The speech vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered this morning gives a sense of the quality you get from being in a room with him: He’s not a fire-breather. He’s unflappable and unadorned, combining plain-spokenness with almost offhanded rhetorical hints of the deeper philosophy undergirding his opinions (“our rights are from nature and God, not from government”). This wasn’t a populist spark-plug of a speech the way Sarah Palin’s dazzling out-of-nowhere introduction to America was in 2008; it was a calm elaboration of themes already articulated by the Romney campaign. Most important, he and Romney both spoke of saving Medicare, indicating that they have already thought long and hard about the attack that will be waged against them because Ryan’s famous budget changes the structure of Medicare for everybody under 55. The line being proffered before the speech was that Mitt Romney had chosen a vice-presidential candidate who will effectively become the presidential candidate because Romney has no ideas and Ryan has a million. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the game going forward. Romney is the candidate, and he will pick and choose from Ryan’s ideas at will; it is Ryan who will have to say, as George H.W. Bush said, that he understands his ideas have been superseded by his boss’s. Remember, he’s voted many times for legislation he presumably didn’t really like (Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout) because of political necessity.
Topic: Vice President
Last week, Jewish Funds for Justice published an open letter in the Wall Street Journal calling on Fox News to sanction Glenn Beck for his “use of Holocaust and Nazi images.” But now the JTA is reporting that two groups cited as critics of Beck in the letter — the Anti-Defamation League and the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors — have clarified that they want nothing to do with the campaign:
“I want to make it clear, for the record, that I do not support this misguided campaign against Fox News, even though my name was used,” Foxman said in a letter published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal.
“At a time when Holocaust denial is rampant in much of the Arab world, where anti-Semitism remains a serious concern, and where the Iranian leader has openly declared his desire to ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ surely there are greater enemies and threats to the Jewish people than the pro-Israel stalwarts Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck,” Foxman’s letter concluded.
In another letter appearing the same day, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, vice president of the American Gathering, said that [American Gathering vice president Elan] Steinberg “has no more right than I do to speak in the name of the survivors on this topic.” He added that “in my 30 years of participation in large-scale annual commemorations, I have yet to meet a survivor who expressed support for Mr. Soros.”
In the letter, COMMENTARY was also cited as criticizing Beck’s comments about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. And while Beck’s statements may have been tasteless, Jonathan noted last week that the Jewish Funds for Justice’s campaign certainly doesn’t represent COMMENTARY’s position on the issue.
In fact, three out of four groups that Jewish Funds for Justice quoted in its letter have felt the need to point out their objections to the anti-Beck drive. But despite this fact, the Jewish Funds for Justice’s website is continuing to accept signatures for the letter, which still includes the quotes from the ADL, the American Gathering, and COMMENTARY.
It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.
That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.
How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More
The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”
The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.
The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.
But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”
She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.
From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.
As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.
The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.
So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”
Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More
In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.
I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)
The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?” Read More
The Hartford Courant’s website is reporting that Senator Joseph Lieberman is poised to announce that he won’t run for re-election in 2012. Lieberman will announce his 2012 plans Wednesday in his hometown of Stamford, at an event where he will be surrounded by longtime supporters, adding to speculation that he will speak of the end of his political career in the place where he grew up. The decision not to wait is being linked to the announcement by Susan Bysiewicz, a popular Democrat who has served as Connecticut’s secretary of state and was ruled off the ballot last year for state attorney general by a technicality, that she will run for Lieberman’s seat.
The Courant speculates that the reason Lieberman is not waiting until later in the election cycle to pull out is because he wants to make his statement “while there’s still speculation that he could still win if he chose to run.” Maybe. But the only reason Lieberman is bailing now is because he knows he has no chance to win in 2012.
I wrote last month that indications that Linda McMahon was going to make another try for the Senate in 2012 made a repeat of Lieberman’s 2006 win as an independent virtually impossible because he would need the GOP to more or less not show up the way they did in that race. In response, some readers contended that if Connecticut Democrats nominated an unpopular hard-core left-winger, Lieberman could still squeak through. But given that the Democratic field is already shaping up as one populated by highly electable candidates like Bysiewicz and Rep. Joseph Courtney, who has also indicated interest, this is an extremely unlikely scenario. Sam Stein at the Huffington Post reports that Patty Murray, the new chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has told Lieberman that her group might back him in a primary if he returned to the Democrats. But that seems like an empty promise, since even more Democrats are angry with Lieberman today than they were when he lost his party’s primary in 2006. With party activists in both parties dead set against Lieberman, he has no chance to win either party’s nomination, and if faced with two strong opponents rather than just one, which now seems to be a given, he has no chance to win.
