Commentary Magazine


Topic: Samantha Power

Obama’s Holocaust Hypocrisy

Yesterday President Obama was in Los Angeles to hobnob with some of his biggest fans in Hollywood. He gave his usual stump speech blaming the Republicans for all the country’s ills at a private fundraiser where he rubbed elbows with Barbra Streisand and Jeffrey Katzenberg. After that, he attended a gala for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation where he was honored with the organization’s Ambassador of Humanity Award and where he listened to Conan O’Brien tell jokes about Donald Sterling and was serenaded by Bruce Springsteen. Showering Democratic presidents with love and cash is what Hollywood liberals do and there’s no point complaining about it. Obama’s award was, no doubt, part of the price for getting him to show up at the event. But like the undeserved Nobel Peace Prize that he collected in the first year of his presidency, the notion that he is in some way deserving of an honor that is linked to a Holocaust memorial or the fight against the current crop of international despots that threaten world peace is hard to swallow.

While much of what he said in accepting this award about opposing anti-Semitism and defending the State of Israel was praiseworthy, it is difficult to read some of the president’s remarks at the event without wincing. As our Michael Rubin wrote yesterday about Samantha Power, Obama’s United Nations ambassador, the disconnect between this administration’s rhetorical flourishes about its opposition to human-rights violators and the reality of what it is actually doing—or to be more precise, what it is not doing—is staggering.

Read More

Yesterday President Obama was in Los Angeles to hobnob with some of his biggest fans in Hollywood. He gave his usual stump speech blaming the Republicans for all the country’s ills at a private fundraiser where he rubbed elbows with Barbra Streisand and Jeffrey Katzenberg. After that, he attended a gala for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation where he was honored with the organization’s Ambassador of Humanity Award and where he listened to Conan O’Brien tell jokes about Donald Sterling and was serenaded by Bruce Springsteen. Showering Democratic presidents with love and cash is what Hollywood liberals do and there’s no point complaining about it. Obama’s award was, no doubt, part of the price for getting him to show up at the event. But like the undeserved Nobel Peace Prize that he collected in the first year of his presidency, the notion that he is in some way deserving of an honor that is linked to a Holocaust memorial or the fight against the current crop of international despots that threaten world peace is hard to swallow.

While much of what he said in accepting this award about opposing anti-Semitism and defending the State of Israel was praiseworthy, it is difficult to read some of the president’s remarks at the event without wincing. As our Michael Rubin wrote yesterday about Samantha Power, Obama’s United Nations ambassador, the disconnect between this administration’s rhetorical flourishes about its opposition to human-rights violators and the reality of what it is actually doing—or to be more precise, what it is not doing—is staggering.

Let’s specify that Spielberg’s Foundation, which centers on collecting the testimony of Holocaust survivors, is very much to the famous director’s credit. Like his film Schindler’s List, which led Spielberg to take up this work, it is a worthy effort to preserve the memory of the victims and the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. But the notion that Obama’s policies have been inspired by the imperative that the world not stand by silently when other crimes against humanity are committed, as the award and the rhetoric heard at the event seem to imply, is absurd.

During his speech, the president spoke both of the hate that still stalks the globe and the challenges this creates:

We only need to look at today’s headlines — the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, sectarian conflict, the tribal conflicts —to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses.  There are some bad stories out there that are being told to children, and they’re learning to hate early.  They’re learning to fear those who are not like them early.

And none of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust — the individuals who are the victims of such unspeakable cruelty, they make a claim on our conscience.  They demand our attention, that we not turn away, that we choose empathy over indifference and that our empathy leads to action.  And that’s not always easy.  One of the powerful things about Schindler’s story was recognizing that we have to act even where there is sometimes ambiguity; even when the path is not always clearly lit, we have to try.   

That’s all quite true. But coming from the mouth of the man who has stood by impotently as the Syrian tragedy escalated into a conflict that has taken up to 150,000 lives including perhaps as many as 11,000 children, Obama’s pieties about remembering the Holocaust ring hollow.

In Syria a small-scale conflict centering on the efforts of a brutal dictator to remain in power might have been ended quickly by a decisive Western intervention. But since Obama preferred, as is his wont, to “lead from behind,” it grew into a bloody war in which Assad, assisted by the operatives of Iran and Hezbollah and supported by Russia, has slaughtered the Syrian people by the tens of thousands. Like Power’s astonishing rhetoric about the need for action against such crimes, Obama’s words give new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

But while he basked in the glow of Hollywood’s approval and honor for his supposed stand for human rights, it should be remembered that this is also the president who is trying desperately to appease and craft a new détente with perhaps the most brutal anti-Semitic regime in the world in Iran. While Iran’s leaders have denied the Holocaust and threatened the globe with the possibility of a new one via their drive for nuclear weapons, Obama has been consistently slow to enact sanctions and seems determined to forge new bonds with a government that embodies all that he purports to oppose. His diplomacy that is supposed to be aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear threat is instead empowering the regime and only seeking to delay their move toward a bomb.

No one should begrudge the president the right to defend his policy of impotence on Syrian atrocities or his inability to even make good on the enforcement of his “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Nor should we deny him the opportunity to justify his drive toward appeasement of Iran. But that he should do so while claiming to honor the memory of the Holocaust and the need for the U.S. never to stand by again while such horrors are perpetrated is intolerable.

Read Less

Why Doesn’t Samantha Power Resign?

Samantha Power made her name as a reporter on genocide. After working as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, she penned her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell, that castigated the American response to genocide in places like Rwanda. Clinton administration officials were too willing to turn a blind eye. Few were willing to undercut career trajectories or put ambition aside to address the issue. Most simply continued with their climb up the Washington ladder, hoping that the problem would go away. Alas, it never does.

Fast-forward a couple decades: Power created and chaired the Atrocity Prevention Board, a body that, alas, seems to be more symbolic than real; it certainly has no success to its name. The administration to which Power has dedicated herself these past five years has sat aloof as a small civil conflict in Syria accelerated and transformed into one of this century’s cruelest conflicts. Power seemed to imply as much when she gave pointed remarks during a ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Museum on April 30. “And to those who would argue that a Head of State or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military,” she declared, “I maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity.”

How sad it is that Power has apparently come to personify all she once condemned: She is happy to posture and to preach, but wholly unable or unwilling to sacrifice her ambition. She sees herself as a future secretary of state and so doesn’t want to make waves, or at least big waves. But if ethnic cleansing reaches genocidal levels in Syria, that’s just the price that will have to be paid.

