Commentary Magazine


Topic: Weekly Standard

A Cancellation 16 Years in the Making

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: How the Mainstream Media Misses the News

For a year, a small number of conservative media outlets have been reporting on the New Black Panther Party scandal – a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case documented on videotape, which the government won by default but that Obama administration appointees ordered career lawyers to dismiss against the NBPP and two individual defendants. (The injunction against a third individual was drastically curtailed.) On the web at CONTENTIONS, Hot Air.com, and National Review Online, and on the pages of the Weekly Standard and the Washington Times, readers could watch the story unfold as bit by bit an extraordinary tale came into focus and the stone wall erected by the Holder Justice Department crumbled.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

For a year, a small number of conservative media outlets have been reporting on the New Black Panther Party scandal – a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case documented on videotape, which the government won by default but that Obama administration appointees ordered career lawyers to dismiss against the NBPP and two individual defendants. (The injunction against a third individual was drastically curtailed.) On the web at CONTENTIONS, Hot Air.com, and National Review Online, and on the pages of the Weekly Standard and the Washington Times, readers could watch the story unfold as bit by bit an extraordinary tale came into focus and the stone wall erected by the Holder Justice Department crumbled.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

It Is Certainly an Emergency

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

Politico has the scoop:

Leading conservatives will launch a new pro-Israel group this week with a scathing attack on Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, the first shot in what they say will be a confrontational campaign against the Obama administration’s Mideast policy and the Democrats who support it.

The Emergency Committee for Israel’s leadership unites two major strands of support for the Jewish state: The hawkish, neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of whom are Jewish; and conservative Evangelical Christians who have become increasingly outspoken in their support for Israel. The new group’s board includes Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Gary Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate who leads the group American Values, as well as Rachel Abrams, a conservative writer and activist. Former McCain aide Michael Goldfarb is an adviser to the group.

“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” said Kristol.

This group is not affiliated with COMMENTARY but in the interests of full disclosure, we note that Noah Pollak, who has contributed to this blog as well as to COMMENTARY, will be the ECI’s executive director. Pollak explained that the ECI will be entering the fray in this year’s races:

“We want to be hard-hitting — we want to get into the debate and shake things up and make some points in a firm way,” he said. The group will target races for the House and the Senate, but there’s little doubt the larger target is the Obama administration, which Bauer told Politico is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

To say that the ECI fills a niche would be a gross understatement. There is a gaping hole in the Jewish community’s response to the Obama administration and in its defense of Israel. In the past, these groups’ close relationship with incumbent administrations has served them well. But as I have written for nearly a year, that tactic is not suited to the current challenges and has proven counterproductive in the Obama era. The need is great to expose, confront, and challenge the administration when it, for example, eggs on an international flotilla investigation or excepts Russia and China from sanctions on Iran or mindlessly pursues engagement with Syria.

The establishment groups’ reaction was predictable, if restrained:

One official at an American Jewish organization welcomed the group to the degree that it would make “mainstream” criticism of Democrats, but also expressed concern that a group with such Republican origins would contribute to a deepening partisan cast to the debate over Israel, with Republicans lining up behind the Israeli government while some Democrats align themselves with Netanyahu’s American critics.

But the partisanship is a function not of the GOP’s rabble-rousing but rather of the stark decline in support for Israel on the left. The decades-old bipartisan coalition in support of Israel has become lopsided because one political party’s support has eroded. This was evident in polling on the Lebanon war, long before Obama got to the White House. But this administration, of course has exacerbated the problem. Many Democrats have placed party loyalty above support for the Jewish state, biting their tongues in the face of enormous provocation by the most anti-Israel administration in history. That may change as Obama’s political fortunes decline, but it has been at the root of mainly Jewish organizations’ dilemma in responding to the Obama administration.

Actually, the ECI has the potential to repair that bipartisan coalition by calling it straight on Israel and not letting ostensibly pro-Israel lawmakers avoid the dilemma: partisan loyalty or full-throated support for Israel:

I encourage our Democratic friends to have a competition with us on who can be more pro-Israel, because I think it’s in the interests of the United States and not a political party,” [Gary Bauer] said. “I’m really hoping that people like Senator [Chuck] Schumer and others will aggressively speak out for Israel at a time like this.”

And there is also the task of keeping neo-isolationists from gaining a foothold at the very time that Obama seems eager to withdrawal from our historic role as guarantor of the West’s security.

