announcement of the breakthrough on Wednesday, the New York Times has helpfully pointed out that this is a week of multiple triumphs for President Obama. From Newsweek’s in-house bloggers to ThinkProgress’s “Wonk Room,” the depiction of Obama’s treaty effort ranges from startlingly uncritical to hagiographic. Reports abound that Senate Republicans will fight the treaty, but outside of websites dedicated to the professional arcana of arms control and diplomacy, there is almost no discussion of the reasons why.

Those reasons matter. The ones summarized by the Heritage Foundation on Thursday –- missile defense, verification, and modernization of the U.S. arsenal –- are particularly troubling given that we don’t have a published treaty text yet. The language outlining what we’re signing up for hasn’t been made public; there has been no opportunity for open debate on its particulars or its rigor.

I would add two other troubling issues to those raised at the Heritage blog. An important point of concern in the U.S. involves the limitation on delivery platforms (missiles, aircraft, and submarines) that was announced this week. The limit of 800 platforms per side sets a boundary on America’s conventional capabilities. It also implies an agreement to parity with Russia in that regard: an effective reversal of George W. Bush’s policy in negotiating the 2002 Moscow SORT Treaty.

The other disputed issue is the handling of missile telemetry data. It was one of the main sticking points for negotiation as little as a month ago. If Russian agreement has been obtained, it’s likely that the U.S. position is the one that has softened. Readers can get a sense of the specifics on that here; basically, the way ahead appears to be acceding to Russia’s desire to revert to encrypted telemetry.

These issues seem to have evaporated without an overt explanation. That circumstance puts the Washington Post’s uniquely careful narrative in an informative light. The Post points out that the Russians were frustrated enough three weeks ago to propose breaking the talks off for a month. Obama’s White House pressed for a resolution, however –- and this week the White House appeared, in the Post’s words, to have been “surprised” when the Kremlin announced the breakthrough in negotiations. The sense is hard to avoid that the Russians got the concessions they wanted and rushed out with an announcement to preempt further haggling.

In the coming weeks we will hear about Senate Republicans objecting to the new treaty. The eventual publication of the treaty’s actual text, which we’re being asked to take on faith right now, is likely to validate senatorial concern. It’s neither curmudgeonly nor unfair to demand that the administration justify -– under critical and exacting scrutiny -– what it has agreed to. No previous administration has ever been given a pass by the press or the Senate in that regard.

Even if Senate Republicans scuttle ratification, we can expect Obama to abide by the treaty in his decisions about national-security strategy and defense priorities. The president can be stymied in his approach to national security, but it is very hard for Congress to effectively override him.

The hype surrounding this week’s serial announcements of a breakthrough in nuclear-arms talks is palpable. In more than 25 years of analyzing arms-control diplomacy, I don’t recall ever seeing news organizations report developments in it with so little skepticism or attention to detail. In each of its pieces on the arms treaty since the Kremlin’s announcement of the breakthrough on Wednesday, the New York Times has helpfully pointed out that this is a week of multiple triumphs for President Obama. From Newsweek’s in-house bloggers to ThinkProgress’s “Wonk Room,” the depiction of Obama’s treaty effort ranges from startlingly uncritical to hagiographic. Reports abound that Senate Republicans will fight the treaty, but outside of websites dedicated to the professional arcana of arms control and diplomacy, there is almost no discussion of the reasons why.

Those reasons matter. The ones summarized by the Heritage Foundation on Thursday –- missile defense, verification, and modernization of the U.S. arsenal –- are particularly troubling given that we don’t have a published treaty text yet. The language outlining what we’re signing up for hasn’t been made public; there has been no opportunity for open debate on its particulars or its rigor.

I would add two other troubling issues to those raised at the Heritage blog. An important point of concern in the U.S. involves the limitation on delivery platforms (missiles, aircraft, and submarines) that was announced this week. The limit of 800 platforms per side sets a boundary on America’s conventional capabilities. It also implies an agreement to parity with Russia in that regard: an effective reversal of George W. Bush’s policy in negotiating the 2002 Moscow SORT Treaty.

The other disputed issue is the handling of missile telemetry data. It was one of the main sticking points for negotiation as little as a month ago. If Russian agreement has been obtained, it’s likely that the U.S. position is the one that has softened. Readers can get a sense of the specifics on that here; basically, the way ahead appears to be acceding to Russia’s desire to revert to encrypted telemetry.

