Commentary Magazine


Topic: officer

The Deprofessionalization of Spying

I don’t agree with everything former CIA officer Robert Baer writes, but his GQ article about the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan is an interesting and compelling read. According to Baer, the essential problem was that the CIA station chief in Khost did not have much field experience. She was a reports officer who spent most of her time in Washington. Given the opportunity to run a purported al-Qaeda mole, she disregarded basic security procedures and allowed a Jordanian double agent to blow up herself and her entire team. Baer, who spent 21 years in the Clandestine Service, claims that basic tradecraft was violated, “the most inexplicable error” being to have the double agent met by a committee — “informants should always be met one-on-one. Always.” He concludes that there is an institutional failure here — one that traces back to the 1990s, when John Deutch was director of CIA and devalued covert operators at the expense of analysts and other bookish types.  He concludes:

If we take Khost as a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA, the deprofessionalization of spying, it’s tempting to consider that the agency’s time has passed. “Khost was an indictment of an utterly failed system,” a former senior CIA officer told me. “It’s time to close Langley.”

I’m not prepared to go quite that far. The United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.) But the CIA—and especially the directorate of operations—must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field. And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience—the kind it upheld with great success in the past. If it doesn’t, we’re going to see a lot more Khosts.

That sounds right to me. Since 9/11, the CIA has been greatly expanded, but has it been greatly improved? The evidence, of which the Khost bombing is the last example, suggests serious deficiencies that the agency, as currently constituted, may be incapable of addressing. For my part, I’ve suggested in the past that we revive the OSS — a civil-military outfit with a gung-ho spirit, little bureaucracy, and few rules that can focus on the war against terror while leaving lesser priorities (e.g., conducting economic espionage to help our trade negotiators) to someone else.

I don’t agree with everything former CIA officer Robert Baer writes, but his GQ article about the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors in Afghanistan is an interesting and compelling read. According to Baer, the essential problem was that the CIA station chief in Khost did not have much field experience. She was a reports officer who spent most of her time in Washington. Given the opportunity to run a purported al-Qaeda mole, she disregarded basic security procedures and allowed a Jordanian double agent to blow up herself and her entire team. Baer, who spent 21 years in the Clandestine Service, claims that basic tradecraft was violated, “the most inexplicable error” being to have the double agent met by a committee — “informants should always be met one-on-one. Always.” He concludes that there is an institutional failure here — one that traces back to the 1990s, when John Deutch was director of CIA and devalued covert operators at the expense of analysts and other bookish types.  He concludes:

If we take Khost as a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA, the deprofessionalization of spying, it’s tempting to consider that the agency’s time has passed. “Khost was an indictment of an utterly failed system,” a former senior CIA officer told me. “It’s time to close Langley.”

I’m not prepared to go quite that far. The United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.) But the CIA—and especially the directorate of operations—must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field. And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience—the kind it upheld with great success in the past. If it doesn’t, we’re going to see a lot more Khosts.

That sounds right to me. Since 9/11, the CIA has been greatly expanded, but has it been greatly improved? The evidence, of which the Khost bombing is the last example, suggests serious deficiencies that the agency, as currently constituted, may be incapable of addressing. For my part, I’ve suggested in the past that we revive the OSS — a civil-military outfit with a gung-ho spirit, little bureaucracy, and few rules that can focus on the war against terror while leaving lesser priorities (e.g., conducting economic espionage to help our trade negotiators) to someone else.

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Sexual Orientation and the Military

Supporters of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are finding it hard to make persuasive arguments in its favor. At least that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the bizarre suggestion put forward at a Senate hearing by John Sheehan, a retired four-star Marine general who once ran NATO’s Atlantic Command. He suggested that Dutch soldiers failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 because there were too many gays in the ranks! The Dutch reaction is on-target:

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” Dutch defense-ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering said in response.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the involvement of UN soldiers was extensively investigated by the Netherlands, international organizations and the United Nations.

“Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.”

Next, perhaps, General Sheehan will suggest that Israel’s failure to more decisively defeat Hezbollah in 2006 was also due to the presence of openly gay service people. That might also explain Britain’s failure to pacify Basra. And the Spartans’ failure to defeat the Persians at Thermopylae. Or not.

Bizarre as this argument is, a rejoinder from British journalist Toby Young was just as weird. He writes, “Isn’t the General aware that some of the finest soldiers in the history of warfare have been ‘openly homosexual’?” Actually, while the sexuality of various generals such as Bernard Law Montgomery and Lord Kitchener has been much gossiped about, it is hard to think of any prominent commanders who were openly gay since the days of antiquity. The example Young cites is truly off-the-wall: Orde Wingate.

I happen to know a fair amount about Wingate, an unconventional British army officer who rose to fame commanding the Chindit special force in Japanese-held Burma in World War II. Previously he had served with distinction in Palestine and Abyssinia. He is still remembered in Israel for his strong Zionism. I’m writing about Wingate in my history of guerrilla warfare, and, having read pretty much everything that has been published about him, I have not found a single suggestion that he was homosexual. Until now.