Read More

Samantha Power made her name as a reporter on genocide. After working as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, she penned her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell, that castigated the American response to genocide in places like Rwanda. Clinton administration officials were too willing to turn a blind eye. Few were willing to undercut career trajectories or put ambition aside to address the issue. Most simply continued with their climb up the Washington ladder, hoping that the problem would go away. Alas, it never does.

Fast-forward a couple decades: Power created and chaired the Atrocity Prevention Board, a body that, alas, seems to be more symbolic than real; it certainly has no success to its name. The administration to which Power has dedicated herself these past five years has sat aloof as a small civil conflict in Syria accelerated and transformed into one of this century’s cruelest conflicts. Power seemed to imply as much when she gave pointed remarks during a ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Museum on April 30. “And to those who would argue that a Head of State or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military,” she declared, “I maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity.”

How sad it is that Power has apparently come to personify all she once condemned: She is happy to posture and to preach, but wholly unable or unwilling to sacrifice her ambition. She sees herself as a future secretary of state and so doesn’t want to make waves, or at least big waves. But if ethnic cleansing reaches genocidal levels in Syria, that’s just the price that will have to be paid.

What Power doesn’t recognize, if she truly cares about principle and hasn’t cynically exploited it all along, is that if she were to resign she might not only bring the spotlight to problem about which she professes such concern, but might also force her commander in chief’s hand in a way that she hasn’t been able to do in any Cabinet meeting. Indeed, it might actually augment her cache among the progressive left and, frankly, among the right as well. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however. Rather than a model for principle, Power seems to personify why the American response to genocide has always been so weak.  

Read Less

Why Do Diplomats Tweet?

Whatever one’s opinion of Obama administration policies—and even on these pages there are different assessments—it is clear that President Obama and his administration have embraced social media far more than his predecessors.  During the 2012 campaign, journalists noted that Obama had an order of magnitude more Twitter followers than his challenger, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, even if those counting deducted the millions of Obama’s fake followers.

Not only does the State Department tweet, but so does John Kerry. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweets constantly, even if at times nonsensically. While it’s all well and good to embrace the new communications tool, the technology is no substitute for substance.

Read More

Whatever one’s opinion of Obama administration policies—and even on these pages there are different assessments—it is clear that President Obama and his administration have embraced social media far more than his predecessors.  During the 2012 campaign, journalists noted that Obama had an order of magnitude more Twitter followers than his challenger, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, even if those counting deducted the millions of Obama’s fake followers.

Not only does the State Department tweet, but so does John Kerry. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweets constantly, even if at times nonsensically. While it’s all well and good to embrace the new communications tool, the technology is no substitute for substance.

Last month, the Public Diplomacy Council published an insightful interview with Laurence Pope, an experienced diplomat with long service in the Middle East. Pope was asked a long-overdue question with regard to the State Department’s Twitter outreach:

Q:  The Department has embraced the social media to re-shape public diplomacy and transform American diplomacy.  What contribution can it make?

POPE:  There is nothing wrong with the use of Twitter and Facebook and Zillow and Youtube and all the rest of it, but diplomacy requires speech on behalf of the state, and social media are individual expressions by definition.  This can easily create confusion —think for example of Susan Rice tweeting about the need to bomb Syria while the President was changing his mind about that.  I don’t know how many Facebook pages and Twitter accounts there are at the State Department —hundreds if not thousands.  When individuals speak through them, one of two things are true: either they are expressing American policy, in which case 140 characters is unlikely to be a useful way of doing so, or they aren’t, in which case their views may be interesting, but there is a risk of confusion… The Youtube videos newly minted ambassadors make are downright embarrassing.  They give an impression of proconsular self-regard which is in bad taste.  Diplomacy is premised on a world of sovereign states.  The State Department’s  fascination with social media suggests that it no longer thinks that is the world we live in, a strange notion for a foreign ministry.  

Just as diplomatic correspondents and the secretaries of state they cover err by seeming to conflate miles flown with success, so too does the State Department fail by believing tweets matter. Russian President Vladimir Putin must laugh when, against the backdrop of ordering the invasion of Crimea, he faced little more than a cavalcade of angry tweets from Power. The sad thing is that the State Department now spends millions on public diplomacy, Twitter, and translations of its Twitter feed without once asking what good its Twitter feed does. That is not to deny that outreach can be positive, but it’s silly to spend such money without ever establishing metrics by which to judge Twitter diplomacy—and sillier to treat new communications technology as a substitute for substance.

Read Less

Hagel and Dempsey vs. the Straw Men

The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

Read More

The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

But that’s only possible when you have leadership from the president. In this case you don’t. Which is why the Defense Department has been able to get away with shoddy arguments such as this one: “If it weren’t for the chairman, you would be right back in Iraq or Afghanistan,” a senior defense official told the Journal. Huh? Is anyone–anyone–proposing sending 100,000-plus ground troops to Syria? Or any ground troops at all? Not that I’ve heard. This is a totally bogus argument but one that no doubt resonates with a president who won office in no small part on the strength of his opposition to the conflict in Iraq.

What the cautious leadership of the Pentagon is losing sight of is a point that has been made to me by a number of active-duty military officers: namely, that there is not only danger but a great opportunity in Syria. We have the potential to do great damage Hezbollah, the Quds Force, and al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, three of the most potent anti-American terrorist organizations in the world. The Free Syrian Army is eager to fight all three groups if we would only provide them the arms and training to do so. If the U.S. were to use its airpower, that would truly provide an opportunity to wreak havoc among our enemies while running scant risks ourselves: Syrian air defense could be quickly disabled and as long as we don’t put troops on the ground (aside from a few Special Operators and intelligence operatives) we would be unlikely to suffer any casualties.

But that is a course of action that would require more boldness and decisiveness than we have seen from the Oval Office at any time since the Osama bin Laden raid nearly three years ago.

Read Less

Obama Advisors Try to Salvage Their Reputations

Some of the headaches of a president’s second term stem from the “don’t blame me” stories in which administration officials seek to use the press to wipe their fingerprints off of their boss’s policy failures. It’s their way of updating their resumes; unlike the president, they’ll need a job in the near future. Sometimes that means trying to bury old hatchets, and sometimes that means anonymously leaking details of their unheeded prophecies to the New York Times, as “dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials” did for today’s deep dive into the administration’s feckless and confused Syria policy.

