Commentary Magazine


Topic: presidential debate

Mullah Omar’s Triumphalism

On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

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On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

Mullah Omar celebrates the “Green on Blue” attacks which have brought the Taliban to the verge of victory. I’ve addressed the ideological motivation behind the “Green on Blue” attacks, here. The Pentagon continues to hamper itself by rooting insider attacks more in grievance than in jihadist ideology. Hopefully, Mullah Omar’s message will put a rest to that silly notion:

We call on the Afghans who still stand with the stooge regime to turn to full-fledged cooperation with their Mujahid people like courageous persons in order to protect national interests and to complete independence of the country. Jihadic activities inside the circle of the State militias are the most effective stratagem. Its dimension will see further expansion, organization and efficiency if God willing. I urge every brave Afghan in the ranks of the foreign forces and their Afghan hirelings who may find an opportunity to utilize this opportunity effectively and quash the enemies of Islam and country in their centers and use all possible means, opportunities and tactics to strike them. This is because Jihad is an obligation enjoined on every one. It is the duty of every individual of the nation from religious perspective and on the basis of his conscious to strive for the liberation and independence of his country.

Likewise, it is essential the Obama administration and the State Department pay attention to what Mullah Omar says of negotiations and diplomacy, especially as that has become the central pillar of the Obama administration’s exit strategy. Omar makes no secret that his goal in talks is the release of prisoners—not peace with the Afghan government. He assures Afghans that the Taliban is “neither thinking of monopolizing power nor [do we] intend to spark off domestic war,” but any Afghan knows to take such assurances at his peril. After all, Mullah Omar made the same assurances upon taking Kandahar in 1994 and again in 1996, right before the Taliban seized Kabul and purged all opposition.

Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. At a dinner party a month ago, a CIA operative who recently returned from Afghanistan said she thought that soft-partition was going to be the best possible outcome. Partition—soft or hard—will be impossible in Afghanistan, however, because it ignores the importance of momentum. Mullah Omar appreciates what the CIA doesn’t. “Our Jihadic momentum has reached a phase that enjoys comprehensive global Islamic support.”

Jihadists issue declarations all the time. They are not without meaning. Some are defensive, and others are fantastical. Mullah Omar’s tone and statements, however, are illustrative of his goals and strategy. Let us hope that a desire to withdraw “on schedule” will not affirm Mullah Omar’s triumphalism.

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Obama Can’t Escape Share of Responsibility for Sequestration

One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

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One of the most puzzling answers that President Obama gave in the third presidential debate concerned the subject of sequestration—the process that will result in across-the-board cuts to spending of $1.2 trillion starting in January, with half that amount being cut from the defense budget. When the subject came up, Obama said, “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

As it happens, neither part of that short statement is strictly factual. Regarding the president’s claim that he did not propose sequestration—on this score he is flatly contradicted by Bob Woodward who wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew and legislative director Rob Nabors. Woodward now says: “What the president said is not correct. He’s mistaken. And it’s refuted by the people who work for him.”

As for the second part of Obama’s statement—that sequestration will not happen—this claim was greeted with befuddlement on Capitol Hill since lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal to stop sequestration and time is running out. The White House, it should be noted, has been entirely AWOL in this effort. What does Obama know that everyone else in Washington doesn’t? Nothing, it turns out. For immediately after the debate White House aides rushed to walk back the president’s remarks, saying, as David Plouffe did, that “everyone in Washington agrees that sequester ‘should not happen.’” From “will not” to “should not” is a big change—and one that confirms that there is a very real danger that sequestration will  happen.

If that were to happen, Congress, including Republicans who voted for the budget deal last summer, will certainly be complicit in the outcome, but Obama will not be able to escape his share of the blame for cuts that his own defense secretary has said would be “devastating.”

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Did Obama Leave Wriggle Room on Iran?

As I wrote last night, President Obama staked out some new ground on Iran in an effort to curry favor with pro-Israel voters by stating clearly that the only deal possible with Iran would preclude the sort of compromises on the nuclear question that the foreign policy establishment and Europe favors:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

But already we’re starting to hear people say that we shouldn’t have believed our ears when he said that. At JTA’s Capital J blog, Daniel Treiman writes that I am taking it all too literally. Apparently, when Obama says “nuclear program” he doesn’t mean the Iranian nuclear program but rather their weapons development program. While I think there’s no way to interpret Obama’s statement in any way but the way one I pointed to, I wonder if that’s what the president’s apologists will be saying if after the election, he begins talks with Iran that will allow their nuclear program to continue.

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As I wrote last night, President Obama staked out some new ground on Iran in an effort to curry favor with pro-Israel voters by stating clearly that the only deal possible with Iran would preclude the sort of compromises on the nuclear question that the foreign policy establishment and Europe favors:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

But already we’re starting to hear people say that we shouldn’t have believed our ears when he said that. At JTA’s Capital J blog, Daniel Treiman writes that I am taking it all too literally. Apparently, when Obama says “nuclear program” he doesn’t mean the Iranian nuclear program but rather their weapons development program. While I think there’s no way to interpret Obama’s statement in any way but the way one I pointed to, I wonder if that’s what the president’s apologists will be saying if after the election, he begins talks with Iran that will allow their nuclear program to continue.

Treiman backs up his argument by pointing to the fact that the president followed his statement by saying a deal would be enforced by “intrusive” inspections. Fair enough. That sounds like a reference to inspections that would supposedly ensure that the Iranians are not enriching uranium to the point where it could be used for a weapon.

However, here again the president doesn’t say weapons program. He says “nuclear program.”

There is a deal to be had, and that is that they abide by the rules that have already been established; they convince the international community they are not pursuing a nuclear program; there are inspections that are very intrusive. But over time, what they can do is regain credibility. In the meantime, though, we’re not going to let up the pressure until we have clear evidence that that takes place.

Unlike some politicians, the president is generally fairly careful about the way he uses words. Nor, if we are to believe the Democrats who refer to him as deeply knowledgeable about every nook and cranny of foreign policy, can we believe that he doesn’t understand the difference between a reference to a “nuclear program” and a nuclear weapons program.

I will readily concede to Treiman that I doubt the president has any intention of keeping his word about preventing Iran from having a “nuclear program” should he receive a second term in office. But if he does push toward a North Korea-style deal that will be easily evaded, the record will note that it will be a direct contradiction of what he said in the debate.