Lieberman has had a remarkable run in elected office. He started out as a stereotypical liberal Democrat when he first ran for the State Senate from New Haven (the young Bill Clinton was a campaign volunteer). Lieberman later became state attorney general and then turned conventional wisdom on its head by running to the right of liberal Republican Lowell Weicker in 1988. Once in office, he became enormously popular, striking a balance between conventionally liberal economic stands while also articulating centrist stands on foreign policy and social issues. Lieberman came within a few hanging chads of becoming vice president in 2000, but the moral tone and foreign policy stands that helped win him that nomination would ultimately alienate him from fellow Democrats. His principled support for the Iraq war was the turning point for him, and it ultimately ensured that he would be the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats in the U.S. Senate. While he wasn’t always right on all the issues, his is a voice that would, come 2013, be greatly missed.
Over at the Washington Post, Ramesh Ponnuru writes this:
I count five rightward moves by the president since the midterm elections. First he agreed to delay any tax increases on high earners. He made William Daley chief of staff over progressive objections. He implicitly rebuked the Left’s attempt to exploit the Tucson shootings for political advantage. The administration, its hand forced by Vice President Biden’s comments about leaving Afghanistan in 2014 “come hell or high water,” made it clearer than ever that it does not regard 2014 as a hard deadline. And now President Obama has announced a review of burdensome regulations.
One might even add Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s newly tough line on human rights in China–which isn’t exactly a move to the right but will nonetheless please most conservatives.
My conclusions: 1) The next two years will be long ones for liberals. 2) Obama is going to be harder to beat in 2012 than many Republicans believe. 3) If Obama does win, though, the Obama of 2013 will be closer to the Obama of 2009 than the Obama of 2011. The move to the center is tactical and temporary.
Ramesh’s analysis sounds (as usual) right to me. The only amendment I’d make is that conservatives I hear from, at least for the most part, don’t assume President Obama will be easy to beat. Quite the opposite, in fact. They recognize that the incumbent president, especially if he doesn’t face a primary challenge, usually has the advantage. In addition, their concern is that the current group of potential presidential candidates — those sure to run and those thinking about running — aren’t up to the task. We’ll see.
In any event, Obama’s tack to the center underscores the fact that this is not a liberal country and it does not like to be governed by liberal lawmakers.
That was one large lesson from the 2010 election — and it’s one the president seems to have internalized.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned legions of fans with his take-no-prisoners style over the last year as he defied the unions and other entrenched interests in his drive to return his state to fiscal sanity. But while Christie has sought to silence the buzz about a possible presidential run, it appears that there might be a better reason to abandon this fantasy than his understandable reluctance: the governor has some explaining to do about his cozying up to an Islamist group in the state both before and after his election.
Christie’s decision to appoint attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state Superior Court judgeship has raised questions not only about his nominee’s record but also about the governor’s own stand. Mohammed is mainly known for the fact that he was the defense attorney for Muslims who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror organizations. In one case, Mohammed fought the government’s effort to deport Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the extremist — though well-connected — American Muslim Union. Though the New York Times praised him in 2008 during his deportation trial as a “revered imam” and portrayed the case as an overreaction to 9/11, Qatanani, a Palestinian, is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted to being a member of Hamas when he was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1993 before coming to the United States. Though he claimed to be an advocate of interfaith dialogue (and was accepted as such by some liberal Jews), Qatanani was no moderate on the Middle East. His ties to Hamas were well known, and just the year before his deportation trial, Qatanani endorsed Israel’s absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.” Qatanani clearly lied about his record as an Islamist on documents that he used to enter the country. But he was nevertheless able to evade justice in the immigration courts because the judge accepted his undocumented claim that the Israelis tortured him.
Qatanani also benefited from having some highly placed friends in the justice system as a result of the political pull of the American Muslim Union, which boasts Sohail Mohammed as one of its board members. The AMU was able to get former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell, and then U.S. attorney Chris Christie to intervene on Qatanani’s behalf during the trial. As far as Christie was concerned, this was not a matter of merely signing a letter or making a phone call. The day before the Immigration Court announced its decision, Christie actually spoke at Qatanani’s mosque (Qatanani’s predecessor had boasted of raising at the mosque $2 million for Hamas via the now banned Holy Land Foundation) at a Ramadan breakfast dinner, where he embraced the imam while praising him as “a man of great good will.” Read More
Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is
the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.
Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.
Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.
That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?
The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh
delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.
“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”
It quickly went downhill from there.
Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”
During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”
“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”
Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”
“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”
“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”
These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.
David Remnick must be so proud.
I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).
Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”
Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”
In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”
National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it. But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”
Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”
“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”
Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?
I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.
The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.
Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.
In this week’s Weekly Standard, I have an editorial praising President Obama for the toughness and resolution he has shown in Afghanistan by refusing to waver from the surge. The latest sign of his willingness to hang tough was the AfPak review released last week, which suggested that the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy is on track. But then on Sunday, Joe Biden — a never-ending source of ill-advised comments — muddied the waters with his appearance on Meet the Press.
