Commentary Magazine


Topic: USA TODAY

The Scandal Lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colorblind or Just Blind?

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

As Abe noted earlier, today Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post lacerates Hillary Clinton for her statement in USA Today that Barack Obama’s coalition among “hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton is, according to Robinson, playing the race card again. And he writes this:

How silly of me. I thought the Democratic Party believed in a colorblind America.

Come again? Democrats believe in a “colorblind America”? If that’s the case, then how would Robinson explain why the Democratic Party has been leading the charge for race-based quotas and set-asides over the years? That they promote justices who want to take race into account in their judicial rulings? Just how is it that liberals count by race and reward points by race and reduce as many issues as they can to race–yet insist all the while that they believe in a colorblind society? And while we’re at it: how does Robinson explain the fact that “civil rights” activists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who over the years have done so much to create, exploit, and fuel racial tensions in this nation (including Sharpton’s despicable role in the Tawana Brawley case), find a comfortable home in the Democratic Party?

One may agree or disagree with using race as a consideration in, say, college admissions. Reasonable people can debate what role, if any, race should play in such matters. (I side with Professor Alexander Bickel, who in The Morality of Consent wrote, “[A] racial quota derogates the human dignity and individuality of all to whom it is applied; it is invidious in principle as well as in practice… The history of the racial quota is a history of subjugation, not beneficence…. a quota is a divider of society, a creator of castes, and it is all the worse for its racial base, especially in a society desperately striving for an equality that will make race irrelevant.”) But whatever those who advocate such positions are promoting, it is not a colorblind America. It is, in fact, the very opposite. And surely Eugene Robinson must, on some level, know it. How silly of him to claim what is so clearly not true.

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She Goes There

There has been a lot chatter (and some indications from her staffers) that Hillary Clinton isn’t going to fight to the bitter end and burn down the Democratic Party along the way. But then there is this interview with Clinton herself:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me . . . There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.

Has she ever come right out like this and said “Whites aren’t voting for him” before? She’s talked about “working-class” voters and women seniors, of course. But not once, in my recollection, has she spoken openly of any racial divide.

Why on earth would she do this if she’s not still committed to trying to scare superdelegates and whip up the vote in West Virginia?  There doesn’t seem much point, if she actually has the Democrats’ best interests at heart. (And it won’t help her get the VP slot, either.) Frankly, it makes about as much sense as her “3 a.m.” ad or her remarks touting John McCain’s preparedness as commander-in-chief. All those suspicions about her preference for a potential one-term McCain presidency rather than a two-term Obama one are only going to increase with comments like this.

There has been a lot chatter (and some indications from her staffers) that Hillary Clinton isn’t going to fight to the bitter end and burn down the Democratic Party along the way. But then there is this interview with Clinton herself:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me . . . There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.

Has she ever come right out like this and said “Whites aren’t voting for him” before? She’s talked about “working-class” voters and women seniors, of course. But not once, in my recollection, has she spoken openly of any racial divide.

Why on earth would she do this if she’s not still committed to trying to scare superdelegates and whip up the vote in West Virginia?  There doesn’t seem much point, if she actually has the Democrats’ best interests at heart. (And it won’t help her get the VP slot, either.) Frankly, it makes about as much sense as her “3 a.m.” ad or her remarks touting John McCain’s preparedness as commander-in-chief. All those suspicions about her preference for a potential one-term McCain presidency rather than a two-term Obama one are only going to increase with comments like this.

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The Boredom Riots

“Dozens of hardline Islamic students set a Danish flag on fire in Pakistan on Thursday to protest reproduction of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Danish newspapers.”

That’s not a September 2005 quote from an account of the Danish Muhammed cartoon affair, but rather a sentence from today’s Jerusalem Post reporting on today’s Danish Muhammed cartoon affair.

Over a dozen Danish newspapers have reprinted the cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammed sporting a bomb for a turban. On Tuesday, Danish authorities arrested three men suspecting of plotting offending cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard’s murder. The papers chose to run the cartoon in solidarity with Westergaard. This is an undeniable step forward from the cowering stance that found international media apologizing to Islamists all across the Middle East.

Then again, U.S. newspapers are treating the predictably violent response as if Axl Rose skipped out on a Guns N’ Roses concert: Here’s USA Today:

Bands of youths set fire to cars and trash bins overnight in a fourth consecutive night of vandalism mostly in immigrant neighborhoods of the Danish capital, police said.

Anything in particular worth noting about these youths?