One of the more recent additions to President Obama’s Cabinet, Samantha Power, has turned this into an art form. While working for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” But now she realizes that the Democrats want to hand Clinton the next presidential nomination, and feels the need to tell NBC that she has “regretted it pretty much every day since,” and that the incident “just completely broke my heart that there is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair, and the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative, it was terrible.” And oh by the way, Power wants Hillary to know that she thinks Clinton is “a total rock star–she’s changed the world in a thousand ways.”

Read More

Some of the headaches of a president’s second term stem from the “don’t blame me” stories in which administration officials seek to use the press to wipe their fingerprints off of their boss’s policy failures. It’s their way of updating their resumes; unlike the president, they’ll need a job in the near future. Sometimes that means trying to bury old hatchets, and sometimes that means anonymously leaking details of their unheeded prophecies to the New York Times, as “dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials” did for today’s deep dive into the administration’s feckless and confused Syria policy.

One of the more recent additions to President Obama’s Cabinet, Samantha Power, has turned this into an art form. While working for Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, she called Hillary Clinton a “monster.” But now she realizes that the Democrats want to hand Clinton the next presidential nomination, and feels the need to tell NBC that she has “regretted it pretty much every day since,” and that the incident “just completely broke my heart that there is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair, and the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative, it was terrible.” And oh by the way, Power wants Hillary to know that she thinks Clinton is “a total rock star–she’s changed the world in a thousand ways.”

Vicious comments aimed at a rival in the heat of a presidential campaign are not unheard of, however. More difficult for Power to shake might be the fact that she spent her career naming and shaming Clinton administration officials she deemed bystanders to the atrocities in Rwanda and then she joined a presidential administration intensely focused on being bystanders to the atrocities in Syria. Because of Power’s career as a proponent of humanitarian intervention, the Obama White House gains much-needed credibility for sitting on the sidelines because the administration can point to Power’s presence in the Cabinet. For her silence, Power gets to live it up in the ambassador’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

But she seems aware that history may not look kindly on her career trajectory. She’ll likely be asked, as the Bouncing Souls sang, “How high was your price, and was it worth it?” Thus, Power appears in the Times article waging a noble but losing battle to intervene with the president’s chief of staff:

Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser and one of the biggest skeptics about American intervention in Syria, was promoted to White House chief of staff. Mr. McDonough had clashed frequently with his colleagues on Syria policy, including with Samantha Power, a White House official who had long championed the idea that nations have a moral obligation to intervene to prevent genocide.

Ms. Power came to believe that America’s offers of support to the rebels were empty.

“Denis, if you had met the rebels as frequently as I have, you would be as passionate as I am,” Ms. Power told Mr. McDonough at one meeting, according to two people who attended.

“Samantha, we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” Mr. McDonough responded crisply.

It’s tempting to write this off as realism defeating idealism and present it as the theme of the Obama presidency. But as the Times article makes clear, the president didn’t seem to think or care enough about the mess in Syria to formulate anything resembling a coherent ideological or theoretical analysis. The Times’s sources stop just shy of accusing the president of playing Angry Birds during Syria briefings:

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

I’m not sure why it’s relevant that the president chewed gum other than for these sources to present the commander in chief in a disquietingly condescending manner–petty enough to remind the reader that many of these sources are grinding axes. Which brings us back to Power. The expected defense of her lavish, taxpayer-funded acquiescence to inaction seems to be that she wanted to intervene but cannot exactly force the president of the United States to heed her advice.

But what did she expect? She well knew the president’s outlook on foreign intervention, the Arab Spring, and on Syria specifically. Obama made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want to get involved and didn’t intend to do anything about ridding the Middle East of Bashar al-Assad. She cannot pretend to be some frustrated idealist stuck trying to change the system from the inside. The president’s policy of inaction on Syria was clear and close to unshakeable, and she accepted the president’s offer to sit in the Waldorf and not make trouble while this policy continued to be carried out.

And she’s not the only one. So while all these sources may have a point about Obama’s ambivalence on Syria, their self-serving revisionism should be taken with more than a grain of salt.

Read Less

Obama’s Team of Bystanders

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s credibility is taking a bit of a hit this week. Power is a voluble proponent of the doctrine of R2P–responsibility to protect, which advocates military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Thus, when evidence mounted that the Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were committing massacres with chemical weapons, proponents of Syria intervention expected more than a tweet from Power. They didn’t get it–not yet, at least.

In early afternoon on Wednesday, Power wrote: “Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.” The responses were predictable, typified by Irish journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, who tweeted back: “When she was a journo and an academic @AmbassadorPower was pretty clear about genocidal acts like yesterday’s in Syria. Not so much now.”

In fact, more than just being “pretty clear” about such atrocities, Power was more than happy to name and shame Americans she thought insufficiently active in propelling the U.S. government to action. Her 2001 Atlantic essay “Bystanders to Genocide,” on the Clinton administration’s dawdling during the Rwandan genocide, makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Her eloquence and honesty on such matters were thought by some to be reason enough to celebrate her nomination to serve as President Obama’s ambassador to the UN–a Cabinet-level post in this administration.

Yet what Power may be realizing, and what the public should have understood long ago, is that Obama’s “team of rivals” is really a team of fig leaves. Hillary Clinton was not hired as secretary of state because Obama had suddenly come around to the advisability of liberal interventionism. She was hired because Obama wanted her out of the Senate where she could challenge his agenda. Instead, she was to be tied so closely to the president’s agenda so as to make it virtually impossible for her to undermine him.

Read More

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s credibility is taking a bit of a hit this week. Power is a voluble proponent of the doctrine of R2P–responsibility to protect, which advocates military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Thus, when evidence mounted that the Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were committing massacres with chemical weapons, proponents of Syria intervention expected more than a tweet from Power. They didn’t get it–not yet, at least.

In early afternoon on Wednesday, Power wrote: “Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.” The responses were predictable, typified by Irish journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, who tweeted back: “When she was a journo and an academic @AmbassadorPower was pretty clear about genocidal acts like yesterday’s in Syria. Not so much now.”

