Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pete Wehner

Are We All Neocons Now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

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RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

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Reasons for Conservatives Not to Fiddle with the Constitution

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner and others have participated in a New York Times forum on immigration reform, specifically focused on the notion that we should amend the 14th Amendment. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I concur with Pete’s take. There are certainly political considerations, as Pete reminds us: “Hispanics are among the fastest growing demographic groups in America. The party of Lincoln and Reagan can appeal to them with a principled stand on illegal immigration, in combination with policies that increase economic growth, entrepreneurship, and social cohesion.” But I find the following to be the most compelling reasons for conservatives to oppose a constitutional amendment repealing birthright citizenship:

For one thing, the evidence that “anchor babies” are a magnet for illegal immigration doesn’t exist (the main motivators are searching for work and better economic conditions). For another, amending the 14th Amendment — which would require a vote of two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, followed by a ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures — is a distraction from necessary things that need to be done, including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time.

It would also be a dramatic and unnecessary break with precedent. As a general matter, conservatives oppose tinkering with the Constitution, especially for empty causes.

It is because the repeal of birthright citizenship is so radical an idea (the most extreme solution to a problem that can be resolved by less draconian means) and so antithetical to the evidence-based, reasoned arguments that conservatives generally engage in that I find the push for a revision of the Constitution so objectionable. I admit to being somewhat shocked that so many usually sober-minded conservatives are serious about the idea.

Tamar Jacoby explains what a push for a constitutional amendment would and wouldn’t do:

Amending the Constitution is, and should be, an extremely difficult process – we’ve done it only 17 times since the Bill of Rights. The 14th Amendment cuts to the heart of what it means to be American. A reconsideration would touch on some of the most deeply felt issues in our political psyche – slavery, immigration, assimilation, racial and ethnic equality. And the debate would give new meaning to the word “wrenching,” all but tearing the country apart. Yet because of the way the constitutional process is rigged against change, the fight would probably not produce an amendment.

Besides, even if it did, that would hardly fix what’s broken about our immigration system. Revoking birthright citizenship would punish the children of the workers who have entered illegally in past decades. But it would do little to prevent others from coming in the future. They come overwhelmingly to work, not to have babies. And it would only make it harder – immeasurably harder – to assimilate those already here.

Perhaps this is an unseemly election-year stunt that will vanish once the votes are counted in November. We can only hope so, and also hope for a return to a perfectly rational solution: a tall wall (border enforcement) and a wide gate (a very generous legal-immigration policy), to borrow from Charles Krauthammer.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

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When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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Beinart at It Again

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

Last month, Pete Wehner demolished Peter Beinart for his attack on Charles Krauthammer, pointing out that it was based on a date error. Pete warned Beinart: “I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false.”

Apparently, Beinart did not take it to heart. In a scrawl for the Daily Beast, Beinart attacks Bibi for “wasting” Obama’s time at the White House meeting. He begins with this:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

Actually, neither of them said anything of the sort. The transcript and the quotes come from the May 18, 2009, press conference. It says it at the top. One more piece of advice: if Pete Wehner gives you advice, take it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) — and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.'”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

Whoever wins the Democratic Senate run-off is in for a tough time: “A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Arkansas, taken Wednesday night, shows [Republican John] Boozman, the winner of Tuesday’s state GOP Primary, with 66% support in a match-up with Senator Blanche Lincoln. The Democratic incumbent picks up just 28% of the vote.”

The New York Times digs up another instance in which Richard Blumenthal lied about his Vietnam service. (“In Vietnam we had to endure taunts and insults, and no one said, ‘Welcome home.’ I say welcome home.”)

Obama sees nothing wrong with Blumenthal’s serial lying about his Vietnam service. The Democrats, every one of them, it seems, have lost their moral compass (perhaps they’ve taken it out of the vault and jumped up and down, shattering it) — and their political horse sense.

Not exactly what the left had in mind: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that prisoners being held without trial in Afghanistan by the military have no right to challenge their imprisonment in American civilian courts. The decision, overturning a lower court ruling in the detainees’ favor, was a victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for extended periods without judicial oversight.” So they want to close Guantanamo so they can hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram?