Admittedly, Wingate was very odd; for instance, he received visitors to his quarters in the nude. But gay? If Young has any actual evidence to support this allegation, he doesn’t present it. Actually Wingate was devoted to his wife Lorna, an intelligent beauty whom he met in 1933 when she was just 16 years old and he was 31. He immediately dumped his fiancée and married her. His letters to her were full of longing and devotion. Young is making up history as he goes along by suggesting that there was something sexual about Wingate’s relationship with his aide Abraham Akavia, who worked with him in Palestine and Abyssinia.

The general point remains valid. There have undoubtedly been many brave, successful gay soldiers. But I object to the modern habit, especially common among trendy academics, of attributing homosexuality to random historical figures based on scant evidence — a trend that has even encompassed Abraham Lincoln. This is projecting our own obsession with sex into the past.

Supporters of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are finding it hard to make persuasive arguments in its favor. At least that’s the only conclusion I can draw from the bizarre suggestion put forward at a Senate hearing by John Sheehan, a retired four-star Marine general who once ran NATO’s Atlantic Command. He suggested that Dutch soldiers failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 because there were too many gays in the ranks! The Dutch reaction is on-target:

“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” Dutch defense-ministry spokesman Roger van de Wetering said in response.

“The Srebrenica massacre and the involvement of UN soldiers was extensively investigated by the Netherlands, international organizations and the United Nations.

“Never was there in any way concluded that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.”

Next, perhaps, General Sheehan will suggest that Israel’s failure to more decisively defeat Hezbollah in 2006 was also due to the presence of openly gay service people. That might also explain Britain’s failure to pacify Basra. And the Spartans’ failure to defeat the Persians at Thermopylae. Or not.

Bizarre as this argument is, a rejoinder from British journalist Toby Young was just as weird. He writes, “Isn’t the General aware that some of the finest soldiers in the history of warfare have been ‘openly homosexual’?” Actually, while the sexuality of various generals such as Bernard Law Montgomery and Lord Kitchener has been much gossiped about, it is hard to think of any prominent commanders who were openly gay since the days of antiquity. The example Young cites is truly off-the-wall: Orde Wingate.

I happen to know a fair amount about Wingate, an unconventional British army officer who rose to fame commanding the Chindit special force in Japanese-held Burma in World War II. Previously he had served with distinction in Palestine and Abyssinia. He is still remembered in Israel for his strong Zionism. I’m writing about Wingate in my history of guerrilla warfare, and, having read pretty much everything that has been published about him, I have not found a single suggestion that he was homosexual. Until now.

Admittedly, Wingate was very odd; for instance, he received visitors to his quarters in the nude. But gay? If Young has any actual evidence to support this allegation, he doesn’t present it. Actually Wingate was devoted to his wife Lorna, an intelligent beauty whom he met in 1933 when she was just 16 years old and he was 31. He immediately dumped his fiancée and married her. His letters to her were full of longing and devotion. Young is making up history as he goes along by suggesting that there was something sexual about Wingate’s relationship with his aide Abraham Akavia, who worked with him in Palestine and Abyssinia.

The general point remains valid. There have undoubtedly been many brave, successful gay soldiers. But I object to the modern habit, especially common among trendy academics, of attributing homosexuality to random historical figures based on scant evidence — a trend that has even encompassed Abraham Lincoln. This is projecting our own obsession with sex into the past.

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Is General Petraeus Behind Obama’s Dressing Down of Israel?

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

What’s behind the administration’s new get-tough policy with Israel? If you believe Mark Perry, a former Arafat adviser and author of Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with Its Enemies, it’s the doing of General David Petraeus. In a rather imaginative post at Foreign Policy’s web site, he claims that on Jan. 16,

a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

According to Perry, the briefing “hit the White House like a bombshell,” because in effect the U.S. military was placing itself in opposition to the “powerful … Israeli lobby” by announcing that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

That didn’t ring true to me, so I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was “incorrect.” In the first place, Petraeus never recommended shifting the Palestinian territories to Centcom’s purview from European Command, as claimed by Perry. Nor did Petraeus belittle George Mitchell, whom he holds in high regard. All that happened, this officer told me, is that there was a “staff-officer briefing … on the situation in the West Bank, because that situation is a concern that Centcom hears in the Arab world all the time. Nothing more than that.”

I further queried this officer as to whether he had ever heard Petraeus express the view imputed to him by Mark Perry — namely that Israel’s West Bank settlements are the biggest obstacle to a peace accord and that the lack of a peace accord is responsible for killing American soldiers. This officer told me that he had heard Petraeus say “the lack of progress in the Peace Process, for whatever reason, creates challenges in Centcom’s AOR [Area of Responsibility], especially for the more moderate governmental leaders,” and that’s a concern — one of many — but he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry. (For more on Petraeus’s view, see this report, which notes that Mulllen was not “stunned” by the briefing he received.) In other words, the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.

