Commentary Magazine


Topic: Osama bin Laden

Conservative Fiction and the Culture Wars

Conservative editor Adam Bellow’s July 7 cover story in National Review is a fascinating call for the conservative movement to produce more written fiction. It is, I think, both learned and yet a bit too pessimistic to my mind. His point is that conservatism has become the counterculture and liberalism, especially social liberalism, the establishment, and that liberals have become so intolerant of dissenting ideas and opinions that they seek to shun and marginalize opposing voices. Here’s Bellow:

Read More

Conservative editor Adam Bellow’s July 7 cover story in National Review is a fascinating call for the conservative movement to produce more written fiction. It is, I think, both learned and yet a bit too pessimistic to my mind. His point is that conservatism has become the counterculture and liberalism, especially social liberalism, the establishment, and that liberals have become so intolerant of dissenting ideas and opinions that they seek to shun and marginalize opposing voices. Here’s Bellow:

I eventually went into publishing to fight back against people like these. I had seen them coming a long way off and I knew they meant business. They wanted power and were eager to use it. Their approach to fiction was two-sided: use their own stories and novels to advance their revolutionary aims, and prevent others from using that same descriptive and imaginative power for counterrevolutionary ends. It was an American version of what used to be called socialist realism.

Conservative nonfiction has flourished. “The real problem,” Bellow asserts, turning to his right, “isn’t the practical challenge of turning serious books into bestsellers. The real problem is that we may have reached the limit of what facts and reasoned arguments can do. The real problem is that the whole conservative nonfiction enterprise has peaked and reached its limit of effectiveness.”

I recommend reading the whole thing. But while I agree with Andrew Breitbart–who Bellow quotes, and who everyone quotes on this subject–that “Politics is downstream from culture,” and that the prevailing popular culture is far more heavily influenced by liberals than by conservatives, I find myself far more optimistic than Bellow. Perhaps that is because I think there’s a difference between the culture being influenced by liberals and it being influenced by liberalism.

Bellow is right that conservatives should be creative and their creativity supported. But I think it’s worth pointing out that often “liberal” or politically neutral novels reinforce conservative ideas. The same is true of movies and television, though Bellow concentrates on the written word. One of the right’s guilty pleasures is to watch a card-carrying liberal writer or a mainstream Hollywood director or showrunner produce a piece of art intended to grapple with complexity and be verbally assaulted as a warmonger or a traitor by his or her liberal audience. When Kathryn Bigelow directed Zero Dark Thirty, for example, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, she portrayed torture in the movie, and liberals lashed out and branded her an apologist for the methods of interrogation. Bigelow took to the pages of the LA Times to respond, somewhat incredulous:

First of all: I support every American’s 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment. As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.

But I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen.

Bigelow is a “lifelong pacifist” and opponent of anything resembling torture, but she was making a movie about real life, and real life is complex.

But to come back to the written word. This phenomenon is easier to spot in fiction that requires heroism or celebrates law and order. But I think it happens when the subject turns to the culture wars too. In December, Ross Douthat noted a study that found that “having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.” In offering his own theory, Douthat referenced the kind of man increasingly enabled by a sexually permissive culture: Nate, the protagonist of Adelle Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Douthat writes about Nate’s propensity to, as Waldman writes, “provoke” the “unhappiness” of the women in his life:

He provokes it by taking advantage of a social landscape in which sex has been decoupled from marriage but biology hasn’t been abolished, which means women still operate on a shorter time horizon for crucial life choices — marriage, kids — than do men. In this landscape, what Nate wants — sex, and the validation that comes with being wanted — he reliably gets. But what his lovers want, increasingly, as their cohort grows older — a more permanent commitment — he can afford to persistently withhold, feeling guilty but not that guilty about doing so.

His column touched off an interesting back-and-forth with Waldman herself on the topic of whether the situation portrayed in her book’s Brooklyn social circle calls for a more socially conservative ethic, or whether such an ethic would put too much of the responsibility for the personal misery of these women on themselves. But I think it’s worth dwelling for a moment on Nate.

We meet Nate immediately, as the book opens with a scene in which Nate runs into an ex-lover. She is uneasy and hostile to him. We learn that this is because during their brief involvement (this was not a “relationship”–an important point), she became unintentionally pregnant and had an abortion. Nate was emotionally absent, though he paid for the procedure. Nate is a good liberal–we learn early on he’s contemplating an essay on how rich societies even outsource exploitation just to salve their conscience. When he found out this non-girlfriend–Juliet–was pregnant, he:

felt like he had woken up in one of those after-school specials he watched as a kid on Thursday afternoons, whose moral was not to have sex with a girl unless you were ready to raise a child with her. This had always seemed like bullshit. What self-respecting middle-class teenage girl–soon-to-be college student, future affluent young professional, a person who could go on to do anything at all (run a multinational corporation, win a Nobel Prize, get elected first woman president)–what such young woman would decide to have a baby and thus become, in the vacuous, public service announcement jargon of the day, “a statistic”?

Nate realizes this might not be the case now for Juliet though, who is not a teenager but a professional in her thirties. Here is how he rationalizes the possibility she may want a baby:

Maybe she was no longer so optimistic about what fate held in store for her (first woman president, for example, probably seemed unlikely). Maybe she had become pessimistic about men and dating. She might view this as her last chance to become a mother.

Maybe she’s so dejected and desperate that she’ll–gasp!–want a family. You can see how the liberal cultural norms have seeped into Nate. He waits for her to decide: he has accepted the idea of “choice” in full, like a good liberal. This means it’s her choice completely, and he assumes he has no say. “Nate was all for a woman’s right to choose and all the lingo that went with it,” we’re told by way of explanation for why Nate doesn’t feel he can even suggest aborting “the baby or fetus or whatever you wanted to call it.” He doesn’t even know what to call an unborn child! Nate is opinion-less on the matter of human life, and he is so because he thinks this is How To Be A Modern Man.

After the abortion, Nate disappears, because he thinks even having an extended or personal conversation with Juliet–that is, signaling any interest at all–comes with too many strings attached now that they’ve unburdened themselves of the fetusthingamajiggy. But he doesn’t understand what makes him so toxic to these Brooklynite beauties. He’s a good person–he doesn’t even think one should shop at Whole Foods without feeling guilty about capitalist exploitation!

