Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Gates

Flotsam and Jetsam

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

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Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

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Bum Rap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hagel, Sestak, and Pro-Israel Groups

When Chuck Hagel threw his support to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak and seemed to have made it into the short list for a replacement for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, alarm bells went off with pro-Israel groups. The Washington Jewish Week reports just how serious is the opposition and aversion to Hagel:

“I would regard him as the bottom of the class as far as Israel goes,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and treasurer of the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.

In light of its past criticism of Hagel’s anti-Israel record, even the National Democratic Jewish Council had harsh words:

“Clearly, Hagel has a mixed record on Israel, but that record frankly puts him at variance with the president’s own policies vis-a-vis Israel,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, adding that, for now, “speculation is just that.”

Well then, what does all of this say about the candidate who calls Hagel his favorite Senator and who warmly received the endorsement? If Hagel’s record is “mixed” (it used to be much worse, from the NJDC’s perspective), then isn’t there just a wee bit of concern that Sestak’s views are also at “variance” with support for Israel?

Likewise, we have this from a Democratic operative: “If he was in fact appointed [Defense Secretary], I would find his appointment difficult to reconcile with my views of the administration.” So, isn’t it also hard to reconcile with Sestak’s views?

When Chuck Hagel threw his support to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak and seemed to have made it into the short list for a replacement for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, alarm bells went off with pro-Israel groups. The Washington Jewish Week reports just how serious is the opposition and aversion to Hagel:

“I would regard him as the bottom of the class as far as Israel goes,” said Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and treasurer of the Washington PAC, a pro-Israel political action committee.

In light of its past criticism of Hagel’s anti-Israel record, even the National Democratic Jewish Council had harsh words:

“Clearly, Hagel has a mixed record on Israel, but that record frankly puts him at variance with the president’s own policies vis-a-vis Israel,” said David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, adding that, for now, “speculation is just that.”

Well then, what does all of this say about the candidate who calls Hagel his favorite Senator and who warmly received the endorsement? If Hagel’s record is “mixed” (it used to be much worse, from the NJDC’s perspective), then isn’t there just a wee bit of concern that Sestak’s views are also at “variance” with support for Israel?

Likewise, we have this from a Democratic operative: “If he was in fact appointed [Defense Secretary], I would find his appointment difficult to reconcile with my views of the administration.” So, isn’t it also hard to reconcile with Sestak’s views?

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Time to End the Foreign Policy Contradictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marine Commandant: Obama Deadline Helps the Enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For Secretary of Defense? (Updated)

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

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SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Re-Hollowing of the Military

On May 3, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech at the Navy League in Washington to an audience of veterans, retired and current defense-industry executives, and supporters of the tradition of American naval power. Gates gave it to them. He told his audience that the time had come “to re-examine and question basic assumptions” about how their beloved Navy works, “in light of evolving technologies, new threats, and budget realities”—specifically, a federal deficit in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion.

To read the rest of Arthur Herman’s “The Re-Hollowing of the Military,” a special preview from the September issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

On May 3, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech at the Navy League in Washington to an audience of veterans, retired and current defense-industry executives, and supporters of the tradition of American naval power. Gates gave it to them. He told his audience that the time had come “to re-examine and question basic assumptions” about how their beloved Navy works, “in light of evolving technologies, new threats, and budget realities”—specifically, a federal deficit in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion.

To read the rest of Arthur Herman’s “The Re-Hollowing of the Military,” a special preview from the September issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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RE: Bring Back Jake!

Unlike Tom Shales, Robert Lloyd can’t quite bring himself to say that Christiane Amanpour stinks in her new job. So he, in a sort of media-critic inversion of Mark Antony’s funeral speech, comes to praise Amanpour — well, sort of. She didn’t “exactly break down the walls” in her interviews with Robert Gates and Nancy Pelosi, he explains. He continues:

She lacks the familiarity that characterizes many of her colleagues, who whatever their differences project a chummy attitude of being in the same game — whether the game of politics or the game of maintaining a career talking about them. Her hallmark is rather an almost inelegant, even partisan urgency, with a tendency to personalize politics — that is, to make it about people — born possibly from all the years she has spent in distressed places under fire. “Is America going to abandon the women of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan?” she asked Pelosi.