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RE: Spokesman for Evil

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Rules of Engagement Make Sense

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

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A Military in Progress in Afghanistan

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

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Ignoring the Obvious

Bill Gertz reports:

Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference. The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder. The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.

We then had three domestic terror attacks. So what happened to the information from the Florida conference? Others are wondering the same thing: “The incidents have raised questions about whether the Army made any effort to ‘operationalize’ the threat warnings from the 2008 conference and develop policies to counter the threats. ‘The answer quite clearly is no,’ Mr. Poole said.”

This is a serious indictment of the Army and raises still more questions about the post-Fort Hood review. As Tom Joscelyn previously wrote, the Fort Hood review seemed to suggest that the system worked. It brushed by what should have been the central concern:

It says nothing of consequence about [Major Nadal] Hasan or how to stop individuals like him in the future. Hasan is not even named in the report, but instead referred to as the “alleged perpetrator.” The report’s authors contend that the sanctity of the criminal investigation into the shooting needs to be upheld. But this is not an excuse for failing to name the attacker. The whole world knows that Major Nidal Malik Hasan did it. . . .

What is relevant is Hasan’s religious and political beliefs. He is a jihadist, although you would never know it by reading the Pentagon’s report. Instead in the report’s “literature review of risk factors for violence,” one comes across this sentence: “Religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor; most fundamentalist groups are not violent, and religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups.”

Both before and after the terrorist incidents, the Army, it appears, has been stubbornly resisting the need to look into the root causes of such incidents and into our enemies’ ideology or to take the necessary steps to change how threats to its personnel should be assessed. This bodes poorly for our ability to prevent future attacks.

Bill Gertz reports:

Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference. The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder. The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.

We then had three domestic terror attacks. So what happened to the information from the Florida conference? Others are wondering the same thing: “The incidents have raised questions about whether the Army made any effort to ‘operationalize’ the threat warnings from the 2008 conference and develop policies to counter the threats. ‘The answer quite clearly is no,’ Mr. Poole said.”

This is a serious indictment of the Army and raises still more questions about the post-Fort Hood review. As Tom Joscelyn previously wrote, the Fort Hood review seemed to suggest that the system worked. It brushed by what should have been the central concern:

It says nothing of consequence about [Major Nadal] Hasan or how to stop individuals like him in the future. Hasan is not even named in the report, but instead referred to as the “alleged perpetrator.” The report’s authors contend that the sanctity of the criminal investigation into the shooting needs to be upheld. But this is not an excuse for failing to name the attacker. The whole world knows that Major Nidal Malik Hasan did it. . . .

What is relevant is Hasan’s religious and political beliefs. He is a jihadist, although you would never know it by reading the Pentagon’s report. Instead in the report’s “literature review of risk factors for violence,” one comes across this sentence: “Religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor; most fundamentalist groups are not violent, and religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups.”

Both before and after the terrorist incidents, the Army, it appears, has been stubbornly resisting the need to look into the root causes of such incidents and into our enemies’ ideology or to take the necessary steps to change how threats to its personnel should be assessed. This bodes poorly for our ability to prevent future attacks.

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Maybe Obama Shouldn’t Go Home

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.’” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.’” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

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From Disgusting to Odd

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

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Not Keeping America Safe

Liz Cheney and Debra Burlingame (board members of Keep America Safe), Eileen Trotta (the sister of Officer Louis Pepe, a former federal prison guard who was stabbed in the eye by an al-Qaeda terrorist 10 months before 9/11), and former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy held a conference call to discuss the decision to move Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Cheney was blunt, declaring that this was further evidence that the Obama administration was “dedicated to turning the clock back” to a failed pre-9/11 approach, which treated terrorism as a criminal-justice matter. Once here, she explained, the detainees will have “all the rights of U.S. citizens” and the opportunity to seek release onto U.S. soil. They will also have the freedom to plan and plot other terrorist activities, as well as to “radicalize the prison population.” She noted that the Obama team has “no stomach” for keeping in place restrictions on terrorists once they’re in U.S. facilities, pointing to the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who after a hunger strike and legal complaint got the restrictions on mail, media access, etc. lifted. (Burlingame later added that it was discovered that the 1993 World Trade Center bombers managed to send some 90 letters to terrorist networks, which used them as prime recruiting tools.)

I asked Cheney what the administration hoped to gain by this, since terrorists would still have to be indefinitely detained and we were simply going to have to re-create the Guantanamo facility on U.S. soil. She confessed that it was “impossible to get inside their heads,” but she emphasized that each and every action of the president should be assessed as to whether it would make Americans safer. She said there is simply “no way to argue” that this makes us safer. She deemed the argument that this will create jobs “disgraceful,” reminding those on the call that there was an overpopulation problem in U.S. prisons and that other prisoners could be moved and the Illinois facility enhanced if they wanted to boost local jobs. She reiterated that Guantanamo is both a “safe and just facility” and that there is “no legitimate justification” for moving them.

