Picking up sandwiches today for the trip up to Lake George, I scanned the front page of the Times. This interrupted my pleasant stay at the deli:
Europeans admire Mr. Obama’s political skills, and welcome his apparent readiness to respect opposing points of view. For many here, that raises the prospect of a sharp break with the policies of the Bush administration, especially in its first term when the United States chose to ignore the Geneva Conventions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rejected the Kyoto accord on global warming and invaded Iraq, starting a war that some of America’s European allies opposed.
Everything about this is wrong. “Apparent readiness to respect opposing points of view” is one of these nonsense phrases. We might as well say that Europeans appreciate his “apparent readiness to commit senseless acts of beauty.” It’s just bunk. What would constitute an unwillingness to respect opposing points of view? Don’t I demonstrate this everyday by speaking with other human beings without shouting all the time? Does this mean I could draw tens of thousands in Berlin?
And how is this related to the policies of the Bush administration? Wasn’t it Bush who got a bipartisan blank check to invade Iraq? Even going to Congress shows this “apparent readiness” no? Didn’t most of these European allies (or at least their governments) initially support Operation Iraqi Freedom? Also, what has Obama done in 2008 to demonstrate this “readiness to respect” that Bush didn’t do in 2000? I seem to remember Bush touting his experience as a “united not a divider” and explaining over and over again in his debates with Al Gore, “it’s just a difference of opinion.”
That whole paragraph was the journalistic equivalent of smooth jazz – a kind of familiar vamping that remains inoffensive until you actually pay attention to it.
The only tangible benefit an apparent willingness to “respect opposing viewpoints” offers is the possibility of caution. Perhaps it could signify a non-ideological approach to governing. But Obama hasn’t demonstrated this at all. He has only shown us his ability to articulate a viewpoint opposed to his own and then dismiss it. I don’t know what it says about Europeans or journalists that this is considered admirable.
Congratulations to John Schwenkler. I find few things more satisfying than to be attacked by the likes of P.J. Gladnick at NewsBusters. Mr. Gladnick goes so far off the deep end in his first sentence, there is little need to read further. “There has been a trend in recent years for liberals to try to rebrand themselves as conservatives.” Yeah, people are standing in line to appropriate the cachet of Dick Cheney and Hugh Hewitt.
I also note that Gladnick takes umbrage at Schwenkler (and Alice Waters) for being concerned about “the crass materialism of popular culture.” I wonder if P.J. has heard that recent liberal speaker making similar complaints about materialism, stating “In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair.” Darned Pope–probably prefers bean sprouts to fried chicken.
The Benny Morris op-ed in the NYT last Friday should provide convincing evidence that Israel really really really wants an attack against Iran sooner rather than later. Morris is close to the Israeli government and his case that Iran must be bombed soon and with maximum conventional weaponry to avoid using nukes later was clearly intended to push the United States to do the attacking. The likelihood that Dick Cheney is almost certainly supportive of a US pre-emptive strike and might well be pulling strings behind the scenes, possibly without the knowledge of the Great Decider, makes the next several months particularly significant if a war is to be avoided.
Some intel types are beginning to express concerns that the Israelis might do something completely crazy to get the US involved. There are a number of possible “false flag” scenarios in which the Israelis could insert a commando team in the Persian Gulf or use some of their people inside Iraq to stage an incident that they will make to look Iranian, either by employing Iranian weapons or by leaving a communications footprint that points to Tehran’s involvement.
Those who argue that Israel would never do such a thing should think again. Israel is willing to behave with complete ruthlessness towards the US if they feel that the stakes are high enough, witness the attack on the USS Liberty and the bombing of the US Consulate in Alexandria in the 1950s. If they now believe that Iran is a threat that must be eliminated it is not implausible to assume that they will stop at nothing to get the the United States to do it for them, particularly as their air force is only able to damage the Iranian nuclear program, not destroy it.