She speaks loudly and intently, as if she has not lost the habit of yelling over heavy artillery and wants to get her questions out before the bombs get too close. This can make her sound pushy at times, and she will sometimes insist on a point long after it’s clear that her interlocutor will not respond in any meaningful way. But one would say it’s because she cares.

Or one could say it’s because she’s entirely ill-suited for this job.

Her selection and the booting of a perfectly competent and pleasant host represent the desperate ends to which news networks are going in order to remain viable. But who knows, maybe there is an audience for a screechy, rude host who turns policy arguments into personal spats and makes no effort to hide her biases. No, it didn’t work for Keith Olbermann, but she’s much better looking.

Unlike Tom Shales, Robert Lloyd can’t quite bring himself to say that Christiane Amanpour stinks in her new job. So he, in a sort of media-critic inversion of Mark Antony’s funeral speech, comes to praise Amanpour — well, sort of. She didn’t “exactly break down the walls” in her interviews with Robert Gates and Nancy Pelosi, he explains. He continues:

She lacks the familiarity that characterizes many of her colleagues, who whatever their differences project a chummy attitude of being in the same game — whether the game of politics or the game of maintaining a career talking about them. Her hallmark is rather an almost inelegant, even partisan urgency, with a tendency to personalize politics — that is, to make it about people — born possibly from all the years she has spent in distressed places under fire. “Is America going to abandon the women of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan?” she asked Pelosi.

She speaks loudly and intently, as if she has not lost the habit of yelling over heavy artillery and wants to get her questions out before the bombs get too close. This can make her sound pushy at times, and she will sometimes insist on a point long after it’s clear that her interlocutor will not respond in any meaningful way. But one would say it’s because she cares.

Or one could say it’s because she’s entirely ill-suited for this job.

Her selection and the booting of a perfectly competent and pleasant host represent the desperate ends to which news networks are going in order to remain viable. But who knows, maybe there is an audience for a screechy, rude host who turns policy arguments into personal spats and makes no effort to hide her biases. No, it didn’t work for Keith Olbermann, but she’s much better looking.

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Storms Brewing in the Asian Seas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UAE Ambassador: Benefits of Attacking Iran Outweigh Risks

President Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullins, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have all pooh-poohed the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Obami have relied on “linkage” to justify their fixation on the “peace process” — i.e., the idea that progress there is needed to make progress in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. But Israel’s neighbors have a different idea. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” to them — and they really mean it — just as it is to the Jewish state. The latest indication comes in this report from Eli Lake:

The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose.

In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran’s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion — there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country, that is going to happen no matter what.”

“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”

John Bolton, as well as many other Middle East hands who regularly visit the region, confirms that in private, a number of other Arab leaders have said the same thing. So perhaps we can dispense with the fruitless “peace process,” round up a coalition of the willing (it is a catchy term), and make clear to Iran that if it does not voluntarily give up its nuclear program, it will face an alliance that will “disarm” it.

Indeed, it is the absence of such activity and the fixation on a “peace progress” that is going nowhere that should concern Jewish groups. Instead they cheer loudly that Obama is shaking Bibi’s hand in public and that Bibi is offering something or other in the proximity talks with Palestinians, who lack the will and ability to make peace. Don’t get me wrong — having Obama confirm that the bond between the countries is “unbreakable” is better than nothing. But what real content does it have? Does that bond extend to guaranteeing that Israel does not face an existential threat?

Unfortunately, Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers have been suckered into the peace-process obsession, calling for more negotiations after the flotilla incident, after the Jerusalem housing spat,  and as Iran continues its quest to acquire nuclear weapons. It is more than a nervous tic — it is a wrongheaded attachment to a process that is going nowhere at the expense of focusing on dire issues.

The UAE ambassador has his eye on the ball. Maybe he can have a chat with Mullins and explain what is truly destabilizing, and unimaginable, for the moderate Arab states of the region.

President Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullins, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have all pooh-poohed the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Obami have relied on “linkage” to justify their fixation on the “peace process” — i.e., the idea that progress there is needed to make progress in stopping the Iranian nuclear program. But Israel’s neighbors have a different idea. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” to them — and they really mean it — just as it is to the Jewish state. The latest indication comes in this report from Eli Lake:

The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose.

In unusually blunt remarks, Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba publicly endorsed the use of the military option for countering Iran’s nuclear program, if sanctions fail to stop the country’s quest for nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr. al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion — there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country, that is going to happen no matter what.”

“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”

John Bolton, as well as many other Middle East hands who regularly visit the region, confirms that in private, a number of other Arab leaders have said the same thing. So perhaps we can dispense with the fruitless “peace process,” round up a coalition of the willing (it is a catchy term), and make clear to Iran that if it does not voluntarily give up its nuclear program, it will face an alliance that will “disarm” it.

Indeed, it is the absence of such activity and the fixation on a “peace progress” that is going nowhere that should concern Jewish groups. Instead they cheer loudly that Obama is shaking Bibi’s hand in public and that Bibi is offering something or other in the proximity talks with Palestinians, who lack the will and ability to make peace. Don’t get me wrong — having Obama confirm that the bond between the countries is “unbreakable” is better than nothing. But what real content does it have? Does that bond extend to guaranteeing that Israel does not face an existential threat?

Unfortunately, Jewish groups and pro-Israel lawmakers have been suckered into the peace-process obsession, calling for more negotiations after the flotilla incident, after the Jerusalem housing spat,  and as Iran continues its quest to acquire nuclear weapons. It is more than a nervous tic — it is a wrongheaded attachment to a process that is going nowhere at the expense of focusing on dire issues.

The UAE ambassador has his eye on the ball. Maybe he can have a chat with Mullins and explain what is truly destabilizing, and unimaginable, for the moderate Arab states of the region.

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Galston Talks Sense About Israel

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel – and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel – and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

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Why Israel Can’t Rely on American Jewish “Leaders”

Rabbi Jack Moline, who organized the spin-a-thon for the White House attended by a group of rabbis, has circulated an e-mail summarizing the meeting. It is, to be blunt, embarrassing.

As to the build-up, Moline lets on that no one predisposed to say nasty things about Obama was invited, nor was anyone who didn’t vote for him. (“We also wanted people who had not engaged in the kinds of behaviors I mentioned in my introduction, which is to say people who had been positively predisposed to President Obama once the election was over, but found themselves troubled by what had transpired over the subsequent year.”) How comfy for the White House to be assured of a hand-selected group of those Jews who ignored all signs of Obama’s antipathy toward Israel (20 years in Rev. Wright’s church isn’t nothing) and who voted for Rashid Khalidi’s pal. In other words, these are Jews prone to disregard evidence of Obama’s hostility toward the Jewish state.

As to the substance, Moline got this response to a query as to why a Jerusalem housing permit was more important than stopping an Iranian nuclear program:

I can tell you that our hosts bristled, and they objected mightily to the comparison. Amb. Ross, who is the person in charge of Iran policy, made it clear that nothing is off the table when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The goal, however, is not to secure a short-term delay, but to remove possibility that efforts at creating a nuclear arsenal will resurface. That requires isolating Iran in the world community. Two years ago, Mr. Emanuel said, the United States was virtually isolated in the Middle East and Iran enjoyed the sympathy of much of the world. Today that situation is reversed, but both Russia and China are dragging their feet, hoping that the US will relieve them of the need to participate in sanctions and other isolating activities. (I might add here that yesterday afternoon, the announcement was made that Russia and China have signed onto sanctions.) The President spends a huge amount of time every day working on the problem of Iran, and is making progress. Ultimately, the goal is to see the fissures in Iranian society open to create a climate for systemic change.

