2 posts: (1) Palestinian Gratitude--Us v. Them; (2) Denmark & Islam: An Observer's Account--Wobble Watch.
2 posts: (1) Palestinian Gratitude--Us v. Them; (2) Denmark & Islam: An Observer's Account--Wobble Watch.
Here is a 2008 interview with an Israeli doctor that merits a full read. But let me extract one tale that tells volumes about the people with whom President 44 wants Israel to sign a peace accord:
Gordon: There was an incident at a Beersheba Hospital involving a Palestinian woman terrorist who had received skin transplant treatments authorized by you. Could you describe that incident and what it illustrates about Israeli humanitarianism versus fanatic Islamic Jihadism?
Eldad: I was instrumental in establishing the Israeli National Skin Bank, which is the largest in the world. The National Skin Bank stores skin for every day needs as well as for war time or mass casualty situations. This skin bank is hosted at the Hadassah Ein Kerem University hospital in Jerusalem where I was the chairman of plastic surgery. This is how I was asked to supply skin for an Arab woman from Gaza, who was hospitalized in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba after her family burned her. Usually, such atrocities happen among Arab families when the women are suspected of having an affair. We supplied all the needed Homografts for her treatment. She was successfully treated by my friend and colleague Prof. Lior Rosenberg, and discharged to return to Gaza. She was invited for regular follow up visits to the outpatient clinic in Beersheba. One day she was caught at a border crossing wearing a suicide belt. She meant to explode herself in the outpatient clinic of the hospital where they saved her life. It seems that her family promised her that if she did that, they would forgive her.
Susan MacAllen lived in Denmark, and details how militant Islam has encroached upon Danish life, and the Danes are fighting back.
2 posts: (1) Housing's Charlie Brown Syndrome--The Home Front; (2) Economic Ill Auguries--The Home Front.
NY Post columnist John Crudele sees China as "bond vigilante" watching US debt mushroom. Robert Samuelson adds his assessment of US debt risks. National Journal's Clive Crook sees a spending cut/tax hike squeeze play on the way for America. Author Amity Shlaes warns of the imminent pension crisis. Another ill augury is that among the secured creditors Team Obama shafted in favor of its UAW pals were several state pension funds.
Had enough? Try this 7-minute video clip titled "The Worst is Yet to Come" featuring a financial guy that tells us the banks are still leveraged 25:1 and that all auto companies are going bankrupt and Team 44 will bail out every union. Add in that we have 8,000 banks and need perhaps 5,000. Commercial real estate will crash 70 percent, with $27B debt worth $8B. He sees a ten-year funk with a permanent drop in living standards for America. Now try to sleep tonight.
Manhattan Institute scholar Steven Malanga calls "Obsessive Housing Disorder" the penchant for government to serially subsidize low-income housing ownership, leading to repeated bubbles and repeated crashes. He offers an astonishing history dating back to Herbert Hoover and continuing today. Basically, we subsidize home ownership as a part of the American Dream, and believe that people who are owners will be more likely to manage their property competently. Politicians then push lending institutions to relax lending standards deemed unfair, r worse, in alter years, racist, etc. Down-payments plummet, interest rates follow and, in worst case, as in 2004 - 2007, NINJA loans (No Income, No Job or Assets) are tossed out. The Housing House of Cards then collapses, taking homeowners, lenders, owners of loan (mortgage) paper with it. Read this brilliant historical exposition and analysis and weep.
2 posts: (1) Detainee Photos: 44 Can Stop It; Lincoln Would Have--The Home Front; (2) President Palin's First 100 Days!--The Home Front.
Andy McCarthy offers a way out for President 44 re the detainee photos: issue an Executive Order classifying them as essential to national security. Rich Lowry sees a hidden GOP mentor for 44 on the photos issue.
Here is official Lincolniana from the Civil War decisions he took to preserve the Union: (1) Executive Order dated April 27, 1861, suspending habeas corpus; (2) Executive Order No. 1 Relating to Political Prisoners, Feb. 14, 1862, listing extra-legal actions taken and reasons why; (3) Proclamation Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, Sept. 24, 1862, also authorizing arrest and detention of draft-dodgers, and those suspected of treason or "other disloyalty."
Lincoln, as LFTC noted recently, also jailed Copperhead leader Cornelius Vallandigham in 1863, telling Congress, "Shall I shoot the simple soldier boy who deserts, while leaving untouched the hair of the wily agitator who induces him to desert?"
Victor Davis Hanson takes actual quotes & events from 44's first 100 and shows how the media likely would have portrayed them had Sarah Palin been sitting in the Oval Office. Enjoy a few chuckles.
One post: The Law of Torture: Inconvenient Truths--The Home Front.
Begin with Title 12 Code of Federal Regulations sec. 1208.18, the administrative rules governing implementation of the UN Convention against Torture, which are applied in proceedings deciding whether to deport those illegally here, who can stay here if they can show they will be tortured upon arrival in the destination country. This sub-section of rules enacted pursuant to Congressional statute, is the fundamental legal source to which both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments turned in reaching their interpretation of "torture" under US law.
The first five elements of the Code section are key (underscores are mine):
(1) Torture is defined as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or her or a third person information or a confession, punishing him or her for an act he or she or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or her or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
(2) Torture is an extreme form of cruel and inhuman treatment and does not include lesser forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that do not amount to torture.
(3) Torture does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. Lawful sanctions include judicially imposed sanctions and other enforcement actions authorized by law, including the death penalty, but do not include sanctions that defeat the object and purpose of the Convention Against Torture to prohibit torture.
(4) In order to constitute torture, mental pain or suffering must be prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from:
(i) The intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(ii) The administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(iii) The threat of imminent death; or
(iv) The threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the sense or personality.
(5) In order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. An act that results in unanticipated or unintended severity of pain and suffering is not torture.
As the reader will discover below, Team Bush had one position, but Team Obama has two positions, inconsistently held: one for public consumption (broad & visceral) and one for filing briefs in court (narrow & clinical). The latter must be considered their true legal--as distinguished from political--position.
Ex-Reagan Justice Dept. official Victoria Toensing explains exactly what defines torture under US law. Her op-ed merits a careful read. but let me extract two key points:
1. An interrogator must not merely knowingly inflict pain--he must intend to do so; intending to elicit information--even knowing pain is a by-product--does not suffice to qualify as torture:
The 1994 law was passed pursuant to an international treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The law's definition of torture is circular. Torture under that law means "severe physical or mental pain or suffering," which in turn means "prolonged mental harm," which must be caused by one of four prohibited acts. The only relevant one to the CIA inquiry was threatening or inflicting "severe physical pain or suffering." What is "prolonged mental suffering"? The term appears nowhere else in the U.S. Code.
Congress required, in order for there to be a violation of the law, that an interrogator specifically intend that the detainee suffer prolonged physical or mental suffering as a result of the prohibited conduct. Just knowing a person could be injured from the interrogation method is not a violation under Supreme Court rulings interpreting "specific intent" in other criminal statutes.
2 In ratifying the UN Convention against Torture, the US excepted war exigencies, something the convention itself doesn't recognize as an exception:
The treaty had a specific provision stating that nothing, not even war, justifies torture. Congress removed that provision when drafting the 1994 law against torture, thereby permitting someone accused of violating the statute to invoke the long-established defense of necessity.
Media coverage has ignored these points--to the detriment of public understanding. What constitutes torture is not a personal sensitivity exercise; it is a carefully defined--narrowly defined--set of acts. Andy McCarthy further refines VT's analysis, of what lawyers call mens rea (legalese for "guilty mind"), and notes that the Justice Department took the same position as Team Bush, in a recent brief it filed. McCarthy quotes the relevant passage:
[T]orture is defined as “an extreme form of cruel and inhuman treatment and does not include lesser forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. . . . ” 8 C.F.R. § 1208.18(a)(2). Moreover, as has been explained by the Third Circuit, CAT requires “a showing of specific intent before the Court can make a finding that a petitioner will be tortured.” Pierre v. Attorney General, 528 F.3d 180, 189 (3d Cir. 2008) (en banc); see 8 C.F.R. § 1208.18(a)(5) (requiring that the act “be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering”); Auguste v. Ridge, 395 F.3d 123, 139 (3d Cir. 2005) (“This is a ‘specific intent’ requirement and not a ‘general intent’ requirement” [citations omitted.] An applicant for CAT protection therefore must establish that “his prospective torturer will have the motive or purpose” to torture him. Pierre, 528 F.3d at 189; Auguste, 395 F.3d at 153-54 (“The mere fact that the Haitian authorities have knowledge that severe pain and suffering may result by placing detainees in these conditions does not support a finding that the Haitian authorities intend to inflict severe pain and suffering. The difference goes to the heart of the distinction between general and specific intent.”) [my bold italics and brackets]. . . .
McCarthy adds that a ruling cited above, the Pierre case, decided by the Third Circuit (the federal appeals court from which Justice Samuel Alito was plucked by President Bush), was based upon the identical view of specific intent taken by Team Bush--and written with full knowledge that Team Obama has officially retracted the Justice Department memos setting forth that view:
It is, moreover, highly significant that the Justice Department, in its Demjanjuk brief, so heavily relied on the Third Circuit’s Pierre case. Pierre was a decision of the entire Third Circuit federal appeals court sitting en banc (i.e., all 13 judges). The case involved a refugee under an order for deportation to his native Haiti for imprisonment. He fought removal under the CAT, claiming that, due to various maladies, he would suffer excruciating pain and die if sent to a Haitian jail, where he would unquestionably be denied necessary medical care. The Justice Department did not seriously dispute Pierre’s allegations. But it countered that, even assuming their validity, there could be no torture because a government official’s knowledge that an action, such as denying treatment, “might cause severe pain and suffering” is insufficient under governing law. To establish torture as a matter of law — as opposed to a matter of demagoguery — an additional showing of a deliberate purpose to cause severe pain and suffering is required.
By a whopping 10–3 margin, the Third Circuit judges agreed with that argument. The “knowledge that pain and suffering will be the certain outcome of conduct,” the Pierre majority held, was “not enough for a finding of specific intent” to torture — the exactingly high mental state prescribed in the CAT and the torture statute. To prove torture, it would be necessary for a prosecutor to show “the additional deliberate and conscious purpose of accomplishing” severe pain and suffering. Without an evil motive to torture the victim, there is no torture even if great pain and suffering result.