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The Long-Term Harm of Obama’s Status of Forces Failure

“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down.” So said President Obama in Tuesday night’s debate. And he was speaking the truth, as readers of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s fine new book The Endgame can attest, even though Obama was ostensibly committed in 2011 to maintaining a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Gordon and Trainor note that Obama steadily whittled down the number of troops he was willing to keep in Iraq. Commanders wanted more than 20,000 initially, but the president eventually was willing to provide fewer than 5,000. And he insisted on such strict conditions in Status of Forces negotiations—the Obama administration demanded that the Iraqi parliament ratify any grant of immunity to U.S. troops even though there was no legal or political requirement to do so—that Iraqi leaders got a clear signal that the U.S. wasn’t committed to their country. That made them less willing to compromise in negotiations. And Obama did not give enough time to those negotiations in any case—they only began in the middle of 2011 even though the last such negotiations, in 2008, had taken nearly a year. Then, when the negotiations ran into obstacles, Obama pulled the plug and trumpeted the return of the troops.

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“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down.” So said President Obama in Tuesday night’s debate. And he was speaking the truth, as readers of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s fine new book The Endgame can attest, even though Obama was ostensibly committed in 2011 to maintaining a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Gordon and Trainor note that Obama steadily whittled down the number of troops he was willing to keep in Iraq. Commanders wanted more than 20,000 initially, but the president eventually was willing to provide fewer than 5,000. And he insisted on such strict conditions in Status of Forces negotiations—the Obama administration demanded that the Iraqi parliament ratify any grant of immunity to U.S. troops even though there was no legal or political requirement to do so—that Iraqi leaders got a clear signal that the U.S. wasn’t committed to their country. That made them less willing to compromise in negotiations. And Obama did not give enough time to those negotiations in any case—they only began in the middle of 2011 even though the last such negotiations, in 2008, had taken nearly a year. Then, when the negotiations ran into obstacles, Obama pulled the plug and trumpeted the return of the troops.

Obama got what he wanted—at least for the short term. He can brag to voters that he got out of Iraq. But the long-term consequences may not be to his liking—at least if he is concerned about his legacy. As retired Gen. Jack Keane, a key architect of the surge, notes in this Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Al Qaeda in Iraq has doubled in size in the year since U.S. troops left the country.” That’s not only a grave danger for the U.S. and our allies in the region—it’s also a grave danger to the long-term reputation of a president whose signature foreign policy achievement has been the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader. Osama bin Laden may be dead but, as Keane notes, al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Sinai are very much alive. Obama can’t be blamed for all of these developments—al-Qaeda affiliates were well entrenched in Somalia and Yemen before he came into office. But their growth in Libya, Syria, Sinai, and Iraq have occurred on his watch and have been spurred to some extent by his misguided policies—especially true in the case of Iraq.

Iraq may now look to Obama as a shining exemplar of his foreign policy vision. But I predict that in a few years it will be widely recognized as one of his biggest failures.

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Repeating Iraq’s Mistakes in Libya

Seth has already noted one instance where President Obama sounded positively Bushesque in the third debate. Let me note another. It was when he bragged about his intervention in Libya, saying “that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years. Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans and as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying America is our friend. We stand with them.”

Like Bush in Iraq, Obama was emphasizing the liberation of an oppressed Arab country and the resulting ties of friendship with its inhabitants, but–also like Bush–he was not focusing on what came after the dictator. In both Iraq and Libya the result has been chaos. The old security services have been dissolved and nothing has taken their place. In both cases the U.S. government has given little thought—and less commitment—to Phase IV, the post-overthrow part of the operation. The consequences of this failure have been less severe in Libya than in Iraq, but they have been bad enough—witness the attack that destroyed our consulate and killed our ambassador, and the destabilizing role that militias of various stripes continue to play in Libya.

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Seth has already noted one instance where President Obama sounded positively Bushesque in the third debate. Let me note another. It was when he bragged about his intervention in Libya, saying “that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years. Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans and as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying America is our friend. We stand with them.”

Like Bush in Iraq, Obama was emphasizing the liberation of an oppressed Arab country and the resulting ties of friendship with its inhabitants, but–also like Bush–he was not focusing on what came after the dictator. In both Iraq and Libya the result has been chaos. The old security services have been dissolved and nothing has taken their place. In both cases the U.S. government has given little thought—and less commitment—to Phase IV, the post-overthrow part of the operation. The consequences of this failure have been less severe in Libya than in Iraq, but they have been bad enough—witness the attack that destroyed our consulate and killed our ambassador, and the destabilizing role that militias of various stripes continue to play in Libya.

In this Los Angeles Times op-ed, I pointed out how incredible it is that we have not had a serious program in place since last year to train and arm the Libyan armed forces to control their own country. Libya, with its oil wealth, could actually pay for such a program—the U.S. could run it at a profit, as we do in Saudi Arabia. Yet Obama has failed to follow through. Instead, he prefers to boast about Qaddafi’s overthrow, while ignoring the fact that the overthrow of the old regime is only one step of many in the long road toward building responsible governance.

This is an amazing oversight from a president who came into office criticizing his predecessor’s blunders in Iraq. Now Obama is repeating the same mistakes on a smaller scale.

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Why Was Malala Yousafzai Missing from the Debate?

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

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Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

Romney, for his part, affirmed Obama’s political deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan: “Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014,” he said. Regarding Pakistan, he added:

We’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met.

Romney also had the perfect opportunity during his discussion of radicalization and the Arab Spring:

A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law.

The fact of the matter is that Malala is not some contrived campaign anecdote which both candidates use to appear more down-to-earth. She is a truly powerful symbol whose very name delegitimizes the extremists. Just as Chechen jihadists saw popular support for their cause collapse when they attacked the school at Beslan, so too the Pakistani Taliban realize what a terrible mistake they have made. That neither Obama nor Romney take advantage of their mistake to embrace this symbol of resistance against Islamist tyranny reflects badly on their vision and on their commitment to win the ideological war, which may very well define the 21st century.