Let’s count the inanities in that one. First,  Dennis Ross is in charge of Iran policy but hasn’t apparently been able to stop multiple officials from clearly signaling that military force is off the table. Second, it’s false that Iran enjoyed the sympathy of the world (there were multiple sanctions passed for Iran’s violations of UN agreements) or that the U.S. was isolated in the Middle East. For starters, we had a warm and robust relationship with Israel. And we had useful dealings with many of the moderate states, including Jordan, which was not induced by the president to issue provocative statements about Israel. Third, Moline certainly got the sanctions wrong — Russia has been exempted and the sanctions are of minimal value. The administration — of course — concealed Russia’s carve-outs from the assembled group. (Swell to hide the ball from the rabbis, nu?) And lastly, Obama may be working hard but there’s no credible plan to thwart the Iranian nuclear program, as Robert Gates pointed out earlier in the year when he sent up a warning flag.

Next up was the building issue, in which Ross, now the facilitator in chief who has chosen to disregard past lessons learned about Palestinian intransigence, tries to snow the rabbis with this howler:

As for building in Jerusalem, Amb. Ross very calmly pointed out that US policy on building in any territory captured in 1967 has not changed since the Johnson administration. The US has objected officially to all such activity which is defined by policy as settlements. He also noted that the last four high-level US officials to visit Israel were greeted by announcements of new settlement activity, going back to Sec’y of State Condoleeza Rice during the Bush administration. He emphasized that he understood that there were reasons in Israeli domestic politics that may have influenced those decisions, but it was no way to treat an ally out to make a point of support. Amb. Ross said that the matter of settlements and the matter of Palestinian provocations are avoidable distractions. A simple code of conduct that would move talks forward could prevent both, and the administration has been pressing both sides to adopt one.

Ross chose not to mention the Sharon-Bush agreements, on which the Obama team reneged, or to acknowledge that no other administration has made an international incident out of Jerusalem building. And it’s pure gall to chastise Israel that their conduct is “no way to treat an ally.” Apparently Ross was so desperate to return to one final round in government that he is now willing not only to join an administration hostile to Israel but also to join in the Israel-bashing.

Moline then reports on the list of forehead-slappers. There was this: “The Obama administration has been consistent in its support of Israel.” Oh really? Condemning the Jewish state is consistent support? Leaking the potential for an imposed peace deal is consistent support? Repeatedly snubbing Bibi is consistent support? And holding up the Cairo speech as evidence of their support, as Moline reports, is bizarre. It is this speech in which Obama cast the Palestinians in the role of enslaved African Americans, posited that Israel’s legitimacy rests on the Holocaust, soft-pedaled Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and chose to largely ignore 60 years of wars and rejectionism by the Palestinians and by Israel’s neighbors.

Then there is this one: “There has been no change in US policy toward Israel in the United Nations.” Whoa! We failed to veto an anti-Israel resolution. We joined the Israel-bashing Human Rights Council and let Israel’s prime antagonist onto the Commission on the Status of Women. And we apparently told the Palestinians that we wouldn’t veto a future resolution of condemnation if Israel continued to build in its eternal capital.

Moline reports that the administration’s representatives explained the order of their priorities: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, getting out of Iraq, and the Israel-Palestinian “peace process.” Unclear then, why every administration figure who speaks in public, including the president in Cairo, emphasizes the latter and gives short-shrift to Iran. Unclear then why the president has voiced a que sera, sera view of sanctions, carved out Russia from UN sanctions, and spent the last 17 months not promoting regime change, not adhering to deadlines, and not imposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.” Not confident? Well, when you handpick the audience and don’t have knowledgeable representatives willing to take on the administration’s fabrications, that’s what you get. And finally, Moline gets very upset — more upset than at the president — for critics questioning the motives and actions of Rahm Emanuel.

This is what passes for “leadership” in American Jewry. A kabuki dance is orchestrated by an Obama fan to gather other Obama fans to air the mildest criticism and to avoid challenging the factual representations of an administration that is the most hostile to the Jewish state in history. As one Israeli hand who definitely isn’t going to be invited to any meetings with this president put it: “They may be fine rabbis, but they are out of their league here.” And by not directly and strongly taking on the president, they are, in fact, enabling the president’s anti-Israel stance. It is, come to think of it, more than an embarrassment; it is an egregious misuse of their status and it is every bit as dangerous as the quietude of American Jews in the 1930s.

