Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tritton Sound Bite Speakers

RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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RE: Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

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‘Man Up, Harry’

That sound-bite by Sharron Angle in response to Harry Reid’s refusal to concede that we have a Social Security solvency problem may have won Angle her seat. It was pithy. It wasn’t crazy. And Reid had no effective retort.

As Nevada politico guru John Ralston put it:

Sharron Angle won The Big Debate. Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine O’Donnell is the good witch of the Tea Party) and scoring many more rhetorical points. And she won because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust.

The Democrats have assured themselves and instructed voters that the Tea Partiers are loons, racists, and altogether unfit for office. In other words, they have so diminished expectations for their opponents that Angle and others easily amble over the low bar.

Democratic incumbents who previously enjoyed minimal opposition are unprepared to deal with the upstarts. Ralston wonders whether Reid took “himself out, once and for all, with his dismissiveness, his sarcastic and loopy use of ‘my friend’ and Senatese, his shifting of subjects in the middle of thoughts, beginning with his opening statements.”

You see, the Democratic hacks have come to resemble the loony caricature they have painted of their opponents. Yes, the most reasonable person on that stage was Angle.

That sound-bite by Sharron Angle in response to Harry Reid’s refusal to concede that we have a Social Security solvency problem may have won Angle her seat. It was pithy. It wasn’t crazy. And Reid had no effective retort.

As Nevada politico guru John Ralston put it:

Sharron Angle won The Big Debate. Angle won because she looked relatively credible, appearing not to be the Wicked Witch of the West (Christine O’Donnell is the good witch of the Tea Party) and scoring many more rhetorical points. And she won because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked as if he could barely stay on a linear argument, abruptly switching gears and failing to effectively parry or thrust.

The Democrats have assured themselves and instructed voters that the Tea Partiers are loons, racists, and altogether unfit for office. In other words, they have so diminished expectations for their opponents that Angle and others easily amble over the low bar.

Democratic incumbents who previously enjoyed minimal opposition are unprepared to deal with the upstarts. Ralston wonders whether Reid took “himself out, once and for all, with his dismissiveness, his sarcastic and loopy use of ‘my friend’ and Senatese, his shifting of subjects in the middle of thoughts, beginning with his opening statements.”

You see, the Democratic hacks have come to resemble the loony caricature they have painted of their opponents. Yes, the most reasonable person on that stage was Angle.

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Stop the Presses: David Broder Sings Palin’s Praises

Hold on to your hat: the dean of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, proclaims that we should “take Sarah Palin seriously.” Oh my! But she knows nothing, says Chris Matthews. She plays to the racist Tea Party crowd, bellows E.J. Dionne. She’s a dope and a bimbo, proclaims the Beagle Blogger. Nonsense, says Broder:

I gave her high marks for her vice presidential acceptance speech in St. Paul. But then, and always throughout that campaign, she was laboring to do more than establish her own place. She was selling a ticket headed by John McCain against formidable Democratic opposition and burdened by the legacy of the Bush administration.

Blessed with an enthusiastic audience of conservative activists, Palin used the Tea Party gathering and coverage on the cable networks to display the full repertoire she possesses, touching on national security, economics, fiscal and social policy, and every other area where she could draw a contrast with Barack Obama and point up what Republicans see as vulnerabilities in Washington.

Could it be that, as Broder says, “she has locked herself firmly in the populist embrace that every skillful outsider candidate from George Wallace to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has utilized when running against ‘the political establishment’”? Uh … yeah. Broder suggests that those inclined to mock her should start paying attention. And that advice he aims squarely at the White House sneerers: “Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.”

This sort of unconventional-conventional wisdom is precisely what drives the Palin haters up the wall. Stop taking her seriously! Remember the Tina Fey parodies — she’s a joke! Her critics have gotten used to the luxury of a shared assumption among “serious” pundits that Palin is not ready for the big leagues. They’ve become accustomed to deriding her with cheap jokes and snide references. But along the way, they stopped listening to her and watching how the trajectory of her political development tracked the emergence of a grassroots, anti-statist movement. In their haste to denigrate her gig on Fox, they missed her new-and-improved sound-bite-polished TV delivery. Now along comes the dean of the Beltway to tell them: you guys have been asleep!

