Commentary Magazine


Topic: Truman

Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama Isn’t Carter or Truman…

…he’s turning into Howard Beale.

…he’s turning into Howard Beale.

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NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.'” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

Enough already. CNN cans Rick Sanchez.

Enough already. Yuval Levin suggests the White House scrap the fawning praise: “Rahm Emanuel, speaking to President Obama at his departure announcement today, said: ‘I want to thank you for being the toughest leader any country could ask for in the toughest times any president has ever faced.’ Really? The toughest times any president has ever faced? Tougher than the times Lincoln faced? Washington? FDR? Truman? Reagan? And the toughest leader any country could ask for? Yeah?”

Enough already. Nagging  young people doesn’t work. “President Obama is trying to do what he can to close any enthusiasm gap with the GOP. For the second time in a week, Obama told thousands of young people attending a rally to come out and vote in this fall’s mid-term elections to preserve Democratic majorities in Congress that could help the president move forward on his agenda.”

Enough already. Even Michael Bloomberg has had it with Obama’s anti-business outlook. “Obama never said he would be anything other than what he is now. He is a liberal guy, very pro-union, not particularly interested in business.” And he’s not interested in national security. And he’s not interested in entitlement reform. He’s very interested in partisan politics, however.

Enough already. Sen. Carl Levin is having none of this “flexibility” on the Afghanistan-war troop deadline. “‘The president is now under pressure from inside and outside the military to build flexibility into that July 2011 date,’ Levin said in prepared remarks he’s set to deliver to the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I want to tell you why I believe sticking to that date is essential to success, and why President Obama should not, and I believe will not, modify the July 2011 date.'” Unfortunately, I suspect the president agrees.

Enough already. San Franciscans and their mayor want to take back their streets and sidewalks from the homeless.

Enough already. Kool-Aid non-drinkers say the White House’s gin-up-the-base election strategy is a loser. “In a new memo, the Third Way says the electorate has shifted over the past two years, becoming more conservative. They say that even candidates who are able to match Mr. Obama’s turnout among base voters will likely lose.”

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Whining About Whining

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

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A Damning Admission

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

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

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

In his superb column today, Charles Krauthammer highlights a paragraph from Peter Baker’s New York Times story on Barack Obama as commander in chief:

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

“If this is true,” Krauthammer writes, “Obama’s military leadership can only be called scandalous.”

Quite right. And it’s not the first time such a thing has been said about Obama. Here is a paragraph from a June 23 Washington Post article on the controversy then surrounding General Stanley McChrystal:

McChrystal’s apparent disdain for his civilian colleagues, and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, have exposed the enduring fault lines in the agreement Obama forged last fall among policymakers and military commanders. In exchange for approving McChrystal’s request for more troops and treasure, Obama imposed, and the military accepted, two deadlines sought by his political aides. In December, one year after the strategy was announced, the situation would be reviewed and necessary adjustments made. In July 2011, the troops would begin to come home. [emphasis added]

These are damning admissions — war policies not only being influenced by partisan considerations but in important respects being driven by them.

In embracing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama made the right decision. At the same time, he made a political accommodation on the withdrawal date, which we now know is undermining our efforts. Earlier this week, I pointed out that Marine Commandant General James Conway, in speaking about the 2011 deadline, said this: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year, according to Conway. Yet in Tuesday’s prime-time address to the nation, Obama, rather than walk back from his arbitrary withdrawal date, went out of his way to re-emphasize it. “Make no mistake,” the president said, “this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

It turns out that the locution “our interests” refers not to America’s national interests but to Obama’s political self-interest instead.

I worked for President George W. Bush for most of two terms. It is not only inconceivable that he would have allowed such a thing to happen, as he showed in his embrace of the surge despite gale-force political winds and intense pressure from Republicans to withdraw from Iraq because it was damaging the GOP. And I would wager a good deal of money that if a political adviser had even suggested such a thing to him, he would have exploded in anger and probably fired the offending party on the spot. And he would have been right to do so.

“Among the thirty-five men who have held the presidential office,” Dean Acheson wrote in Present at the Creation, “Mr. Truman will stand with the few who in the midst of great difficulties managed their offices with eminent benefit to the public interest. … In the last analysis Mr. Truman’s methods reflected the basic integrity of his own character.”

If only such a thing could be said now.

