Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pentagon

Why So Few David Petraeuses?

Renny McPherson, a former Marine who is now a student at Harvard Business School, raises a good question in the Boston Globe: Why isn’t the military producing more David Petraeuses? That is, commanders who are skilled at the highest level of command where the job is more about politics, diplomacy, and communication than it is about tactical maneuvering on the battlefield. The fact that Petraeus was appointed as Stanley McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, which required him to take a step down in the military hierarchy, is a sign of how few generals we have capable of doing the job.

“A large contributor to this failure,” McPherson writes, “is the military’s inflexible system of promotion, which can actively discourage young officers from getting the mind-expanding, challenging experiences that could turn them into potent generals.”

McPherson was involved in interviewing 37 “top military leaders,” who “reported that most beneficial experiences — sustained international experience, civilian graduate education, and taking on special opportunities out of the military mainstream — were the very ones that they felt discouraged from pursuing.” That is a very big problem because of the shift that McPherson rightly identifies:

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States became the dominant world power by advancing the technology of warfare. Now the information revolution, recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and global counter-terrorism have shown that an expanded set of skills is required of our top officers. Today we need military leaders who can process the ever-larger amounts of information coming at them and who can communicate more dexterously up, down, and across; they also must be adept at dealing with nonmilitary institutions and quick to learn foreign cultures.

Petraeus is hardly alone in having the skills needed to tackle such challenges; General Ray Odierno has displayed much of the same skill set. But few others have, and that poses a real problem for the future — one that the Pentagon leadership needs to address as urgently as it addresses the future of expensive procurement programs.

Renny McPherson, a former Marine who is now a student at Harvard Business School, raises a good question in the Boston Globe: Why isn’t the military producing more David Petraeuses? That is, commanders who are skilled at the highest level of command where the job is more about politics, diplomacy, and communication than it is about tactical maneuvering on the battlefield. The fact that Petraeus was appointed as Stanley McChrystal’s successor in Afghanistan, which required him to take a step down in the military hierarchy, is a sign of how few generals we have capable of doing the job.

“A large contributor to this failure,” McPherson writes, “is the military’s inflexible system of promotion, which can actively discourage young officers from getting the mind-expanding, challenging experiences that could turn them into potent generals.”

McPherson was involved in interviewing 37 “top military leaders,” who “reported that most beneficial experiences — sustained international experience, civilian graduate education, and taking on special opportunities out of the military mainstream — were the very ones that they felt discouraged from pursuing.” That is a very big problem because of the shift that McPherson rightly identifies:

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States became the dominant world power by advancing the technology of warfare. Now the information revolution, recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and global counter-terrorism have shown that an expanded set of skills is required of our top officers. Today we need military leaders who can process the ever-larger amounts of information coming at them and who can communicate more dexterously up, down, and across; they also must be adept at dealing with nonmilitary institutions and quick to learn foreign cultures.

Petraeus is hardly alone in having the skills needed to tackle such challenges; General Ray Odierno has displayed much of the same skill set. But few others have, and that poses a real problem for the future — one that the Pentagon leadership needs to address as urgently as it addresses the future of expensive procurement programs.

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Bum Rap?

Stanley McChrystal didn’t do what he was accused of doing. The New York Times reports:

An Army inquiry into a Rolling Stone magazine article about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has found that it was not the general or senior officers on his staff who made the most egregious comments that led to his abrupt dismissal as the top Afghan commander in June, according to Army and Pentagon officials.

But the review, commissioned after an embarrassing and disruptive episode, does not wholly resolve who was responsible for the inflammatory quotations, most of which were anonymous.

Did tolerating others’ disparaging comments constitute grounds for firing him? Not so clear.

The assignment of Gen. David Petraeus to the Afghanistan command was certainly a good move. But that’s not what is at issue. The dismissal of McChrystal now looks unduly hasty and frankly a bit unfair.

It is yet one more indication that the White House decision-making process bounces between the slipshod (e.g., Shirley Sherrod, Stanley McChrystal) and the snail-like agonizing that characterized the Afghanistan strategy sessions. As to the latter, if Bob Woodward’s book is remotely accurate, the reason it took so long was that a recalcitrant president resisted the advice of his military advisers and was interested not in a war strategy but in a political one. Credit is due primarily to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who hung in there to get the best result obtainable from a president whose concerns were primarily political.

