Commentary Magazine


Topic: Weekly Standard

Announcing JAPSL

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

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The McCain Kickoff Tour

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

The McCain team held a media call to kick off what they internally call the “Bio Tour” and what is formally known as “The Service To America Tour.” With stops at McCain Field in Mississippi, McCain’s high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy and in Florida (where McCain went to naval flight school) the tour, according to Senior Advisor Steve Schmidt, will start the “formal process of introducing Senator McCain to the American people.” Schmidt explained that they will do this through “personal stories” which show how McCain’s life and values were shaped and which McCain hopes to use to “connect his past to the present and to the future.”

Schmidt was asked by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard about Barack Obama’s association with Tony McPeak and Reverend Wright and what this revealed about Obama’s outlook on Israel. Schmidt began by saying, “Senator McCain just returned from Israel. He is a great friend of Israel.” He then went on to explain that McCain understands the role of Israel in the world’s peace and security and the link between Iraq and Israel, noting that bin Laden had declared that his forces would first defeat the West in Iraq and “then in Israel.” He carefully said, “The American people will make a determination about Barack Obama should he be the nominee.” He did say that McPeak and “others” had made ” a lot of disturbing comments,” but that the focus should be on Obama whose rhetoric is “detached ” from reality and who, Schmidt contends, says he favors a few style of politics but who “day after day makes inaccurate and misleading attacks, many personality based.”

I asked him about Obama’s stated intention to raise income taxes on Americans making $75,000 or more and also raise the capital gains tax. Schmidt responded that after the Bio Tour McCain would devote considerable time to talking about the economy. He then damned Obama with faint praise for being “very articulate and very smooth,” but went on to jab him for contending that taxpayers who make $75,000 are rich. Schmidt said bluntly, ” $75,000 is not rich” and explained that these taxpayers are hardworking people struggling to pay the mortgage and save for college. As for a capital gains tax increase, he said this would have a “disastrous effect on the economy.” He then disputed the conventional wisdom that Democrats would be advantaged in tough economic times, declaring that McCain would win the economic argument and explain how Obama’s tax notions would “literally tank the American economy.”

Other highlights: 1) He denied the allegation by Rep. Heath Shuler that McCain was seeking to block discharge of the SAVE border security bill and 2) When asked about Juan Hernandez (a McCain supporter who has become a lightning rod for criticism from activists who opposed comprehensive immigration reform), Schmidt said that what matters is McCain’s own position: to stress border security first, insist on biometric ID cards and employer sanctions for hiring illegals and only then address the issue of people already here in a “compassionate way.” Pressed again about Hernandez, he repeated that what counts is McCain’s views and went on to say that McCain has consolidated support from conservatives to the same degree George W. Bush had done at the same point in 2000.

Bottom line: Schmidt was careful not to count Hillary Clinton out. But from every indication the McCain team seems prepared and itching to take on Obama.

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Puncturing the Obama Balloon

Today, in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has produced one of the landmark pieces of political portraiture of our time. It’s called “The Wit and Wisdom of Barack Obama,” and it is so rich in detail about the sources of Obama’s rhetoric and the fanciful nature of those who believe he is offering anything genuinely new. Ferguson is one of the best writers in America, and this may be the best article he has ever written. Just one taste for you:

He lives in an era when the public memory has shrunk to a length of days or weeks. Especially in American politics, policed by a posse of commentators and reporters who crave novelty above all, the past is a blank; every day is Groundhog Day, bringing shocking discoveries of things that have happened over and over again. No politician has benefited from this amnesia as much as Obama. He is credited with revelatory eloquence for using phrases that have been in circulation for years. “Politics is broken,” he says in his stump speech, and his audience of starry-eyed college students swoons and the thirtysomething reporters jot excitedly in their notebooks. The rest of us are left to wonder if he’s tipping his hat to Bill Bradley, who left the Senate in 1996 because, Bradley said, “politics is broken,” or if he’s stealing from George W. Bush, who announced in his own stump speech in 2000 that “politics is broken.” Obama could be flattering us or snowing us.

There’s so, so much more. Read the whole thing. Twice.

