Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Weekly Standard

A New York Times Embarrassment That’s Not on the Front Page

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

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Don’t Blame the Tools

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

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Worth Studying

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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A Narrative for McCain

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin has a significant essay in the new issue of The Weekly Standard. It puts forward a policy narrative for the McCain campaign–one that is forward-looking, comfortably fits McCain’s personality and record, and which responds to the real concerns of voters.

The essay argues that McCain is (so far) missing a coherent campaign narrative and an organizing principle. Yuval suggests “a comprehensive reform agenda, which frame[s] America’s challenge in terms of revitalizing and reimagining its core public institutions.” Conservatives have a chance to “fundamentally alter some of the assumptions behind our large public agencies of regulation, governance, and welfare,” according to Levin. The goal should be to “plant in the architecture of our largest public institutions, the conservative commitment to individual freedom and initiative, to the centrality of parenthood and the family, and to the cause of American strength in the world.”

Rather than offering only thematic advice, Levin provides specific areas ripe for conservative reform–from health care, entitlements, education, taxes, credit markets and corporate governance to immigration, regulatory agencies, the budget process, and national security. McCain has done some of this, but much more can be done–and needs to be placed under a governing banner.

“[B]y advancing an ambitious agenda–one that if anything is too heavy on specifics,” according to Levin, “McCain could provide a sensible and coherent explanation for the generalized anxiety of the American public today and a road map toward addressing it head on.”

John McCain is a man with an impressive, and in parts awe-inspiring, biography. He has the capacity to appeal to large numbers of the American people. And lately real weaknesses have emerged in Barack Obama’s candidacy. He is a completely orthodox liberal–and, it appears, a thin-skinned one as well. He faces demographic hurdles that appear to be quite high, and his past associations have created questions about both his judgment and character. But Obama is blessed with real skills and talent. In addition, he has built an extremely impressive political operation. And it’s hard to overstate how bad the current political environment is for Republicans.

Senator McCain therefore needs to supplement his character and persona with a compelling, policy-specific agenda, one he can present in a way that captivates the public imagination. He now has an excellent one to employ, courtesy of Yuval Levin. John McCain should use it, and soon.

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin has a significant essay in the new issue of The Weekly Standard. It puts forward a policy narrative for the McCain campaign–one that is forward-looking, comfortably fits McCain’s personality and record, and which responds to the real concerns of voters.

The essay argues that McCain is (so far) missing a coherent campaign narrative and an organizing principle. Yuval suggests “a comprehensive reform agenda, which frame[s] America’s challenge in terms of revitalizing and reimagining its core public institutions.” Conservatives have a chance to “fundamentally alter some of the assumptions behind our large public agencies of regulation, governance, and welfare,” according to Levin. The goal should be to “plant in the architecture of our largest public institutions, the conservative commitment to individual freedom and initiative, to the centrality of parenthood and the family, and to the cause of American strength in the world.”

Rather than offering only thematic advice, Levin provides specific areas ripe for conservative reform–from health care, entitlements, education, taxes, credit markets and corporate governance to immigration, regulatory agencies, the budget process, and national security. McCain has done some of this, but much more can be done–and needs to be placed under a governing banner.

“[B]y advancing an ambitious agenda–one that if anything is too heavy on specifics,” according to Levin, “McCain could provide a sensible and coherent explanation for the generalized anxiety of the American public today and a road map toward addressing it head on.”

John McCain is a man with an impressive, and in parts awe-inspiring, biography. He has the capacity to appeal to large numbers of the American people. And lately real weaknesses have emerged in Barack Obama’s candidacy. He is a completely orthodox liberal–and, it appears, a thin-skinned one as well. He faces demographic hurdles that appear to be quite high, and his past associations have created questions about both his judgment and character. But Obama is blessed with real skills and talent. In addition, he has built an extremely impressive political operation. And it’s hard to overstate how bad the current political environment is for Republicans.

Senator McCain therefore needs to supplement his character and persona with a compelling, policy-specific agenda, one he can present in a way that captivates the public imagination. He now has an excellent one to employ, courtesy of Yuval Levin. John McCain should use it, and soon.

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What Would He Talk To Them About?

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

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Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

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The Friends of Jeremiah Wright

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

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Denial of A Denial

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

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The Richard Immerman Watch

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,'” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,'” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

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Announcing JAPSL

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

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The McCain Kickoff Tour

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

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Obama: Confused Neocon

Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.

But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .

This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .

The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .

And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.

This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.

Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.

But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:

To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .

This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .

The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .

And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.

This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Puncturing the Obama Balloon

Today, in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has produced one of the landmark pieces of political portraiture of our time. It’s called “The Wit and Wisdom of Barack Obama,” and it is so rich in detail about the sources of Obama’s rhetoric and the fanciful nature of those who believe he is offering anything genuinely new. Ferguson is one of the best writers in America, and this may be the best article he has ever written. Just one taste for you:

He lives in an era when the public memory has shrunk to a length of days or weeks. Especially in American politics, policed by a posse of commentators and reporters who crave novelty above all, the past is a blank; every day is Groundhog Day, bringing shocking discoveries of things that have happened over and over again. No politician has benefited from this amnesia as much as Obama. He is credited with revelatory eloquence for using phrases that have been in circulation for years. “Politics is broken,” he says in his stump speech, and his audience of starry-eyed college students swoons and the thirtysomething reporters jot excitedly in their notebooks. The rest of us are left to wonder if he’s tipping his hat to Bill Bradley, who left the Senate in 1996 because, Bradley said, “politics is broken,” or if he’s stealing from George W. Bush, who announced in his own stump speech in 2000 that “politics is broken.” Obama could be flattering us or snowing us.

There’s so, so much more. Read the whole thing. Twice.

Today, in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has produced one of the landmark pieces of political portraiture of our time. It’s called “The Wit and Wisdom of Barack Obama,” and it is so rich in detail about the sources of Obama’s rhetoric and the fanciful nature of those who believe he is offering anything genuinely new. Ferguson is one of the best writers in America, and this may be the best article he has ever written. Just one taste for you:

He lives in an era when the public memory has shrunk to a length of days or weeks. Especially in American politics, policed by a posse of commentators and reporters who crave novelty above all, the past is a blank; every day is Groundhog Day, bringing shocking discoveries of things that have happened over and over again. No politician has benefited from this amnesia as much as Obama. He is credited with revelatory eloquence for using phrases that have been in circulation for years. “Politics is broken,” he says in his stump speech, and his audience of starry-eyed college students swoons and the thirtysomething reporters jot excitedly in their notebooks. The rest of us are left to wonder if he’s tipping his hat to Bill Bradley, who left the Senate in 1996 because, Bradley said, “politics is broken,” or if he’s stealing from George W. Bush, who announced in his own stump speech in 2000 that “politics is broken.” Obama could be flattering us or snowing us.

There’s so, so much more. Read the whole thing. Twice.

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The Pride After The Fall

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

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I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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The Kagans on Iraq

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

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An Anti-War “Teach-In” at the CIA?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

Read Less

Who is Richard H. Immerman?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

Read Less




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