Stanley McChrystal didn’t do what he was accused of doing. The New York Times reports:

An Army inquiry into a Rolling Stone magazine article about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has found that it was not the general or senior officers on his staff who made the most egregious comments that led to his abrupt dismissal as the top Afghan commander in June, according to Army and Pentagon officials.

But the review, commissioned after an embarrassing and disruptive episode, does not wholly resolve who was responsible for the inflammatory quotations, most of which were anonymous.

Did tolerating others’ disparaging comments constitute grounds for firing him? Not so clear.

The assignment of Gen. David Petraeus to the Afghanistan command was certainly a good move. But that’s not what is at issue. The dismissal of McChrystal now looks unduly hasty and frankly a bit unfair.

It is yet one more indication that the White House decision-making process bounces between the slipshod (e.g., Shirley Sherrod, Stanley McChrystal) and the snail-like agonizing that characterized the Afghanistan strategy sessions. As to the latter, if Bob Woodward’s book is remotely accurate, the reason it took so long was that a recalcitrant president resisted the advice of his military advisers and was interested not in a war strategy but in a political one. Credit is due primarily to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who hung in there to get the best result obtainable from a president whose concerns were primarily political.

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A Devastating and Depressing Portrait of Obama

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

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Obama’s Grave 9/11 Offense

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

If Barack Obama were running in the November election, the sentence revealed today from the president’s interview with Woodward — “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger” — would guarantee his defeat and his removal from Washington in a condition of ignominy. It would go down in the annals of history as the most damaging election-eve gaffe of all time. It won’t be that, because it’s 2010, not 2012. But what does it say about the president who said it?

On the one hand, Obama is right in the narrowest sense. We will not collapse into a heap. But is it conceivable he has forgotten that Flight 93 was clearly aiming for Washington, target unknowable but conceivably intended for the Capitol or the White House? The decapitation or partial decapitation of our government we could “absorb,” if by absorb you mean suffer a national catastrophe the recovery from which would have taken decades. That actually nearly happened. Another plane hit the Pentagon, don’t forget, and had it landed 75 feet further west and smashed directly into the building’s core, it’s likely another few thousand Americans would have perished, including military personnel critical to whatever effort would have had to be made to answer the attack.

And this is to say nothing of the cavalier claim that we came out of 9/11 “stronger.” Why? Because we all sang and held hands and cried together? That was nice, and moving, and powerful. Stronger, though, it did not make us. It made us aware of our commonality as Americans, which is a good thing, but good things aren’t necessarily strengthening things, and that unity was astonishingly short-lived.

No, ask the families of the 3,000 who perished whether they are stronger, whether their “absorption” of our national wound is something they have recovered from, or will ever recover from. No nation that has suffered terrorism’s assaults is the stronger for having done so. That is why terrorism is such a nefarious weapon — because it is designed to create wounds that can never heal in the body politic in the form of a sense of defenselessness, or insecurity, or loss, or impotent rage. Israel is not stronger for the second intifada; it is stronger, perhaps, because it defeated the second intifada, but the cost of even having to fight it was nightmarishly high.

The words Obama speaks are profoundly worrying because the issue after 9/11 is not that there might be a terrorist attack like 9/11, but whether it might be followed by something much, much worse — the proverbial “nuke in a suitcase” scenario. It is to prevent such an occurrence that we have spent untold billions in public and private dollars to secure the homeland, that we strip ourselves of shoes and belt and jacket and stand in hour-long lines at airports for the privilege of boarding a plane, that we can no longer comfortably go in and out of public buildings, public facilities, ballparks, you name it. None of this makes us stronger. It makes us less free. That loss of freedom is necessary, but it is a tragedy and a crime.

One doesn’t know the specific context in which the president spoke, so it would hard to analogize his words to statements of urgency he has made about other matters he seems certain we cannot absorb — like, say, a continuation of the current health-care system, or a failure to extend unemployment benefits, or the dire necessity for his stimulus package. Once again, we are left with the impression of a leader who finds national security something from which he can stand apart and think as an analyst rather than as the man on the watch, the man whose chief job it is to ensure not that we absorb an attack but that an attack never occur while he stands guard.