Is Waldman intentionally commenting on the piggish man-child who is the product of a steady cultural liberalism as practiced in the real world? Certainly not. But if you were to write a “conservative” novel, and this novel had a protagonist who was to demonstrate the perpetual adolescent loosed on the world by a yearslong immersion in liberal social values and the unintentional but very real harm he caused, might not that protagonist be Nathaniel P.?

Read Less

Iran’s War on America

According to BBC Monitoring, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s (IRGC) provincial website for the western province of Hamadan bragged about how involved the Revolutionary Guard has become in Syria. Mohammad Eskandari, the IRGC commander in Malayer, said the IRGC had trained and prepared 42 brigades and 138 battalions to fight in Syria. “Militarily speaking, they are absolutely ready to fight the enemy,” he declared, adding, “Today’s war in Syria is, in fact, our war with the United States that takes place in Syrian territory.”

The military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program—those very same aspects about which Iranian negotiators refuse to give a full accounting—are the purview of the IRGC. And the IRGC has made clear that they are unwilling to accept or abide by anything to which Iranian nuclear negotiators agree with their American counterparts.

So, basically, one Iranian official claims victory over the United States in Syria. And a senior IRGC commander readily acknowledges his view that Iran is at war with the United States. That the IRGC represents the ideological guardians of the supreme leader’s vision makes the statement even more worrying. And President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s response is to ignore it.

Read More

According to BBC Monitoring, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s (IRGC) provincial website for the western province of Hamadan bragged about how involved the Revolutionary Guard has become in Syria. Mohammad Eskandari, the IRGC commander in Malayer, said the IRGC had trained and prepared 42 brigades and 138 battalions to fight in Syria. “Militarily speaking, they are absolutely ready to fight the enemy,” he declared, adding, “Today’s war in Syria is, in fact, our war with the United States that takes place in Syrian territory.”

The military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program—those very same aspects about which Iranian negotiators refuse to give a full accounting—are the purview of the IRGC. And the IRGC has made clear that they are unwilling to accept or abide by anything to which Iranian nuclear negotiators agree with their American counterparts.

So, basically, one Iranian official claims victory over the United States in Syria. And a senior IRGC commander readily acknowledges his view that Iran is at war with the United States. That the IRGC represents the ideological guardians of the supreme leader’s vision makes the statement even more worrying. And President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s response is to ignore it.

Back in 1998, al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States, but the Clinton administration couldn’t be bothered to take it seriously. There followed attacks in the United States embassies in East Africa, an attack on the USS Cole offshore Aden, Yemen, and finally the 9/11 attacks.

How strange it is after that experience that the response of the Obama administration to a declaration of war against the United States is to offer an ever-increasing series of concessions and incentives to the country whose trusted military elite have made that declaration.

Read Less

NY Times Suddenly Concerned About Leaks

It’s nice to see the New York Times—one of the publications that has served as a megaphone for Edward Snowden—is concerned about the damage that leaks can do to national security. At least when they come from other publications.

The Times this morning featured a front-page article reporting: “Since news reports in early August revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, analysts have detected a sharp drop in the terrorists’ use of a major communications channel that the authorities were monitoring. Since August, senior American officials have been scrambling to find new ways to surveil the electronic messages and conversations of Al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives.”

Read More

It’s nice to see the New York Times—one of the publications that has served as a megaphone for Edward Snowden—is concerned about the damage that leaks can do to national security. At least when they come from other publications.

The Times this morning featured a front-page article reporting: “Since news reports in early August revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, analysts have detected a sharp drop in the terrorists’ use of a major communications channel that the authorities were monitoring. Since August, senior American officials have been scrambling to find new ways to surveil the electronic messages and conversations of Al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives.”

The “news report” in question, naming Zawahiri and Wuhayshi, appeared in McClatchy newspapers on Aug. 4. Two days earlier the Times itself had reported on the foiled terror plot, a victory which it attributed to the American interception of “electronic communications … among senior operatives of Al Qaeda.” The Times now reveals that it too knew the identity of the operatives in question but chose to withhold them on security grounds at the request of senior U.S. officials, at least until McClatchy came forth with its own, more specific revelations.

The Times would now have you believe that all of the resulting damage was due to the McClatchy leak, not to the Times leak, and moreover that the damage incurred was considerably more substantial than that caused by Snowden—whose latest revelations concerning NSA mining of metadata appeared on the Times front page as recently as Sunday. No wonder McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief finds the Times article an “odd” one.

There is certainly room to debate whether the Times, too, has caused damage to national security with its leaks not only of the Zawahiri-Wuhayshi intercepts but also of Snowden’s revelations more generally. As the Times’s own story today concedes: “Shortly after Mr. Snowden leaked documents about the secret N.S.A. surveillance programs, chat rooms and Web sites used by jihadis and prospective recruits advised users how to avoid N.S.A. detection, from telling them to avoid using Skype to recommending specific online software programs like MS2 to keep spies from tracking their computers’ physical locations.”

The article also quotes anonymously some “senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials” who say “that it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the impact of the messages between the Qaeda leaders from Mr. Snowden’s overall disclosures, and that the decline [in intercepts] is more likely a combination of the two.”

It is pretty rich of the Times, then, to be piling blame on a rival news organization when it has done as much as any media outlet to publish government secrets that can be of use to our enemies.

Read Less

The Me, Myself, and I President

With Barack Obama, it’s always all about him.

Asked at his early August press conference why there has been so little progress in getting the perpetrators of the Benghazi massacre after eleven months, Obama replied, that these things can take time and added by way of example that “I didn’t get Bin Laden in eleven months.” Obama, of course, was in the White House that day, playing cards.  It was Navy Seals who put their lives on the line as they stormed the house in Abbottabad and “got” Bin Laden.  (Can you imagine the mockery the media would have rained down on George W. Bush had he ever used such a construction? Bush, of course, a modest man, would never have said any such thing.)

Now Obama is planning a response to the gas attack by the Syrian government against its own people. Again, it’s all about him. Had Obama last year not indulged his bad habit of speaking when  he should be quiet and announced with little apparent thought that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line that must not be crossed, no one thinks we would now be about to attack Syria.

Read More

With Barack Obama, it’s always all about him.