These issues seem to have evaporated without an overt explanation. That circumstance puts the Washington Post’s uniquely careful narrative in an informative light. The Post points out that the Russians were frustrated enough three weeks ago to propose breaking the talks off for a month. Obama’s White House pressed for a resolution, however –- and this week the White House appeared, in the Post’s words, to have been “surprised” when the Kremlin announced the breakthrough in negotiations. The sense is hard to avoid that the Russians got the concessions they wanted and rushed out with an announcement to preempt further haggling.

In the coming weeks we will hear about Senate Republicans objecting to the new treaty. The eventual publication of the treaty’s actual text, which we’re being asked to take on faith right now, is likely to validate senatorial concern. It’s neither curmudgeonly nor unfair to demand that the administration justify -– under critical and exacting scrutiny -– what it has agreed to. No previous administration has ever been given a pass by the press or the Senate in that regard.

Even if Senate Republicans scuttle ratification, we can expect Obama to abide by the treaty in his decisions about national-security strategy and defense priorities. The president can be stymied in his approach to national security, but it is very hard for Congress to effectively override him.

Read Less

Israel Is Not Stopping Obama from Stopping Iran

As the Obama administration begins to back away from its post-Biden-visit ultimatums to Israel about building in Jerusalem, “senior officials” are spinning away the disastrous fight they picked with the Netanyahu government. In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh allows one of these “senior officials” to give readers the “real reason” why Obama flipped out on Israel.

According to Hirsh and his highly placed source, the reason why Obama turned a minor flap about the timing of the announcement of new housing project in Jerusalem wasn’t entirely due to Biden’s injured pride or the motive that Hirsh neglects to mention: the administration’s desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather, says Hirsch and his source, it’s because Obama is terribly worried about Iran and wants Israel to be more supportive of his herculean efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In their tale, the housing dispute made Obama look weak and will detract from his all-out campaign to enact tough international sanctions on the Islamist regime. Hirsh’s confidante says: “Iran is [Obama’s] No. 1 priority, it’s the No. 2 priority, and it’s the No. 3 priority. Everything we do needs to be seen through the lens of how to stop Iran from getting nuclear capability. So they [Israel] need to keep their focus. Why would you want to do anything now to make the president look less strong or effective?” In this narrative, the slap at Biden proves that Obama cares more about stopping Iran than Netanyahu and the Israelis.

Is he serious? This is an administration that spent its first year in office pursuing appeasement and pointless and unsuccessful engagement with Iran. It was unwilling to issue strong statements condemning Iran’s stolen presidential elections and repression of its own people. The administration issued several deadlines for Iran to respond to its outreach efforts but failed to follow up. It has pointedly taken the threat of force off the table and failed to rally both its allies and other countries to support tough sanctions.  Even now, it is dithering in its efforts to enact sanctions far less than the crippling measures needed to truly impact the regime, which views Obama as a weakling who will never do what it takes to keep Iran out of the nuclear club.

Yet despite all this, we’re supposed to believe that Obama is so desperate to stop Iran that it is his first, second, and third foreign-policy priority? To judge by his actions and statements, Obama’s top worry about the issue is that Israel, the country threatened with destruction by Iran’s Islamist tyrants, will tire of waiting for the United States to take action and do something to avert the peril itself. Despite the occasional promise to make good on his campaign pledge that he would never let Iran get nuclear weapons, everything coming out of Washington in the last year has given Tehran the impression that Obama is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb.

Far from the Israelis diverting attention from the Iran issue, it was Obama who chose to blow the Biden contretemps into an international incident. Israel has been building throughout Jerusalem for over 40 years without generating tension with the United States. It was Obama who made the construction of apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s capital a cause célèbre. Rather than a strategic blunder on Israel’s part, as Hirsh claims, it was Obama who chose to change the conversation about stopping Iran, preferring instead to discuss a dead-end peace process that interests neither the Palestinians nor their Arab allies.

If Obama lacks credibility on Iran, it’s because everything he has done since he took office shows that he has never been serious about stopping their nuclear program, not because the Israelis won’t be bullied on Jerusalem. Far from being frustrated by Israel’s alleged lack of focus on Iran, the recent dustup spoke volumes about the administration’s own desire to change the subject.

As the Obama administration begins to back away from its post-Biden-visit ultimatums to Israel about building in Jerusalem, “senior officials” are spinning away the disastrous fight they picked with the Netanyahu government. In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh allows one of these “senior officials” to give readers the “real reason” why Obama flipped out on Israel.

