Commentary Magazine


Topic: Robert Gates

Don’t Ask When, Don’t Tell the Left They’ve Been Conned

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

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Taliban Reintegration

It’s a good idea to create a “reintegration” program that will allow fighters to leave the Taliban with some prospect of employment, education, housing, and other essentials. That’s what the government of Afghanistan, in cooperation with the U.S., Britain, and other allies, is announcing today in London. Just don’t expect a lot of Taliban defectors to make use of the program until security conditions change on the ground.

As it stands now, former Taliban are more worried about their lives than their livelihoods, and for good reason: in the climate of pervasive insecurity that still exists in much of eastern and southern Afghanistan, Afghan and NATO forces do not have the ability to protect the people from Taliban retribution. That means that Taliban interested in self-preservation — which, it is safe to assume, means most of them — will not switch sides until the balance of power shifts, and it begins to look as if they are leaving the losing side for the winning side.

That calculus applies just as strongly to efforts to encourage high-level reconciliation — i.e., to lure high-level Taliban into the government — or tribal engagement. These are both good ideas that have scant chance of success right now. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week, “until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.”

The problem is that it will take some time to change the momentum on the ground. All of the 30,000-plus reinforcements ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama will not arrive until the end of the summer, at best. Then they will have to go to villages where the Taliban lurk and win the trust of the people. Good counterinsurgency cannot be done quickly, yet the troops know that they are on the clock: Obama has said he will begin a drawdown beginning in the summer of 2011. The Taliban know it, too, and that makes it easier for them to keep wavering Afghans in line by telling them that they cannot trust the Americans to protect them. That very public deadline makes it harder to get momentum and thus sabotages the very efforts at reintegration, reconciliation, and tribal engagement that the administration is now promoting.

It’s a good idea to create a “reintegration” program that will allow fighters to leave the Taliban with some prospect of employment, education, housing, and other essentials. That’s what the government of Afghanistan, in cooperation with the U.S., Britain, and other allies, is announcing today in London. Just don’t expect a lot of Taliban defectors to make use of the program until security conditions change on the ground.

As it stands now, former Taliban are more worried about their lives than their livelihoods, and for good reason: in the climate of pervasive insecurity that still exists in much of eastern and southern Afghanistan, Afghan and NATO forces do not have the ability to protect the people from Taliban retribution. That means that Taliban interested in self-preservation — which, it is safe to assume, means most of them — will not switch sides until the balance of power shifts, and it begins to look as if they are leaving the losing side for the winning side.

That calculus applies just as strongly to efforts to encourage high-level reconciliation — i.e., to lure high-level Taliban into the government — or tribal engagement. These are both good ideas that have scant chance of success right now. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week, “until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.”

The problem is that it will take some time to change the momentum on the ground. All of the 30,000-plus reinforcements ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama will not arrive until the end of the summer, at best. Then they will have to go to villages where the Taliban lurk and win the trust of the people. Good counterinsurgency cannot be done quickly, yet the troops know that they are on the clock: Obama has said he will begin a drawdown beginning in the summer of 2011. The Taliban know it, too, and that makes it easier for them to keep wavering Afghans in line by telling them that they cannot trust the Americans to protect them. That very public deadline makes it harder to get momentum and thus sabotages the very efforts at reintegration, reconciliation, and tribal engagement that the administration is now promoting.

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No Way to Run a War

It seems that even on Afghanistan, arguably the high point of Obama’s foreign policy to date (everything in politics is relative), things are not going smoothly. Jamie Fly observes: “With the president having decided to send Gen. McChrystal the bulk of the additional forces he requested, one would think that all is settled, right? Well, it seems that key White House officials don’t think so. They continue to snipe at Gen. McChrystal as he sets out to implement the strategy that the president announced at West Point on December 1.”

First we saw Joe Biden denying that the president had adopted an insurgency strategy and reinforcing the notion that a withdrawal in 18 months would amount to a quick drawdown in forces, not at all what McChrystal, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates had explained. Fly notes another round of leaking via the New York Times in which it appears that “White House officials are supposedly upset because an essential component of a fast drawdown in 2011 is getting the initial surge there as soon as possible to begin to make progress. The Pentagon agrees with the need to make progress quickly, but is dealing with real-world logistical challenges of implementing what is essentially a politically-imposed timeline.” Fly concludes that the ever-so-helpful Joe Biden is up to no good:

It seems that Biden et al. are still frustrated that the lost the battle during the Afghanistan policy review (Biden was also on the losing side of the first review back in March as well) and are looking for ways to further their agenda and sow doubt about what can be accomplished prior to July 2011.

This illustrates several unfortunate aspects of the Obama White House, the first being Joe Biden. Yes, he’s Obama’s choice and he’s proved to be a gaffe machine, a policy disaster, and the source of much angst. (Do we think Hillary is betting he’ll be bounced in 2012? ) But more fundamentally, it shows that the president often seems to be a bystander in his own administration. Where is his forceful follow-up on the West Point speech? Why wasn’t he reinforcing McChrystal’s position. Well, recall that no sooner had he delivered the West Point address than he was on 60 Minutes bad-mouthing triumphalism and emphasizing that he didn’t much care for those open-ended commitments. So really, if there’s a vacuum in presidential leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it filled by Biden or others.

And finally, we see how very hard it is for the White House to turn that corner that many conservatives keep spotting. Obama really is stepping up to the plate and embracing the job of commander in chief, we were told. But it’s never quite clear that his heart is in it. He described Afghanistan as “a critical war” . . . but . . . it’s also one the president keeps telling us has a time frame. Obama has backed his military advisers over political flunkies . . . but . . .  he can’t manage to keep the latter under wraps.

