Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vanity Fair

Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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Vanity Flair

The Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama, in his statement about the award, began this way:

One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.

No kidding. And just in case we forgot that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, he reminds us — at the end of his three-paragraph statement — “I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year.”

This statement makes one wonder if there are any limits to Mr. Obama’s narcissism. In thinking about the Obama White House, one is reminded (once again) of the words of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, who in his dreams saw a town before him. “It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter that vanity, and also because all that is sold there, or that comes there, is vanity.”

(H/T: Byron York)

The Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama, in his statement about the award, began this way:

One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice. Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.

No kidding. And just in case we forgot that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, he reminds us — at the end of his three-paragraph statement — “I regret that Mr. Liu and his wife were denied the opportunity to attend the ceremony that Michelle and I attended last year.”

This statement makes one wonder if there are any limits to Mr. Obama’s narcissism. In thinking about the Obama White House, one is reminded (once again) of the words of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, who in his dreams saw a town before him. “It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter that vanity, and also because all that is sold there, or that comes there, is vanity.”

(H/T: Byron York)

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Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

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Dunking for Dollars

An enterprising journalism school might want to start offering a one-day seminar in the effective staging of videotaped waterboarding. Getting under a wet towel is a surefire way to put your name out there. It’s sort of like the reality TV of journalism. Get a cheap camera, do something unpleasant, and welcome your new audience.

Before today, I had never heard of the Sun’s Oliver Harvey. But now that he got wet and held his breath for 12 seconds while being videotaped he’s become the subject of this post. Harvey is the latest in a string of writers who’ve taken this shortcut to a larger readership. Of all the volunteer splashees, Christopher Hitchens got the most mileage when he submitted himself to the whims of fake interrogators in 2008. This produced an immediately forgettable Vanity Fair article and an immortal YouTube video.

Apparently it eludes these eager bathers that as more of them get dunked for dough, the case for the unspeakable inhumanity of waterboarding becomes increasingly weak.  In fact, there’s something wonderfully pro-American in all this. So evil are the wartime methods of the United States that they’ve inspired a succession of entrepreneurial self-administering copycats to capitalize on them in the free market. Tell me there’s no poetry in that. You don’t see the denizens of Fleet Street offering themselves up to the interrogation methods of the regimes they’re so eager to defend, do you? When you see an Iran apologist suffering the identical treatment of an Evin prison captive then we’ll talk.

An enterprising journalism school might want to start offering a one-day seminar in the effective staging of videotaped waterboarding. Getting under a wet towel is a surefire way to put your name out there. It’s sort of like the reality TV of journalism. Get a cheap camera, do something unpleasant, and welcome your new audience.

Before today, I had never heard of the Sun’s Oliver Harvey. But now that he got wet and held his breath for 12 seconds while being videotaped he’s become the subject of this post. Harvey is the latest in a string of writers who’ve taken this shortcut to a larger readership. Of all the volunteer splashees, Christopher Hitchens got the most mileage when he submitted himself to the whims of fake interrogators in 2008. This produced an immediately forgettable Vanity Fair article and an immortal YouTube video.

Apparently it eludes these eager bathers that as more of them get dunked for dough, the case for the unspeakable inhumanity of waterboarding becomes increasingly weak.  In fact, there’s something wonderfully pro-American in all this. So evil are the wartime methods of the United States that they’ve inspired a succession of entrepreneurial self-administering copycats to capitalize on them in the free market. Tell me there’s no poetry in that. You don’t see the denizens of Fleet Street offering themselves up to the interrogation methods of the regimes they’re so eager to defend, do you? When you see an Iran apologist suffering the identical treatment of an Evin prison captive then we’ll talk.

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Daily Beast Swallows Newsweek

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

Indignant are the elite opinion makers. “The editor of Vanity Fair is in dudgeon over last week’s election. … They heard this wave of Dem/lib defeats was coming, but it’s just possible they didn’t really believe it: How, after all, could it happen? Eight years of suffering—war, torture, lies, and oh, that mangled language—ended with the advent of Obamunism. Now they have to relinquish their antibiotic-free ranging and go back to huddle in their Robert Couturier-decorated pens? And all because of an enraged, pitchfork-bearing, brimstone mob of Tea Partiers?” Read the whole hilarious thing.

