Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Wehner

Civility Watch: Cohen Won’t Back Down on Comparing GOP to Nazis

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

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Why Palin Won’t Fade Away Soon

Ross Douthat’s advice to the media on Sarah Palin, which Peter Wehner wrote about on Monday, will be hard to follow. Douthat uses the metaphor of a marriage to frame his points on Palin and the media. But in this “marriage,” third parties play a decisive role — and in a telling way, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filled a particular role this past weekend. Coburn, for whom I have great respect, has been a favorite with the Tea Party demographic because of his reputation as a fiscal hawk and constitutional-process curmudgeon. But in an interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press, Coburn failed to deliver in exactly the kind of situation in which Palin rarely disappoints her base.

Here is a key passage from Mediaite’s summary of the Coburn interview: Gregory persisted by saying some on the right speak of President Obama as an “outsider who is trying to usher in a system … that will injure America and deny them of their liberty” and wanted to know if Coburn rejects that idea and also the use of violent metaphors in political discourse. Coburn agreed that he does reject that, and Senator Charles Schumer added “we as elected officials have an obligation to try and tone that down, and if we tone it down, then maybe the media will be less vociferous.”

Quite a few Americans would say Coburn rejected the wrong thing. What he should have rejected was the rhetorical pairing of the right’s political ideas with “violent metaphors in political discourse.” Coburn didn’t question the terms in which David Gregory presented the proposition: as if proof of civility and peaceful intent could only be established by rejecting certain of the right’s political arguments against Obama’s policies. In the video clip, the senator came across as calculating, perhaps a little impatiently, that meeting Gregory’s test of “civility” was a minor but essential concession.

I imagine Coburn would defend it as valid for the people to disagree on basic political ideas, if the question were put to him directly. But in the context of a buried premise in a Sunday talk show, it didn’t seem to occur to him to make that point. It does, manifestly, occur to Palin. I don’t disagree with pundits who would like to see her be more succinct and less reactive to the personal element in media attacks on her. But the people hear with different ears: for every auditor who cringes at her style or extraneous commentary, there is another who hears, first and foremost, that she is affirming precious ideas to which other politicians are not moved to give voice.

Palin’s persistent popularity as a public icon is a financial factor for the media — and it’s not one they control. They could decline to talk about her, decline to feature photos and video clips of her, but they understand the connection between Palin, sales, Web hits, and audience share. Palin is a figure whose market power has been established through a direct bond — of love or hate — with the people.

This doesn’t mean she is or should be a front-runner for 2012. The issues are separate. My own belief is that a successful GOP candidate will find a way to transcend the arena of slings and arrows without making political compromises to secure its quiescence. Palin may not have transcended the slings-and-arrows arena, but her potential competitors have all, to varying degrees, made the kinds of compromises that Tom Coburn modeled this past Sunday. As long as other leading Republicans let their discourse be governed by a set of buried premises that disqualifies the right’s political ideas at the starting line, Sarah Palin will have devoted supporters and a prominent voice.

Ross Douthat’s advice to the media on Sarah Palin, which Peter Wehner wrote about on Monday, will be hard to follow. Douthat uses the metaphor of a marriage to frame his points on Palin and the media. But in this “marriage,” third parties play a decisive role — and in a telling way, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) filled a particular role this past weekend. Coburn, for whom I have great respect, has been a favorite with the Tea Party demographic because of his reputation as a fiscal hawk and constitutional-process curmudgeon. But in an interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press, Coburn failed to deliver in exactly the kind of situation in which Palin rarely disappoints her base.

Here is a key passage from Mediaite’s summary of the Coburn interview: Gregory persisted by saying some on the right speak of President Obama as an “outsider who is trying to usher in a system … that will injure America and deny them of their liberty” and wanted to know if Coburn rejects that idea and also the use of violent metaphors in political discourse. Coburn agreed that he does reject that, and Senator Charles Schumer added “we as elected officials have an obligation to try and tone that down, and if we tone it down, then maybe the media will be less vociferous.”