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Salvatore A. Giunta, Living Recipient of the Medal of Honor

It’s great to see a living soldier finally receive the Medal of Honor — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta is more than worthy to follow in a long line of heroes. His actions in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan — where during the course of an enemy ambush he first pulled two wounded comrades to safety and then drove off some Taliban who were attempting to kidnap a wounded soldier — are the stuff that movies are made of. Giunta has a fantastic quote in this New York Times article: “In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are.”

The award to Giunta raises a couple of interesting issues. First, why haven’t more Medals of Honor been awarded for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only six, all posthumous, have been awarded for conflicts that have featured no end of heroism. As the Times notes: “According to Pentagon statistics, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam. An analysis by the Army Times last year concluded that there were, on average, two or three Medals of Honor awarded per 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but that the rate for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had averaged one per million.” Why so stingy now with the nation’s highest medal? “Pentagon officials say the decisions reflect the differences of modern warfare,” according to the Times, but it’s hard to figure out what the difference is. Let us hope that Giunta’s Medal is part of a trend.

The second issue raised is, will anyone know his name? Probably not. Who, after all, has heard of Paul Smith, Michael Monsoor, or Jason Dunham — three brave warriors who gave their lives in Iraq before being honored with the Medal of Honor? Granted, most Medal of Honor recipients in previous wars were not exactly household names either, but the anonymity of today’s heroes is striking. We still revel in great deeds of heroism — as long as they’re performed by celluloid fakes like Sylvester Stallone or Tom Cruise. We no longer seem to have much interest in the real thing.

It’s great to see a living soldier finally receive the Medal of Honor — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta is more than worthy to follow in a long line of heroes. His actions in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan — where during the course of an enemy ambush he first pulled two wounded comrades to safety and then drove off some Taliban who were attempting to kidnap a wounded soldier — are the stuff that movies are made of. Giunta has a fantastic quote in this New York Times article: “In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are.”

The award to Giunta raises a couple of interesting issues. First, why haven’t more Medals of Honor been awarded for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only six, all posthumous, have been awarded for conflicts that have featured no end of heroism. As the Times notes: “According to Pentagon statistics, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam. An analysis by the Army Times last year concluded that there were, on average, two or three Medals of Honor awarded per 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but that the rate for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had averaged one per million.” Why so stingy now with the nation’s highest medal? “Pentagon officials say the decisions reflect the differences of modern warfare,” according to the Times, but it’s hard to figure out what the difference is. Let us hope that Giunta’s Medal is part of a trend.

The second issue raised is, will anyone know his name? Probably not. Who, after all, has heard of Paul Smith, Michael Monsoor, or Jason Dunham — three brave warriors who gave their lives in Iraq before being honored with the Medal of Honor? Granted, most Medal of Honor recipients in previous wars were not exactly household names either, but the anonymity of today’s heroes is striking. We still revel in great deeds of heroism — as long as they’re performed by celluloid fakes like Sylvester Stallone or Tom Cruise. We no longer seem to have much interest in the real thing.

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Obama on 9/11: Get Over It

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

Obama’s remarks on 9/11 were about what you would expect from a president who has ridiculed his countrymen for overreacting to the most lethal terrorist attack on our soil and who can’t manage to utter the worlds “Islamic fundamentalists” or “jihadists.”

Really, let’s not dwell on the bad stuff, he tells us. “On this day, it’s perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning — images that are seared into our souls. It’s tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly.” Yes, it is tempting — because that is what the day is all about, to recall the diabolical work of our enemies and recommit ourselves to the defense of our civilization. But no, in his book, it’s about diversity training: “They were white and black and brown — men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world.”

As for the Islamist fascists who killed so many and made orphans and widows of many more, he has this to say:

It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses — as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

Oh, good grief. Yes, it was a religion — fundamentalist Islam that attacked us. Al-Qaeda is one organization but the jihadists attack because of religious beliefs. And they are anything but pathetic or, as he put it, “sorry” — they did slaughter thousands, after all. And one cannot but wretch at the moral equivalence — just as we condemn Islamist zealots, we must rebuff those who don’t appreciate the desecration of “hallowed ground” ? Also, notice the sleight of hand: the Pentagon chapel he refers to is not a mosque, not the exclusive providence of Muslims but an interfaith facility that bears no religious monikers. (Hey, why not the same at Ground Zero?) His tone is one of condescension, revealing that his mission is to talk Americans out of their righteous anger.

