Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vice President

Bibi to Biden: Get Real About Iran

It is time to get serious about Iran. That was the message Bibi delivered to Joe Biden. This report explains:

Only a credible military threat can halt Teheran’s nuclear program, Israel stressed to the United States Sunday afternoon.

“The only way to ensure that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons is to create a credible threat of military action against it, unless it stops its race to obtain nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Vice President Joe Biden, according to diplomatic officials. …

In his meeting with Biden, Netanyahu insisted that although economic sanctions have made it difficult for Teheran, there is no sign that they have caused the ayatollahs’ regime to halt its nuclear program. …

“The only time that Iran stopped its nuclear program was in 2003, and that was when they believed that there was a real chance of an American military strike against them,” Netanyahu told Biden, according to diplomatic sources.

Bibi’s admonition is well timed. Iran is attempting to lure the administration into another round of useless talks in order to buy some more time for the regime’s scientists to develop nuclear weapons. (“According to diplomatic sources, Netanyahu said, ‘Iran is attempting to mislead the West and there are worrying signs that the international community is captivated by this mirage.’”) Bibi is right to be concerned; the administration is plainly looking to give Iran an escape hatch – and itself an excuse for inactivity. Those concerned with the prospect of a nuclear threat aimed not simply at Israel but also at the West more generally should reinforce this point and refuse to go along with another round of engagement kabuki theater.

Moreover, with a new, more conservative Congress, there is likely to be additional pressure put on the White House to consider and plan for military action, or at the very least to commit to assisting the Jewish state should its government feel compelled to act unilaterally. Those who have concluded that sanctions are useless, that further talks would be counterproductive, and that a military strike may be essential to the West’s security (and our credibility as guarantor of that security) have public opinion on their side. Before the election, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a compelling case for more robust action. It is time for the new Congress to translate that speech into policy. And it is time for Obama to stop dithering.

It is time to get serious about Iran. That was the message Bibi delivered to Joe Biden. This report explains:

Only a credible military threat can halt Teheran’s nuclear program, Israel stressed to the United States Sunday afternoon.

“The only way to ensure that Iran is not armed with nuclear weapons is to create a credible threat of military action against it, unless it stops its race to obtain nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told US Vice President Joe Biden, according to diplomatic officials. …

In his meeting with Biden, Netanyahu insisted that although economic sanctions have made it difficult for Teheran, there is no sign that they have caused the ayatollahs’ regime to halt its nuclear program. …

“The only time that Iran stopped its nuclear program was in 2003, and that was when they believed that there was a real chance of an American military strike against them,” Netanyahu told Biden, according to diplomatic sources.

Bibi’s admonition is well timed. Iran is attempting to lure the administration into another round of useless talks in order to buy some more time for the regime’s scientists to develop nuclear weapons. (“According to diplomatic sources, Netanyahu said, ‘Iran is attempting to mislead the West and there are worrying signs that the international community is captivated by this mirage.’”) Bibi is right to be concerned; the administration is plainly looking to give Iran an escape hatch – and itself an excuse for inactivity. Those concerned with the prospect of a nuclear threat aimed not simply at Israel but also at the West more generally should reinforce this point and refuse to go along with another round of engagement kabuki theater.

Moreover, with a new, more conservative Congress, there is likely to be additional pressure put on the White House to consider and plan for military action, or at the very least to commit to assisting the Jewish state should its government feel compelled to act unilaterally. Those who have concluded that sanctions are useless, that further talks would be counterproductive, and that a military strike may be essential to the West’s security (and our credibility as guarantor of that security) have public opinion on their side. Before the election, Sen. Joe Lieberman delivered a compelling case for more robust action. It is time for the new Congress to translate that speech into policy. And it is time for Obama to stop dithering.

Read Less

What We Had Here Was Not a Failure to Communicate

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions – but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions – but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

Read Less

RE: Down to West Virginia and Washington

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

If the GOP were to pick up nine seats and neither Ben Nelson nor Joe Lieberman could be lured across the aisle, that would tie the Senate at 50-50. That last happened after the 2000 election (before Jim Jeffords of Vermont crossed the aisle in the other direction a few months later and gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority). In 2001, that meant that Vice President Dick Cheney was the deciding vote on how the Senate would be organized. Now it would be Joe Biden. It would also mean that Biden would have to stick pretty close to home while the Senate was in session to be available to break any ties. Whether that would be a net plus or minus for the Republic, I know not.

But how likely is it that Lieberman or Nelson would switch? I agree with James Taranto that it’s not likely.

And then there’s Alaska. It’s now a Republican seat, but the current holder, Lisa Murkowski, lost the primary and decided, in a fit of chutzpah, to run a write-in campaign. Some polls show her ahead, but do they have any predictive value? I doubt it. I think a lot of people who told the pollsters they were voting for her will, on arriving at the polling booth, decide a write-in vote is just too much trouble and vote for Joe Miller. Even if she wins, I imagine that she would caucus with the Republicans, despite the fact that she was roundly denounced by her Republican colleagues for not accepting the results of the primary and thus putting the seat in jeopardy by splitting the vote. If that were to happen, and the Democrat were to win thanks to Murkowski’s ego, thereby depriving the Republicans of the majority, I don’t think that Murkowski will be invited to many future Republican picnics.

Read Less

Will Obama Go Back to Fighting Over Jerusalem?

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

Read Less

More Meltdown Evidence from Biden

Quoting Vice President Biden is like a grown-up playing basketball at a hoop meant for a four-year old — you will score a slam dunk every time, and it gets old fast. But today the problematic thing he said was actually instructive. He was in Wisconsin, where he and the president have been relentlessly beating the bushes for money and enthusiasm among the Democratic faithful. According to the Hill, here’s what happened:

“We want to reward people who manufacture things in the United States, in Wisconsin, not to take them overseas to China and to other countries!” he said to a silent room at the event for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, according to a White House pool report.