There is much to be done — take on the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to Iran, expose those who style themselves as pro-Israel but plainly aren’t, confront the administration’s refusal to stand up to Israel’s delegitimizors in international bodies, and keep the mainstream Jewish groups honest. That’s a tall order. In fact, it’s an emergency.

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CNN Editor Mourns and Respects a Promoter of “Resistance” and Terror

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

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Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Mitch Daniels is clearly raising his profile and leaving the door open to a 2012 presidential run. COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Ferguson’s story is as comprehensive a piece on his views and persona as we have seen. Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (“Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (“They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened'” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

If Daniels makes a run in 2012 — although he said we should now focus on the “what” and figure out the “who” later — he may have trouble with both social conservatives and those favoring a vigorous foreign policy that projects American power and promotes our values. On social policy, John McCormack followed up on a point Daniels had made in the Weekly Standard story. Daniels had said we should declare a truce on social issues. McCormack asked whether that meant Daniels would stand down on opposing taxpayer-funded abortions and reversing the Mexico City policy on funding international institutions that provide abortion services. It was an easy moment to clarify and assert that you can’t simply concede the playing field to the opposition. Instead, Daniels reiterated his view that we should “set aside” these issues for a while to focus on our fiscal emergency. So do the pro-abortion forces win these issues? Not clear.

I asked him the sole question on foreign policy — in what fundamental ways Obama had erred? He did not address any of the basic concerns conservatives have been discussing (e.g., engagement with despots, indifference on human rights, animus toward Israel). Instead, he gave a platitude, “Peace through strength has totally been vindicated.” And then he immediately asserted that we have to “ask questions about the extent of our commitments.” He said, “If we go broke, no one will follow a pauper.” At least temporarily, he said, we can’t maintain all our commitments. But if our foes don’t take a break, what do we do? Should we pull up stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan and hack away at the defense budget? It’s not clear whether he has thought these issues through, or whether he views foreign policy as anything more than a cost-control issue.

Daniels is an impressive figure. If he wants to run for another office, however, he will have to stretch beyond his comfort zone and address the full gamut of issues that concern Republican primary voters. If he doesn’t want to or can’t do that, he’d make a heck of a Treasury Secretary.

Mitch Daniels is clearly raising his profile and leaving the door open to a 2012 presidential run. COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Ferguson’s story is as comprehensive a piece on his views and persona as we have seen. Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (“Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (“They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened'” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

If Daniels makes a run in 2012 — although he said we should now focus on the “what” and figure out the “who” later — he may have trouble with both social conservatives and those favoring a vigorous foreign policy that projects American power and promotes our values. On social policy, John McCormack followed up on a point Daniels had made in the Weekly Standard story. Daniels had said we should declare a truce on social issues. McCormack asked whether that meant Daniels would stand down on opposing taxpayer-funded abortions and reversing the Mexico City policy on funding international institutions that provide abortion services. It was an easy moment to clarify and assert that you can’t simply concede the playing field to the opposition. Instead, Daniels reiterated his view that we should “set aside” these issues for a while to focus on our fiscal emergency. So do the pro-abortion forces win these issues? Not clear.

I asked him the sole question on foreign policy — in what fundamental ways Obama had erred? He did not address any of the basic concerns conservatives have been discussing (e.g., engagement with despots, indifference on human rights, animus toward Israel). Instead, he gave a platitude, “Peace through strength has totally been vindicated.” And then he immediately asserted that we have to “ask questions about the extent of our commitments.” He said, “If we go broke, no one will follow a pauper.” At least temporarily, he said, we can’t maintain all our commitments. But if our foes don’t take a break, what do we do? Should we pull up stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan and hack away at the defense budget? It’s not clear whether he has thought these issues through, or whether he views foreign policy as anything more than a cost-control issue.

Daniels is an impressive figure. If he wants to run for another office, however, he will have to stretch beyond his comfort zone and address the full gamut of issues that concern Republican primary voters. If he doesn’t want to or can’t do that, he’d make a heck of a Treasury Secretary.

Read Less

You Want Moral Clarity?

Via our friends at the Weekly Standard comes a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who argues against the notion that the housing announcement (“an administrative error made by a low-level bureaucrat, and for which Prime Minister Netanyahu has now apologized no less than four times”) was some great insult or affront to Obama. The rabbi recounts:

Why was Assad’s meeting with Ahmadinejad the day after the US announced that we were sending an ambassador to Syria ignored by the State Department and not deemed to be an “insult and affront” to the United States?