According to Hirsh and his highly placed source, the reason why Obama turned a minor flap about the timing of the announcement of new housing project in Jerusalem wasn’t entirely due to Biden’s injured pride or the motive that Hirsh neglects to mention: the administration’s desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather, says Hirsch and his source, it’s because Obama is terribly worried about Iran and wants Israel to be more supportive of his herculean efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In their tale, the housing dispute made Obama look weak and will detract from his all-out campaign to enact tough international sanctions on the Islamist regime. Hirsh’s confidante says: “Iran is [Obama’s] No. 1 priority, it’s the No. 2 priority, and it’s the No. 3 priority. Everything we do needs to be seen through the lens of how to stop Iran from getting nuclear capability. So they [Israel] need to keep their focus. Why would you want to do anything now to make the president look less strong or effective?” In this narrative, the slap at Biden proves that Obama cares more about stopping Iran than Netanyahu and the Israelis.

Is he serious? This is an administration that spent its first year in office pursuing appeasement and pointless and unsuccessful engagement with Iran. It was unwilling to issue strong statements condemning Iran’s stolen presidential elections and repression of its own people. The administration issued several deadlines for Iran to respond to its outreach efforts but failed to follow up. It has pointedly taken the threat of force off the table and failed to rally both its allies and other countries to support tough sanctions.  Even now, it is dithering in its efforts to enact sanctions far less than the crippling measures needed to truly impact the regime, which views Obama as a weakling who will never do what it takes to keep Iran out of the nuclear club.

Yet despite all this, we’re supposed to believe that Obama is so desperate to stop Iran that it is his first, second, and third foreign-policy priority? To judge by his actions and statements, Obama’s top worry about the issue is that Israel, the country threatened with destruction by Iran’s Islamist tyrants, will tire of waiting for the United States to take action and do something to avert the peril itself. Despite the occasional promise to make good on his campaign pledge that he would never let Iran get nuclear weapons, everything coming out of Washington in the last year has given Tehran the impression that Obama is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb.

Far from the Israelis diverting attention from the Iran issue, it was Obama who chose to blow the Biden contretemps into an international incident. Israel has been building throughout Jerusalem for over 40 years without generating tension with the United States. It was Obama who made the construction of apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s capital a cause célèbre. Rather than a strategic blunder on Israel’s part, as Hirsh claims, it was Obama who chose to change the conversation about stopping Iran, preferring instead to discuss a dead-end peace process that interests neither the Palestinians nor their Arab allies.

If Obama lacks credibility on Iran, it’s because everything he has done since he took office shows that he has never been serious about stopping their nuclear program, not because the Israelis won’t be bullied on Jerusalem. Far from being frustrated by Israel’s alleged lack of focus on Iran, the recent dustup spoke volumes about the administration’s own desire to change the subject.

Read Less

Dueling with Andrew Sullivan

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan wrote, “This week Peter Wehner read Newsweek‘s Iraq cover story and declared victory.” He added this:

How many times has Pete Wehner declared victory? I’ll be covering the elections this weekend with purple fingers crossed. But I remain a pessimist on Iraq, which is always a safe thing to be.

The answer to Andrew’s question is: none. In virtually every posting I have done on Iraq, I have inserted necessary qualifiers, as I did in the piece Sullivan links to. I wrote, for example, that “the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers.” I added, “Nothing is guaranteed; ‘Everything in Iraq is hard,’ Ambassador Crocker once said.”

My points were rather different from what Andrew says, and fairly obvious. They were that: (a) the progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006; (b) the “emergence of politics” that we are seeing in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world; (c) President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy was right, wise, and politically courageous; (d) the opponents of the surge were wrong and in some instances irresponsible; and (e) the surge is one of the greatest military turnabouts in American military history. None of these assertions is really in dispute. Neither is the claim that Iraq is on the mend.

What eventually happens in Iraq is impossible to know; it increasingly depends on the Iraqis, themselves. We will see what unfolds in the months and years ahead. It will take at least that long before a final judgment can be rendered. But what we do know is that America has given Iraq a chance to succeed, to live in freedom, to be free of a sadistic ruler. And doing that was, in fact, a noble act by our nation. Why is Sullivan reluctant to acknowledge this, even as one can still debate the wisdom of the war itself?

I will leave the last word to Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who put things this way: “Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East.”