Like every other VIP that’s flown into the Green Zone for the dog & pony-grip & grin, Barack Obama was transported safely from Iraq 48 hours later, leaving tens of thousands of US troops behind. In his wake, the media attention and with it, the mind-numbing debate over timelines and time horizons and status of forces agreements will eventually give way to more pressing issues for these troops whose main contact with home is a tiny camera assisting their email: how to pay the bills, kids acting out in school, the baby on the way.
But the image of Obama and his media pack flying away is indeed symbolic in that lost in the bloodless debate over whether soldiers and Marines should be coming home now or later, at fixed dates or after “aspirational goals” are met, is that experts, including top Army generals, have been saying for over a year that the current force strength cannot keep up with today’s deployment schedule without breaking the service and the men and women in it.
In fact, it seems that talking about the true state of our force strength has become nothing but a strange exercise in denial, with a little smoke and mirrors to keep the American people distracted. The surge allowed for adding five brigades to the existing 15 in Iraq back in March of ’07. Now that the surge is technically over, those five brigades have been coming home, and will be out of Iraq by the end of the month, according to military officials. That leaves the force strength the same, if not slightly higher than when the surge began — about 140,000 troops. President Bush has said there will be no further draw-downs until conditions improve more. Though there is always the tease — part of the smoke and mirrors component — of future withdrawals, we wait endlessly for something more official.
As I wrote for TAC back in June , many believe that the surge was ended not so much for its tactical successes, but because the brigades had to come home. The 15-month deployments and close to 1:1 deployment/dwell time ratio is and was untenable (the healthiest would be 1:4 and that is a fantasy in today’s war). Retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told me at the time, “We cannot replace them out there without a full mobilization, without total access to the reserve and the National Guard. In the situation now, we cannot do that … we either have to change our strategy or make our Army bigger.”
While the Army and Marine Corps have orders by Bush to grow by 92,000 by 2012, they can hardly expect to start supplying fresh troops and Marines to the battlefield today. As it were, no less than 13 National Guard brigades have already been called up for (re)deployment to Iraq through 2009, ostensibly to replace exhausted active duty components there now.
To be fair, the centerpiece of Obama’s campaign is to bring most troops home within 16 months. However, much of this talk these days is balanced out by his desire to send more troops into Afghanistan. Even worse, say critics Larry Korb and Fred Kaplan, John McCain’s plan not only excludes a timeline for drawing down troops in Iraq, but putting even more troops than Obama envisions in Afghanistan.
Kaplan: Here’s the problem: The U.S. Army is stretched so thin that, according to its own calculations, no extra combat units can be sent to Afghanistan unless the same number of units is pulled out of Iraq. There is no flexibility here. So if McCain wants to put three more brigades in Afghanistan, where is he going to get them?
Referring to Obama’s call for withdrawing troops from Iraq, McCain says, “Sen. Obama will tell you we can’t win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq.”
Cute, but beside the point. Military strategy involves the application of resources to war aims. If McCain wins the White House, the first thing the Joint Chiefs will tell him is that they don’t have the resources to fulfill his war aims.
Korb, with Laura Conley: Sen. McCain’s policy does not account for the strain placed on U.S. forces due to repeated deployments. Of the nearly 1.7 million U.S. soldiers who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq, almost 600,000 have been deployed more than once. As the large U.S. presence in Iraq continues to require repeated deployments, often with insufficient time between tours of duty, the ability of the military to provide significant numbers of combat-ready forces for Afghanistan is diminished.
Increasing security in Afghanistan must be the primary, though not sole priority of the United States. U.S. policy in Afghanistan can and must be revitalized with a commitment to building Afghan government capacity, reining in corruption, increasing reconstruction efforts, removing the terrorist safe haven in Pakistan, and reducing the production of opium.