In response to a similar query from USA Today as to whether this was an administration effort to eliminate Guantanamo as a “recruiting tool,” Cheney said that the media should “challenge them to show evidence” that it was Guantanamo that was responsible for terror recruitment. Terrorists “are not attacking America because of the way they are detained” but, she explained, because of their hateful Islamic fundamentalist ideology. McCarthy added, “A pretext is not a cause.” It is Islamic ideology and signs of American weakness that, he noted, are what spur recruitment, according to terrorists (including the 1993 bombers) who have been debriefed.

I asked McCarthy what Congress could do. Congress has “remedies,” he noted, including the power to decline funding. Congress is also the “master of federal jurisdiction” and can use that power, for example in the KSM trial, to declare U.S. courts off-limits to enemy combatants. It is, he argues, incumbent on Congress to use “the power of the purse … but also to say in resolutions that this is not the way we want to go.”

This is a preview of the debate that will take place, both in Congress and in the 2010 elections. The question remains: do we want to move terrorists to U.S. soil and treat them as U.S. citizens, with all the attendant rights and security risks? The American people overwhelmingly have rejected this idea. But the Obami say they know better. We’ll see who wins the argument.

Liz Cheney and Debra Burlingame (board members of Keep America Safe), Eileen Trotta (the sister of Officer Louis Pepe, a former federal prison guard who was stabbed in the eye by an al-Qaeda terrorist 10 months before 9/11), and former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy held a conference call to discuss the decision to move Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Cheney was blunt, declaring that this was further evidence that the Obama administration was “dedicated to turning the clock back” to a failed pre-9/11 approach, which treated terrorism as a criminal-justice matter. Once here, she explained, the detainees will have “all the rights of U.S. citizens” and the opportunity to seek release onto U.S. soil. They will also have the freedom to plan and plot other terrorist activities, as well as to “radicalize the prison population.” She noted that the Obama team has “no stomach” for keeping in place restrictions on terrorists once they’re in U.S. facilities, pointing to the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who after a hunger strike and legal complaint got the restrictions on mail, media access, etc. lifted. (Burlingame later added that it was discovered that the 1993 World Trade Center bombers managed to send some 90 letters to terrorist networks, which used them as prime recruiting tools.)

I asked Cheney what the administration hoped to gain by this, since terrorists would still have to be indefinitely detained and we were simply going to have to re-create the Guantanamo facility on U.S. soil. She confessed that it was “impossible to get inside their heads,” but she emphasized that each and every action of the president should be assessed as to whether it would make Americans safer. She said there is simply “no way to argue” that this makes us safer. She deemed the argument that this will create jobs “disgraceful,” reminding those on the call that there was an overpopulation problem in U.S. prisons and that other prisoners could be moved and the Illinois facility enhanced if they wanted to boost local jobs. She reiterated that Guantanamo is both a “safe and just facility” and that there is “no legitimate justification” for moving them.

In response to a similar query from USA Today as to whether this was an administration effort to eliminate Guantanamo as a “recruiting tool,” Cheney said that the media should “challenge them to show evidence” that it was Guantanamo that was responsible for terror recruitment. Terrorists “are not attacking America because of the way they are detained” but, she explained, because of their hateful Islamic fundamentalist ideology. McCarthy added, “A pretext is not a cause.” It is Islamic ideology and signs of American weakness that, he noted, are what spur recruitment, according to terrorists (including the 1993 bombers) who have been debriefed.

I asked McCarthy what Congress could do. Congress has “remedies,” he noted, including the power to decline funding. Congress is also the “master of federal jurisdiction” and can use that power, for example in the KSM trial, to declare U.S. courts off-limits to enemy combatants. It is, he argues, incumbent on Congress to use “the power of the purse … but also to say in resolutions that this is not the way we want to go.”

This is a preview of the debate that will take place, both in Congress and in the 2010 elections. The question remains: do we want to move terrorists to U.S. soil and treat them as U.S. citizens, with all the attendant rights and security risks? The American people overwhelmingly have rejected this idea. But the Obami say they know better. We’ll see who wins the argument.

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Reid’s Bad History

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

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Time to Take the Gloves Off in Pakistan

For years the U.S. has been carrying out Predator strikes against Islamist terrorists in Pakistan — but only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The rest of Pakistan has been out of bounds, including Baluchistan, where in the city of Quetta, the Afghan Taliban have established their operational headquarters. That may be changing. The New York Times reports today: “American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”

It’s about time. In a Times op-ed today, RAND’s Seth Jones quotes a Marine he met in Helmand Province: “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us. Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

I heard similar sentiments when I was in Afghanistan in October. Indeed, one senior American officer told me that many Afghans can’t figure out why we are giving a pass to Mullah Omar and the senior Afghan Taliban leadership when we are targeting leaders of al-Qaeda and even the Pakistani Taliban (including their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. strike in August). This has led to the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Americans are somehow in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban. Crazy, I know, but those are the kinds of wild theories that are believed in tribal societies like Afghanistan.

In reality, I suspect, we have refrained from strikes on the Taliban leadership for fear of offending the Pakistani government. But if we’re going to get serious about turning around the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, we have to take the gloves off and send the Predators over Quetta.