Exonerated. “The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people. The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.”

Useless (or worse). “Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, held meetings in Lebanon Monday before traveling to Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Rejectionist — as always. “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Monday as saying that if Israel wants the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table it must cease all construction in the settlements. Meanwhile, top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabo said it was ‘impossible’ for the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as long as the present government is in power in Israel.”

Ambitious? He sure sounds like he’s running for something: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry insists that he’s not running for president, but he didn’t mind offering an unvarnished view Monday about the signature policy accomplishment of one Republican who almost certainly is in the race. ‘The health care plan out of Massachusetts, I would suggest to you, is too much the like the health care plan passed out of Washington,’ Perry said, succinctly voicing one of the chief difficulties former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney faces in the upcoming GOP primary.”

Shrinking. “Democratic allies are not optimistic about their legislative priorities getting done in the lame-duck session after Democratic candidates got pummeled on Election Day. Senate Democrats had discussed as many as 20 bills up for consideration during the lame-duck session, the period between the Nov. 2 election and Christmas. In the wake of a midterm election that President Obama called a ‘shellacking’ of his party, Democratic insiders question if anything more than a stopgap spending measure and temporary extension of Bush-era tax cuts can pass.”

Hopeless. All the Obama “smart” diplomats can do is repeat the fundamental error in their approach to peace talks. “The United States is ‘deeply disappointed’ that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 new homes in ‘sensitive areas’ of east Jerusalem, a State Department spokesman said Monday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters that the United States sees the announcement as ‘counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.’ ‘We have long urged both parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust including in Jerusalem and we will continue to work to resume negotiations,’ Crowley said.” Are all the Democratic pro-Israel Jews “deeply disappointed” in Obama yet? Hardly. Sigh.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

Ben Smith has this right about a new, fantastical Vanity Fair piece: “you can really write anything about Palin.”

Michael Goldfarb has the goods on the “moderate” Ground Zero mosque builders. It seems they won’t condemn Tuesday’s slaughter of four Israelis. This is precisely why Muslim outreach is a flawed and ultimately dangerous exercise — it overlooks and excuses the coddling of terrorists.

Stephen Schwartz has the scoop on the Ground Zero mosque builders’ infighting: “Increasing questions about the character and qualifications of the primary figures in ‘Ground Zero mosque,’ as well as personal rivalries between them, may have accomplished as much for the mosque’s opponents as have protests and disapproving poll results. An offensive concept was presented to Americans by flawed and self-interested individuals; the combination may well guarantee its eventual collapse.”

PPP has the Ohio gubernatorial race going to John Kasich: “Former Congressman and Fox News anchor John Kasich leads Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, 50-40, in PPP’s first poll of likely voters in the race. In the previous survey of registered voters in June, Kasich led only 43-41. President Obama won Ohio by four points in 2008, but the likely 2010 electorate now reports having voted for John McCain by three—a seven-point shift in turnout which mirrors Kasich’s eight-point improvement in the horse race in the last two months.” That same shift is probably happening nationwide.

The GOP has narrowed the gap: “The number of Republicans in the United States grew in August while the number of Democrats slipped a bit and the gap between the parties fell to the smallest advantage for Democrats in five years. In August, 35.0% of American Adults identified themselves as Democrats. That’s down nearly half a percentage point  from a month ago and is the smallest percentage of Democrats ever recorded in nearly eight years of monthly tracking. At the same time, the number of Republicans grew in August grew to 33.8%.” Well, Obama helped a lot.

Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom has the numbers: “[Obama] shouldn’t have attempted to weave in an economic message; the words seemed petty and out of place. They were the president’s backhanded way of saying we wasted the last decade on Iraq, rather than fixing our economy. (Minor detail: The president’s stimulus, passed in his first month in office, will cost $100 billion more than the entire cost of the Iraq war.) His economic posturing took the focus off the troops and their accomplishments, and was unnecessary.” Yeah, there’s some perspective.

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Tom Mahnken has the impression that Obama would rather be doing something else: “[O]ne could not help to see in the president’s words and mannerisms, a man who was distracted, whose heart wasn’t in it. In a speech nominally devoted to Iraq, he couldn’t help but talk about the U.S. economy. … Whereas Bush exhibited great courage in going against his own military to support the Iraqi surge and sell it to his own party and the American people, Obama has yet to put comparable effort into selling his own Afghan surge. The Oval Office speech was a missed opportunity to do just that.”