Why is Palestinian Authority incitement of rioters in Jerusalem and elsewhere not condemned by this administration and not an “insult and affront” to the United States and the Vice President?

Why is the naming of the main public square in Ramallah by Abbas in honor of Fatah terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, murderer of 38 Israelis – 13 of them little kids not an impediment to the peace process and not an insult and affront to the US and Israel????

Not to mention – why does this administration insist on viewing construction in a vacant piece of land, adjacent to existing housing seen as thwarting the two state solution?

The answer is that Obama seeks to ingratiate himself with the thug-ocracies and put the screws on Israel. The answer is that Obama views Israeli actions not in the best possible light, as one would expect a valued friend to do, but in the worst possible light. And the answer is that neither Obama nor his administration can think through the implications of their actions (Will acquiescence work with Syria? Will bullying win over the Israelis?) or appreciate the moral distinction between a democratic friend and a rogue state. They are both morally obtuse and politically (domestically and internationally) tone-deaf.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that a number of groups and individuals have been compelled to restate the case for the U.S.-Israel relationship, review the past history of Palestinian rejectionism, and clarify some basic facts (for example, what’s a “settlement?”). It’s a beneficial development to the extent that the mainstream media have been obliged to recount some of these arguments. And to the extent that this controversy has made it crystal clear to the Obami how little stomach there is in America for Israel-bashing, this is helpful. But these are small consolations indeed. All in all, we’d prefer an enthusiastically pro-Israel president whose moral instincts are as sharp as Rabbi Weinblatt’s. Well, that’s perhaps too much to ask for.

Via our friends at the Weekly Standard comes a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who argues against the notion that the housing announcement (“an administrative error made by a low-level bureaucrat, and for which Prime Minister Netanyahu has now apologized no less than four times”) was some great insult or affront to Obama. The rabbi recounts:

Why was Assad’s meeting with Ahmadinejad the day after the US announced that we were sending an ambassador to Syria ignored by the State Department and not deemed to be an “insult and affront” to the United States?

Why is Palestinian Authority incitement of rioters in Jerusalem and elsewhere not condemned by this administration and not an “insult and affront” to the United States and the Vice President?

Why is the naming of the main public square in Ramallah by Abbas in honor of Fatah terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, murderer of 38 Israelis – 13 of them little kids not an impediment to the peace process and not an insult and affront to the US and Israel????

Not to mention – why does this administration insist on viewing construction in a vacant piece of land, adjacent to existing housing seen as thwarting the two state solution?

The answer is that Obama seeks to ingratiate himself with the thug-ocracies and put the screws on Israel. The answer is that Obama views Israeli actions not in the best possible light, as one would expect a valued friend to do, but in the worst possible light. And the answer is that neither Obama nor his administration can think through the implications of their actions (Will acquiescence work with Syria? Will bullying win over the Israelis?) or appreciate the moral distinction between a democratic friend and a rogue state. They are both morally obtuse and politically (domestically and internationally) tone-deaf.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that a number of groups and individuals have been compelled to restate the case for the U.S.-Israel relationship, review the past history of Palestinian rejectionism, and clarify some basic facts (for example, what’s a “settlement?”). It’s a beneficial development to the extent that the mainstream media have been obliged to recount some of these arguments. And to the extent that this controversy has made it crystal clear to the Obami how little stomach there is in America for Israel-bashing, this is helpful. But these are small consolations indeed. All in all, we’d prefer an enthusiastically pro-Israel president whose moral instincts are as sharp as Rabbi Weinblatt’s. Well, that’s perhaps too much to ask for.

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Jonathan Chait’s Hokum

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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HRW Should Stop Punishing Colombia

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

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Obama’s Polling Blues

The raft of bad polling data continues for President Obama. When voters were asked in a CNN/Opinion Research survey published on Tuesday to rate Obama’s performance since taking office, 48 percent judged it a failure while 47 percent saw a success. This corresponds with a new Quinnipiac University poll released today, showing voters split 45-45 on whether Obama’s first year was a success or failure. Earlier this week, a CBS News poll showed Obama’s job approval rating at 46 percent, marking the first time he had polled below 50 percent in that survey. The CBS poll also showed that Obama’s support among independent voters has fallen 10 points in the last few months alone.