Today, in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has produced one of the landmark pieces of political portraiture of our time. It’s called “The Wit and Wisdom of Barack Obama,” and it is so rich in detail about the sources of Obama’s rhetoric and the fanciful nature of those who believe he is offering anything genuinely new. Ferguson is one of the best writers in America, and this may be the best article he has ever written. Just one taste for you:

He lives in an era when the public memory has shrunk to a length of days or weeks. Especially in American politics, policed by a posse of commentators and reporters who crave novelty above all, the past is a blank; every day is Groundhog Day, bringing shocking discoveries of things that have happened over and over again. No politician has benefited from this amnesia as much as Obama. He is credited with revelatory eloquence for using phrases that have been in circulation for years. “Politics is broken,” he says in his stump speech, and his audience of starry-eyed college students swoons and the thirtysomething reporters jot excitedly in their notebooks. The rest of us are left to wonder if he’s tipping his hat to Bill Bradley, who left the Senate in 1996 because, Bradley said, “politics is broken,” or if he’s stealing from George W. Bush, who announced in his own stump speech in 2000 that “politics is broken.” Obama could be flattering us or snowing us.

There’s so, so much more. Read the whole thing. Twice.

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The Pride After The Fall

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

This past week I went to a debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. on America’s use of tough interrogation in the war on terror. Before the debate, an audience vote showed that most attendees were in favor of the U.S.’ use of tough techniques. A post-debate vote revealed the balance to have shifted in favor of the anti-tough interrogation stance.

I’d have to attribute this shift to the successful blurring of the concepts of tough interrogation (the matter at hand) and torture (the headline-grabbing distortion) effected by the side that won. This team consisted of Reed College political science chair Darius Rejali, former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, and FBI veteran Jack Cloonan. The Weekly Standard’s Jaime Sneider was in attendance and he gives Hutson the “most loopy” award, but for my money the chutzpah prize has to go to Jack Cloonan. Consider what he said to a New York audience:

I was charged in 1996 to eliminate bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others as a threat to US national security. And I found myself in the enviable position of having to travel around the world, and find members of al Qaeda, and gain their cooperation. And I can assure you as I sit here tonight, being very proud of what the end result of that was, that I did not engage in any harsh interrogation techniques.

“[V]ery proud of what the end result of that was”? The end result of the efforts of al Qaeda during that period was 9/11. What exactly is Jack Cloonan crowing about? Furthermore, his isn’t the best argument against tough techniques. Nevertheless, Cloonan insisted that “rapport building” is always the best approach to terrorist interrogation.

Later on, he mentioned that when he started his job there were only 75 members of al Qaeda. Well, during his tenure of “rapport building,” that elusive 75 swelled into a deadly global force that threatens the stability of every populated continent. Someone needs to interrogate Jack Cloonan about what went wrong on his watch.

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I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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The Kagans on Iraq

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

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An Anti-War “Teach-In” at the CIA?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

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Who is Richard H. Immerman?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

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This Is Good Blogging

Herewith the full text of an item today by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard called “Quote of the Day”:

Josh Patashnik writes at TNR:

 

Marty Lederman is right that it would be nice if McCain would spell out which techniques he thinks are appropriate for the CIA to use–because his anti-torture credibility is sinking pretty rapidly.

 

And thus a 23 year-old reporter-researcher at the New Republic questions the “anti-torture credibility” of John McCain.

Ouch.

 

Herewith the full text of an item today by Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard called “Quote of the Day”:

Josh Patashnik writes at TNR:

 

Marty Lederman is right that it would be nice if McCain would spell out which techniques he thinks are appropriate for the CIA to use–because his anti-torture credibility is sinking pretty rapidly.

 

And thus a 23 year-old reporter-researcher at the New Republic questions the “anti-torture credibility” of John McCain.

Ouch.

 

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James Risen in Chains

Is the Justice Department subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times a threat to the rule of law? Or, as I argue in the latest Weekly Standard, is the subpoena amply justified?

Liberals and the Left have been surprisingly mute about the issue of leaks of classified information and the Justice Department’s response. A recent exception comes from Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who is highly alarmed by the DOJ’s action:

Grand Jury Subpoenas such as the one issued to Risen have as their principal purpose shutting off that avenue of learning about government wrongdoing — the sole remaining avenue for a country plagued by a supine, slothful, vapid press and an indescribably submissive Congress.

Greenwald’s analysis is worth reading in full. He offers some interesting speculation about why this issue is coming to the fore now, most of it centering on the appointment of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. But I found the most fascinating portion of his column to be the blank spot in its very center.

Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer, but he offers not a word of discussion about the legal and constitutional issues involved in the publication of classified information by journalists. This left me curious to know several things:

1.  Could it ever be a crime, in his view, for a “whistleblower” to disclose classified information?

2.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason for the Justice Department to issue a subpoena to a journalist (even the shield law making its way through Congress has a national-security exception, too narrowly drawn in my view, but an exception all the same)?

3.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason, in his view, for the Justice Department to prosecute a journalist who publishes classified information?

Perhaps Greenwald will come up with some answers at Salon and we will see the beginnings of a proper debate.

Is the Justice Department subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times a threat to the rule of law? Or, as I argue in the latest Weekly Standard, is the subpoena amply justified?

Liberals and the Left have been surprisingly mute about the issue of leaks of classified information and the Justice Department’s response. A recent exception comes from Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who is highly alarmed by the DOJ’s action:

Grand Jury Subpoenas such as the one issued to Risen have as their principal purpose shutting off that avenue of learning about government wrongdoing — the sole remaining avenue for a country plagued by a supine, slothful, vapid press and an indescribably submissive Congress.

Greenwald’s analysis is worth reading in full. He offers some interesting speculation about why this issue is coming to the fore now, most of it centering on the appointment of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. But I found the most fascinating portion of his column to be the blank spot in its very center.

Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer, but he offers not a word of discussion about the legal and constitutional issues involved in the publication of classified information by journalists. This left me curious to know several things:

1.  Could it ever be a crime, in his view, for a “whistleblower” to disclose classified information?

2.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason for the Justice Department to issue a subpoena to a journalist (even the shield law making its way through Congress has a national-security exception, too narrowly drawn in my view, but an exception all the same)?

3.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason, in his view, for the Justice Department to prosecute a journalist who publishes classified information?

Perhaps Greenwald will come up with some answers at Salon and we will see the beginnings of a proper debate.

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A CIA Cover-Up?

On January 24, a federal grand jury in Alexandria issued a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, seeking information about who in the U.S. government provided him with classified information that he published in his book, State of War. That book appeared in January 2006, more than two years ago. The CIA may have a hard time keeping secrets, but the Justice Department, we are learning now that this long-running leak inquest has come to light, seems to be very good at it.

There are at least two possibilities why Risen was issued a subpoena. One is that his book badly embarrassed the CIA by exposing incompetence well beyond its familiar inability to keep secrets. In referring the breach to the Justice Department for investigation, the CIA is paying him back. The subpoena, in other words, is part and parcel of a cover-up of agency bungling.

Another explanation is that, thanks to Risen’s book, valuable intelligence sources and methods were compromised, damage was done to national security, and the Justice Department has been tasked with tracking down the malefactors in the intelligence community who broke their oaths of secrecy, violated the law, and dropped classified information of value to American adversaries into the public domain. Because Risen is the only one who knows their identity, he is being hauled before a grand jury.

Which explanation is more plausible? I offer some answers in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard.

On January 24, a federal grand jury in Alexandria issued a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, seeking information about who in the U.S. government provided him with classified information that he published in his book, State of War. That book appeared in January 2006, more than two years ago. The CIA may have a hard time keeping secrets, but the Justice Department, we are learning now that this long-running leak inquest has come to light, seems to be very good at it.

There are at least two possibilities why Risen was issued a subpoena. One is that his book badly embarrassed the CIA by exposing incompetence well beyond its familiar inability to keep secrets. In referring the breach to the Justice Department for investigation, the CIA is paying him back. The subpoena, in other words, is part and parcel of a cover-up of agency bungling.

Another explanation is that, thanks to Risen’s book, valuable intelligence sources and methods were compromised, damage was done to national security, and the Justice Department has been tasked with tracking down the malefactors in the intelligence community who broke their oaths of secrecy, violated the law, and dropped classified information of value to American adversaries into the public domain. Because Risen is the only one who knows their identity, he is being hauled before a grand jury.

Which explanation is more plausible? I offer some answers in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard.

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Missing Fred Thompson

Now that he is out of the race, and not that anybody ever asked me, I will disclose that I was always a Fred Thompson guy. I liked his political positions, but most of all I liked the way he went about campaigning. Thompson was manly, smart, self-effacing, quick with a good line, and refused the embarrassing, self-promotional boy-bandism that, as his failure probably proved, is today a required affectation of presidential politics.