Quite a few Americans would say Coburn rejected the wrong thing. What he should have rejected was the rhetorical pairing of the right’s political ideas with “violent metaphors in political discourse.” Coburn didn’t question the terms in which David Gregory presented the proposition: as if proof of civility and peaceful intent could only be established by rejecting certain of the right’s political arguments against Obama’s policies. In the video clip, the senator came across as calculating, perhaps a little impatiently, that meeting Gregory’s test of “civility” was a minor but essential concession.

I imagine Coburn would defend it as valid for the people to disagree on basic political ideas, if the question were put to him directly. But in the context of a buried premise in a Sunday talk show, it didn’t seem to occur to him to make that point. It does, manifestly, occur to Palin. I don’t disagree with pundits who would like to see her be more succinct and less reactive to the personal element in media attacks on her. But the people hear with different ears: for every auditor who cringes at her style or extraneous commentary, there is another who hears, first and foremost, that she is affirming precious ideas to which other politicians are not moved to give voice.

Palin’s persistent popularity as a public icon is a financial factor for the media — and it’s not one they control. They could decline to talk about her, decline to feature photos and video clips of her, but they understand the connection between Palin, sales, Web hits, and audience share. Palin is a figure whose market power has been established through a direct bond — of love or hate — with the people.

This doesn’t mean she is or should be a front-runner for 2012. The issues are separate. My own belief is that a successful GOP candidate will find a way to transcend the arena of slings and arrows without making political compromises to secure its quiescence. Palin may not have transcended the slings-and-arrows arena, but her potential competitors have all, to varying degrees, made the kinds of compromises that Tom Coburn modeled this past Sunday. As long as other leading Republicans let their discourse be governed by a set of buried premises that disqualifies the right’s political ideas at the starting line, Sarah Palin will have devoted supporters and a prominent voice.

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Peter Berkowitz’s Essay

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

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RE: RE: Palin’s Counterproductive Complaint

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Wehner’s point from last week about the need to make the moral case for conservative economics. The case is strong, and it has not been made well or often in general public debate in the last 20 years. The knowledge that there is such a case seems at times like the relic of an earlier era: it harks back to the argument made from the 1940s to the 1970s by a self-designated American rearguard against communism and “creeping socialism.” There was an aspect of national-security immediacy to the question then. In the wake of the Reagan years, however, when a consensus on conservative economics appeared to be in the ascendant and the Soviet Union had been put on an unsustainable defensive, the focus of debate shifted to deviations from conservative economics – and its importance to addressing crises and social problems. The basic outlines of the timeless moral case for conservative economics have largely disappeared from our set of popular understandings.

But this case cannot stand alone. Economic conservatism is intrinsically linked to political liberty, a liberty meaning not just the right to speak freely on political matters and to vote, but the right to set limits on the central government’s power and regulatory reach. This debate we have had, if possible, even less over the past two decades than the debate on the moral foundations of conservative economics. This very question is what motivated the American colonists to declare independence from the British king, but our public discourse today has fallen into a set of unexamined bromides on topics like the meaning of political liberty and the proper relation of man and the state. Read More

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Wehner’s point from last week about the need to make the moral case for conservative economics. The case is strong, and it has not been made well or often in general public debate in the last 20 years. The knowledge that there is such a case seems at times like the relic of an earlier era: it harks back to the argument made from the 1940s to the 1970s by a self-designated American rearguard against communism and “creeping socialism.” There was an aspect of national-security immediacy to the question then. In the wake of the Reagan years, however, when a consensus on conservative economics appeared to be in the ascendant and the Soviet Union had been put on an unsustainable defensive, the focus of debate shifted to deviations from conservative economics – and its importance to addressing crises and social problems. The basic outlines of the timeless moral case for conservative economics have largely disappeared from our set of popular understandings.

But this case cannot stand alone. Economic conservatism is intrinsically linked to political liberty, a liberty meaning not just the right to speak freely on political matters and to vote, but the right to set limits on the central government’s power and regulatory reach. This debate we have had, if possible, even less over the past two decades than the debate on the moral foundations of conservative economics. This very question is what motivated the American colonists to declare independence from the British king, but our public discourse today has fallen into a set of unexamined bromides on topics like the meaning of political liberty and the proper relation of man and the state.