Some observers said immigrant youths were protesting against perceived police harassment and suggested the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers Wednesday, may have aggravated the situation.

Immigrants, huh? Well, that’s just what some observers say. Let’s here from someone of authority.

“We see different reasons for the rioting,” [Copenhagen police spokesman] Munch said. “We do not know why exactly. It can be because of boredom, it can be because police in recent weeks have stepped up its search for knives, it can be other things too.”

I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of it.

“Dozens of hardline Islamic students set a Danish flag on fire in Pakistan on Thursday to protest reproduction of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Danish newspapers.”

That’s not a September 2005 quote from an account of the Danish Muhammed cartoon affair, but rather a sentence from today’s Jerusalem Post reporting on today’s Danish Muhammed cartoon affair.

Over a dozen Danish newspapers have reprinted the cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammed sporting a bomb for a turban. On Tuesday, Danish authorities arrested three men suspecting of plotting offending cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard’s murder. The papers chose to run the cartoon in solidarity with Westergaard. This is an undeniable step forward from the cowering stance that found international media apologizing to Islamists all across the Middle East.

Then again, U.S. newspapers are treating the predictably violent response as if Axl Rose skipped out on a Guns N’ Roses concert: Here’s USA Today:

Bands of youths set fire to cars and trash bins overnight in a fourth consecutive night of vandalism mostly in immigrant neighborhoods of the Danish capital, police said.

Anything in particular worth noting about these youths?

Some observers said immigrant youths were protesting against perceived police harassment and suggested the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers Wednesday, may have aggravated the situation.

Immigrants, huh? Well, that’s just what some observers say. Let’s here from someone of authority.

“We see different reasons for the rioting,” [Copenhagen police spokesman] Munch said. “We do not know why exactly. It can be because of boredom, it can be because police in recent weeks have stepped up its search for knives, it can be other things too.”

I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of it.

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Heroism

USA Today recounts a skirmish in Mosul. This is what American soldiers are up against in this stage of the Iraq war. Notice the care taken by our forces to avoid civilian casualties.

When he rolled back a concrete block that was sitting on rails, gunfire erupted. Pete estimated the entrance at 2-by-2 feet, barely large enough for a Ranger with 45 pounds of gear to pass through.

Lashaun and Pete fired into the hole and backed out of the room.
Pete tossed in a grenade.

After the grenade exploded, the Rangers moved back into the shower room, Lashaun said. Suddenly, he said, grenades started flying back at them.

Lashaun said he saw one grenade bounce, so he and another Ranger dove through a door before it exploded. Pete and the Ranger retreated to a different room.

Blake, the company commander, said the soldiers had split into two groups of nine each. Gunfire from the insurgents poured out of the bathroom, while Lashaun’s Rangers fired back.

Pete figured bullets passed within 1 foot of him. “I was really stuck basically in a crossfire,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lashaun hustled the women and children toward safety over a courtyard wall.

“He’s risking his life, taking enemy fire, while he’s literally extending himself and pushing women and children over the wall,” Blake said.

Lashaun then linked up with two Rangers, re-entered the house and fired into the bathroom. One insurgent came around the corner, Lashaun said, and the Rangers killed him “right there on the spot.”

The full story, one of the most dramatic accounts of combat to come out of Iraq, is a testament to the skill and bravery of our soldiers, and also to Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, who tells their story.

USA Today recounts a skirmish in Mosul. This is what American soldiers are up against in this stage of the Iraq war. Notice the care taken by our forces to avoid civilian casualties.

When he rolled back a concrete block that was sitting on rails, gunfire erupted. Pete estimated the entrance at 2-by-2 feet, barely large enough for a Ranger with 45 pounds of gear to pass through.

Lashaun and Pete fired into the hole and backed out of the room.
Pete tossed in a grenade.

After the grenade exploded, the Rangers moved back into the shower room, Lashaun said. Suddenly, he said, grenades started flying back at them.

Lashaun said he saw one grenade bounce, so he and another Ranger dove through a door before it exploded. Pete and the Ranger retreated to a different room.

Blake, the company commander, said the soldiers had split into two groups of nine each. Gunfire from the insurgents poured out of the bathroom, while Lashaun’s Rangers fired back.

Pete figured bullets passed within 1 foot of him. “I was really stuck basically in a crossfire,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lashaun hustled the women and children toward safety over a courtyard wall.

“He’s risking his life, taking enemy fire, while he’s literally extending himself and pushing women and children over the wall,” Blake said.