Andrew Ferguson has a remembrance of all of this in the Weekly Standard that is an absolutely lovely piece of journalism:

The traditional restraint of old-time presidential candidates wasn’t arrogance or sanctimoniousness, the twin accusations that wised-up politicos made against Thompson during the campaign. There was a philosophical component to it too: By not seeming overeager–no matter how eager they were–candidates paid tribute to the democratic idea that political power is best sought, taken on, and used reluctantly. It was also a matter of seemliness, and Thompson, alone among recent candidates, felt its pull. In his stump speech he often mentioned George Washington, once a staple of political rhetoric for his willingness to walk away from the power that was thrust upon him. Today Washington’s restraint seems nothing more than an archaism. And by extolling it Thompson sounded merely odd.

“If people really want in their president a super type-A personality,” Thompson said at that Iowa town hall meeting, “someone who has gotten up every morning and gone to bed every night thinking for years about how they could achieve the presidency of the United States, someone who could look you straight in the eye and say they enjoy every minute of campaigning–I ain’t that guy.”

That’s why so many of us liked him.

Now that he is out of the race, and not that anybody ever asked me, I will disclose that I was always a Fred Thompson guy. I liked his political positions, but most of all I liked the way he went about campaigning. Thompson was manly, smart, self-effacing, quick with a good line, and refused the embarrassing, self-promotional boy-bandism that, as his failure probably proved, is today a required affectation of presidential politics.

Andrew Ferguson has a remembrance of all of this in the Weekly Standard that is an absolutely lovely piece of journalism:

The traditional restraint of old-time presidential candidates wasn’t arrogance or sanctimoniousness, the twin accusations that wised-up politicos made against Thompson during the campaign. There was a philosophical component to it too: By not seeming overeager–no matter how eager they were–candidates paid tribute to the democratic idea that political power is best sought, taken on, and used reluctantly. It was also a matter of seemliness, and Thompson, alone among recent candidates, felt its pull. In his stump speech he often mentioned George Washington, once a staple of political rhetoric for his willingness to walk away from the power that was thrust upon him. Today Washington’s restraint seems nothing more than an archaism. And by extolling it Thompson sounded merely odd.

“If people really want in their president a super type-A personality,” Thompson said at that Iowa town hall meeting, “someone who has gotten up every morning and gone to bed every night thinking for years about how they could achieve the presidency of the United States, someone who could look you straight in the eye and say they enjoy every minute of campaigning–I ain’t that guy.”

That’s why so many of us liked him.

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Rumsfeld’s (Not Bad) Idea

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

I hesitate to forward a suggestion made by Don Rumsfeld, who is likely to go down along with Robert McNamara as one of our worst secretaries of defense. While the United States was on the cusp of the worst military defeat since Vietnam, he seemed strangely disengaged—more focused on futuristic transformation than on reversing the sad course of events in Iraq.

That puzzling impression is only reinforced by Fred Barnes’s excellent Weekly Standard article on the origins of the surge. Barnes notes that “In September [2007], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired general Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and Pace.” But by December, “with Bush favoring a strategy nearly identical to Keane’s, he didn’t object.”
Fairly or not the conclusion one can draw is that Rumsfeld’s attitude was: “Surge, splurge. Who cares? I’m more interested in tinkering with the Future Combat System!”

But simply because Rumsfeld was overly focused on “transformation,” and often the wrong kind of transformation (favoring high-tech weapons systems of little use against guerrillas and terrorists), that doesn’t mean that all of his prescriptions were incorrect. Just last week he gave a speech suggesting that America needs a strategic communications agency—an idea that isn’t original to him but that he is right to advocate. Rumsfeld noted that Congress and the Clinton administration made a tragic mistake by folding the US Information Agency into the State Department in 1999. According to a news account of his speech:

A 21st-century version of the USIA is needed to harness new communications techniques—from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio—to counter a constant torrent of propaganda from radical organizations, particularly in the Middle East, he said.

I completely agree. In fact it’s an idea I’ve pushed in the past myself. (See, e.g., this New York Times article.) I would only add a point about the direction that this new USIA should take.

It would be a mistake to do as Charlotte Beers and Karen Hughes have done with the public diplomacy portfolio at the State Department and try to use their communications machinery to drive up America’s favorability ratings as if Uncle Sam were a candidate running for office. It would be nice if everyone around the world liked us, but that’s unlikely to happen, and it shouldn’t be our primary goal anyway. The strategic communications effort should have two objectives: (1) to help moderate Muslims battle the radicals; and (2) to increase respect for American power so as to send a firm message that it doesn’t pay to mess with us.