That this was the controversial Bybee/Yoo theory was not lost on the Pierre Court. The three minority judges pointed out that the majority was adopting it even though the Justice Department’s OLC, under new management in 2004, had withdrawn the 2002 Bybee/Yoo guidance. That point, however, only underscores the persuasiveness of the Bybee/Yoo position. The 2004 OLC’s retraction declined to condemn the Bybee/Yoo guidance — it just refused to stand behind it and opined, after some hemming and hawing, that it was not “useful to try to define the precise meaning of ‘specific intent’ ” for torture. To the contrary, the Pierre court determined — as had Bybee and Yoo — that this was exactly the difficult question that needed answering. Looking at much of the same law and ratification history that Bybee and Yoo had studied, the ten judges in the Pierre majority came to precisely the same conclusion: essentially, preferring the controversial 2002 OLC guidance to the 2004 OLC retraction. Furthermore, even the three judges who preferred to 2004 OLC analysis agreed that there could be no torture without proof that a government agent acted with the “knowledge or desire” that severe pain or suffering would result.
McCarthy wryly notes that the Justice Department, having seen McCarthy's piece linking to its brief, promptly removed the brief from its website!!!! But McCarthy has saved the file to his disk as a .pdf file, and the brief can be accessed in his article.
A second McCarthy NRO piece adds more. A-G Holder conceded in testimony before Congress that the torture rules require specific intent to inflict extreme, prolonged pain; the lack of same is why subjecting military personnel to waterboarding does not meet the legal definition of torture. Re Holder's citation of the Spanish Inquisition and the Japanese in WW-II, McC writes:
Let’s put aside that it’s unlikely the Spanish Inquisition had a torture statute — after all, the United States managed to get along without one until 1994. Let’s even ignore the fact that the regimes Holder cited are not known to have rigorously limited their practitioners to no more than six applications of water (none longer than 40 seconds long) during any interrogation session (none longer than two hours long) on any day (during which there could be no more than two sessions) in any month (during which there could be no more than five days on which waterboarding occurred). Let’s just stick with intent. Holder’s exemplars involve the sadistic, programmatic infliction of severe, lasting, and often lethal pain — “water treatment” nowhere near as benign as the CIA’s, frequently coupled with atrocities like beating, rape, burning, and other unspeakable abuses. The practices of those regimes were designed exactly to torture, whether out of vengeance, the desire to intimidate a population, or the coercion of false confessions for show-trials — not to collect true, life-saving intelligence for the protection of civilian populations.
A Common Sense Torture Test. If normal people (not masochists) volunteer for a procedure to see how its feels, it is not reasonably considered torture. Waterboarding has been applied to journalists curious to experience its physical effects. True, the temporary terror of imminent drowning they are spared,as they know that friendlies are administering the procedure. They are back to normal in as little as 20 minutes (so reported y Fox's Steve Harrigan, who underwent the procedure).
Real torture is that which no one volunteers to try to see how it feels: think al-Qaeda specialties like eye-gouging, power-drilling into body parts, stabbing with a hot poker, wiring a victim to the electric grid and, yes, that al-Qaeda favorite of all, beheading with a pen-knife (on video, of course, that the victim's family can see it). Or think of Saddam's rape rooms, where family members were assaulted in front of the torture target.
Bottom Line. The word "torture" is being tossed around with alarming casualness. It is narrowly--very narrowly--defined under American law, and the Bush administration procedures do not appear to qualify. Torture is not what each individual viscerally feels should be considered torture. Specific intent to cause prolonged physical or mental suffering--which excludes lesser forms of cruel and inhumane treatment--is required to constitute torture. And even given torture constraints tighter than the criteria above, the "ticking bomb" and other scenarios, plus the Congressional reservation of necessity suggest that the bar is never absolute.
3 posts: (1) Memorial Day Remembrance: Our Warriors--The Home Front; (2) Memorial Day Celebration: Hubble Space Repair--The Home Front; (3) 1939: "It Was a Very Good (Film) Year"--Class & Crass.
The nation celebrates Memorial Day today, but those of us of a certain age know that originally, from its 1868 inception to 1971, when Congress passed the National Holiday Act, the holiday was celebrated May 30, and was known as Decoration Day in honor of Confederate ladies decorating the graves of their war dead. On May , 2000, President Clinton proclaimed 3 PM on Memorial Day has a moment of national remembrance, for either silent prayer, or playing (singing) "Taps" (1862); 5 unofficial verses are vest known; there are no official lyrics). Apropos of memories, two extra items: (1) Here is an eyewitness account of a funeral ceremony at Arlington; having been to one, I can attest it is a moving, beautiful spectacle. (2) It was May 12, 1962 that General Douglas MacArthur gave his famous "Duty, Honor, Country" farewell address at West Point. Here are the MacArthur 1962 audio (31 minutes; full text (5 pages).
Exemplifying the principles embraced by those words are two Army soldiers back from Iraq, saluted in this TAS article: Specialists Eric Moser & Chris Corriveau; for their heroic actions they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's highest decoration (the Medal of Honor is awarded, of course, by Congress); a riveting earlier TAS report (13 printed pages) tells their amazing story, in a rooftop firefight against overwhelming odds, in which two of their comrades perished. Peggy Noonan profiles two Medal of Honor giants and a hero POW: World War I's Alvin York & World War II's Audie Murphy, plus Vietnam War P.O.W. Chuck Boyd, held 2,488 days in captivity (nearly 7 years) and the only P.O.W. ever to rise to become a 4-star general.
Finally, here is a a closing quotation from George Orwell, that explains the contribution soldiers make to the security of the rest of us: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. "
WSJ pundit Dan Henninger offers well-justified praise for the recent spectacular space repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. He writes:
It becomes easy to forget that most people go to work each day to succeed, not fail. Still, it was startling last week to catch sight on TV of men floating in space. This was Servicing Mission 4, NASA's long-scheduled flight to fix the space-based Hubble telescope.
It was pure success. Anyone able to avert their eyes the past week from Speaker of the House Pelosi swimming in her own marinade of failure could have watched a team of Americans doing miracles in space for days.
NASA's gorgeous website has several articles plus photos on the miraculous performance of Servicing Team 4.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is running a 1939 Film Festival in Los Angeles, celebrating the top ten films of what has been called filmdom's finest year. Read the list, reflect that even a great picture like Gunga Din did not make the list, and remember grandeur gone on this Memorial Day weekend, as you weep for the poverty of film-making today.
May 25, 2009 in Class & Crass: Culture Vultures; Vultures' Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)
5 posts: (1) Cheney Versus "Bam" Over War Policy--The Home Front; (2) Afghan, Iraq Wars: Vietnam Redux?--Us v. Them; (3) Civilian National Security Upgrade--Us v. Them; (4) California, There You Go....--The Home Front; (5) ACORN Again: Fraud & Fakery--The Home Front; (N.B. I will have three special postings Monday, May 25, as the country observes Memorial Day--one post of remembrance, one post of celebration, and one of a very grand film year to remember.
Yesterday ex-VP Dick Cheney gave a major speech at the American Enterprise Institute defending the Bush administration's record. Cheney spoke right after President Obama spoke at the National Archives, trying to show that Team Obama will win the war lawfully, avoiding all those dastardly doings of the Bush - Cheney years. Cheney said that one side's policy is premised primarily on whether one sees 9/11 and a harbinger of greater attacks to come versus those who think it a "one-off" event. He proclaimed: "Seven and a half years is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, let alone criminalize." Cheney accused Democrats of false indignation--feigned outrage over methods critics in Congress had been briefed about. He called for release of the two Team Bush CIA memos that would add content of the answers to the four Team Bush memos that revealed the method of asking questions--44 having declassified the latter but not the former.
President 44 cited our values as encouraging surrender to the allies in WW-II and said that we would proceed with more allied support and less alienated Muslims. We shall see if such allied support, so far not consistently in evidence, materializes. As for alienated Muslims, these have not been in short supply anytime in the past few centuries, and if detention policy angers them, so do our Predator strikes in Southwest Asia. Bam assured us we can safely house Gitmo detainees in our prisons; he should read Steven Schwartz's chilling piece about how a vast militant Islamist literature infests the libraries of our prison system--moderate Islamic texts need not apply.
Jed Babbin sees hubris in Obama and pride in Cheney, as shown by speech texts. The NY post uses "jailhouse jihad" to describe how radical Islamist doctrine acquired in prison drove the NY terror plotters arrested earlier this week. David Brooks says Obama won by packaging the Bush second term policies, which pulled back from Cheney first term policies, and that thus Cheney defends only the first Bush term; DB thinks us now more secure with he changes made in Bush's second term and continued by Team 44. The WSJ editors see vindication in Obama following Bush-Cheney.
Charles Krauthammer sees in 44's performance the "Obama three-step": (a) excoriate the Bush policy, (b) ostentatiously unveil cosmetic changes, (c) adopt the Bush policy. CK notes that on indefinite detention--even of terrorists not convicted at trial--military commissions, enhanced interrogation as a retained option, rendition, surveillance, etc., Team 44 sounds like Team 43. He notes that the island idea is gaining currency re where to hold the Gitmo Gang, in light of the Senate's 90-6 NIMBY vote, which partly reflects a desire of Americans to impose the traditional remedy of extreme physical isolation upon those who pose the very worst threats to society:
That doesn't leave a lot of places. The home countries won't take them. Europe is recalcitrant. Saint Helena needs refurbishing. Elba didn't work out too well the first time. And Devil's Island is now a tourist destination. Gitmo is starting to look good again.
CK sees a national consensus being thus forged by 44 in accord with much of what 43 did:
The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.
That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.
Complementing the showdown is Arthur Herman's "The Gitmo Myth" offering a detailed look at the Bush detention policy, in a 17-page piece for weekend reading, especially appropriate to Memorial Day.
Bottom Line. Bam has iconography on his side, Cheney the better pure case on the merits. But it was telling that the President adjusted his own speech schedule to speak on the same day as the former Vice-President. Normally it would be the other way around, one would think. But these are not normal times, Cheney was not a normal VP, and Obama is hardly a normal Prez. Thus Dick Cheney emerges as the big winner of the Cusp of Memorial Day Weekend Showdown--Obama tacks towards Cheney policies and lets Cheney set the agenda. Stay tuned.
With Memorial Day Weekend and the painful remembrances coming Monday, a recent essay on war and hubris merits consideration. Army Col. H. R. McMaster has published a brilliant essay in the online journal World Affairs, The Human Element: when Gadgetry Becomes Strategy (7 pages text). He argues that planners for the 2001 Afghan & 2003 Iraq Wars repeated "whiz kid" hubris in Vietnam: the presumption that modern technology could substitute for, rather than act as a complement to, traditional political, psychological and situational factors that historically determined how conflicts unfold, proceed and end. McMaster presents his case very well.
I would, however, offer three reservations for LFTC readers to judge after reading this must-read essay.