Palin is not yet a declared candidate. She has many obstacles to overcome and many skeptics to win over. If she runs, she will face contenders with more business and executive experience and less baggage. If she is to become the nominee of her party, she will need to develop not just a boffo speech but more discipline and a set of serious policy proposals. But she has several years to do all that. For now, she’s winning newfound respect by those who are actually paying attention to what she is saying and how she is saying it – and not merely to the size of her breasts or the notes on her hand. And for a candidate whose biggest challenge is to be taken seriously by skeptics, that is no small thing.

Hold on to your hat: the dean of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, proclaims that we should “take Sarah Palin seriously.” Oh my! But she knows nothing, says Chris Matthews. She plays to the racist Tea Party crowd, bellows E.J. Dionne. She’s a dope and a bimbo, proclaims the Beagle Blogger. Nonsense, says Broder:

I gave her high marks for her vice presidential acceptance speech in St. Paul. But then, and always throughout that campaign, she was laboring to do more than establish her own place. She was selling a ticket headed by John McCain against formidable Democratic opposition and burdened by the legacy of the Bush administration.

Blessed with an enthusiastic audience of conservative activists, Palin used the Tea Party gathering and coverage on the cable networks to display the full repertoire she possesses, touching on national security, economics, fiscal and social policy, and every other area where she could draw a contrast with Barack Obama and point up what Republicans see as vulnerabilities in Washington.

Could it be that, as Broder says, “she has locked herself firmly in the populist embrace that every skillful outsider candidate from George Wallace to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has utilized when running against ‘the political establishment’”? Uh … yeah. Broder suggests that those inclined to mock her should start paying attention. And that advice he aims squarely at the White House sneerers: “Those who want to stop her will need more ammunition than deriding her habit of writing on her hand. The lady is good.”

This sort of unconventional-conventional wisdom is precisely what drives the Palin haters up the wall. Stop taking her seriously! Remember the Tina Fey parodies — she’s a joke! Her critics have gotten used to the luxury of a shared assumption among “serious” pundits that Palin is not ready for the big leagues. They’ve become accustomed to deriding her with cheap jokes and snide references. But along the way, they stopped listening to her and watching how the trajectory of her political development tracked the emergence of a grassroots, anti-statist movement. In their haste to denigrate her gig on Fox, they missed her new-and-improved sound-bite-polished TV delivery. Now along comes the dean of the Beltway to tell them: you guys have been asleep!

Palin is not yet a declared candidate. She has many obstacles to overcome and many skeptics to win over. If she runs, she will face contenders with more business and executive experience and less baggage. If she is to become the nominee of her party, she will need to develop not just a boffo speech but more discipline and a set of serious policy proposals. But she has several years to do all that. For now, she’s winning newfound respect by those who are actually paying attention to what she is saying and how she is saying it – and not merely to the size of her breasts or the notes on her hand. And for a candidate whose biggest challenge is to be taken seriously by skeptics, that is no small thing.

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Independents

John McCain has been focusing on independent voters of late with his global warming message and attempts to highlight differences with George W. Bush on the economy (by backing a home mortgage bailout) and foreign policy (by stressing multilateralism). Both he and Barack Obama will have their challenges in making the case with independents.

I am as skeptical as the next person when it comes to focus groups (they are self-selecting and sound suspiciously too informed and too sound-bite savvy). But the one described here sounds reasonable. Obama’s biggest problem: convincing them he’s not a wacky Left wing elitist. McCain’s: convincing them he’s not another George W. Bush.

So what does Obama do? He starts wearing that flag lapel pin and throws in a lot of patriotic talk. And if he’s smart he’ll steer clear of Clinton as a VP. According to this focus group, she’s ballot box poison with independents, even if she might calm frayed nerves in the Democratic Party.

And what’s McCain’s best tactic? Lots of YouTube moments of bipartisan praise, stressing his record of making deals with Democrats, some full-out attacks on Bush’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and Katrina, and plenty of appeals on conservative cultural issues.

All this raises a question: What’s the silliest thing each could do?

There has been some buzz that Obama will go after Republican women by using the abortion issue. That, for a candidate who has high negatives among social conservatives and who can easily be painted as an extremist on the issue (e.g. he was quite vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, for example), could cause more problems than it solves.

For McCain, it would be relying on his biography to the exclusion of issues (voters do care about their own pocket-book concerns), and allowing his team’s new-found fixation on whining about media coverage to go unchecked (voters don’t care about the media, and working-class independent voters don’t like complainers).