As usual, as these guys point out, the human side of the debate gets lost, particularly in jargon like “aspirational goals,” but let’s get serious here: tens of thousands of men and women have been repeatedly deploying in and out of this warzone for six years, on stints that last anywhere from seven to 18 month each, depending on their branch of service and when they were deployed. Their individual commitments rival, if not exceed, that of their counterparts in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, yet this aspect of the war seems to get lost. Leave the brigades, take out the brigades, transfer the brigades, bring home the brigades — we have to remember there are people involved. As it stands today, 4,125 servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq, 33,000 wounded in action (that doesn’t include tens of thousands of non-hostile injuries and illnesses); 560 killed in Afghanistan. Many lives have been put on hold for the better part of this decade, and, at least now, with no end in sight.
I was struck by the resignation in the tone of one soldier interviewed by the Washington Post earlier this week on the success of the surge. Asked if the surge was worth it, Spec. Derek Taylor, 23, of West Virginia, said, “It’s worth it, and it’s not worth it …I have a wife and a kid. I go home, and my daughter is 2. She probably doesn’t remember who I am.”
UPDATE: Reuters reported on Tuesday that the last of the surge brigades have indeed left Iraq, leaving behind approximately 147,000 US troops, “well above” the pre-surge range of 130,000.
In my July 14 TAC article about Chuck Baldwin’s Constitution Party presidential candidacy, I noted, “In California, the outgoing chairman of the American Independent Party has been trying to list [Alan] Keyes as the nominee rather than Baldwin.” That move appears to have succeeded: The California secretary of state’s office has recognized Ed Noonan and the pro-war, pro-Keyes faction of the party as the legitimate AIP. That means that the state recognizes the pro-Keyes convention that disaffiliated from the Constitution Party to join Keyes’s nascent America’s Independent Party. More importantly, it means that Keyes will be on the ballot in California other than Baldwin.
The pro-Baldwin faction is expected to sue and the secretary of state made no serious attempt to determine which group’s claims were valid. The pro-Baldwin faction held a larger convention with more members of the state central committee present after giving the required legal notice. But the secretary of state appears to have relied on papers filed with their office showing Noonan as the chairman. No matter how it is resolved, the costly showdown will be a setback for Baldwin, who beat Keyes for the national Constitution Party’s nomination.
Indeed, to Ms. McArdle, the possibility of a Republican defeat holds a certain romantic appeal. “Younger people are kind of excited about being in the wilderness,” she said, evoking the pre-Reagan years when Republican thinkers plotted their revolution at nonprofit organizations and in bars instead of in the Executive Office Building and congressional majority offices. The longer you’re in power, the more you want to preserve it. “That’s where the Republicans are right now, and it’s demoralizing for think tankers.” Desperation has a way of focusing the mind. As Ms. McArdle said, “When they’re out of power, they have to think in a clearer way.”
Andrew Stuttaford states that younger people are only excited about being in the wilderness “because they’ve never been there.”
Rod Dreher says that Stuttaford’s point is not . . . easily dismissable,” so allow me to easily dismiss it. I am a permanent exile and we will be no more at home in a McCain administration than I would be under President Obama. I prefer that Obama win, but I am under no illusions and have no expectations about his presidency. I don’t care much about electoral politics and I am starting to downgrade my followage, to coin a word, of the election–I’m only going to read about it in Daniel‘s TAC column. Should he choose to write about more interesting topics such as Merle Haggard or Pre-Code films, then I will remain blissfully ignorant up through election day.
Wizened eldercon, Robert Stacy “Other” McCain chalks it all up to McCardle’s youth. “Never having set foot in the Executive Office Building, I’m nevertheless dismayed by the “romantic appeal” of the wilderness for Ms. McArdle, who was in middle school the last time Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress.”
Since she is so young, let me fill her in on what she missed while in junior high: Bill Clinton took over the presidency with a Democratic congress in 1993 and quickly overreached. The Republicans took over congress two years later and it took them about five minutes to reach the level of arrogance and corruption that the Dems built up in forty. I assume she is old enough to remember when it all blew up in the Republican’s faces in 2006 to get us where we are right now. In other words, the world did not end, and will not end if rightwingers are out of power.