Asked at his early August press conference why there has been so little progress in getting the perpetrators of the Benghazi massacre after eleven months, Obama replied, that these things can take time and added by way of example that “I didn’t get Bin Laden in eleven months.” Obama, of course, was in the White House that day, playing cards.  It was Navy Seals who put their lives on the line as they stormed the house in Abbottabad and “got” Bin Laden.  (Can you imagine the mockery the media would have rained down on George W. Bush had he ever used such a construction? Bush, of course, a modest man, would never have said any such thing.)

Now Obama is planning a response to the gas attack by the Syrian government against its own people. Again, it’s all about him. Had Obama last year not indulged his bad habit of speaking when  he should be quiet and announced with little apparent thought that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line that must not be crossed, no one thinks we would now be about to attack Syria.

But, having casually made the red line remark, he is stuck with it and his credibility (or what little is left of it in international affairs) is clearly on the line. If he let’s Bashar al-Assad get away with his chemical attack unscathed, no one will believe a word Obama says in the future.

But his base fears and loathes American power,  so, as Jonathan noted on Wednesday, the Obama administration has been leaking like a sieve to reassure supporters that any attack will be minimal. The fact that he is, inescapably, also reassuring the Assad regime (and even instructing it how to further minimize damage)  is, evidently, neither here nor there. His relations with his base are what’s important. 

Today, The Hill is reporting the latest leak, one that completely gives away the game, quoting a “U.S. official” that “the White House is seeking a strike on Syria ‘just muscular enough not to get mocked.’”  Whether the strike does any good (or does ill, for that matter) doesn’t matter. The risk that Obama might be mocked is all that counts.

History will not treat this man kindly.

Read Less

Bin Laden’s Son-in-Law and U.S. Detention Policy

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

Read More

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, but we still haven’t figured out how to treat captured terrorists. The latest evidence comes from the extradition of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and onetime mouthpiece, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Arrested in Turkey, he was turned over to U.S. authorities in Jordan and flown to New York where he was remanded to federal custody. He will now presumably face trial in the Southern District of New York where many previous terrorists have been convicted for their crimes.

Odds are that Ghaith, too, will ultimately be found guilty by a jury that will not be terribly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden’s relatives. But other potential terrorists are not so easily convicted. That is why approximately 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo where they are held as unlawful enemy combatants, not as criminal defendants. Some of them will be tried by military tribunals; others will be held indefinitely until the cessation of hostilities. But no detainees have been added at Gitmo since 2006.

The Obama administration may have failed to close Gitmo, but nor is it taking advantage of its facilities to incarcerate more suspected terrorists. Instead, the administration prefers to zap terrorists with drones. That’s perfectly lawful and appropriate but, where possible, it would be nice if terrorists could be captured and interrogated rather than simply killed–interrogation is the best way to unravel their plots.

Instead, we are in a legal no man’s land where it is easier to kill a terrorist than to lock him up. That is a nonsensical state of affairs that could be fixed by the Obama administration availing itself of the facilities and procedures that already exist at Gitmo. This is not just a question of logistics–detainees held at Gitmo can be interrogated without being read their Miranda rights and can be held even if there is not proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt that can be presented in open court. These are important advantages in the war on terror that the Obama administration should not throw away.

Read Less

Hero’s Dilemma Exaggerated Yet Real

Esquire magazine has just posted a much-discussed article about “the Shooter” who is said to have killed Osama bin Laden. This is not a simple tale of heroism, a la “No Easy Day,” the best-selling book written by another member of SEAL Team Six who was on the raid. This article has a strong point of view, as is made clear by the headline: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.”

Journalist Phil Bronstein, who interviewed “the Shooter,” laments “that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.” He explains that “the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”

Numerous veterans have pointed out that this is an exaggeration and in fact Esquire has already posted a correction and changed the language above which had previously suggested that there is no healthcare for him, not just for his (separated) wife and his kids. The magazine notes: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families.” There are also numerous other benefits such as the GI Bill which would enable “the Shooter” to go to college.

Nevertheless the article does have a serious point to make—the nation is not doing right by the small number of infantrymen and special operators, a tiny percentage of the overall armed forces, who are at the pointy tip of the spear. The problem is two-fold.

Read More

Esquire magazine has just posted a much-discussed article about “the Shooter” who is said to have killed Osama bin Laden. This is not a simple tale of heroism, a la “No Easy Day,” the best-selling book written by another member of SEAL Team Six who was on the raid. This article has a strong point of view, as is made clear by the headline: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.”

Journalist Phil Bronstein, who interviewed “the Shooter,” laments “that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.” He explains that “the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”

Numerous veterans have pointed out that this is an exaggeration and in fact Esquire has already posted a correction and changed the language above which had previously suggested that there is no healthcare for him, not just for his (separated) wife and his kids. The magazine notes: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families.” There are also numerous other benefits such as the GI Bill which would enable “the Shooter” to go to college.

Nevertheless the article does have a serious point to make—the nation is not doing right by the small number of infantrymen and special operators, a tiny percentage of the overall armed forces, who are at the pointy tip of the spear. The problem is two-fold.

First, the military’s retirement system is designed to provide generous benefits to those who retire after 20 years but far less to those who get out sooner, as “the Shooter” has decided to do. This is counter-productive because it leads the military to lose many who could make an important contribution even after 20 years of service, while not providing adequate recompense for those who serve for a slightly shorter period.

The second problem is that there is little if any difference in combat pay between those like “the Shooter” who routinely go on extremely dangerous raids or patrols and clerks who spend their entire deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq sitting behind a computer on a comparatively safe Forward Operating Base. We should offer more generous financial rewards to those who are in the thick of combat given the risk they take and the psychological trauma they will have to live with.  

Finally “the Shooter” faces an issue unique to his case: He will be a marked man for the rest of his life. Many people already know his name and it is a safe bet that Al Qaeda will be gunning for him. Under those circumstances the Navy owes him more than a handshake: It should offer him a new life and a new identity in a version of the “Witness Protection” program.

Even if Bronstein’s indictment is overstated, he has a valid point that we as a nation need to do a better job of caring for our heroes.

Read Less

Rewriting History on ‘Torture’

Kathryn Bigelow, the Zero Dark Thirty director who has been attacked by senators and anti-war types for her portrayal of how enhanced interrogation helped intelligence officials track down Osama bin Laden, has published a very sharp response to her critics:

On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices. 

Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences. …

Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.