Today’s Gallup poll has Obama’s approval rating on the economy – far and away the most important issue for the country – at an anemic 40 percent. His approval rating on health care – the issue he has devoted most of his presidency to – is at 37 percent. These numbers are the lowest of his presidency. In addition, Obama has the highest disapproval rating of any president in the January after the first year in office. And as Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies points out, since Gallup first started measuring presidential job approval, every single president has had a lower job approval on the last poll before their first mid-term election than they did at the beginning of that year.

These data points continue a trend more than half a year old. There is hardly any good news to be found for Democrats anywhere – and things are likely to get worse before they get better. In fact, they may get a whole lot worse for Democrats  sooner than anyone thought just a week or so ago. I have in mind, of course, the Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley, with the latest Rasmussen poll showing Brown within two points of Coakley. (Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote). The conventional wisdom is that the national and state Democratic party has been awakened in the nick of time and that Coakley – with lots of outside help and money – will pull out a victory.

I’m not so sure. She obviously has enormous advantages working in her favor. But the entire feel of this campaign is very bad for Democrats, including the lurching shift from complacency to over-the-top attack ads; the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has purchased more than $550,000 in ads in the Boston and Springfield markets; the need for Coakley to rush down to Washington to speak before a group of lobbyists and special interest groups only a week before the election; the fine, confident performance by Brown in Tuesday’s debate versus the sub-par performance by Coakley; the spontaneous enthusiasm Brown is generating in Massachusetts; and now the roughing up of a Weekly Standard reporter by a Coakley aide/mercenary, exactly the kind of thing Coakley’s campaign does not need.

An enormous backlash against Obama and Democrats has been building in the country for months; that will continue regardless of what happens in Massachusetts on Tuesday. But if Scott Brown pulls out a victory, it would have enormously far-reaching consequences for Democrats and for modern-day liberalism. It would shake their confidence to the core. It would trigger panic and recriminations in the Democratic party. It might convince a few more lawmakers that passing ObamaCare is just about the worst thing they can do. And when combined with the results of the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, it would lead many Democrats to conclude that embracing Barack Obama and his brand of liberalism is a political death sentence.

Liberalism’s “sort-of God” is crashing before our eyes. So, it seems, is his party. It is really quite an extraordinary thing to witness.

The raft of bad polling data continues for President Obama. When voters were asked in a CNN/Opinion Research survey published on Tuesday to rate Obama’s performance since taking office, 48 percent judged it a failure while 47 percent saw a success. This corresponds with a new Quinnipiac University poll released today, showing voters split 45-45 on whether Obama’s first year was a success or failure. Earlier this week, a CBS News poll showed Obama’s job approval rating at 46 percent, marking the first time he had polled below 50 percent in that survey. The CBS poll also showed that Obama’s support among independent voters has fallen 10 points in the last few months alone.

Today’s Gallup poll has Obama’s approval rating on the economy – far and away the most important issue for the country – at an anemic 40 percent. His approval rating on health care – the issue he has devoted most of his presidency to – is at 37 percent. These numbers are the lowest of his presidency. In addition, Obama has the highest disapproval rating of any president in the January after the first year in office. And as Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies points out, since Gallup first started measuring presidential job approval, every single president has had a lower job approval on the last poll before their first mid-term election than they did at the beginning of that year.

These data points continue a trend more than half a year old. There is hardly any good news to be found for Democrats anywhere – and things are likely to get worse before they get better. In fact, they may get a whole lot worse for Democrats  sooner than anyone thought just a week or so ago. I have in mind, of course, the Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley, with the latest Rasmussen poll showing Brown within two points of Coakley. (Brown is ahead by two percentage points among those who are absolutely certain they will vote). The conventional wisdom is that the national and state Democratic party has been awakened in the nick of time and that Coakley – with lots of outside help and money – will pull out a victory.

I’m not so sure. She obviously has enormous advantages working in her favor. But the entire feel of this campaign is very bad for Democrats, including the lurching shift from complacency to over-the-top attack ads; the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has purchased more than $550,000 in ads in the Boston and Springfield markets; the need for Coakley to rush down to Washington to speak before a group of lobbyists and special interest groups only a week before the election; the fine, confident performance by Brown in Tuesday’s debate versus the sub-par performance by Coakley; the spontaneous enthusiasm Brown is generating in Massachusetts; and now the roughing up of a Weekly Standard reporter by a Coakley aide/mercenary, exactly the kind of thing Coakley’s campaign does not need.