The Gulf War's Portent. McMaster does not discuss how the planners' belief that Iraqis would rise up alongside them and help dispatch Saddam was a prime factor. At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqis rose up against Saddam (having been encouraged to do so by Bush 41) and seized 15 of 18 Iraqi provinces within days. But when America declined to destroy helicopters and armor that Saddam used to crush rebellion--in violation of his ceasefire promises--Saddam recovered and held on to power. Swayed by the Saudis, we saved Saddam. We still presumed that Iraqis would flock to our side upon commencing the March 2003 Iraq War, given that Saddam's rule since the Gulf War ended has hardly been a model of humane governance. That happened in some areas, but did not in many other locales.
An Afghan Portent. McMaster does not account for how we assumed the Afghanistan campaign--which looked largely successful in early 2003, if less so today--could be replicated in Iraq. After all, Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires, had gone astonishingly well in the early phases. despite our failure to capture the two top al-Qaeda leaders.
A Values Portent. McMaster fails to weigh fully how the West's humane values prevent use of force on a scale that could otherwise prevail against primitivist adversaries--the way, for example, Russia prevailed over rebels in Chechnya. While the 1979-1989 Russo-Afghan war is commonly called "Russia's Vietnam," Russia was winning the Afghan War until 1986, when we provided the Afghans with deadly Stinger surface-to-air missiles that neutralized Soviet Russia's deadly Hind helicopter gunship. We could have used firepower to completely vaporize huge areas of Afghanistan & Iraq, and won brutally and finally--albeit, with more worldwide political fallout. Our values, more than so-called world opinion, constrain us. They are, to be sure, quite honorable and worthy of respect, but they do hinder prosecution of war at a level of violence sufficient to defeat barbarians ready to inflict and endure massive casualties--far in excess of what modern Western societies can endure.
Bottom Line. Colonel McMaster has written an elegant, insightful essay, worth pondering, despite my comments above. He is right that modern technology--given values constraints Western power operate under, cannot win wars alone. Alas, should our enemies ever control comparably lethal technologies, we will discover that they just might succeed in winning wars, even for survival, simply because they lack ethical constraints. Thus, our values remain a virtue, to be sure, but with their virtue they carry a substantially elevated risk premium, as to the ability of civilized societies to confront and defeat barbarians.
Bush 43 official Douglas Feith endorses President Obama's proposal to fund a $223M an upgrade to our overseas civilian national security organization.
George Will sees a California bailout in the American taxpayer's future. He notes that the only one of 6 propositions on the ballot that voters approved was one denying state legislators pay raises unless the budget is balanced--it passed with 73.9 percent support. But Will is not happy with them, either:
Now California's mostly Democratic political class will petition Washington for a bailout to nourish the public sector that is suffocating the state's dwindling -- and departing -- private sector. The Obama administration, which rewarded the United Auto Workers by giving it considerable control over two companies it helped reduce to commercial rubble, will serve the interests of California's unionized public employees and others largely responsible for reducing the state to mendicancy.
These factions will flourish if the state becomes a federal poodle on a short leash held by the president. He might make aid conditional on the state doing things that California Democrats and their union allies would love to be "compelled" to do: eliminate the requirements of two-thirds majorities of both houses of the legislature to raise taxes and pass budgets, and repeal Proposition 13, which voters passed in 1978 to limit property taxes. These changes would enable the legislature (job approval rating: 14 percent) to siphon away an ever-larger share of taxpayers' wealth and transfer it to public employees. Such as prison guards, whose potent union is one reason California's cost-per-inmate (about $49,000) is twice the national average.
California's voters are complicit in their state's collapse. They elect and reelect the legislators off whom public employees unions batten. Also, voters have promiscuously used their state's plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. In November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed-rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles -- a delight California cannot afford.
A WSJ editorial sees a message in California voters rejecting a set of tax-hike ballot initiatives in the Golden State. They note:
Tuesday's vote was a voter cry that the state needs more such restraints, and now is the time to push them. First, California needs a sturdy cap on the rate of spending growth. Thirty years ago this November, when California's economy was in a similar rut, three-quarters of the voters approved the famous Gann Amendment. That limited the annual growth rate of spending to population growth and inflation.
The result was that California's annual average rate of spending growth after inflation fell to 2% through the 1980s from 9% in the 1970s. California's state per-capita expenditures fell to 16th in the nation in 1990 from 7th in 1979. The economy soared, growing by 121% -- 14% faster than the U.S. average. The Gann limits were effectively neutered in 1988 and 1990 by initiatives that exempted education and transportation from the cap.
The next step is to fix California's steeply progressive and antigrowth tax code. California's 10.55% income tax and 9% sales tax are driving businesses and high income taxpayers out of the state, depleting the tax base month after month. They also lead to overspending during the good times as revenues boom, but to budget crises when those revenues fall precipitously during the busts. A 5% to 6% tax rate on sales and income without deductions would halt the flight to low-tax neighboring states and invite newcomers who could start buying houses again.
WSJ adds pension numbers that are ghastly. Wes Pruden, in an uncharacteristically somber column, sees the end of illusions in the land where everything is tried first and then exported to the other 49 states.
Perhaps the Great California Quake will resolve the issue by detaching the Golden State from the CONUS and set i on sail for Asia, where it can ask China for a bailout.
4 posts: (1) Terror Detainees: Senate Goes NIMBY--The Home Front; (2) Photos & War--The Home Front; (3) Military Code of Conduct; CIA Code of Questioning--The Home Front; (4) Iran Nuclear Targets: Not Enough Photos--Us v. Them.
An unreleased Pentagon report found that one in seven of the 534 Guantanamo detainees released have returned to terrorism. National security maven Thomas Joscelyn reports that the Pentagon sat on the report since February for political reasons--for fear of embarrassing the White House, which made a big show of announcing the planned Gitmo closing right after 44 entered the Oval Office.
Juan Williams pointed out on Fox that the terror detainee recidivism rate is below that for common criminals in America. True--the NYT article notes recidivism rates run as high as 68 percent among prisoners. But as Charles Krauthammer noted, terrorists can join in groups to kill thousand. Here is an AP timeline re Gitmo detention milestones. As it happens, yesterday's news about terrorists plotting to blow up a New York synagogue and shoot down military planes flying out of a National Guard base in Riverdale, New York (up on the Bronx--I went to school there in more tranquil times) offers a punctuation mark to CK's point.
The Senate voted 90 - 6 to deny funds needed to bring any Gitmo detainees (about 240 remain) to the United States. Message from Senate to Obama: NIMBY, as in Not In My Back Yard. Moderate Democrat Kirsten Powers picked up this theme, noting that without "spine transplants" Dems in Congress will balk at housing them in the US of A. Ms. Powers misses two points: (1) Why spend money to build new facilities when Gitmo serves perfectly well? (2) We do not want them here, anyway.
Let 44 tour Gitmo, then use his vaunted soft power to tell the world that Gitmo way exceeds standards elsewhere. Invite any country which has a tonier facility to show it to the world. There will be zero takers. But what of tales of Gitmo abuse? ALL prisons have been the scene of abuses--many far worse than Gitmo. There just have not been photos. It would be nice if once a President confronted the rank hypocrisy of the "world community"--including that of our morally smug allies.
A New York Times front-pager titled "Images, the Law and War" offers historical examples to ponder. Ex-Bush 43 legal eagle (and Cheney critic) Jack Goldsmith presents his portrait of Cheney and the legal issues of torture, and Team 44's policies; the policies of 44 change those of 43 greatly in style, but hardly in substance. Stephen Hayes sees Cheney winning the public debate with Democrats.
The past generation's greatest Constitutional lawyer, the late Yale Law School professor Alexander Bickel, faced this query from a judge in the famous case concerning publication of governmental papers on the controversial decisions made in the Vietnam War. The NYT article reports:
What if, Justice Potter Stewart asked a lawyer for The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, a disclosure of sensitive information in wartime “would result in the sentencing to death of 100 young men whose only offense had been that they were 19 years old and had low draft numbers?” The Times’s lawyer, Alexander M. Bickel, tried to duck the question, but the justice pressed him:
“You would say that the Constitution requires that it be published and that these men die?”
Mr. Bickel yielded, to the consternation of allies in the case. “I’m afraid,” he said, “that my inclinations of humanity overcome the somewhat more abstract devotion to the First Amendment.”
This article on the military code of conduct's evolution shows that the military does not expect its soldiers to successfully resist torture.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post front-pager reports that (surprise!) CIA interrogators worry that the new rules will not enable them to elicit vital information from detainees. Thus:
The Field Manual, which was published in 2006, says that "direct approach" interrogation operations in World War II had a 90 percent effectiveness, and those in Vietnam, Kuwait and Iraq had a success rate of 95 percent. Afghanistan since 2002 and Iraq since 2003 are still being studied. "However," it adds, "unofficial studies indicate that in these operations, the direct approach has been dramatically less successful."
Another intelligence official, who also asked not to be identified, said waterboarding and other harsh techniques "were meant to get hardened terrorists to a point where they were willing to answer questions." That capability, the official said, "is now gone."
AEI's poll maven Karlyn Bowman surveys American attitudes towards torture. Americans are roughly evenly divided over torture but solidly favor targeted assassination, which kills innocent civilians--at times, by the carload. Go figure.
Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough reports for Human Events that President Bush was never eager to bomb Iran, partly because our intelligence agencies lack sufficient detailed data on the exact location of known targets, and fear that other targets unknown would be missed. Setting the depth of penetration of bombs, exactly when to donate and also how much explosive force is needed for a given target complicate the matter. So our agencies issue a political report in late 2007 saying Iran is not pursuing nukes. Possibly this was in part motivated by the desire to take pressure off the administration to act, without revealing that we lack intel confidence re targets. The latter is understandably; the former was inexcusable.
Meanwhile, Iran's solid-fuel ballistic missile test alters the European theater missile balance, according to defense officials. Here is YouTube video of Sajil-II (4:34). And URGENT AGENDA has posted my recent EMP article, based on my book review of One Second After. EMP is one thing Iran can do to catastrophically harm us.
4 posts: (1) Pakistan: More Nukes--Wobble Watch; (2) Afghanistan: Petraeus & "Nice Taliban"--Wobble Watch; (3) Russia, Iran, North Korea & Nuclear--Us v. Them; (4) Israel: An Insider's View--Wobble Watch.
The New York Times reported Monday that Pakistan is increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal. In the words of one expert, Pakistan "has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace on Earth." There are about 2,000 Pakistanis with "critical knowledge" as to nuclear weapons production.