The spirit of Arlen Specter appears in the Senate race in Florida: “Charlie Crist offered his support today for Elena Kagan, saying he’s ‘impressed’ with her so far. … But pressed to explain why he would support Kagan but opposed Sonia Sotomayor while he was a member of the Republican party, Crist was at a loss for words.” He’s impressed with her treatment of military recruiters at Harvard?

Chris Christie’s star will continue to rise if he keeps this up: in his veto of a tax hike, he declared: “I told everybody that if this got sent here that I’d veto it, and I have … New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don’t have enough tax revenue. We have a spending and size of government problem and we need to start saying ‘no.’ And today is another one of those examples of saying ‘no.’”

Uh, I don’t think this helps Rand Paul any: “‘When does my honeymoon period start? I had a big victory,’ Paul told George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. ‘I’ve just been trashed up and down and they have been saying things that are untrue. And when they say I’m for repealing the Civil Rights Act, it’s absolutely false. It’s never been my position and something that I basically just think is politics.'”

Actually CONTENTIONS contributor Pete Wehner and conservative columnist Michael Gerson are dissecting him very efficiently.

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Tom Ricks’s Quote

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jay Cost thinks moderate Democrats need to take their party back from Obama: “If moderate House Democrats don’t stand up to him now, he’ll do it on cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and who knows what else. Sooner or later, their constituents will elect representatives who will stand up to the President. And those new representatives will probably be Republicans.”

Voters don’t think much of ObamaCare: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters say the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress will hurt the U.S. economy. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% think the plan will help the economy. But only seven percent (7%) say it will have no impact. Twelve percent (12%) aren’t sure. Two-out-of-three voters (66%) also believe the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats is likely to increase the federal deficit.”

Democrats have figured out that Nancy Pelosi is leading them off a political cliff. It’s not that Democrats don’t respect Pelosi. It’s just “every man for himself,” you see.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tells Robert Gibbs (and the president) to forget about that March 18 deadline. You getting the sense that no one’s really in charge anymore?

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner shares my view on David Axelrod’s kvetching: “Truth be told, it is an honor to play a role in shaping American politics, especially through governing, and especially through service in the White House. If out of disgust or disillusionment people want to return to Chicago or wherever else they came from, then they should do so, the sooner the better. What they shouldn’t do is to pretend to be repelled by what they have been captivated by.”

If Republicans are smart, they’ll stay out of this one: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says Rep. Eric Massa’s charge that he was pushed out of the House because of his opposition to the Democrats’ health care bill is ‘absurd’ and ‘absolutely untrue.'”

Ben Smith on Tom Campbell’s getting tangled up in his Sami Al-Arian misstatements: “When you go into Obama-campaign style ‘Fight the Smears’  mode, it’s generally a pretty good idea to be sure the charges against you are, in fact, not provably true.”

Jay Cost thinks moderate Democrats need to take their party back from Obama: “If moderate House Democrats don’t stand up to him now, he’ll do it on cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and who knows what else. Sooner or later, their constituents will elect representatives who will stand up to the President. And those new representatives will probably be Republicans.”

Voters don’t think much of ObamaCare: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters say the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress will hurt the U.S. economy. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% think the plan will help the economy. But only seven percent (7%) say it will have no impact. Twelve percent (12%) aren’t sure. Two-out-of-three voters (66%) also believe the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats is likely to increase the federal deficit.”

Democrats have figured out that Nancy Pelosi is leading them off a political cliff. It’s not that Democrats don’t respect Pelosi. It’s just “every man for himself,” you see.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tells Robert Gibbs (and the president) to forget about that March 18 deadline. You getting the sense that no one’s really in charge anymore?

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner shares my view on David Axelrod’s kvetching: “Truth be told, it is an honor to play a role in shaping American politics, especially through governing, and especially through service in the White House. If out of disgust or disillusionment people want to return to Chicago or wherever else they came from, then they should do so, the sooner the better. What they shouldn’t do is to pretend to be repelled by what they have been captivated by.”