An enormous backlash against Obama and Democrats has been building in the country for months; that will continue regardless of what happens in Massachusetts on Tuesday. But if Scott Brown pulls out a victory, it would have enormously far-reaching consequences for Democrats and for modern-day liberalism. It would shake their confidence to the core. It would trigger panic and recriminations in the Democratic party. It might convince a few more lawmakers that passing ObamaCare is just about the worst thing they can do. And when combined with the results of the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, it would lead many Democrats to conclude that embracing Barack Obama and his brand of liberalism is a political death sentence.

Liberalism’s “sort-of God” is crashing before our eyes. So, it seems, is his party. It is really quite an extraordinary thing to witness.

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Does South Africa’s “Big Love” President Have a Lesson for Liberal America?

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

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Zardari Growing Weaker

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

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A New York Times Embarrassment That’s Not on the Front Page

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl’s] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

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Don’t Blame the Tools

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

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Worth Studying

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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What Would He Talk To Them About?

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

John McCain just completed a blogger conference call. He began by referring to his speech this morning and by emphasizing that he sees that by 2013 we will have won in Iraq, meaning the government and military would be functioning and violence would be “sporadic.”

I asked McCain about President Bush’s comments in Israel and why the Democratic establishment and media had gone crazy over Bush’s warnings about the dangers of appeasement. McCain said that he took Bush at his word when he said that he wasn’t talking about Barack Obama specifically. He then explained that he suspected that the reaction was so “vociferous” because of concern about defending a policy that evidences the “highest degree of naivitee and inexperience” in pledging to sit down with the President of Iraq who calls Israel a “stinking corpse,” vows to wipe Israel off the map and supplies explosives which kill America’s military personnel in Iraq.

I also asked him about Lebanon and whether Obama’s plan to meet directly with Iran will improve the situation. He said that there is essentially a “proxy war” with Syria and Iran supporting Hezbollah and that the U.N. has done nothing to enforce its resolution calling for Hezbollah’s disarmament. Again, he took issue with the notion that we should hold presidential talks with Iran: ” What is it that he wants to talk about?” He queried whether it would be Iran’s belief that Israel is a stinking corpse or its commitment to destroy Israel. He summed up, saying he concluded from this that Obama lacked the “knowledge, experience or background” to defend our national security interests.

In response to the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb’s question as to what preconditions would be needed before he would talk to Iran’s leadership, McCain listed renunciation of its stated position to wipe out Israel, abandonment of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a cessation of exporting of explosive devices which are killing Americans and a halt to sponsorship of terrorist organizations. He also noted that talks including Ambassador Crocker’s discussion with the Iranian Ambassador in Iraq have given us no reason to believe that Iran is interested in any of these items.

And what about the Obama campaign’s spin that Obama isn’t really promising unconditional talks? McCain was having none of it. He pointed to other flip flops by Obama on NAFTA and concluded that on this one (Iran) more recent comments suggesting that Obama really isn’t after all interested in direct talks without preconditons show a “very clear inconsistency” and a “contradiction” with his prior position.

In short, McCain made clear he believes meeting at the presidential level with Iran would merely “enhance their prestige” and that this policy position by Obama is a useful one in McCain’s own efforts to paint Obama as a dangerous novice in foreign affairs. It seems clear this will be a major point of debate in the general election.

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Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

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Denial of A Denial

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

Joseph Cirincione, the subject of my post yesterday, Obama’s Radioactive Potato, writes that “I am not a top advisor to Senator Obama. I have never met the Senator. I have written occasional memos to his campaign and publicly endorsed his candidacy, but I am afraid there is no way I could be considered ‘Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear.'”

“No way”?

With all due respect to Joseph Cirincione, I stand by my claim that he serves as Senator Obama’s top adviser on matters nuclear and I am astonished that he would deny it.

In a March 12, 2008 article in the New Republic by Michelle Cottle in which he was extensively quoted, Cottle wrote that Cirincione “agreed last spring to advise the candidate on non-proliferation.”

If that statement is true, and I see no evidence that Cirincione has disputed it, then he is their adviser on nuclear proliferation, and indeed their top adviser unless he can point to a more senior nuclear expert advising the campaign.

Cirincione has been widely identified as an Obama adviser all over the blogsphere by publications spanning the political spectrum, from National Review to the Weekly Standard to the DailyKos, where he was even given the title “Informal National Security Adviser.” I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of  the program in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, writing in Foreign Policy in Focus, described Cirincione as a “key Obama adviser.” Once again, I did not find a disavowal from Cirincione in the comments section of that web document.

Will the real top Obama nuclear advisor please stand up.

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The Richard Immerman Watch

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,'” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,'” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

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