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan wrote, “This week Peter Wehner read Newsweek‘s Iraq cover story and declared victory.” He added this:

How many times has Pete Wehner declared victory? I’ll be covering the elections this weekend with purple fingers crossed. But I remain a pessimist on Iraq, which is always a safe thing to be.

The answer to Andrew’s question is: none. In virtually every posting I have done on Iraq, I have inserted necessary qualifiers, as I did in the piece Sullivan links to. I wrote, for example, that “the successes there remain fragile and can still be undone. Iraq has proven to be treacherous terrain for foreign powers.” I added, “Nothing is guaranteed; ‘Everything in Iraq is hard,’ Ambassador Crocker once said.”

My points were rather different from what Andrew says, and fairly obvious. They were that: (a) the progress in Iraq has been truly remarkable, especially when one considers where things were at the end of 2006; (b) the “emergence of politics” that we are seeing in Iraq is unprecedented in the Arab world; (c) President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy was right, wise, and politically courageous; (d) the opponents of the surge were wrong and in some instances irresponsible; and (e) the surge is one of the greatest military turnabouts in American military history. None of these assertions is really in dispute. Neither is the claim that Iraq is on the mend.

What eventually happens in Iraq is impossible to know; it increasingly depends on the Iraqis, themselves. We will see what unfolds in the months and years ahead. It will take at least that long before a final judgment can be rendered. But what we do know is that America has given Iraq a chance to succeed, to live in freedom, to be free of a sadistic ruler. And doing that was, in fact, a noble act by our nation. Why is Sullivan reluctant to acknowledge this, even as one can still debate the wisdom of the war itself?

I will leave the last word to Sullivan’s Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, who put things this way: “Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East.”

Read Less

Continued U.S. Presence Best Hope for Democracy in Iraq

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Read Less

Obama’s Meeting with the Dalai Lama: Welcome but Late

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

Barack Obama did the right thing and met with the Dalai Lama today. The White House issued a statement after the private meeting, in which the president appropriately backed the preservation of Tibet’s “unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.” While it broke no new ground, this is what we expect the leader of what we once called the “free world” to do: to use the moral and physical power of his office to stand with oppressed people like those in the captive nation of Tibet.

Predictably, the meeting has produced a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Chinese, who regard any criticism of their imperial reign in Tibet as a mortal offense. But those who fear that embracing the Dalai Lama will set in motion an international crisis are either alarmists or apologists for Beijing. Among the latter category are those who have been speaking in defense of China’s rule in Tibet and leaving out such minor nasty details as the brutal oppression of its native people and cultural genocide. An excellent example comes from Newsweek, which published a piece yesterday by their Beijing correspondent, Isaac Stone Fish, claiming China “has been good to Tibet.” Stone isn’t exactly an old China hand, as his Facebook page describes him as a recent graduate of Columbia University. But while young in years, the piece shows that he is apparently very wise in the ways of sucking up to the government of the country that he is covering.

But such distasteful flummery aside, it’s now worth asking ourselves whether the Obama administration might not be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China had it not spent its first year foolishly pursuing appeasement of Beijing. As Obama’s November trip to China proved, the Chinese (much like their friends in Iran) saw the president’s obsequious attitude as an expression of weakness and acted accordingly. Had the president started off his term by staking out the moral high ground on Tibet and making it clear that the United States wouldn’t abandon Taiwan, then minimal gestures like meeting with the Dalai Lama and selling arms to Taipei wouldn’t be cause for a crisis. Nor would the speculation about the impact of monetary issues and the amount of our debt to China be used as justification for our silence on human rights. Having come in to office solely obsessed with doing everything differently than George W. Bush, Obama is learning the hard way that his foolish belief in engagement and the power of his own personality is no substitute for hardheaded policy and principles.

Read Less

A Big Fish Caught in Afghanistan

No one should be fooled into thinking that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, will end the insurgency in Afghanistan — any more than the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 ended al-Qaeda in Iraq’s reign of terror. In fact (a sobering thought!), violence in Iraq only intensified after Zarqawi’s death, which occurred at the hands of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, containing America’s top commando units. Nevertheless, Baradar’s capture, which was apparently carried out in Karachi by the CIA in cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, will deal a major blow to the Taliban, at least over the short term. His importance is summed up in this Newsweek article:

Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury — hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province.