When asked about Afghanistan, the vice president said that July 2011 — which increasingly looks irrelevant — will result in a real drawdown of U.S. troops: “It will not be a token amount.” He then went on to say something even more damaging: “We’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Huh? Biden claimed that this is what was agreed on at the NATO summit in Lisbon last month. But he is wrong. This is what the Lisbon summit declaration actually said:
The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership in some provinces and districts is on track to begin in early 2011, following a joint Afghan and NATO/ISAF assessment and decision. Transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops. Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan. [italics added]
In other words, 2014 is not a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces; it is strictly a deadline for transitioning “full responsibility for security” to Afghan forces. Even if Afghan forces take “full responsibility,” however, there is little doubt that they will need plenty of outside support. A similar transition has already occurred in Iraq, and we still have 50,000 troops there.
The question that administration spokesmen must now answer, unfortunately, is whether Biden’s statement accurately represents the president’s views — or whether the NATO summit declaration that Obama signed is a more faithful guide to American policy. I bet it is the latter, but it is beyond frustrating that Biden has made another comment that casts doubt on American resolve just when our staying power was finally being established in the minds of the Afghan people — and in the minds of the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan.
Doesn’t Biden realize that the best way to ensure an expeditious, “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. forces is by not talking about any withdrawals? The more we signal our determination, the more we talk about our willingness to stay forever if that is what it takes to crush the Taliban, the more Afghans will trust us and abandon the Taliban. And then our troops will be able to come home sooner. Whereas if Biden insists on talking about withdrawals, he makes our troops’ job harder and more likely they will have to fight longer and harder than necessary.
E.J. Dionne Jr. has a column registering his concerns about the “No Labels” group. But he isn’t entirely critical. Dionne makes it clear that there are some things he’s sympathetic to, including this:
The No Labelers are also right to be repulsed by the replacement of real argument with a vicious brand of name-calling. When a president of the United States is attacked simultaneously as an “extreme liberal liar” and a “Nazi,” there is a sick irrationality at work in our discourse.
It’s perhaps worth noting that during the Bush presidency, when George W. Bush was slandered by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “Week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy), Dionne, in an amazing feat of self-control, held his outrage in abeyance. Back then, it was not “sick irrationality at work in our discourse”; it was just the normal, good-spirited back and forth of American politics. And if E.J. has written a column reprimanding the loathsome Representative Alan Grayson for his vicious brand of name-calling, I missed it. (Grayson dubbed his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in a deeply dishonest ad. He has also said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” And for good measure, Grayson has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag.)
In any event, in his column Dionne goes on to assure us that “I am still devoted to moderation.” Of course he is. But what’s really troubling him are those right-wing extremist Republicans and conservatives. Moderation, you see, is “very much alive on the center-left and among Democrats” — but it is “so dead in the Republican Party and on the right.” The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force, Dionne instructs us, “if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism.”
E.J. faces a bit of a problem, of course. The GOP he deems to be so radical, so zealous, and so outside the mainstream is barely a month removed from a historically successful midterm election. Republicans picked up more House seats (63) than in any election since 1938 and have not enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s. In addition, Americans, by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, self-identify as conservative rather than liberal. Public trust in government is at record lows; so is the approval rating for the Democratically controlled Congress. And the signature domestic initiative of the Obama presidency, health-care reform, is quite unpopular and falling short of virtually every promise its advocates made on its behalf. Read More
In an interview with GQ magazine, Vice President Biden, when asked about Barack Obama’s problem in being perceived as aloof, provided us with this answer: “I think what it is, is he’s so brilliant. He is an intellectual.”
So that’s the real explanation for the president’s troubles. It isn’t really a communications problem after all; it’s an IQ Gap between Obama and America. He’s just so much smarter, and so much better, than the rest of us. It can’t be easy for a man so gifted in so many ways to maintain the common touch. That, at least, seems to be the view from ObamaLand.
This, of course, is exactly what the president doesn’t need: aides like Biden, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and others who, as things get worse for Mr. Obama, double down on their flattery of him.
There are many things in life I’m confident Mr. Obama needs; more sycophancy from his advisers is not one of them. What he needs, in fact, are mature, responsible, well-grounded people with standing in his life to let him know what is happening to his presidency. It is coming apart for a variety of reasons, including dogmatism and ideological rigidity, growing incompetence, unwise policies, and the poor performance of the American economy. The problems are not all of Obama’s making — but he bears a large share of the blame for taking America in the wrong direction.
I have little doubt that Vice President Biden’s words reflect his true views. That may be the most worrisome thing of all for the president. Because if this fiction continues to be entertained, things will only get worse for Obama, and for us.
Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.
I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.
But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.
One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.
Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.
After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.
No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”
George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”
So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.
“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”
While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.
This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.
This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.
Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.
Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:
I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.
Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”
Moynihan went on to say this:
If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.
Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.
As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.