Here is a Pakistan nuclear nightmare scenario: Taliban seize Pakistani nukes. Because the $100M America sent to Pakistan was not used to properly secure the nukes, Pakistan's warheads do not have trigger-locks--arming codes. They also lack dual arming (one remote, one local)--what in US lingo is called "Permissive Action Linkage" (PAL). Perhaps worst of all, they are very vulnerable when transported on mobile platforms. What if terrorists create disturbance to get the Paks to put their nukes on the road?
Why is this so? Because Pakistan harbors two fears about America and Pakistan's nukes: (1) If America knows where they are stored, they will snatch or destroy them; (2) If America creates remote arming codes it may include the ability to disable the warheads. To be fair, these are not unreasonable fears. But where nukes go, fairness is not an issue. Results are all that count.
So what can America do?
Bottom Line. America faces desperate risks of enduring horrific destruction, should terrorists hijack Pakistani nukes and set them off over here. What to do to convince the Pakistanis to give us more access? Simple. We announce to the Pakistanis that if they refuse to let us install secure technology on their arsenal, they are, from now on, in the nuclear insurance business. If a Paki nuke goes off in America and we can trace it back, we will vaporize the entire country. No ifs, ands of buts. No lawyer debates. Just, "Bye bye!"
It might well not work. But then again, nothing else looks good either.
This David Petraeus interview on Afghanistan sums up the general's current perspective. Islam expert Stephen Schwartz says that "nice Taliban" are a myth. Schwartz sees Pakistani Islamists now creating a "major support structure" among Pakistanis in the United States--a new and scary development. These are Deobandi extremists who are even more radical than Saudi Wahhabi Muslims, because unlike the Saudis the Pakistanis do not make practical compromises, as the Saudis are doing (we hope). The three "wheels" Schwartz sees driving Sunni jihadism are Saudi money, Pakistani "functionaries' and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood theologians.
I offer a definitional duo to separate nasty from nice with the Taliban: Nasty Taliban stone to death women who violate Sharia; nice Taliban give them 30 lashes.
A WSJ piece asks why the Team 44 push for nuclear arms talks with Russia? The numbers are startling: Vastly more arms have been decommissioned since the last major arms talks with Russia ended, in 1991, than during the arms negotiation period. Both sides have sharply cut arsenals, rather than holding on to their entire stocks a bargaining chips. Under the Bush 43 administration, US nuclear warheads went from 6,000 to 2,2000--a level that had been slated for attaining by Dec. 31, 2012. The article has more astonishing detail of arms reduction and nuclear material safeguarding metrics. A great read.
Meanwhile, the NYC District Attorney, the venerable Robert Morgenthau, worries over how to stop Iran from improving the accuracy of its missiles. Iran is using more sophisticated technology than we had expected, and is using front organizations to acquire contraband nuclear material. Here is Morgenthau's May 6 testimony on Iran before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (10 pages).
Ex-CIAer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes that the US & Israel have a common interest in stopping Iran's nuclear program. RMG sees Iran posing a huge threat even without attacking America or Israel. Suppose, he asks, Saddam had possessed nukes in 1990. Would Bush the Elder have invaded in 1991? The Saudis will instantly arm with nukes (buying them from North Korea or Pakistan) if Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. John Bolton warns us to expect another nuke test by North Korea, and that if it goes unpunished, as is likely, the North will know that the six-party talks are for show--and Iran will judge its situation accordingly.
Stratfor's George Friedman offers his strategist's view of US - Israel relations, reprinted with permission from Stratfor:
An Israeli Prime Minster Comes to Washington Again
May 18, 209
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Washington for his first official visit with U.S. President Barack Obama. A range of issues — including the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli-Syrian talks and Iran policy — are on the table. This is one of an endless series of meetings between U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers over the years, many of which concerned these same issues. Yet little has changed.
That Israel has a new prime minister and the United States a new president might appear to make this meeting significant. But this is Netanyahu’s second time as prime minister, and his government is as diverse and fractious as most recent Israeli governments. Israeli politics are in gridlock, with deep divisions along multiple fault lines and an electoral system designed to magnify disagreements.
Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Europe are essentially extensions of pre-existing policy. Obama faces major economic problems in the United States and clearly is not looking for major changes in foreign policy. He understands how quickly public sentiment can change, and he does not plan to take risks he does not have to take right now.
This, then, is the problem: Netanyahu is coming to Washington hoping to get Obama to agree to fundamental redefinitions of the regional dynamic. For example, he wants Obama to re-examine the commitment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. (Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has said Israel is no longer bound by prior commitments to that concept.) Netanyahu also wants the United States to commit itself to a finite time frame for talks with Iran, after which unspecified but ominous-sounding actions are to be taken.
Facing a major test in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama has more than enough to deal with at the moment. Moreover, U.S. presidents who get involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frequently get sucked into a morass from which they do not return. For Netanyahu to even request that the White House devote attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem at present is asking a lot. Asking for a complete review of the peace process is even less realistic.
The foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years has been the assumption that there would be a two-state solution. Such a solution has not materialized for a host of reasons. First, at present there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank, which are hostile to each other. Second, the geography and economy of any Palestinian state would be so reliant on Israel that independence would be meaningless; geography simply makes the two-state proposal almost impossible to implement. Third, no Palestinian government would have the power to guarantee that rogue elements would not launch rockets at Israel, potentially striking at the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, Israel’s heartland. And fourth, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have the domestic political coherence to allow any negotiator to operate from a position of confidence. Whatever the two sides negotiated would be revised and destroyed by their political opponents, and even their friends.
For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer. But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves U.S. purposes. The United States has interests that go well beyond Israeli interests and sometimes go in a different direction altogether. Like Israel, the United States understands that one of the major obstacles to any serious evolution toward a two-state solution is Arab hostility to such an outcome.
The Jordanians have feared and loathed Fatah in the West Bank ever since the Black September uprisings of 1970. The ruling Hashemites are ethnically different from the Palestinians (who constitute an overwhelming majority of the Jordanian population), and they fear that a Palestinian state under Fatah would threaten the Jordanian monarchy. For their part, the Egyptians see Hamas as a descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the Mubarak government’s ouster — meaning Cairo would hate to see a Hamas-led state. Meanwhile, the Saudis and the other Arab states do not wish to see a radical altering of the status quo, which would likely come about with the rise of a Palestinian polity.
At the same time, whatever the basic strategic interests of the Arab regimes, all pay lip service to the principle of Palestinian statehood. This is hardly a unique situation. States frequently claim to favor various things they actually are either indifferent to or have no intention of doing anything about. Complicating matters for the Arab states is the fact that they have substantial populations that do care about the fate of the Palestinians. These states thus are caught between public passion on behalf of Palestinians and the regimes’ interests that are threatened by the Palestinian cause. The states’ challenge, accordingly, is to appear to be doing something on behalf of the Palestinians while in fact doing nothing.
The United States has a vested interest in the preservation of these states. The futures of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are of vital importance to Washington. The United States must therefore simultaneously publicly demonstrate its sensitivity to pressures from these nations over the Palestinian question while being careful to achieve nothing — an easy enough goal to achieve.
The various Israeli-Palestinian peace processes have thus served U.S. and Arab interests quite well. They provide the illusion of activity, with high-level visits breathlessly reported in the media, succeeded by talks and concessions — all followed by stalemate and new rounds of violence, thus beginning the cycle all over again.
One of the most important proposals Netanyahu is bringing to Obama calls for reshaping the peace process. If Israeli President Shimon Peres is to be believed, Netanyahu will not back away from the two-state formula. Instead, the Israeli prime minister is asking that the various Arab state stakeholders become directly involved in the negotiations. In other words, Netanyahu is proposing that Arab states with very different public and private positions on Palestinian statehood be asked to participate — thereby forcing them to reveal publicly their true positions, ultimately creating internal political crises in the Arab states.
The clever thing about this position is that Netanyahu not only knows his request will not become a reality, but he also does not want it to become a reality. The political stability of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is as much an Israeli interest as an American one. Indeed, Israel even wants a stable Syria, since whatever would come after the Alawite regime in Damascus would be much more dangerous to Israeli security than the current Syrian regime.
Overall, Israel is a conservative power. In terms of nation-states, it does not want upheaval; it is quite content with the current regimes in the Arab world. But Netanyahu would love to see an international conference with the Arab states roundly condemning Israel publicly. This would shore up the justification for Netanyahu’s policies domestically while simultaneously creating a framework for reshaping world opinion by showing an Israel isolated among hostile states.
Obama is likely hearing through diplomatic channels from the Arab countries that they do not want to participate directly in the Palestinian peace process. And the United States really does not want them there, either. The peace process normally ends in a train wreck anyway, and Obama is in no hurry to see the wreckage. He will want to insulate other allies from the fallout, putting off the denouement of the peace process as long as possible. Obama has sent George Mitchell as his Middle East special envoy to deal with the issue, and from the U.S. president’s point of view, that is quite enough attention to the problem.
Netanyahu, of course, knows all this. Part of his mission is simply convincing his ruling coalition — and particularly Lieberman, whom Netanyahu needs to survive, and who is by far Israel’s most aggressive foreign minister ever — that he is committed to redefining the entire Israeli-Palestinian relationship. But in a broader context, Netanyahu is looking for greater freedom of action. By posing a demand the United States will not grant, Israel is positioning itself to ask for something that appears smaller.
What Israel actually would do with greater freedom of action is far less important than simply creating the appearance that the United States has endorsed Israel’s ability to act in a new and unpredictable manner. From Israel’s point of view, the problem with Israeli-Palestinian relations is that Israel is under severe constraints from the United States, and the Palestinians know it. This means that the Palestinians can even anticipate the application of force by Israel, meaning they can prepare for it and endure it. From Netanyahu’s point of view, Israel’s primary problem is that the Palestinians are confident they know what the Israelis will do. If Netanyahu can get Obama to introduce a degree of ambiguity into the situation, Israel could regain the advantage of uncertainty.
The problem for Netanyahu is that Washington is not interested in having anything unpredictable happen in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The United States is quite content with the current situation, particularly while Iraq becomes more stable and the Afghan situation remains unstable. Obama does not want a crisis from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. The fact that Netanyahu has a political coalition to satisfy will not interest the United States, and while Washington at some unspecified point might endorse a peace conference, it will not be until Israel and its foreign minister endorse the two-state formula.
Netanyahu will then shift to another area where freedom of action is relevant — namely, Iran. The Israelis have leaked to the Israeli media that the Obama administration has told them that Israel may not attack Iran without U.S. permission, and that Israel agreed to this requirement. (U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went through the same routine not too long ago, using a good cop/bad cop act in a bid to kick-start negotiations with Iran.)