Read More

Kathryn Bigelow, the Zero Dark Thirty director who has been attacked by senators and anti-war types for her portrayal of how enhanced interrogation helped intelligence officials track down Osama bin Laden, has published a very sharp response to her critics:

On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices. 

Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences. …

Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.

From some reason, enhanced interrogation critics hate to admit that opposing these techniques for moral reasons and opposing them because they are ineffective are entirely independent arguments. You don’t see this reaction with other issues. For example, you can criticize Lance Armstrong’s steroid use without needing to claim that doping is ineffective. And people are generally aware that driving over the speed limit is a bad idea, without insisting that it won’t get them to their destination faster. 

But enhanced interrogation opponents get offended whenever it’s pointed out that these tactics contributed to keeping America safe. They’re so intent on ignoring reality that they would prefer Hollywood rewrite history rather than acknowledge the benefits of enhanced interrogation. As Bigelow rightly notes, that historical revisionism is a disservice to the men and women of the CIA who put their lives at risk in the Global War on Terror. They deserve to have their stories portrayed accurately, not airbrushed to fit a political agenda.

Read Less

The CIA’s Big Year on the Big Screen

This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

Read More

This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

What controversy the movies have aroused has been mainly about the torture scenes depicted at the beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty,” because the movie is hardly out to make even the brutal CIA interrogators out to be bad guys; it is noncommittal in its depiction of them and might even be said to skew the audience’s perspective in their favor by beginning the movie with the sounds of 9/11 to remind viewers of why they are willing to manhandle detainees.

But both films, while focusing on successful operations, also highlight some of the agency’s problems.

Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain play dedicated, highly effective, if relatively junior, CIA personnel based on real-life models–he a clandestine service operative who specializes in exfiltrations, she an analyst working the Osama bin Laden file. Both are convinced, rightly, that they have figured out the solution to a difficult problem: how to get the diplomats out and how to track down bin Laden, respectively. And both consistently find that they are stymied by their own managers who are risk averse to a fault. Affleck nearly has his plan scuttled while carrying it out; Chastain has to constantly badger and harass her superiors to get them to devote the necessary resources to the manhunt amid many other distractions.

Thus both movies highlight the real problem with the CIA. It is not an agency made up of ruthless killers with goon squads standing by to dispose of troublesome agents, as shown in the “Bourne” movies. It is actually a hyper-cautious bureaucracy that too often fails to take chances because superiors are more motivated by covering their collective derrieres than by getting the job done. Thank goodness there are passionate risk-takers like the ones depicted by Affleck and Chastain who really do work for the Agency. Problem is, top Agency executives need to prune back the bureaucracy to let their stars shine.

Read Less

Dems Launch Investigation into “Pro-Torture” Bin Laden Movie

Strangely enough, Democrats didn’t seem too concerned about the Osama bin Laden raid movie “Zero Dark Thirty” back when Republicans were raising alarms about the potentially classified access the Obama administration granted the film team. But now that the movie has portrayed enhanced interrogation techniques in a favorable light, Senate Democrats are suddenly eager to launch an investigation:

After the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply “enhanced interrogations” of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and CIA officials.

Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers “inappropriate” access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said. …

But the film has also produced a series of awkward political headaches for President Barack Obama. Early on, Obama’s Republican critics suggested it was a gimmick to boost his re-election campaign. But now, some of Obama’s liberal supporters are attacking the film and officials who cooperated with its creators for allegedly promoting the effectiveness of torture.

Read More

Strangely enough, Democrats didn’t seem too concerned about the Osama bin Laden raid movie “Zero Dark Thirty” back when Republicans were raising alarms about the potentially classified access the Obama administration granted the film team. But now that the movie has portrayed enhanced interrogation techniques in a favorable light, Senate Democrats are suddenly eager to launch an investigation:

After the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply “enhanced interrogations” of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and CIA officials.

Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers “inappropriate” access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said. …

But the film has also produced a series of awkward political headaches for President Barack Obama. Early on, Obama’s Republican critics suggested it was a gimmick to boost his re-election campaign. But now, some of Obama’s liberal supporters are attacking the film and officials who cooperated with its creators for allegedly promoting the effectiveness of torture.

Senate Democrats argue that the film’s premise–that enhanced interrogation techniques helped locate bin Laden–is baseless. If that’s the case, why would they suspect the CIA granted the filmmakers access to classified information? If there’s no evidence for the argument that waterboarding worked, then why would CIA access make a difference?

The fact is, we don’t even need classified information to know that enhanced interrogation techniques led to a major breakthrough in the bin Laden hunt. The former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, Jose Rodriguez, has already explained how the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and EITs used on Abu Faraj al-Libbi helped identify bin Laden’s courier, eventually leading intelligence officials to the al-Qaeda leader.

The White House is clearly irritated by the perception that Bush-era “torture” paved the way for its big foreign policy achievement, but it hasn’t provided much of a counterargument. White House officials have only insisted enhanced interrogation techniques didn’t produce the “decisive intelligence” that led us to bin Laden, and claim giving all the credit to waterboarding is “not fair to the scores of people who did this work over many years.” But as much as administration officials try to downplay it, they haven’t been able to deny enhanced interrogation played a role. So it’s ironic that a film the White House went out of its way to support ended up making the case for waterboarding.

Read Less

Obama on Autopilot: The President Can’t Stop Campaigning

Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.

One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.

Read More

Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.

One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.

The president initiated the Russian “reset” to accomplish a fairly superficial goal: as long as the president and his administration were nice to Vladimir Putin (and Dmitry Medvedev, when Medvedev was pretending to be in charge) no matter what, the reset would be considered a success. The reset was never about a more productive U.S.-Russian relationship; it was about a change in our tone. Russia’s tone only changed for the worse, but we took the abuse silently, and so the personality-cult president is much better personally liked by Putin than his mean cowboy predecessor, who had no such need to be flattered.

What would the personality-cult president’s military policy look like? It would be “leading from behind,” never mind that the phrase just means “following.” It’s catchy, it sounds thoughtful. “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” makes a great bumper sticker. But try to expand that into a full-fledged governing philosophy and you get a dedication to corporate bailouts and the pretension that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been nearly defeated–two very disastrous ways of looking at things.