In fact, more than just being “pretty clear” about such atrocities, Power was more than happy to name and shame Americans she thought insufficiently active in propelling the U.S. government to action. Her 2001 Atlantic essay “Bystanders to Genocide,” on the Clinton administration’s dawdling during the Rwandan genocide, makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Her eloquence and honesty on such matters were thought by some to be reason enough to celebrate her nomination to serve as President Obama’s ambassador to the UN–a Cabinet-level post in this administration.

Yet what Power may be realizing, and what the public should have understood long ago, is that Obama’s “team of rivals” is really a team of fig leaves. Hillary Clinton was not hired as secretary of state because Obama had suddenly come around to the advisability of liberal interventionism. She was hired because Obama wanted her out of the Senate where she could challenge his agenda. Instead, she was to be tied so closely to the president’s agenda so as to make it virtually impossible for her to undermine him.

One of the targets of Power’s Atlantic piece was Susan Rice, who is portrayed as being nearly as cynical as her then-boss, President Bill Clinton. According to Power, Rice was more concerned about midterm elections than victims of the ongoing genocide. But Power quotes Rice declaring she learned her lesson: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” As the bodies pile up in Syria, there are certainly flames–but Rice is floating high above them from her perch as Obama’s national security advisor.

It is ironic to some degree that Rice’s promotion to national security advisor cleared the way for Power to take Rice’s old job. But the two shouldn’t be compared: when Rice was at the UN, she was so impolitic that her Russian and Chinese counterparts complained about her. She wasn’t the craven diplomat that the West nowadays deploys. She called a spade a spade–and called a thug a thug.

When the UN called an emergency meeting this week on the chemical weapons reports, Power was unavailable. Yet some perspective is in order: Power has given no indication that she has Rice’s innate toughness or reflex to defend Western values and interests. As Hillary Clinton might say, had Power been at her post when the meeting was called, what difference would it have made?

And the reason for that goes beyond the issue of hypocrisy. Yes, it’s bad form for Power to make a career out of shaming her countrymen for doing what she’s doing now. It has to do with why Rice has also been generally ineffective at getting the administration to take action. Rice promised her inaction on Rwanda would forever guide her perspective on future conflicts. That made it essential for Obama to bring her into the administration–not to allow her to pursue her objectives but to co-opt her and silence her by ensuring she couldn’t criticize the administration from the outside.

The same is probably true of Power. Obama knows that Samantha Power would love nothing more than to pick up her pen and take shots at his administration for his constantly moving “red line.” But as a representative of the administration who answers to the president, all she can do is tweet from undisclosed locations while her subordinates fill in for her at the UN.

Obama prefers to centralize decision-making as much as possible. This can be most dangerous on foreign policy, where his experience, interest, and frame of reference are weakest. It’s also true that the president is petty and thin-skinned, and does not handle criticism well. Hiring his critics to shut them up was thus a tactically brilliant maneuver, all the more so because the media inexplicably believed, and happily circulated, the ruse.

Read Less

Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

Read More

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.

Read Less

Samantha Power’s World View

Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

Read More

Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

I actually think in the Palestine-Israeli situation there’s an abundance of information and what we don’t need is some kind of early warning mechanism. What we need is a willingness to actually put something on the line in helping the situation. And putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import. It may more crucially mean sacrificing, or investing I think more than sacrificing, really billions of dollars not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine; investing billions of dollars it would probably take also to support I think what will have to be a mammoth protection force, not of the old, you know, Srebrenica kind or the Rwanda kind, but a meaningful military presence.

Because it seems to me at this stage–and this is true of actual genocides as well, and not just major human rights abuses which we’re seeing there–but you have to go in as if you’re serious. You have to put something on the line. And unfortunately imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful, it’s a terrible thing to do, it’s fundamentally undemocratic. But sadly, we don’t just have a democracy here either, we have a liberal democracy. There are certain sets of principles that guide our policy–or they’re meant to anyway. And there, it’s essential that the same set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deference to people who are fundamentally, politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people. And by that I mean what Tom Friedman has called “Sharafat.”

I mean, I do think in that sense that both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible, and unfortunately it does require external intervention which–very much like the Rwanda scenario, that thought experiment, if we had intervened early–any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism, but we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are becoming ever more pronounced.

You should watch the video to see her snide laughter when she speaks of ignoring Jewish voters. But even with just this transcript, it’s difficult to decide what’s the worst of it. Is it her casual comparison of the IDF’s anti-terror campaign to the violence that led to Srebrenica or the Rwandan genocide? Is it her dismissal of the moral question surrounding admittedly “fundamentally undemocratic” actions as irrelevant because “liberal democracy” requires the invasion of allies with whom we disagree? Is it her endorsement of Tom Friedman’s moral equivalence between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon?

It’s really a tough call, because it’s all so astoundingly ignorant and malicious. What is clear, however, is that such a person should not be anywhere near the levers of power–so of course then-Senator Barack Obama, with his scant knowledge of foreign affairs and his ideological rigidity, hired Power to advise him on foreign policy during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election. She was dropped from the campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster,” but that was always going to be temporary for someone whose intellect, such as it is, attracts such admiration from our president.

That was far from the only controversial statement Power has made, of course. The Washington Free Beacon has compiled its list of Power’s greatest hits, but the most relevant one, aside from the call to invade Israel, was her call for a public reckoning of the American behavior that has caused anti-Americanism around the world and a public apology tour (sound familiar?). Though I suppose the risk of appointing Power to be our ambassador to the United Nations is limited, at least, by the fact that her ideas about America are already so prevalent there. At worst, she’ll simply be redundant.

Read Less

Can Susan Rice Spur Syria Intervention?

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

Read More

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

The use of chemical weapons–supposedly a “red line” for Obama–has also been further confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, which finds in a new report that the conflict in Syria “has reached new levels of brutality.” According to the report: “Government forces and affiliated militia have committed murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. Many of these crimes were perpetrated as part of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations and constitute crimes against humanity.” The report also finds that anti-government forces have committed war crimes, while adding: “The violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not, however, reach the intensity and scale of those committed by Government forces and affiliated militia.”

Considering that Power and to a lesser extent Rice have argued that the U.S. has a “responsibility to protect” populations subject to genocide or other war crimes, it would be disheartening indeed if the administration in which they serve at increasingly senior levels were to continue to do little as the list of atrocities in Syria pile up. Especially when there is growing support in the region for action. Just this week Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic and diplomat who is head of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. However much Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies would support such a step, they are not going to impose a no-fly zone on their own. That depends on American leadership, which so far has been conspicuously missing.