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Quipster Obama Playing a Losing Hand

As I wrote last night, President Obama’s attack mode during the Boca Raton debate seemed to suggest that he was the challenger trailing in the race rather than the incumbent nursing an alleged lead. But the president’s nasty streak is also displaying itself on the campaign trail, where he has been trying out one-liners about his rival like a would-be comic at open mic night at a comedy club. Last week’s big yuck was his “Romnesia” crack that alludes to the fact that Romney has changed his positions on some issues. Today, he doubled down on that one by saying Romney had “stage 3 Romnesia” at a rally in Delray Beach, Florida.

One might ask what exactly about cancer, a disease whose progress is generally referred to in stages in that manner, is so funny? But even if we are ready to give him a pass for showing bad taste, one has to question the strategy being employed here. For several months, the entire Democratic campaign seemed predicated on derision and demonization of Romney. But in the first presidential debate the GOP candidate blew that effort out of the water, changing not only the direction of the race but rendering much of the Obama campaign’s material obsolete if not completely irrelevant. Yet despite that, the president keeps playing the same losing hand aimed at denigrating an opponent who strikes most Americans as inherently reasonable. That makes one wonder whether the president’s condescending attitude as well as his sarcasm has a lot more to do with his anger at Romney’s strength and staying power than it does with any tactical political plan. More and more, it’s sounding as if President Obama is just plain mad at Romney because of the growing possibility that he’s going to lose the election.

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As I wrote last night, President Obama’s attack mode during the Boca Raton debate seemed to suggest that he was the challenger trailing in the race rather than the incumbent nursing an alleged lead. But the president’s nasty streak is also displaying itself on the campaign trail, where he has been trying out one-liners about his rival like a would-be comic at open mic night at a comedy club. Last week’s big yuck was his “Romnesia” crack that alludes to the fact that Romney has changed his positions on some issues. Today, he doubled down on that one by saying Romney had “stage 3 Romnesia” at a rally in Delray Beach, Florida.

One might ask what exactly about cancer, a disease whose progress is generally referred to in stages in that manner, is so funny? But even if we are ready to give him a pass for showing bad taste, one has to question the strategy being employed here. For several months, the entire Democratic campaign seemed predicated on derision and demonization of Romney. But in the first presidential debate the GOP candidate blew that effort out of the water, changing not only the direction of the race but rendering much of the Obama campaign’s material obsolete if not completely irrelevant. Yet despite that, the president keeps playing the same losing hand aimed at denigrating an opponent who strikes most Americans as inherently reasonable. That makes one wonder whether the president’s condescending attitude as well as his sarcasm has a lot more to do with his anger at Romney’s strength and staying power than it does with any tactical political plan. More and more, it’s sounding as if President Obama is just plain mad at Romney because of the growing possibility that he’s going to lose the election.

The president has barely contained that anger at Romney in both of the last two debates, in which he often sought to interrupt the Republican as well as talk down to him. Democrats claim this is just natural frustration at Romney’s slippery tactics as he has tacked to the center in the fall campaign. There is something to that, as there is no doubt that Romney has reverted to his natural moderation after a brief stint masquerading as a “severely conservative” candidate in the GOP primaries.

But Romney isn’t the only one who has changed his positions on some issues. Obama claims it’s a myth that he has apologized for America. But as the Washington Free Beacon noted back in August, he has done so repeatedly.

Of course, perhaps the most egregious instance of an Obama course correction that is the equal of anything Romney has ever said, is the way the president has trimmed his sails on Israel. Judging by the way he clung to Israel last night, you would never know that the president had spent his last three years fighting constantly with Israel’s government over settlements, borders and the status of Jerusalem. Nor would you know that he had deliberately snubbed Israel’s prime minister last month in an attempt to avoid pressure to support “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear program. Romnesia, even at stage 3, isn’t much worse than that.

But these inconsistencies aside, the main takeaway from the president’s campaign in an increasing sense of anger and frustration as the polls show him losing ground. There’s still time for him to reverse this trend, but one suspects trying to be the quipster-in-chief isn’t the way to do it.

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McCain: Obama’s Sarcasm “Inappropriate” and “Unpresidential”

Sen. John McCain blasted President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” zinger as “unpresidential” on a conference call this morning, saying it showed a “lack of maturity.”

“I don’t know why the president of the United States feels it’s necessary to denigrate and insult his opponent,” said McCain. “It’s not only bad taste, and, frankly, inappropriate for a president of the United States, but it’s also wrong.”

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Sen. John McCain blasted President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” zinger as “unpresidential” on a conference call this morning, saying it showed a “lack of maturity.”

“I don’t know why the president of the United States feels it’s necessary to denigrate and insult his opponent,” said McCain. “It’s not only bad taste, and, frankly, inappropriate for a president of the United States, but it’s also wrong.”

Obama said last night that America’s shrinking Navy isn’t a concern, because “we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

But McCain pointed out that Obama’s plan to “pivot” to Asia requires a strong naval presence, and sequestration would hinder that.

“The fact is, we will have the smallest Navy since 1914 if sequestration takes place,” said McCain. “To then justify a steady reduction in ship building shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes that bayonets (while used infrequently) are still standard-issue weapons for U.S. Marines, and they’re trained to use them in hand-to-hand combat situations. Obama’s remark was met with criticism from some Marines on Twitter, and from military surplus outlets that sell the weapon.

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The Obama Doctrine of Revenge

It must have been strange for viewers of last night’s presidential debate to be told Mitt Romney is a dangerous warmonger and then hear him open the evening by stressing diplomacy and saying: “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” But perhaps it was stranger still for the antiwar left–or what is left of it–to hear President Obama essentially respond with his classic campaign slogan, Yes we can. Last night was something of a watershed for the president in one regard. He has always been given the benefit of the doubt on his secretive drone campaigns, so-called “kill list,” and authorizing military intervention in Libya without congressional approval.

The understanding on the left was that Obama inherited an anti-terror infrastructure and two wars. But last night, Obama gave a different answer. When attacking Romney for being cautious on Libya, Obama said:

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It must have been strange for viewers of last night’s presidential debate to be told Mitt Romney is a dangerous warmonger and then hear him open the evening by stressing diplomacy and saying: “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” But perhaps it was stranger still for the antiwar left–or what is left of it–to hear President Obama essentially respond with his classic campaign slogan, Yes we can. Last night was something of a watershed for the president in one regard. He has always been given the benefit of the doubt on his secretive drone campaigns, so-called “kill list,” and authorizing military intervention in Libya without congressional approval.