And so the New York Times reports today that with the “fiscal cliff” looming and the need for negotiations with Republicans, Obama is… hitting the campaign trail:

As he prepares to meet with Congressional leaders at the White House on Friday, aides say, Mr. Obama will not simply hunker down there for weeks of closed-door negotiations as he did in mid-2011, when partisan brinkmanship over raising the nation’s debt limit damaged the economy and his political standing. He will travel beyond the Beltway at times to rally public support for a deficit-cutting accord that mixes tax increases on the wealthy with spending cuts.

The president knows one thing: campaigning, and so that’s what he does even when he’s got no more elections to win. No doubt he’ll have his slogans at the ready, as he leaves Congress to figure all this fiscal stuff out while he basks in the glow of a shallow adoration. Can the personality-cult president govern? Who knows? But he sure can campaign.

Read Less

Not Propaganda? Obama’s the Star of New Cable Film on Bin Laden

The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

Read More

The decision of the National Geographic Channel to air a film about the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden just two days before Election Day had already generated controversy. But the promotional materials released to the press this week confirm the suspicion that it is what even the New York Times was prepared to call a “political stunt.” The movie, “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” is being promoted by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul as well as a major bundler for President Obama. That and the release date was enough for many to think the film was an unpaid campaign ad, but as the Times reports:

Promotional materials and a copy of the movie provided to The New York Times this week also show that the film has been recut, using news and documentary footage to strengthen Mr. Obama’s role and provide a window into decision-making in the White House. … Some of the Obama moments were added at the suggestion of Mr. Weinstein, they said, using material gathered by Meghan O’Hara, a producer who worked closely with the documentarian Michael Moore on politically charged projects like “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

While the normally low-rated National Geographic will likely get a lot of extra viewers for the broadcast, it has also opened itself up to charges of political motivation. The channel will try and use the movie to promote their other shows, but there’s no question that the main beneficiary is the president. Given the timing, the movie appears to be nothing more than an effort to aid the Democrat’s extended touchdown dance about the bin Laden killing and boost his faltering chances for re-election.

While the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, the idea that he would be transformed into the star of a film about a hunt that began before his presidency is a politically-motivated insult to the intelligence professionals and Navy SEALs who pulled off the operation. The head of National Geographic Channel has tried to alibi his way out of responsibility for this travesty, but in doing so he only proved that his insistence that the film wasn’t “propaganda” was untrue:

Howard T. Owens, the chief executive of the National Geographic Channel, who joined the call, said his company had insisted on removing a scene that showed Mitt Romney appearing to oppose the raid.

That National Geographic would have to do that shows just how skewed the film must be. Just like putting the president at the center of the film, mentioning Romney at all illustrates the film’s political intent. Owens’ claim in the film’s promotional material that the president made a “terrible political decision” in ordering the action is as absurd as Obama’s own statement in the last presidential debate that seemed to indicate that he thought doing so might have been unpopular. In fact, nothing could have been more popular or more likely to have the support of the entire American people. The idea that the president showed “courage” in going ahead and doing something for which he receive unanimous applause is nothing more than politically inspired hogwash.

Ironically, the White House has been on the hot seat for aiding a different bin Laden film. The movie on the subject being produced by the same people who came up with “The Hurt Locker” — Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal — was allegedly given access to classified information by the administration in what was another attempt to bolster the president’s reputation. But the Weinstein film, though a cable TV release rather than one that will be shown in theaters, will have the advantage of being the first one to gain a national audience.

Nothing that airs on National Geographic will change the outcome of the election. Yet the willingness of the entertainment industry to bolster the Obama campaign in this manner does make their bias crystal clear. The notion that the president did something heroic in authorizing the mission is nothing more than a political myth that no amount of Hollywood puffery will make true. But it is unfortunate that the desire to make Obama the star will inevitably mean less credit is given to the SEALs who put their lives on the line.

Read Less

Kerry: Obama Fulfilled Promise to “Decimate al-Qaeda”

Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):

Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …

President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.

Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:

Read More

Sen. John Kerry, national security sage, writes the following in an Obama campaign memo today (h/t Fox News):

Under President Obama’s leadership, we have devastated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only has the United States taken out Osama bin Laden, but we have devastated a large majority of al-Qaeda’s core group of leaders. And today our nation is safer because these terrorists have been eliminated. But there is still more work to do. …

President Obama kept his promise to re-focus our efforts on the real reason we went to Afghanistan after 9/11 – to decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven they had there. Now that we’re accomplishing those objectives, the President has a plan to end the war in 2014, and our troops are already coming home. After over a decade at war, the President has a plan to use the savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do some nation-building here at home.

Not only is AQ not decimated in Afghanistan, it’s rebuilding strength as U.S. forces withdraw, Fox News reports:

A diminished but resilient Al Qaeda, whose 9/11 attacks drew America into its longest war, is attempting a comeback in Afghanistan’s mountainous east even as U.S. and allied forces wind down their combat mission and concede a small but steady toehold to the terrorist group. …

U.S. and Afghan officials say Al Qaeda also has been building ties with like-minded Islamic militant groups present in Afghanistan, including Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the November 2008 rampage in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is present in the north.

Ahmadullah Mowahed, a member of the Afghan parliament from the eastern province of Nuristan, along the Pakistan border, said he fears the departure of American combat forces will open the way for the Taliban and Al Qaeda to overwhelm the provincial government.

The U.S. has made progress in Afghanistan, but withdrawing too early will give AQ-tied militants an opportunity to regroup. Then there’s the troubling fact that al-Qaeda is gathering strength elsewhere, in the Arabian Peninsula, Libya, Mali and Somalia.

But the Obama campaign is tied to the narrative that al-Qaeda is on its last legs, because acknowledging otherwise would deflate all of Obama’s marquee foreign policy achievements. Killing Osama bin Laden would be reduced from the climactic resolution of the war on terror to a mere act of justice. Prematurely ending the war in Afghanistan would be exposed as a political move rather than a victorious drawdown. And Obama’s policy in Libya — the only Arab Spring state where he gambled on an intervention — would be called into question. Such a fragile narrative will be a risk in tonight’s debate.

Read Less

Reality Fact-Checks Obama

Although the Obama campaign is happy to report the recent drop in the unemployment survey, the Republican critique that the drop is due in part to those leaving the labor force and giving up on finding work is more than mere spin. That’s because of a simple truth, and one that has hurt the Obama campaign’s narrative of recovery: it is quite a challenge to convince an unemployed person that they have a job. At the beginning of the year, the Obama campaign tried selling the economy as being on the upswing, and voters pushed back.