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A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

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RE: RE: Sometimes the Sky Really Is Falling

I certainly agree with Pete and Jennifer that things are looking really bleak for the Democrats right now, with the House majority in grave danger, the large Senate majority likely to become, at best, a very small Senate majority, many governorships likely to flip from D. to R. and many state legislatures likely to add members to Republican ranks, just in time for the decennial gerrymandering following the census.

There is nothing so fatal to success in a political campaign as the certainty of winning. President Truman was widely reviled (“To err is Truman”). The Democrats had fractured, with Henry Wallace walking out with the far left and Strom Thurmond walking out with the Dixicrats. Truman was political toast.

But Dewey, sublimely confident, talked in generalities and avoided controversial topics. Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s catty — and all too accurate — remark that he looked like “the groom on a wedding cake,” began to penetrate the national consciousness. Truman went after the “do-nothing 87th Congress” (which, in fact, had done a lot) and “gave ‘em hell.” He carried 28 states and took 303 electoral votes (to 189 for Dewey and 39 for Thurmond). And the Democrats took back both houses of Congress.

“When you’re ten points ahead, run like you’re ten points behind” is excellent political advice. So is having a coherent program for the future and giving the other side hell. At the moment, I only see the last as being part of the Republican battle plan.

I certainly agree with Pete and Jennifer that things are looking really bleak for the Democrats right now, with the House majority in grave danger, the large Senate majority likely to become, at best, a very small Senate majority, many governorships likely to flip from D. to R. and many state legislatures likely to add members to Republican ranks, just in time for the decennial gerrymandering following the census.

There is nothing so fatal to success in a political campaign as the certainty of winning. President Truman was widely reviled (“To err is Truman”). The Democrats had fractured, with Henry Wallace walking out with the far left and Strom Thurmond walking out with the Dixicrats. Truman was political toast.

But Dewey, sublimely confident, talked in generalities and avoided controversial topics. Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s catty — and all too accurate — remark that he looked like “the groom on a wedding cake,” began to penetrate the national consciousness. Truman went after the “do-nothing 87th Congress” (which, in fact, had done a lot) and “gave ‘em hell.” He carried 28 states and took 303 electoral votes (to 189 for Dewey and 39 for Thurmond). And the Democrats took back both houses of Congress.

“When you’re ten points ahead, run like you’re ten points behind” is excellent political advice. So is having a coherent program for the future and giving the other side hell. At the moment, I only see the last as being part of the Republican battle plan.

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It’s Obama’s War

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

Jennifer, Max, and Abe have been covering the McChrystal incident superbly. Beyond eschewing redundancy, however, I’ve been reticent about chiming in because I would be happier not to say what I really think, which is that President Obama’s current approach to Afghanistan wasn’t going to stand or fall with General McChrystal, and can’t be salvaged by General Petraeus.

A number of commentators have echoed Peter Wehner’s point that Obama did the right thing and chose the right man this week, and I agree with that. Obama did look decisive and presidential yesterday. I had John’s comments on the silly Maureen Dowd piece in mind as I watched Obama’s speech, thinking that it’s the military’s own traditions and character — distasteful as they are to Ms. Dowd — that endowed the removal of McChrystal with its air of statesmanlike decision. Everyone in uniform knew what the right answer was. There was absolute, uncomplaining loyalty from Obama’s senior military staffers to the boss and his decision, painful and unfortunate though it was.

As Jennifer has pointed out, looking decisive and presidential is out of character for this commander in chief. But loyal subordinates can and should make a boss look good. Even the best bosses would readily acknowledge how often the loyalty of the troops has saved their backsides. The military as an institution is particularly effective in this regard. I don’t grudge any president his recourse to the image-enhancing infrastructure of military culture.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t exaggerate the signal sent about Obama’s leadership by a personnel shift that was essentially thrust on him by a discipline problem. Unlike other celebrated personnel replacements made by war-time presidents — Lincoln, Truman, the younger Bush — the replacement of McChrystal was not prompted by this president’s strategic concern about the conduct of the war. That is Obama’s great failing; what he owes the armed forces that do his bidding is precisely that strategic concern.

George W. Bush gave Bob Gates, Ryan Crocker, and David Petraeus a level of strategic concern — attention, political investment, diplomatic cover — that enabled them to adopt an executable plan for Iraq and then execute it. What Obama has done, by contrast, is take McChrystal’s original executable plan and, after months of seemingly aimless deliberation, compromise its executability.