In reality, Israel would have a great deal of difficulty attacking Iranian facilities with non-nuclear forces. A multitarget campaign 1,000 miles away against an enemy with some air defenses could be a long and complex operation. Such a raid would require a long trip through U.S.-controlled airspace for the fairly small Israeli air force. Israel could use cruise missiles, but the tonnage of high explosive delivered by a cruise missile cannot penetrate even moderately hardened structures; the same is true for ICBMs carrying conventional warheads. Israel would have to notify the United States of its intentions because it would be passing through Iraqi airspace — and because U.S. technical intelligence would know what it was up to before Israeli aircraft even took off. The idea that Israel might consider attacking Iran without informing Washington is therefore absurd on the surface. Even so, the story has surfaced yet again in an Israeli newspaper in a virtual carbon copy of stories published more than a year ago.
Netanyahu has promised that the endless stalemate with the Palestinians will not be allowed to continue. He also knows that whatever happens, Israel cannot threaten the stability of Arab states that are by and large uninterested in the Palestinians. He also understands that in the long run, Israel’s freedom of action is defined by the United States, not by Israel. His electoral platform and his strategic realities have never aligned. Arguably, it might be in the Israeli interest that the status quo be disrupted, but it is not in the American interest. Netanyahu therefore will get to redefine neither the Palestinian situation nor the Iranian situation. Israel simply lacks the power to impose the reality it wants, the current constellation of Arab regimes it needs, and the strategic relationship with the United States on which Israeli national security rests.
In the end, this is a classic study in the limits of power. Israel can have its freedom of action anytime it is willing to pay the price for it. But Israel can’t pay the price. Netanyahu is coming to Washington to see if he can get what he wants without paying the price, and we suspect strongly he knows he won’t get it. His problem is the same as that of the Arab states. There are many in Israel, particularly among Netanyahu’s supporters, who believe Israel is a great power. It isn’t. It is a nation that is strong partly because it lives in a pretty weak neighborhood, and partly because it has very strong friends. Many Israelis don’t want to be told that, and Netanyahu came to office playing on the sense of Israeli national power.
So the peace process will continue, no one will expect anything from it, the Palestinians will remain isolated and wars regularly will break out. The only advantage of this situation from the U.S. point of view it is that it is preferable to all other available realities.
3 posts: (1) CIA's Iran Mission, and Israel's--Wobble Watch; (2) Obama - Bibi: Stalemate Not Checkmate--Wobble Watch; (3) Israel's Fifth Column Swells--Wobble Watch.
The Times of London reports that CIA Director Leon Panetta warned Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu not to attack Iran without first notifying the US. Haaretz reports Israel has agreed to notify Team 44. Israel's government, unlike America's, can keep Big Moves secret. If Israel does notify us, it might wait to do so until when its planes already are en route to their targets. Herb London sees a "Japanese solution" for Iran in Team Obama's policy: allow Iran to enrich so long as it does not take the final steps to weaponize the product; that Iran could then make a bomb within weeks at most seems not to faze 44.
Savor this account of successful covert Israeli operations against Iran's nuclear program. Specifically:
The results have been tremendous. During the last four years, the uranium enrichment project in Iran was delayed by a series of apparent accidents: the disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the crash of two planes carrying cargo relating to the project, and two labs that burst into flames. In addition, an Iranian opposition group in exile published highly credible information about the details of the project, which caused Iran much embarrassment and led to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
The article also notes signal successes against Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Now read this Haaretz account summarizing a recent report on Israel's options to strike Iran. The authors, Georgetown CSIS expert Anthony Cordesman & staffer Abdullah Toukan, produced a serious, richly detailed report. They conclude that Israel has at best a long shot chance of doing serious damage, at very high risk of significant loss of aircraft, that in such event Iran will rebuild & restart, and that instead Israel should stop hyping the Iran threat and prepare to deter Iranian nuclear action. Their Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities (Mar. 16, 2009) is a valuable read, with a treasure trove of information on nuclear proliferation and bomb metrics, and air raid scenarios (the northern route via Syria/Turkey is the only politically and operationally viable way, say the authors). Most intriguing is Israel using its new Jericho III ballistic missiles (Jericho I & Jericho II lack sufficient range to reach from Israel proper) to strike with conventional warheads at long range.
The study's assumption that the Arab world would be outraged by Israel hitting Iran's nuclear targets is flatly contrary to evidence that the Arab world fears Iran more than it hates Israel. Witness the tepid Arab world responses to Israel's actions in the 2006 Lebanon & 2009 Gaza conflicts, and the thundering silence after Israel's Sept. 6, 2007 destruction of Syria's plutonium reactor facility.
But the report is well worth taking time to peruse, if one has an appetite for culling through detail (mostly Powerpoint-style charts) that while technical in nature is readily accessible to the intelligent lay person.
The meeting of diametrically opposed heads of state, with radically
different views of the Mideast, had one overriding goal: avoiding a
blow-up while each side sticks largely to its guns for the time being.
Obama's elevation of the Palestinian issue front and center is starkly
at odds with Israel's perception of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas as prime
threats. One Israeli intel chief opined that Hamas would win an election on the West Bank. In such an environment a Palestinian peace accord--or, for
that matter, a Syrian accord--would fail as dismally as did the 1993
Oslo Accords. The real negotiation, thus, is between allies, instead
of a unified allied position versus enemies. Ironically, Israel and
the US do have common interests in, above all, stopping a nuclearizing
Iran, but also, stopping Hezbollah's takeover of Lebanon and keeping
Hamas on the defensive. A peace accord would, to the contrary,
energize Hamas supporters to fight harder, as they reject Israel's
right to exist. This irony is lost on the White House. An accord with
the Palestinian Authority would ignite a civil war within the West
Bank, which Hamas supporters might win, enabling Hamas to declare a
full-bore Palestinian terror state.
Columnist Michael Goodwin explains how Team Obama's view of the Mideast is at odds with reality. A Financial Times piece reports on Hezbollah confirming its support--including military aid--given Hamas. The Jerusalem Post reports that latest poll shows Israelis wish George Bush were still in office: President 44's pro-Israel - pro-Palestinian - neutral poll rating is 31 - 14 - 40 versus President 43's 88 - 2 - 7.
Bottom Line. By each side avoiding checkmate--a blow-up in public, finessing vast differences and dancing diplomatic ballet in public--they achieved the best hoped-for outcome: policy stalemate, as the non-peace process proceeds until reality intrudes in the form of another Israeli war with...whom?
The Jerusalem Post reports on a disturbing University of Haifa survey of Israeli Arab attitudes:
[A] new University of Haifa study, whose results were released on Sunday, shows that 41 percent of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, compared to 65.6% in 2003.
In addition, 40.5% said the Holocaust did not take place, compared to 28% who made the claim in 2006.
According to Prof. Sami Smooha, who conducted the study, Holocaust-denial crosses all class sectors, with about 37% of respondents having studied beyond high school.
About 53.7% of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent state, compared to 81.1% who recognized that in 2003.
The article also reports that a Knesset MP) has introduced a bill to criminalize celebration of Israeli Independence Day as "al nakba"--Arabic for "the catastrophe"--the Palestinian term for the 1948 creation of Israel. Such is foolish, as public utterances convey information about community attitudes.
Bottom Line. Since 2003, Israeli Arabs have turned sharply against the State of Israel. Barely more than half support the Jewish State, and Holocaust deniers are approaching half the Arab population--both numbers must worse than 2003. These numbers come despite the serial rocket aggressions of Hezbollah & Hamas. And Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Iran may not, in the long run, prove Israel's biggest problem.
3 posts: (1) Torture, Israel and a Nobel Laureate's Call--Wobble Watch; (2) Waterboardgate: Nancy Calls & Raises--The Home Front; (3) Palestinian Civ 2009--Us v. Them.
Charles Krauthammer recounts how Nobel Peace Prize winner Yitzhak Rabin authorized torture to save a single Israeli soldier's life, by forcing a Palestinian detainee to reveal where the soldier was being held:
On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the  Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."
Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.
One life, not thousands, at stake.
Nancy Pelosi's astonishing Wednesday press conference is was one for the ages. Her accusation that the CIA was "misleading the Congress of the United States"--intimating that the Agency had lied to Congress--elicited a sharp Friday response from CIA Director Leon Panetta. (Enjoy this 6-minute clip from Pelosi's press conference.) Then savor this Jon Stewart "Waffle House" clip (3:28).
Panetta's message, in the form of a letter to CIA employees, reads (my italics):
Message from the Director: Turning Down the Volume
"There is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business. It predates my service with this great institution, and it will be around long after I’m gone. But the political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.
"Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.
"My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.
"We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is — even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fired back, accusing Pelosi of outright lying, and calling for a House inquiry into her conduct:
"I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don't think the Speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters.”
Pelosi allies in the House suggested that the CIA may have broken the law by misleading Congress in the briefings. Missouri GOP Senator "Kit" Bond told "Morning Joe" of the CIA Hill briefings: "They don't have briefings to tell you the techniques they are not going to use." Wesley Pruden sees "ants in the lady's pants" and a problem for Democrats. Jed Babbin compares Pelosi's press stumble to Richard Nixon's August 15, 1973 press conference, in which he publicly joined the coverup of the campaign scandal.
Mark Steyn wittily juxtaposes Pelosi and Cheney (not that MS feels the same re Cheney) re waterboarding and adds this, putting matters in broader perspective:
America and its few real allies fight under the most constrained and self-imposed rules of engagement ever devised, and against an enemy that rejects every basic element of the Geneva Conventions. Perhaps we are so rich, so smart, so advanced that we can fight with one arm and both legs tied behind out back and still win – eventually. Along the way many innocents will suffer. But better that than that a Gitmo detainee with a fear of insects should have a caterpillar put in his cell.
Fox's Jim Angle details 40 CIA Hill briefings. In a related development, the White House denied former VP Cheney's request that it release two CIA two memos detailing how effective enhanced interrogation was; the WH cited pending litigation filed by human rights groups.
Pelosi's psychedelic green attire reminded me of Hillary's Beltway-famous April 1994 "pink press conference," in which she spent over an hour side-slipping questions about her $100k cattle futures killing she ostensibly made on her own. She survived but her reputation as "Saint Hillary" did not. Nancy has never had a saintly reputation, but her performance will, I think, tar her reputation permanently. It seems unlikely that Leon Panetta, canniest of Beltway players, will lose this tussle with Nancy. Panetta is, among other things, smarter than she, and also has a sense of national interest that transcends partisanship, whereas Nancy puts political gain first.
Pat Buchanan sees President Obama siding with the CIA over the ACLU, if only for political survival. In a similar vein, Bill Kristol asks whether Obama, through Rahm Emanuel, is in league with Leon Panetta to toss Nancy to the wolves and install Steny Hoyer or another low-key moderate liberal who is not the lightning rod Nancy has become. A Washington Times editorial sees political war being waged against our intelligence agencies, to the detriment of national security.