In this vein, I took particular notice of the following passage from Peter Wehner’s post today on Sarah Palin mocking the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign.

… the problem of childhood obesity is real. And there are entirely reasonable steps that can be taken to address it, including (to name just one) banning vending machines from schools. Does that constitute the “nanny state run amok”?

I understand the question is meant to be rhetorical. But there is actually a very large segment of the American population that would answer, “Of course.” The central government’s interesting itself in our obesity because that government has made the cost of our health care “its” problem – and proposing therefore to ban vending machines from schools putatively governed by local school boards and the states – can legitimately be considered at odds with the American idea of government as limited, constitutional, and federal. This arguably puts the proposition at odds, by extension, with the American idea of the citizen, the state, and natural rights.

One key reason for the Tea Party movement is that there has been no real public debate on this most fundamental of topics for at least 30 years. I believe we do not have a common understanding today of where federal intervention in school vending machines stands in relation to political liberty. It’s true Sarah Palin often expresses the more libertarian side of this question with a populist inelegance that may be unhelpful, but that doesn’t mean that the debate is over regarding how much we should let government manage our life choices. That debate must form part of the discussion on conservative economics and morality as we advance toward 2012.

All that said, I concur with Peter’s gentle and well-considered point on mocking Michelle Obama. That’s not the way to introduce this topic. Contrarianism only goes so far: it is generosity of spirit, good humor, and courtesy that will win the day for the aspiring political leader who reclaims these fundamental issues for conservatives.

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Call It Cynicism Squared

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

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A Voice of Moderation in the Fray

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

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RE: It’s Not About O’Donnell

Abe has pegged the meaning of Christine O’Donnell. To paraphrase the deathless 1992 campaign slogan: “It’s the political tsunami, stupid.” The Democrats will hope to make the Delaware Senate campaign about O’Donnell’s peculiarities — and it’s their job to do that, just as it’s Republicans’ job to make it about her garden-variety tax-and-spend opponent. But the Democrats won’t be able to undermine the strength of the nationwide voter revolt by branding the Tea Party with the image of Christine O’Donnell. The brand has already been slapped on — and it didn’t deter the notoriously conventional GOP voters in a famously Blue State.

It’s becoming clear that ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, bank bailouts, private-sector takeovers, czars of the week, and epic deficit spending are more alarming to voters than Ms. O’Donnell’s views on sanctity in private life. As a (relevant) aside, I give most voters credit for understanding that O’Donnell doesn’t propose using the power of the state to enforce on others the particular views for which she has recently gained notoriety. That level of interference in private life is antithetical to the Tea Party demand for smaller government; indeed, under the daily assault of Obama’s energetic regulators, a growing number of voters are associating such intrusiveness explicitly and resentfully with the political left.

But the national electoral dynamic this year isn’t about O’Donnell; it’s about changing course. And in making their choice, the Republican voters in Delaware showed a perfect comprehension many senior conservatives haven’t. A vote for Mike Castle was, in fact, a vote for the status quo. The voters knew what they were voting for — and many of them would have said that the kind of strategic voting urged on them by pundits and political professionals is exactly what has produced the status quo.

I agree with Peter Wehner that Karl Rove is being excoriated unfairly for his stance on the Delaware primary. I think some of the most popular and entrenched figures in conservative politics have some catching up to do, but I predict most of them will do it. Perspicacity is what got them to where they are.

But the people are on the move. George W. Bush said often during the 2004 campaign that the poll that mattered was the one that occurred in the voting booth. In a majority of “voting booth” polls this year, the people have signaled that their dissatisfaction with our current course outweighs everything else. The tsunami is real — and to essay a metaphor, candidates like Christine O’Donnell are riding it on a surfboard. The Democratic Party is largely paralyzed on the beach, and many of the conservatives who don’t want to share its fate will have to get out on their surfboards and do the best they can, under the most unpredictable conditions we’ve seen for a long time.