The BP oil-spill debacle has not come to end: “The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration’s initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil-drilling dealt the government another blow on Wednesday. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government’s request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore-oil-service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.”

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Christopher Hitchens, Jon Stewart, and More

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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By Christopher Hitchens

If you haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article on his battle with cancer, you should. It’s a remarkable article, really — honest and raw, in parts poignant and quite moving. It ends this way:

I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if — as my father invariably said — I am spared.

If you haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article on his battle with cancer, you should. It’s a remarkable article, really — honest and raw, in parts poignant and quite moving. It ends this way:

I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if — as my father invariably said — I am spared.

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Brilliant No More

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

How many times has a pundit or Democrat gushed over Obama’s “brilliant” mind? As conservatives pointed out to the swooners on the left, there was very little evidence of it — no inventive Third Wave philosophy of governance in his pre-presidential career, no significant legislative or intellectual achievement — other than writing a self-promoting and somewhat fictional account of himself — and actually very poor people skills (Maureen Dowd has only now figured out that he is thin-skinned and emotionally robotic). But it was heresy to suggest that he was a conventional liberal thinker, less interesting than Bill Clinton and less rigorous than Ronald Reagan.

Now that his presidency is in dire straits, perhaps the mainstream media are more receptive to that perspective. As Noemie Emery writes, to the extent that he was/is “brilliant,” it’s in the mundane task of running meetings:

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the “nuclear summit” in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, “calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives,” coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand. The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren’t menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs. He isn’t a sphinx, he’s a seminar leader who’s out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

And honestly, he’s not that great at running meetings. His Afghanistan-war seminars dragged on. His health-care summit bombed when Rep. Paul Ryan and others stymied him with facts and figures.

Now that Obama’s policies and political standing are faltering, the media mavens are puzzled, as Emery notes. How can it be that he’s failing when he’s so smart? It never dawns on them that they confused slickness with smarts and urbanity with insight.

Whether it is Obama or Elena Kagan, it’s rather easy to impress the chattering class — an Ivy League degree, poise before the cameras, verbal acuity, and disdain for conservative ideas usually do it. It matters not what these figures have produced (legal opinions, legislation, etc.) but with whom they circulate and where they’ve studied. To a great degree, social elitism has replaced meritocracy as the left’s yardstick.

Unfortunately for Obama, he will be judged by what he does, not how he looks doing it. And frankly, his polish and charisma (conservatives never saw the latter, but others did) are crumbling under the pressure to finally produce something (jobs, a responsible budget, a plan for disarming Iran). There is a reason, as Emery points out, that no president has been “a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.” It turns out that the rationale for the media’s lovefest — he’s just like me, but better! — was not relevant to the presidency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy – is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

Democratic governors are in trouble, too — in states like Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. It seems the recession and Obamaism have not been kind to incumbent Democrats.

Keith Hennessey on ObamaCare: “If you’re concerned about long-run budget deficits, you should not make a massive new entitlement spending commitment, exclude a multi-hundred billion spending item that is almost certain to be enacted elsewhere, bet on speculative offsets, all to achieve the unimpressive goal of reducing deficits by “a small share of the total deficits that would be likely to arise in that decade under current policies. We need massive future spending reductions to address exploding future deficits, not to redistribute resources to a new entitlement program.”

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen survey reports that 60 percent of voters think ObamaCare will increase the deficit. Only 9 percent say it won’t have any impact.

Charles Krauthammer observes that “all Iran sees is an obsequious president, the most accommodating and appeasement-minded since the Carter administration vis-a-vis Iran, on bended knee, begging for a yes — and all [he] gets is no. At some point, and it should be today, it should have been a year ago, three years ago in the Bush administration, accept the fact that a no is a no. … [The Obama administration] actually took the side of the dictatorship against the people in the streets, hoping that it would create an opening and an overture to the regime — and [in response] the regime has spat in our face.”

Well, yes, we imagine that this is what everyone striving to establish himself as a 2012 contender will say: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor. Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.”

Pawlenty, perhaps explaining why he seems to be trying so hard, confesses: “Nobody knows who I am.”