Lashaun then linked up with two Rangers, re-entered the house and fired into the bathroom. One insurgent came around the corner, Lashaun said, and the Rangers killed him “right there on the spot.”

The full story, one of the most dramatic accounts of combat to come out of Iraq, is a testament to the skill and bravery of our soldiers, and also to Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today, who tells their story.

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Hillary: Not Dead Yet

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

While I share Pete Wehner’s enthusiasm for the possible demise of the Clinton era, I think dancing on Hillary Clinton’s political grave is premature. Yes, the latest USA Today survey has Obama up by a remarkable 13 points. But she is not dead yet. New Hampshire has a long history of embarrassing frontrunners (Gary Hart over Walter Mondale in 1984, Pat Buchanan over Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain over George W. Bush in 2000). Clinton also retains 20-point-plus leads in California, New York, and Florida. Like her once commanding New Hampshire lead, these could evaporate on Wednesday. But don’t forget that she still has more money than anyone in the campaign and deep, embedded support in key states. If, after Tuesday, the race comes down to just Obama and Clinton, we might see a real contest of “new versus experience.” More fascinating will be Democratic organizers scrambling to split their base: Obama’s team driving African American voters, Hillary calling on unmarried women. Judging by the last week alone, it is remarkable that Clinton, with her mix of self-righteousness and unpleasantness ever managed to be the dominant candidate. Yet it also clear from her performance this weekend that she is not giving up quietly. An Obama win on Tuesday may give him strength in Michigan and South Carolina, but the battles in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California could be mean, epic Democratic warfare, where Hillary’s experience really does matter.

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John Bolton’s Profound Mistake

North Korea, almost completely sealed off from the world, mired in Communist stasis, and forging ahead with a nuclear-weapons program, is a deeply mysterious place. But is its behavior any more mysterious than that of the United States?

Back in February, six-party talks produced an agreement for North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for a generous package of foreign aid. January 1, 2008 was the deadline for it to reveal all the details of what it had been up to. But here we are on January 3, and it is evident that North Korea is planning to turn its homework in late, if it ever turns it in at all.

How is the Bush administration reacting to this latest broken promise, one of dozens that dot the five-year history of this latest attempt to persuade Pyongyong to negotiate away its weapons? “It’s unfortunate, but we are going to keep working on this,” are the words uttered by a State Department spokesman in response. Kim Jong Il must be trembling in his boots.

The United States has been engaged in a diplomatic charade, and that is the title of an op-ed in today’s USA Today by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, which begins: “Once and for all: Can we please stop pretending that Kim Jong Il is negotiating with us in good faith?”

But this charade is no parlor game. Eberstadt explains what has already transpired and what is at stake in the years ahead:

Viewed without illusion, these vaunted denuclearization talks with North Korea have in practice provided diplomatic cover for Pyongyang to achieve its long-desired status as a nuclear weapons state. And, by the way, any American official who thinks Kim Jong Il wouldn’t dare sell his nuclear wares abroad is off in a dream world.

Connecting the Dots admits to being baffled by American behavior. Is President Bush kicking this dangerous can down the road for a Hillary or Obama or a Huckabee to handle? Back in September, John Bolton courageously dissented from the Bush administration he had only just served to call the continuing American participation in the negotiation charade a “profound mistake.” Unfortunately, he has once again been proved right. 

 

North Korea, almost completely sealed off from the world, mired in Communist stasis, and forging ahead with a nuclear-weapons program, is a deeply mysterious place. But is its behavior any more mysterious than that of the United States?

Back in February, six-party talks produced an agreement for North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for a generous package of foreign aid. January 1, 2008 was the deadline for it to reveal all the details of what it had been up to. But here we are on January 3, and it is evident that North Korea is planning to turn its homework in late, if it ever turns it in at all.

How is the Bush administration reacting to this latest broken promise, one of dozens that dot the five-year history of this latest attempt to persuade Pyongyong to negotiate away its weapons? “It’s unfortunate, but we are going to keep working on this,” are the words uttered by a State Department spokesman in response. Kim Jong Il must be trembling in his boots.

The United States has been engaged in a diplomatic charade, and that is the title of an op-ed in today’s USA Today by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, which begins: “Once and for all: Can we please stop pretending that Kim Jong Il is negotiating with us in good faith?”

But this charade is no parlor game. Eberstadt explains what has already transpired and what is at stake in the years ahead:

Viewed without illusion, these vaunted denuclearization talks with North Korea have in practice provided diplomatic cover for Pyongyang to achieve its long-desired status as a nuclear weapons state. And, by the way, any American official who thinks Kim Jong Il wouldn’t dare sell his nuclear wares abroad is off in a dream world.