Abe has pegged the meaning of Christine O’Donnell. To paraphrase the deathless 1992 campaign slogan: “It’s the political tsunami, stupid.” The Democrats will hope to make the Delaware Senate campaign about O’Donnell’s peculiarities — and it’s their job to do that, just as it’s Republicans’ job to make it about her garden-variety tax-and-spend opponent. But the Democrats won’t be able to undermine the strength of the nationwide voter revolt by branding the Tea Party with the image of Christine O’Donnell. The brand has already been slapped on — and it didn’t deter the notoriously conventional GOP voters in a famously Blue State.

It’s becoming clear that ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, bank bailouts, private-sector takeovers, czars of the week, and epic deficit spending are more alarming to voters than Ms. O’Donnell’s views on sanctity in private life. As a (relevant) aside, I give most voters credit for understanding that O’Donnell doesn’t propose using the power of the state to enforce on others the particular views for which she has recently gained notoriety. That level of interference in private life is antithetical to the Tea Party demand for smaller government; indeed, under the daily assault of Obama’s energetic regulators, a growing number of voters are associating such intrusiveness explicitly and resentfully with the political left.

But the national electoral dynamic this year isn’t about O’Donnell; it’s about changing course. And in making their choice, the Republican voters in Delaware showed a perfect comprehension many senior conservatives haven’t. A vote for Mike Castle was, in fact, a vote for the status quo. The voters knew what they were voting for — and many of them would have said that the kind of strategic voting urged on them by pundits and political professionals is exactly what has produced the status quo.

I agree with Peter Wehner that Karl Rove is being excoriated unfairly for his stance on the Delaware primary. I think some of the most popular and entrenched figures in conservative politics have some catching up to do, but I predict most of them will do it. Perspicacity is what got them to where they are.

But the people are on the move. George W. Bush said often during the 2004 campaign that the poll that mattered was the one that occurred in the voting booth. In a majority of “voting booth” polls this year, the people have signaled that their dissatisfaction with our current course outweighs everything else. The tsunami is real — and to essay a metaphor, candidates like Christine O’Donnell are riding it on a surfboard. The Democratic Party is largely paralyzed on the beach, and many of the conservatives who don’t want to share its fate will have to get out on their surfboards and do the best they can, under the most unpredictable conditions we’ve seen for a long time.

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Response to Ramesh Ponnuru

Over at NRO, Ramesh Ponnuru (gently) takes me to task:

Peter Wehner writes, “So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an ‘establishment Republican’ and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.” I think Wehner would be better off challenging the notion that to be part of the Republican establishment is to be a traitor to the conservative cause. For if Rove isn’t part of the Republican establishment then the term has no meaning. The truth is that conservatism needs a political party to house it; parties need establishments; and establishments have characteristic vices. Conservatism should want an intelligent and conservative party establishment, not disestablishment.

Two points in response: Ramesh (whose work I generally admire and agree with) seems to have overlooked the crucial word “and” — as in, “’establishment Republican’ and traitor to the conservative cause.” What I wrote is true and the charges against Rove are risible.

Second, I placed quote marks around the phrase establishment Republican. I did so intentionally, since those words have a particular (negative) meaning to Rove’s critics; not to me. I thought that this was all clear enough, just as I thought it would be obvious that I believe that conservatism needs an intelligent and conservative party establishment. But if it wasn’t, let me state it now, for the record: I am not and never have been for a conservative party disestablishment.

Over at NRO, Ramesh Ponnuru (gently) takes me to task:

Peter Wehner writes, “So the notion that Rove has suddenly become an ‘establishment Republican’ and a traitor to the conservative cause simply isn’t plausible. It is, in fact, risible.” I think Wehner would be better off challenging the notion that to be part of the Republican establishment is to be a traitor to the conservative cause. For if Rove isn’t part of the Republican establishment then the term has no meaning. The truth is that conservatism needs a political party to house it; parties need establishments; and establishments have characteristic vices. Conservatism should want an intelligent and conservative party establishment, not disestablishment.

Two points in response: Ramesh (whose work I generally admire and agree with) seems to have overlooked the crucial word “and” — as in, “’establishment Republican’ and traitor to the conservative cause.” What I wrote is true and the charges against Rove are risible.