He continued, saying, “You’re the dullest audience I’ve ever spoken to,” at which point he got applause and laughs. “Do you realize how many jobs Wisconsin lost? It’s staggering!”

Biden didn’t get the response he wanted to his demagogic rabble-rousing nonsense about jobs going overseas–something his administration, like its predecessors, has absolutely no control over nor any coherent policy ideas about reversing. His audience knows that; indeed, his audience was almost certainly made up of businesspeople who know better than he about it and why it happens — and why government “rewards” aren’t going to solve the problem. Frustrated, he browbeats them for refusing to respond. And, as will happen, they respond to the browbeating.

The sense one gets, reading these accounts of Biden’s and Obama’s travels, is that they have yet to come to grips with the deep skepticism they generate when they talk about the economy, even among their own supporters. When they do sense the skepticism, it confuses them because they seem to assume it should only be coming from bad Republicans and conservatives who are supposedly obsessed with seeing them fail for no other reason than that these bad people want Obama to suffer.

And so the guy on stage heckles his audience when his bit bombs. Whew. Who knows what more will come out of their mouths for the next three and a half weeks until the polls open and bring a blessed end to the slow-motion car wreck that is Biden-Obama midterm electioneering.

Quoting Vice President Biden is like a grown-up playing basketball at a hoop meant for a four-year old — you will score a slam dunk every time, and it gets old fast. But today the problematic thing he said was actually instructive. He was in Wisconsin, where he and the president have been relentlessly beating the bushes for money and enthusiasm among the Democratic faithful. According to the Hill, here’s what happened:

“We want to reward people who manufacture things in the United States, in Wisconsin, not to take them overseas to China and to other countries!” he said to a silent room at the event for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett, according to a White House pool report.

He continued, saying, “You’re the dullest audience I’ve ever spoken to,” at which point he got applause and laughs. “Do you realize how many jobs Wisconsin lost? It’s staggering!”

Biden didn’t get the response he wanted to his demagogic rabble-rousing nonsense about jobs going overseas–something his administration, like its predecessors, has absolutely no control over nor any coherent policy ideas about reversing. His audience knows that; indeed, his audience was almost certainly made up of businesspeople who know better than he about it and why it happens — and why government “rewards” aren’t going to solve the problem. Frustrated, he browbeats them for refusing to respond. And, as will happen, they respond to the browbeating.

The sense one gets, reading these accounts of Biden’s and Obama’s travels, is that they have yet to come to grips with the deep skepticism they generate when they talk about the economy, even among their own supporters. When they do sense the skepticism, it confuses them because they seem to assume it should only be coming from bad Republicans and conservatives who are supposedly obsessed with seeing them fail for no other reason than that these bad people want Obama to suffer.

And so the guy on stage heckles his audience when his bit bombs. Whew. Who knows what more will come out of their mouths for the next three and a half weeks until the polls open and bring a blessed end to the slow-motion car wreck that is Biden-Obama midterm electioneering.

Read Less

Incivility to Be Sure

Next time the left whines that the right is too “angry” or that the Tea Partiers have debased the political debate in this country, remember which National Mall rally was polite, uplifting, and tidy and which hurled invectives at its opponents. And please also recall the rhetoric coming from the White House, which in the good ole days — two years ago — used to observe a certain level of decorum befitting the chief executive. The president and his spokesman now routinely name-call and demean the opposition. The latest example of this comes from the hapless Joe Biden, who tries his best to play attack dog for a White House pack that has plenty of them already:

Biden jokingly said that GOP protests about the need for a balanced budget made him want to strangle them, which the vice president quickly clarified was a figure of speech.

“If I hear one more Republican tell me about balancing the budget, I am going to strangle them,” Biden said at a fundraiser in Minnesota, according to a pool report. “To the press, that’s a figure of speech.”

Amused? No, and I suspect Biden realized it wasn’t when he hastened to make sure everyone understood he wasn’t contemplating homicide. Impatience with the unappreciative and annoyance with opponents have characterized the Obama team from Day 1. Unfortunately, “unappreciative” and “opposed” now apply to more than half the country. So the invectives must now encompass an ever-widening circle of doubters, detractors, and critics.

Now there’s nothing as uncivil as a liberal accusing the right of incivility. (Richard Cohen’s horrid column this week comparing the Tea Party to the Kent State shooters is a perfect example of this.) And there’s nothing quite so unattractive as an administration reduced to schoolyard taunts.

Next time the left whines that the right is too “angry” or that the Tea Partiers have debased the political debate in this country, remember which National Mall rally was polite, uplifting, and tidy and which hurled invectives at its opponents. And please also recall the rhetoric coming from the White House, which in the good ole days — two years ago — used to observe a certain level of decorum befitting the chief executive. The president and his spokesman now routinely name-call and demean the opposition. The latest example of this comes from the hapless Joe Biden, who tries his best to play attack dog for a White House pack that has plenty of them already:

Biden jokingly said that GOP protests about the need for a balanced budget made him want to strangle them, which the vice president quickly clarified was a figure of speech.

“If I hear one more Republican tell me about balancing the budget, I am going to strangle them,” Biden said at a fundraiser in Minnesota, according to a pool report. “To the press, that’s a figure of speech.”

Amused? No, and I suspect Biden realized it wasn’t when he hastened to make sure everyone understood he wasn’t contemplating homicide. Impatience with the unappreciative and annoyance with opponents have characterized the Obama team from Day 1. Unfortunately, “unappreciative” and “opposed” now apply to more than half the country. So the invectives must now encompass an ever-widening circle of doubters, detractors, and critics.

Now there’s nothing as uncivil as a liberal accusing the right of incivility. (Richard Cohen’s horrid column this week comparing the Tea Party to the Kent State shooters is a perfect example of this.) And there’s nothing quite so unattractive as an administration reduced to schoolyard taunts.

Read Less

Obama: Embattled, Embittered, and Lashing Out

Barack Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine paints a portrait of a president under siege and lashing out.