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McCain Conservatism

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

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Sawdust or Bill Kristol?

Among my various regular household duties, sorting bottles, paper, metal, and other forms of refuse, as mandated by local recycling law, is irksome, especially because I suspect that all these form of garbage end up in the same dump. But of such daily chores, none is more bothersome than reading the editorials of the New York Times. It’s not so much that I disagree with them — which I almost always do — but the fact that they are almost always dead on the page. Apodictic, sententious, grim are three words that consistently come to mind; these editorial masterpieces are to reading as sawdust is to eating.

Now that the paper is locked in a competition with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, either the Times will have to get rid of the sawdust or they will continue to lose this portion of the game to an editorial-page operation that is nothing but lively and full of high good humor. Already, the Times’s op-ed page — as opposed to the editorial page — seems to have gotten the message. How else are we to read the decision to give prime real estate — a weekly column — to Bill Kristol, a dreaded neoconservative, and the editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard?

That decision has provoked howls of outrage from free-thinking liberals who appear exceedingly anxious to avoid hearing the views of anyone with whom they might disagree. One of the more notable contributions to this choir of conformity is Clark Hoyt, the Times’s “public editor” or ombudsman. This past Sunday he wrote a column calling the decision to appoint Kristol a mistake. The headline was He May Be Unwelcome, but We’ll Survive. Hoyt’s is the kind of thinking that might ensure that the Times will not survive. Keep up the good work Hoyt!

I take a closer look at Hoyt’s argument today in Bill Kristol: Enemy of the People, over at realclearpolitics.

Among my various regular household duties, sorting bottles, paper, metal, and other forms of refuse, as mandated by local recycling law, is irksome, especially because I suspect that all these form of garbage end up in the same dump. But of such daily chores, none is more bothersome than reading the editorials of the New York Times. It’s not so much that I disagree with them — which I almost always do — but the fact that they are almost always dead on the page. Apodictic, sententious, grim are three words that consistently come to mind; these editorial masterpieces are to reading as sawdust is to eating.

Now that the paper is locked in a competition with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, either the Times will have to get rid of the sawdust or they will continue to lose this portion of the game to an editorial-page operation that is nothing but lively and full of high good humor. Already, the Times’s op-ed page — as opposed to the editorial page — seems to have gotten the message. How else are we to read the decision to give prime real estate — a weekly column — to Bill Kristol, a dreaded neoconservative, and the editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard?

That decision has provoked howls of outrage from free-thinking liberals who appear exceedingly anxious to avoid hearing the views of anyone with whom they might disagree. One of the more notable contributions to this choir of conformity is Clark Hoyt, the Times’s “public editor” or ombudsman. This past Sunday he wrote a column calling the decision to appoint Kristol a mistake. The headline was He May Be Unwelcome, but We’ll Survive. Hoyt’s is the kind of thinking that might ensure that the Times will not survive. Keep up the good work Hoyt!

I take a closer look at Hoyt’s argument today in Bill Kristol: Enemy of the People, over at realclearpolitics.

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Bookshelf: The Best of 2007

I’ve been reviewing books in this space for the past year, and instead of telling you about a new one this week, I thought I’d remind you of five of the ones I enjoyed most in 2007:

• Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage (HarperCollins, 208 pp., $19.95) is the best short book about Shakespeare that I know. Instead of writing about the plays, Bryson has chosen instead to concentrate on summarizing the known facts of Shakespeare’s life—of which there are precious few—and presenting them in a lively, literate manner.

• Joseph Epstein’s In a Cardboard Belt! (Houghton Mifflin, 410 pp., $26) will doubtless be self-recommending to regular readers of COMMENTARY and the Weekly Standard. It contains a wide-ranging selection of the familiar and literary essays that Epstein has published there and elsewhere in recent years, and like all his other books, it’s chatty, thoughtful and so irresistibly readable that the wise man will take care not to pick it up unless he has a free evening ahead of him.

• Andrew Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America (Atlantic Monthly Press, 279 pp., $24) is a witty semi-memoir in which the author of Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces tells us what it’s like to visit Lincoln-related sites and events throughout America. His adventures and misadventures among the Lincoln-lovers and Abe-haters are hugely amusing, but don’t let the one-liners throw you off the scent: Land of Lincoln is a deeply thoughtful consideration of Abraham Lincoln’s increasingly problematic place in postmodern American culture.

• Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts (W.W. Norton, 876 pp., $35) is a near-indescribable book whose virtues, like those of Land of Lincoln, are partially obscured by the fact that it’s so hard to pigeonhole. The best I can do is to quote myself:

[I]t’s a fat volume of short essays about a hundred or so people, most of them twentieth-century artists and writers of various kinds. Each essay is a commentary on a well-chosen quotation from its subject, and the essays are arranged alphabetically. The overarching theme of the book is the fate of humanism in what James describes as “an age of extermination, an epoch of the abattoir,” meaning that many of its subjects either ran afoul of Hitler and Stalin or sucked up to them.

Rarely has so gloomy a subject been written about with such infectious gusto. Don’t expect James to toe the right-of-center line, but the hard common sense with which he weighs the intellectual follies of the Low, Dishonest Century is arguably even more refreshing to hear from a littérateur of the center-left.

• Roger Scruton’s Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged (Encounter, 118 pp., $20) is an extended essay in which the noted philosopher makes the case for the primacy of Western culture at a moment when much of the West is experiencing “an acute crisis of identity” triggered by the twin challenges of radical Islam and the multicultural project. It is short, pointed, lucid, compelling and disturbing. Think of it as a stocking-stuffer for pessimists and you won’t be far wrong.

See you in 2008!

I’ve been reviewing books in this space for the past year, and instead of telling you about a new one this week, I thought I’d remind you of five of the ones I enjoyed most in 2007:

• Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The World as Stage (HarperCollins, 208 pp., $19.95) is the best short book about Shakespeare that I know. Instead of writing about the plays, Bryson has chosen instead to concentrate on summarizing the known facts of Shakespeare’s life—of which there are precious few—and presenting them in a lively, literate manner.

• Joseph Epstein’s In a Cardboard Belt! (Houghton Mifflin, 410 pp., $26) will doubtless be self-recommending to regular readers of COMMENTARY and the Weekly Standard. It contains a wide-ranging selection of the familiar and literary essays that Epstein has published there and elsewhere in recent years, and like all his other books, it’s chatty, thoughtful and so irresistibly readable that the wise man will take care not to pick it up unless he has a free evening ahead of him.

• Andrew Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America (Atlantic Monthly Press, 279 pp., $24) is a witty semi-memoir in which the author of Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces tells us what it’s like to visit Lincoln-related sites and events throughout America. His adventures and misadventures among the Lincoln-lovers and Abe-haters are hugely amusing, but don’t let the one-liners throw you off the scent: Land of Lincoln is a deeply thoughtful consideration of Abraham Lincoln’s increasingly problematic place in postmodern American culture.

• Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts (W.W. Norton, 876 pp., $35) is a near-indescribable book whose virtues, like those of Land of Lincoln, are partially obscured by the fact that it’s so hard to pigeonhole. The best I can do is to quote myself:

[I]t’s a fat volume of short essays about a hundred or so people, most of them twentieth-century artists and writers of various kinds. Each essay is a commentary on a well-chosen quotation from its subject, and the essays are arranged alphabetically. The overarching theme of the book is the fate of humanism in what James describes as “an age of extermination, an epoch of the abattoir,” meaning that many of its subjects either ran afoul of Hitler and Stalin or sucked up to them.

Rarely has so gloomy a subject been written about with such infectious gusto. Don’t expect James to toe the right-of-center line, but the hard common sense with which he weighs the intellectual follies of the Low, Dishonest Century is arguably even more refreshing to hear from a littérateur of the center-left.

• Roger Scruton’s Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged (Encounter, 118 pp., $20) is an extended essay in which the noted philosopher makes the case for the primacy of Western culture at a moment when much of the West is experiencing “an acute crisis of identity” triggered by the twin challenges of radical Islam and the multicultural project. It is short, pointed, lucid, compelling and disturbing. Think of it as a stocking-stuffer for pessimists and you won’t be far wrong.

See you in 2008!

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Polls, Polls, Polls

Another day, another set of polls. One says John McCain is now tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in New Hampshire. But that does not comport with the findings of other polls, which have Romney ahead by seven or ten or twelve points. Barack Obama has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton nationally and trails her by seven — or is twenty points back. And then there is Iowa, where Hillary is ahead, Obama is ahead, or Edwards is ahead. Huckabee might be ahead by fifteen or by two.