If Obama appears to domestic observers to be both conflicted and peripheral in the decision-making process for a “critical” battleground in the war against Islamic fascists, how must all this appear to our Afghan partners? Or to our enemies? Once again, Obama seems to have convinced himself that all that was required on this issue was a single decision and a speech. But of course, being commander in chief requires much more. It entails an ongoing process of rallying the country, explaining our mission, tamping down infighting, publicly supporting our military commanders, and assuring friends and foes that we’re committed to victory. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have other things to do. The country and his own image will suffer as a result.

It seems that even on Afghanistan, arguably the high point of Obama’s foreign policy to date (everything in politics is relative), things are not going smoothly. Jamie Fly observes: “With the president having decided to send Gen. McChrystal the bulk of the additional forces he requested, one would think that all is settled, right? Well, it seems that key White House officials don’t think so. They continue to snipe at Gen. McChrystal as he sets out to implement the strategy that the president announced at West Point on December 1.”

First we saw Joe Biden denying that the president had adopted an insurgency strategy and reinforcing the notion that a withdrawal in 18 months would amount to a quick drawdown in forces, not at all what McChrystal, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates had explained. Fly notes another round of leaking via the New York Times in which it appears that “White House officials are supposedly upset because an essential component of a fast drawdown in 2011 is getting the initial surge there as soon as possible to begin to make progress. The Pentagon agrees with the need to make progress quickly, but is dealing with real-world logistical challenges of implementing what is essentially a politically-imposed timeline.” Fly concludes that the ever-so-helpful Joe Biden is up to no good:

It seems that Biden et al. are still frustrated that the lost the battle during the Afghanistan policy review (Biden was also on the losing side of the first review back in March as well) and are looking for ways to further their agenda and sow doubt about what can be accomplished prior to July 2011.

This illustrates several unfortunate aspects of the Obama White House, the first being Joe Biden. Yes, he’s Obama’s choice and he’s proved to be a gaffe machine, a policy disaster, and the source of much angst. (Do we think Hillary is betting he’ll be bounced in 2012? ) But more fundamentally, it shows that the president often seems to be a bystander in his own administration. Where is his forceful follow-up on the West Point speech? Why wasn’t he reinforcing McChrystal’s position. Well, recall that no sooner had he delivered the West Point address than he was on 60 Minutes bad-mouthing triumphalism and emphasizing that he didn’t much care for those open-ended commitments. So really, if there’s a vacuum in presidential leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it filled by Biden or others.

And finally, we see how very hard it is for the White House to turn that corner that many conservatives keep spotting. Obama really is stepping up to the plate and embracing the job of commander in chief, we were told. But it’s never quite clear that his heart is in it. He described Afghanistan as “a critical war” . . . but . . . it’s also one the president keeps telling us has a time frame. Obama has backed his military advisers over political flunkies . . . but . . .  he can’t manage to keep the latter under wraps.

If Obama appears to domestic observers to be both conflicted and peripheral in the decision-making process for a “critical” battleground in the war against Islamic fascists, how must all this appear to our Afghan partners? Or to our enemies? Once again, Obama seems to have convinced himself that all that was required on this issue was a single decision and a speech. But of course, being commander in chief requires much more. It entails an ongoing process of rallying the country, explaining our mission, tamping down infighting, publicly supporting our military commanders, and assuring friends and foes that we’re committed to victory. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have other things to do. The country and his own image will suffer as a result.

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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RE: Can the Obama Administration Afford Any More Missteps?

Well, Pete, they had another today from Christina Romer, who seems to be, like Robert Gates, one of the few in this administration who really can’t lie. For months and months, Democrats have been pushing the notion that we’re going to save money by enacting health-care “reform.” This is balderdash, of course. Today Romer agreed:

We are going to be expanding coverage to some 30 million Americans. And, of course, that’s going to up the level of health-care spending. You can’t do that and not spend more.

But eventually, she says, there will be “a dramatic impact on where we are relative to where we might otherwise have been.” Sort of sounds like those millions of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus plan that saw us go from 8 percent unemployment to double digits. She explains:

While the legislation initially would increase government spending on Medicare and Medicaid, Romer told reporters, the total cost of the two programs would begin to diminish by 2019, when the legislation would deliver an estimated $14 billion in savings. Lower payments to Medicare providers would translate into savings for Medicare beneficiaries, who have seen some premiums double over the past decade, rising at three times the rate of Social Security.

So by slashing payments to doctors and hospitals, we’ll save money. Maybe. In 10 years. Who could resist such a plan?

Well, Pete, they had another today from Christina Romer, who seems to be, like Robert Gates, one of the few in this administration who really can’t lie. For months and months, Democrats have been pushing the notion that we’re going to save money by enacting health-care “reform.” This is balderdash, of course. Today Romer agreed:

We are going to be expanding coverage to some 30 million Americans. And, of course, that’s going to up the level of health-care spending. You can’t do that and not spend more.

But eventually, she says, there will be “a dramatic impact on where we are relative to where we might otherwise have been.” Sort of sounds like those millions of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus plan that saw us go from 8 percent unemployment to double digits. She explains:

While the legislation initially would increase government spending on Medicare and Medicaid, Romer told reporters, the total cost of the two programs would begin to diminish by 2019, when the legislation would deliver an estimated $14 billion in savings. Lower payments to Medicare providers would translate into savings for Medicare beneficiaries, who have seen some premiums double over the past decade, rising at three times the rate of Social Security.