It should shock no one that this is what gets Obama’s juices flowing. Reporters complain that Obama can’t muster the same enthusiasm and passion for the economy that he does for his Muslim outreach and his ongoing lectures about tolerance (e.g., the Cambridge cops were “stupid,” we must accommodate the mosque builders, etc.). Unfortunately, Obama has plenty of passion for the wrong things. At a high-school graduation this June, Justice Scalia reminded us:

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction. … In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not wise and who is terribly out of sync with the ethos of the American people. It is most troubling that the leader of the Free World has a zeal for bad causes. Not even the electoral wipe-out of his party, I fear, will change that.

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Stinting on Defense

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

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A Mess of His Own Making

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

Politico reports that Obama will probably not go to Ground Zero for 9/11, where he hasn’t visited since his campaign. Well, you can imagine the reaction if he did:

Obama’s aides … are unsure if they want to put him back in the middle of the Park51 controversy, which has damped down somewhat. Obama has not been to ground zero since he ran for president, when he and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain appeared there together on Sept. 11, 2008 — a rare bipartisan moment in a hard-fought campaign.

Last year, in his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks as commander in chief, Obama and the first lady held a moment of silence on the south driveway of the White House. The president later spoke at the Pentagon to families and friends of the 184 people killed there.

This is the proverbial rock and a hard place. (“No matter where he goes, the president’s critics will likely speak out. If he doesn’t go to New York , Obama could be accused of dodging ground zero because of the Islamic center. If he does, he risks facing the anger of some Sept. 11 families and New York officials offended by his position.”)

What other locale has he avoided since the campaign? Why Israel, of course. He’s gotten some flack from American Jewish groups for not going. But once again, imagine the reaction if he showed up in the Jewish state. It would be hard to keep him out of reach of the 90 percent of Israelis who think he’s pro-Palestinian. Bad visuals of Israeli Jews screaming, waving signs, and potentially walking out in the Knesset must terrify the Obami.

We have gone from a president who was lionized by emergency and rescue workers at Ground Zero and who gave one of the best speeches (to the Knesset) on Israel ever given by a U.S. president (what even comes close?) to one who’s afraid to go to both. You can’t get more un-Bush than that. And in case you have forgotten:

Yes, it still makes me cry too.

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Time to End the Foreign Policy Contradictions

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

Richard Haass, after a brief, uncomfortable interlude over the Ground Zero mosque, returns to smart analysis that has been more characteristic of his recent writing. He hones in on many of the questions that a number of us raised yesterday:

[T]he president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period. There is a strong case that the United States should be prepared to do so; Iraqis should be prepared not only to ask for this but to help pay for it.

And on Afghanistan, he, too, is bothered by the fact that the “calendar-vs.-conditions contradiction at the heart of U.S. Afghan policy remains: U.S. troops will begin to depart in less than a year, but the pace of withdrawals will be determined by the situation on the ground.” Many helpful onlookers have tried to square the circle. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton cannot be faulted for at least trying to make sense of this. But Haass is right: the two parts of Obama’s formulation are mutually exclusive. You can’t promise to be both attuned to facts on the ground and begin bugging out. We can hardly blame the Karzai government for being uneasy.

On the budgeting front, we’ve criticized Obama’s false assertion that the defense budget is responsible for the pool of red ink, but Haass makes a separate point: Obama’s own budget is at odds with his national security policy: “[S]pending $100 billion or more a year in Afghanistan will make the process of cutting defense spending and reducing the deficit far more difficult. How, then, should the United States manage its need to restore its fiscal base and remain the world’s leading power?” This is the central fallacy underlying Obama’s directive to Robert Gates: go slash the Pentagon budget and win the war. Gates is struggling to cut other places within the defense budget — so then why aren’t we taking money from misbegotten domestic spending? By the way, one could conclude that Obama’s emphasis on VA spending is an effort to preempt the argument that we are “taking money from the troops.” He is (and from the weapons they will use), but he is loath to admit it.

In speeches and political campaigns, fundamental contradictions can be glossed over. But the essence of governing is to resolve those contradictions. And the measure of leadership is to articulate what is at stake in the given choices, act decisively, and then explain it to Americans as well as to allies and foes without equivocation. So long as the administration pretends these choices don’t exist, our policy lacks coherence and credibility.