A Bush 43 Veteran Dredges the 2001 Memory Hole. Courtesy of Douglas Feith's magisterial book, War and Decision (2008), a must-read, comes this nugget from late 2001: a column from Maureen Dowd, that captures how she and many others felt then. Dowd saw "quagmire" in Afghanistan, because we are, she wrote, not tough enough to win. Here are my favorite parts of her diatribe, excerpted from Feith's book:
George W. Bush was brought up to believe in Marquess of Queensberry rules. Now he is competing against combatants with Genghis of Khan rules, who hide among women and children in mosques and school dormitories, and who don't need an executive order to betray and murder.
Just as terrorists, American or foreign, cunningly used our own planes and mailboxes against us, so they used our own morality against us. We were stumbling over scruples against a foe with no scruples.
So Mean Maureen, who Sunday castigated Bush-Cheney as torturers, wanted us to play by street rules. Other reports have had Nancy Pelosi, early on, pressing the administration on making sure detainees were interrogated aggressively. When Maureen & Nancy feared for their backsides, they were all gung-ho for jettisoning restraints. Now that they feel secure, they indulge the luxury of sitting on their moral high horses.
Torture: An Expert Skeptic and an Expert Historian Speak. Senator James Webb (D-VA), war hero and much more, said on ABC News "This Week" that he had, during his tours in Vietnam, interrogated hundreds of captives without resorting to torture, and that torture does not work. Fair enough. But the captives Webb (who speaks Vietnamese) interrogated were not senior terrorist leaders with the plausible prospect of getting their hands on WMD and using it within the American homeland. As to whether torture ever works, historian Andrew Roberts notes that torture helped win World War II. Churchill's Britain turned every German spy into a double agent, not always by gentle means of persuasion. Roberts writes, of the war that writer Studs Terkel called "The Good War":
In the conflict generally regarded today as the most ethical in history, World War II, enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies, and senior politicians knew it perfectly well, just as we now discover that Nancy Pelosi did in the early stages of the war against terror. The very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents who were infiltrated into Great Britain and “turned” by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) between 1939 and 1945. Operation Fortitude—the deception plan that fooled the Germans into stationing 450,000 Wehrmacht troops 130 miles north of the Normandy beaches—entirely depended upon German intelligence (the Abwehr) believing that the real attack was going to take place at the Pas de Calais instead. The reason that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, was utterly convinced of this, was because every single one of his 19 agents, who he did not know had been turned, told him so.
If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they’re being profoundly naïve. An SIS secret house located in Ham Common near Richmond on the outskirts of London was the location where the will of those agents was broken, using advanced interrogation techniques that reportedly started with sleep deprivation but went on to gross mental and physical abuse. The result? Many thousands of Allied servicemens’ lives were saved because the German 15th Army stayed well away from beaches such as Omaha, Utah, and Sword. And another 100,000 others were stationed in Norway for another attack that never came.
Bottom Line. Bet that Panetta wins the poker game Pelosi so unwisely started. Unless the Speaker folds her hand while there is still time, she may lose not only the pot, but all her winnings--including, perhaps, her status as Speaker of the House.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Fatah informed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that if he tries to take office Fatah will revolt. Old-timers are especially unhappy:
In another development signaling increased tensions in Fatah, several of its top officials have threatened to resign in protest against Abbas's decision to hold Fatah's sixth "general conference" in Bethlehem or Jericho. The conference is expected to pave the way for internal elections that are likely to see the rise of "young guard" activists at the expense of veteran old-timers.
Abbas's rivals in Fatah said they were opposed to holding the conference in the West Bank because Israel would almost certainly ban many delegates living in the Arab world from entering the PA territories. Most of the Fatah leaders living abroad, such as Farouk Qadoumi and Maher Abu Ghnaim, belong to the hard-line camp in the faction which opposes the Oslo Accords and any form of normalization with Israel.
And when revolt occurs among the Palestinians, out come the AK-47s....
Meanwhile back at the (French) ranch, here is a video clip (6:00) of pro-Palestinian thugs destroying Israeli goods in a French supermarket. The clip is in French, but the visual suffices. The basic message is to blame Israel for "the occupation" and for killing Arab children. Most stomach-turning of all is that "parents" took along their kids--sheer child abuse--to participate in plunder.
2 posts: (1) The Next Justice: GOP Must Lose Honorably--The Home Front; (2) Our Ally Down Under: Part V--Wobble Watch.
ABC News Supreme Court correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg scopes top contoneders to replace David Souter. An NRO Bench Memo offers advice to the GOP: As Obama will get his choice confirmed, do not stall, but do pin the nominee down on the nominee's judicial record and philosophy. Fair enough. Elections do indeed have consequences. Let us not have a "Borking." Jeffrey Lord, former aide to Jack Kemp, says the GOP should fight openly & cleanly, like his former boss always did, and make sure a liberal nominee does not get anything like the 96 votes Ruth Bader Ginsburg got, or the 87 votes given Stephen Breyer. Karl Rove sees the nominee's confirmation hearing as a chance to make the case for judicial restraint. (Arlen Specter's vote cannot be counted upon, given that the Democrats shafted Specter last week, giving him junior rank on all but one committee; Specter's recent comments that he would support GOP Senator Norm Coleman over challenger Al Franken in the disputed Minnesota Senate race angered his new chums.)
But let the GOP recognize to permanent changes that liberal activism has brought upon the Supreme Court and lower federal courts: (1) jurisprudence will inevitably ratchet to the left, if liberal activist periods are interrupted only by conservative periods that, while refraining from activism, do not reverse leftward drift; (2) questioning of nominee views must now become standard for liberal as well as conservative choices.
Washington Times pundit Wesley Pruden sees the Democrats gearing up their "Borking machine" to target those opposing whomever 44 nominates. Call this collateral Borking. Pruden acidly captures what 44 wants for the Court:
The president's farewell toast to David Souter suggests that he's not necessarily looking for a lawyer who understands the Constitution and the meaning of an oath to protect and defend that Constitution, but a nominee who knows all the words to "Kumbaya" and wants to give the world a Coke. "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy ... as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions."
This is an odd job description from a man who once taught constitutional law, but there's a considerable difference between the Constitution and constitutional law. The Constitution is a remarkable document, written by learned men in the plain language that the common man understands. The modern study of constitutional law is the work of lawyers trained to deconstruct plain language in search of things the authors of the Constitution never put there. Mr. Sessions and his colleagues have thankless work to do.
National Journal law columnist Stuart Taylor superbly profiles the ideal Justice the President should nominate--not a liberal activist, because 44 would risk seeing his national security policies undermined:
As I have noted briefly, the intersection of law and national security will provide the most consequential cluster of issues that the Supreme Court will consider over the next decade or more. Obama surely understands that the Court's response to his national security policies will be more important by far to the success of his presidency than any decisions on abortion, race, religion, gay rights, crime, or free speech.
Obama's national security policies are already under relentless attack from leading advocates of liberal judicial activism, such as the ACLU. Indeed, most (or at least many) lawyers and scholars who favor a liberal activist approach on social issues also tend to support relatively broad judicial power to overrule the president on national security.
The justifiable rejection of President Bush's wildly excessive claims of near-dictatorial war powers by the five more-liberal justices -- including Souter and swing-voting centrist Anthony Kennedy -- has a downside for Obama. The justices, followed by the lower courts, have now asserted far more power than ever before to oversee and second-guess presidential decisions about national security.
Meanwhile, in moving from campaign mode to the presidency, Obama has had many reasons to worry about such judicial second-guessing. One federal District judge has rejected the administration's claim that it can detain suspected jihadist fighters captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base without judicial oversight. A federal Appeals Court has rejected the White House's efforts to use the "state secrets" doctrine to block lawsuits by former detainees who claim they were tortured.
Still other lawsuits demand the release of any detainees in the war on terrorism who cannot be convicted of crimes, and publication of classified CIA documents that Obama would rather keep under wraps. A reported, perhaps tentative plan by administration officials to use "military commissions" instead of ordinary courts to try some of the detainees for war crimes would surely bring more legal attacks. And for the foreseeable future, squadrons of liberal lawyers will be suing a range of companies for cooperating with the president on matters such as wiretaps, "renditions" of suspected terrorists to other countries, and other actions deemed by Obama to be vital to national security.
The more the courts smile on such lawsuits, the harder it will be for the president to protect the country. Indeed, some human-rights and civil-liberties activists have done their best to hamstring virtually all of the surveillance, search-and-seizure, detention, and related powers on which the government depends to find and disable suspected terrorists.
It's unclear how Obama would fare in such cases with the current Court. But he would surely run the risk of seeing some of his key security policies overturned if he were to choose someone who turns out to be more aggressive than Souter in curbing presidential war powers.
One law maven examines what 44 means by "pragmatism" on the part of judges, and smells incipient liberal activism. Legal scholar Richard Epstein details how judges should approach rulings (hint: not via "empathy"). To Sowell reminds us of how Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Supreme Court tenure: 1902 - 1935) scorned empathy in deciding cases.
So as not to be too depressing, comedian Jim Colbert has a Colbert Report "Empathy" video (3:22) that hilariously satirizes the line of critics about President 44's citation of "empathy" with ordinary people's problems as one criterion for picking a Supreme Court nominee--namely, that "empathy" is a code word for judicial activism. It is, but enjoy Colbert's riff.
Part V (9:07) covers the future of global and Australian political and economic freedom. He sees two decisive turns over the past decades: the end of Soviet imperialism and the lifting of hundreds of millions around the globe out of poverty. He sees as unlikely a return in the West to the degree of government control over economic activity that persisted throughout the 1960s & 1970s. Howard sees India's rise and that of Muslim democratic Indonesia as key to Australia's future in Asia. He calls his country a "blunt but loyal" friends of America's. One can only hope that President Obama understands how true that is, lest otherwise he wreck a precious friendship.
4 posts: (1) GOP: Newt Needed Next?--The Home Front; (2) Nuclear Zero?--9/11, 3/11 & N/11; (3) Military Commissions: 44 Follows 43--9/11, 3/11 & N/11; (4) Our Ally Down Under: Part IV--Wobble watch.
Mark Steyn, ever sharp, explains in a crisp op-ed that conservatives are at a structural political disadvantage versus the Left, because they cannot consistently muster constituent passion for smaller government, as the Left can for more government. Steyn argues that the Right must, nonetheless, not move to the Center, but move the Center towards the Right, by making principled arguments.
Bill Kristol advances a "5 Ds program for the GOP: Debt, Defense, Diplomacy, Detention, Docs. Well said.