For years the U.S. has been carrying out Predator strikes against Islamist terrorists in Pakistan — but only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The rest of Pakistan has been out of bounds, including Baluchistan, where in the city of Quetta, the Afghan Taliban have established their operational headquarters. That may be changing. The New York Times reports today: “American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”

It’s about time. In a Times op-ed today, RAND’s Seth Jones quotes a Marine he met in Helmand Province: “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us. Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

I heard similar sentiments when I was in Afghanistan in October. Indeed, one senior American officer told me that many Afghans can’t figure out why we are giving a pass to Mullah Omar and the senior Afghan Taliban leadership when we are targeting leaders of al-Qaeda and even the Pakistani Taliban (including their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. strike in August). This has led to the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Americans are somehow in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban. Crazy, I know, but those are the kinds of wild theories that are believed in tribal societies like Afghanistan.

In reality, I suspect, we have refrained from strikes on the Taliban leadership for fear of offending the Pakistani government. But if we’re going to get serious about turning around the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, we have to take the gloves off and send the Predators over Quetta.

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Yeshiva Students in Khaki

Here’s some good news from the domestic Israeli front: the first group of 70 Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students recently began serving in the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence unit, and both army and students pronounce the experiment a success. They join the approximately 250 who have served as air-force mechanics and technicians since 2007 — of whom a whopping 60 percent applied for officer training — and some 2,500 who have served in the Haredi combat unit Nahal Haredi, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.

Clearly, they are a drop in the bucket compared with the 5,000 yeshiva students who obtain draft deferments every year (though since this includes religious Zionist men who spend a year in yeshiva before enlisting, the number of actual draft dodgers is smaller). Moreover, their service entails a huge investment by the army: the MI recruits, for instance, receive stipends to support their families (all are married men who enlisted after years in yeshiva), special food that meets Haredi kashrut standards, their own work space (so they don’t have to share offices with female soldiers), etc.

Nevertheless, like the Haredi colleges that have opened in recent years and now enroll thousands of Haredi men and women, they are a sign that the Haredi world’s monolithic isolation has begun to crack. And that is vital for Israeli society’s long-term health.

This is due, in part, to sheer numbers: the Haredi birthrate is the highest in Israel, and recent demographic forecasts say that if current trends continue, Haredim will constitute more than one-fifth of Israel’s Jewish population by 2028 and 37 percent by 2050, up from about 4 percent in the 1980s and 10 percent today. That is far too large a percentage for any country to support if most Haredi men continue to be full-time yeshiva students dependent on government handouts. And in a country whose very existence still depends on a strong army, it is also an insupportable percentage of draft dodgers.

But Israel also needs the positive contribution Haredim can make. A society struggling with a worrying disconnect from its Jewish cultural roots, a deteriorating school system, and growing economic inequality would benefit from a dose of Haredi devotion to Jewish tradition, education, and charity. Yet only by interacting with other Israelis and sharing their burdens — army service and earning a living — can Haredim exert a positive influence. If they remain behind their walls and refuse to participate in mainstream Israeli life, their impact will be nil.

Clearly, some Haredim should remain in yeshiva: a Jewish state ought to support top-quality Torah-learning, just as it supports science and humanities scholarship. But not everyone can be a top-flight Torah scholar, and Israel needs Haredi skills in other areas, too.

It’s still an open question whether the change in Haredi society will occur quickly enough to outrun the demographic time bomb. But it now looks more likely than it did a few years ago, thanks to IDF officers whose vision and investment of resources is opening the army to the Haredi world.

Here’s some good news from the domestic Israeli front: the first group of 70 Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students recently began serving in the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence unit, and both army and students pronounce the experiment a success. They join the approximately 250 who have served as air-force mechanics and technicians since 2007 — of whom a whopping 60 percent applied for officer training — and some 2,500 who have served in the Haredi combat unit Nahal Haredi, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week.

Clearly, they are a drop in the bucket compared with the 5,000 yeshiva students who obtain draft deferments every year (though since this includes religious Zionist men who spend a year in yeshiva before enlisting, the number of actual draft dodgers is smaller). Moreover, their service entails a huge investment by the army: the MI recruits, for instance, receive stipends to support their families (all are married men who enlisted after years in yeshiva), special food that meets Haredi kashrut standards, their own work space (so they don’t have to share offices with female soldiers), etc.

Nevertheless, like the Haredi colleges that have opened in recent years and now enroll thousands of Haredi men and women, they are a sign that the Haredi world’s monolithic isolation has begun to crack. And that is vital for Israeli society’s long-term health.

This is due, in part, to sheer numbers: the Haredi birthrate is the highest in Israel, and recent demographic forecasts say that if current trends continue, Haredim will constitute more than one-fifth of Israel’s Jewish population by 2028 and 37 percent by 2050, up from about 4 percent in the 1980s and 10 percent today. That is far too large a percentage for any country to support if most Haredi men continue to be full-time yeshiva students dependent on government handouts. And in a country whose very existence still depends on a strong army, it is also an insupportable percentage of draft dodgers.