A pre-speech Gallup survey: “Americans are far less approving of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan than they have been in recent months, with 35% currently approving, down from 49% in September and 56% in July.” And more voters disapprove than approve of his performance on terrorism, the economy, health care, and creating jobs.

This is pathetic: the White House goes to war with Politico?! Next up: CNN and Vanity Fair. It seems the “purity” test — brook no heresy – is not a GOP thing but an Obami thin-skinned media thing.

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Gaza Confidential

The exciting piece of foreign policy reportage to hit the presses this week is David Rose’s account in Vanity Fair of the covert strategy the Bush administration pursued to undermine Hamas after the group came to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The administration’s idea was to use an old Fatah security strongman, Muhammad Dahlan, to head up a new security force that would serve two U.S. policy goals: the unification and reform of the byzantine PA security services, and the assemblage of a Fatah force that would be able to put Hamas in its place.

As Rose reports,

A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown.”

As everyone knows by now, there was no military showdown in Gaza — there was a rout of Fatah’s forces by Hamas.

On one level, this story can be filed away as a smaller example of the failure of American state-building among the Palestinians. No matter how many different and creative ways successive American administrations have arranged incentives, disincentives, aid packages, diplomatic agreements, and the like, little is to show for it but Palestinian violence — whether the 2000-2004 terror war that followed Oslo, or Hamas’ rocket war today. Relying on Palestinian strongmen/terrorists has been a disaster (Arafat); relying on Palestinian elections has been a disaster (Hamas); and now we have evidence that an even finer-grained involvement in Palestinian internal affairs — assigning a Palestinian strongman the task of dispatching with a democratically-elected terror group — helped precipitate the Hamas coup in Gaza. More disaster.

On another level, there is something irreconcilable in all of this furious gamesmanship: The Bush administration wishes to promote democratic Palestinian statehood, yet refuses to make an honest assessment of the political ambitions of the Palestinian people. There does not seem to be a great deal of appreciation for the idea that Hamas represents something genuine about the worldview of a large faction of Palestinians — a refusal to accept Israel; a choice of violence over diplomacy; and a desire in governance for the Islamic over the secular. Given this level of self-deceit, it is not surprising that Condi Rice’s skulduggery only served to worsen the situation.

The exciting piece of foreign policy reportage to hit the presses this week is David Rose’s account in Vanity Fair of the covert strategy the Bush administration pursued to undermine Hamas after the group came to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The administration’s idea was to use an old Fatah security strongman, Muhammad Dahlan, to head up a new security force that would serve two U.S. policy goals: the unification and reform of the byzantine PA security services, and the assemblage of a Fatah force that would be able to put Hamas in its place.

As Rose reports,

A State Department official adds, “Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown.”

As everyone knows by now, there was no military showdown in Gaza — there was a rout of Fatah’s forces by Hamas.

On one level, this story can be filed away as a smaller example of the failure of American state-building among the Palestinians. No matter how many different and creative ways successive American administrations have arranged incentives, disincentives, aid packages, diplomatic agreements, and the like, little is to show for it but Palestinian violence — whether the 2000-2004 terror war that followed Oslo, or Hamas’ rocket war today. Relying on Palestinian strongmen/terrorists has been a disaster (Arafat); relying on Palestinian elections has been a disaster (Hamas); and now we have evidence that an even finer-grained involvement in Palestinian internal affairs — assigning a Palestinian strongman the task of dispatching with a democratically-elected terror group — helped precipitate the Hamas coup in Gaza. More disaster.

On another level, there is something irreconcilable in all of this furious gamesmanship: The Bush administration wishes to promote democratic Palestinian statehood, yet refuses to make an honest assessment of the political ambitions of the Palestinian people. There does not seem to be a great deal of appreciation for the idea that Hamas represents something genuine about the worldview of a large faction of Palestinians — a refusal to accept Israel; a choice of violence over diplomacy; and a desire in governance for the Islamic over the secular. Given this level of self-deceit, it is not surprising that Condi Rice’s skulduggery only served to worsen the situation.