The understanding on the left was that Obama inherited an anti-terror infrastructure and two wars. But last night, Obama gave a different answer. When attacking Romney for being cautious on Libya, Obama said:

And to the governor’s credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.

Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. You know, Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job.

Why did we have to stay in Libya until we killed (or enabled the Libyan rebel forces to kill) Gaddafi, according to the president? Because he had blood on his hands. Revenge. This is part of why the president sounded so silly at times last night. He invoked the “Bush-Cheney” bogeymen in the service of making them sound insufficiently bloodthirsty.

A good follow-up question for the president might have asked if this is now the standard. You know who else has American blood on their hands? The leadership of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the government of Iran, who were behind the murder of an American girl from New Jersey in Gaza. (Iran was found responsible in an American courtroom, to boot.) What kind of NATO mission can we expect in Gaza in the near future? And of course, that was far from the only time the Iranian leadership played a role in killing Americans; they have been waging campaigns against the American military in Iraq. Did the president signal last night an impending American invasion of Iran that won’t leave until Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dead?

Of course not. But it’s still interesting to watch the president who ran on restoring America’s moral authority justify policies he once claimed to abhor on the grounds that America must have a foreign policy of revenge. That argument has never been expanded beyond Osama bin Laden, who was thought to be an exception. But apparently he’s not. It took until the eve of the 2012 election, but Obama has finally repudiated the basis for his entire 2008 campaign for the presidency.

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Obama Acknowledges Strategy Failed

President Obama has officially been running for reelection for 18 months. His campaign and supporting super PACs have spent $770 million and counting. But now, just two weeks from election day, he’s suddenly decided to start campaigning on his second-term agenda:

Faced with persistent calls for more detail about what a second term would look like, President Barack Obama on Tuesday released a glossy, 20-page repackaging of the plans he has announced on subjects from energy to education.

Obama planned to unveil the booklet, “The New Economic Patriotism: A PLAN FOR JOBS & MIDDLE-CLASS SECURITY,” at an event in Delray Tennis Center in Delray, Fla.

The president, Vice President Joe Biden and other campaign surrogates plan to hold up the booklet at rallies as they barnstorm swing states in the final two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6.

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President Obama has officially been running for reelection for 18 months. His campaign and supporting super PACs have spent $770 million and counting. But now, just two weeks from election day, he’s suddenly decided to start campaigning on his second-term agenda:

Faced with persistent calls for more detail about what a second term would look like, President Barack Obama on Tuesday released a glossy, 20-page repackaging of the plans he has announced on subjects from energy to education.

Obama planned to unveil the booklet, “The New Economic Patriotism: A PLAN FOR JOBS & MIDDLE-CLASS SECURITY,” at an event in Delray Tennis Center in Delray, Fla.

The president, Vice President Joe Biden and other campaign surrogates plan to hold up the booklet at rallies as they barnstorm swing states in the final two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6.

Funny that the cutting-edge social media gurus on Team Obama are counting on a booklet to carry them through the final stretch. It’s a bit late to change the message, but apparently Obama realizes his go-negative strategy has failed in the last weeks of the campaign. Romney debunked all the summertime attack ads in a single debate, simply by opening his mouth and seeming reasonable. Now the Obama campaign realizes it actually has to present a positive alternative.

But a sudden shift like this also gives the impression of desperation, and the timing suggests that internal polling isn’t looking as good as the Obama campaign claims publicly. That would also explain the president’s overly-aggressive demeanor in last night’s debate. Maybe he knew he needed a knockout punch to change the dynamic of the race.

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On National Defense, Quantity Matters Too

No doubt, President Obama had the line of the night in the third presidential debate when he tried to dismiss Mitt Romney’s concerns about our incredible shrinking armed forces by saying:

But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works.

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

Like a lot of clever debate lines, however, it grows less and less persuasive the more it is examined. Jonathan has already raised some sound objections. My own view is that while Obama is technically right–no question naval vessels today are a lot more potent than they were in 1916–he is wrong in the larger sense, if he is suggesting that quality can endlessly substitute for quantity.

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No doubt, President Obama had the line of the night in the third presidential debate when he tried to dismiss Mitt Romney’s concerns about our incredible shrinking armed forces by saying:

But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works.

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

Like a lot of clever debate lines, however, it grows less and less persuasive the more it is examined. Jonathan has already raised some sound objections. My own view is that while Obama is technically right–no question naval vessels today are a lot more potent than they were in 1916–he is wrong in the larger sense, if he is suggesting that quality can endlessly substitute for quantity.

Yes, one Navy ship today can fire more munitions farther and more accurately than a whole fleet could have done at the Battle of Jutland. But the odds of such an encounter between great fleets at sea are exceedingly small. No other nation has a blue-water navy today. But that doesn’t mean that the threats faced by our navy have diminished.

Today the U.S. Navy must prepare for two major wars–one against Iran in the Persian Gulf, the other against China in the Western Pacific–while also combating piracy off the coast of Africa, dealing with unexpected wars such as the one in Libya last year, supporting ground operations in Afghanistan and other theaters, combating drug runners in the Caribbean, and showing the flag in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and other seas. The operational tempo dictated by these requirements is terrific, as I have seen for myself in the last few years in visits to the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and the 7th Fleet in Japan.

The ships we have are, when not retrofitting in port, almost constantly at sea and they are struggling to keep up with threats ranging from Chinese “aircraft-killer” ballistic missiles and submarines to Iranian mines and cruise missiles–not to mention the ever-present threat of cyberattack and terrorism (of the kind which crippled the USS Cole). Yes, the capabilities of each naval ship are greater today–but so are its range of potential missions and so are the capabilities of our potential foes. China is expanding its maritime capabilities at a rapid clip; the U.S. Navy is struggling to keep up and the balance of power in the Western Pacific is shifting against us.

That is in large part why the bipartisan Hadley-Perry Commission concluded in 2010 that the Navy should have 346 ships. Yet today it has only 282 ships–and falling. As former Navy Secretary (and Romney adviser) John Lehman noted in April: “The latest budget the administration has advanced proposes buying just 41 ships over five years. It is anything but certain that the administration’s budgets will sustain even that rate of only eight ships per year, but even if they do, the United States is headed for a Navy of 240-250 ships at best.”