For example, the Tea Party is, according to Obama, the tool of “very powerful, special-interest lobbies” — except for those in the Tea Party whose motivations are “a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

Fox News, the president informs us, “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”

Then there are the Republicans, who don’t oppose Obama on philosophical grounds but decided they were “better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve problems.” Now there are exceptions — those two or three GOPers who Obama has been able to “pick off” and, by virtue of supporting Obama, “wanted to do the right thing” — meaning that the rest of the GOP wants to do the wrong thing.

Even progressives were on the receiving end of the presidential tongue-lashing. “The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base,” Obama said, “that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. … if people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Set aside the discordance of these words coming from a man who said, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” There is a hazardous dynamic developing.

To understand why, let’s start with this: President Obama is a man of unusual vanity and self-regard. He considers himself to be a world-historical figure who deserves treatment bordering on reverence. That is why over the years he has surrounded himself with individuals who have a romanticized view of Obama. “The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. Not surprisingly, Obama is unusually thin-skinned and prickly when it comes to criticism of any kind, from any quarter. It seems not only to bother him but also consume him. Hence his obsession with Fox News.

When a powerful man like this is successful, it can make him impossible to live with. When a powerful man like this is failing, he can become dangerous.

Such a person can easily become embittered and embattled. Used to adoration, he cannot process rejection. People who were once thought of as allies are viewed with suspicion and lacking in loyalty. There is a growing sense of isolation and ingratitude; no one really understands all the good that has been achieved against impossible odds (“Guys, wake up,” Obama tells Rolling Stone. “We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”) In order to excuse his mounting failures and rebukes, he must find malevolent forces to blame. And malevolent forces need to be identified and isolated, depersonalized and defeated. Political battles are increasingly framed in apocalyptic terms, as the Children of Light vs. the Children of Darkness.

Now there is a long way to travel to get to this point — but others, including other presidents, have traveled this path before. We have no way of knowing where Obama is on this particular journey. But the warning signs are there. The president is showing mental and political habits that are disquieting. People who have standing in his life need to intercede with him — soon, now, before the president’s worst tendencies end up getting him, and us, into a genuine crisis.

On May 25, 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a Democrat but also a top aide to Richard Nixon at the time — wrote a letter to Vice President Agnew. “Moynihan privately deplored the inflammatory speeches denouncing anti-Nixon protesters by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew,” we read in the new book edited by Steven R. Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary. In his letter to Agnew, Moynihan wrote this:

You cannot win the argument you are engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose. … If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Barack Obama needs to find his Daniel Patrick Moynihan — and unlike Agnew, he needs to listen to him. Otherwise, this is going to have a very unhappy ending for the president, and for all of us.

Barack Obama’s recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine paints a portrait of a president under siege and lashing out.

For example, the Tea Party is, according to Obama, the tool of “very powerful, special-interest lobbies” — except for those in the Tea Party whose motivations are “a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

Fox News, the president informs us, “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”

Then there are the Republicans, who don’t oppose Obama on philosophical grounds but decided they were “better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve problems.” Now there are exceptions — those two or three GOPers who Obama has been able to “pick off” and, by virtue of supporting Obama, “wanted to do the right thing” — meaning that the rest of the GOP wants to do the wrong thing.

Even progressives were on the receiving end of the presidential tongue-lashing. “The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base,” Obama said, “that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible. … if people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Set aside the discordance of these words coming from a man who said, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” There is a hazardous dynamic developing.

To understand why, let’s start with this: President Obama is a man of unusual vanity and self-regard. He considers himself to be a world-historical figure who deserves treatment bordering on reverence. That is why over the years he has surrounded himself with individuals who have a romanticized view of Obama. “The blind faith in, and passion for, Obama was like nothing [Anita] Dunn had ever seen before,” we read in Game Change. Not surprisingly, Obama is unusually thin-skinned and prickly when it comes to criticism of any kind, from any quarter. It seems not only to bother him but also consume him. Hence his obsession with Fox News.

When a powerful man like this is successful, it can make him impossible to live with. When a powerful man like this is failing, he can become dangerous.

Such a person can easily become embittered and embattled. Used to adoration, he cannot process rejection. People who were once thought of as allies are viewed with suspicion and lacking in loyalty. There is a growing sense of isolation and ingratitude; no one really understands all the good that has been achieved against impossible odds (“Guys, wake up,” Obama tells Rolling Stone. “We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.”) In order to excuse his mounting failures and rebukes, he must find malevolent forces to blame. And malevolent forces need to be identified and isolated, depersonalized and defeated. Political battles are increasingly framed in apocalyptic terms, as the Children of Light vs. the Children of Darkness.

Now there is a long way to travel to get to this point — but others, including other presidents, have traveled this path before. We have no way of knowing where Obama is on this particular journey. But the warning signs are there. The president is showing mental and political habits that are disquieting. People who have standing in his life need to intercede with him — soon, now, before the president’s worst tendencies end up getting him, and us, into a genuine crisis.

On May 25, 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a Democrat but also a top aide to Richard Nixon at the time — wrote a letter to Vice President Agnew. “Moynihan privately deplored the inflammatory speeches denouncing anti-Nixon protesters by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew,” we read in the new book edited by Steven R. Weisman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary. In his letter to Agnew, Moynihan wrote this:

You cannot win the argument you are engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose. … If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Barack Obama needs to find his Daniel Patrick Moynihan — and unlike Agnew, he needs to listen to him. Otherwise, this is going to have a very unhappy ending for the president, and for all of us.

Read Less

Has Liberal Washington Figured Out the Palestinians?

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

He’d have a year more experience in a high office than the incumbent did if he ran in 2012. “Axelrod won’t handicap 2012. Prompted to talk about Chris Christie, he says he ‘likes him,’ and ‘he’s a serious person.’ Axe doubts ‘he would leave a job he just began to run for president.’”