In February, Democracy Corps released polling on the most recent State of the Union address, and here is what they wrote:

One of the President’s weakest operative frameworks highlights recent progress on job creation. This message is potentially dangerous for Democrats. During the State of the Union, we watched the dial lines go flat, with even Democrats peaking below 70 when the President highlighted recent jobs numbers.

In post-speech focus groups, respondents explained why this part of the speech did not resonate for them: first, and most importantly, they have not seen these jobs or felt the effects of job creation. But they are also deeply concerned that these jobs are not permanent, that these new jobs belie much deeper structural problems in the economy, and that the new jobs that have been created are far inferior to the more stable, full-time, well-paying middle class jobs that have been lost over the last decade.

Of course, this was almost a year ago, and in that time economic data has improved, so it’s possible the message would be better received today. But the point is, the Obama campaign had to drop certain overly optimistic language from the president’s campaign speeches because the public wasn’t buying it. Something similar may be happening with regard to the president’s message that al-Qaeda is on its heels.

Read More

Although the Obama campaign is happy to report the recent drop in the unemployment survey, the Republican critique that the drop is due in part to those leaving the labor force and giving up on finding work is more than mere spin. That’s because of a simple truth, and one that has hurt the Obama campaign’s narrative of recovery: it is quite a challenge to convince an unemployed person that they have a job. At the beginning of the year, the Obama campaign tried selling the economy as being on the upswing, and voters pushed back.

In February, Democracy Corps released polling on the most recent State of the Union address, and here is what they wrote:

One of the President’s weakest operative frameworks highlights recent progress on job creation. This message is potentially dangerous for Democrats. During the State of the Union, we watched the dial lines go flat, with even Democrats peaking below 70 when the President highlighted recent jobs numbers.

In post-speech focus groups, respondents explained why this part of the speech did not resonate for them: first, and most importantly, they have not seen these jobs or felt the effects of job creation. But they are also deeply concerned that these jobs are not permanent, that these new jobs belie much deeper structural problems in the economy, and that the new jobs that have been created are far inferior to the more stable, full-time, well-paying middle class jobs that have been lost over the last decade.

Of course, this was almost a year ago, and in that time economic data has improved, so it’s possible the message would be better received today. But the point is, the Obama campaign had to drop certain overly optimistic language from the president’s campaign speeches because the public wasn’t buying it. Something similar may be happening with regard to the president’s message that al-Qaeda is on its heels.

Yesterday, Josh Rogin wrote that that the White House was bombastic about “decimating” the terror group’s leadership, but when evidence of al-Qaeda’s possible role in the Benghazi attack emerged, the White House began narrowing its claim territorially:

“Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that … progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region,” adding that al Qaeda “remains our No. 1 foe.”

Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.

And yesterday Fox reported that Obama had been saying that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” a phrase which seems to have been dropped as well: “But at the debate Tuesday and on the campaign trail Wednesday, the Al Qaeda reference appeared to have been walked back.”

The two claims about the economic recovery and decimating al-Qaeda are closely related, since they are the dual pitch of the Obama campaign’s accomplishments over the last four years. It also tells you why they haven’t retired the phrase “bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Both the economic argument (the auto bailout) and the national security argument (bin Laden’s death) are more closely targeted, narrow pitches. The auto bailout has always been pretty unpopular nationally, but less so in the Rust Belt. And the nation celebrated the demise of bin Laden, but isn’t ready to believe that terrorism is no longer much of a threat.

And both elements of the bin Laden/GM slogan line up with reality, whereas overstating the economic recovery and the victories over al-Qaeda are so self-evidently contradicted by the facts that they undermine the president’s credibility on these two important issues.

Read Less

Bin Laden Film By Obama Bundler to Air Days Before Election

This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

Read More

This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:

A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.

“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.

Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.

An attempt to sway the election by reminding the public of Obama’s gutsy call? Doubtful. It’s premiering on National Geographic on a Sunday, so the extent of its influence is probably pretty low. As The Atlantic notes, the National Geographic Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which isn’t a company you’d expect to be behind a stealthy Hollywood scheme to boost Obama’s reelection chances. It actually wouldn’t be surprising if the channel floated this “controversy” itself to get more attention for the film, which few people probably heard of before today.

The trailer for the movie is here. While there are a few lines that may make your eyes roll (i.e., “The President of the United States is going to be staking his presidency on this call!”), for the most part it seems to be focused on the SEALs who carried out the raid, which is a good thing.

Read Less

Shakil Afridi: The Man We Left Behind

Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

Read More

Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

The Obama administration continues to work with Pakistan as a partner, and U.S. officials continue to consult with the ISI, even as that organization funds terrorist groups like the Haqqani network. Once again, it appears, Obama does not fully conceive the nature of U.S. enemies, the ideology that motivates them, and the idea that money and concessions cannot buy them off.

As for Afridi, let us hope that one day, a U.S. president will welcome him to the White House and pin upon him the Medal of Freedom he so richly deserves.

Read Less

Is Romney Running As a “Hawk”?

Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.

Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.

Read More

Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.

Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.

Douthat continues:

Since Bush left office, conservatives have been willing to acknowledge his failures as a fiscal conservative and to promise more responsibility on deficits and debt. This has been a necessary and important shift, responsible both for the energy of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm elections and for the current Republican ticket’s (relatively) brave proposals on entitlement reform.

But the shift toward fiscal rectitude is the easy part, in a sense, because it just involved calling conservatives back to their principles, without necessarily acknowledging the places where ideology might need to adapt itself to new realities. It’s made the Republicans more serious than they were in January of 2008, but it’s left the party’s post-Bush weaknesses on the economy and foreign policy conspicuously unaddressed….

On national security, he’s campaigned as a by-the-numbers hawk, with barely a hint that hawkishness might have delivered America into difficulties during the last Republican administration.

I’m not sure this is quite fair to either Bush or Romney. Americans binged on electing conservatives to Congress and, more dramatically, to the governor’s office in places like New Jersey, just to set limits on the Obama Democrats’ ability to govern. If anything, Romney has been less conservative on many of the issues than the Tea Party, yet it is Tea Partiers voters sent enthusiastically to the House and Senate while Romney fights lukewarm poll numbers.