It’s quite true that the surge in Afghanistan has not truly begun yet; current events are not a judgment on the surge’s effectiveness. We can give Petraeus time and keep our hopes up. But there is already pressure being exerted against the surge by myriad factors in Afghanistan and the region, from Iran’s radical interests to Pakistan’s stability problems, India’s security concerns, Russia’s devious ambivalence about our presence, and the motley array of terrorists seeking their fortunes in the Afghan countryside. Many of these factors can’t be addressed with military force. They are outside Petraeus’s purview. Dealing with them requires a horse-trading, arm-twisting diplomacy that must be handled by ambassadors and envoys — actors who, up to now, are variously reported to be inert or dysfunctional — and can’t be successful without the president’s overt leadership.

I remain skeptical that Obama’s performance in this regard will change. The military specializes in executing big decisions efficiently, but Petraeus’s leadership is not enough to bring success out of a surge that carries an expiration date, supported half-heartedly by the Oval Office. The latter conditions still need to change, not just rhetorically but materially, if Petraeus is to have the chance he is unquestionably the best man to make use of.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Misunderstanding Massachusetts

The Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel reacts to the Massachusetts election by suggesting Obama’s troubles may simply reflect “a case of the best US president at the worst time” — a great man understandably unable to bring “change” because he has to deal with so many crises:

Barack Obama has spent his first year in office fighting one crisis after another. Now he faces a political crisis of his own — the defeat in Massachusetts threatens his health care reform, his most important domestic project. Is it a case of the best US president at the worst time? …

In times of crisis, insecurity and defensiveness trump any openness to change. And since his inauguration Obama has had to deal almost exclusively with crisis management. The financial crisis, the automotive crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the global crisis. There have never been quite so many crises.

The five crises do not quite compare with inheriting the Great Depression (FDR) or World War II (Truman), and memories are short about what George W. Bush faced in his first year: a recession caused by a burst Internet bubble; the failure of the seventh largest company in the country (Enron) and one of the Big Five accounting firms (Arthur Andersen); an attack on New York and Washington, D.C.; a stock market that crashed and an economy that tottered; the need to mobilize the country for a war in Afghanistan; a failed “peace process” inherited on Inauguration Day (with a new Palestinian war against Israel already in its fifth month); etc.

The difference is that Bush did not spend his first year blaming Bill Clinton for the Internet bubble or the inherited recession, or the ineffective response to the first World Trade Center attack and the multiple attacks thereafter, or the bungled peace process. Bush got tax cuts enacted that helped restore the economy; began his war on terror that kept the country safe for the next seven years; worked cooperatively with Ted Kennedy on major education legislation; and so on.

Obama spent his first year responding to the financial crisis with massive borrowed-money bailouts; to the automotive crisis with a government takeover and a transfer of wealth from secured creditors to unions; to the jobs crisis with a trillion dollar “stimulus” that didn’t work; to the climate “crisis” with a nonbinding international agreement featuring a blank appendix; and to the “global crisis” with … what?

Most of his time was devoted to ObamaCare, something unrelated to the five “crises” he faced and something that got more unpopular the more people understood it. He made a lot of trips and speeches, most of them reminding the country that now was the moment and telling the world that his hand was outstretched. For the coming year, he plans a huge tax increase in the guise of letting current tax rates “expire” and has no plan for the real crisis he will face: Iran.

He has not been the best president and these are not the worst of times — and the sort-of-God/best-president-ever treatment he received from the mainstream media contributed significantly to the problem he now faces. His belief that he just needs to slow down and “explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing” is a more-cowbell response that ignores what Massachusetts was trying to tell him.

The Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel reacts to the Massachusetts election by suggesting Obama’s troubles may simply reflect “a case of the best US president at the worst time” — a great man understandably unable to bring “change” because he has to deal with so many crises:

Barack Obama has spent his first year in office fighting one crisis after another. Now he faces a political crisis of his own — the defeat in Massachusetts threatens his health care reform, his most important domestic project. Is it a case of the best US president at the worst time? …

In times of crisis, insecurity and defensiveness trump any openness to change. And since his inauguration Obama has had to deal almost exclusively with crisis management. The financial crisis, the automotive crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the global crisis. There have never been quite so many crises.