Republicans have more credibility than the Democrats on the economy: “47 percent of those questioned say the economic policies of congressional Republicans are more likely to improve economic conditions, with 41 percent saying Democrats in Congress have the better prescriptions.”

When do the Democrats decide they have spent more than enough money on Joe Sestak’s inept campaign? Two more polls have Toomey solidly ahead.

Eighty-seven senators have had more than enough of Obama’s Israel-bashing. “Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.”

The Obami used to have more charm, no? “Vice President Joe Biden on Monday urged Democrats to overcome their differences and support their candidates at the polls by telling them to ‘stop whining.’”

Have we had a more partisan president? Ed Gillespie: “I’ve never seen a president of the United States on either side of the aisle engage in the kind of personal attacks [on members of Congress] the way President Obama has chosen to do. I’d tell him to focus on the issues. I think that when he goes out there and he stumps, I’m sure [the attacks have] some short-term energizing effect of core voters but it has a very energizing long-term effect for conservatives and independents and drives independents further into Republicans’ arms.”

Perhaps if politicians sent their kids to D.C. schools, they’d have more of a stake in improving them. “President Obama said Monday that his daughters could not get the same level of education from D.C. public schools that they receive at the elite private school they attend.”

He’d have a year more experience in a high office than the incumbent did if he ran in 2012. “Axelrod won’t handicap 2012. Prompted to talk about Chris Christie, he says he ‘likes him,’ and ‘he’s a serious person.’ Axe doubts ‘he would leave a job he just began to run for president.’”

Republicans have more credibility than the Democrats on the economy: “47 percent of those questioned say the economic policies of congressional Republicans are more likely to improve economic conditions, with 41 percent saying Democrats in Congress have the better prescriptions.”

When do the Democrats decide they have spent more than enough money on Joe Sestak’s inept campaign? Two more polls have Toomey solidly ahead.

Eighty-seven senators have had more than enough of Obama’s Israel-bashing. “Eighty-seven U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, which was initially circulated only three days ago, calling on Obama to publicly pressure Abbas to continue with the direct peace talks begun Sept. 1 in Washington.”

The Obami used to have more charm, no? “Vice President Joe Biden on Monday urged Democrats to overcome their differences and support their candidates at the polls by telling them to ‘stop whining.’”

Have we had a more partisan president? Ed Gillespie: “I’ve never seen a president of the United States on either side of the aisle engage in the kind of personal attacks [on members of Congress] the way President Obama has chosen to do. I’d tell him to focus on the issues. I think that when he goes out there and he stumps, I’m sure [the attacks have] some short-term energizing effect of core voters but it has a very energizing long-term effect for conservatives and independents and drives independents further into Republicans’ arms.”

Perhaps if politicians sent their kids to D.C. schools, they’d have more of a stake in improving them. “President Obama said Monday that his daughters could not get the same level of education from D.C. public schools that they receive at the elite private school they attend.”

Read Less

Did Obama Say What Cheney Said? Oh, No.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

Read Less

A Thatcherite Moment in America

President Obama, in attempting to gain traction just ahead of the midterm election, has homed in his message on taxes – and most especially, on “tax cut for the wealth.” Here is how Obama is framing his argument:

Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year — $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying we can give those families — 97 percent permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000; they just wouldn’t get it for income above that. Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of 10 years, $700 billion, and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s an example of what this election is all about.

Let’s examine what the president said, starting with this observation: Obama’s sudden interest in the pernicious effects of large deficits is curious. There is no apparent limit to what Obama is willing to spend – yet when it comes to taxes, and almost only taxes, the president professes to be alarmed about the deficit. With that in mind, here’s a useful reference point: the $700 billion over 10 years that Obama is so eager to save is considerably less than Obama’s first (failed) stimulus package, which alone is estimated to have cost more than $860 billion. It would help Mr. Obama’s credibility if, in opposing taxes on fiscal grounds, he was not the most profligate president in American history. Read More

President Obama, in attempting to gain traction just ahead of the midterm election, has homed in his message on taxes – and most especially, on “tax cut for the wealth.” Here is how Obama is framing his argument:

Ninety-seven percent of Americans make less than $250,000 a year — $250,000 a year or less. And I’m saying we can give those families — 97 percent permanent tax relief. And by the way, for those who make more than $250,000, they’d still get tax relief on the first $250,000; they just wouldn’t get it for income above that. Now, that seems like a common-sense thing to do. And what I’ve got is the Republicans holding middle-class tax relief hostage because they’re insisting we’ve got to give tax relief to millionaires and billionaires to the tune of about $100,000 per millionaire, which would cost over the course of 10 years, $700 billion, and that economists say is probably the worst way to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s an example of what this election is all about.

Let’s examine what the president said, starting with this observation: Obama’s sudden interest in the pernicious effects of large deficits is curious. There is no apparent limit to what Obama is willing to spend – yet when it comes to taxes, and almost only taxes, the president professes to be alarmed about the deficit. With that in mind, here’s a useful reference point: the $700 billion over 10 years that Obama is so eager to save is considerably less than Obama’s first (failed) stimulus package, which alone is estimated to have cost more than $860 billion. It would help Mr. Obama’s credibility if, in opposing taxes on fiscal grounds, he was not the most profligate president in American history.

Second, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost for extending the Bush tax cuts to married taxpayers with income below $250,000 and single taxpayers with income below $200,000 – which Obama supports – would reduce revenues by almost $2 trillion over the 2011–2020 period. If Obama’s argument is that he should oppose tax cuts because of their adverse effect on the deficit, then presumably Obama should oppose extending any of the Bush tax cuts he has demonized for the better part of three years. Instead, Obama favors extending them to individuals making less than $200,000 per year.

Obama cannot have it both ways. He cannot on the one hand castigate Bush’s tax cuts as reckless, irresponsible, and ineffective while at the same time extending them for all but the highest income earners.