Connecting the Dots admits to being baffled by American behavior. Is President Bush kicking this dangerous can down the road for a Hillary or Obama or a Huckabee to handle? Back in September, John Bolton courageously dissented from the Bush administration he had only just served to call the continuing American participation in the negotiation charade a “profound mistake.” Unfortunately, he has once again been proved right. 

 

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Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

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The Global War on Testosterone

Experts disagree about the relationship between testosterone and aggression. The endocrine system is complex, and it is difficult to attribute aggressive behavior to any one hormone, or to attribute a particular behavior, as opposed to a predisposition to a behavior, to hormones at all.

But let’s assume that the presence of testosterone does play some role in fostering aggression. One question then becomes: should the U.S. army encourage its production in the blood of its soldiers? Feminists and social conservatives are saying no. I say yes.

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Experts disagree about the relationship between testosterone and aggression. The endocrine system is complex, and it is difficult to attribute aggressive behavior to any one hormone, or to attribute a particular behavior, as opposed to a predisposition to a behavior, to hormones at all.

But let’s assume that the presence of testosterone does play some role in fostering aggression. One question then becomes: should the U.S. army encourage its production in the blood of its soldiers? Feminists and social conservatives are saying no. I say yes.

The issue has to come to the fore because a Christian group called the American Family Association (AFA) has launched a campaign to force the Pentagon to enforce more stringently a ban on the sale of sexually explicit material on military bases. Apparently Penthouse and Playboy are available for sale in some commissaries.

According to USA Today, the American Family Association is shocked and dismayed to find these magazines there, and even more so by the military’s contention that these publications, based upon its careful analysis of their contents, are not pornography, and thus not subject to the ban. The military has a special unit that makes such determinations. It employs a complex formula that takes into account how many pages of a publication contain lewd and lascivious material and how many pages do not. “They’re saying, ‘We’re not selling stuff that’s sexually explicit’” complained Donald Wildmon to USA Today. “We say it’s pornography.”

On this issue, I’m a bedfellow–not literally–with Nadine Strossen, who heads the ACLU. Her reasoning is that: “we’re asking these people to risk their lives to defend our Constitution’s principles … and they’re being denied their own First Amendment rights to choose what they read.” Although my reasoning is somewhat different, I concur and augment: our country is in a fight. Whether Playboy is pornography or not, we don’t need sexually obsessed prudes running the show. We do need maximum aggressiveness to win.

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Mistake of the Day

As an avid chessplayer–along with my day job at COMMENTARY, I am a coauthor of the New York Sun’s weekly chess column–I have had a lifelong fascination with blunders, of which I have made more than a few.

This interest has extended to domains far afield from the 64 squares of the chessboard. Mistakes of all sorts, from the trivial to the serious, from typographical errors to the misdesigns that lead to collapses of bridges, from slips of the tongue to intelligence failures, have been a subject that has gripped my attention and is reflected in some of my writing (see, for example, How Inept is the FBI? and Could September 11 Have Been Averted?).

Why do mistakes occur, and what can we do to avert them? One good starting place for answers is the work of Charles Perrow, author of Normal Accidents, which explores mistakes in industrial settings. As the aviation industry, among others, has demonstrated, there are numerous ways to reduce the accident rate (i.e., the mistake rate), but it cannot be brought down to zero. As the clichéd maxim has it: to err is human. There are limits to the functioning of human cognition, and the impact of these limits is magnified inside organizations of all sorts.

Today’s Mistake of the Day is on the decidedly trivial side of the spectrum. It involves the Army, Navy, and Airforce. As reported by USA Today, despites its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the military has been unwittingly seeking recruits on glee.com, a website where you can connect with others who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or everyone else.”

“This is the first I heard about it,” said Maj. Michael Baptista, advertising branch chief for the Army National Guard, which will spend $6.5 million on Internet recruiting this year. “We didn’t knowingly advertise on that particular website,” which he said does not “meet the moral standards” of the military.

Subjects for further inquiry: how many “advertising branch chiefs” does the U.S. military have, how are they recruited, and what are the limits on their cognitive functioning?

As an avid chessplayer–along with my day job at COMMENTARY, I am a coauthor of the New York Sun’s weekly chess column–I have had a lifelong fascination with blunders, of which I have made more than a few.