So when Douthat writes that this Tea Party focus on debt and the deficit has “left the party’s post-Bush weaknesses on the economy” unaddressed, it seems to me the opposite might be true.

And on the “hawkishness” of Romney’s foreign policy, I think there’s less bluster to it than people seem to think. Romney took some heat for leaving Afghanistan out of his convention speech, and Politico reports that, in their estimation, at Romney’s foreign policy speech yesterday “he seemed to endorse the broad outlines of Obama’s policy.” This has actually become a popular refrain as well: Romney criticizes Obama generally on foreign affairs but hasn’t actually staked out more hawkish ground.

Then you have the Democrats’ convention, at which the crowd spent half the time cheering on targeted assassination. And then the Obama campaign rolled out its plan to “Kerry-ize” Romney on foreign policy. (Calling on Kerry to aid in the “Kerryization” of someone else is so thoroughly humiliating to the Massachusetts senator that it almost makes you hope Kerry gets something out of this after all, like the job at State that he so openly covets. Almost.)

And Obama’s most successful foreign policy moves were arguably hawkish ones. Take his announcement of the Afghanistan surge. As I wrote in March:

After Obama announced a troop “surge” in Afghanistan in December 2009, polls showed a 9-percent jump in Americans who thought staying in Afghanistan was the right course of action, and a 6-percent drop in those who opposed the war. Americans favored the speech itself by a 23-point margin. And the president saw a 7-point jump in public approval of his handling of the war.

If Romney is concerned that voters are having trouble imaging him as commander-in-chief, he will probably try to change the calculus on foreign policy, thinking it may also elevate his other numbers if he does so successfully. But it is Obama, surging at first in Afghanistan and then boasting of bin Laden and the Libya intervention, who is arguably running as the hawk in this election.

Read Less

Nobody Was Prepared for 9/11

Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.

The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.

Read More

Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.

The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.

Except, of course, Eichenwald’s information is rehashed and inconsequential. He writes:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster.

This is undoubtedly earth-shattering news to those who didn’t bother to read the 9/11 Commission Report (published in 2004), in which these warnings were first disclosed. Perhaps for Eichenwald’s next bombshell he’ll reveal that a highly trained Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May of 2011. That successive American administrations had underestimated the threat of Islamist terrorism for a quarter century before 9/11 isn’t exactly news. Ronald Reagan responded to terrorist acts with discrete and ineffective cruise missile strikes. In 1989, George H.W. Bush closed the American embassy in Afghanistan and left us clueless as to what the Taliban and al-Qaeda were up to. Bill Clinton was president during the 1993 Islamist bombing of the World Trade Center; passed on several opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden; and did nothing after the 2000 strike on the USS Cole, which was known for a fact to be the work of al-Qaeda.

As for those who “considered the warning to be just bluster,” they included more than Iraq-obsessed neocons (Eichenwald’s charge). In fact, the New York Times itself ran a telling op-ed by former State Department official Larry C. Johnson on July 10, 2001. It reads like a perfect mirror image of today’s op-ed. In it, Johnson claimed that,

Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

None of these beliefs are based in fact.

Silly Americans. Thanks to the New York Times, we were made to understand (two months prior to 9/11) that terrorism hype was just a matter of “bureaucracies in the military and in intelligence agencies that are desperate to find an enemy to justify budget growth.”

Not so much a bombshell as a bomb.

But still, Johnson’s piece is useful in getting at the real issue of pre-9/11 vigilance. As that ridiculous document makes plain, absolutely nothing about the United States—not its political, intelligence, or military institutions, nor its civilian culture—was remotely prepared for what happened 11 years ago.

In Eichenwald’s telling, the would-be heroes are his anonymous sources in the intelligence community. “[T]he C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real,” he writes. But nothing he quotes in the all-important briefings told of who, where, and when al-Qaeda would attack. What were administration officials left with but a sense of purblind and pervasive foreboding? Presidents are briefed on real dangers everyday, but to act on each vague warning with maximum vigilance is to preside over a country on lockdown. Eichenwald rightly laments that while 9/11 conspirators Zacarias Moussaoui and Mohamed al-Kahtani were both detained in the summer of 2001, “the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.” But who exactly is being identified by the proper noun “Washington” here? Was it not the job of the intelligence community to connect those dots? A small unit within the CIA was charged with tracking bin Laden since the mid-1990s. Yet the community that was so bent on forcing the immovable Bush administration to see the danger before its very eyes gleaned precisely nothing from the detention of two terrorists involved in a plot that would soon kill some 3,000 Americans.

One last thought. Life-saving anti-terrorism policies met extraordinary public opposition even after the United States was attacked on 9/11. Just imagine that the Bush administration (or any administration) had sought to topple the Taliban, waterboard suspects, or institute the Patriot Act during peacetime. Such measures would have been the only possible prophylactic against 9/11—and they would have made manifest every leftist delusion about America being a tyrannical police state. The truth is, we need no more “bombshell” revelations about pre-9/11 warnings. Osama bin Laden announced his intention to attack the United States at least as early as 1997. We just didn’t take him at his word. Look around and see if history isn’t preparing to repeat itself while we play 9/11 politics.

Read Less

Obama Has Held More Fundraisers than Intel Briefings Since Campaign Began

At the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen reported on a study by the Government Accountability Institute that found President Obama has attended less than half of his daily intelligence briefings since taking office, based on his public schedule. This is a sharp contrast to President Bush, who reportedly rarely missed an intelligence briefing.

According to the 2011 and 2012 digests of Obama’s public schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, he attended 198 of his daily intelligence briefings between April 14, 2011 (the day he hosted the first fundraiser of his reelection campaign) and August 24, 2012 (the last day included in the latest GPO digest). By August 14, 2012, Obama had already reached 203 fundraising events since launching his reelection campaign, slightly more than the number of intelligence briefings he had attended during that time period.

Read More

At the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen reported on a study by the Government Accountability Institute that found President Obama has attended less than half of his daily intelligence briefings since taking office, based on his public schedule. This is a sharp contrast to President Bush, who reportedly rarely missed an intelligence briefing.