If Republicans are smart, they’ll stay out of this one: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says Rep. Eric Massa’s charge that he was pushed out of the House because of his opposition to the Democrats’ health care bill is ‘absurd’ and ‘absolutely untrue.'”

Ben Smith on Tom Campbell’s getting tangled up in his Sami Al-Arian misstatements: “When you go into Obama-campaign style ‘Fight the Smears’  mode, it’s generally a pretty good idea to be sure the charges against you are, in fact, not provably true.”

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Dueling with Andrew Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

Howard Fineman gives credit where credit is due: “In a city obsessed with visibility and celebrity, it largely goes overlooked that the plodding, unglamorous [Mitch] McConnell is Obama’s most powerful foe—the man he must outmaneuver, or at least neutralize, if he wants to reach the sunny uplands of (bipartisan) legislative accomplishment, not to mention a second term in 2012. It will not be easy.”

CONTENTIONS’s Pete Wehner writes: “Republican officeholders and candidates need to make specific, detailed criticisms of Obama’s agenda without being personally nasty toward or disrespectful of Obama himself. … To the GOP’s credit, much of this is already going on. We’ve seen it in the campaigns run by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which will be models for others to follow; in the governing record of Indiana’s Mitch Daniels; and in the health care and budget plans put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.” The Left keeps rooting for that GOP “civil war” to break out, but so far no luck.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon on J Street: “The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are. They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.” Actually, even the J Street gang is nervous about the “pro-Israeli” label.

CNN’s latest: “According to the poll, 44 percent of registered voters say Obama deserves re-election, with 52 percent saying the president does not deserve a second term in office. The survey also indicates that 49 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, with half of the public disapproving of his job in the White House.” Congress does worse: “Fifty-six percent of people questioned in the survey say that most Democrats in Congress do not deserve to be re-elected. An equal amount also say that most congressional Republicans don’t deserve re-election.” Republicans lead in the generic polling in this survey, 47 to 45 percent, an eight-point swing their way since November.

More bad polling news the Obami will no doubt ignore: “In a brutal assessment of the Democratically authored healthcare reform bills pending in Congress and the party’s approach to healthcare, more than half of the respondents to a new Zogby International-University of Texas Health Science Center poll said that lawmakers should start from scratch.”

A fine idea that conservatives should embrace: “The Obama administration, advancing nuclear power use to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, will announce on Tuesday an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build two reactors, a government official told Reuters.” Now if we can agree on domestic oil and gas development, there could be a real bipartisan energy policy.

Even California is less Blue than it used to be: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman now runs dead even with likely Democratic nominee Jerry Brown in California’s gubernatorial contest.”

Hispanics aren’t thrilled with the Democrats either. Almost like there’s a wave building.

Not even Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal wants Obama’s help — in Connecticut. Well, if he doesn’t help in Massachusetts, you can understand.

James Taranto relays that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, “admits that the periods 1860-80 and 1910-40 saw global warming on a similar scale to the 1975-98 period, that there has been no significant warming since 1995, and that the so-called Medieval Warm Period calls into question whether the currently observed warming is unprecedented. … So ‘the vast majority of climate scientists’ don’t think the debate is over? Someone had better tell the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee and most of our colleagues in the media, who have long been insisting otherwise–and indeed, who continue to do so.”

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Like ObamaCare: Just Kill It

Marco Rubio takes to the blogosphere to make the case against the Obama budget. He writes:

The sheer numbers in the president’s latest spending plan are jaw-dropping: a $1.6 trillion deficit this year, $1.3 trillion next year, and a ten-year deficit outlook of $8.5 trillion. The budget also calls for a permanent expansion of the federal government by 3 percent of GDP; a $2 trillion decades-long tax increase on every single American under the auspices of health-care reform and cap-and-trade energy policies; deficits of more than $1 trillion until 2020; and a doubling of the publicly held national debt to more than $18 trillion.