Third, Democrats assert that the Obama tax increase will hit only 3 percent of small businesses. “There aren’t 3 percent of small businesses in America that would qualify for that tax cut [one for families making more than $250,000],” Vice President Biden has said. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chimed in as well, declaring that the tax increase on higher income earners would exempt “97 percent of small businesses.” In fact, it will hit fully half of all small-business income, since 85 percent of small-business owners are taxed on profits at individual tax rates.

Twenty months into his presidency, Barack Obama’s problems extend far beyond this particular tax debate. His problem is, in my estimation, conceptual and philosophical. He is trying to spur growth through extravagant government spending, which he believes will increase demand with its magic “multiplier effect.” If that theory worked, of course, we would not be experiencing economic deceleration with unemployment stuck at nearly 10 percent, the collapse of sales of new homes earlier this year, consumer confidence at an alarmingly low level, a “recovery summer” that saw us lose more than a quarter of a million jobs, and economic growth that is far lower than past post-recession recoveries. Yet Obama continues to double down, as if unchecked government spending, onerous new regulations, and higher tax rates on small businesses and our most productive workers is the road to prosperity.

The president is quite wrong about all of that – and it may be that Obama’s failures, for all their economic and human cost, serve a useful pedagogical function. Obama is reminding people, in fairly vivid ways, what works when it comes to economics – things such as rewarding effort and enterprise, recognizing the importance of incentives, creating certainty and stability that encourages investment and entrepreneurship, and honoring success and achievement.

In that sense, we might be reaching a moment similar to the one Margaret Thatcher faced when she was leader of the Opposition in Great Britain. The failures of the “old” Labour government were obvious to almost everyone – and that created a moment for Thatcher to become prime minister and for Thatcherism to take root.

“Where the state is too powerful,” Mrs. Thatcher told the Zurich Economic Society in 1977, “efficiency suffers and morality is threatened. Britain in the last two or three years provides a case-study of why collectivism will not work. It shows that ‘progressive’ theory was not progressive. On the contrary, it proved retrograde in practice. This is a lesson that democrats all over the world should heed.”

“Yet I face the future with optimism,” Thatcher went on to say. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies. Just as success generates problems, so failure breeds the will to fight back and the body politic strives to restore itself.”

It looks to me like we are seeing something similar taking place in America today. We’ll know more in seven weeks.

Read Less

Is Obama’s Middle Name Hoover?

In Cleveland today, in a remarkably bitter and partisan speech, President Obama ruled out allowing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year to continue because of the recession. Even his former budget director, Peter Orzsag, recommended continuing them in a New York Times op-ed article. If the president gets his way, there will be a sharp increase in taxation on the affluent and on small businesses, many of which are sub-chapter-S corporations, which are taxed via the personal income tax rather than the corporate one.

The president argues that we simply cannot afford the $700 billion that extending the tax cuts for all would cost the government in foregone revenue. That estimate is based, I assume, on the static models that both the OMB and the CBO rely on to forecast revenues and which are always wrong, because the economy is highly dynamic, not static.

We tried raising taxes, especially on the rich, in the teeth of a recession once before in order to narrow the gap between federal revenues and expenditures. That was in 1932. The results were not pretty, to put it mildly. Both houses of Congress passed Hoover’s proposed tax increases by wide margins, and John Nance Gardner, the speaker of the House (and FDR’s first vice president), even wanted to add on a national sales tax, which would have impacted the poor far more than the rich, in order to balance the budget. It didn’t work and the economic decline sharply accelerated. Government revenues in 1932 were $1.9 billion, despite the tax increases. Expenditures that year were $4.6 billion. The deficit, in other words, was 132 percent of revenues, by far the worst peacetime deficit in the nation’s history. Ever since, the idea that taxes should be raised in a recession has been an off-the-table idea. That, after all, was what Herbert Hoover did, not a model later presidents have chosen to emulate. At least until President Obama, that is.

Of course, what Obama wants and what he will get are not necessarily the same thing right now. All the Bush tax cuts will expire on January 1, 2011, not just those on higher incomes. So legislation will be needed. With the politicians in a hurry to go home and campaign, and Democrats in a gathering panic about losing their majorities, who knows what will happen?

In Cleveland today, in a remarkably bitter and partisan speech, President Obama ruled out allowing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year to continue because of the recession. Even his former budget director, Peter Orzsag, recommended continuing them in a New York Times op-ed article. If the president gets his way, there will be a sharp increase in taxation on the affluent and on small businesses, many of which are sub-chapter-S corporations, which are taxed via the personal income tax rather than the corporate one.

The president argues that we simply cannot afford the $700 billion that extending the tax cuts for all would cost the government in foregone revenue. That estimate is based, I assume, on the static models that both the OMB and the CBO rely on to forecast revenues and which are always wrong, because the economy is highly dynamic, not static.

We tried raising taxes, especially on the rich, in the teeth of a recession once before in order to narrow the gap between federal revenues and expenditures. That was in 1932. The results were not pretty, to put it mildly. Both houses of Congress passed Hoover’s proposed tax increases by wide margins, and John Nance Gardner, the speaker of the House (and FDR’s first vice president), even wanted to add on a national sales tax, which would have impacted the poor far more than the rich, in order to balance the budget. It didn’t work and the economic decline sharply accelerated. Government revenues in 1932 were $1.9 billion, despite the tax increases. Expenditures that year were $4.6 billion. The deficit, in other words, was 132 percent of revenues, by far the worst peacetime deficit in the nation’s history. Ever since, the idea that taxes should be raised in a recession has been an off-the-table idea. That, after all, was what Herbert Hoover did, not a model later presidents have chosen to emulate. At least until President Obama, that is.

Of course, what Obama wants and what he will get are not necessarily the same thing right now. All the Bush tax cuts will expire on January 1, 2011, not just those on higher incomes. So legislation will be needed. With the politicians in a hurry to go home and campaign, and Democrats in a gathering panic about losing their majorities, who knows what will happen?