David Frum sees dangerous & bad change in Team Obama's vision of America. In a nutshell, Team Obama is undermining the foundation of legal contractual rights in pursuit of its political goals and on behalf of its political supporters. In addition to the Chrysler mess (LFTC covered this last week) we have now, Frum notes, the latest example: Threatening California with loss of $8.6B in federal funds unless gov. Terminator rescinds a proposed $74M pay cut for unionized home care workers.
If Steyn, Kristol & Frum are right, as I think both are, that makes the GOP need to put front and center a figure with the national stature and ability to articulate a compelling vision, as the best candidate for 2012. It is not the kiddie corps of talented GOP under-50 leaders--Governors Sarah Palin (AK), Bobby Jindal (LA); Representatives Eric Cantor (VA), Paul Ryan (WI), Mike Pence (AR)--who should take on Team 44 in 2012. Barring catastrophe, very possible but hardly inevitable, Obama will be hard to beat come 2012. He is an icon, adored by mainstream media, and faces a badly discredited opposition.
Which suggests that the logical candidate pool for 2012 is not younger comers, who can bide their time and season themselves further in the meantime--raise funds for fellow GOP candidates, as Ronald Reagan did during the 1970s; hone their message and deepen knowledge of issues outside their areas of strength; extend their already impressive career accomplishments.
Look, then, to the over-60 set for 2012. They have one more shot at the brass ring. The failure of the Dole (age 73) & McCain (age 72) candidacies suggests that the American public prefers a candidate who takes office before turning 70 (Reagan turned 70 three weeks after taking the oath of office). Mitt Romney, with his expertise on economic matters, could be one, if he can show himself able to build a broad base among GOP factions, and appeal to Independent voters. Mitch Daniels, a successful governor of Indiana and former chief of the Office of Management & Budget, has the resume but lacks national visibility.
Which leaves former Speaker Newt Gingrich. His travails of the mid-1990s are ancient history, and Americans famously love second-act comebacks. He has been all over the talk shows, and talks issues better than anyone in his party: principled, intellectually coherent, historical perspective, detailed factual grasp of the full spectrum of issues. He has two shortcomings. First, he has never run a large organization, but neither has 44 nor had McCain (save his brief post-Vietnam squadron command stint). And Newt does have a tendency at times to toss out ideas so fast that listener may not be able to follow; this is fixable if with his maturity in the national spotlight he applies discipline.
Bottom Line. Newt alone can frame issues in a compelling fashion, and has nothing to lose by taking what will be his last chance to win the White House. Let the kiddie corps wait and grow. Let Newt go for it come 2012.
Reporter Philip Taubman writes in the NY Times Magazine on "The Trouble With Zero": nuclear abolitionism raises serious practical problems:
One solution suggested by abolition advocates would be a form of latent or virtual deterrence, based not on weapons all but ready to launch, but on the ability to reassemble or rebuild them.
If arsenals are drastically reduced, the next steps toward abolition could be even trickier. Since scientific and engineering knowledge cannot be expunged from mankind’s memory, the potential to build weapons will always exist. Efforts to hide a few weapons may be difficult to detect and prevent. And any nation able to enrich uranium usable in nuclear power plants, like Iran, has a capacity to produce highly enriched fuel for weapons. Nuclear arms experts have been analyzing these issues intently and have come up with plans to address them. The steps include improvements in the tools used to monitor and verify compliance with treaties and new ways to prevent cheating, including more intrusive inspections.
The enrichment problem, they say, could be solved by limiting the production of enriched uranium to internationally controlled fuel banks that would supply power reactors in places like Iran, eliminating the need for national enrichment plants.
Bottom Line. We could not verify nuclear progress in North Korea, nor could we find all the WMD in Iraq in the 1990s, nor could we discover that Saddam had disposed of his WMD before the March 2003 Iraq invasion. It simply strains credulity to sees abolition as achievable until verifications advances to vastly improved levels. All serious proponents of ultimate nuclear abolition understand this. But those who do not may see a carpe diem moment with an idealistic administration, susceptible to Utopian visions. Stay tuned.
NRO ace legal eagle Andy McCarthy shows how Team Obama's revision of military commission trial rules looks like..the Bush 43 rules, tweaked but a tad. AND CHECK OUT THIS HUMAN EVENTS PIECE ON GITMO, WHICH HAS A 70-SECOND VIDEO AD THAT IS A "MUST SEE."
Part IV (8:04) covers the global financial crisis. Notable is Howard's opining that China will continue to finance the American federal budget deficit by purchasing US Treasuries, despite their concerns at massive public debt expansion, because America will remain, at the end of the day, a haven for investment.
5 posts: (1) Taliban: Who is Losing Hearts & Minds?--Us v. Them; (2) Economy: Slow-Motion Thrift Paradox?--'It's the Earth Stupid!"; (3) Federal Reserve: Goldman Preserve, Congress Observes--The Home Front; (4) "Harlem Miracle" Students--The Home Front; (5) Our Ally Down Under: Part III--Wobble Watch.
Start with Pakistan, and then turn to Afghanistan:
Pakistan. The mantra during Vietnam was that American policy was losing "hearts and minds." The record then was more complex--"nuanced" as John Kerry might put it--but the principle was vital: counter-insurgency requires winning H&M. A Sunday Washington Post front-pager reports how the Taliban are alienating Pakistanis by imposing harsh Sharia law upon them. But militant Islam is, nonetheless, having a chilling effect--call it creeping Islamism:
Criticism of such draconian practices, which faded after Zia's death in 1988, has suddenly revived as horror stories of Taliban-style justice have filtered out of the Swat Valley. Newspapers are filled with letters from readers expressing outrage at the perversion of Islam being perpetrated there and warning that the Taliban is trying to force a modern country back to medieval times.
And yet some observers have noticed a subtler, more insidious trend. It is not only the fire-breathing sermons by radical mullahs calling for a "sharia nation" or the rantings of Taliban leaders who accuse the entire Muslim government of being "infidel."
These observers describe a creeping social and intellectual chill that several have called "the Talibanization of the mind."
It is a growing tendency for women to cover their faces, for hosts to cancel musical events, for journalists to use phrases that do not offend powerful Islamist groups, for strangers to demand that shopkeepers turn off their radios.
"With each passing month a deeper silence prevails," columnist Kamila Hyat recently wrote in a widely circulated article. The public is afraid, uncertain and retreating into religion because the country's leaders are failing to address its problems. "Just as we fight to regain territory" from the Taliban, Hyat wrote, "we must struggle to regain the liberties we are losing."
It is important to note that the turnaround in Iraq began in September 2006 with the Anbar sheiks coming to the Americans, after al-Qaeda has beheaded their children and commandeered their wives. The Americans could be exasperating, but they did not do such evil stuff. So began the partnership that with the 2007 - 2008 surge led to turnaround in Iraq, avoiding the defeat compromise with the bad guys would have brought.
Ralph Peters, who sees a showdown coming, with Taliban fighters better motivated that Pakistani soldiers, who are reluctant to die for a corrupt (even though elected) government. Bret Stephens asks whether Pakistan is a country or a space:
About Iran, Henry Kissinger once asked whether the Islamic Republic was a country or a cause. About Pakistan, the question is whether it's a country or merely a space.
Mr. Kissinger's point was that if Iran were a country like France or India, its bid to acquire nuclear weapons wouldn't pose an apocalyptic threat: It would merely be seeking the bomb in pursuit of rational, and limited, national interests, like prestige and self-defense. But if Iran is a cause -- the cause being world-wide radical Islamic revolution -- then there's no telling where its ambitions end.
The world has a tough time dealing with cause countries, no matter if the causes are bad (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia), good (the U.S.), or somewhere in between (colonial Britain and France). Even more difficult is knowing what to do about countries that are really just spaces, wholly or partly ungoverned.
Today, Somalia is a space not even pretending to be a country. The result is destitution, piracy and a sanctuary for Islamic jihadists, but little by way of ideas for how to change things. Historically Afghanistan has always been a space, defined mostly by its power to repel: The Obama administration would be smart to take this into account by keeping its expectations for nation-building low. Whether post-invasion Iraq is a country or a space remains a question, though it seems to be leaning in the former direction.
As for Pakistan, we're about to find out.
Stephens adds that Pakistani identity is defined negatively:
What kind of state simply accepts that its judicial and political writ doesn't actually run to its internationally recognized boundaries? Three cases are typical.
One is a weak state that lacks the capacity to enforce its law and ensure domestic tranquility -- think of Congo. Another is an ethnic patchwork state that knows well enough not to bend restive or potentially restive minorities to its will -- that would be present-day Lebanon. A third is a canny state that seeks to advance strategic aims by feigning powerlessness while deliberately ceding control to proxies -- the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.
Pakistan's odd distinction is that it fits all three descriptions at once. It is politically weak, ethnically riven, and a master of plausible deniability -- an art it has practiced not only toward India, Afghanistan and the U.S. with its support for various "freedom fighting" groups but also, in the matter of the CIA drone attacks, toward its own people.
The roots of Pakistan's problems go to its nature as a state. What is Pakistan? Even now, nearly 62 years after its founding, the best answer is "not India": As with the Palestinians, Pakistani identity is defined negatively. What else is Pakistan? As with Iran, it is an Islamic Republic: Punjabis, Pashtuns, Kashmiris, Balochis, Sindhis and so on are only really knitted together in their state as Muslims.
Afghanistan. The firing of General David McKiernan & his replacement by special ops commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is Team Obama's shakeup move in an Afghan campaign it sees going badly. Gen. Petraeus backs the move.
Here is an Afghan War view, from Stratfor's George Friedman, The Strategic Debate in Afghanistan, posted May 11, and republished with permission of Stratfor:
After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan this past week, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan — raising the question of what exactly are the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.
On one side are President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a substantial amount of the U.S. Army leadership. On the other side are Petraeus — the architect of U.S. strategy in Iraq after 2006 — and his staff and supporters. An Army general — even one with four stars — is unlikely to overcome a president and a defense secretary; even the five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur couldn’t pull that off. But the Afghan debate is important, and it provides us with a sense of future U.S. strategy in the region.
Petraeus took over effective command of coalition forces in Iraq in 2006. Two things framed his strategy. One was the Republican defeat in the 2006 midterm congressional elections, which many saw as a referendum on the Iraq war. The second was the report by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of elder statesmen (including Gates) that recommended some fundamental changes in how the war was fought.