Rabbi Jack Moline, who organized the spin-a-thon for the White House attended by a group of rabbis, has circulated an e-mail summarizing the meeting. It is, to be blunt, embarrassing.

As to the build-up, Moline lets on that no one predisposed to say nasty things about Obama was invited, nor was anyone who didn’t vote for him. (“We also wanted people who had not engaged in the kinds of behaviors I mentioned in my introduction, which is to say people who had been positively predisposed to President Obama once the election was over, but found themselves troubled by what had transpired over the subsequent year.”) How comfy for the White House to be assured of a hand-selected group of those Jews who ignored all signs of Obama’s antipathy toward Israel (20 years in Rev. Wright’s church isn’t nothing) and who voted for Rashid Khalidi’s pal. In other words, these are Jews prone to disregard evidence of Obama’s hostility toward the Jewish state.

As to the substance, Moline got this response to a query as to why a Jerusalem housing permit was more important than stopping an Iranian nuclear program:

I can tell you that our hosts bristled, and they objected mightily to the comparison. Amb. Ross, who is the person in charge of Iran policy, made it clear that nothing is off the table when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The goal, however, is not to secure a short-term delay, but to remove possibility that efforts at creating a nuclear arsenal will resurface. That requires isolating Iran in the world community. Two years ago, Mr. Emanuel said, the United States was virtually isolated in the Middle East and Iran enjoyed the sympathy of much of the world. Today that situation is reversed, but both Russia and China are dragging their feet, hoping that the US will relieve them of the need to participate in sanctions and other isolating activities. (I might add here that yesterday afternoon, the announcement was made that Russia and China have signed onto sanctions.) The President spends a huge amount of time every day working on the problem of Iran, and is making progress. Ultimately, the goal is to see the fissures in Iranian society open to create a climate for systemic change.

Let’s count the inanities in that one. First,  Dennis Ross is in charge of Iran policy but hasn’t apparently been able to stop multiple officials from clearly signaling that military force is off the table. Second, it’s false that Iran enjoyed the sympathy of the world (there were multiple sanctions passed for Iran’s violations of UN agreements) or that the U.S. was isolated in the Middle East. For starters, we had a warm and robust relationship with Israel. And we had useful dealings with many of the moderate states, including Jordan, which was not induced by the president to issue provocative statements about Israel. Third, Moline certainly got the sanctions wrong — Russia has been exempted and the sanctions are of minimal value. The administration — of course — concealed Russia’s carve-outs from the assembled group. (Swell to hide the ball from the rabbis, nu?) And lastly, Obama may be working hard but there’s no credible plan to thwart the Iranian nuclear program, as Robert Gates pointed out earlier in the year when he sent up a warning flag.

Next up was the building issue, in which Ross, now the facilitator in chief who has chosen to disregard past lessons learned about Palestinian intransigence, tries to snow the rabbis with this howler:

As for building in Jerusalem, Amb. Ross very calmly pointed out that US policy on building in any territory captured in 1967 has not changed since the Johnson administration. The US has objected officially to all such activity which is defined by policy as settlements. He also noted that the last four high-level US officials to visit Israel were greeted by announcements of new settlement activity, going back to Sec’y of State Condoleeza Rice during the Bush administration. He emphasized that he understood that there were reasons in Israeli domestic politics that may have influenced those decisions, but it was no way to treat an ally out to make a point of support. Amb. Ross said that the matter of settlements and the matter of Palestinian provocations are avoidable distractions. A simple code of conduct that would move talks forward could prevent both, and the administration has been pressing both sides to adopt one.

Ross chose not to mention the Sharon-Bush agreements, on which the Obama team reneged, or to acknowledge that no other administration has made an international incident out of Jerusalem building. And it’s pure gall to chastise Israel that their conduct is “no way to treat an ally.” Apparently Ross was so desperate to return to one final round in government that he is now willing not only to join an administration hostile to Israel but also to join in the Israel-bashing.