This interest has extended to domains far afield from the 64 squares of the chessboard. Mistakes of all sorts, from the trivial to the serious, from typographical errors to the misdesigns that lead to collapses of bridges, from slips of the tongue to intelligence failures, have been a subject that has gripped my attention and is reflected in some of my writing (see, for example, How Inept is the FBI? and Could September 11 Have Been Averted?).

Why do mistakes occur, and what can we do to avert them? One good starting place for answers is the work of Charles Perrow, author of Normal Accidents, which explores mistakes in industrial settings. As the aviation industry, among others, has demonstrated, there are numerous ways to reduce the accident rate (i.e., the mistake rate), but it cannot be brought down to zero. As the clichéd maxim has it: to err is human. There are limits to the functioning of human cognition, and the impact of these limits is magnified inside organizations of all sorts.

Today’s Mistake of the Day is on the decidedly trivial side of the spectrum. It involves the Army, Navy, and Airforce. As reported by USA Today, despites its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the military has been unwittingly seeking recruits on glee.com, a website where you can connect with others who are “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or everyone else.”

“This is the first I heard about it,” said Maj. Michael Baptista, advertising branch chief for the Army National Guard, which will spend $6.5 million on Internet recruiting this year. “We didn’t knowingly advertise on that particular website,” which he said does not “meet the moral standards” of the military.

Subjects for further inquiry: how many “advertising branch chiefs” does the U.S. military have, how are they recruited, and what are the limits on their cognitive functioning?

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Kristof Gets It Wrong (Again)

The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

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The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

We can, of course, quibble with the comparison between a foreign army’s trying to impose an atheist tyranny and a foreign army’s trying to strengthen the authority of a democratically elected government. Much of the Afghan population was mobilized to resist the Soviets, with the mujahideen fielding hundreds of thousands of fighters; in Iraq we face an enemy estimated to number no more than 20,000.

But the more important point here is that, objectively, the Soviet Union wasn’t better off after it withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. In fact, the Soviet Union ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Defeat in Afghanistan was widely seen, in retrospect, to have been one of the events precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. It also, of course, emboldened Islamist extremists, some of whom (e.g., the Chechen separatists) continue to commit terrorist acts against Russia. Many others continue to wage jihad around the world; al Qaeda, the central coordinating body for such attacks, was formed in Afghanistan immediately after the Soviet withdrawal.

Seen in this light, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, far from serving as an argument for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, makes the opposite case: of the dangers of giving up the fight.

From the Soviet experience there is another important lesson that Kristof never mentions: the need to send enough troops. The Red Army never had more than 100,000 or so soldiers in Afghanistan, and most of them were tied up in large garrisons. This effectively ceded the countryside to the guerrillas and made it impossible to impose stability. The Soviets could mount offensives to kill some guerrillas, but as soon as they returned to base, the mujahideen would reassert their control. That is a mistake we have too often repeated in Iraq since 2003. It is only now that we have substantially increased our troop strength to 160,000, and have begun to carry out the kind of serious counterinsurgency campaign that the Russians never really attempted in Afghanistan.

Given the gains our troops are now making, it is folly to give up the fight, especially considering the serious consequences of defeat. The repercussions would hardly be ameliorated by Kristof’s suggestions to maintain a battalion (a mere 1,000 troops) in the Kurdish region, or to “push for progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.” (Is that why Shiites and Sunnis are killing each other in Iraq? Because they’re mad about the lack of “progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace”?)

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Good Bad News from Iran

Good news from Iran. The Associated Press reports that “Iranians smashed shop windows and set fire to a dozen gas stations in the capital Wednesday, angered by the sudden start of a fuel rationing system that threatens to further increase the unpopularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Why is this good news? Because it reveals the unpopularity of the theocratic dictatorship in Tehran, and its vulnerability to pressure.

As the AP article goes on to note: “The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce the $10 billion it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at less than cost, to keep prices low. Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.”

That’s a point of leverage that various analysts have suggested exploiting. In the pages of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman argued for (among other things) imposing a naval blockade to stop the gasoline imports and oil exports that are the lifeblood of the Iranian economy. In USA Today this week, Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution suggested not only imposing a blockade, but also counterfeiting Iranian currency to drive its economy deeper into crisis.

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Good news from Iran. The Associated Press reports that “Iranians smashed shop windows and set fire to a dozen gas stations in the capital Wednesday, angered by the sudden start of a fuel rationing system that threatens to further increase the unpopularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Why is this good news? Because it reveals the unpopularity of the theocratic dictatorship in Tehran, and its vulnerability to pressure.