The expectation in November 2006 was that as U.S. President George W. Bush’s strategy had been repudiated, his only option was to begin withdrawing troops. Even if Bush didn’t begin this process, it was expected that his successor in two years certainly would have to do so. The situation was out of control, and U.S. forces did not seem able to assert control. The goals of the 2003 invasion, which were to create a pro-American regime in Baghdad, redefine the political order of Iraq and use Iraq as a base of operations against hostile regimes in the region, were unattainable. It did not seem possible to create any coherent regime in Baghdad at all, given that a complex civil war was under way that the United States did not seem able to contain.
Most important, groups in Iraq believed that the United States would be leaving. Therefore, political alliance with the United States made no sense, as U.S. guarantees would be made moot by withdrawal. The expectation of an American withdrawal sapped U.S. political influence, while the breadth of the civil war and its complexity exhausted the U.S. Army. Defeat had been psychologically locked in.
Bush’s decision to launch a surge of forces in Iraq was less a military event than a psychological one. Militarily, the quantity of forces to be inserted — some 30,000 on top of a force of 120,000 — did not change the basic metrics of war in a country of about 29 million. Moreover, the insertion of additional troops was far from a surge; they trickled in over many months. Psychologically, however, it was stunning. Rather than commence withdrawals as so many expected, the United States was actually increasing its forces. The issue was not whether the United States could defeat all of the insurgents and militias; that was not possible. The issue was that because the United States was not leaving, the United States was not irrelevant. If the United States was not irrelevant, then at least some American guarantees could have meaning. And that made the United States a political actor in Iraq.
Petraeus combined the redeployment of some troops with an active political program. At the heart of this program was reaching out to the Sunni insurgents, who had been among the most violent opponents of the United States during 2003-2006. The Sunni insurgents represented the traditional leadership of the mainstream Sunni tribes, clans and villages. The U.S. policy of stripping the Sunnis of all power in 2003 and apparently leaving a vacuum to be filled by the Shia had left the Sunnis in a desperate situation, and they had moved to resistance as guerrillas.
The Sunnis actually were trapped by three forces. First, there were the Americans, always pressing on the Sunnis even if they could not crush them. Second, there were the militias of the Shia, a group that the Sunni Saddam Hussein had repressed and that now was suspicious of all Sunnis. Third, there were the jihadists, a foreign legion of Sunni fighters drawn to Iraq under the banner of al Qaeda. In many ways, the jihadists posed the greatest threat to the mainstream Sunnis, since they wanted to seize leadership of the Sunni communities and radicalize them.
U.S. policy under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been unbending hostility to the Sunni insurgency. The policy under Gates and Petraeus after 2006 — and it must be understood that they developed this strategy jointly — was to offer the Sunnis a way out of their three-pronged trap. Because the United States would be staying in Iraq, it could offer the Sunnis protection against both the jihadists and the Shia. And because the surge convinced the Sunnis that the United States was not going to withdraw, they took the deal. Petraeus’ great achievement was presiding over the U.S.-Sunni negotiations and eventual understanding, and then using that to pressure the Shiite militias with the implicit threat of a U.S.-Sunni entente. The Shia subsequently and painfully shifted their position to accepting a coalition government, the mainstream Sunnis helped break the back of the jihadists and the civil war subsided, allowing the United States to stage a withdrawal under much more favorable circumstances.
This was a much better outcome than most would have thought possible in 2006. It was, however, an outcome that fell far short of American strategic goals of 2003. The current government in Baghdad is far from pro-American and is unlikely to be an ally of the United States; keeping it from becoming an Iranian tool would be the best outcome for the United States at this point. The United States certainly is not about to reshape Iraqi society, and Iraq is not likely to be a long-term base for U.S. offensive operations in the region.
Gates and Petraeus produced what was likely the best possible outcome under the circumstances. They created the framework for a U.S. withdrawal in a context other than a chaotic civil war, they created a coalition government, and they appear to have blocked Iranian influence in Iraq. But these achievements remain uncertain. The civil war could resume. The coalition government might collapse. The Iranians might become the dominant force in Baghdad. But these unknowns are enormously better than the outcomes expected in 2006. At the same time, snatching uncertainty from the jaws of defeat is not the same as victory.
Petraeus is arguing that the strategy pursued in Iraq should be used as a blueprint in Afghanistan, and it appears that Obama and Gates have raised a number of important questions in response. Is the Iraqi solution really so desirable? If it is desirable, can it be replicated in Afghanistan? What level of U.S. commitment would be required in Afghanistan, and what would this cost in terms of vulnerabilities elsewhere in the world? And finally, what exactly is the U.S. goal in Afghanistan?
In Iraq, Gates and Petraeus sought to create a coalition government that, regardless of its nature, would facilitate a U.S. withdrawal. Obama and Gates have stated that the goal in Afghanistan is the defeat of al Qaeda and the denial of bases for the group in Afghanistan. This is a very different strategic goal than in Iraq, because this goal does not require a coalition government or a reconciliation of political elements. Rather, it requires an agreement with one entity: the Taliban. If the Taliban agree to block al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, the United States will have achieved its goal. Therefore, the challenge in Afghanistan is using U.S. power to give the Taliban what they want — a return to power — in exchange for a settlement on the al Qaeda question.
In Iraq, the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds all held genuine political and military power. In Afghanistan, the Americans and the Taliban have this power, though many other players have derivative power from the United States. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; where al-Maliki had his own substantial political base, Karzai is someone the Americans invented to become a focus for power in the future. But the future has not come. The complexities of Iraq made a coalition government possible there, but in many ways, Afghanistan is both simpler and more complex. The country has a multiplicity of groups, but in the end only one insurgency that counts.
Petraeus argues that the U.S. strategic goal — blocking al Qaeda in Afghanistan — cannot be achieved simply through an agreement with the Taliban. In this view, the Taliban are not nearly as divided as some argue, and therefore their factions cannot be played against each other. Moreover, the Taliban cannot be trusted to keep their word even if they give it, which is not likely.
From Petraeus’ view, Gates and Obama are creating the situation that existed in pre-surge Iraq. Rather than stunning Afghanistan psychologically with the idea that the United States is staying, thereby causing all the parties to reconsider their positions, Obama and Gates have done the opposite. They have made it clear that Washington has placed severe limits on its willingness to invest in Afghanistan, and made it appear that the United States is overly eager to make a deal with the one group that does not need a deal: the Taliban.
Gates and Obama have pointed out that there is a factor in Afghanistan for which there was no parallel in Iraq — namely, Pakistan. While Iran was a factor in the Iraqi civil war, the Taliban are as much a Pakistani phenomenon as an Afghan one, and the Pakistanis are neither willing nor able to deny the Taliban sanctuary and lines of supply. So long as Pakistan is in the condition it is in — and Pakistan likely will stay that way for a long time — the Taliban have time on their side and no reason to split, and are likely to negotiate only on their terms.
There is also a military fear. Petraeus brought U.S. troops closer to the population in Iraq, and he is doing this in Afghanistan as well. U.S. forces in Afghanistan are deployed in firebases. These relatively isolated positions are vulnerable to massed Taliban forces. U.S. airpower can destroy these concentrations, so long as they are detected in time and attacked before they close in on the firebases. Ominously for the United States, the Taliban do not seem to have committed anywhere near the majority of their forces to the campaign.
This military concern is combined with real questions about the endgame. Gates and Obama are not convinced that the endgame in Iraq, perhaps the best outcome that was possible there, is actually all that desirable for Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, this outcome would leave the Taliban in power in the end. No amount of U.S. troops could match the Taliban’s superior intelligence capability, their knowledge of the countryside and their willingness to take casualties in pursuing their ends, and every Afghan security force would be filled with Taliban agents.
And there is a deeper issue yet that Gates has referred to: the Russian experience in Afghanistan. The Petraeus camp is vehement that there is no parallel between the Russian and American experience; in this view, the Russians tried to crush the insurgents, while the Americans are trying to win them over and end the insurgency by convincing the Taliban’s supporters and reaching a political accommodation with their leaders. Obama and Gates are less sanguine about the distinction — such distinctions were made in Vietnam in response to the question of why the United States would fare better in Southeast Asia than the French did. From the Obama and Gates point of view, a political settlement would call for either a constellation of forces in Afghanistan favoring some accommodation with the Americans, or sufficient American power to compel accommodation. But it is not clear to Obama and Gates that either could exist in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, Petraeus is charging that Obama and Gates are missing the chance to repeat what was done in Iraq, while Obama and Gates are afraid Petraeus is confusing success in Iraq with a universal counterinsurgency model. To put it differently, they feel that while Petraeus benefited from fortuitous circumstances in Iraq, he quickly could find himself hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. The Pentagon on May 11 announced that U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan would be replaced, less than a year after he took over, with Lt. Gen. Stan McChrystal. McKiernan’s removal could pave the way for a broader reshuffling of Afghan strategy by the Obama administration.
The most important issues concern the extent to which Obama wants to stake his presidency on Petraeus’ vision in Afghanistan, and how important Afghanistan is to U.S. grand strategy. Petraeus has conceded that al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Getting the group out of Pakistan requires surgical strikes. Occupation and regime change in Pakistan are way beyond American abilities. The question of what the United States expects to win in Afghanistan — assuming it can win anything there — remains.
In the end, there is never a debate between U.S. presidents and generals. Even MacArthur discovered that. It is becoming clear that Obama is not going to bet all in Afghanistan, and that he sees Afghanistan as not worth the fight. Petraeus is a soldier in a fight, and he wants to win. But in the end, as Clausewitz said, war is an extension of politics by other means. As such, generals tend to not get their way.
A Sunday NY Times front-pager reports that the personal savings rate, which has risen during the recession, will stay at a higher base after recovery, due to changing attitudes:
Fearful of job losses and anxious over housing and stock declines, Americans are squirreling away more of their paychecks than they were before the recession. In the last year, the savings rate — the percentage of after-tax income that people do not spend — has risen to above 4 percent, from virtually zero.
This happens in nearly every recession, and the effect is usually fleeting. Once the economy recovers, Americans revert to more spending and less saving. Over the last 30 years, the savings rate has fluctuated from over 14 percent in the 1970s to negative 2.7 percent in 2005, meaning Americans were spending more than they made.
This time is expected to be different, because the forces that enabled and even egged on consumers to save less and spend more — easy credit and skyrocketing asset values — could be permanently altered by the financial crisis that spun the economy into recession.
Bottom Line. Most Americans are not big risk-takers, nor should they be. They put security first, and run economic risks only when those are perceived as small, relative to potential rewards. Stock market and housing bubbles convinced them to take financial risks that, in retrospect, they realize were excessive. Many have paid a severe penalty for such adventurism. With 401k accounts like like 201f today, and 101c in store if the economy continues to decline, investors are not looking for The Next Big Thing. Look then, for slower growth after recovery, whenever it comes. Which bodes ill for the financing of Social Security and Medicare.