The five crises do not quite compare with inheriting the Great Depression (FDR) or World War II (Truman), and memories are short about what George W. Bush faced in his first year: a recession caused by a burst Internet bubble; the failure of the seventh largest company in the country (Enron) and one of the Big Five accounting firms (Arthur Andersen); an attack on New York and Washington, D.C.; a stock market that crashed and an economy that tottered; the need to mobilize the country for a war in Afghanistan; a failed “peace process” inherited on Inauguration Day (with a new Palestinian war against Israel already in its fifth month); etc.

The difference is that Bush did not spend his first year blaming Bill Clinton for the Internet bubble or the inherited recession, or the ineffective response to the first World Trade Center attack and the multiple attacks thereafter, or the bungled peace process. Bush got tax cuts enacted that helped restore the economy; began his war on terror that kept the country safe for the next seven years; worked cooperatively with Ted Kennedy on major education legislation; and so on.

Obama spent his first year responding to the financial crisis with massive borrowed-money bailouts; to the automotive crisis with a government takeover and a transfer of wealth from secured creditors to unions; to the jobs crisis with a trillion dollar “stimulus” that didn’t work; to the climate “crisis” with a nonbinding international agreement featuring a blank appendix; and to the “global crisis” with … what?

Most of his time was devoted to ObamaCare, something unrelated to the five “crises” he faced and something that got more unpopular the more people understood it. He made a lot of trips and speeches, most of them reminding the country that now was the moment and telling the world that his hand was outstretched. For the coming year, he plans a huge tax increase in the guise of letting current tax rates “expire” and has no plan for the real crisis he will face: Iran.

He has not been the best president and these are not the worst of times — and the sort-of-God/best-president-ever treatment he received from the mainstream media contributed significantly to the problem he now faces. His belief that he just needs to slow down and “explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing” is a more-cowbell response that ignores what Massachusetts was trying to tell him.

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Despite the Dithering, We Mustn’t Quit the Fight in Afghanistan

Tony Blankley, in a column headlined “If We’re Not in to Win, Bring Our Troops Home,” gives voice to what I suspect will be an increasingly common viewpoint on the Right. He begins by expressing frustration with President Obama’s doubts and hesitations over Afghanistan — as exemplified by leaks from the White House, according to which it would be too expensive to send enough troops. This, at a time when Democrats are avidly pushing multi-trillion-dollar health-care bills. He concludes:

This president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.

I sympathize with his viewpoint and share his frustration, but I have to dissent from his conclusion. As discouraging as the White House deliberations have become, Barack Obama is the commander in chief and will be so at least until 2013. We don’t have the luxury of giving up the war effort now and hope for the best in the future. A more hawkish successor, if there is one, will have, to put it mildly, a difficult time dealing with a situation in which the Taliban have taken over most of Afghanistan — which is what would happen if we pulled our troops out. That result would be a catastrophe on many levels. It would not only be a betrayal of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan; it would also create terrorist safe havens in that country and give fresh impetus to Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

We as conservatives don’t have the luxury of saying that if Obama won’t fight the war as vigorously as we want, we shouldn’t fight at all. Even a reduced level of commitment can help to stave off a catastrophe. But it would be far, far better for the president to make the necessary commitment to win — an objective within our power to achieve, but only if the White House provides the resources and commitment necessary.

The danger here is that we may wind up re-enacting the final stages of the Korean War — the period from 1951 to 1953, which followed the initial push by American-led forces to the Yalu River and then the devastating counterattack by Chinese troops, which was just barely halted north of Seoul. Thereafter, U.S. and other United Nations troops slogged it out for two years in a miserable deadlock that resulted in copious casualties but did not change the results on the ground.

Would it have been better for President Truman or his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to have said that, since we aren’t seeking total victory over North Korea and China, we should just pull out? Clearly not, because even a deadlock was better than a Communist triumph. But the final two years of the war were still a miserable experience that killed and maimed far too many people. We should do whatever we can to avoid such a scenario in Afghanistan, short of actually conceding defeat.

Tony Blankley, in a column headlined “If We’re Not in to Win, Bring Our Troops Home,” gives voice to what I suspect will be an increasingly common viewpoint on the Right. He begins by expressing frustration with President Obama’s doubts and hesitations over Afghanistan — as exemplified by leaks from the White House, according to which it would be too expensive to send enough troops. This, at a time when Democrats are avidly pushing multi-trillion-dollar health-care bills. He concludes:

This president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.