Second, I placed quote marks around the phrase establishment Republican. I did so intentionally, since those words have a particular (negative) meaning to Rove’s critics; not to me. I thought that this was all clear enough, just as I thought it would be obvious that I believe that conservatism needs an intelligent and conservative party establishment. But if it wasn’t, let me state it now, for the record: I am not and never have been for a conservative party disestablishment.

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Obama and Ideas of Force

I‘m in broad company, from what I can tell, in detecting from Obama’s speech last night no outline of a policy for Middle Eastern security or the use of U.S. power. As Peter Wehner and others point out, the president spoke emphatically of deadlines (especially regarding Afghanistan) and only vaguely of purposes. The strongest signal he sent was his intention to remove large formations of ground troops.

We rarely parse the mental idea leftists like Obama have when they speak of military force. Obama didn’t like the war in Iraq; he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan. But he seems fine with the growing war in Yemen, as he apparently is with the expansion of a similar kind of war in Pakistan. He is not opposed to all methods of imposing American will by force.

After his speech, the TV commentariat rose up to advance the narrative that Obama had no obligation to acknowledge Bush’s surge decision, because there was never a valid justification for regime-changing Iraq to begin with. This reminded me forcibly of the alternative proposed often in the period between October 2001 and March 2003 (and now looked back on with an affectionate nostalgia in some quarters): that is, simply continuing to “contain Saddam” with sanctions.

Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq represented a type of force approved by the political left. The UN sanctions were inaugurated under George H.W. Bush in conjunction with Desert Storm, but Bill Clinton continued them, presiding over refinements to them and dedicating the U.S. military as the principal enforcer. He combined them on several occasions with air and missile strikes. In theory, they were part of an overarching political effort centered on UN inspections of Iraq’s suspect facilities.

The containment of Saddam dragged on for more than 12 years. It necessitated a growing, permanently based U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf. It dramatically distorted the region’s economy, generated tremendous blockade-running revenue for Iran, and produced the spectacle of kickbacks through the UN Oil-for-Food program. A tolerable burden for American power, the sanctions on Iraq were an agent of change — for the worse — in global politics, regional relations, and UN practices. The one thing they did not change was Saddam.

It is easy, and not without utility, to view Obama’s antipathy to large formations of ground troops as part of a modern Democratic pattern of resisting that “level” of engagement. There’s some fairness to that. But there is a more important aspect of this pattern. Democratic presidents have been willing to use all kinds of other military options, for almost any purpose except forcing a change in the political situation that keeps the problem going. It’s the latter objective that typically necessitates ground troops to secure territory for political purposes. The objective itself is what no Democratic president since Harry Truman has felt able to justify.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama didn’t unequivocally endorse our success in Iraq. He belongs to a political faction that never saw its purpose — never sees any purpose of its kind — as justifiable. But the occasion of Obama’s speech is a good time to reflect on the alternatives to which modern Democratic presidents (along with some Republicans) have regularly resorted. The American people may not always be politically prepared for goals as decisive as regime-changing dictators, but containment is not really the low-impact alternative it often seems to be. It deforms the situations that concern us without providing any path to a conclusion. As with sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. can probably continue headhunting terrorists for years without breaking a sweat. And as with sanctions on Iraq, we are likely to induce changes in almost every aspect of the situation except the one that matters: the incidence of willing terrorists.

I‘m in broad company, from what I can tell, in detecting from Obama’s speech last night no outline of a policy for Middle Eastern security or the use of U.S. power. As Peter Wehner and others point out, the president spoke emphatically of deadlines (especially regarding Afghanistan) and only vaguely of purposes. The strongest signal he sent was his intention to remove large formations of ground troops.

We rarely parse the mental idea leftists like Obama have when they speak of military force. Obama didn’t like the war in Iraq; he doesn’t like the war in Afghanistan. But he seems fine with the growing war in Yemen, as he apparently is with the expansion of a similar kind of war in Pakistan. He is not opposed to all methods of imposing American will by force.