Results this varied are what has caused most people to begin to rely on an average of all polls being taken. The Poll of Polls most frequently cited is the one at realclearpolitics.com, which popularized it. Mark Blumenthal of pollster.com explains why a poll average works with an analogy to darts. Let’s say you’re playing darts and you don’t know where the bullseye is. You can figure it out by looking at the pattern of the holes created by other dart-throwers, which in an effort to reach the bullseye will actually create a picture of it in absentia.

The problem with that analogy is that there isn’t just one bullseye in a primary poll. There are five or six. Each candidate a pollster asks about is a bullseye. And with all these other possible bullseyes, the pattern of the holes around each one of them is not going to be anywhere near as distinct. It stands to reason that if you ask 500 people about a choice between A or B, you’re going to get a large number for A and a large number for B, and that one of the two will be larger than the other. If you ask 500 people about a choice between A, B, C, D, E, F or G, you’re not going to get big numbers for any one of them but relatively small numbers for all of them. And the pattern created by each choice — corresponding to a single dart — is more like an impression than a solid pattern.

Add to this uncertainty the fact that 14 percent of Americans now only use cellphones. Pollsters haven’t figured out how to factor in cellphones, so that’s 14 percent of the potential electorate missing from their sample to begin with. Add further the fact that many people — no one has a number, but it is significant — now hang up on people they don’t know or don’t answer the phone when their Caller ID offers an unknown phone number, and you have another segment of the population that is offline.

Now consider Iowa and New Hampshire. These are states whose residents are being bombarded daily by phone calls from campaign volunteers, campaign staffers, and recorded messages from candidates. As Richelieu, a campaign guru who posts on the Weekly Standard’s Campaign blog, puts it:

Polling right now in Iowa and New Hampshire is a technical nightmare. Every three minutes the average voter’s phone rings with somebody coaxing them to trudge out into the snow and attend an Edward’s meeting, go to a coffee with one of Romney’s sons, or sign up for a Huckabee prayer circle. Not to mention the endless pre-recorded “robo-call” phone messages from various crank interest groups grinding their axe on some issue. With your phone ringing two dozen times a day with a political call, it is not easy for the 35 different media and private pollsters each trying to get a sample done each night. Voters don’t answer the phone or refuse to play along when they do answer. Which means response rates go way down, samples tilt away from a statistically reliable random frame of the population, and results go bad.

And now for the most important part: Turnout in the Iowa caucuses is expected to be somewhere around…this is serious…five percent. That means five percent of the state’s universe of Republicans will attend a Republican caucus meeting, and five percent of the state’s Democrats will attend a Democratic caucus meeting. According to Blumenthal of pollster.com, “The historical high for turnout in the Iowa Caucuses was 5.5% of adults for the Democrats in 2004 and 5.3% of adults for the Republicans in 1988.”

Now here’s what this means. For a poll to achieve a measurable degree of scientific accuracy, a pollster “would need to screen out nine out of ten otherwise willing adults in order to interview a combined population of Democratic and Republican caucusgoers strictly comparable in size to past caucus turnouts.” Because no pollster can afford to do such a thing — to reach thousands of people and then discard the results from 90 percent of the phone calls — each polling firm has to come up with its own theory of how best to locate and identify likely voters in sufficient numbers. That’s why, Blumenthal says, the results of each poll vary so wildly.

So. People who are polled are offered six options. People use cell phones exclusively. They know they’re getting political calls and don’t answer the phone if they’re at home. And only five percent of voters in each party actually turn out in Iowa.

So. Still confident there’s a Huckabee “surge”? Or that Romney has ended the Huckabee surge? Or that Obama is gaining on Hillary? Or that Edwards can’t win? If you are, I would like to sell you this.

Another day, another set of polls. One says John McCain is now tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in New Hampshire. But that does not comport with the findings of other polls, which have Romney ahead by seven or ten or twelve points. Barack Obama has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton nationally and trails her by seven — or is twenty points back. And then there is Iowa, where Hillary is ahead, Obama is ahead, or Edwards is ahead. Huckabee might be ahead by fifteen or by two.

Results this varied are what has caused most people to begin to rely on an average of all polls being taken. The Poll of Polls most frequently cited is the one at realclearpolitics.com, which popularized it. Mark Blumenthal of pollster.com explains why a poll average works with an analogy to darts. Let’s say you’re playing darts and you don’t know where the bullseye is. You can figure it out by looking at the pattern of the holes created by other dart-throwers, which in an effort to reach the bullseye will actually create a picture of it in absentia.