Moline then reports on the list of forehead-slappers. There was this: “The Obama administration has been consistent in its support of Israel.” Oh really? Condemning the Jewish state is consistent support? Leaking the potential for an imposed peace deal is consistent support? Repeatedly snubbing Bibi is consistent support? And holding up the Cairo speech as evidence of their support, as Moline reports, is bizarre. It is this speech in which Obama cast the Palestinians in the role of enslaved African Americans, posited that Israel’s legitimacy rests on the Holocaust, soft-pedaled Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and chose to largely ignore 60 years of wars and rejectionism by the Palestinians and by Israel’s neighbors.

Then there is this one: “There has been no change in US policy toward Israel in the United Nations.” Whoa! We failed to veto an anti-Israel resolution. We joined the Israel-bashing Human Rights Council and let Israel’s prime antagonist onto the Commission on the Status of Women. And we apparently told the Palestinians that we wouldn’t veto a future resolution of condemnation if Israel continued to build in its eternal capital.

Moline reports that the administration’s representatives explained the order of their priorities: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, getting out of Iraq, and the Israel-Palestinian “peace process.” Unclear then, why every administration figure who speaks in public, including the president in Cairo, emphasizes the latter and gives short-shrift to Iran. Unclear then why the president has voiced a que sera, sera view of sanctions, carved out Russia from UN sanctions, and spent the last 17 months not promoting regime change, not adhering to deadlines, and not imposing crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.” Not confident? Well, when you handpick the audience and don’t have knowledgeable representatives willing to take on the administration’s fabrications, that’s what you get. And finally, Moline gets very upset — more upset than at the president — for critics questioning the motives and actions of Rahm Emanuel.

This is what passes for “leadership” in American Jewry. A kabuki dance is orchestrated by an Obama fan to gather other Obama fans to air the mildest criticism and to avoid challenging the factual representations of an administration that is the most hostile to the Jewish state in history. As one Israeli hand who definitely isn’t going to be invited to any meetings with this president put it: “They may be fine rabbis, but they are out of their league here.” And by not directly and strongly taking on the president, they are, in fact, enabling the president’s anti-Israel stance. It is, come to think of it, more than an embarrassment; it is an egregious misuse of their status and it is every bit as dangerous as the quietude of American Jews in the 1930s.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.’” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.’” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

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Why Doesn’t Obama “Panic” About Iran?

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program’”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program’”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

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Dan Coats vs. Obama on the Middle East

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

I spoke this morning with Dan Coats, former senator and ambassador to Germany and now the GOP front-runner in the Indiana senate race. Together with Charles Robb and Charles Ward Coats, he had authored two reports urging a firm timetable, sanctions that “bite,” and preservation of military options to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

After fifteen months of Obama’s attempts to engage Iran, I asked Coats if Obama’s policy was a failure. “Yes, it certainly has failed. Engagement has done nothing but buy time” for the mullahs to pursue their nuclear plans, he explained. He noted that during the Bush administration we deferred to our European allies. So, he concludes, “It has been almost a decade that we’ve been down this road. The open hand has been slapped back.” In essence, Iran has, he says, simply played the “rope-a-dope game.”

Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correct in warning that we lack a viable plan? Coats replies, “Yes. We are lacking a viable plan because they are lacking a commander in chief to order them to put together a viable plan.” He says that a nuclear-armed Iran is our “most imminent security challenge” and yet the administration seems unwilling to examine what a nuclear-armed Iran and a potential containment strategy would look like. The sanctions currently under discussion, he explains, are deficient. His reports argued for sanctions that “bite.” He says, “If Russia and China are outside the noose, they aren’t going to be effective.”

As for containment, Coats says that analogies to the Cold War are misplaced. Then, he recalls, we had “buffer states, a military prepared to deal with any breach, Pershing missiles, and 300,000 troops in Europe.” Moreover, he says, “Clearly, we are dealing with a much more unstable regime that has defied world opinion.”