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The Budget Fudge

In a portion of last night’s speech that rankled many conservatives, Obama pointed the finger at defense spending as the cause of our fiscal woes: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.” This is hooey.

The Washington Post explains:

Federal domestic spending increased a record 16 percent to $3.2 trillion in 2009, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, largely because of a boost in aid to the unemployed and the huge economic stimulus package enacted to rescue the sinking economy.

The rise in spending was the largest since the Census Bureau began compiling the data in 1983. The Washington region was among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s spending.

With congressional elections looming this fall, the spike in federal spending has emerged as one of the nation’s most contentious political issues.

Many Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic allies of being reckless spenders who are harming the nation’s long-term economic prospects by inflating the deficit.

It doesn’t appear that defense spending is the problem:

Overall, the largest chunk of federal spending – about 46 percent of the $3.2 trillion – went to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, entitlement programs that are projected to swell as the population ages.

Pay for federal employees accounted for nearly $300 billion of the spending and nearly half of that went to the Defense Department payroll.

In July, Gary Schmitt debunked the idea that defense spending is driving our deficits:

Right now, Defense’s share of federal outlays—including those for Iraq and Afghanistan—is 18 percent.  That’s the same level it was at during the Clinton years.  In contrast, mandatory spending eats up some 56 percent of federal spending, while discretionary non-defense spending is 19 percent.  Core entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is now double that of defense. And while entitlement spending and debt service will continue to explode, the Pentagon’s share of federal spending will be shrinking to 15 percent within the next few years. While the Obama administration has already cut some $300 billion in defense programs, it has been spending nearly $800 billion to (supposedly) stimulate the economy.

This is yet another example of two Obama traits. First, he makes stuff up. Really, what he said last night is not remotely true no matter how you do the math. And second, he stretches the truth to sustain an ideological preference: he wants to spend more and more on domestic programs, so he’s anxious to trim as much from our defense budget as possible. And to do that, we can’t make open-ended commitments.

In a portion of last night’s speech that rankled many conservatives, Obama pointed the finger at defense spending as the cause of our fiscal woes: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.” This is hooey.

The Washington Post explains:

Federal domestic spending increased a record 16 percent to $3.2 trillion in 2009, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, largely because of a boost in aid to the unemployed and the huge economic stimulus package enacted to rescue the sinking economy.

The rise in spending was the largest since the Census Bureau began compiling the data in 1983. The Washington region was among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s spending.

With congressional elections looming this fall, the spike in federal spending has emerged as one of the nation’s most contentious political issues.

Many Republicans accuse President Obama and his Democratic allies of being reckless spenders who are harming the nation’s long-term economic prospects by inflating the deficit.

It doesn’t appear that defense spending is the problem:

Overall, the largest chunk of federal spending – about 46 percent of the $3.2 trillion – went to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, entitlement programs that are projected to swell as the population ages.

Pay for federal employees accounted for nearly $300 billion of the spending and nearly half of that went to the Defense Department payroll.

In July, Gary Schmitt debunked the idea that defense spending is driving our deficits:

Right now, Defense’s share of federal outlays—including those for Iraq and Afghanistan—is 18 percent.  That’s the same level it was at during the Clinton years.  In contrast, mandatory spending eats up some 56 percent of federal spending, while discretionary non-defense spending is 19 percent.  Core entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is now double that of defense. And while entitlement spending and debt service will continue to explode, the Pentagon’s share of federal spending will be shrinking to 15 percent within the next few years. While the Obama administration has already cut some $300 billion in defense programs, it has been spending nearly $800 billion to (supposedly) stimulate the economy.

This is yet another example of two Obama traits. First, he makes stuff up. Really, what he said last night is not remotely true no matter how you do the math. And second, he stretches the truth to sustain an ideological preference: he wants to spend more and more on domestic programs, so he’s anxious to trim as much from our defense budget as possible. And to do that, we can’t make open-ended commitments.

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He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

It is not that we didn’t know this before, but reading the New York Times surely designed to be as favorable toward Obama as the reporter could possibly manage — one is left slack-jawed. Obama doesn’t like being commander in chief, isn’t good at it, and has relied on one tutor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is leaving next year. The report should be read in full. But a few low-lights:

A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.