But Israel also needs the positive contribution Haredim can make. A society struggling with a worrying disconnect from its Jewish cultural roots, a deteriorating school system, and growing economic inequality would benefit from a dose of Haredi devotion to Jewish tradition, education, and charity. Yet only by interacting with other Israelis and sharing their burdens — army service and earning a living — can Haredim exert a positive influence. If they remain behind their walls and refuse to participate in mainstream Israeli life, their impact will be nil.

Clearly, some Haredim should remain in yeshiva: a Jewish state ought to support top-quality Torah-learning, just as it supports science and humanities scholarship. But not everyone can be a top-flight Torah scholar, and Israel needs Haredi skills in other areas, too.

It’s still an open question whether the change in Haredi society will occur quickly enough to outrun the demographic time bomb. But it now looks more likely than it did a few years ago, thanks to IDF officers whose vision and investment of resources is opening the army to the Haredi world.

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Purple Hearts and a Blind Eye

Roger Kimball asks: “Will the soldiers whom Hasan killed or injured in this latest terrorist assault receive the Purple Heart?” Well, they should, as he points out, because they were killed in the line of duty by a jihadist who told us hewas on a mission from God to attack American troops. Kimball observes:

It’s tricky for Obama. His administration is devoted to transforming the jihadist war against the West into a civilian conflict. Hence the heavy odor of political correctness that has hung about Fort. Hood since November 5 when Maj. Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” and opened fire.

Perhaps the most nauseating PC emission came from General George Casey, the army’s top officer, who told CNN that he was “concerned” that “speculation” about Maj. Hasan’s motivation in mowing down those 40-odd people at Ft. Hood “could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.”

So we are being tested, once again, to see whether we can shake ourselves from the slumber and the natural inclination to minimize, avoid, and ignore the looming face of monstrous evil that threatens not only individual Americans but also Western civilization. That’s what is at stake here and what the Obama administration is at pains to conceal. It makes them nervous, it disrupts their kumbaya internationalist view, and it would summon them to put away childish stunts (e.g., moving KSM to New York, closing Guantanamo, purging “Islamic fundamentalism” from their vocabulary) in favor of a robust policy of national security that is commensurate with the threat we face.

As Kimball notes, Obama insisted on calling the massacre “incomprehensible,” a telling word that describes perhaps the intellectual confusion now gripping much of the chattering class. Kimball observes, “Until we are willing to face up to that truth, we will not be able to defend ourselves effectively.” So far, we’re off to a poor start.

Roger Kimball asks: “Will the soldiers whom Hasan killed or injured in this latest terrorist assault receive the Purple Heart?” Well, they should, as he points out, because they were killed in the line of duty by a jihadist who told us hewas on a mission from God to attack American troops. Kimball observes:

It’s tricky for Obama. His administration is devoted to transforming the jihadist war against the West into a civilian conflict. Hence the heavy odor of political correctness that has hung about Fort. Hood since November 5 when Maj. Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” and opened fire.

Perhaps the most nauseating PC emission came from General George Casey, the army’s top officer, who told CNN that he was “concerned” that “speculation” about Maj. Hasan’s motivation in mowing down those 40-odd people at Ft. Hood “could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.”

So we are being tested, once again, to see whether we can shake ourselves from the slumber and the natural inclination to minimize, avoid, and ignore the looming face of monstrous evil that threatens not only individual Americans but also Western civilization. That’s what is at stake here and what the Obama administration is at pains to conceal. It makes them nervous, it disrupts their kumbaya internationalist view, and it would summon them to put away childish stunts (e.g., moving KSM to New York, closing Guantanamo, purging “Islamic fundamentalism” from their vocabulary) in favor of a robust policy of national security that is commensurate with the threat we face.

As Kimball notes, Obama insisted on calling the massacre “incomprehensible,” a telling word that describes perhaps the intellectual confusion now gripping much of the chattering class. Kimball observes, “Until we are willing to face up to that truth, we will not be able to defend ourselves effectively.” So far, we’re off to a poor start.

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Get to the Bottom of It

Marty Peretz writes:

Well, yes, of course, you’ve read about the lecture Major Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D., delivered at Walter Reed Hospital in 2007. Hasan’s ostensible topic was “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” It might as well have been titled, as the scholar Barry Rubin suggested, “Why I Intend to Murder 13 American Soldiers at Foot Hood.” But, since nobody in the higher-up military actually noticed that a very shaky psychiatrist, indeed, gave an official medical rounds talk–maybe even grand rounds–on Islam, Hasan did, in fact, go on to kill 13 men and women and wound another 28. Had two police not brought him down he would have gone on to shoot (how?) many others.

The information is piling up, and the public, as they learn of the ample evidence of Hasan’s jihadist predilections, will, I suspect, be demanding some answers. Stephen Hayes and Tom Joscelyn take us through chapter and verse. Part of the problem is eerily reminiscent of the pre-9/11 dilemma:

But the FBI did not know all that the Army knew. And the Army did not know all that the FBI knew. The participants in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force discussed Hasan’s case briefly and concluded that it did not warrant an investigation. If they had performed even a cursory, unobtrusive examination of this man, his contacts, and his radical views, they would have quickly turned up a great deal of troubling information.