As the AP article goes on to note: “The rationing is part of a government attempt to reduce the $10 billion it spends each year to import fuel that is then sold to Iranian drivers at less than cost, to keep prices low. Iran is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but it doesn’t have enough refineries, so it must import more than 50 percent of the gasoline its people use.”

That’s a point of leverage that various analysts have suggested exploiting. In the pages of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman argued for (among other things) imposing a naval blockade to stop the gasoline imports and oil exports that are the lifeblood of the Iranian economy. In USA Today this week, Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution suggested not only imposing a blockade, but also counterfeiting Iranian currency to drive its economy deeper into crisis.

Those may seem like radical steps. But they are in fact amply justified by Iran’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and its support for terrorists in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other places. Iranian proxies have been killing Americans in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and yet we have been looking the other way for fear of seeming too “warlike.” Even if we don’t have the political will to meet Iranian attacks with military force—and we don’t at this point—we could still try to make the Iranian government pay a price for its aggression. An embargo would be one way to do it. It’s an act of war, but not as extreme as air strikes.

Even if we’re not prepared to go that far yet, greater economic sanctions could have an impact given another fact noted in the AP story: “Iran’s government is seeking $12 billion in investments to boost refining capacity from 1.6 million barrels a day to 2.9 million barrels in the next five years. It also hopes to increase oil production to 5.3 million barrels a day by 2014, from the current 4.3 million.” If the U.S. could convince other countries in Europe and Asia to join our boycott of Iran, the investment that the mullahs need to buy off their own people might not be forthcoming.

That’s the intent of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, a bill sponsored by Representative Tom Lantos, which just passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 37-1. Among other things, it would end the President’s authority to waive penalties under existing sanctions laws on companies that do business with Iran. (This waiver authority has been used to let European firms off the hook.) Unfortunately, the Bush administration, which talks tough on Iran, opposes this genuinely tough legislation.

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Off With Libby’s Head?

When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

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When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

Now Fitzgerald has been back in court, arguing that when Libby is sentenced on Tuesday, the judge should throw the book at him precisely on the grounds that he committed the underlying crime-that-was-not-a-crime. Fitzgerald approvingly cites Judge David S. Tatel’s ruling in the Judith Miller case that “because the charges contemplated here relate to false denials of responsibility for Plame’s exposure, prosecuting perjury or false statements would be tantamount to punishing the leak.”

But this a vicious circle. Convicted on the basis of something that was never proved or even formally alleged, is Libby now to be punished on the same basis? With Fitzgerald continuing to overreach, the case for a presidential pardon is growing stronger by the day. If Libby is imprisoned, will Bush do the right thing?

Meanwhile, in closely related news, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Valerie Plame to be re-interviewed. Back in March, in a dispatch entitled Lying Liars and Their Lies, I asked whether Plame was under oath when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Plame was under oath, and Senator Bond has pointed out that she has put out three separate versions of the circumstances under which her husband was sent to Niger. According to USA Today‘s summary, they are:

*She told the CIA’s inspector general in 2003 or 2004 that she had suggested Wilson.

*Plame told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers in 2004 that she couldn’t remember whether she had suggested Wilson.

*She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March that an unidentified person in Vice President Cheney’s office asked a CIA colleague about the African uranium report in February 2002. A third officer, overhearing Plame and the colleague discussing this, suggested, “Well, why don’t we send Joe?” Plame told the committee.

Which of these is the real story? Is Plame telling three versions of the truth, or is she a lying liar, or even worse, a perjuring perjurer? Bond would like to find out.

But the Intelligence Committee is now under the control of the Democrats who have no interest in calling attention to the antics of the Plame-Wilson provocateurs. Stay tuned, in other words, for the cover-up of the cover-up.  

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

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There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.

On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.

U.S. forces have also rolled up a gang of insurgents responsible for downing a string of our helicopters. As summarized by USA Today:

Enemy fighters shot down six military helicopters in January and February, killing 23 servicemembers. Heavy machine guns were used in four attacks and small arms in one assault. A missile was used to down one of the six helicopters. Two private contractor helicopters were also shot down during that time.

But, as the newspaper continues, “There haven’t been any fatal helicopter attacks since February.” This may be attributed to a combination of factors. One shouldn’t discount the role of pure, dumb luck, but American aviators have also successfully changed their operating procedures and have even managed to ambush the ambushers. As USA Today notes:

During the raids, U.S. forces combined air attacks with ground assaults that captured insurgents, [Maj. Gen. James] Simmons said. Information gathered in those raids revealed anti-helicopter tactics used by insurgents. The military used that knowledge to launch counter-ambushes, using U.S. aircraft to target the [insurgent] teams.