So by slashing payments to doctors and hospitals, we’ll save money. Maybe. In 10 years. Who could resist such a plan?

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60 Minutes and One Giant Step Back

For those celebrating the West Point and Oslo speeches – and reassured by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates that the 18-month “deadline” wasn’t a deadline, Obama’s 60 Minutes interview should come as a rude awakening. The lefty netroot rhetoric, contemptuous of the idea that victory is America’s goal and that of the commander in chief, was back in full force. And typically for Obama, it came in an apparent fit of pique after Steve Kroft criticized his West Point speech as too detached and unemotional:

You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were gonna be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.

There is not a speech that I’ve made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech. But I do think that it was important in that speech to recognize that there are costs to war. That this is a burden we don’t welcome. It’s one that was foisted on us as a consequence of 19 men deciding to kill thousands of Americans back in 2001. That there’s unfinished business. And, you know, I think that one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. This is a tough business. And there are tough costs to it. And I think because it was detached from our day to day lives in so many ways — unless you were a military family; unless you were one of those who were being deployed. Because we didn’t even get asked to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tendency to say, “We can go in. We can kick some tail. You know this is some glorious exercise.”

For starters, there’s something odd indeed about this president if he considers his West Point offering an emotional speech. (Perhaps next time he could tap his foot or the podium to signal his heightened emotional state.) But the remainder of his comments on this point are simply jaw-dropping. We learn that he’s above all that “We win, they lose” sort of stuff. We have troops in the field, and this president disparages the notion that we should commit ourselves to victory — triumph – and declare our motives “glorious.” Are they not? Isn’t this about fighting “evil”? One can hardly imagine any other president turning up his nose at the idea that we should unashamedly declare ourselves devoted to triumph in battle or that our cause in defending ourselves (and Western civilization) is anything other than glorious. Can one imagine if he had said that in front of the West Point cadets? I suspect he wouldn’t have dared. Read More

For those celebrating the West Point and Oslo speeches – and reassured by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates that the 18-month “deadline” wasn’t a deadline, Obama’s 60 Minutes interview should come as a rude awakening. The lefty netroot rhetoric, contemptuous of the idea that victory is America’s goal and that of the commander in chief, was back in full force. And typically for Obama, it came in an apparent fit of pique after Steve Kroft criticized his West Point speech as too detached and unemotional:

You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were gonna be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.

There is not a speech that I’ve made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech. But I do think that it was important in that speech to recognize that there are costs to war. That this is a burden we don’t welcome. It’s one that was foisted on us as a consequence of 19 men deciding to kill thousands of Americans back in 2001. That there’s unfinished business. And, you know, I think that one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. This is a tough business. And there are tough costs to it. And I think because it was detached from our day to day lives in so many ways — unless you were a military family; unless you were one of those who were being deployed. Because we didn’t even get asked to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tendency to say, “We can go in. We can kick some tail. You know this is some glorious exercise.”

For starters, there’s something odd indeed about this president if he considers his West Point offering an emotional speech. (Perhaps next time he could tap his foot or the podium to signal his heightened emotional state.) But the remainder of his comments on this point are simply jaw-dropping. We learn that he’s above all that “We win, they lose” sort of stuff. We have troops in the field, and this president disparages the notion that we should commit ourselves to victory — triumph – and declare our motives “glorious.” Are they not? Isn’t this about fighting “evil”? One can hardly imagine any other president turning up his nose at the idea that we should unashamedly declare ourselves devoted to triumph in battle or that our cause in defending ourselves (and Western civilization) is anything other than glorious. Can one imagine if he had said that in front of the West Point cadets? I suspect he wouldn’t have dared.

And then there’s the deadline. It seems that despite the best efforts of Clinton and Gates, Obama really is all about limits. He explains that “it was a mistake for us to engage in open-ended commitment in Afghanistan. That was not necessary in order for us to meet our national interests as properly defined. It was in our interest to make sure that we had this boost of troops that could train Afghan forces, stabilize the country, sustain a platform for us going after Al Qaeda aggressively. And that is exactly the order that I gave.” But he really doesn’t mean to signal to the enemy that we aren’t in this to win, does he? Hmm. After repeatedly objecting to the notion that his war address was contradictory or confusing, he had this to say:

Well, as I’ve said, we’ve got a mission that is time-definite in order to accomplish a particular goal, which is to stand up Afghan security forces. And as I said, we did this in Iraq just two years ago. And General [David] Petraeus, who was involved in my consultations in designing this strategy, I think is the first to acknowledge that had it not been for those additional troops combined with effective political work inside of Iraq, we might have seen a much worse outcome in Iraq than the one that we’re gonna see.

(Yes, Obama was one who denied that the additional troops were going to work in Iraq, but this is as close as we’re getting to a confession from him.) We then get a mishmash, at best. On one hand, he says of the drawdown:

The pace of that drawdown, how many U.S. troops are coming out, how quickly, what the slope is of that drawdown will be determined by conditions on the ground. And we are gonna be making consistent assessments to make sure that as we are standing up Afghan troops, that we are replacing U.S. troops or ally troops, and we’re not gonna do it in a precipitous way that in any way endangers our troops or endangers the progress that we’ve made.