Read Less

The Mosque: A View from Israel

Daniel Gordis, who was the vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles before moving to Israel in 1998,  offers a powerful perspective on the wider meaning of the mosque controversy in the Jerusalem Post today:

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy” was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict. Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us….

It’s fine to say that “America is not at war with Islam,” to point out that most Muslims are not terrorists and that many American Muslims are moderates. That’s true, as far as it goes. But it only goes so far. Because America is at war and its enemies are Muslims. Politically correct hairsplitting runs the risk of Americans blinding themselves to that simple but critical fact….Whether or not the Ground Zero mosque ultimately gets built may not matter nearly as much as whether or not Americans are willing to gird themselves for the battles that sadly lie ahead.

Read the whole thing.

Daniel Gordis, who was the vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles before moving to Israel in 1998,  offers a powerful perspective on the wider meaning of the mosque controversy in the Jerusalem Post today:

In the suburban, well-educated, politically and Jewishly liberal America in which I grew up, we didn’t use the label “enemy.” “Enemy” was a dirty word, because it implied the immutability of conflict. Yes, there were people who fought us, but only because we hadn’t yet arrived at a fair resolution of our conflict. We needed to understand them, so we could then resolve the conflicts that divided us….

It’s fine to say that “America is not at war with Islam,” to point out that most Muslims are not terrorists and that many American Muslims are moderates. That’s true, as far as it goes. But it only goes so far. Because America is at war and its enemies are Muslims. Politically correct hairsplitting runs the risk of Americans blinding themselves to that simple but critical fact….Whether or not the Ground Zero mosque ultimately gets built may not matter nearly as much as whether or not Americans are willing to gird themselves for the battles that sadly lie ahead.

Read the whole thing.

Read Less

Liberalism’s Existential Crisis

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.” Read More

As the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party continue their journey into the Slough of Despond, it’s interesting to watch Obama’ supporters try to process the unfolding events.

Some blame it on a failure to communicate. E.J. Dionne, Jr., for example, ascribes the Democrats’ problems to the fact that Obama “has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together.” Joe Klein offers this explanation: “If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living.” And John Judis points to the Obama administration’s “aversion to populism.”

Others are aiming their sound and fury at the American people. According to Maureen Dowd, “Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age. The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown.” Jonathan Alter argues that the American people “aren’t rationally aligning belief and action; they’re tempted to lose their spleens in the polling place without fully grasping the consequences.” And Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg has written that “the biggest culprit in our current predicament” is the “childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.”

For still others, Obama’s failures can be traced to James Madison. George Packer complains that Obama’s failures are in part institutional. He lists a slew of items on the liberal agenda items “the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing.” Paul Krugman warns that the Senate is “ominously dysfunctional” and insists that the way it works is “no longer consistent with a functioning government.” For Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “The evidence that Washington cannot function — that it’s ‘broken,’ as Vice President Joe Biden has said — is all around.” The modern presidency “has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives.”

Commentators such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein place responsibility on “powerful structural forces in American politics that seem to drag down first-term presidents” (though Klein does acknowledge other factors). The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait pins the blame on “structural factors” and “external factors” that have nothing to do with Obama’s policies.

Then there are those who see the pernicious vast right-wing conspiracy at work. Frank Rich alerts us to the fact that the problem lies with “the brothers David and Charles Koch,” the “sugar daddies” who are bankrolling the “white Tea Party America.” Newsweek‘s Michael Cohen has written that, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain.” And Mr. Krugman offers this analysis: “What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals — even very moderate liberals — legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.” Krugman goes on to warn that “powerful forces are promoting and exploiting this rage” — including the “right-wing media.” And if they come to gain power, “It will be an ugly scene, and it will be dangerous, too.”

What most of these commentators are missing, I think, are two essential points. First, the public is turning against Obama and the Democratic Party because the economy is sick and, despite his assurances and projections, the president hasn’t been able to make it well. And in some important respects, especially on fiscal matters, the president and the 111th Congress have made things considerably worse. Second, an increasing number of Americans believe Obama’s policies are unwise, ineffective, and much too liberal. They connect the bad results we are seeing in America to what Obama is doing to America.

But there’s something else, and something deeper, going on here. All of us who embrace a particular religious or philosophical worldview should be prepared to judge them in light of empirical facts and reality. What if our theories seem to be failing in the real world?

The truth is that it’s rather rare to find people willing to reexamine or reinterpret their most deeply held beliefs when the mounting evidence calls those beliefs into question. That is something most of us (myself included) battle with: How to be a person of principled convictions while being intellectually honest enough to acknowledge when certain propositions (and, in some instances, foundational policies) seem to be failing or falling short.

It’s quite possible, of course, that one’s basic convictions can remain true even when events go badly. Self-government is still the best form of government even if it might fail in one nation or another. And sometimes it is simply a matter of weathering storms until certain first principles are reaffirmed. At the same time, sometimes we hold to theories that are simply wrong, that are contrary to human nature and the way the world works, but we simply can’t let go of them. We have too much invested in a particular philosophy.

President Obama’s liberal supporters understand that he is in serious trouble right now; what they are doing is scrambling to find some way to explain his problems without calling into question their underlying political philosophy (modern liberalism). If what is happening cannot be a fundamental failure of liberalism, then it must be something else — from a “communications problem” to “structural factors” to a political conspiracy. And you can bet that if things continue on their present course, ideologues on the left will increasingly argue that Obama’s failures stem from his being (a) not liberal enough or (b) incompetent.

If the Obama presidency is seen as damaging the larger liberal project, they will abandon Obama in order to try to protect liberalism. They would rather do that than face an existential crisis.

Read Less

Obama, Bush, and War

Barack Obama used a lawyer-like locution last night to avoid acknowledging the courage of his predecessor in initiating the surge that won the Iraq War:

It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.

The key words were “from its outset.” His locution focused on his opposition to the war, while faintly praising Bush as a well-intentioned patriot. But while Obama opposed the war “at” its outset, he did not always oppose it thereafter.