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Paying Attention to Arthur Miller

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

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Attention Must be Paid

Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

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Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

Miller was very much a man of the Left, and his reputation was burnished with the attributes attached to that exalted position: partiality to the great humanitarian causes of the day; a strong conscience; sympathy for the dispossessed and downtrodden. So it must have come as a great surprise to his many admirers to read Suzanna Andrews’s story about Miller in the current Vanity Fair, in which we learn of Miller’s abandonment of his son Daniel, born with Down’s syndrome. As Stephen Schwartz wrote for the Weekly Standard upon Miller’s death, “Arthur Miller’s life is the great American morality play of the 20th century.” Schwartz was more prescient than he knew; he was writing about Miller’s vindictive attitude towards his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. But it is this new revelation that ought to damage permanently Miller’s reputation, if not as a writer, than as a humanitarian.

Miller put Daniel in an institution days after his birth, a not-uncommon practice at the time. Miller rarely, if ever, visited his son (Miller’s wife Inge Morath visited every Sunday). Nor did the playwright deign to mention Daniel in his 1987 memoir, or in any of the “scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years.” Daniel was shuttered away and anonymous: when Miller died in 2005, the Los Angeles Times’s obituary said that “Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father.” Daniel not only survived, he succeeded. He triumphed over the adversities of his condition and his early institutionalization, and now lives, for the most part, independently. He has competed in the Special Olympics, and is widely loved and admired by the many people who have come to know him.

“How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller’s, ‘had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice, do something like this?’” Andrews asks. A good question. Miller left a quarter of his estate for Daniel, but a very rich man’s leaving a quarter of his estate to one of his four children is hardly an act of moral courage.

“Attention must be paid.” This line, spoken by Linda Loman, wife of Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, is one of the most famous lines in American drama. Through Linda, Miller pointed out the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how problematic its condition. How tragic that he ignored his own admonition.

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Misreading Christopher Hitchens

Say what you will about Christopher Hitchens—his views on Israel, most exhaustively rendered in a book he co-authored with the late Edward Said, leave much to be desired—but he is the most eloquent and passionate opponent of Islamic jihadism writing today. He is also a passionate critic of all forms of religious hucksterism, and offers the most concise and devastating rebuke of Al Sharpton in the current issue of Vanity Fair: “A man who proves every day that you can get away with anything in this country if you shove the word ‘Reverend’ in front of your name.”

Anyone who writes honestly and bluntly about Islam inevitably is labeled a “racist,” an appalling misunderstanding of the word, since it can be applied only to those who abjure someone for the pigmentation of their skin, not their belief system. In a diatribe on the popular and engaging blog associated with the online magazine Jewcy, Richard Silverstein, a contributor to Tikkun magazine*, furthers the misunderstanding. After the obligatory tributes to Hitchens’s “high-toned English accent” and “mellifluous” voice (which apparently trick all those gullible fools not as smart as Silverstein), he takes issue with Hitchens’s contention that, “Islam, by the way, does not mean ‘peace.’ It means ‘surrender,’ ‘prostration.’”

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Say what you will about Christopher Hitchens—his views on Israel, most exhaustively rendered in a book he co-authored with the late Edward Said, leave much to be desired—but he is the most eloquent and passionate opponent of Islamic jihadism writing today. He is also a passionate critic of all forms of religious hucksterism, and offers the most concise and devastating rebuke of Al Sharpton in the current issue of Vanity Fair: “A man who proves every day that you can get away with anything in this country if you shove the word ‘Reverend’ in front of your name.”

Anyone who writes honestly and bluntly about Islam inevitably is labeled a “racist,” an appalling misunderstanding of the word, since it can be applied only to those who abjure someone for the pigmentation of their skin, not their belief system. In a diatribe on the popular and engaging blog associated with the online magazine Jewcy, Richard Silverstein, a contributor to Tikkun magazine*, furthers the misunderstanding. After the obligatory tributes to Hitchens’s “high-toned English accent” and “mellifluous” voice (which apparently trick all those gullible fools not as smart as Silverstein), he takes issue with Hitchens’s contention that, “Islam, by the way, does not mean ‘peace.’ It means ‘surrender,’ ‘prostration.’”

Hitchens, as anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of Islam will know, is literally correct. But it is the figurative meaning of this contention that so upsets the morally and culturally relativist Silverstein. He writes:

What is misleading about Hitchens’s statement is he neglects that “Islam” connotes the peaceful “surrender” of a believer to the will of God, but not the “surrender” of a non-believer before the force or power of Islam. Such peaceful surrender, which some see as the essence of faith, is a feature of many of the world’s religions. Hitchens is spinning Islam as a religion of violence and domination. So it’s convenient to distort the religion’s name as well. We see here the power of a guileful ideologue used to stir the pot of intolerance and Muslim-bashing.