TAC is on vacation for a fortnight. Check your newsstands, mailboxes, and bookstores in the coming week for our summer issue, which features (among much else) Leon Hadar on the failure of nation-building in Iraq; “Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter on Senate contender Bob Conley, a Ron Paul Democrat in South Carolina; Andrew Michta on the energy crisis as national-security threat; David Gordon on the left-liberalism of John Rawls (and the folly of “Rawlsekianism”); M.B. Dougherty on immigration and the Catholic Church; Roger McGrath on the 1908 Olympics; and reviews from Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, Ed West, and yours truly.
While the editors are dispersed around the globe — literary editor Freddy Gray is on honeymoon in Rwanda, believe it or not — blogging might be a little light, though I’ll be around and several of our contributing editors may help keep the blog fires burning.
The right-wing media is abuzz today with the news that the New York Times has rejected John McCain’s editorial responding to Barack Obama’s recent op-ed in the Times. The Drudge Report puts it rather simply: “An editorial written by Republican presidential hopeful McCain has been rejected by the NEW YORK TIMES — less than a week after the paper published an essay written by Obama”. What possible explanation could possibly make sense of this editorial decision? The Times has always been labeled by the Right as the lead demon in the “liberal media” (Bill Kristol notwithstanding) for years. This just reinforces what Rush, Hannity, and co. have known all along.
Not quite. Drudge explains the NYT’s objections as follows:
‘It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece,’ NYT Op-Ed editor David Shipley explained in an email late Friday to McCain’s staff. ‘I’m not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written.’
NYT’s Shipley advised McCain to try again: ‘I’d be pleased, though, to look at another draft.’ … Shipley, who is on vacation this week, explained his decision not to run the editorial.
‘The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans.’
Shipley continues: ‘It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq.’
Shipley obviously sees the two pieces as being very different types of pieces, one worthy of printing and one not. Now if his basis for seeing the two differently was ideological, than by all means the McCain has a right to be upset. McCain campaign staffers have claimed that the NYT is basically asking the Senator to change his policy on Iraq, not just re-work the draft. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds released a rather nebulous statement, saying:
John McCain believes that victory in Iraq must be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables. Unlike Barack Obama, that position will not change based on politics or the demands of the New York Times.
Ultimately, one is either left believing Shipley’s explanation or left convinced of his own bias. Too bad for talk-radio America that Shipley has a point and the McCain campaign does not.
An analysis of Obama’s piece alongside McCain’s allows for even the casual reader to notice a few major differences right away. Obama’s is an original thought piece, where a unique proposal for withdrawal is made, and the situation on the ground is considered and integrated into the argument. Obama mentions McCain three times. He is clear about his intentions to work with the Iraqi government in acknowledging their desire for US troop withdrawals. He is also clear about his opposition to permanent US bases in Iraq.
Instead of offering a proper counter to Obama (by outlining his own plans for the region in specific terms) McCain instead submitted a childish attack piece, where the main issue is Obama, not Iraq. Obama is mentioned ten times in McCain’s piece, and McCain’s own plans for Iraq are barely even mentioned. In the entire piece he only mentions his plan in the following manner:
I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.
But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons.
Considering this information, it seems pretty clear that Shipley was looking to preserve the integrity of the NYT’s Op-Ed page by not allowing it to become a schoolyard brawl, complete with finger pointing and name calling. Indeed, McCain’s near-900 word piece basically boils down to “I’m a winner. Obama is a loser.”
Even though major media outlets such as the NYT never need lower-level mouthpieces defending their editorial decisions, it seems clear why this was done. The Times was right to ask the McCain camp to rewrite the piece. It is in the interests of the American people to see the two candidates exchanging blows on two clear and unique policy proposals. Newspapers that give a voice to the constant back-and-forth nonsense that has become the norm in American political life are better left unopened. No bias to be found here.