I sympathize with his viewpoint and share his frustration, but I have to dissent from his conclusion. As discouraging as the White House deliberations have become, Barack Obama is the commander in chief and will be so at least until 2013. We don’t have the luxury of giving up the war effort now and hope for the best in the future. A more hawkish successor, if there is one, will have, to put it mildly, a difficult time dealing with a situation in which the Taliban have taken over most of Afghanistan — which is what would happen if we pulled our troops out. That result would be a catastrophe on many levels. It would not only be a betrayal of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan; it would also create terrorist safe havens in that country and give fresh impetus to Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

We as conservatives don’t have the luxury of saying that if Obama won’t fight the war as vigorously as we want, we shouldn’t fight at all. Even a reduced level of commitment can help to stave off a catastrophe. But it would be far, far better for the president to make the necessary commitment to win — an objective within our power to achieve, but only if the White House provides the resources and commitment necessary.

The danger here is that we may wind up re-enacting the final stages of the Korean War — the period from 1951 to 1953, which followed the initial push by American-led forces to the Yalu River and then the devastating counterattack by Chinese troops, which was just barely halted north of Seoul. Thereafter, U.S. and other United Nations troops slogged it out for two years in a miserable deadlock that resulted in copious casualties but did not change the results on the ground.

Would it have been better for President Truman or his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to have said that, since we aren’t seeking total victory over North Korea and China, we should just pull out? Clearly not, because even a deadlock was better than a Communist triumph. But the final two years of the war were still a miserable experience that killed and maimed far too many people. We should do whatever we can to avoid such a scenario in Afghanistan, short of actually conceding defeat.

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Lieberman on Obama

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

It may be apparent that Barack Obama is caught in an untenable position on meeting unconditionally with rogue state leaders, but do not dare to say he is flip-flopping. Say, rather, that he is “evolving.” Actually, Obama’s answer is a bit of gobbledygook — “preparation” but not preconditions and lots of other clouds of dust. The ball is now in McCain’s court to explain why imprecision and inconsistency are tell-tale signs of dangerous inexperience for a potential president in wartime.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal offers an adaption of the speech he gave Sunday night at the COMMENTARY Fund dinner in New York. He explains what happened after forty-plus years of Democratic presidents who stood up to tyranny and were resolute on national security:

Today, less than a decade later, the parties have completely switched positions. The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11. Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made.

When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. Far too many Democratic leaders have kowtowed to these opinions rather than challenging them. That unfortunately includes Barack Obama, who, contrary to his rhetorical invocations of bipartisan change, has not been willing to stand up to his party’s left wing on a single significant national security or international economic issue in this campaign.

As for Obama, Lieberman explains:

There are of course times when it makes sense to engage in tough diplomacy with hostile governments. Yet what Mr. Obama has proposed is not selective engagement, but a blanket policy of meeting personally as president, without preconditions, in his first year in office, with the leaders of the most vicious, anti-American regimes on the planet. Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

So what would be reassuring, I think, to those who share Lieberman’s desire for a robust, bipartisan national security is for Obama to do some evolving toward the stance taken by great Democrat presidents like Truman and Kennedy. That, rather than a lot of double talk about tea with Ahmadinejad would be welcome news. But so far we haven’t seen any hopeful signs.

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Senator Lieberman’s Address

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

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Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

Read More

1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

4. What Senator McCain has working in his favor is that he has the greatest potential of any Republican on the national stage to reach beyond his base. That’s especially important in a year when voters are down on the GOP. The challenge for McCain remains his capacity to energize the Republican base while appealing beyond it. That is always the task of a nominee; this year, given McCain’s history with conservatives, it will be harder than most.

Also working in McCain’s favor is that Obama is a completely orthodox liberal in a nation that remains, for the most part, center-right. And Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Tony Rezko have raised questions about his judgment and character. It remains to be seen if, in a general election, these concerns metastasize. One more troubling revelation about Obama’s associations, it could be quite
damaging to him. Hairline fractures can easily turn into complete breaks. And of course if Jeremiah Wright decides to re-emerge and hold forth on the virtues of “black liberation theology” and the vices of America, it could have a shattering effect on the Obama campaign.

5. The other thing McCain has working in his favor is that Obama has shown a limited appeal among rural and blue-collar voters, seniors, Catholics, and Latinos. Hillary Clinton has also done much better than Obama among conservative white Democrats. These demographic groups, and hence states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are ones McCain has a chance to win. And a state like Florida is one where Hillary Clinton would have been a far more formidable opponent than Obama.