Yet he’s also signaling that the limit itself is necessary because he and his constituents have other things to do: “In the absence of a deadline, the message we are sending to the Afghans is, ‘It’s business as usual. This is an open-ended commitment.’ ” Later on, he emphasizes:

I think what is true is that if we have an open-ended commitment in a place like Afghanistan with no clear benchmarks for what success means, that the American people who have just gone through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, who’ve already endured eight years of war, at some point are gonna say: enough. And rightly so. And my job is to come up with a strategy that is time-constrained, that matches the resources that we’re expended to the nature of our national interest.

Actually, his job is to win a critical war. But he’s not into triumphalism.

Frankly the interview is a mess — a mass of contradictory signals and a leap back into netroot-land. According to the 60 Minutes Obama, we shouldn’t announce that we intend to triumph. Our cause shouldn’t be characterized as glorious. We’ve got limited time and resources for this sort of war. I think the Obama’s spinners who promoted the appearance of a tougher, more realistic, and frankly more pro-American Obama will have their work cut out for them explaining away the 60 Minutes Obama.

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What Deciders Must Do

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

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Finding His Inner Pol

Noemie Emery smartly observes, “Patrolling the world is not an idea that appeals to Obama by nature, nor one he can reach without strain.” She explains:

He was not taken, like Kennedy, to North Church as a toddler, and made to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride.” In more ways than one he grew up outside of the mainland, with an outsider’s view of America’s presence, and when he came here, he gravitated to its more radical critics. … If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, Obama is a liberal who is being mugged slowly by the realization that the weight of the world really does rest on his shoulders: That he is no longer an outsider or activist or a professor, but the real life commander in chief.

It isn’t yet clear that Obama has made that transition or is willing to put aside his lefty academic fixations. At West Point, he still couldn’t get out the word victory or avoid providing the netroots with a security blanket (i.e., a withdrawal date), which then had to be ripped from their clutches by the principal grown-up in the administration, Robert Gates. At West Point, Obama also felt compelled to prattle on about “prohibiting torture” (actually, he prohibited everything from a face slap to loud music; torture was illegal before) and closing Guantanamo. He’s still pressing ahead with the KSM civilian trial. All this suggests that he’s not quite able to give up the lure of leftist lawyers and activists, whose goal above all else is to demonstrate the Neanderthal-ness of the Bushies. Being commander in chief means fighting a war on terror against the terrorists, not the prior administration or our own intelligence community.

Meanwhile Obama seems blissfully unconcerned about Iran’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons and disdain for engagement. He seems to lack a viable Plan B. (Plan A was “Obama charms the mullahs by denigrating America.”) As Bob Kagan wrote recently, we don’t yet know whether Obama can play “hardball” with our enemies (the real ones, not Fox News and ObamaCare opponents).

But Obama is plainly a president in progress when it comes to foreign policy. He had no significant national-security or military experience before coming to the Oval Office, so it’s not surprising that he would treat war-planning like a negotiation over a public-works bill. Perhaps their all-consuming addiction to politics and desire to see foreign policy through the prism of domestic politics will, in this case, actually help the Obami get it right. After all, the public opposes a KSM civilian trial and the closing of Guantanamo, is willing to use military force to deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons, and is supportive of a troop surge for Afghanistan. So if Obama can’t find his inner commander in chief, perhaps he can simply be a smart pol — something he’s quite practiced at.

Noemie Emery smartly observes, “Patrolling the world is not an idea that appeals to Obama by nature, nor one he can reach without strain.” She explains:

He was not taken, like Kennedy, to North Church as a toddler, and made to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride.” In more ways than one he grew up outside of the mainland, with an outsider’s view of America’s presence, and when he came here, he gravitated to its more radical critics. … If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, Obama is a liberal who is being mugged slowly by the realization that the weight of the world really does rest on his shoulders: That he is no longer an outsider or activist or a professor, but the real life commander in chief.

It isn’t yet clear that Obama has made that transition or is willing to put aside his lefty academic fixations. At West Point, he still couldn’t get out the word victory or avoid providing the netroots with a security blanket (i.e., a withdrawal date), which then had to be ripped from their clutches by the principal grown-up in the administration, Robert Gates. At West Point, Obama also felt compelled to prattle on about “prohibiting torture” (actually, he prohibited everything from a face slap to loud music; torture was illegal before) and closing Guantanamo. He’s still pressing ahead with the KSM civilian trial. All this suggests that he’s not quite able to give up the lure of leftist lawyers and activists, whose goal above all else is to demonstrate the Neanderthal-ness of the Bushies. Being commander in chief means fighting a war on terror against the terrorists, not the prior administration or our own intelligence community.

Meanwhile Obama seems blissfully unconcerned about Iran’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons and disdain for engagement. He seems to lack a viable Plan B. (Plan A was “Obama charms the mullahs by denigrating America.”) As Bob Kagan wrote recently, we don’t yet know whether Obama can play “hardball” with our enemies (the real ones, not Fox News and ObamaCare opponents).

But Obama is plainly a president in progress when it comes to foreign policy. He had no significant national-security or military experience before coming to the Oval Office, so it’s not surprising that he would treat war-planning like a negotiation over a public-works bill. Perhaps their all-consuming addiction to politics and desire to see foreign policy through the prism of domestic politics will, in this case, actually help the Obami get it right. After all, the public opposes a KSM civilian trial and the closing of Guantanamo, is willing to use military force to deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons, and is supportive of a troop surge for Afghanistan. So if Obama can’t find his inner commander in chief, perhaps he can simply be a smart pol — something he’s quite practiced at.