According to the 2011 and 2012 digests of Obama’s public schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, he attended 198 of his daily intelligence briefings between April 14, 2011 (the day he hosted the first fundraiser of his reelection campaign) and August 24, 2012 (the last day included in the latest GPO digest). By August 14, 2012, Obama had already reached 203 fundraising events since launching his reelection campaign, slightly more than the number of intelligence briefings he had attended during that time period.

Republicans have been blasting Obama for routinely skipping the meetings. Vice President Cheney sharply criticized the president in a statement to the Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein last night:

“If President Obama were participating in his intelligence briefings on a regular basis then perhaps he would understand why people are so offended at his efforts to take sole credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Cheney told The Daily Caller in an email through a spokeswoman.

“Those who deserve the credit are the men and women in our military and intelligence communities who worked for many years to track him down. They are the ones who deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.”

White House officials defended Obama’s attendance record to Politico yesterday, with Jay Carney dismissing the allegations as “hilarious.”

“[Obama] receives and reads his [Presidential Daily Brief] every day, and most days when he’s at the White House receives a briefing in person,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Politico in an email. “When necessary he probes the arguments, requests more information or seeks alternate analysis. Sometimes that’s via a written assessment and other times it’s in person.”

Read Less

Hollywood Gets OBL Info, SEAL Gets Sued

There’s plenty of disagreement over whether it was appropriate for SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen — a pseudonym — to write a firsthand account of the Osama bin Laden raid. While I haven’t read the book myself, it seems (from interviews and excerpts) that Owen is not intending to spill tactical secrets or act in ways that are malicious and harmful to national security — despite the fact that he didn’t allow the Pentagon to vet the book beforehand and appears to have broken his non-disclosure agreement.

The question isn’t whether Owen should be held accountable for writing a book that may violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed with the Pentagon. Of course he should. But the controversy has also exposed the administration’s glaring double standard when it comes to classified information.

Read More

There’s plenty of disagreement over whether it was appropriate for SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen — a pseudonym — to write a firsthand account of the Osama bin Laden raid. While I haven’t read the book myself, it seems (from interviews and excerpts) that Owen is not intending to spill tactical secrets or act in ways that are malicious and harmful to national security — despite the fact that he didn’t allow the Pentagon to vet the book beforehand and appears to have broken his non-disclosure agreement.

The question isn’t whether Owen should be held accountable for writing a book that may violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed with the Pentagon. Of course he should. But the controversy has also exposed the administration’s glaring double standard when it comes to classified information.

The same administration that is suing Owen for his book reportedly gave unprecedented, classified access and assistance to Hollywood filmmakers working on a tick-tock movie about the mission. The difference? The Obama administration was providing the filmmakers with classified information that backed up its narrative about the bin Laden raid. Owen’s book, in contrast, is the only minute-by-minute account that the White House didn’t sign off on.

If the men who risked their lives in the bin Laden mission aren’t allowed to publicly give accounts of the raid, then the administration should honor that by also keeping quiet. Instead, the White House has pushed its authorized bin Laden narrative to the media and Hollywood, with selective release of classified information. This narrative has portrayed Obama and the administration in a favorable light, but as Owen’s book shows, it’s not the whole story.

Read Less

Bin Laden’s Dead. How Long Will GM Live?

If you heard it once last week, you heard it 100 times. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. That juxtaposition of the federal bailout of the car manufacturer and the killing of the terrorist is supposed to be the argument for President Obama’s re-election. While both are good things, neither tells us much about the administration’s value. It is likely that GM would have survived in one form or another no matter what the president did. Nor, despite the unseemly chest-thumping braggadocio about the bin Laden operation, is it reasonable to assert that it was only possible because Obama was president. Nevertheless, this catch phrase, made popular by Vice President Joe Biden, is an effective campaign slogan. Indeed, the car bailout is thought to be a crucial factor in propping up the president’s poll numbers in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan that may decide the election.

However, for all of the cheering for GM plants done at the Democratic convention, the notion that the company that once dominated the industry has been set back on the path to prosperity by the president may be something of an illusion. Last month, Forbes published a sobering piece on the company’s prospects that should give even the giddiest of Democrats pause. According to Louis Woodhill, the GM revival is all smoke and mirrors:

President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors.  That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.

Read More

If you heard it once last week, you heard it 100 times. General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead. That juxtaposition of the federal bailout of the car manufacturer and the killing of the terrorist is supposed to be the argument for President Obama’s re-election. While both are good things, neither tells us much about the administration’s value. It is likely that GM would have survived in one form or another no matter what the president did. Nor, despite the unseemly chest-thumping braggadocio about the bin Laden operation, is it reasonable to assert that it was only possible because Obama was president. Nevertheless, this catch phrase, made popular by Vice President Joe Biden, is an effective campaign slogan. Indeed, the car bailout is thought to be a crucial factor in propping up the president’s poll numbers in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan that may decide the election.

However, for all of the cheering for GM plants done at the Democratic convention, the notion that the company that once dominated the industry has been set back on the path to prosperity by the president may be something of an illusion. Last month, Forbes published a sobering piece on the company’s prospects that should give even the giddiest of Democrats pause. According to Louis Woodhill, the GM revival is all smoke and mirrors:

President Obama is proud of his bailout of General Motors.  That’s good, because, if he wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market.

Woodhill points out that the value of GM stock has crashed since it went public in November 2010. That leaves the federal government, which owns about 26 percent of the company, sitting on what he estimates is a loss of $16.4 billion. He predicts that the president will probably ride the decline of the company’s stock down to zero as its house of cards inevitably collapses.

Just as important, Woodhill asserts that the failure of the company’s cars to make headway against its rivals means that its decline is an inevitable result of failure rather than merely the vagaries of stock speculation. With Chevy’s Malibu failing to stock up against comparable models from Ford (the U.S. company that wasn’t bailed out by Obama), Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai, he thinks there’s little reason to believe that anyone will be bragging about GM’s Lazarus act in a year or two. He believes that if Obama is re-elected, it is a certainty that the company will be back begging for help and that the president will be forced to oblige with another bailout.

If he’s right, rather than the bailout being a triumph for his administration, Obama’s bouquet to the United Auto Workers will turn out to be a cautionary tale about the folly of government intervention in the market.

A year from now, Osama bin Laden will still be dead, meaning that Barack Obama can go on bragging about the one bright spot in his career as commander-in-chief until the end of time. But if Woodhill is right, we will look back on the GM bailout as just another failed government boondoggle.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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