Obama’s strength has been with African Americans; in North Carolina, for example, he won more than 90 percent of the black vote amidst record turnout. He also runs extremely strong among young voters (18-29 years old), highly educated voters, in urban areas, and among elites — voters with high incomes and graduate degrees. Obama also has a realistic chance to carry Rocky Mountain States like Colorado and Nevada.

David Brooks has said that “demography is king” in this election. That has proven mostly true, and when it comes to the general election Obama has shown some worrisome (for Democrats) signs. That doesn’t mean he can’t surmount them, especially in a year that ought to favor Democrats. But it does mean that he is not without vulnerabilities.

6. Obama’s speech last night was a revealing roadmap to what he perceives as his own weaknesses. He ridiculed the notion of using “labels” to describe himself; it is, he has insisted in the past, part of the “old politics” that Obama alone can transcend. But let’s be specific: the label Obama has in mind is “liberal,” and in this instance it fits quite nicely. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Obama is an utterly conventional liberal – arguably the most liberal person running for president since McGovern. Obama has shown no willingness to challenge liberal orthodoxy. What he does not understand, or what he will not admit, is that a person’s political ideology reveals important things not only about his stance on individual issues, but also about his worldview, his assumptions and the beliefs that animate his political activism. In the past, the “liberal” label has been politically lethal for those running for President. Obama understands this – and since he can’t alter his record, he is going to do everything he can to smash the categories.

The man who last October proudly declared that he decided he wouldn’t wear an American flag pin shortly after 9/11 because it “became a substitute for I think true patriotism” last night spoke movingly about the “flag draped over my grandfather’s coffin” and what that flag stands for.

The man whose pastor, close friend and confidant referred to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” and whose wife declared our country to be “downright mean” and who has for the first time in her adult life found reason to be proud of America spoke glowingly about “the America I know.” Obama added this: “That’s why I’m in this race. I love this country too much to see it divided and distracted at this moment in history. I believe in our ability to perfect this union because it’s the only reason I’m standing here today. And I know the promise of America because I have lived it.”

The man who in San Francisco talked about the bitterness of small-town Americans who “cling” to their religion and guns and xenophobia, told us about the “simple truth I learned all those years ago when I worked in the shadows of a shuttered steel mill on the South Side of Chicago.”

The man who believes the Iraq war is irredeemably lost and wants to withdraw all major combat troops within 16 months — which would lead to a devastating American defeat, mass death and possibly genocide, a resurgent al Qaeda and a strengthened Iran – said, “I trust the American people to recognize that it’s not surrender to end the war in Iraq so that we can rebuild our military and go after al Qaeda’s leaders.”

The man who in the first year of his presidency wants to meet individually and without preconditions with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea declared last night, “I trust the American people to understand that it’s not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but our enemies – like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.” (The notion that Obama is in the same foreign policy tradition as FDR, JFK, and Truman is not a serious one; he is far closer to McGovern’s appeal to “Come Home, America.”)

Obama’s speech, then, was an effort to pivot to the general election and reposition himself as a post-partisan, post-ideological, mainstream, and unifying figure. That effort was fairly effective for a while. But the Obama magic is fading fast. As he showed last night, he remains an appealing figure. He is still able to make high-minded (if largely empty) appeals. Yet many of us, having watched him closely over the last few months, hear him differently than we once did. The words are largely the same; it’s the man delivering them who somehow seems different.

Barack Obama is still the favorite to be the next President. But he’s a good deal weaker than he was, and a long and withering campaign lies ahead.

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Obama Plays It Fast and Loose

“It is not weakness but wisdom to talk not just to our friends but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did and Kennedy did and Truman did,” he just said. Let’s see now. Roosevelt went to war with Japan and Germany; he did not “talk” to them. Truman dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Kennedy did do some negotiating, so he’s got something there, but he also led the United States to the brink of war over Cuba. The more apposite examples, here, would be Richard Nixon (SALT treaty), Ronald Reagan (Reykjavik summit) and Jimmy Carter. Nixon and Reagan were Republicans, and Carter is currently looking for any terrorist whose boot he can lick. Maybe this is a line Obama should drop from his stump speech.

“It is not weakness but wisdom to talk not just to our friends but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did and Kennedy did and Truman did,” he just said. Let’s see now. Roosevelt went to war with Japan and Germany; he did not “talk” to them. Truman dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Kennedy did do some negotiating, so he’s got something there, but he also led the United States to the brink of war over Cuba. The more apposite examples, here, would be Richard Nixon (SALT treaty), Ronald Reagan (Reykjavik summit) and Jimmy Carter. Nixon and Reagan were Republicans, and Carter is currently looking for any terrorist whose boot he can lick. Maybe this is a line Obama should drop from his stump speech.