Read Less

Time to End the Atrocities Prevention Board

It has been less than four months since President Barack Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, sometimes called the “Genocide Prevention Board.” Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Obama announced:

Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.

The idea that it takes a new bureaucracy to identify genocide, as a White House fact sheet explained, was always silly; the private media does just fine reporting on atrocities. If anything, the creation of new government bodies at taxpayer expense simply suggests the inefficiency of previous government agencies, none of which ever seem to fade away.

Read More

It has been less than four months since President Barack Obama announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, sometimes called the “Genocide Prevention Board.” Speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Obama announced:

Now we’re doing something more.  We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities. So I created the first-ever White House position dedicated to this task. It’s why I created a new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.

The idea that it takes a new bureaucracy to identify genocide, as a White House fact sheet explained, was always silly; the private media does just fine reporting on atrocities. If anything, the creation of new government bodies at taxpayer expense simply suggests the inefficiency of previous government agencies, none of which ever seem to fade away.

A new interagency board will never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress. Syria is a case in point: Atrocities have only accelerated since the board’s inauguration, yet the White House remains uninterested in much more than symbolic action. Nothing is more corrosive to the credibility of the United States than the gap between rhetoric and action which now exists. Nor will the board ever inform Obama that his policies–for example, talking to the Taliban–will almost certainly lead to renewal of atrocities in Afghanistan.

Obama rewarded Samantha Power with the chairmanship of the Atrocities Prevention Board. Power, a Pulitzer prize winner who has focused on genocide since her days as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, provided the intellectual push for the board, and she has made a career out of the often mutually exclusive lament that the United States does too little to prevent genocide and that the United States should work more through the United Nations in resolving conflict.

By chairing such an impotent board, however, Power now has the ability to make real change, although not as she had initially planned. If she remains the head of a meaningless board powerless to prevent genocide, she effectively exposes herself as a partisan hack, willing to put her affinity for Obama and her love for the title above principle. However, if Power refuses the temptation to posture rather than prevent atrocity, she could show herself to be a woman of principle and, in so doing, stop giving cover to those who, against the backdrop of mass murder, would turn and look away.

Read Less

Gartenstein-Ross Defends Rashad Hussain

I am interested to see Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism researcher and zealous foe of Islamism, defend Rashad Hussain, the White House attorney who has been chosen as envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain has been accused of being, essentially, a terrorist sympathizer. Gartenstein-Ross, who has known Hussain since 1998 (when Gartenstein-Ross was himself a Muslim), isn’t buying it. He is shocked at the attacks on his friend written by people who don’t know him — from “the proverbial view” at “50,000 feet.” He concludes that Hussain “is a Kerry-supporting Democrat rather than a bin Laden-supporting jihadist.”

I haven’t taken a close look at the case, but Gartenstein-Ross’s statement seems at first blush to be convincing — not least because it reminds me of a similar controversy in which I was involved. Back in 2008, Samantha Power, then a Kennedy School professor who was advising candidate Obama (now a NSC staffer), was accused of anti-Israel animus. I had known Power for a number of years and defended her against the charge. I, too, was shocked at how a real person had been chopped up in the Cuisinart of politics and reassembled into a caricature.

I am by no means suggesting that friends of a nominee or staffer should have the final word on their fitness for office. As Gartenstein-Ross notes, “Friendship can be a double-edged sword. It can truly illuminate for us how a person views the world, show us what he cherishes and fears, give us insight into his character. It can also have a distorting effect, causing us to be defensive when we should not be, and to overlook our friend’s flaws.” But as a general rule, I would suggest approaching these debates with some degree of humility and sympathy, and an understanding that a few statements often pulled out of context do not necessarily constitute the totality of a person.

I am interested to see Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism researcher and zealous foe of Islamism, defend Rashad Hussain, the White House attorney who has been chosen as envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain has been accused of being, essentially, a terrorist sympathizer. Gartenstein-Ross, who has known Hussain since 1998 (when Gartenstein-Ross was himself a Muslim), isn’t buying it. He is shocked at the attacks on his friend written by people who don’t know him — from “the proverbial view” at “50,000 feet.” He concludes that Hussain “is a Kerry-supporting Democrat rather than a bin Laden-supporting jihadist.”

I haven’t taken a close look at the case, but Gartenstein-Ross’s statement seems at first blush to be convincing — not least because it reminds me of a similar controversy in which I was involved. Back in 2008, Samantha Power, then a Kennedy School professor who was advising candidate Obama (now a NSC staffer), was accused of anti-Israel animus. I had known Power for a number of years and defended her against the charge. I, too, was shocked at how a real person had been chopped up in the Cuisinart of politics and reassembled into a caricature.

I am by no means suggesting that friends of a nominee or staffer should have the final word on their fitness for office. As Gartenstein-Ross notes, “Friendship can be a double-edged sword. It can truly illuminate for us how a person views the world, show us what he cherishes and fears, give us insight into his character. It can also have a distorting effect, causing us to be defensive when we should not be, and to overlook our friend’s flaws.” But as a general rule, I would suggest approaching these debates with some degree of humility and sympathy, and an understanding that a few statements often pulled out of context do not necessarily constitute the totality of a person.

Read Less

The Scandal Lobby

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

Read Less

A Lame Attempt to Play Gotcha With McCain

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

The Washington Post, today:

Sen. John McCain stepped up his assault on Sen. Barack Obama‘s foreign policy credentials at a rally in Miami yesterday, criticizing Obama’s willingness to talk to Cuban President Raul Castro and other hostile foreign leaders without preconditions. But McCain’s argument was undercut when a 2006 video emerged of former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a prominent McCain supporter, saying that “talking to an enemy is not in my view appeasement.”

Am I missing something here? In the first place, Baker may have endorsed McCain, but he is not a figure on the campaign, not an employee of the McCain campaign. His views on this matter are nothing new — after all, in the vaunted Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, he explictly called for direct talks with Iran and Syria. Was Glenn Kessler, the author of the Washington Post piece, on vacation that month?

 Nothing is undercut when someone who has endorsed a candidate is found to have said something that contradicts the candidate’s own views. The only person for whom that should be a problem is the endorser. Can he live with McCain’s difference of opinion? I really don’t care whether Baker can or can’t, but his view on the question of “talking to an enemy” isn’t in the least germane to McCain.