A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was ‘troubled’ and that he ‘doesn’t have a handle on it.’ …

Reliant on Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama has made limited efforts to know his service chiefs or top commanders, and has visited the Pentagon only once, not counting a Sept. 11 commemoration. He ended Mr. Bush’s practice of weekly videoconferences with commanders, preferring to work through the chain of command and wary, aides said, of being drawn into managing the wars. …

Last December, the president gave the military 30,000 more troops, but also a ticking clock. … “He didn’t understand or grasp the military culture,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal Center for American Progress. “He got over that particular quandary and put them back in the box by saying, ‘O.K., I’m giving you 18 months.’ ”

As we all suspected, he compromised our Afghanistan war strategy for the sake of domestic politics:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

He simply doesn’t want to do the things that are expected of the commander in chief, and the military’s ire is profound:

The schisms among his team, though, are born in part out of uncertainty about his true commitment. His reticence to talk much publicly about the wars may owe to the political costs of alienating his base as well as the demands of other issues. Senior Pentagon and military officials said they understood that he presided over a troubled economy, but noted that he was not losing 30 American soldiers a month on Wall Street. …

“From an image point of view, he doesn’t seem to embrace it, almost like you have to drag him into doing it,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Bush adviser with military contacts. “There’s deep uncertainty and perhaps doubt in the military about his commitment to see the wars through to a successful conclusion.”

This was a man not only unprepared to be president but disposed to shirk the most important aspect of the job. It is a measure of his hubris and stubbornness that he has refused to, as Feaver succinctly puts it, “embrace” the role, that is, to commit in word and deed his full attention and effort to leading the country in war. He doesn’t want to be a wartime president? Well, sorry — he is.

The only comfort one can draw from this appalling portrait is that perhaps, just perhaps, after November, when his dream of transforming America is crushed by an electoral blow-back, he will belatedly do his job.

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Marine Commandant: Obama Deadline Helps the Enemy

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

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Democratic Senate Candidates vs. Harry Reid and 68% of America

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

Harry Reid was trying to save himself, and perhaps some of his colleagues, when he broke with Obama over the Ground Zero mosque. But some Senate contenders simply can’t be helped and have doubled down.

In Illinois:

Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Tuesday during a visit to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield that he supports the mosque site. He says while he sympathizes with those who lost loved ones, Americans must stand up for freedom of religion even when it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mark Kirk’s campaign said in a statement that he thinks placing the mosque near Ground Zero causes relatives of the victims “undue pain” and the mosque should move to a “less controversial site.”

In Pennsylvania:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled Tuesday to Pennsylvania to endorse Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, bringing along with him the politically volatile controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. . .

In Philadelphia this morning, [Joe] Sestak … said he wasn’t too troubled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement on Monday opposing the location of the proposed Islamic center. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” he said.

When asked if he’s sensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11, Sestak spoke passionately: “When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building.”

“My 9/11 is that Pentagon,” he said. “Am I sensitive to (the family’s) desires? Sure, I am.” But Sestak said the concept of religious freedom is what is “most important” in this debate.

Now that’s interesting. At the Pentagon, contrary to the claims of  some mosque supporters (including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero), there is no mosque. ABC News clarifies:

Sometimes misidentified as the “Pentagon Mosque,” the non-denominational Pentagon Memorial Chapel maintained by the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office is where department employees who practice Islam can meet to pray. Located at the site where the hijacked American Airlines flight 74 struck the Defense Department headquarters, the chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims of the 9/11 attack. The 100-seat chapel is available to Pentagon employees of all faiths to come in prayer as they wish throughout the day. …

Dedicated in November 2002, after the reconstruction of the section of the building struck in the Sept. 11 attack, the Pentagon chapel honors the memory of the 184 victims who were killed there or were passengers aboard the hijacked jetliner. Behind the chapel’s altar is a lit stained-glass window, in the shape of the Pentagon, that bears the inscription, “United in Memory, September 11, 2001.” No religious icons or pictures are on display at the chapel. Religious symbols are brought in for religious services. A Torah, for example, housed in an ornate ark, is brought from behind curtains for use in the weekly Jewish service.

You’d think a Pentagon man would see a place of worship of this sort, rather than a 13-story monument to Islam, as the appropriate model for a 9/11 site.

Will the Ground Zero mosque be the defining issue in the 2010 campaign? Maybe not, but it’s the last thing Democrats (some of whom are trying to shed the image that they are too far left even for Blue States) needed. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating in Gallup’s poll ticked up to 51 percent, a new high. Might it be a better strategy for Democrats not to follow Obama over the political cliff?