I ask him whether the focus on the Palestinian “peace process” has distracted us from the Iranian threat or undermined the U.S.-Israel alliance. He says that with a nuclear-armed Iran “the very existence of Israel would be at stake.” He says that absent a more credible policy by the U.S., “Israel will be forced to act. It is unthinkable that the U.S. will passively stand aside [while Israel takes action].” He explains that “our credibility around the world” would be irreparably harmed as it became clear that the U.S. was unwilling to protect the security of any nation. As for the peace process, he says that “it is simply a cop out” to say that we need progress there in order to deal with the threats to Middle East peace. “I don’t for a moment think that even we had resolution [of the Palestinian conflict] we would have a kumbaya moment in the Middle East.” The mullahs have their own agenda and time table, he notes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue it [a resolution of the Palestinian conflict] but we have been pursuing it for half a century.”

Finally, I ask him about the Obama administration’s desire to return our ambassador to Syria. He says, “We are past that. What we need is the administration to stand up to the reality of what is taking place in the Middle East — to show resolve and to show strength.” He says the move conveys weakness and we risk sending the signal that “we are not prepared to defend Israel.” He reminds us that this president had promised to use “all” aspects of American power. But, he says, Obama is not “willing to use American power. They must be laughing at us in the councils of Iran. And Israel sits on a powder keg.” He closes by warning that it may now be too late to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans, “We’re going to read in a few months that the game is over.”

Coats provides a stark contrast to the happy talk one hears from Hillary Clinton and the other administration spinners. Should he win the primary, we will perhaps see a spirited debate on Obama’s Middle East policy, unless, of course, the Democratic nominee is willing to break with Obama as Chuck Schumer did. Other senate candidates will face a similar choice.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

Harry Reid has even managed to stiffen Olympia Snowe’s spine: “For a second day in row, Democrats failed to open debate on a Wall Street reform bill after Senate Republicans held ranks to block it. The vote was 57 to 41, with all Republicans who were present voting no. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote no on Monday, and he voted no again. … In fact, some of the moderates who might be most likely to vote yes — such as Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — have expressed displeasure that Reid is forcing the votes even as bipartisan negotiations on the bill go forward.”

Tom Goldstein thinks Obama will pick Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. Among his smart observations: “Elena Kagan has significant demonstrated success in working with conservatives at Harvard Law School, which is an exceptionally challenging environment, and has parallels to the relationships at the Court. But she has never been a judge, and would as a consequence presumably take longer than the others to adapt to the new role.”

Israel isn’t going to buy into “containment” if that’s where Obama is heading with Iran: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world cannot afford to wait too long to see if Iran backs down on its nuclear program while in Washington on Tuesday. In a news conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak said he supports the US focus on tougher economic sanctions against Teheran, but he added that only time will tell to what extent sanctions are effective in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Barak says that if the international community waits too long, Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon that he says would ‘change the landscape,’ and not just of the Middle East.”

According to Robert Gates, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.” So what are we going to do about it?

Not remotely the most transparent administration in history: “The Obama administration has only partially complied with congressional subpoenas for information on the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The failure by the Defense and Justice departments to turn over all the requested documentation — which they say they do not intend to do — is not likely to ease the growing tension between some key senators and the Obama administration over the incident at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009.”

Jeb Bush speaks out against Arizona’s immigration law. “I think it creates unintended consequences. … It’s difficult for me to imagine how you’re going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well.”

Michael Gerson: “American states have broad powers. But they are not permitted their own foreign or immigration policy. One reason is that immigration law concerns not only the treatment of illegal immigrants but also the proper treatment of American citizens. And here the Arizona law fails badly. … Americans are not accustomed to the command ‘Your papers, please,’ however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’”

The Obami’s multilaterialism fetish continues: “Step by tentative step, the Obama Administration is getting closer to embracing the International Criminal Court. The White House won’t join the Hague-based body soon, but that’s its logical endpoint. Answerable to virtually no one, the ICC was created by the 1998 United Nations’s Rome Statute to prosecute war and other ‘serious’ crimes.”

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