Never a fan of the Times myself, I say “Cheers” to Shipley for saying no to the Arizona bully. We’re all better for it.
Barack Obama has arrived for his much-anticipated visit to Baghdad today, along with stalwart Bush critics Sens. Jack Reed, D-RI and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. As they’ve been crying all week, the Right Wing talkers are dismissing the trip as a media love fest, designed to help Obama earn his foreign policy creds like an online college degree. According to Jed Babbin at Human Events, “They are — collectively — acting as a massive “527 Group” to promote Obama from senator to president.”
He anticipates the “softball” interviews Obama will get on the road, and he is probably right. Like all media interviews of VIPs on what have become notorious Green Zone dog and pony shows, there has been very little real journalism by the mainstream, just the stuff of what one might pick up say, in Parade Magazine. The talkers like to complain that McCain never got the Hollywood treatment on his previous trips to Iraq, but they don’t acknowledge what he didn’t get, and that’s hardball interviews. That the media even called him and his fellow Republican travelers out on their attempt to make a Baghdad market out to be the state fair in Indiana over a year ago, I think was more of a testament of how dangerous it really was, else the media would’ve been too typically skittish and emasculated to call the good senators’ bluff.
Still, hardball interviews are essential and the more grilling Obama gets on his trip the better. What may be more important, however, is that he and the others ask the right questions of their hosts. Reports today indicate that Obama will be meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Gen. David Petraeus. He shouldn’t leave Iraq without asking the following:
1.) What exactly is a “Time Horizon”? Pundits are saying it is a compromise of Bush’s long-held position that there be no set dates for withdrawal, but administration spokespersons and surrogates keep insisting a “Time Horizon” is more like setting goals based on conditions, which sounds more like Bush’s original view, that withdrawal can’t be unconditional, and there must be plenty of wiggle room to avoid a drawn-down of troops until the US says so. We need clarification, particularly in the face of Maliki’s Der Spiegel interview, in which he supports Obama’s 16-month timeline (Maliki’s spokesman, ever on cue, rushed in to suggest his boss’ words were taken out of context). Everyone seems to be talking with public consumption in mind — who is closest to the truth?
2) To Gen. Petraeus: this month Gen. James Dubik told congress that Iraqi security forces could be “fully manned and operational” by mid-April next year. What does that mean, when only 12 Iraqi battalions out of 140 are “fully operational” and capable of independent missions today? If getting Iraqi security forces fully independent from US assistance is one of the “aspirational goals” for realizing a “Time Horizon,” how does that bode for the US getting out of Iraq before the end of the decade?
3) There has been much discussion about permanent US bases in Iraq. How many will there be? Seriously.
4) Gen. Dubik also told congress that there were “internal polls” taken of the Iraqi people that indicated an unprecedented level of confidence in the Maliki government, support for a continued US presence, an increased level of confidence in the country overall. Where are these surveys and why, if so positive, haven’t they been shared more publicly with the American people?
5) How is the State Department working with the Iraqi government to alleviate the 30 to 50 percent unemployment rate in Iraq?
6) When exactly are these provincial elections we keep hearing about? Has there even been a date set? And if not, why? We keep hearing about October 1, but why hasn’t that date been ratified by the parliament?
7.) How much can ethnic and sectarian cleansing be credited for the reduction in violence in places like Baghdad? Paying former Sunni rebels who had been shooting at our troops in the past
a dollar $10 a day to come over to our side — how much should we thank them for the overall surge success and even more importantly, how strong are their alliances today? What is the US doing to ensure that Maliki’s government won’t kill the deal by denying these Sunnis decent positions in his security services and in the government? Do we really have a say?
8. What’s going on in Anbar? Its handover of US security to Iraqis in June would have been historic, but it was abruptly halted. What is going on there today?