His argument is simple: kill it and start over. Or as he puts it: “Those who care about our national security, our standing in the world, and the notion of leaving our children a better country than the one we were blessed to inherit must send a clear and unequivocal message to our leaders in Washington: Defeat the president’s budget.”

In some ways, this is an eerie replay of the debate over health care, but in this case the Democrats don’t even momentarily hold the high ground or enjoy the indulgence of the mainstream media. The Obama budget is, however, as Pete Wehner wrote yesterday, symptomatic of the problem facing Democrats: “The president’s new budget — which projects a record-breaking, mind-blowing deficit of $1.56 trillion — is political kryptonite for Democrats; it reinforces the worst possible narrative about them (profligate, fiscally reckless, unprepared to govern).” It is, as Pete noted, another “weight around Democrats’ ankles.”

And it would seem to be smart politics and good policy for Republicans and moderate and conservative Democrats (at least those who aren’t willing to be impaled on Nancy Pelosi’s vaulting pole) to follow Rubio’s lead. Those congressmen and senators who choose instead to tie themselves to the Obama budget will, I suspect, face an enraged electorate. It may be that it takes many more Massachusetts-type upsets and the loss of one or more houses to get everyone’s attention inside the Beltway.

Marco Rubio takes to the blogosphere to make the case against the Obama budget. He writes:

The sheer numbers in the president’s latest spending plan are jaw-dropping: a $1.6 trillion deficit this year, $1.3 trillion next year, and a ten-year deficit outlook of $8.5 trillion. The budget also calls for a permanent expansion of the federal government by 3 percent of GDP; a $2 trillion decades-long tax increase on every single American under the auspices of health-care reform and cap-and-trade energy policies; deficits of more than $1 trillion until 2020; and a doubling of the publicly held national debt to more than $18 trillion.

His argument is simple: kill it and start over. Or as he puts it: “Those who care about our national security, our standing in the world, and the notion of leaving our children a better country than the one we were blessed to inherit must send a clear and unequivocal message to our leaders in Washington: Defeat the president’s budget.”

In some ways, this is an eerie replay of the debate over health care, but in this case the Democrats don’t even momentarily hold the high ground or enjoy the indulgence of the mainstream media. The Obama budget is, however, as Pete Wehner wrote yesterday, symptomatic of the problem facing Democrats: “The president’s new budget — which projects a record-breaking, mind-blowing deficit of $1.56 trillion — is political kryptonite for Democrats; it reinforces the worst possible narrative about them (profligate, fiscally reckless, unprepared to govern).” It is, as Pete noted, another “weight around Democrats’ ankles.”

And it would seem to be smart politics and good policy for Republicans and moderate and conservative Democrats (at least those who aren’t willing to be impaled on Nancy Pelosi’s vaulting pole) to follow Rubio’s lead. Those congressmen and senators who choose instead to tie themselves to the Obama budget will, I suspect, face an enraged electorate. It may be that it takes many more Massachusetts-type upsets and the loss of one or more houses to get everyone’s attention inside the Beltway.

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Joe Klein’s Almost Pathological Love Affairs

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s “self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

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Islamists Are Naive

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

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Obama: Confused Neocon

Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.

But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .

This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .

The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .

And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.

This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.

Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.

But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .

This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .

The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .

And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.

This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.

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How Long Before Gore Endorses Obama?

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

After Ted Kennedy’s endorsement, the only question is when Al Gore will throw his support behind Barack Obama.

Don’t think for a moment that Gore isn’t considering it. What happened this weekend was the most dramatic change of tenor we have seen since Iowa caucus night. A new front opened up in the Democratic primary race. Hillary Clinton is no longer just battling Obama. She is defending the legitimacy of the Clinton era against all those who know it and are sick of it. A Gore endorsement of the rival to the wife of the man who made him vice president would be an unprecedented blow.