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Uh . . . Never Mind

The New York Times dryly notes: “The Obama administration sent a forceful public message Sunday that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal.” Nowhere was this more evident that on Meet the Press, where Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, every way they could, sought to downplay and erase the 18-month deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that the president described in his West Point speech.

They had to, of course. The contradiction between the need for a full commitment to a critical war and an artificial date for withdrawal is too vast and unsustainable, both logically and politically. It is a tribute to conservatives who have argued strenuously against the imposition of such a deadline — and those lawmakers who have grilled the administration on the point — that the administration is essentially saying, “Never mind.” Gates explained:

It’s the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field. … It will begin in July of 2011. But how, how quickly it goes will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a significant number of forces in there … or some considerable period of time after that.

Clinton concurred that “we’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline. What we’re talking about is an assessment that in January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces.”

And what of the president’s nagging worry, apparently the origin of the artificial deadline that we would be there “forever” without such a date? Sen. McCain, also appearing on Meet the Press, debunked that shopworn argument:

Well, the rationale for war is to break the enemy’s will. That’s the whole rationale for war. Do you break the enemy’s will by saying, “We’re going to be there,” or send a message we’re going to be there for a year and a half or so and then we’re going to begin to leave, no matter what the circumstances are? Or do you tell them, “We’re going to win and we’re going to break your will, and then we’re going to leave”? That’s, that’s, that’s a huge factor in the conduct of war.

This suggests that the elaborate decision-making process and the highly anticipated speech were flawed and ill-conceived, now requiring a rather embarrassing and hasty effort to explain, refine, retract, and ultimately walk back the president’s own words. If McCain is right and success in a counterinsurgency depends on unnerving the enemy, reference to a withdrawal date was a significant misstep. On the other hand, it’s rather plain that no one in the administration is willing to defend a date-certain deadline.

Conservatives have won the point on the essential unworkability of troop deadlines, and the administration’s effort to mollify the Left has been unmasked as silly and unhelpful rhetoric. Overall, this has proved a significant accomplishment of the loyal opposition, one that hopefully will improve its chances for success and steer the president away from similar errors in the future.

The New York Times dryly notes: “The Obama administration sent a forceful public message Sunday that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan for a long time, seeking to blunt criticism that President Obama had sent the wrong signal in his war-strategy speech last week by projecting July 2011 as the start of a withdrawal.” Nowhere was this more evident that on Meet the Press, where Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, every way they could, sought to downplay and erase the 18-month deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that the president described in his West Point speech.

They had to, of course. The contradiction between the need for a full commitment to a critical war and an artificial date for withdrawal is too vast and unsustainable, both logically and politically. It is a tribute to conservatives who have argued strenuously against the imposition of such a deadline — and those lawmakers who have grilled the administration on the point — that the administration is essentially saying, “Never mind.” Gates explained:

It’s the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field. … It will begin in July of 2011. But how, how quickly it goes will very much depend on the conditions on the ground. We will have a significant number of forces in there … or some considerable period of time after that.

Clinton concurred that “we’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline. What we’re talking about is an assessment that in January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces.”

And what of the president’s nagging worry, apparently the origin of the artificial deadline that we would be there “forever” without such a date? Sen. McCain, also appearing on Meet the Press, debunked that shopworn argument:

Well, the rationale for war is to break the enemy’s will. That’s the whole rationale for war. Do you break the enemy’s will by saying, “We’re going to be there,” or send a message we’re going to be there for a year and a half or so and then we’re going to begin to leave, no matter what the circumstances are? Or do you tell them, “We’re going to win and we’re going to break your will, and then we’re going to leave”? That’s, that’s, that’s a huge factor in the conduct of war.

This suggests that the elaborate decision-making process and the highly anticipated speech were flawed and ill-conceived, now requiring a rather embarrassing and hasty effort to explain, refine, retract, and ultimately walk back the president’s own words. If McCain is right and success in a counterinsurgency depends on unnerving the enemy, reference to a withdrawal date was a significant misstep. On the other hand, it’s rather plain that no one in the administration is willing to defend a date-certain deadline.

Conservatives have won the point on the essential unworkability of troop deadlines, and the administration’s effort to mollify the Left has been unmasked as silly and unhelpful rhetoric. Overall, this has proved a significant accomplishment of the loyal opposition, one that hopefully will improve its chances for success and steer the president away from similar errors in the future.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mitt Romney has a 10-point plan to revive the economy. The best idea: “Stop frightening the private sector by continuing to hold GM stock, by imposing tighter and tighter controls on compensation, and by pursuing a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Government encroachment on free enterprise is depressing investment and job creation.”

Why not a peace process that works? “What if instead of squandering it for sixty years on victimology and bomb-making the Palestinians had taken all the talent and ingenuity and energy for which they’re famous and expended it on building a state; on establishing a democratic government; on turning malarial swamps and barren deserts into rich, fertile farmland; on pioneering breakthroughs in science, medicine, mathematics, and technology; on music, literature, art, movies; on creating a live nation booming with progress and awash in Nobel Prizes?”

Republican Mike Castle leads by 6 points in the latest poll in the Delaware Senate race.

Gallup polling on Afghanistan: “President Obama has managed to thread the needle with his newly announced Afghanistan strategy, with his approach winning the approval of a majority of both Democrats (58%) and Republicans (55%) in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Wednesday night. … Regarding the timetable component of Obama’s new policy, the plurality of Americans, 46%, say it is too soon to set a timetable for beginning to withdraw troops.” Sometimes good policy does make good politics.