No doubt Baradar will be replaced but that will take a while and, in the meantime, Taliban operations will be disrupted just as the U.S. troop surge is getting underway and the offensive aimed at Marjah, a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, is nearing the completion of its initial stages. The timing couldn’t be better. We can only hope that his interrogators make Baradar talk, which is probably more likely given that the ISI is not bound by the sort of restrictions on interrogation that the Obama administration has imposed on our own spooks. Nor, it should be added, will Baradar be read his Miranda rights — a sign of how differently we treat terrorists captured abroad compared with those who manage to make it to American soil.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing about Baradar’s capture is what it portends not about the future of Afghanistan but rather of Pakistan. Until now, Pakistani officials have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban, who pose a direct threat to their rule, while ignoring, or even subsiding, their Afghan brethren, who are seen as a tool of Pakistani foreign policy. Thus the Afghan Taliban have been allowed to operate with impunity in Quetta and other Pakistani cities. Let us hope that this operation signals a lasting change of attitude on the part of Islamabad. If it does, that will make the threat in Afghanistan much more manageable while also increasing the long-term prospects of defeating the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, will end the insurgency in Afghanistan — any more than the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 ended al-Qaeda in Iraq’s reign of terror. In fact (a sobering thought!), violence in Iraq only intensified after Zarqawi’s death, which occurred at the hands of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, containing America’s top commando units. Nevertheless, Baradar’s capture, which was apparently carried out in Karachi by the CIA in cooperation with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, will deal a major blow to the Taliban, at least over the short term. His importance is summed up in this Newsweek article:

Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury — hundreds of millions of dollars in narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province.

No doubt Baradar will be replaced but that will take a while and, in the meantime, Taliban operations will be disrupted just as the U.S. troop surge is getting underway and the offensive aimed at Marjah, a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, is nearing the completion of its initial stages. The timing couldn’t be better. We can only hope that his interrogators make Baradar talk, which is probably more likely given that the ISI is not bound by the sort of restrictions on interrogation that the Obama administration has imposed on our own spooks. Nor, it should be added, will Baradar be read his Miranda rights — a sign of how differently we treat terrorists captured abroad compared with those who manage to make it to American soil.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing about Baradar’s capture is what it portends not about the future of Afghanistan but rather of Pakistan. Until now, Pakistani officials have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban, who pose a direct threat to their rule, while ignoring, or even subsiding, their Afghan brethren, who are seen as a tool of Pakistani foreign policy. Thus the Afghan Taliban have been allowed to operate with impunity in Quetta and other Pakistani cities. Let us hope that this operation signals a lasting change of attitude on the part of Islamabad. If it does, that will make the threat in Afghanistan much more manageable while also increasing the long-term prospects of defeating the Islamist insurgency in Pakistan.

Read Less

Is Iran’s Choice Between Theocracy and Totalitarianism?

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

There has been no shortage of commentary trying to dissuade Americans from taking the Iran nuclear threat seriously. The arguments run the gamut from attempts to show that Iran’s leadership is reasonable to attempts to assert that it is the Islamic Republic’s right to develop nukes. But one of the consistent themes we’ve heard in the last year is that the Western emphasis on the statements and ill intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrongheaded. Time and again, we have been told that, as unpleasant as the Holocaust-denying and Israel-hating Ahmadinejad may be, he is not the real source of power in Iran. Rather, we are reminded, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei we should worry about. In the view of apologists for the rogue regime, the focus on the loathsome Ahmadinejad merely demonizes Iran rather than dealing with it.

That argument was undermined by the events of the past summer, when the Islamist government went all out to steal the presidential election for Ahmadinejad. If he were just Khamenei’s errand boy, why would the ayatollahs unleash its religious militia to murder and intimidate the masses of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the stolen election? At the very least, Khamenei’s decision to stand by Ahmadinejad, even at the price of the regime’s internal legitimacy, illustrated that the president is a key part of the ayatollahs’ plan to hold onto power, if not an essential element of the regime, itself.

But now, as President Obama is mounting a half-hearted and belated attempt to enact sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear program, there comes a different point of view about Ahmadinejad’s importance. Jamsheed K. Choksy of Indiana University writes in Newsweek that not only is Ahmadinejad nobody’s errand boy but he has also become an independent power in his own right who may be challenging the ayatollahs.