After his speech, the TV commentariat rose up to advance the narrative that Obama had no obligation to acknowledge Bush’s surge decision, because there was never a valid justification for regime-changing Iraq to begin with. This reminded me forcibly of the alternative proposed often in the period between October 2001 and March 2003 (and now looked back on with an affectionate nostalgia in some quarters): that is, simply continuing to “contain Saddam” with sanctions.

Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq represented a type of force approved by the political left. The UN sanctions were inaugurated under George H.W. Bush in conjunction with Desert Storm, but Bill Clinton continued them, presiding over refinements to them and dedicating the U.S. military as the principal enforcer. He combined them on several occasions with air and missile strikes. In theory, they were part of an overarching political effort centered on UN inspections of Iraq’s suspect facilities.

The containment of Saddam dragged on for more than 12 years. It necessitated a growing, permanently based U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf. It dramatically distorted the region’s economy, generated tremendous blockade-running revenue for Iran, and produced the spectacle of kickbacks through the UN Oil-for-Food program. A tolerable burden for American power, the sanctions on Iraq were an agent of change — for the worse — in global politics, regional relations, and UN practices. The one thing they did not change was Saddam.

It is easy, and not without utility, to view Obama’s antipathy to large formations of ground troops as part of a modern Democratic pattern of resisting that “level” of engagement. There’s some fairness to that. But there is a more important aspect of this pattern. Democratic presidents have been willing to use all kinds of other military options, for almost any purpose except forcing a change in the political situation that keeps the problem going. It’s the latter objective that typically necessitates ground troops to secure territory for political purposes. The objective itself is what no Democratic president since Harry Truman has felt able to justify.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Obama didn’t unequivocally endorse our success in Iraq. He belongs to a political faction that never saw its purpose — never sees any purpose of its kind — as justifiable. But the occasion of Obama’s speech is a good time to reflect on the alternatives to which modern Democratic presidents (along with some Republicans) have regularly resorted. The American people may not always be politically prepared for goals as decisive as regime-changing dictators, but containment is not really the low-impact alternative it often seems to be. It deforms the situations that concern us without providing any path to a conclusion. As with sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. can probably continue headhunting terrorists for years without breaking a sweat. And as with sanctions on Iraq, we are likely to induce changes in almost every aspect of the situation except the one that matters: the incidence of willing terrorists.

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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Will Obama Pay a Price?

The White House is in a defensive crouch over the jobs-for-primary-exit stories. As usual, Robert Gibbs is responsible for being completely nontransparent. The Daily Caller notes:

Though Gibbs is a close confidante of Obama’s, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was the first to man the briefing room podium for President George W. Bush, said it is not surprising that Gibbs may have avoided speaking to the president about the Sestak and Romanoff matters.

“That’s exactly what White Houses and press secretaries do when you either don’t want to know the answer or you want to shield the president for as long as possible from getting mired in the muck. The problem is that it is a temporary solution and it won’t hold up over time,” [Ari] Fleischer said in an interview.

“It’s inevitable over time that someone will ask a question directly of the president in an interview,” he said. “What the White House is hoping for is that it will come up at a time when there is a lot less focus and heat so they can fade the issue.”

But Congress is coming back to town next week and this is a campaign year. It’s quite likely then that the issue won’t die but will become another example for challengers to use in making the case that there is something seriously wrong with Washington pols.

As Peter Wehner meticulously lays out, the White House stonewall on both Sestak and Romanoff is a risky gambit:

We are now entering a new and dangerous phase in the Obama presidency. For one thing, it is possible that federal crimes were committed. … Obviously, members of the Obama White House considered their actions troubling enough that they went to great lengths to conceal their actions. They have been engaging in a modified limited hangout. And it is reasonable to assume, I think, that Sestak and Romanoff are not isolated examples.

And even if it does not descend into a legal investigation, the political damage is significant. Obama is refusing to answer rudimentary questions (Did he instruct aides to offer the jobs?), thereby reinforcing the image of a White House that is both ethically challenged and Nixonian in its secrecy and refusal to permit outside scrutiny. If there is not to be any legal ramifications, there is likely a political price to be paid by both Obama and his party.