Charles Krauthammer has reason to worry over that “call to arms so ambivalent, so tentative, so defensive”: “Words matter because will matters. Success in war depends on three things: a brave and highly skilled soldiery, such as the 2009 U.S. military, the finest counterinsurgency force in history; brilliant, battle-tested commanders such as Gens. David Petraeus and McChrystal, fresh from the success of the surge in Iraq; and the will to prevail as personified by the commander in chief. … Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?”

David Broder ruefully observes: “Obama’s rhetoric was skilled enough that many of his listeners Tuesday thought they heard him promise that the buildup of forces in Afghanistan he has ordered will be suspended as early as 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is incapable of dissembling, quickly made it clear that the withdrawal will begin — not end — that year, and only if battlefield conditions permit.”

The New York Times headline reads: “Obama Tackles Jobless Woes, but Warns of Limited Funds.” Translation: sorry we spent all your money and we still have sky-high unemployment.

Sen. Ben Nelson threatens to filibuster ObamaCare without a Stupak amendment that prohibits abortion funding.

Mitt Romney has a 10-point plan to revive the economy. The best idea: “Stop frightening the private sector by continuing to hold GM stock, by imposing tighter and tighter controls on compensation, and by pursuing a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Government encroachment on free enterprise is depressing investment and job creation.”

Why not a peace process that works? “What if instead of squandering it for sixty years on victimology and bomb-making the Palestinians had taken all the talent and ingenuity and energy for which they’re famous and expended it on building a state; on establishing a democratic government; on turning malarial swamps and barren deserts into rich, fertile farmland; on pioneering breakthroughs in science, medicine, mathematics, and technology; on music, literature, art, movies; on creating a live nation booming with progress and awash in Nobel Prizes?”

Republican Mike Castle leads by 6 points in the latest poll in the Delaware Senate race.

Gallup polling on Afghanistan: “President Obama has managed to thread the needle with his newly announced Afghanistan strategy, with his approach winning the approval of a majority of both Democrats (58%) and Republicans (55%) in a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Wednesday night. … Regarding the timetable component of Obama’s new policy, the plurality of Americans, 46%, say it is too soon to set a timetable for beginning to withdraw troops.” Sometimes good policy does make good politics.

Charles Krauthammer has reason to worry over that “call to arms so ambivalent, so tentative, so defensive”: “Words matter because will matters. Success in war depends on three things: a brave and highly skilled soldiery, such as the 2009 U.S. military, the finest counterinsurgency force in history; brilliant, battle-tested commanders such as Gens. David Petraeus and McChrystal, fresh from the success of the surge in Iraq; and the will to prevail as personified by the commander in chief. … Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?”

David Broder ruefully observes: “Obama’s rhetoric was skilled enough that many of his listeners Tuesday thought they heard him promise that the buildup of forces in Afghanistan he has ordered will be suspended as early as 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is incapable of dissembling, quickly made it clear that the withdrawal will begin — not end — that year, and only if battlefield conditions permit.”

The New York Times headline reads: “Obama Tackles Jobless Woes, but Warns of Limited Funds.” Translation: sorry we spent all your money and we still have sky-high unemployment.

Sen. Ben Nelson threatens to filibuster ObamaCare without a Stupak amendment that prohibits abortion funding.

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Re: Loyal Opposition

Jonathan, so far it seems that Republican officials are doing precisely as you recommend. Sen. John McCain and many others have expressed support for the president”s decision to deploy at least 30,00 troops and praised his rejection of the advice of those in his own party who would have us retreat from the president’s self-described critical war. But with the responsibility to support an Afghanistan surge, which is in our national interest, comes the obligation to be both intellectually honest and politically candid. The roles for those in elected office and for those who observe from the sidelines may in this regard be different.

For those in elected office, the task at hand is to provide funding and oversight for the war effort. It appears there is overwhelming support among Republicans to fund the surge. But there is also the obligation on the part of lawmakers to provide oversight. How quickly can troops be deployed? How are we providing support for the Afghan government? And yes, what is this 2011 date all about?

And the loyal opposition, because it does believe in the mission, has a particular obligation to provide candid observation and advice as to the reasons why a transition date, however postured, is counterproductive. The loyal opposition is not there to cheerlead or to jeer, nor to obscure or avert its eyes. It is there to provide a voice of warning and, yes, of experience. Deadlines and withdrawal dates are, as Max pointed out, generally counterproductive. It will undermine the impact of the surge — with both foes and allies. It is the loyal opposition’s duty to explain why and to encourage and cajole the president to rethink and restate what he has in mind. We have already seen the damage-control efforts by Secretary Robert Gates and others to put that date in “perspective” — and frankly, we hope, eradicate it. Gates should be supported and encouraged in his efforts.

In sum, the loyal opposition, if it is to be loyal to the country’s national interests and to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, must be candid with the president and the voters. Where the president is right, he deserves praise. Where is is badly misguided, he deserves constructive criticism.

Jonathan, so far it seems that Republican officials are doing precisely as you recommend. Sen. John McCain and many others have expressed support for the president”s decision to deploy at least 30,00 troops and praised his rejection of the advice of those in his own party who would have us retreat from the president’s self-described critical war. But with the responsibility to support an Afghanistan surge, which is in our national interest, comes the obligation to be both intellectually honest and politically candid. The roles for those in elected office and for those who observe from the sidelines may in this regard be different.