The problem with that analogy is that there isn’t just one bullseye in a primary poll. There are five or six. Each candidate a pollster asks about is a bullseye. And with all these other possible bullseyes, the pattern of the holes around each one of them is not going to be anywhere near as distinct. It stands to reason that if you ask 500 people about a choice between A or B, you’re going to get a large number for A and a large number for B, and that one of the two will be larger than the other. If you ask 500 people about a choice between A, B, C, D, E, F or G, you’re not going to get big numbers for any one of them but relatively small numbers for all of them. And the pattern created by each choice — corresponding to a single dart — is more like an impression than a solid pattern.

Add to this uncertainty the fact that 14 percent of Americans now only use cellphones. Pollsters haven’t figured out how to factor in cellphones, so that’s 14 percent of the potential electorate missing from their sample to begin with. Add further the fact that many people — no one has a number, but it is significant — now hang up on people they don’t know or don’t answer the phone when their Caller ID offers an unknown phone number, and you have another segment of the population that is offline.

Now consider Iowa and New Hampshire. These are states whose residents are being bombarded daily by phone calls from campaign volunteers, campaign staffers, and recorded messages from candidates. As Richelieu, a campaign guru who posts on the Weekly Standard’s Campaign blog, puts it:

Polling right now in Iowa and New Hampshire is a technical nightmare. Every three minutes the average voter’s phone rings with somebody coaxing them to trudge out into the snow and attend an Edward’s meeting, go to a coffee with one of Romney’s sons, or sign up for a Huckabee prayer circle. Not to mention the endless pre-recorded “robo-call” phone messages from various crank interest groups grinding their axe on some issue. With your phone ringing two dozen times a day with a political call, it is not easy for the 35 different media and private pollsters each trying to get a sample done each night. Voters don’t answer the phone or refuse to play along when they do answer. Which means response rates go way down, samples tilt away from a statistically reliable random frame of the population, and results go bad.

And now for the most important part: Turnout in the Iowa caucuses is expected to be somewhere around…this is serious…five percent. That means five percent of the state’s universe of Republicans will attend a Republican caucus meeting, and five percent of the state’s Democrats will attend a Democratic caucus meeting. According to Blumenthal of pollster.com, “The historical high for turnout in the Iowa Caucuses was 5.5% of adults for the Democrats in 2004 and 5.3% of adults for the Republicans in 1988.”

Now here’s what this means. For a poll to achieve a measurable degree of scientific accuracy, a pollster “would need to screen out nine out of ten otherwise willing adults in order to interview a combined population of Democratic and Republican caucusgoers strictly comparable in size to past caucus turnouts.” Because no pollster can afford to do such a thing — to reach thousands of people and then discard the results from 90 percent of the phone calls — each polling firm has to come up with its own theory of how best to locate and identify likely voters in sufficient numbers. That’s why, Blumenthal says, the results of each poll vary so wildly.

So. People who are polled are offered six options. People use cell phones exclusively. They know they’re getting political calls and don’t answer the phone if they’re at home. And only five percent of voters in each party actually turn out in Iowa.

So. Still confident there’s a Huckabee “surge”? Or that Romney has ended the Huckabee surge? Or that Obama is gaining on Hillary? Or that Edwards can’t win? If you are, I would like to sell you this.

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Talking to Enemies, Losing Friends

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

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Commentary Onscreen: Gordon G. Chang

Gordon G. Chang is a regular contributor to contentions and the author, most recently, of “How China and Russia Threaten the World,” from the June issue of COMMENTARY. Chang has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Weekly Standard, and has advised the National Intelligence Council, Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon. He has also served two terms as a trustee of Cornell University, his alma mater. Contentions interviewed Chang at our offices in New York City. We discuss American policy towards Taiwan, Beijing’s Olympics, capital punishment in China, and more.

Chang’s newest book, Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, is available from Random House.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9EWmKK_23A[/youtube]

Gordon G. Chang is a regular contributor to contentions and the author, most recently, of “How China and Russia Threaten the World,” from the June issue of COMMENTARY. Chang has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Weekly Standard, and has advised the National Intelligence Council, Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department, and the Pentagon. He has also served two terms as a trustee of Cornell University, his alma mater. Contentions interviewed Chang at our offices in New York City. We discuss American policy towards Taiwan, Beijing’s Olympics, capital punishment in China, and more.

Chang’s newest book, Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, is available from Random House.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9EWmKK_23A[/youtube]

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