Clearly, there is an effort here to create an analogy between Baker and Obama advisers Samantha Power and Robert Malley, both of whom were let go from the campaign for saying things (Power) or doing things (Malley) injurious to Obama. Comparing these situations is preposterous. Power worked for Obama. Malley was offering policy advice to the campaign. Baker is a Republican eminence grise whose prominent advice on how to handle Iran has been affirmatively rejected by McCain, whose views on this matter, now, could hardly be more clear.

Read Less

Dignity Promotion for Lebanon

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

David Brooks must have noticed, as I did, Barack Obama’s bizarre statement on the Lebanon crisis. So he called Obama on the phone to find out if he really meant what he said:

I asked him what he meant with all this emphasis on electoral and patronage reform. He said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”

The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”

Brooks might not have noticed, but Obama just doubled-down on the message of his initial Lebanon statement. Samantha Power may no longer be with the campaign, but Obama articulated precisely her prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a “disaffected” (Obama’s word) people.

There are several assumptions at work here: that Hezbollah is popular among the Lebanese Shia because of its provision of material benefits, like medical clinics, instead of a compelling ideological message; that Hezbollah will peacefully acquiesce to western social-services projects in Lebanon; that the Shia will be inspired by promises to improve their standard of living, rather than Hezbollah’s promise of religious glory and political dominance; that Hezbollah is a manifestation of domestic Lebanese conditions, and can thus be addressed by solving domestic Lebanese problems. None of these premises comes close to being true.

Obama’s mention of Hamas was appropriate, but not in the way he thinks it was. Hamas slaughters Israelis on behalf of the “legitimate claims” and “grievances” of a group of people whose plight has rarely in history been more thoroughly salved with social services. The West Bank and Gaza are awash in UN- and EU-funded schools, medical clinics, and sinecure jobs programs. Even the trash in the West Bank is collected by large white garbage trucks with the letters “UN” stenciled on the sides. If social services “peel support away” from groups like Hezbollah, as Obama insists, why has Islamic radicalism become more and more popular in the Palestinian territories precisely while outside social services have gotten ever more expansive?

Make no mistake: Obama is not backing down from his promise of a dignity-promotion foreign policy. In its first act, he will insist on recognizing the legitimacy of the “grievances” of Iran’s proxy terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. The message is clear: terrorism and savagery will win an audience with the American president. Please pardon me for calling this appeasement.

Read Less

A Dignity Promotion For Hillary Clinton

Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Congressman and former Bill Clinton aide, didn’t like Ted Kennedy taking a shot at Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, you may recall, said Clinton wouldn’t make a good VP pick because someone with “nobler aspirations” was needed. Emanuel said of Kennedy:“The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals.”(H/T The Page) You don’t have to agree with the second sentence to think the first is on the mark.

We are now moving into the phase of the campaign where everyone gets their free swing at Hillary. As Cokie Roberts observed, much of the surrogate and media chatter has been “anything but respectful.” It may be emotionally satisfying for Obama supporters and media doyennes. And goodness knows both Clintons have definitely asked for some of the retaliatory shots.

But unless you are supporting John McCain, there is one big problem with all this Clinton-bashing: this is the last thing Barack Obama needs. Clinton, not surprisingly, is using it to whip up a backlash, hoping to ride it to big wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, which will prolong her run. And the Clintons don’t need much more encouragement to drag their feet and withhold full-throated support for Obama when the race does end. Her supporters, meanwhile, are acquiring yet another reason to resent Obama. Terry McAuliffe sounded the warning on Meet The Press:

She has 16.6 million very passionate supporters. We want to make sure at the end of this process, Tim, we as Democrats are all together. Sometimes we like to drive that car over the cliff of the Democratic Party. This is a very fragile time.

So Obama, the candidate who thinks our most vile enemies deserve a dignity promotion, might want to make sure his supporters grant one to his Democratic rival. After all, Obama’s sometime policy advisor Samantha Power tells us “I don’t think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does.” If he fails to demonstrate that he really understands this in a context closer to home (and makes sure his followers execute that policy with regard to Clinton), he’ll have failed in his first significant diplomatic effort. And, I suspect, come to regret it deeply.

Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Congressman and former Bill Clinton aide, didn’t like Ted Kennedy taking a shot at Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, you may recall, said Clinton wouldn’t make a good VP pick because someone with “nobler aspirations” was needed. Emanuel said of Kennedy:“The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals.”(H/T The Page) You don’t have to agree with the second sentence to think the first is on the mark.

We are now moving into the phase of the campaign where everyone gets their free swing at Hillary. As Cokie Roberts observed, much of the surrogate and media chatter has been “anything but respectful.” It may be emotionally satisfying for Obama supporters and media doyennes. And goodness knows both Clintons have definitely asked for some of the retaliatory shots.

But unless you are supporting John McCain, there is one big problem with all this Clinton-bashing: this is the last thing Barack Obama needs. Clinton, not surprisingly, is using it to whip up a backlash, hoping to ride it to big wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, which will prolong her run. And the Clintons don’t need much more encouragement to drag their feet and withhold full-throated support for Obama when the race does end. Her supporters, meanwhile, are acquiring yet another reason to resent Obama. Terry McAuliffe sounded the warning on Meet The Press:

She has 16.6 million very passionate supporters. We want to make sure at the end of this process, Tim, we as Democrats are all together. Sometimes we like to drive that car over the cliff of the Democratic Party. This is a very fragile time.

So Obama, the candidate who thinks our most vile enemies deserve a dignity promotion, might want to make sure his supporters grant one to his Democratic rival. After all, Obama’s sometime policy advisor Samantha Power tells us “I don’t think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does.” If he fails to demonstrate that he really understands this in a context closer to home (and makes sure his followers execute that policy with regard to Clinton), he’ll have failed in his first significant diplomatic effort. And, I suspect, come to regret it deeply.

Read Less

Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Read Less

Obama Doesn’t Have A “Jewish Problem.” Really.

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

Read Less

Obama’s Hollow Doctrine

Spencer Ackerman has a long piece in the American Prospect which purports to be a serious exposition of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and of his choice of foreign policy advisers. Obama is said to have big, transformative ideas: He “is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades.”

I got excited reading this — the kind of expectant feeling one gets upon sitting down to read something that proposes to be new and interesting. Ackerman writes that he “spoke at length with Obama’s foreign-policy brain trust” in order to take the measure of the “new global strategy” that President Obama will implement.