For those in elected office, the task at hand is to provide funding and oversight for the war effort. It appears there is overwhelming support among Republicans to fund the surge. But there is also the obligation on the part of lawmakers to provide oversight. How quickly can troops be deployed? How are we providing support for the Afghan government? And yes, what is this 2011 date all about?

And the loyal opposition, because it does believe in the mission, has a particular obligation to provide candid observation and advice as to the reasons why a transition date, however postured, is counterproductive. The loyal opposition is not there to cheerlead or to jeer, nor to obscure or avert its eyes. It is there to provide a voice of warning and, yes, of experience. Deadlines and withdrawal dates are, as Max pointed out, generally counterproductive. It will undermine the impact of the surge — with both foes and allies. It is the loyal opposition’s duty to explain why and to encourage and cajole the president to rethink and restate what he has in mind. We have already seen the damage-control efforts by Secretary Robert Gates and others to put that date in “perspective” — and frankly, we hope, eradicate it. Gates should be supported and encouraged in his efforts.

In sum, the loyal opposition, if it is to be loyal to the country’s national interests and to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, must be candid with the president and the voters. Where the president is right, he deserves praise. Where is is badly misguided, he deserves constructive criticism.

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The Day After

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

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Explaining the Speech

Michael Crowley has a useful roundup of comments from top Obama advisers who are now trying to explain the 2011 date that Obama described as follows:

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

Hillary Clinton testified today, “I do not believe we have locked ourselves in to leaving.” General David Petraeus conceded in an MSNBC interview that there is “tension” between our commitment and the transfer date but focused on the “conditions” aspect of the equation. And prepared testimony by Robert Gates explained:

The essence of our civil-military plan is to clear, hold, build, and transfer. Beginning to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in summer 2011 is critical — and, in my, view achievable. This transfer will occur district by district, province by province, depending on conditions on the ground. The process will be similar to what we did in Iraq, where international security forces provided “overwatch” — first at the tactical level, then at the strategic level. Even after we transfer security responsibility to the Afghans and draw down our combat forces, the United States will continue to support their development as an important partner for the long haul. We will not repeat the mistakes of 1989, when we abandoned the country only to see it descend into civil war, and then into Taliban hands.

That is a lot of explaining, or some would call it damage control, to try to remove the impression from last night that the president was hedging our bets and limiting our commitment. Unfortunately, no one has a microphone or an audience as big as the president does, and he will have to re-enforce the message that his advisers carried today if he means it. There is no substitute for hearing the message from the lips of the commander in chief. That is why, after all, he wanted to give a big speech. He may need to deliver many more in the weeks and months ahead.

Michael Crowley has a useful roundup of comments from top Obama advisers who are now trying to explain the 2011 date that Obama described as follows:

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

Hillary Clinton testified today, “I do not believe we have locked ourselves in to leaving.” General David Petraeus conceded in an MSNBC interview that there is “tension” between our commitment and the transfer date but focused on the “conditions” aspect of the equation. And prepared testimony by Robert Gates explained:

The essence of our civil-military plan is to clear, hold, build, and transfer. Beginning to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in summer 2011 is critical — and, in my, view achievable. This transfer will occur district by district, province by province, depending on conditions on the ground. The process will be similar to what we did in Iraq, where international security forces provided “overwatch” — first at the tactical level, then at the strategic level. Even after we transfer security responsibility to the Afghans and draw down our combat forces, the United States will continue to support their development as an important partner for the long haul. We will not repeat the mistakes of 1989, when we abandoned the country only to see it descend into civil war, and then into Taliban hands.

That is a lot of explaining, or some would call it damage control, to try to remove the impression from last night that the president was hedging our bets and limiting our commitment. Unfortunately, no one has a microphone or an audience as big as the president does, and he will have to re-enforce the message that his advisers carried today if he means it. There is no substitute for hearing the message from the lips of the commander in chief. That is why, after all, he wanted to give a big speech. He may need to deliver many more in the weeks and months ahead.

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Getting Ready to Make a Fuss

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.); Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America; and Andrew C. McCarthy, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial, among others, will be holding a press conference tomorrow to release details of their December 5 rally. They explain:

The Coalition formed to fight the decision of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to try the 9/11 co-conspirators in New York City’s federal court, effectively giving war criminals the same rights as American citizens while endangering the safety of all New Yorkers. Two weeks ago, we sent a letter signed by 300 family members of 9/11 victims to the President, Attorney General and Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking them to reverse course. The letter has now been signed by over 120,000 Americans and is posted at http://www.keepamericasafe.com.

Like the Tea Parties, this seems to have the potential to motivate ordinarily nonpolitical Americans to protest a decision that remains simply incomprehensible. The administration somehow imagined that by releasing news of its decision on a Friday when the president was out of the country, a cheesy PR move unbefitting a decision of this gravity, that it might avoid unleashing a firestorm. It seems they have misjudged, as they have so many other things, the American people.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.); Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America; and Andrew C. McCarthy, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial, among others, will be holding a press conference tomorrow to release details of their December 5 rally. They explain:

The Coalition formed to fight the decision of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to try the 9/11 co-conspirators in New York City’s federal court, effectively giving war criminals the same rights as American citizens while endangering the safety of all New Yorkers. Two weeks ago, we sent a letter signed by 300 family members of 9/11 victims to the President, Attorney General and Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking them to reverse course. The letter has now been signed by over 120,000 Americans and is posted at http://www.keepamericasafe.com.