John McCain has been focusing on independent voters of late with his global warming message and attempts to highlight differences with George W. Bush on the economy (by backing a home mortgage bailout) and foreign policy (by stressing multilateralism). Both he and Barack Obama will have their challenges in making the case with independents.

I am as skeptical as the next person when it comes to focus groups (they are self-selecting and sound suspiciously too informed and too sound-bite savvy). But the one described here sounds reasonable. Obama’s biggest problem: convincing them he’s not a wacky Left wing elitist. McCain’s: convincing them he’s not another George W. Bush.

So what does Obama do? He starts wearing that flag lapel pin and throws in a lot of patriotic talk. And if he’s smart he’ll steer clear of Clinton as a VP. According to this focus group, she’s ballot box poison with independents, even if she might calm frayed nerves in the Democratic Party.

And what’s McCain’s best tactic? Lots of YouTube moments of bipartisan praise, stressing his record of making deals with Democrats, some full-out attacks on Bush’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and Katrina, and plenty of appeals on conservative cultural issues.

All this raises a question: What’s the silliest thing each could do?

There has been some buzz that Obama will go after Republican women by using the abortion issue. That, for a candidate who has high negatives among social conservatives and who can easily be painted as an extremist on the issue (e.g. he was quite vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, for example), could cause more problems than it solves.

For McCain, it would be relying on his biography to the exclusion of issues (voters do care about their own pocket-book concerns), and allowing his team’s new-found fixation on whining about media coverage to go unchecked (voters don’t care about the media, and working-class independent voters don’t like complainers).

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Who is Thomas P. M. Barnett?

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.’” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

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Olmert’s Bizarre Reading List

Thanks to their highly controversial recent publications, former President Jimmy Carter and the academic tag-team of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer have become persona non grata in much of the American Jewish community. Carter’s Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid argued that Israeli settlement in the West Bank—not terrorism, nor the ascendancy of Hamas—is the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Walt and Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy argued that U.S. policy in the Middle East is primarily driven by “American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests.”

Yet while the American Jewish community was busy debating whether these authors were anti-Semitic, conspiratorial, or simply misguided, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was apparently leafing through the two bestselling tomes for sound-bite material. Consider Olmert’s bizarre press statements following last week’s Annapolis Conference, in which he framed his pursuit of negotiations with terms perfectly agreeable to Cater, Walt, and Mearsheimer.

First, Olmert conceded to Carter’s claim that Israel faces a choice between peace or apartheid, saying:

If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.

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Thanks to their highly controversial recent publications, former President Jimmy Carter and the academic tag-team of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer have become persona non grata in much of the American Jewish community. Carter’s Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid argued that Israeli settlement in the West Bank—not terrorism, nor the ascendancy of Hamas—is the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Walt and Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy argued that U.S. policy in the Middle East is primarily driven by “American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests.”

Yet while the American Jewish community was busy debating whether these authors were anti-Semitic, conspiratorial, or simply misguided, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was apparently leafing through the two bestselling tomes for sound-bite material. Consider Olmert’s bizarre press statements following last week’s Annapolis Conference, in which he framed his pursuit of negotiations with terms perfectly agreeable to Cater, Walt, and Mearsheimer.

First, Olmert conceded to Carter’s claim that Israel faces a choice between peace or apartheid, saying:

If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.

Then, borrowing a page from the Walt-Mearsheimer playbook, Olmert argued that Israel must choose peace over apartheid to satisfy its supporters in the United States, who are essential to the Jewish state’s survival; as he told Haaretz:

The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.

Olmert should be taken to task for his carelessness. For starters, perhaps he needs to be reminded of his primary constituency. Olmert represents Israelis, and will need Israelis’ broad support to make the painful concessions that peace will require. It is truly hard to imagine Israelis being swayed by the prospective loss of American Jewish moral support for their government’s decisions, particularly when peace carries substantial risks for their personal security, first and foremost.

Furthermore, Olmert should be reminded of his secondary constituency: Palestinians, who will hardly be motivated to support peace with an Israeli prime minister who frames negotiations as a means of avoiding institutionalized racism. At least one Egyptian newspaper was aglow with headlines noting that the Israeli Prime Minister compared his state to apartheid South Africa. This is public diplomacy at its worst.

Olmert is going to have to learn to better represent Israelis and more effectively address Palestinians if forthcoming negotiations are to have any chance. On the other hand, in case negotiations fail, Olmert has done a good job of opening up a future position as a Middle East Fellow at the Carter Center.

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The Fulani Follies

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

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