That is a looming strategic disaster–and one that no amount of quips about horses and bayonets can wish away. If we don’t build more ships, our global maritime dominance–the basic underpinning of the world’s strategic and economic stability–is in real danger of slipping away.

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Romney’s Clear Win

The snap polls may show a tie or a small victory for President Obama, but Mitt Romney emerged the real winner from last night’s debate. He struck the exact tone he needed to: measured, competent, presidential.

The result was that Romney often looked like the incumbent on stage, and Obama often like the challenger. While Obama tried to draw blood with small jabs (the bayonets line, the nit-picking about Romney’s investments), these made the president seem petty and contemptuous. Romney stayed above the fray.

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The snap polls may show a tie or a small victory for President Obama, but Mitt Romney emerged the real winner from last night’s debate. He struck the exact tone he needed to: measured, competent, presidential.

The result was that Romney often looked like the incumbent on stage, and Obama often like the challenger. While Obama tried to draw blood with small jabs (the bayonets line, the nit-picking about Romney’s investments), these made the president seem petty and contemptuous. Romney stayed above the fray.

The Obama campaign has alternated between claiming Romney has the same ideas as Obama on foreign policy, and accusing him of being a warmonger. Last night, the president played into the former. It’s not true, but it’s the best counter-argument Romney could have hoped for in a debate when he’s reaching out to moderate and undecided voters. While Romney stayed away from silly zingers, he managed to get in a few stinging critiques: “Attacking me is not a foreign policy”; “America has not dictated to other nations. America has freed other nations”; and “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. We should not have wasted those four years.”

Romney already trumps Obama on economic issues. Few people are voting based on foreign policy; the vast majority of voters just needed to know that Romney was competent and trustworthy on the issue. He easily met that threshold last night, which made him the clear winner.

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How Worried is Obama About the Jewish Vote? Very Worried

The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.

That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.

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The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.

That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.

Critics rightly point out that even if the Iranians went along with this, it would mean a situation that would be a standing invitation for Tehran to cheat its way to a nuclear weapon. Their model would follow the way North Korea hoodwinked the Clinton and Bush administrations when it was assumed that the deals they signed with Pyongyang precluded that rogue nation going nuclear.

But the president has closed off that option. He is now committed to a position that is incompatible with Iran having any sort of nuclear program. His statement also makes the Iran talks that some senior officials in his administration thought were a done deal impossible. If the president is to keep his vow to prevent Iran from going nuclear, it is clear that he is now more or less forced to accept Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position on “red lines,” since the terms of the negotiations that the Europeans have pushed in the P5+1 talks have now been ruled unacceptable.

While many in the audience focused on his bragging about a 2008 visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum (as if Romney hadn’t been there himself on his various tours of the country) and to the town of Sderot, the real news is the way the president has now ruled out any compromise on Iran.

It isn’t clear whether these pledges will erase the memory of his ongoing fights with Netanyahu over borders, settlements and Jerusalem in the minds of Jewish voters. Romney’s passionate support of Israel and his pointed reminder that the world noted that the president avoided Israel when he visited the Middle East will likely win the GOP more Jewish votes than it has won in a generation. But it’s a given that Iran was sent a signal in Boca Raton that a second term sellout of Israel on the nuclear issue was just made a lot more difficult.

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About Those Horses And Ships

At the foreign policy debate, President Obama thought he was putting something over on Mitt Romney when he acted as if the Republican was an imbecile for suggesting that the rapid decline in U.S. Naval strength was anything but a good idea:

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

That was quite a zinger. In one fell swoop, he portrayed the Republican as ignorant about defense issues and established himself as the competent commander-in-chief. Except for the fact that he was dead wrong and did himself far more political damage than good.

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At the foreign policy debate, President Obama thought he was putting something over on Mitt Romney when he acted as if the Republican was an imbecile for suggesting that the rapid decline in U.S. Naval strength was anything but a good idea:

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

That was quite a zinger. In one fell swoop, he portrayed the Republican as ignorant about defense issues and established himself as the competent commander-in-chief. Except for the fact that he was dead wrong and did himself far more political damage than good.

Contrary to the president’s assertion, the creation of aircraft carriers and submarines did not mean that we needed fewer ships. Quite the contrary. Aircraft carriers need just as many if not more supporting vessels than the obsolete battleships that no are no longer under commission. So do subs. The decline in naval strength compromises America’s ability to project power abroad. That is particularly true in places like the Persian Gulf, where President Obama is trying to sound as tough with Iran as Romney.

Even more foolish is the president’s attempt to portray contemporary naval vessels with cavalry horses. That says more about his own lack of understanding of the military than Romney’s. It also may cost him some votes in a state that he still hopes to win: Virginia, home of the largest U.S. Naval base in the country and hotbed of support for a stronger military.

One more point about those horses and bayonets. For all of his contempt for them, it bears remembering that horses played a not insignificant role in the armed forces’ successful fight in Afghanistan, a point that Obama should have remembered. The Army and the Marines operating Afghanistan still use bayonets in close combat.

The more you think about this supposed zinger, the more it sounds as if Obama made a fool of himself, not Romney.

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What Worried the White House About Iran Negotiation Leaks?

As Jonathan wrote, the New York Times caused a stir over the weekend with its report that the Obama administration agreed to one-on-one talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The story has been interpreted (and reinterpreted) with respect to its utility to the president before tonight’s foreign policy debate depending on the perceived nature of the leaks. So when the story first broke, it was assumed the Obama administration thought this would be politically beneficial on the eve of the debate. When the vigorous denials came—convincing enough to get the Times to change its story without alerting its readers—the public seemed to reconsider.

It is now, therefore, seen as a negative story for the administration—unhelpful, as Obama officials might say. But why? What is it about face-to-face negotiations with the Iranians that the White House might consider damaging? Certainly, as Jonathan suggested, the story has echoes of President Obama’s hot-mic moment with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in which Obama promised the Russians more “flexibility” if he is reelected. Did he make such promises to the Iranians, but try harder to keep them under wraps? That is one possibility. Another is that the president may not want such a stark reminder of one of the most famous moments of the 2007 Democratic primary debates, when Obama said he would grant the enemies of America their own presidential-level summits. Obama said:

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As Jonathan wrote, the New York Times caused a stir over the weekend with its report that the Obama administration agreed to one-on-one talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The story has been interpreted (and reinterpreted) with respect to its utility to the president before tonight’s foreign policy debate depending on the perceived nature of the leaks. So when the story first broke, it was assumed the Obama administration thought this would be politically beneficial on the eve of the debate. When the vigorous denials came—convincing enough to get the Times to change its story without alerting its readers—the public seemed to reconsider.