According to Choksy, Ahmadinejad is regularly defying Khamenei and may have a different view about confronting the West than his alleged master. Choksy claims that Ahmadinejad, who has heretofore been considered an ardent backer of the theocracy, is putting forward a more pragmatic and less dogmatically religious approach to governance, including championing the rights of women. This may sound hopeful to some who would like to think that, even without foreign pressure or support for an internal rebellion, Iran ultimately could be able to reform itself and become a more moderate nation.

But don’t get too excited. The sort of government that Ahmadinejad might be aiming for may actually be more repressive and nationalistic than the current one. For Choksy, an Ahmadinejad victory over the mullahs will not be a victory for liberalism: “Together with the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard] and Basij (a volunteer paramilitary group that has attacked opposition protesters), Ahmadinejad and his ilk are turning to totalitarianism, rather than the fundamentalism of Shiite clerics, to suppress the steadily growing democratic aspirations of the Green Movement.”

If Choksy is right, we ought not to be cheering for Ahmadinejad and his violent allies to take control from the clerics. But if this potential conflict is real, and that is far from certain, what it does mean is that there is more reason than ever for the United States to push hard for crippling sanctions on Iran as well as to speak up for the democracy movement. We cannot sit back and wait until we are faced with either a nuclear totalitarian Iran or a nuclear theocratic Iran. Either would be a disaster and a deadly threat to peace.  If there is a real division between the rogues that run Iran, now is the time to put the maximum amount of pressure on these tyrants.

Read Less

Another About-Face?

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

Read Less

The Democrats Cast Aspersions

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

The signs of a Democratic collapse have been obvious for many months now. Liberals and Obama supporters, though, ignored or denied the amassing evidence. The GOP was a rump party, it was said. Those attending Tea Parties and town hall meetings were angry and irrational; Obama would look good in contrast to them. The president’s falling poll numbers meant nothing. Obama and Democrats were actually doing well, given how bad the economy was. The loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was because Creigh Deeds was a terrible candidate. The loss in the New Jersey gubernatorial race was because Jon Corzine was a weakened incumbent. Et cetera.

Then came Massachusetts.

Democrats have now gone from smug denial to absolute panic. And the explanations for what went wrong are cascading around us. Obama is suffering from an “inspiration gap.” He’s too cool and detached. He’s not angry enough. He’s not populist enough. He’s not aggressive enough. He didn’t spend enough. He wasn’t liberal enough. He didn’t jam through health-care legislation soon enough. He got into the weeds too much. Evan Thomas of Newsweek has gone from describing Obama as a “sort of God” to “being fundamentally dishonest.”

No, others say, the fault lies with the “nihilist” Right. Or Sarah Palin’s “death panel” tweet. Or the success of the obstructionist GOP in “stigmatizing” the wonders of the stimulus package. Still others, like the president, insist that because Obama was focused on so many different problems, doing good for so many people, he just plain overlooked the need to communicate with the public. Being a forgetful sort, the American public needs to be reminded how marvelous the 44th president has been.

Still others among the Democrats are turning with unalloyed fury against the American people. They were broad-minded and enlightened when they elected Barack Obama, you see — but they have suddenly become dolts. This view is embodied in the words of Joe Klein of Time, who refers to Americans as “flagrantly ill-informed” — and those watching Fox News, of course, are “misinformed.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Joe adds this:

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

Klein is the same fellow who, in the aftermath of Obama’s victory, said of America: “It may no longer be as dominant, economically or diplomatically, as it once was. But it is younger, more optimistic, less cynical. It is a country that retains its ability to startle the world — and in a good way, with our freedom.” And who wrote, after Obama was sworn in as president, that his ascension to power “could force everyone to argue more carefully, to think twice before casting aspersions.”

So we’ve gone from being young, optimistic, and uncynical, with the ability to startle the world in a good way, to being a nation of dodos.

I guess aspersion-casting is back in vogue.

Read Less

Falling From Grace

In the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, panic has set in among the Democrats. Different factions are reacting in different ways. The Left is arguing that Obama was not liberal or aggressive enough. Moderates are saying Obama’s agenda was too liberal and ambitious. Some are saying it’s more imperative than ever to pass health-care legislation; others are saying that would be the worst thing to do in light of the results in the Bay State. But what they all agree on is that the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party are in a heap of trouble.

“The Republican victory in Massachusetts has sent a wave of fear through the halls of the Senate, with moderate and liberal Democrats second-guessing their party’s agenda,” Politico reports, “and worrying that they’ll be the next victims of voters’ anger… ‘Every state is now in play,’ said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).”