Leave aside for the moment that Islam, at least to untold millions of its practitioners, most certainly does “connote” the violent “‘surrender’ of a non-believer before the force or power of Islam” in a way that is most certainly not “a feature of many of the world’s religions.” What Hitchens really is getting at—and what Silverstein apparently cannot understand—is that for many Muslims, “surrender” means to abandon one’s reason and belief in common humanity to an ancient and conquering creed. It is for this reason that precious few Muslim-majority states are secular democracies that respect human rights and minority faiths. Alas, this is a truth that Silverstein and the useful idiots at Tikkun will never acknowledge.

* CORRECTION: Richard Silverstein is not associated with Tikkun, but has a blog entitled Tikun Olam. I regret the error. But his views are indistinguishable from those espoused in that publication, and I stand by my contention that he and its editors are “useful idiots.”

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Sam Tanenhaus: Arsonist

The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

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The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

Summing up both of my objections to Tanenhaus’s article, I wrote: “To confuse an international surveillance program with a domestic one is to be as imprecise and inflammatory as to use the word ‘treason’ in describing a much less serious violation of the law.”

“Inflammatory” was the right word. For if in his initial article Tanenhaus was tending toward the incendiary, his response to my letter, now published in TNR, is a Molotov cocktail.

First he accuses me of propagating “nonsense.” Then he pours a bit of gasoline into the bottle, saying that the “charge of espionage implies a corollary charge of treason,” and that in distinguishing between the two I was employing a “mode of clarification” that is precisely like “one used a half-century ago by Joseph McCarthy.”

But I never said, to repeat, that editors at the Times committed either treason or espionage. Section 798 of Title 18, the provision at issue, is entitled “Disclosure of classified information” and it is very easy to understand. Even analysts who disagree with me about the desirability of prosecuting the Times—Morton Halperin, for example, of George Soros’s Open Society Institute—concur that the Times did indeed break this law.

As for his calling the NSA surveillance program “domestic,” Tanenhaus justifies this with a single citation from the December 16, 2005 Washington Post in which it was called “domestic spying”—as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t add a single fact to the discussion, except that someone at the Washington Post is also confused.

I have read a lot of Tanenhaus’s writings over the years in the Times, in Vanity Fair, in Slate, and even in COMMENTARY. I have never known him to break into a sweat or even get hot under the collar. For that matter, though he writes at great length about current events, I have never seen him stake out a genuinely controversial position on anything—attacks on safe targets like Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter clearly do not count. His past reticence on matters of importance was always something of a mystery to me, although I have had my theories. Whatever explains that past reticence, his present act of minor intellectual arson in defense of his employer, in which he does not hesitate to toss in the name of Joseph McCarthy as tinder, offers an additional clue to the puzzle—about which, once again, I have my theories.

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Striking Iran: Cakewalk or Slam-Dunk?

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses. Read More

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses.

To attack such a target, Israel would need to use penetrating warheads that are either “delay-fused bombs that have been modified to have a more ‘pointed’ shape and extensively structurally reinforced,” or even more advanced  warheads that “detonate in stages to increase penetration.” To destroy Natanz effectively, one technique, write Raas and Long, would be to use such weapons

targeted on the same aimpoint but separated slightly in release time to “burrow” into the target. Essentially one bomb hits the crater made by the previous weapon, a technique contemplated by the U.S. Air Force in the first Gulf war. This takes advantage of the extremely high accuracy of LGB’s [laser-guided bombs] in combination with a penetrating warhead. The IAF [Israeli Air Force] appears to have purchased penetrating LGB’s with this technique in mind. General Eitan Ben-Elyahu, former commander of the IAF and a participant in the Osirak strike, commented on this method of attacking hardened facilities in Jane’s Defense Weekly: “Even if one bomb would not suffice to penetrate, we could guide other bombs directly to the hole created by the previous ones and eventually destroy any target.”

Is Israel going to strike Iran? We do not yet know the answer, and there are many imponderables, including its calculation of whether the U.S. will strike first and its additional calculation of Tehran’s likely response.