It is now, therefore, seen as a negative story for the administration—unhelpful, as Obama officials might say. But why? What is it about face-to-face negotiations with the Iranians that the White House might consider damaging? Certainly, as Jonathan suggested, the story has echoes of President Obama’s hot-mic moment with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in which Obama promised the Russians more “flexibility” if he is reelected. Did he make such promises to the Iranians, but try harder to keep them under wraps? That is one possibility. Another is that the president may not want such a stark reminder of one of the most famous moments of the 2007 Democratic primary debates, when Obama said he would grant the enemies of America their own presidential-level summits. Obama said:

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.

And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.

“It is a disgrace,” Obama said, that we were not having face-to-face meetings with Iran, Syria, and the rest. Of course, it was not a disgrace, and negotiations at a more appropriate level were going on long before Obama entered the scene. But it’s also a reminder of the stark difference between Obama and Mitt Romney—and not just on policy. The 2007 version of Obama was just ramping up the personality cult, the creepy and worshipful following he acquired that culminated in the ridiculous spectacle of accepting his nomination amid Greek columns while claiming that the people’s reward for nominating him would begin with him turning back the ocean tides. Last night, Dan McLaughlin tweeted:

Obama’s election represented the apex of presidential personality cults. Romney’s would be its nadir.

Obama believed he could charm the Iranian mullahs the way he charmed American editorial boards. Obama’s defenders say he’s come a long way since his election. And maybe so. But he’s struggling to come up with a reason for voters to support him a second time. He’s mostly running from his (unpopular) “accomplishments” in his first term, and hasn’t laid out much of a plan for a second besides raising taxes. The last thing the president needs is a reminder of his past naïveté in world politics coupled with any hint that he’s right back where he started: an off-putting and by now discredited belief in the power of his personality and the force of his presence.

So perhaps the White House doesn’t believe that face-to-face negotiations with Iran’s leaders is a bad idea in and of itself. But the walk-back shows that the president’s team either thinks their plan is too unpopular to go public with (if, indeed, it is their plan), or that they don’t believe the public would trust Obama to carry out those negotiations. Neither is a sign of confidence.

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American Crossroads Hits Obama on “Acts of Terror” Claim

If President Obama’s position from the beginning has been that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack, why did his administration appear to claim otherwise for two weeks? American Crossroads asks the question, in an ad that tries to spin Romney’s biggest second debate blunder into a strength (h/t RightScoop):

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If President Obama’s position from the beginning has been that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack, why did his administration appear to claim otherwise for two weeks? American Crossroads asks the question, in an ad that tries to spin Romney’s biggest second debate blunder into a strength (h/t RightScoop):

Both sides concede that the Benghazi exchange was one of the worst moments of the debate for Romney and one of the best for Obama, so it’s interesting that the Romney campaign has spent the last two days talking about Benghazi while the Obama campaign has tried to change the subject to “binders full of women.” It shows you how vulnerable the Obama campaign is on the issue. Normally, you’d expect them to promote Romney’s stumble non-stop, but it’s risky to bring any gratuitous attention to Obama’s Benghazi response, even if it’s at Romney’s expense.

The next debate is on foreign policy, and Romney will have a second chance to confront Obama with the same contradictions raised by the American Crossroads video. The difference is, Romney will likely be more prepared than he was last time, and Obama won’t have Candy Crowley to play defense.

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CNN Internal Email Contradicts Crowley’s “Fact-Check”

TMZ obtained an internal CNN “talking points” email sent by Managing Editor Mark Whitaker, defending Candy Crowley amid criticism of her performance at Tuesday’s debate. But not only does Whitaker misrepresent Crowley’s “fact-check” to make it sound more accurate, he also acknowledges that there is disagreement over whether President Obama referred to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech (h/t Powerline):

“Let’s start with a big round of applause for Candy Crowley for a superb job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She and her team had to select and sequence questions in a matter of hours, and then she had to deal with the tricky format, the nervous questioners, the aggressive debaters, all while shutting out the pre-debate attempts to spin and intimidate her. She pulled it off masterfully. 

The reviews on Candy’s performance have been overwhelmingly positive but Romney supporters are going after her on two points, no doubt because their man did not have as good a night as he had in Denver. On the legitimacy of Candy fact-checking Romney on Obama’s Rose Garden statement, it should be stressed that she was just stating a point of fact: Obama did talk about an act (or acts) of terror, no matter what you think he meant by that at the time. On why Obama got more time to speak, it should be noted that Candy and her commission producers tried to keep it even but that Obama went on longer largely because he speaks more slowly. We’re going to do a word count to see whether, as in Denver, Romney actually got more words in even if he talked for a shorter period of time.

Nobody disputes that Obama “talk[ed] about an act (or acts) of terror” in the Rose Garden speech. But that’s not what Candy Crowley alleged during her impromptu “fact-check.” She claimed Obama specifically called Benghazi an act of terror, which is not clear from the speech. Here’s the exchange from the debate:

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TMZ obtained an internal CNN “talking points” email sent by Managing Editor Mark Whitaker, defending Candy Crowley amid criticism of her performance at Tuesday’s debate. But not only does Whitaker misrepresent Crowley’s “fact-check” to make it sound more accurate, he also acknowledges that there is disagreement over whether President Obama referred to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech (h/t Powerline):

“Let’s start with a big round of applause for Candy Crowley for a superb job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She and her team had to select and sequence questions in a matter of hours, and then she had to deal with the tricky format, the nervous questioners, the aggressive debaters, all while shutting out the pre-debate attempts to spin and intimidate her. She pulled it off masterfully. 