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Exporting the Imam’s Message

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

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Robert’s Rant

Apropos my posting yesterday, we read this from The Hill:

The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

Gibbs goes on to say this:

“There’s [sic] 101 things we’ve done,” said Gibbs, who then mentioned both Iraq and healthcare.

Gibbs said the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.

I’m not fan of the left — but it’s very unwise for President Obama’s notoriously prickly press secretary to publicly vent like this.

Among the many problems Democrats face going into the midterm election is the huge gap in voter intensity. (It favors Republicans by about a two-to-one margin.) Gibbs’ comments will only deflate the Democratic base. But Gibbs, his colleagues, and the president cannot help themselves. They are an extremely thin-skinned lot, prone to lash out at their critics. Doing so is almost always unwise. And in this instance, it is as well.

A fight with the base of the Democratic Party isn’t what Obama or Democratic candidates need right now. But thanks to Mr. Gibbs — who also succeeded in offending Speaker Pelosi recently — that’s just what they have.

Apropos my posting yesterday, we read this from The Hill:

The White House is simmering with anger at criticism from liberals who say President Obama is more concerned with deal-making than ideological purity.

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

Gibbs goes on to say this:

“There’s [sic] 101 things we’ve done,” said Gibbs, who then mentioned both Iraq and healthcare.

Gibbs said the professional left is not representative of the progressives who organized, campaigned, raised money and ultimately voted for Obama.

I’m not fan of the left — but it’s very unwise for President Obama’s notoriously prickly press secretary to publicly vent like this.

Among the many problems Democrats face going into the midterm election is the huge gap in voter intensity. (It favors Republicans by about a two-to-one margin.) Gibbs’ comments will only deflate the Democratic base. But Gibbs, his colleagues, and the president cannot help themselves. They are an extremely thin-skinned lot, prone to lash out at their critics. Doing so is almost always unwise. And in this instance, it is as well.

A fight with the base of the Democratic Party isn’t what Obama or Democratic candidates need right now. But thanks to Mr. Gibbs — who also succeeded in offending Speaker Pelosi recently — that’s just what they have.

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JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates has just announced a new round of budget cuts, the major move being the proposed elimination of U.S. Joint Forces Command. JFCOM is one of the newer “combatant commands”; it was created in 1999 to work on “joint” training, doctrine, capabilities, and force generation — all missions that in the past had gone exclusively to the individual military services. The thinking at the time in Congress and at the Pentagon was that a more unified approach was needed to avoid some of the traditional duplication and lack of synchronization.

Apparently, Gates thinks the mission could be done just as well without the existence of a four-star command. Is he right? He may well be. And I say that even though I have been peripherally involved in JFCOM’s operations as a member (unpaid) of its Transformation Advisory Group. Certainly, JFCOM, like all military bureaucracies (indeed all bureaucracies, period), has its share of fat. But it also performed some important functions that will have to be done by someone, whether the command exists or not.

The budget savings from this move will hardly do much to reduce the Pentagon’s budget, much less to close the government’s growing budget deficit. As the Associated Press notes, JFCOM has “nearly 4,900 employees and annual salaries of more than $200 million” — a pittance in federal-budget terms. Indeed, you could cut the entire Pentagon budget ($535 billion) and still not eliminate this year’s budget deficit — $1.47 trillion. To say nothing of our federal debt, which is over $13 billion and counting.

I am all in favor of cutting government spending. But we should be careful about cutting defense spending in wartime. Moreover, we should be careful about dumping the burden of “deficit cutting” onto the Department of Defense while ignoring the budget items actually responsible for most federal spending. OK, cut JFCOM. But then cut, too, the entitlement programs, which, with the encouragement and connivance of both the president and Congress, are growing out of control.

A final question concerns the fate of General Ray Odierno, who is about to leave Iraq to assume the command of… JFCOM, a post just vacated by Gen. Jim Mattis, the new Central Command chief. Where will Odierno go now? His services are far too valuable to be lost, but there wouldn’t be an abundance of open four-star jobs if JFCOM were, in fact, eliminated — which would take an act of Congress. My bet would be on him succeeding General George Casey as army chief of staff.