Not only does Iran have long-range missiles but it also has Hizballah cells all over the world poised to carry out terror missions in the event of an attack. We ourselves are not exempt; according to the State Department’s 2006 annual report on terrorism, Hizballah has “established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia.” If that were not enough, FBI Director Robert Mueller has confirmed that Hizballah “retains the capability to strike in the U.S.”

In response to Israeli attacks on its leaders in the early 1990’s, Hizballah, in separate incidents, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29, and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85. Of course, once Iran has nuclear weapons, we would not be worrying about the lives of hundreds but the lives of hundreds of thousands and even millions. The dangers posed to Israel and to the rest of the world would thus seem to be intolerable, except of course to some of the writers at Vanity Fair—see my Learning to Love the Islamic Bomb.

However one judges Israeli intentions vis-a-vis Iran, the Raas-Long paper is of the view that the Jewish state has the capability to go it alone. Their conviction is that despite all the complexities of the Iranian target set, the advent of precision-guided munitions means that such an assault today would appear “to be no more risky than the earlier attack on Osirak.”

Of course, it should be obvious, at the same time, that such a military operation would be neither a slam-dunk nor a cakewalk. Thus, one does not have to be a Vanity Fair writer, or to love the Islamic bomb, to see that Israel’s decision, whatever it is, will be one of the biggest rolls of the dice in the sixty-year history of the Jewish state.

 

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Learning To Love the Islamic Bomb

As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

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As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

Building one from scratch is out of the question; major states spend years and billions of dollars acquiring the expertise and the materials, especially the fissionable elements for its explosive core. Conducting such an enterprise on a shoestring budget while on the run from cave to cave is not a likely prospect.

Far more worrisome is that al Qaeda will seek out a bomb from Pakistan, which now has perhaps as many as 25 to 100 such devices in its arsenal. There would be two ways to lay one’s hands on such a heavily guarded apparatus.

The first would be to foment a revolution in unstable Pakistan that brings Islamists into power. Toward that end, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been waging a campaign of terror inside Pakistan designed to topple the government of General Pervez Musharraf. In the most recent attack this past Saturday, a suicide bomber killed 28 people in a failed attempt on the life of Pakistan’s interior minister.

A second approach would be to find a sympathizer inside Pakistan’s military or nuclear establishment. Given recent history, this might well be the easier route. After all, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb-making project, Abdul Q. Khan, now under house arrest in Islamabad, found it convenient and profitable to trade nuclear secrets and materials to a host of aggressive anti-American, terror-supporting states, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

How many others are there like Khan inside the Pakistani establishment, and can they be stopped? That is a question that every presidential candidate should be compelled to ponder, especially because a swelling chorus of voices in the liberal-Left foreign-policy establishment is now all of a sudden telling us that nuclear proliferation is not the fearful thing we have long believed.

The latest entry is a new book called the The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, by William Langewiesche, a correspondent for Vanity Fair, whose considered opinion is that the “spread of nuclear weapons, even to such countries as North Korea and Iran, may not be as catastrophic as is generally believed,” and certainly not bad enough to justify “the pursuit of preemptive wars” of the kind we are now fighting in Iraq and contemplating against Iran.

On the contrary, suggests Langewiesche, we should recognize that we live in a “new reality in which limited nuclear wars are possible, and the use of a few devices, though locally devastating, will not necessarily blossom into a global exchange.” Overall, he concludes, since the end of the cold war, “the risk of an apocalypse may have been reduced.”

Perhaps Langewiesche is right. Or perhaps he is wrong. On the basis of his experience writing for Vanity Fair, should we just take his word for it? I prefer to side with the tainted Tenet in the view that we should do our utmost to stop such a thing from happening. And I find it fascinating, and profoundly disquieting, that a growing chorus of voices is telling us that we should not worry about something so worrisome, a case of defining deviancy down if there ever was one. 

A nuclear device supplied by a rogue element in Pakistan and detonated by al Qaeda at Four Times Square, where the offices of Vanity Fair are located, would almost certainly destroy the offices of COMMENTARY as well, even though we are located a few blocks north and across town. A global apocalypse during the cold war would no doubt have been awful. “Locally devastating” in the post-cold war would be bad enough.
 

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