The reviews on Candy’s performance have been overwhelmingly positive but Romney supporters are going after her on two points, no doubt because their man did not have as good a night as he had in Denver. On the legitimacy of Candy fact-checking Romney on Obama’s Rose Garden statement, it should be stressed that she was just stating a point of fact: Obama did talk about an act (or acts) of terror, no matter what you think he meant by that at the time. On why Obama got more time to speak, it should be noted that Candy and her commission producers tried to keep it even but that Obama went on longer largely because he speaks more slowly. We’re going to do a word count to see whether, as in Denver, Romney actually got more words in even if he talked for a shorter period of time.

Nobody disputes that Obama “talk[ed] about an act (or acts) of terror” in the Rose Garden speech. But that’s not what Candy Crowley alleged during her impromptu “fact-check.” She claimed Obama specifically called Benghazi an act of terror, which is not clear from the speech. Here’s the exchange from the debate:

Romney: You said in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration? Is that what you’re saying?

Obama: Please proceed, Governor.

Romney: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

Obama: Get the transcript.

Crowley: He did indeed, sir, call it an act of terror. [Applause from audience].

Obama: Can you say that a little louder Candy?

Crowley: [Laughing] He did call it an act of terror.

Whitaker also adds, “no matter what you think he meant by that at the time.” In other words, the meaning of the president’s speech was not cut-and-dried at the time, as Crowley claimed.

If she had interrupted to say that Obama had used the general term “act of terror” in the speech, as Whitaker implies she did in the email, nobody would have had a problem with it. But instead, she made a factual judgment on a point that was up for debate. Contrary to Whitaker’s email, it’s not only Romney supporters who thought she was out of line.

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Newsflash: “Binders Full of Women” is a Good Thing

After the first presidential debate, liberals clung to Mitt Romney’s off-the-cuff comments on Big Bird. Immediately, the statement was mocked and meme-ified. Romney’s larger point about wasteful government spending was lost to those who saw nothing worth praising in President Obama’s performance, and thus wanted to bring Romney’s down by any means necessary, no matter how trivial.

Tuesday night’s debate was no different, and the meme of the night quickly became “Binders Full of Women.” A Tumblr page was instantly created and a Facebook group had over 300,000 members by 2 p.m. Wednesday. Liberals scoffed at Romney’s phraseology while, again, missing his overall message. Romney’s actual statement was this:

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

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After the first presidential debate, liberals clung to Mitt Romney’s off-the-cuff comments on Big Bird. Immediately, the statement was mocked and meme-ified. Romney’s larger point about wasteful government spending was lost to those who saw nothing worth praising in President Obama’s performance, and thus wanted to bring Romney’s down by any means necessary, no matter how trivial.

Tuesday night’s debate was no different, and the meme of the night quickly became “Binders Full of Women.” A Tumblr page was instantly created and a Facebook group had over 300,000 members by 2 p.m. Wednesday. Liberals scoffed at Romney’s phraseology while, again, missing his overall message. Romney’s actual statement was this:

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

These liberals ruthlessly mocking Romney have missed two crucial points: “Binders full of women” actually exist across the economic, political and journalistic worlds, and they are a good thing for feminism. Some liberals, to their credit, understood this. In New York Magazine Ann Friedman wrote,

Boston journalist David Bernstein reports that while Romney did indeed find himself with a binder full of women’s names, it wasn’t something he requested. The binder was put together by MassGAP, a bipartisan group of women who joined forces in 2002 to push Romney’s incoming administration to hire more women. Did you catch that? The binder of women was assembled by women and pushed onto Romney’s desk, unsolicited. When we mock Romney’s reliance on it, we’re actually mocking a concerted strategy by an accomplished group of women to diversify their state government. Oops.

The binder-full-of-names approach is a time-honored way of getting people (mostly men, sure, but also women) in positions of power to do more than pay lip service to the idea of diversity. In my own industry, I got so sick of hearing male editors say over and over that they didn’t know or couldn’t find any great women journalists, so I created an online compendium of recent work by women. A digital binder full of women journalists, if you will. I have no idea if editors have turned to it when they’re looking to assign articles, but I do know that its very existence disproves a classic excuse for lack of gender balance in magazine bylines. It answers a very stupid but persistent question: Where are the women writers? Right here, in this binder that I can show to you.

A New York Daily News opinions editor, Josh Greenman, is familiar with “binders full of women” that help diversify gender imbalances on op-ed pages. Hiring managers in businesses and law firms also use informational binders, called “recruitment binders,” full of resumes to help staff their offices with diverse hires. “Binders full of women” are nothing new in the professional world, and while there may be a better way to phrase what the binders are, it does not detract from their existence.

These binders are assembled to help recruit talented and qualified women for positions that they might not otherwise be considered for. Often women’s careers are sidetracked, halted or put on pause during their childbearing years, as attention shifts from work to family. Romney’s efforts to expand his cabinet to include more women also kept in mind the needs of working mothers in order to make it possible for his staff to have a balanced work and family life. Romney made every effort not only to recruit talented females, but also to keep them on his staff.

What could so-called feminists possibly find so funny about Romney valuing female contributions to political life? While many young, single Tumblr users may find Romney’s descriptions of the difficulties of recruiting and retaining working mothers comical, it’s likely that working mothers (and fathers) across America appreciated that Romney made every effort to be as flexible as possible in order to include female voices that would not have otherwise been present. Romney’s polling numbers were on a quick upward trajectory before the debate among women and in general. My guess is, after liberals have spent the better part of a week doing nothing but calling attention to Romney’s statements, he won’t be any worse for the wear with women.

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Romney Campaign Presses Obama on Benghazi

While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

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While the Obama campaign spent the day giggling over “binders full of women,” Paul Ryan made the rounds on the news networks, questioning the White House’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi last month:

“It was a passing comment about acts of terror in general, it was not a claim that this was a result of a terrorist attack,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “Nobody believed at that Rose Garden speech that the president was suggesting that particular attack was an act of terror.” …

Ryan doubled down in three separate appearances on broadcast morning shows, saying, “What’s troubling about this Benghazi attack is that it took two weeks for the administration to get their story straight.”

Ryan went over the timeline distributed by the Romney campaign that documents statements by the White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for two weeks following the incident, where it was called spontaneous and the violence was blamed on an anti-Islam YouTube video.

The administration has since acknowledged it was a terrorist attack.