South Carolina was supposed to be insignificant win for Obama – even a part of the Hillary strategy. Dick Morris and others audaciously suggested that the Clintons wanted Obama to have a huge showing among black voters, sending a signal to white voters in other southern states that the contest was shaping up along racial lines. As Obama has emerged as a shrewd campaigner and rhetorical powerhouse, the transparent Clinton maneuvers to insert race into the campaign has simply forced even one-time cheerleaders to admit that Lady Macbeth and her husband must be stopped. Pete Wehner has a terrific piece on National Review Online describing how liberal stalwarts E.J. Dionne and Bill Greider have turned on the Clintons.

Suddenly the blood lust among Democrats to put a stake through the heart of the Clinton regime is palpable. John Kerry was uncharacteristically ahead of curve. So was Robert Reich, who was not only Clinton’s Secretary of Labor but a friend dating back to their Oxford days in the late 1960s. The Ted Kennedy endorsement can only be read as a message to the Democratic establishment that it is safe to come outside and declare your disgust with the Clintons.

So who will be next? John Edwards, some time later this week, will drop out of the race and endorse Obama, if only to create the illusion that he is a king maker. But what about Bill Richardson? Or Jimmy Carter? Geraldine Ferraro? Michael Bloomberg? For Gore, this opportunity to crown the next Democratic leader and simultaneously stab the Clintons in the back is simply too much to resist. Surely he is considering Macduff’s words from Act V: “Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,/ Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.”

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Hillary: Not Dead Yet

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

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Huckabee’s “Bunker Mentality”?

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner has a good deconstruction of Mike Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs article. I have little to add to Pete’s comments except to note the contradictory nature of Huck’s second paragraph. It runs as follows:

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States’ main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

It is telling that Huckabee seemingly cannot see the tension between the first three sentences of that paragraph, which contain standard liberal boilerplate denouncing the Bush administration’s alleged failure to “reach out” to the rest of the world, and the final line, which contains standard right-wing boilerplate denouncing the Law of the Sea Treaty, of all things.

It is odd even to mention the Law of the Sea Treaty so high up in an essay laying out foreign policy priorities. Although it has been denounced by some conservatives who claim the treaty would infringe on American sovereignty, whether you are for or against it, the treaty is a mere footnote in terms of American foreign policy priorities. It may or may not be a good idea—I’m agnostic—but it’s a stretch to claim that it “would endanger both our national security and our economic interests,” much less to suggest that it is the top threat to those interests.

But it is especially odd for Huckabee to trumpet his opposition to a treaty that has been embraced by most of the rest of the world and even by the Bush administration, while claiming that his administration will be more “open” than the current one to the rest of the world. Rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty is exactly the kind of move—along the lines of the Bush administration’s rejection of treaties on global warming, landmines, and the International Criminal Court—that drives other countries, especially our European allies, batty. It is hardly the kind of gesture that the next president would pick to suggest that his administration is going to end an alleged “bunker mentality.”

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner has a good deconstruction of Mike Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs article. I have little to add to Pete’s comments except to note the contradictory nature of Huck’s second paragraph. It runs as follows:

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States’ main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

It is telling that Huckabee seemingly cannot see the tension between the first three sentences of that paragraph, which contain standard liberal boilerplate denouncing the Bush administration’s alleged failure to “reach out” to the rest of the world, and the final line, which contains standard right-wing boilerplate denouncing the Law of the Sea Treaty, of all things.

It is odd even to mention the Law of the Sea Treaty so high up in an essay laying out foreign policy priorities. Although it has been denounced by some conservatives who claim the treaty would infringe on American sovereignty, whether you are for or against it, the treaty is a mere footnote in terms of American foreign policy priorities. It may or may not be a good idea—I’m agnostic—but it’s a stretch to claim that it “would endanger both our national security and our economic interests,” much less to suggest that it is the top threat to those interests.

But it is especially odd for Huckabee to trumpet his opposition to a treaty that has been embraced by most of the rest of the world and even by the Bush administration, while claiming that his administration will be more “open” than the current one to the rest of the world. Rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty is exactly the kind of move—along the lines of the Bush administration’s rejection of treaties on global warming, landmines, and the International Criminal Court—that drives other countries, especially our European allies, batty. It is hardly the kind of gesture that the next president would pick to suggest that his administration is going to end an alleged “bunker mentality.”

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