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Could It Be?

Although Jennifer thinks Hillary’s going in for the kill, I believe there’s some indication that the woman who can not, will not, and shall not give up is maybe going to consider thinking about getting ready to . . . give up. Moreover, she may be doing so with a little grace. Here’s the Washington Times reporting on Hillary’s appearance today at the Newspaper Association of America’s annual conference:

Clinton opened the forum with a joke, saying she had drawn “great strength and encouragement over the last months” over the famed newspaper headline “Dewey beats Truman.”

Hillary was cajoled into being self-effacing after Snipergate. For a Clinton, though, an unprovoked opening line like the one above is practically a concession speech. Furthermore, she didn’t even mention Barack Obama. Instead she sounded the rallying cry of Democratic unity, launching an attack on the criminality of the Bush administration complete with requisite hyperbole: “Mrs. Clinton derided Mr. Bush, saying that “rather than defending the Constitution, he has defied its principles and traditions.”

After her speech, she spoke in conciliatory terms about the Democratic primary:

During a question-and-answer session later, Mrs. Clinton drew loud applause for saying that no matter the results of the 2008 election, “Never, ever again will any child growing up in America think that an African-American or a woman cannot be the president of the United States.”

Is there any way to get that in writing?

Although Jennifer thinks Hillary’s going in for the kill, I believe there’s some indication that the woman who can not, will not, and shall not give up is maybe going to consider thinking about getting ready to . . . give up. Moreover, she may be doing so with a little grace. Here’s the Washington Times reporting on Hillary’s appearance today at the Newspaper Association of America’s annual conference:

Clinton opened the forum with a joke, saying she had drawn “great strength and encouragement over the last months” over the famed newspaper headline “Dewey beats Truman.”

Hillary was cajoled into being self-effacing after Snipergate. For a Clinton, though, an unprovoked opening line like the one above is practically a concession speech. Furthermore, she didn’t even mention Barack Obama. Instead she sounded the rallying cry of Democratic unity, launching an attack on the criminality of the Bush administration complete with requisite hyperbole: “Mrs. Clinton derided Mr. Bush, saying that “rather than defending the Constitution, he has defied its principles and traditions.”

After her speech, she spoke in conciliatory terms about the Democratic primary:

During a question-and-answer session later, Mrs. Clinton drew loud applause for saying that no matter the results of the 2008 election, “Never, ever again will any child growing up in America think that an African-American or a woman cannot be the president of the United States.”

Is there any way to get that in writing?

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Eric Alterman’s Alternate History

One of the first things you learn as a journalist is that the biographies of writers which appear on the backs of their books, at the end of their articles, or on websites are not written by editors or interns at publications, but the journalists themselves. Most journalists provide their place of employment and list any books they have authored. Some go further, listing awards or scholarships they have won (and even, should they have won too many, declined). Others feel the need to share their incomparable brilliance with the world. Reading the biography of Nation columnist and CUNY professor Eric Alterman, “a frequent lecturer and contributor to virtually every significant national publication in the United States and many in Europe,” you get a sense of the man’s mammoth importance (in his own mind) to the world of American arts and letters.
Alterman is usually better left unread. (This parody, presented as a greeting card Alterman wrote to his grandmother explaining why he did not “forget” her birthday, hilariously captures his pretentious, ad hominem attack style.) But the indefatigable Times of London columnist Oliver Kamm could not allow the ubiquitous pundit’s column last week to stand uncorrected.

Alterman claims, in this column, that “no reputable historian would put the casualty figure for a U.S. invasion of Japan anywhere near” one million, as Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets suggested it would be. Alterman makes this claim in the course of articulating a familiar argument: that the U.S. media, as a whole, serves a right-wing agenda. Kamm begs to disagree, painstakingly showing why Alterman’s off-the-cuff assertion is baseless:

One of my regular correspondents, the military historian D.M. Giangreco, wrote a definitive paper on the administration’s casualty estimates, published as “‘A Score of Bloody Okinawas and Iwo Jimas': President Truman and Casualty Estimates for the Invasion of Japan”, in Pacific Historical Review, Feb 2003, and reprinted in Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, ed. Robert J. Maddox, 2007, pp. 76-115. From his scrutiny of primary sources, he observed: “Truman’s much-derided accounts of massive casualties projected for the two-phase invasion of Japan are richly supported by US Army, White House, Selective Service and War Department documents produced before the use of nuclear weapons against Japan and stretching back through the last nine months of the Roosevelt administration.”