In his famous 2002 speech, Obama said the war would be a “cynical attempt” by “armchair, weekend, warriors” and “political hacks like Karl Rove” to “shove their own ideological agendas down our throats” and ignore pressing domestic needs. Two years later, his position had become inconvenient. Appearing on Meet the Press before his 2004 convention speech, he attributed his prior opposition to lack of knowledge:

MR. RUSSERT: The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right …

STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. …

MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn’t there …

The change Obama believed in as of 2004 was one of “tone” and “administration.” He told Russert “if we don’t have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we’re going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed.”

Two years after that, with the war not yet won, he became the cut-and-run candidate, arguing from late 2006 through the end of 2007 that more troops would not help, that Bush’s strategy would increase sectarian violence, and that the troops should be withdrawn.

Last night, at a moment he called “historic,” Obama gracelessly refused to acknowledge his predecessor’s contribution to progress on the war, vouching simply for his patriotism. He was palpably anxious to “turn the page” on Iraq, where the book may in fact not yet be closed, and to start turning it next year in Afghanistan — where the “pace” will be “condition-based” but, “make no mistake,” we’re leaving starting in July. It was not the steadfast commitment to victory that marked George W. Bush’s approach to war, and which is necessary if a leader wants to win one.

Barack Obama used a lawyer-like locution last night to avoid acknowledging the courage of his predecessor in initiating the surge that won the Iraq War:

It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it.

The key words were “from its outset.” His locution focused on his opposition to the war, while faintly praising Bush as a well-intentioned patriot. But while Obama opposed the war “at” its outset, he did not always oppose it thereafter.

In his famous 2002 speech, Obama said the war would be a “cynical attempt” by “armchair, weekend, warriors” and “political hacks like Karl Rove” to “shove their own ideological agendas down our throats” and ignore pressing domestic needs. Two years later, his position had become inconvenient. Appearing on Meet the Press before his 2004 convention speech, he attributed his prior opposition to lack of knowledge:

MR. RUSSERT: The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said [Saddam] was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right …

STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. …

MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn’t there …

The change Obama believed in as of 2004 was one of “tone” and “administration.” He told Russert “if we don’t have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we’re going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed.”

Two years after that, with the war not yet won, he became the cut-and-run candidate, arguing from late 2006 through the end of 2007 that more troops would not help, that Bush’s strategy would increase sectarian violence, and that the troops should be withdrawn.

Last night, at a moment he called “historic,” Obama gracelessly refused to acknowledge his predecessor’s contribution to progress on the war, vouching simply for his patriotism. He was palpably anxious to “turn the page” on Iraq, where the book may in fact not yet be closed, and to start turning it next year in Afghanistan — where the “pace” will be “condition-based” but, “make no mistake,” we’re leaving starting in July. It was not the steadfast commitment to victory that marked George W. Bush’s approach to war, and which is necessary if a leader wants to win one.

Read Less

Some Thoughts About Last Night’s Speech

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth. Read More

1. The most Obama could say about George W. Bush is that “no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security.” That’s correct; no one could doubt it, which is why there was no need to say it.

The real issue was whether Obama would praise Bush for the surge — one of the most courageous and wise presidential decisions in the modern era and one Bush pushed through over fierce, widespread opposition, including from Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. But for Obama to praise Bush for the surge would be to admit his own massive error in judgment in opposing it — and a man of Obama’s vanity could not bring himself to do that. So Obama could only say that Bush was well-intentioned rather than right.

As for his own record on Iraq, the Obama administration is now trying to corrupt the historical record, with press secretary Robert Gibbs making assertions that are not only wrong but the opposite of the truth.

2. On Iraq, Obama did say that while our combat mission is ending, “our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” But you could be forgiven for believing, amid all the talk of page-turning and missions ended and over, that Obama has detached himself from a war he opposed and wants to have nothing more to do with it. He clearly considers it a distraction from his larger ambitions to transform America here at home.

What was also notable in the speech is how Obama — apart from one perfunctory paragraph (he devoted four to the economy) — failed to appropriately acknowledge many of the estimable things that have been achieved by the Iraq war, including deposing a malevolent and aggressive dictator, helping plant a representative (if imperfect) democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and administering a military defeat to al-Qaeda on the ground of its own choosing. Obama hinted at some of this, but it was said without passion or conviction. And we all know why: for Obama, this was a war without purpose, a nihilistic misadventure whose only good result is its end. This is not only wrong; it is a disfigurement of history and a failure to acknowledge what a remarkable thing our combat troops in Iraq achieved.

3. On the most important matter before us, Afghanistan, Obama did substantial damage. The reason can be found in this paragraph:

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who-under the command of General David Petraeus -are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

What Obama did here was not simply to repeat his commitment to the (arbitrary) summer 2011 drawdown date; he underscored and deepened it. The president’s declaration that the pace of troop reductions “will be determined by conditions on the ground” was overwhelmed by Obama’s declaring that our forces will be in place for “a limited time” and that we should “make no mistake: this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.”

This statement occurred within a particular context. In his December 2009 address at West Point, Obama made essentially the same argument — though less emphatically than he did last night.

Many people (including me) underestimated just how harmful was Obama’s declaration that we would begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Mentioning that it would be conditions-based was almost completely overlooked by both our friends and our enemies. The message they believed was sent, and which they received, is that America’s commitment is limited and we will leave on time and on schedule, come what may.

Don’t take my word for it; here is what Marine Commandant General James Conway said a week ago about the 2011 deadline: “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself … ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’” Conway buttressed his claim by saying that intelligence intercepts suggest that Taliban fighters have been encouraged by the talk of the U.S. beginning to withdraw troops next year.

Knowing all this, Obama not only didn’t attempt to undo his previous error; he doubled down on it. This was an injurious message to send.

The Democratic Party can count several great wartime leaders among its ranks, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. John F. Kennedy, while denied the time and opportunities that FDR and Truman had, understood the stakes of the Cold War struggle and spoke with force and eloquence about America’s role in the world. These were admirable leaders, presidents whom our allies could count on and our enemies respected and feared.