While Obama insisted last night that he called Benghazi an “act of terror” in his Rose Garden speech on Sept. 12 — a claim that isn’t clear from the speech transcript — he reportedly acknowledged later that he avoided specifically calling it a terrorist attack for two weeks because of concerns over intelligence. Kerry Ladka, the audience member who asked Obama the question about Benghazi security, told WaPo’s Erik Wemple that the president spoke with him more candidly about the post-attack narrative after the debate:

President Obama, though, wasn’t done with Kerry Ladka. “After the debate, the president came over to me and spent about two minutes with me privately,” says the 61-year-old Ladka, who works at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola, N.Y. According to Ladka, Obama gave him ”more information about why he delayed calling the attack a terorist attack.” For background, Obama did apparently lump Benghazi into a reference to “acts of terror” in a Sept. 12 Rose Garden address. However, he spent about two weeks holding off on using the full “terrorist” designation. The rationale for the delay, Obama explained to Ladka, was to make sure that the “intelligence he was acting on was real intelligence and not disinformation,” recalls Ladka.

As to Ladka’s question about who turned down the Benghazi security requests and why, Obama reportedly told him that “releasing the individual names of anyone in the State Department would really put them at risk,” Ladka says.

So, Obama had enough evidence to call it an “act of terror” within 24 hours, but not enough evidence to call it a “terrorist attack” for two weeks? Serious question here — does the Obama administration consider a “terrorist attack” and an “act of terror” the same thing? Given the president’s weirdness on this issue — how he dodged any direct questions about whether it was a terrorist attack for weeks — maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe the White House is playing a game of semantics to buy itself cover on both sides. Either way, the president has a lot more to answer to.

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Were Those Questioners Really Undecided?

Fox News analyst Brit Hume spoke for many Americans last night when he predicted that the Hofstra University smackdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney would be the last presidential debate to use the town hall format. Let’s hope he’s right. Though some observers, like George Will, thought it was the best debate ever because it was a “good fight” that elicited a lot of discussion of the issues, the spectacle of the two candidates circling each other like a pair of animals in a fighting pit did little to enhance either’s credibility. It also led to a series of nasty and often confusing exchanges that didn’t do much for either man’s image or shed much light on the issues.

The format, which is an attempt to inject the voices of ordinary voters into the process, was, as it always is, something of a fake. Most of the supposedly undecided voters rounded up by the Gallup organization didn’t sound all that undecided. Even worse, the town hall format gives even more power to the moderator to not only choose the questions but to intervene in a contest that is, by its nature, more likely to veer out of control than a normal podium debate. That’s exactly what happened, as CNN’s Candy Crowley tilted the playing field in the president’s direction not only by backing up Obama on the Libya incident, as Alana noted earlier, but also by choosing more questions that were geared to favor the Democrat. If that doesn’t motivate Republican debate negotiators in 2016 to refuse to go along with another one of these circuses, then they won’t be doing their jobs.

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Fox News analyst Brit Hume spoke for many Americans last night when he predicted that the Hofstra University smackdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney would be the last presidential debate to use the town hall format. Let’s hope he’s right. Though some observers, like George Will, thought it was the best debate ever because it was a “good fight” that elicited a lot of discussion of the issues, the spectacle of the two candidates circling each other like a pair of animals in a fighting pit did little to enhance either’s credibility. It also led to a series of nasty and often confusing exchanges that didn’t do much for either man’s image or shed much light on the issues.

The format, which is an attempt to inject the voices of ordinary voters into the process, was, as it always is, something of a fake. Most of the supposedly undecided voters rounded up by the Gallup organization didn’t sound all that undecided. Even worse, the town hall format gives even more power to the moderator to not only choose the questions but to intervene in a contest that is, by its nature, more likely to veer out of control than a normal podium debate. That’s exactly what happened, as CNN’s Candy Crowley tilted the playing field in the president’s direction not only by backing up Obama on the Libya incident, as Alana noted earlier, but also by choosing more questions that were geared to favor the Democrat. If that doesn’t motivate Republican debate negotiators in 2016 to refuse to go along with another one of these circuses, then they won’t be doing their jobs.

We are told that Gallup assembled the audience of undecided New York voters, but the ones chosen to ask a question by Ms. Crowley didn’t appear to be all that undecided. The eleven questions she picked touched a variety of issues, but in terms of the subjects as well as the way they were posed, the choices gave an advantage to the president. Of the eleven, six were relative layups for Obama or based on Democratic Party talking points: comparing Romney to George W. Bush, outsourcing jobs abroad, calls for more gun control, protecting illegal immigrants, tax deductions for the middle class, and equality for women in the workplace. One was neutral: misperceptions about the candidates; and four might be said to have favored Romney: unemployment, the need for lower energy prices; how the next four years will be different, and Libya.

While not totally one-sided, that still skewed the debate a bit toward Obama. While each candidate had opportunities to make their points or to put their opponent on the defensive (opportunities that were often blown by Romney), the bias was accentuated by Crowley’s determination to play a role in the debate. It was not just her decision to weigh in on Libya to Obama’s advantage (Obama: “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”) but also to interrupt or to silence Romney. Crowley interrupted Romney 23 times but only did it to Obama 8 times. Her defenders will say she was doing that in defense of the rules, but Crowley’s interest in them was highly selective. The rules stated that the questions would come only from the audience, not the moderator. But Crowley ignored that rule and interjected herself into the proceedings whenever the spirit moved her. A desire for fairness would have meant letting the candidates speak but Crowley preferred instead to shut Romney up when he wished to answer an inaccurate or unfair comment from Obama.

Moreover, as much as the previous debates between these two men and the vice presidential candidates threatened to get out of hand at times, Crowley completely went to sleep at times as the two mixed it up without restraint. They talked over each other and prowled around the stage menacingly, adding not only to the rancor but also to an impression of a lack of respect. There was little civility on display and the setting accentuated that failing.

But as bad as all that was, there was little sense that this unrepresentative group of questioners (four appeared to be Jewish or had Jewish sounding-names) were speaking for most Americans or that there was any sense of give and take between the candidates and the voters. The involvement of the public in such a format is more of a sham than anything else. While some viewers may have enjoyed the sight of two would-be commanders-in-chief brawling in public, the unedifying spectacle did little to raise the tone of the political culture. If that was the last town hall presidential debate, it’s a format that won’t be missed.

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