And then there is the connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, which as Hayes and Joscelyn note is troublesome in the extreme. (“A Muslim officer in the U.S. Army was seeking guidance –spiritual? academic? — from an openly pro-jihad cleric whose past was so troubling he had been investigated by the U.S. intelligence community on three separate occasions and whose words had inspired a plot to attack a U.S. Army installation.”) If, in fact, “too little information was shared and too little attention paid to a man whose words and actions demanded attention,” we have a serious lapse in national security, one that, unlike 9-11, cannot be excused by a “failure of imagination.” We know what terror looks like, and we know the identity of the enemy.

The question, however, is whether the will to ignore the obvious, the pressure of political correctness, and a lapse into a pre-9-11 mentality have overtaken us. It would seem a complete, independent, and public evaluation of all this is in order. Why, after all, should we trust the malefactors to investigate themselves? We didn’t after 9/11. There is no reason to do so in the case of the first major terror attack since 9/11.

Marty Peretz writes:

Well, yes, of course, you’ve read about the lecture Major Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D., delivered at Walter Reed Hospital in 2007. Hasan’s ostensible topic was “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” It might as well have been titled, as the scholar Barry Rubin suggested, “Why I Intend to Murder 13 American Soldiers at Foot Hood.” But, since nobody in the higher-up military actually noticed that a very shaky psychiatrist, indeed, gave an official medical rounds talk–maybe even grand rounds–on Islam, Hasan did, in fact, go on to kill 13 men and women and wound another 28. Had two police not brought him down he would have gone on to shoot (how?) many others.

The information is piling up, and the public, as they learn of the ample evidence of Hasan’s jihadist predilections, will, I suspect, be demanding some answers. Stephen Hayes and Tom Joscelyn take us through chapter and verse. Part of the problem is eerily reminiscent of the pre-9/11 dilemma:

But the FBI did not know all that the Army knew. And the Army did not know all that the FBI knew. The participants in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force discussed Hasan’s case briefly and concluded that it did not warrant an investigation. If they had performed even a cursory, unobtrusive examination of this man, his contacts, and his radical views, they would have quickly turned up a great deal of troubling information.

And then there is the connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, which as Hayes and Joscelyn note is troublesome in the extreme. (“A Muslim officer in the U.S. Army was seeking guidance –spiritual? academic? — from an openly pro-jihad cleric whose past was so troubling he had been investigated by the U.S. intelligence community on three separate occasions and whose words had inspired a plot to attack a U.S. Army installation.”) If, in fact, “too little information was shared and too little attention paid to a man whose words and actions demanded attention,” we have a serious lapse in national security, one that, unlike 9-11, cannot be excused by a “failure of imagination.” We know what terror looks like, and we know the identity of the enemy.

The question, however, is whether the will to ignore the obvious, the pressure of political correctness, and a lapse into a pre-9-11 mentality have overtaken us. It would seem a complete, independent, and public evaluation of all this is in order. Why, after all, should we trust the malefactors to investigate themselves? We didn’t after 9/11. There is no reason to do so in the case of the first major terror attack since 9/11.

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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Goes to New York

The Obama administration is pursuing the prosecution of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. In light of this astonishing decision, I was reminded by a friend that, according to the New York Times, Sheikh Mohammed met his captors with cocky defiance at first, telling one veteran CIA officer that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer. It looks as though Sheikh Mohammed has seen his defiance vindicated. He has now found an administration more amenable to his view of justice than was the previous one. The Holderization of American justice continues. And I suspect that there will be bad consequences all around for this action.

The Obama administration is pursuing the prosecution of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York. In light of this astonishing decision, I was reminded by a friend that, according to the New York Times, Sheikh Mohammed met his captors with cocky defiance at first, telling one veteran CIA officer that he would talk only when he got to New York and was assigned a lawyer. It looks as though Sheikh Mohammed has seen his defiance vindicated. He has now found an administration more amenable to his view of justice than was the previous one. The Holderization of American justice continues. And I suspect that there will be bad consequences all around for this action.

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Fresh Outreach

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

Iran this week has thrown a one-two diplomatic punch in the matter of Yemen’s insurgency problem. It remains to be seen if the Islamic revolutionary state is punching above its weight; that may depend on what, if anything, the U.S. does. But Arabs in the region have taken Iran’s initiative badly, seeing it as the continuation of a trend toward Iranian meddling in Arab nations’ affairs.

On November 5, Saudi Arabia launched a counteroffensive against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Shias with Iranian backing who have violated the Saudi border in the course of their fight against the central government in Sana’a. A Saudi officer was reportedly killed by the Houthis last week, and the Saudis are losing confidence in the ability of the Saleh government to quell the insurgency. On November 10, Iran — the Houthis’ supplier — warned “Yemen’s neighbors” against meddling in Yemeni affairs. Since “Yemen’s neighbors” amount to Saudi Arabia and Oman, this warning was quite pointed.