So what does this new strategy entail? Well, it will be

a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering “democracy promotion” agenda in favor of “dignity promotion,” to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root.

So our foreign policy will be guided by “dignity promotion.” Ackerman quotes Samantha Power to flesh out the idea:

Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking],” she says. “If you start with that, it explains why it’s not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It’s not a human way to live. It’s graceless — an affront to your sense of dignity.

Power continues, arguing that U.S. policy should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”

This is ludicrous. Islamist ideology itself is in many ways a type of “dignity promotion,” insofar as it is concerned with the recovery of Islam’s world-historical grandeur and the obliteration of western power, which is viewed as a source of humiliation and tyranny. Unfortunately for Obama and his brain trust, Islamism inspires a form of political and cultural dignity that runs far deeper than any sentiments created through enlarged American budgets for food distribution.

How does Barack Obama propose to offer Muslims the sense of dignity that they clearly derive from their participation in resistance movements whose most basic ambition is the rejection of the West? Is this really the sweeping foreign policy that Obama offers — an attempt to smother ideological radicalism with western materialism? This isn’t transformative policy; it is a banal example of defining a problem away.

You can continue reading the piece in search of specifics, but you won’t find any. It ends with a clichéd flourish:

Why not demand the destruction of al-Qaeda? Why not pursue the enlightened global leadership promised by liberal internationalism? Why not abandon fear? What is it we have to fear, exactly?

“He goes back to Roosevelt,” Power says. “Freedom from fear and freedom from want. What if we actually offered that? What if we delivered that in the developing world? That would be a transformative agenda for us.”

What does “liberal internationalism” mean in Ackerman’s imagination? What does “enlightened global leadership” entail? Does that mean we let Iran get the bomb, or not? Who knows. Now what was Ackerman saying at the beginning of his piece about hollow sloganeering?

Spencer Ackerman has a long piece in the American Prospect which purports to be a serious exposition of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and of his choice of foreign policy advisers. Obama is said to have big, transformative ideas: He “is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades.”

I got excited reading this — the kind of expectant feeling one gets upon sitting down to read something that proposes to be new and interesting. Ackerman writes that he “spoke at length with Obama’s foreign-policy brain trust” in order to take the measure of the “new global strategy” that President Obama will implement.

So what does this new strategy entail? Well, it will be

a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering “democracy promotion” agenda in favor of “dignity promotion,” to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root.

So our foreign policy will be guided by “dignity promotion.” Ackerman quotes Samantha Power to flesh out the idea:

Dignity is a way to unite a lot of different strands [of foreign-policy thinking],” she says. “If you start with that, it explains why it’s not enough to spend $3 billion on refugee camps in Darfur, because the way those people are living is not the way they want to live. It’s not a human way to live. It’s graceless — an affront to your sense of dignity.

Power continues, arguing that U.S. policy should be “about meeting people where they’re at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That’s the swamp that needs draining. If we’re to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we’re not [providing].”

This is ludicrous. Islamist ideology itself is in many ways a type of “dignity promotion,” insofar as it is concerned with the recovery of Islam’s world-historical grandeur and the obliteration of western power, which is viewed as a source of humiliation and tyranny. Unfortunately for Obama and his brain trust, Islamism inspires a form of political and cultural dignity that runs far deeper than any sentiments created through enlarged American budgets for food distribution.

How does Barack Obama propose to offer Muslims the sense of dignity that they clearly derive from their participation in resistance movements whose most basic ambition is the rejection of the West? Is this really the sweeping foreign policy that Obama offers — an attempt to smother ideological radicalism with western materialism? This isn’t transformative policy; it is a banal example of defining a problem away.

You can continue reading the piece in search of specifics, but you won’t find any. It ends with a clichéd flourish:

Why not demand the destruction of al-Qaeda? Why not pursue the enlightened global leadership promised by liberal internationalism? Why not abandon fear? What is it we have to fear, exactly?

“He goes back to Roosevelt,” Power says. “Freedom from fear and freedom from want. What if we actually offered that? What if we delivered that in the developing world? That would be a transformative agenda for us.”

What does “liberal internationalism” mean in Ackerman’s imagination? What does “enlightened global leadership” entail? Does that mean we let Iran get the bomb, or not? Who knows. Now what was Ackerman saying at the beginning of his piece about hollow sloganeering?

Read Less

Stain Removed

And down they go, from the curb to gutter to sewer. I had originally wanted to write about this comment, fresh from the blog of Gordon Fischer, co-chair of Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign:

Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica’s blue dress.

The reason I can’t directly link to that comment is because it was removed and apologized for by the time I was finished with my original post. Here’s Fischer’s retraction:

I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong.

I have since deleted the comment, and again apologize for making it. It will not happen again.

I hope my readers will accept my apology and we can move on to the very important issues facing our state and country. Thank you.

Hillary would be crazy not to jump on this. Part of the reason Obama gets the pass he does is because he’s largely seen as a cleaner alternative to the below-the-belt Clintons. This is an opportunity for her to shift that perception a little. But she has to be careful. Obama is masterful at coming out of accusations looking better for the wear. Hillary shouldn’t hold Obama directly responsible, because it won’t, er, stick. Rather, she should cast the original comment and the retraction as being of a piece with Samantha Power’s “monster” remarks—indications that it’s amateur hour in Barackland.

And down they go, from the curb to gutter to sewer. I had originally wanted to write about this comment, fresh from the blog of Gordon Fischer, co-chair of Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign:

Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica’s blue dress.

The reason I can’t directly link to that comment is because it was removed and apologized for by the time I was finished with my original post. Here’s Fischer’s retraction:

I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong.

I have since deleted the comment, and again apologize for making it. It will not happen again.

I hope my readers will accept my apology and we can move on to the very important issues facing our state and country. Thank you.

Hillary would be crazy not to jump on this. Part of the reason Obama gets the pass he does is because he’s largely seen as a cleaner alternative to the below-the-belt Clintons. This is an opportunity for her to shift that perception a little. But she has to be careful. Obama is masterful at coming out of accusations looking better for the wear. Hillary shouldn’t hold Obama directly responsible, because it won’t, er, stick. Rather, she should cast the original comment and the retraction as being of a piece with Samantha Power’s “monster” remarks—indications that it’s amateur hour in Barackland.

Read Less

Lesser of Two Democrats

There is plenty of chatter about Republicans’ support for Hillary Clinton. Did they help tip the balance in her favor in Texas? Are they simply making mischief to help the candidate they believe will be the weaker nominee?