In his paper, Dennis quotes from a letter to him by George F. Kennan, the most significant figure in US diplomacy in the past century and chief of policy planning to General George Marshall immediately after the War. Writing in 1997, Kennan concurred: “I have no doubt that our leaders, General Marshall among them, had good reason to anticipate a casualty rate of dreadful and sickening proportions in any invasion of Japan.” After the publication of his paper, Dennis also received the views of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (quoted in a letter by Dennis published in The Journal of Military History, January 2004): “The Pacific Historical Review paper is a masterful job of historical research and argument . . . . You have demolished the claim that President Truman’s high casualty estimates were a postwar invention.”

Kamm also knocks down, in the course of his piece, Alterman’s May 2007 assertion that “you have be some combination of crazy, ignorant, dishonest, or ideologically obsessed to believe that Islamic fundamentalists want to kill us because of ‘who we are’ rather than ‘what we do.'” Alterman’s journalism is sadly replete with such blithe assertions and accusations. The work of Kamm, and of other serious political journalists, is an unfortunately necessary corrective.

One of the first things you learn as a journalist is that the biographies of writers which appear on the backs of their books, at the end of their articles, or on websites are not written by editors or interns at publications, but the journalists themselves. Most journalists provide their place of employment and list any books they have authored. Some go further, listing awards or scholarships they have won (and even, should they have won too many, declined). Others feel the need to share their incomparable brilliance with the world. Reading the biography of Nation columnist and CUNY professor Eric Alterman, “a frequent lecturer and contributor to virtually every significant national publication in the United States and many in Europe,” you get a sense of the man’s mammoth importance (in his own mind) to the world of American arts and letters.
Alterman is usually better left unread. (This parody, presented as a greeting card Alterman wrote to his grandmother explaining why he did not “forget” her birthday, hilariously captures his pretentious, ad hominem attack style.) But the indefatigable Times of London columnist Oliver Kamm could not allow the ubiquitous pundit’s column last week to stand uncorrected.

Alterman claims, in this column, that “no reputable historian would put the casualty figure for a U.S. invasion of Japan anywhere near” one million, as Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets suggested it would be. Alterman makes this claim in the course of articulating a familiar argument: that the U.S. media, as a whole, serves a right-wing agenda. Kamm begs to disagree, painstakingly showing why Alterman’s off-the-cuff assertion is baseless:

One of my regular correspondents, the military historian D.M. Giangreco, wrote a definitive paper on the administration’s casualty estimates, published as “‘A Score of Bloody Okinawas and Iwo Jimas': President Truman and Casualty Estimates for the Invasion of Japan”, in Pacific Historical Review, Feb 2003, and reprinted in Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, ed. Robert J. Maddox, 2007, pp. 76-115. From his scrutiny of primary sources, he observed: “Truman’s much-derided accounts of massive casualties projected for the two-phase invasion of Japan are richly supported by US Army, White House, Selective Service and War Department documents produced before the use of nuclear weapons against Japan and stretching back through the last nine months of the Roosevelt administration.”

In his paper, Dennis quotes from a letter to him by George F. Kennan, the most significant figure in US diplomacy in the past century and chief of policy planning to General George Marshall immediately after the War. Writing in 1997, Kennan concurred: “I have no doubt that our leaders, General Marshall among them, had good reason to anticipate a casualty rate of dreadful and sickening proportions in any invasion of Japan.” After the publication of his paper, Dennis also received the views of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (quoted in a letter by Dennis published in The Journal of Military History, January 2004): “The Pacific Historical Review paper is a masterful job of historical research and argument . . . . You have demolished the claim that President Truman’s high casualty estimates were a postwar invention.”

Kamm also knocks down, in the course of his piece, Alterman’s May 2007 assertion that “you have be some combination of crazy, ignorant, dishonest, or ideologically obsessed to believe that Islamic fundamentalists want to kill us because of ‘who we are’ rather than ‘what we do.'” Alterman’s journalism is sadly replete with such blithe assertions and accusations. The work of Kamm, and of other serious political journalists, is an unfortunately necessary corrective.

Read Less




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