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RE: The Farce Ends

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

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Wikileaks and the Final Defeat of Tet

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

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Wikileaks, Insignificant

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

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Storms Brewing in the Asian Seas

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

In response to North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship last March, the United States and South Korea will hold a series of joint military exercises beginning next week. But the joint exercises have become as much about geopolitics and China as they are about North Korea.

Although the exercises may be adroitly executed from a military-strategic standpoint, their success in sending a political and symbolic message is less certain. As the exercises have been considered throughout recent months, the Chinese protested aggressively and created a situation that tempts U.S. overreaction — which would be especially destructive now, as Sino-U.S. relations are already strained. The Obama administration has avoided that temptation, and the handling of the joint exercises has been both reasonable and measured. But the risk remains that Washington’s tact will be misinterpreted as a major concession to Beijing. This would be a pity. In a rare act of real smart diplomacy, the Obama administration is standing by our ally, South Korea, while also taking a moderate approach to China.

After Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates met with counterparts in Seoul this week, the Department of Defense announced a series of exercises to be held in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. In the Sea of Japan, a large-scale air and naval exercise will begin Sunday. But notably, the details of the Yellow Sea exercises, to be held at some point in the future, were not announced, leaving more questions than answers. (The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.)

The locations of both seas are crucial to understanding the issue.

Given Beijing’s strong objections to military escapades in the Yellow Sea, which it considers its territorial backyard, the U.S.-South Korean exercises take on new significance. The fear is that unless the United States stridently defies Chinese concerns, it will be seen as conceding to Beijing and setting a precedent about what constitutes Chinese territory. This perception would be overblown given the facts, but it is all the more worrisome in the context of growing Chinese naval assertiveness.

Some have speculated that the Chinese are seeking to establish their own Monroe Doctrine and see this as a chance to reinforce it. Contrary to the UN Law of the Sea, China has objected to any unapproved non-surveillance navy activity in its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles from shore. Beijing has repeated strongly worded protests against exercises in the Yellow Sea, especially those involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington.

If the United States proceeds with a major military exercise in the Yellow Sea, a military response from the Chinese would not be unprecedented; during the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis, the U.S. sent a similar carrier, the Kitty Hawk, into the Yellow Sea. Although China was then a lesser military power, a Chinese submarine trailed the Kitty Hawk, and the Chinese air force dispatched fighters.

But the biggest risk is not military but political: China is trying to assert sea control; Sino-U.S. relations are already rocky, especially given Obama’s adherence to an arms deal with Taiwan; under a new prime minister, Japan is questioning whether to tilt its national-security strategy toward Beijing or toward Washington; South Korea is determining how steadfastly the United States intends to defend it from its hostile Northern neighbor; and North Korea wants to know what it can get away with.

Upon examining the facts, it’s clear that the plan announced yesterday serves the United States’s primary objectives: the Sea of Japan exercise is sufficient warning to North Korea, and it is also an impressive display of solidarity with South Korea. The scale of the exercises is huge: about 8,000 American and South Korean military personnel will participate. And the United States will employ some flashy assets. The exercise will include the George Washington, which is the core of U.S. naval power, and F-22s, the best of the best among tactical aircraft. The few disadvantages of a Sea of Japan–based exercise is that the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the Yellow Sea, and Pyongyang lies closer to the West. Hillary Clinton announced today, however, that the Obama administration would be imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea, strengthening the U.S. stance even more. The message to Pyonyang and to our allies is loud and clear.

This approach also enables the U.S. to avoid needlessly provoking China without conceding U.S. military rights, while taking into consideration the unavoidably necessary collaboration with China regarding the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have suffered some of their most embarrassing historic defeats in the Yellow Sea, so they’re understandably sensitive. At the same time, joint Yellow Sea exercises will follow eventually, and the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, stated clearly that the United Statesobviously [has] the right to navigate all international waters, conduct operations in all international waters at the time and place of our choosing.” Furthermore, China will also be a major player in the future of North Korea and in any reunification of the Korean Peninsula; therefore, our allies in Seoul could suffer more harm than benefit from outright defiance of Beijing’s concerns.

The Obama administration’s challenge now will be to convey the wisdom of this approach to China and to America’s allies. The Nobel-winning president has made this harder on himself because of his history of pacifying aggressors and distancing allies.  But in international relations, perception is reality. Had Obama been more fearsome before, he’d be more credible now.

Read Less




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