Today Al Jazeera reports that Iran has offered to “aid Yemeni security,” proclaiming Tehran ready to help restore peace to the insurgency-torn nation. Al Jazeera’s hostile view of this disingenuous initiative is a reliable reflection of sentiment in Arab capitals. The proposal is also a direct challenge to America’s network of partnerships in the region. Iran advancing itself as a moderator of an Arab nation’s internal affairs is, in fact, a power play, one that would not be mounted in an environment of American alertness and determination.

Iran has conducted its foreign policy for years through the sponsorship of terrorism against Israel and Lebanon. It’s through gaining an insidious foothold in other nations, through coming in the back door, that Iran has sought regional influence. Now the mullahs propose to be admitted through the front door in Yemen, and have their support to the Houthi guerrillas validated by a recognized diplomatic process.

With Iran already an established presence in Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, will the Obama administration discourage this fresh initiative with any level of firmness? Or will it leave the Saudis and Yemenis to make their own arrangements for resistance to Iran’s outreach? See what you think (from the Huffington Post piece linked above):

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters [on November 5] he had no information about whether the conflict had spread across the border but expressed Washington’s concern over the situation.

“It’s our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels,” Kelly said. “We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure.”

That doesn’t sound to me like a posture Iran would have to worry about colliding with. It probably didn’t sound like one to Iran either.

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More on Diana West

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

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Proper Promotions

An unusual amount of interest has attended the army’s latest promotion list to brigadier general because of a perception that, up until recently, the army was still operating a peacetime personnel system even in wartime. There seemed to be little correlation between battlefield success in Iraq or Afghanistan and the promotion process. Some outstanding officers, such as Colonels H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor, had been passed over by previous boards even though they were integral to the greater success we’ve been having in Iraq. (Mansoor got tired of the whole process and decided to accept a tenured professor’s job teaching military history at Ohio State–a great consolation prize.)

But now, reports the Washington Post, McMaster and some other battle-tested leaders–including Colonel Sean McFarland, who engineered the amazing turnaround in Ramadi, and Colonel Ken Tovo, who has distinguished himself over multiple tours as a Special Forces officer in Iraq–will get overdue promotions to brigadier general. These promotions–if in fact they actually occur; the Army has said nothing publicly yet–will be the result of an unusual decision by the Army chief of staff George Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren to ask David Petraeus to take a brief break from his duties in Iraq to chair the promotion board. Other officers with considerable Iraq experience on the board included Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, who has headed the Joint Special Operations Command (home of our Tier 1 commandos), and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served two tours in Iraq.

The (rumored) decisions of this promotion board mean that some of the army’s great innovators in counterinsurgency are being put into influential positions where they will be able to shape the future course of the armed forces. That’s good news not only for these officers and their families, but also for everyone who worries about whether our military can adapt to the challenges ahead.

An unusual amount of interest has attended the army’s latest promotion list to brigadier general because of a perception that, up until recently, the army was still operating a peacetime personnel system even in wartime. There seemed to be little correlation between battlefield success in Iraq or Afghanistan and the promotion process. Some outstanding officers, such as Colonels H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor, had been passed over by previous boards even though they were integral to the greater success we’ve been having in Iraq. (Mansoor got tired of the whole process and decided to accept a tenured professor’s job teaching military history at Ohio State–a great consolation prize.)

But now, reports the Washington Post, McMaster and some other battle-tested leaders–including Colonel Sean McFarland, who engineered the amazing turnaround in Ramadi, and Colonel Ken Tovo, who has distinguished himself over multiple tours as a Special Forces officer in Iraq–will get overdue promotions to brigadier general. These promotions–if in fact they actually occur; the Army has said nothing publicly yet–will be the result of an unusual decision by the Army chief of staff George Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren to ask David Petraeus to take a brief break from his duties in Iraq to chair the promotion board. Other officers with considerable Iraq experience on the board included Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, who has headed the Joint Special Operations Command (home of our Tier 1 commandos), and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who served two tours in Iraq.

The (rumored) decisions of this promotion board mean that some of the army’s great innovators in counterinsurgency are being put into influential positions where they will be able to shape the future course of the armed forces. That’s good news not only for these officers and their families, but also for everyone who worries about whether our military can adapt to the challenges ahead.

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“Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

Read More

What follows is the text of President Bush’s speech today in Jerusalem:

 President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world’s great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer — to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. My only regret is that one of Israel’s greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust — what Elie Wiesel called “the kingdom of the night.” Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. When news of Israel’s freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: “For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words.”

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: “Masada shall never fall again.” Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It’s also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles — shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation.

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world.

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms — whether by those who openly question Israel’s right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli’s leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction.

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve.

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It’s natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel’s founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world’s great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved — a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today’s oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn’t mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America’s closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel’s independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar — the key to the Zion Gate — and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, “Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day.” Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: “I accept this key in the name of my people.”

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless.

Read Less




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