Well the chatter may get louder in the wake of the Reverend Wright revelations and yesterday’s speech. Republicans now are coming around to the view that Obama is a terribly flawed candidate. Put differently, Republicans have discovered that Obama is worse than they thought, indeed perhaps worse than Hillary Clinton, the Cruella D’Ville of Republican politics.

Even before the Reverend Wright sermons were fully exposed there was plenty of reason for Republicans to be concerned about a possible Obama presidency. When Ted Kennedy swoons, Republicans worry. In other words, they suspect (with some justification based on the National Journal rankings) that Obama is far more liberal than Clinton and therefore antagonistic toward Republicans’ long term policy goals. Deep in their hearts they suspect Clinton is just “in it to win it” while Obama actually believes the hype, the left-leaning rhetoric and even some of his policy commitments.

Republicans have long suspected, for example, that Clinton’s lurch to the left on Iraq is simply a feint designed to capture the nomination and, as General Keane suggested, she wouldn’t really put the nation’s interests at risk by pulling out precipitously. Obama? He might, despite Samantha Power’s wishes to the contrary, actually mean what he says. Heck, if he’s willing to have tea with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez why would he backtrack on his pledges to the netroot base to leave Iraq no matter what? Clinton, these Republicans surmise, tipped her hand when she voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. See, underneath is all she’s not a fuzzy-headed dove, they conclude.

So if at least some Republicans had identified Clinton as the lesser of the two evils before the Wright revelations what must they think now? Certainly the concern that Obama either agrees with, or will play footsie with, the most extreme elements on the left has been re-ignited. (This, of course, is not just a Republican worry- liberals are fretting, if not panicked that their great moral beacon is ethically dim.) They now have gnawing doubts about the moral fiber of a a man who, as Shelby Steele put it, “fellow-traveled with a little race hatred.”

And the notion that with an Obama presidency we would escape the mendacity of another round of the Clintons? That hope has been tempered as it has become increasingly evident that Obama’s honesty quotient isn’t much higher. If it were, the same man who found Reverend Wright too controversial to speak at his announcement kick off would not months later insist “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” Then there was an interview on Monday in which he came up with another excuse – he would have distanced himself sooner from Wright and Tony Rezko had he in been in Washington longer. Huh? That seemed, of course, to fly in the face of his goals to convince us that 1) he didn’t know about Wright’s statements earlier and 2) he finds Wright’s hate speech abhorrent.

Next was the speech. For many Republicans his effort to set up a moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright was just too much to bear. For Republicans, the speech shattered any illusion that for all his left-leaning views Obama holds the moral high ground against the Clintons.

So, it would be delightful, many Republicans still agree, to put a stake through the Clinton era of political savagery sooner rather than later. But in the end, politics is about choices. If some Republicans now seem to be rooting for Clinton, they may not be trying to game the system; they may just want to prevent the worst of the two Democrats from advancing one step closer to the presidency. Does it matter? Sure–Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Montana are all open primaries. So Clinton’s hopes may rest (irony of ironies) on these Republicans helping her to beat an opponent they may dislike even more than she.

There is plenty of chatter about Republicans’ support for Hillary Clinton. Did they help tip the balance in her favor in Texas? Are they simply making mischief to help the candidate they believe will be the weaker nominee?

Well the chatter may get louder in the wake of the Reverend Wright revelations and yesterday’s speech. Republicans now are coming around to the view that Obama is a terribly flawed candidate. Put differently, Republicans have discovered that Obama is worse than they thought, indeed perhaps worse than Hillary Clinton, the Cruella D’Ville of Republican politics.

Even before the Reverend Wright sermons were fully exposed there was plenty of reason for Republicans to be concerned about a possible Obama presidency. When Ted Kennedy swoons, Republicans worry. In other words, they suspect (with some justification based on the National Journal rankings) that Obama is far more liberal than Clinton and therefore antagonistic toward Republicans’ long term policy goals. Deep in their hearts they suspect Clinton is just “in it to win it” while Obama actually believes the hype, the left-leaning rhetoric and even some of his policy commitments.

Republicans have long suspected, for example, that Clinton’s lurch to the left on Iraq is simply a feint designed to capture the nomination and, as General Keane suggested, she wouldn’t really put the nation’s interests at risk by pulling out precipitously. Obama? He might, despite Samantha Power’s wishes to the contrary, actually mean what he says. Heck, if he’s willing to have tea with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez why would he backtrack on his pledges to the netroot base to leave Iraq no matter what? Clinton, these Republicans surmise, tipped her hand when she voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. See, underneath is all she’s not a fuzzy-headed dove, they conclude.

So if at least some Republicans had identified Clinton as the lesser of the two evils before the Wright revelations what must they think now? Certainly the concern that Obama either agrees with, or will play footsie with, the most extreme elements on the left has been re-ignited. (This, of course, is not just a Republican worry- liberals are fretting, if not panicked that their great moral beacon is ethically dim.) They now have gnawing doubts about the moral fiber of a a man who, as Shelby Steele put it, “fellow-traveled with a little race hatred.”

And the notion that with an Obama presidency we would escape the mendacity of another round of the Clintons? That hope has been tempered as it has become increasingly evident that Obama’s honesty quotient isn’t much higher. If it were, the same man who found Reverend Wright too controversial to speak at his announcement kick off would not months later insist “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” Then there was an interview on Monday in which he came up with another excuse – he would have distanced himself sooner from Wright and Tony Rezko had he in been in Washington longer. Huh? That seemed, of course, to fly in the face of his goals to convince us that 1) he didn’t know about Wright’s statements earlier and 2) he finds Wright’s hate speech abhorrent.

Next was the speech. For many Republicans his effort to set up a moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright was just too much to bear. For Republicans, the speech shattered any illusion that for all his left-leaning views Obama holds the moral high ground against the Clintons.

So, it would be delightful, many Republicans still agree, to put a stake through the Clinton era of political savagery sooner rather than later. But in the end, politics is about choices. If some Republicans now seem to be rooting for Clinton, they may not be trying to game the system; they may just want to prevent the worst of the two Democrats from advancing one step closer to the presidency. Does it matter? Sure–Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Montana are all open primaries. So Clinton’s hopes may rest (irony of ironies) on these Republicans helping her to beat an opponent they may dislike even more than she.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.