Like the Tea Parties, this seems to have the potential to motivate ordinarily nonpolitical Americans to protest a decision that remains simply incomprehensible. The administration somehow imagined that by releasing news of its decision on a Friday when the president was out of the country, a cheesy PR move unbefitting a decision of this gravity, that it might avoid unleashing a firestorm. It seems they have misjudged, as they have so many other things, the American people.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

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Research?

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

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The Endless Seminar

Michael Gerson writes:

In the beginning, the Obama administration directed a spotlight toward its careful, thoughtful decision-making process on Afghanistan. National security meetings were announced, photographed and highlighted in background briefings to the media. President Obama would apply the methods of the academy to the art of war — the University of Chicago meets West Point — thus assuring a skittish public that deliberation had preceded decision.

Now the president and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are desperately trying to jerk the spotlight away from a dysfunctional Afghan decision-making process in which chaos has preceded choice, complicating every possible outcome.

The president supposes he has endless time to meander through the reading list, consult with some visiting gurus, and send research assistants back for more data. He operates without regard to the real world — the troops in the field, his plummeting poll numbers, and the growing skittishness in his own party. Ironic, isn’t it, that he and his netroot cohorts loved to portray George W. Bush as impervious to and sealed off from the real world. Bush of course managed to wade through the Pentagon double-talk, fire the right people, hire better people, and turn the war in Iraq around. Obama? He’s still in blissful isolation, now at least until Thanksgiving, we are told.

It’s unnerving, to say the least, to observe a White House so entralled by its own process (or in thrall to it?) that it would delay implementation of a new war strategy and imperil the president’s own standing as commander in chief. Obama may be angry about the leaks, but he has only himself to blame.

Michael Gerson writes:

In the beginning, the Obama administration directed a spotlight toward its careful, thoughtful decision-making process on Afghanistan. National security meetings were announced, photographed and highlighted in background briefings to the media. President Obama would apply the methods of the academy to the art of war — the University of Chicago meets West Point — thus assuring a skittish public that deliberation had preceded decision.

Now the president and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are desperately trying to jerk the spotlight away from a dysfunctional Afghan decision-making process in which chaos has preceded choice, complicating every possible outcome.

The president supposes he has endless time to meander through the reading list, consult with some visiting gurus, and send research assistants back for more data. He operates without regard to the real world — the troops in the field, his plummeting poll numbers, and the growing skittishness in his own party. Ironic, isn’t it, that he and his netroot cohorts loved to portray George W. Bush as impervious to and sealed off from the real world. Bush of course managed to wade through the Pentagon double-talk, fire the right people, hire better people, and turn the war in Iraq around. Obama? He’s still in blissful isolation, now at least until Thanksgiving, we are told.

It’s unnerving, to say the least, to observe a White House so entralled by its own process (or in thrall to it?) that it would delay implementation of a new war strategy and imperil the president’s own standing as commander in chief. Obama may be angry about the leaks, but he has only himself to blame.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

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Slowing to a Crawl

The New York Times observes:

The disclosure that the United States ambassador in Kabul has expressed written opposition to deploying more American troops to Afghanistan lays bare the fierce debate within the Obama administration over the direction of the war, even after weeks of deliberations and with the president on the verge of a decision.

And for those not quite privy to the ways of leaks and press manipulation, the Times notes that the anti-counterinsurgency-we’d-like-this-on-the-cheap contingent (Gens. Axelrod, Biden, and Emanuel, we presume) “seemed pleased that his perspective had entered the public debate, which has been dominated for two months by the leaked assessment of General McChrystal.” In other words, time to leak, gum up the works, and make it that much more difficult to come to a conclusion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for one, is fed up with the leaking and has exclaimed that “everybody ought to just shut up.”

One senses that the president is buffeted by this and that group, seemingly unwilling or unable to just decide. The helpful spinners both on and off the record assure us the president is being more “assertive” and “challenging” the advice. But still, alas, not reaching a final call. How’s it working out? “The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war over policy has become increasingly bitter.” Not as bitter as I imagine those in the field and their families may become as the seminars churn, the equivocation continues over the precise numbers to be deployed (38,000 or 36, 500? or maybe just 26,750?), and both our allies and adversaries look on slack-jawed.

It is quite a spectacle, one unlikely to endear the president to the voters or bolster his image as a wartime leader.

The New York Times observes:

The disclosure that the United States ambassador in Kabul has expressed written opposition to deploying more American troops to Afghanistan lays bare the fierce debate within the Obama administration over the direction of the war, even after weeks of deliberations and with the president on the verge of a decision.

And for those not quite privy to the ways of leaks and press manipulation, the Times notes that the anti-counterinsurgency-we’d-like-this-on-the-cheap contingent (Gens. Axelrod, Biden, and Emanuel, we presume) “seemed pleased that his perspective had entered the public debate, which has been dominated for two months by the leaked assessment of General McChrystal.” In other words, time to leak, gum up the works, and make it that much more difficult to come to a conclusion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for one, is fed up with the leaking and has exclaimed that “everybody ought to just shut up.”

One senses that the president is buffeted by this and that group, seemingly unwilling or unable to just decide. The helpful spinners both on and off the record assure us the president is being more “assertive” and “challenging” the advice. But still, alas, not reaching a final call. How’s it working out? “The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war over policy has become increasingly bitter.” Not as bitter as I imagine those in the field and their families may become as the seminars churn, the equivocation continues over the precise numbers to be deployed (38,000 or 36, 500? or maybe just 26,750?), and both our allies and adversaries look on slack-jawed.

It is quite a spectacle, one unlikely to endear the president to the voters or bolster his image as a wartime leader.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

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