It is now worth asking whether, in the wake of three pulverizing electoral losses for the Democrats — the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate race in Massachusetts — any president has done more damage to his party in a shorter period of time than has Barack Obama.

All this wreckage from the man we were told would be the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” in the words of Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas. A year ago today the liberal Harold Meyerson wrote a column in the Washington Post titled “Words Made Flesh,” referring to the description of Jesus in the gospel according to John.

Other presidents, having driven themselves into a ditch, have recovered. Whether or not Obama does depends on things we do not know. What we do know, and what we can assess, is what has unfolded over the course of the past year. And it has been — for Mr. Obama and his administration, his agenda and party, and liberalism itself — brutal.

Falls from grace usually are.

In the aftermath of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, panic has set in among the Democrats. Different factions are reacting in different ways. The Left is arguing that Obama was not liberal or aggressive enough. Moderates are saying Obama’s agenda was too liberal and ambitious. Some are saying it’s more imperative than ever to pass health-care legislation; others are saying that would be the worst thing to do in light of the results in the Bay State. But what they all agree on is that the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party are in a heap of trouble.

“The Republican victory in Massachusetts has sent a wave of fear through the halls of the Senate, with moderate and liberal Democrats second-guessing their party’s agenda,” Politico reports, “and worrying that they’ll be the next victims of voters’ anger… ‘Every state is now in play,’ said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).”

It is now worth asking whether, in the wake of three pulverizing electoral losses for the Democrats — the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate race in Massachusetts — any president has done more damage to his party in a shorter period of time than has Barack Obama.

All this wreckage from the man we were told would be the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” in the words of Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas. A year ago today the liberal Harold Meyerson wrote a column in the Washington Post titled “Words Made Flesh,” referring to the description of Jesus in the gospel according to John.

Other presidents, having driven themselves into a ditch, have recovered. Whether or not Obama does depends on things we do not know. What we do know, and what we can assess, is what has unfolded over the course of the past year. And it has been — for Mr. Obama and his administration, his agenda and party, and liberalism itself — brutal.

Falls from grace usually are.

Read Less

Reversing Obama’s Worst Decision Yet?

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Read Less

Re: Eurabia Debunked

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

Read Less

Will They Give up on Closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

The rationale for closing Guantanamo was always thin. It was, the Obami said, a “recruiting tool” — although terrorists hardly needed yet another reason to slaughter us. They have so many after all and didn’t need Guantanamo to recruit terrorists throughout the 1990s and for 9/11. It had a “bad reputation” — although much of that was based on misinformation, and the Obama team concedes it is a professionally run, humane, and secure facility. Now comes word that the detainees don’t want to leave. After all, even leftist advocacy groups realize the change of venue doesn’t mean much. (A Human Rights Watch rep tells Newsweek “Moving more than 100 detainees — the vast majority of whom would end up being held without charge — to a U.S. facility that is already being dubbed ‘Gitmo North’ will blunt the positive message Obama hoped to send by shutting Guantanamo in the first place.”)

It doesn’t really make any sense if we want to “improve our image” when the detainees and their lawyers now contend that a SuperMax facility is worse than the current rather comfy environs:

[T]he final irony is that many of the detainees may not even want to be transferred to Thomson and could conceivably even raise their own legal roadblocks to allow them to stay at Gitmo. [Detainee lawyer Marc] Falkoff notes that many of his clients, while they clearly want to go home, are at least being held under Geneva Convention conditions in Guantánamo. At Thomson, he notes, the plans call for them to be thrown into the equivalent of a “supermax” security prison under near-lockdown conditions.

“As far as our clients are concerned, it’s probably preferable for them to remain at Guantánamo,” he says.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obamis insisted on closing Guantanamo as part of their fixation from the campaign — now embedded in Obama’s governance — with being “not Bush.” As one after another of their rationales collapses, as it has become untenable even to send the large number of detainees from Yemen back home, and as the public grows increasingly wary of shuffling the detainees to the heartland of America, one wonders just how long the Obama team will keep at this.

At some point the invocation of his still-unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo simply reinforces the image of Obama as an out-of-touch and ineffectual commander in chief in the war against Islamic fundamentalists. Sometimes it’s best to admit that there is a vast difference between campaigning and governing. After all, they dumped the promise to allow C-SPAN to televise health-care negotiations, so why not give up the much dumber idea of closing Guantanamo?

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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