In Barack Obama, we have someone very different — a president who is at times more eager to apologize for America than to defend her. He is a man not yet comfortable with his role as commander in chief. Obama views war not in terms of victory; he is above all committed to finding exit ramps.

President Obama has already inflicted enormous damage to our nation; last night he added to the wreckage.

Read Less

‘Clearing’ Afghanistan’s Financial System

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

Read Less

Obama from the Oval Office

First, a visual observation: he looked scrawny and ill-at-ease at the large, empty desk. There were no funny hand gestures this time, as there was for the Oil Spill address. This speech did have some good moments, which I will start with.

First, he clearly debunked the notion that we are bugging out of Iraq:

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq — one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

And he put forth a positive statement on the Afghanistan war:

As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders –and hundreds of Al Qaeda’s extremist allies–have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who — under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.

But those comments were, regrettably, far outweighed by a number of unhelpful, ungracious, and downright inaccurate moments.

First, in his recap and praise of George W. Bush’s administration, he never explained how it was that we succeeded in Iraq. It was of course that same surge that we are now using in Afghanistan. He said this about Bush:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

But Mr. President, Bush was not just a great guy — he was right. It was one more instance of the lack of introspection and grace that has characterized Obama’s entire presidency.

Next, he reiterated the Afghanistan deadline, trying to fuzz it up rather than revoke it:

[A]s was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

You see, Obama’s not into open-ended commitment. This is the same counterproductive claptrap that has been roundly criticized and that reveals him to be fundamentally disinterested in foreign policy. It is also why both friends and enemies doubt our staying power.

But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”

He is arguing for more spending.

Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.

UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.

UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.

First, a visual observation: he looked scrawny and ill-at-ease at the large, empty desk. There were no funny hand gestures this time, as there was for the Oil Spill address. This speech did have some good moments, which I will start with.

First, he clearly debunked the notion that we are bugging out of Iraq:

Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq — one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

And he put forth a positive statement on the Afghanistan war:

As we speak, al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al Qaeda leaders –and hundreds of Al Qaeda’s extremist allies–have been killed or captured around the world.

Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who — under the command of General David Petraeus — are fighting to break the Taliban’s momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future.

But those comments were, regrettably, far outweighed by a number of unhelpful, ungracious, and downright inaccurate moments.

First, in his recap and praise of George W. Bush’s administration, he never explained how it was that we succeeded in Iraq. It was of course that same surge that we are now using in Afghanistan. He said this about Bush:

This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

But Mr. President, Bush was not just a great guy — he was right. It was one more instance of the lack of introspection and grace that has characterized Obama’s entire presidency.

Next, he reiterated the Afghanistan deadline, trying to fuzz it up rather than revoke it:

[A]s was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin — because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.

You see, Obama’s not into open-ended commitment. This is the same counterproductive claptrap that has been roundly criticized and that reveals him to be fundamentally disinterested in foreign policy. It is also why both friends and enemies doubt our staying power.

But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”

He is arguing for more spending.

Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.

UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.

UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.

Read Less

More Economic Misery

The economic news today, in which we learned that the second-quarter growth figure was reduced down to 1.6 percent, is extremely discouraging. This rate is well below what is needed even to sustain the current unemployment rate of 9.5 percent. On top of that, as a friend of mine reminds me, the current deficit, which the CBO estimates will be more than $1.3 trillion in 2010 and is already seen as “unsustainable” by even the Obama administration, will get worse rather than better. Anemic economic growth translates into lower revenues and higher deficits.

Among the array of political problems facing Democrats is that since the fourth quarter of 2009, when the economy grew 5.0 percent, we are rapidly decelerating. In the first quarter of this year, the economy grew at 3.7 percent, and last quarter, it grew at 1.6 percent. Next quarter is likely to be about as dismal, meaning unemployment will rise.

What this all means is that the public is far more inclined to hold Obama responsible for the state of the economy, especially because the administration lauded the “economic recovery” at the end of last year. If it took credit for things at the end of last year, it’s doubly difficult to blame things on Bush this year.

A double-dip recession, then, is about the worst thing that could happen to Democrats.

Compounding their problem was the announcement that this was going to be the “Recovery Summer.” It has, in fact, turned out to be a summer characterized by more economic misery. This mistake was comparable to the White House predicting that unemployment would not exceed 8 percent and Vice President Biden assuring us that we’d see 500,000 new jobs a month this summer. All of these qualify as unforced errors, and the White House is paying dearly for them.

The economic news today, in which we learned that the second-quarter growth figure was reduced down to 1.6 percent, is extremely discouraging. This rate is well below what is needed even to sustain the current unemployment rate of 9.5 percent. On top of that, as a friend of mine reminds me, the current deficit, which the CBO estimates will be more than $1.3 trillion in 2010 and is already seen as “unsustainable” by even the Obama administration, will get worse rather than better. Anemic economic growth translates into lower revenues and higher deficits.

Among the array of political problems facing Democrats is that since the fourth quarter of 2009, when the economy grew 5.0 percent, we are rapidly decelerating. In the first quarter of this year, the economy grew at 3.7 percent, and last quarter, it grew at 1.6 percent. Next quarter is likely to be about as dismal, meaning unemployment will rise.

What this all means is that the public is far more inclined to hold Obama responsible for the state of the economy, especially because the administration lauded the “economic recovery” at the end of last year. If it took credit for things at the end of last year, it’s doubly difficult to blame things on Bush this year.

A double-dip recession, then, is about the worst thing that could happen to Democrats.

Compounding their problem was the announcement that this was going to be the “Recovery Summer.” It has, in fact, turned out to be a summer characterized by more economic misery. This mistake was comparable to the White House predicting that unemployment would not exceed 8 percent and Vice President Biden assuring us that we’d see 500,000 new jobs a month this summer. All of these qualify as unforced errors, and the White House is paying dearly for them.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.