The White House is in a defensive crouch over the jobs-for-primary-exit stories. As usual, Robert Gibbs is responsible for being completely nontransparent. The Daily Caller notes:

Though Gibbs is a close confidante of Obama’s, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was the first to man the briefing room podium for President George W. Bush, said it is not surprising that Gibbs may have avoided speaking to the president about the Sestak and Romanoff matters.

“That’s exactly what White Houses and press secretaries do when you either don’t want to know the answer or you want to shield the president for as long as possible from getting mired in the muck. The problem is that it is a temporary solution and it won’t hold up over time,” [Ari] Fleischer said in an interview.

“It’s inevitable over time that someone will ask a question directly of the president in an interview,” he said. “What the White House is hoping for is that it will come up at a time when there is a lot less focus and heat so they can fade the issue.”

But Congress is coming back to town next week and this is a campaign year. It’s quite likely then that the issue won’t die but will become another example for challengers to use in making the case that there is something seriously wrong with Washington pols.

As Peter Wehner meticulously lays out, the White House stonewall on both Sestak and Romanoff is a risky gambit:

We are now entering a new and dangerous phase in the Obama presidency. For one thing, it is possible that federal crimes were committed. … Obviously, members of the Obama White House considered their actions troubling enough that they went to great lengths to conceal their actions. They have been engaging in a modified limited hangout. And it is reasonable to assume, I think, that Sestak and Romanoff are not isolated examples.

And even if it does not descend into a legal investigation, the political damage is significant. Obama is refusing to answer rudimentary questions (Did he instruct aides to offer the jobs?), thereby reinforcing the image of a White House that is both ethically challenged and Nixonian in its secrecy and refusal to permit outside scrutiny. If there is not to be any legal ramifications, there is likely a political price to be paid by both Obama and his party.

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RE: Tom Ricks’s Quote

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was ”probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

Peter Wehner quotes Tom Ricks as writing that the liberation of Iraq was “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” and Joe Klein as writing that it was ”probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history.”

Well, they’re journalists, not historians, but really. How about:

1) The Embargo Act of 1807 that forbade foreign trade. In order to teach the high-handed British and French a lesson, we went to war with ourselves and blockaded our own ports. New England, deeply dependent on trade and shipping (we had the second largest merchant fleet in the world after Britain at that time) was economically devastated. Smuggling over the Canadian border became so commonplace that northern New England was declared to be in a state of insurrection. The British and French just laughed at us. When Napoleon seized American ships in French ports he said he was just helping enforce the embargo act.

2) In 1811 Congress killed the Bank of the United States, the prime borrowing mechanism of the federal government. The next year it declared war on the only power on earth capable of attacking the United States, Great Britain, raised soldiers’ pay and enlistment bonuses, and adjourned without figuring out how to pay for the war. By March 1813, there was not enough money in the treasury to pay government salaries, let alone fight a war, and only when the Secretary of the Treasury went hat in hand to Stephen Girard, the richest man in the country, to beg him to take most of a bond issue, did we raise enough money to carry on. In 1814 the British occupied and burned the nation’s capital.

3) In 1861, an American naval captain seized two Confederate agents off a British-flagged vessel. It was only when Prince Albert — already dying, it was his last good deed — cooled down Lord Palmerston and provided the means for a diplomatic climb down by the U.S. (which Lincoln gratefully grasped — “one war at a time,” he explained) did we avoid a war with Great Britain when we were already fighting for the life of the Union.

4) After World War I, with Europe devastated and the United States by far the strongest economic and financial power in the world, we withdrew and refused to take on the world leadership that only we could provide. But we insisted that the European powers pay back the money they had borrowed, which they could only do by extracting reparations from an already broken Germany. The Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II were the result.

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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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U.S. Success and Democratic Woe

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

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I’m Not Swooning

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

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Endgame Iraq

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

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Rosie’s Mishegas

Earlier this week, Peter Wehner mentioned that 9/11 Truther Rosie O’Donnell might be getting a talk show on MSNBC. Alas, the deal has fallen through, ensuring that gems like the stream-of-consciousness poem below will be appearing only on her website:

msnbc
one hour
live
following keith olbermann

we were close to a deal
almost done
i let it slip in miami
causing panic on the studio end

well
what can u do

2day there is no deal
poof
my career as a pundit is over
b4 it began

just as well
i figure
everything happens for a reason
bashert—as we say

and on we go

At least she’s using Yiddish!