There is also some good news on the political front. This Washington Post story reports that Moqtada Al-Sadr, head of the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdist Army, JMA), one of the largest and most violent Shiite factions, professes to be moderating:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. . . . And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum.

Meanwhile, the other leading Shiite party is changing its name from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, dropping the “revolution” in its name to make clear that it is not seeking a radical overhaul of Iraqi society. This faction, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is trying to lessen its ties to Iran and to remake itself as an Iraqi nationalist movement.

A measure of skepticism is in order about both changes—elements of JAM remain extremely violent, and both it and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council maintain strong subterranean links with the Iranian leadership. The latest steps may simply be tactical adjustments in their ultimate pursuit of power. Nevertheless they are positive steps, and they are being met with some Sunni reciprocation. There are reports of Sunni tribes in Diyala and other provinces forming their own groups to resist al Qaeda, following in the footsteps of the Anbar Salvation Council. And the original Anbar group is expanding its activities to other parts of the country. As this New York Times story reports:

In a hopeful sign on Tuesday, a Sunni tribal leader made a conciliatory public visit to Sadr City, the Shiite enclave in western Baghdad. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, leader of an alliance of Sunni tribes that recently began providing men to fight al Qaeda beside the marines in Anbar Province, met with backers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Salih al-Ugaily, a Sadr supporter in Parliament, said in an interview that the two sides had agreed on the need for reconciliation and to expedite holding provincial elections, a major demand of Sunni Iraqis, many of whom have said they feel disenfranchised after boycotting previous elections.

Neither security operations nor the political process is moving as quickly as anyone would like, but it would be a mistake to despair too soon. In particular it would be a mistake to give up on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and try to replace him with someone more to America’s liking—an option suggested in this Los Angeles Times article.

Maliki, for all his faults, has only been in office a year, and he is by many accounts improving. He is the third Iraqi leader hand-picked by American officials since Jerry Bremer gave up power in 2004. The previous two—Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al Jaafari—weren’t so hot. There is no reason to think that anyone who replaces Maliki would be any better, especially when one of the top potential replacements (at least in his own mind) is Allawi.

Replacing prime ministers means going back to square one. Better to work with the leader already in place, however imperfect, and to strengthen his hand by weakening through military action the Shiite and Sunni extremists who threaten the fragile political process. And this is, more or less, the strategy that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker plan to follow, according to this Washington Post dispatch. We can only wait and hope for results.

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Should We Stay or Should We Go?

It’s official. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds that American attitudes about Iraq are schizophrenic—at least on the surface.

In a sampling taken May 4-6, 68 percent of respondents said that they think it is likely a withdrawal of U.S. forces would lead to “a full-scale civil war and result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.” 66 percent believe “al Qaeda would use Iraq as a base for its terrorist operations.” 52 percent believe “a broader war involving several countries in the Middle East would break out.” And 55 percent believe “there would be new terrorist attacks against the U.S., like the ones that occurred on 9/11.”

All of those conclusions would seem to strengthen the case for “staying the course,” as President Bush proposes. Yet 59 percent of respondents say that we should “set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at that time.” Only 36 percent say that we should “keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation gets better.”

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It’s official. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds that American attitudes about Iraq are schizophrenic—at least on the surface.

In a sampling taken May 4-6, 68 percent of respondents said that they think it is likely a withdrawal of U.S. forces would lead to “a full-scale civil war and result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.” 66 percent believe “al Qaeda would use Iraq as a base for its terrorist operations.” 52 percent believe “a broader war involving several countries in the Middle East would break out.” And 55 percent believe “there would be new terrorist attacks against the U.S., like the ones that occurred on 9/11.”

All of those conclusions would seem to strengthen the case for “staying the course,” as President Bush proposes. Yet 59 percent of respondents say that we should “set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at that time.” Only 36 percent say that we should “keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation gets better.”

How to square the circle? How to reconcile Americans’ (well-founded) belief that disaster will follow if we leave Iraq with their equally intense desire to do just that? Apparently, it comes down to the fact that most Americans don’t think that our staying in Iraq staves off any of the disasters they envision. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said that the likelihood of terrorist attacks on the U.S. would not be affected by leaving Iraq or by staying the course there.