9) What is the US doing to assist the 4 million displaced Iraqis — 2 million internally, 2 million over the border? Why aren’t more Iraqis coming home today, given the improved security (loop back to the question about sectarian cleansing). How many really have homes and neighborhoods to return to?
10) In lieu of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the current administration and the Maliki government, word is the two sides have come to a less ambitious “bridge” agreement. Is it in the power of an Obama administration to alter it come January 20?
I’ve just learned (tardily, as usual) from Tom Piatak at Taki’s that University of Minnesota professor and blogger of the unfortunately common uber-glib school (casual conversational tone, replete with gratuitous obscenities), PZ Myers, outraged at the reaction of a Catholic church to a student protester spiriting away (excuse the expression) and defiling the Eucharist, has taken up that hoary and delusional cliche of the self-imagined secular crusader, The Brave Battle Against Catholicism and the Coming Inquisition (and, yes, the I-word was literally deployed):
So, what to do. I have an idea. Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a g–damned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.
Get that, “there’s no way” he can breach the defenses of local churches (I imagine he fantasizes his image on a wanted poster over the holy water, right up there with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins). Not since George Bush donned that flight suit have I witnessed such a manly display.
I suppose if the Professor deferred the instant gratification of publicly brandishing his offended intellectual superiority and treated those with whom he disagrees as if they actually have a right to their contrary beliefs, he would have to acknowledge the congregants were minding their own business engaged in worship to which they have a moral and constitutional right, entirely within the confines of the Church. The fact that the student places no value on the “cracker” gives him no right to disrupt, and thereby deny, these people this, their most fundamental right.
Myers makes much of what he sees as melodramatic language employed by the church in its defense and their demands that the Eucharist be returned. But the language and deeply held nature of the outrage expressed by the church is entirely beside the point–and any casual but competent observer will see from the start that the question is this: does the church have a right to its practices free of harassment? This did not take place in the public square. That’s what’s striking here–Myers and cohort simply do not recognize the church’s right to defend the place and circumstances of their worship; they essentially assert that their certainty regarding what they see as its delusional and silly nature empowers them to interfere with it.
This is little different from an invasion of an individual’s private sphere, or the disruption of any group’s free assembly–the petty and sordid nature of the student’s actions notwithstanding. I suppose I too will be deemed a frothing-at-the-mouth zealot if I see in this the embryo of totalitarianism, but I do. I have many things of various levels of sentimental value, that others will deem meaningless, in my home. Does Professor Myers presume the right to take them and make a show of defacing them, and does he assert that right based on his superior arguments as to the irrationality of my sentiment, and the fervor with which I defend it? And this man dares to compare this with the Inquisition–when he is the one demanding this inalienable right be surrendered to the prank of a petulant child. Irony everywhere these days, and still some don’t recognize it when it falls on their oblivious heads.
This is after all the same sort of provocateur strategy employed in the revolutionary phase of the last century’s more destructive totalitarian movements, Left and Right–and religion and religious institutions were among the first targeted and held in special contempt (a contempt Myers holds just as fiercely, if his actions are more comic than sinister), as obstructions to absolutism. In a time of increasing government power, militarism and the hijacking of Born-Again Christian churches by militant millenarians, hostility toward the Catholic Church is downright baffling. One has to conclude that, despite their attempts to hang the history of human folly and vanity on religion–the classic, ubiquitous misperception that human flaws arise from human institutions, rather than bedevil them–they believe their certainty is justification enough to destroy an institution that, in their eyes, competes with them for power.
I do have one suggestion for this self-styled defender of the Enlightenment: go where the battle is joined in earnest, say to a madrassa in Pakistan (or a mosque in Europe, for that matter) and have a go at the “meaningless” articles of their faith. I recommend an artist’s rendering of Muhammad, for instance. Just paper and ink! Or, if Myers’ notoriety goes beyond the local churches and is global (Carlos the Jackanape, International Man of Hysteria), he can pull the same prank he has planned already–complete with address provided on demand, and on-camera starring role. The clarion has sounded, Professor.