Earlier this week, Peter Wehner mentioned that 9/11 Truther Rosie O’Donnell might be getting a talk show on MSNBC. Alas, the deal has fallen through, ensuring that gems like the stream-of-consciousness poem below will be appearing only on her website:

msnbc
one hour
live
following keith olbermann

we were close to a deal
almost done
i let it slip in miami
causing panic on the studio end

well
what can u do

2day there is no deal
poof
my career as a pundit is over
b4 it began

just as well
i figure
everything happens for a reason
bashert—as we say

and on we go

At least she’s using Yiddish!

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Mr. Rauch’s Narrative

In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

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In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

If retreating from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia led terrorists to conclude America was the “weak horse”—the term is bin Laden’s—what does Rauch think a defeat in Iraq would do for the cause of radical Islam? Depress morale? Make jihadists more fearful that America will respond to terrorist attacks?

Pusillanimity, whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats, emboldens jihadists. That assertion is true, not ugly, and the sooner we accept it, the better off we will be. It is simply silly and sloppy for Rauch (an otherwise serious man) to make the charge he does.

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The Remarkable Mr. Wehner

Fred Barnes, in the upcoming Weekly Standard, writes in “The Day the Emails Died” that Peter Wehner, through his many White House years,

emailed ideas and information to several hundred journalists and writers and intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs. His missives became known as ‘Wehnergrams,’ but there will be no more of them. Friday, August 3, was his last day at the White House. . . . The president will miss Wehner enormously. I suspect he will be missed at least as much by the readers of his emails. Even if they didn’t agree with him or Bush, they knew they were hearing from a remarkable and intellectually honest man.

I agree, of course, with Barnes, but would like to point out that Wehner’s communications need not be missed at all: as of Monday he is a contributor to this blog.

Fred Barnes, in the upcoming Weekly Standard, writes in “The Day the Emails Died” that Peter Wehner, through his many White House years,

emailed ideas and information to several hundred journalists and writers and intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs. His missives became known as ‘Wehnergrams,’ but there will be no more of them. Friday, August 3, was his last day at the White House. . . . The president will miss Wehner enormously. I suspect he will be missed at least as much by the readers of his emails. Even if they didn’t agree with him or Bush, they knew they were hearing from a remarkable and intellectually honest man.

I agree, of course, with Barnes, but would like to point out that Wehner’s communications need not be missed at all: as of Monday he is a contributor to this blog.

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Time and Our Side

contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

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contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

Ignatieff also explains his support for the war on fairly narrow grounds: his (admirable) emotional attachment to Iraqi exiles who believed the war was the only chance that members of their generation would have to live in freedom in their own country. The humanitarian case against Saddam was overwhelming, but it was not anything like the sole reason to go to war. The United States believed, with the rest of the world, that Saddam had WMD stockpiles. (We know now that he wanted to end sanctions while preserving his capability to reconstitute his WMD program when the sanctions regime ended.) Hussein was also the most destabilizing figure in the Middle East, having invaded two countries and committed genocide in his own. He was responsible for the death of more than a million people. Recklessness and hyper-aggression were in his DNA.

A third point: Ignatieff seems to be arguing for an American withdrawal, though he doesn’t say it outright. This would consign Iraqis to cruelty and slaughter on a scale that is almost beyond our capacity to absorb. In the words of the New York Times reporter John Burns, “cataclysmic violence” would follow in the wake of an early American withdrawal. Ignatieff, who supported the war for humanitarian reasons, is already being cited by those who want to accelerate an American withdrawal, despite the ethnic cleansing and genocide that would follow. This would be a difficult thing for a man like Ignatieff, of impressive moral concerns and commitments, to defend.

We may now be at a hinge moment in Iraq, when—after years of costly mistakes and misjudgments—we are on the right path. General David Petraeus says he needs one thing more than any other: time. Anyone who purports to care about the future of Iraq, and of the Iraqis, owes him at least that much.

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