But that conclusion is at odds with the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community. The National Intelligence Estimate, issued in January, had this to say:

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate . . . we judge that the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] would attempt to use parts of the country—particularly al-Anbar province—to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.

All of this—and in particular the part about al Qaeda—suggests that the terrorist threat against the U.S. would increase if our troops were to leave Iraq. And, although National Intelligence Estimates have been wrong before, there is good reason to think that the consensus conclusion is right on this issue.

In the past four years, Iraq has become the central front in the global war on terrorism. If we leave prematurely, it will be seen as a victory for al Qaeda, which will then shift resources to fight us on other battlefields, starting with Afghanistan.

Democrats are dreaming if they think that stationing U.S. Special Forces troops “in the region”—i.e., hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the conflict’s center—could do much to contain the damage. How many Special Forces raids do we conduct today against terrorist safehouses in Iran or Syria? None, as far as I know. If we pull the bulk of our forces out of Iraq, logistical and political complications would prevent the kind of regular commando incursions needed to contain the al-Qaeda threat. In any case, we wouldn’t have the human intelligence to act. Spy satellites simply won’t provide the actionable intelligence we’d need.

Talk of the Iraqi “civil war” has distracted the American people from the real stakes in Iraq. The administration would be well advised to remind everyone of what’s involved—though by this time its credibility is so shot that its warnings may not be believed by anyone not already firmly in the anti-withdrawal camp.

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Beleaguered “Civil Servants”?

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up a profoundly confused column this morning about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

He begins by noting the extraordinary public service that many career federal workers perform for the country, and he’s absolutely right. But then he turns to accusing the Bush administration of ignoring, abusing, and demeaning such people, using as his example the e-mails sent by Justice Department political appointees regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed by the administration. Those e-mails, he argues, offer an example of political appointees disparaging civil servants.

The only problem is that the U.S. Attorneys who were the subjects of the e-mails he quotes were themselves political appointees, not career civil servants. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, generally at the urging of other elected officials from the President’s party. They stay in office only as long as the President wants them to. A number of Presidents have started their terms by firing all of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys and hiring their own people in their place. (Bill Clinton did that, for instance, firing among others a U.S. Attorney investigating Clinton himself in Arkansas, as Rep. Lamar Smith points out in today’s USA Today.) So the e-mails Ignatius quotes are actually examples of politicals talking about politicals, and do nothing to make the case he wants to push. On the contrary, they show that political appointees, too, do difficult and important work for the country.

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Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up a profoundly confused column this morning about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

He begins by noting the extraordinary public service that many career federal workers perform for the country, and he’s absolutely right. But then he turns to accusing the Bush administration of ignoring, abusing, and demeaning such people, using as his example the e-mails sent by Justice Department political appointees regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed by the administration. Those e-mails, he argues, offer an example of political appointees disparaging civil servants.

The only problem is that the U.S. Attorneys who were the subjects of the e-mails he quotes were themselves political appointees, not career civil servants. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, generally at the urging of other elected officials from the President’s party. They stay in office only as long as the President wants them to. A number of Presidents have started their terms by firing all of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys and hiring their own people in their place. (Bill Clinton did that, for instance, firing among others a U.S. Attorney investigating Clinton himself in Arkansas, as Rep. Lamar Smith points out in today’s USA Today.) So the e-mails Ignatius quotes are actually examples of politicals talking about politicals, and do nothing to make the case he wants to push. On the contrary, they show that political appointees, too, do difficult and important work for the country.

His more general point that the Bush administration is uniquely dismissive of the contributions of career civil servants is no less careless and unsupported. All you have to do is talk to a civil servant who worked, say, in the Office of Management and Budget or the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Clinton years, and you will be quickly relieved of any such notion.

There is always bound to be some friction between political appointees who work to advance the agenda of the elected President and the career civil servants who see one President or another as a temporary problem. The friction is especially great when the bureaucracy is actively opposed to the President’s agenda, as often happens for instance in the State Department during Republican administrations or the Pentagon in Democratic ones. The Bush administration has faced a particularly hostile bureaucracy in a few key agencies, including several (like the CIA) that play crucial roles in the war against Islamic radicals. The administration has, on the whole, handled it well, and has actually treated civil servants with more respect than they’re accustomed to throughout the government, appointing career staff to unusually senior positions and including them in very sensitive discussions.

Whether or not that’s the case at the Justice Department, a dispute between two groups of political appointees, as in the U.S. Attorneys scandal, is beside the point.

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Carter’s Lies

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

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