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FRIDAY, JANUARY 29, 2010
COLLAPSE OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY? – AT 6:39 P.M. ET: Khaled Abu Toameh is a remarkable Palestinian journalist who calls 'em as he sees 'em. He is one of the stars of our Hudson New York website, as well as a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. Here he gets behind what could turn out to be a major foreign story of 2010, the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority – the so-called "peace partner" for Israel – and its replacement by Hamas. A special thanks to one of Urgent Agenda's best sources, international observer Susana Kohan, for alerting us to this:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the corrupt officials who used to work for his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and that’s why Hamas will one day take control of the West Bank, Fahmi Shabaneh, who was appointed by Abbas four years ago to root out corruption in the Palestinian Authority, said on Thursday.
And that would be a disaster for the Middle East and American efforts there.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Shabaneh, who until recently was in charge of the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA’s General Intelligence Service (GIS), warned that what happened in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, when Hamas managed to overthrow the Fatah-controlled regime, is likely to recur in the West Bank.
I wonder if our own State Department is aware of this. From the way the department acts, I wouldn't think so.
Shabaneh said that many Palestinians in the West Bank have lost hope that the PA would one day be reformed. “The Palestinian Authority is very corrupt and needs to be overhauled,” he said.
Shabaneh cited several specific cases of alleged corruption within Fatah and the PA in the course of the interview, including asserting that Fatah personnel stole much of a $3.2 million donation given by the US to Fatah ahead of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, won by Hamas, which had been intended to improve Fatah’s image and boost its chances of winning.
Incredible. That's our money, earned by American workers. Did we ever ask where it went?
“In his pre-election platform, President Abbas promised to end financial corruption and implement major reforms, but he hasn’t done much since then,” he said. “Unfortunately, Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the thieves and officials who were involved in theft of public funds and who became icons of financial corruption.”
Shabaneh said that as head of the anti-corruption unit he and his men succeeded in exposing dozens of cases involving senior officials who had stolen public funds but were never held accountable.
“Some of the most senior Palestinian officials didn’t have even $3,000 in their pocket when they arrived [after the signing of the Oslo Accords],” Shabaneh said. “Yet we discovered that some of them had tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in their bank accounts.
Again, some of it from America.
Was he serious about Hamas taking over the ? “Yes, no question about that,” he said. “It will happen one day if the state of corruption and anarchy continue in the West Bank.
These corrupt officials know no limits. They even used to forge Arafat’s signature to obtain money by fraud,” he said.
COMMENT: Please remember this the next time someone mouths the words "peace process."
January 29, 2010 Permalink
TAKE THIS, BIN LADEN – AT 6:17 P.M. ET: Just as Osama bin Laden joins the global-warming movement – see our 9:11 a.m. post today – The Times of London comes out with another devastating article on the collapsing science that presumably underlies it. The Times has become the international leader in exposing "global warming":
The university at the centre of the climate change row over stolen e-mails broke the law by refusing to hand over its raw data for public scrutiny.
The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to comply with requests for data concerning claims by its scientists that man-made emissions were causing global warming.
When scientists refuse to release their underlying data, there is a very large problem.
The stolen e-mails , revealed on the eve of the Copenhagen summit, showed how the university’s Climatic Research Unit attempted to thwart requests for scientific data and other information, and suggest that senior figures at the university were involved in decisions to refuse the requests. It is not known who stole the e-mails...
...Details of the breach emerged the day after John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser, warned that there was an urgent need for more honesty about the uncertainty of some predictions. His intervention followed admissions from scientists that the rate of glacial melt in the Himalayas had been grossly exaggerated.
COMMENT: President Obama has taken the trendy and politically correct view that global warming is settled science, despite increasing evidence that it's anything but settled. (In fact, science is never settled.)
The president could learn from the defeat he's now taking on holding terror trials in New York and try to get ahead of the story by appointing an impeccable commission, like the panel that investigated the 1986 Challenger disaster, to examine the claims and counterclaims on global warming.
Every poll shows that Americans, those ordinary, unlettered people out there, are becoming increasingly dubious about warming. The nation is entitled to a blue-ribbon inquiry, fully transparent, and open to TV coverage. What do you think are the chances?
January 29, 2010 Permalink
GOOD MOVE FOR HILLARY – AT 6:01 P.M. ET: We wonder if this cleared the White House, amidst all the speculation this week that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, inevitably, drifting apart. Hillary herself said that she wouldn't serve in a second Obama administration, a statement that didn't arouse much surprise.
She couldn't get to the left of Obama politically. There isn't much room. But she could get to his right on foreign policy, while maintaining her liberal credentials in domestic affairs. That was the pattern for the Democratic Party at the height of its power. Now Hillary makes a firm move in foreign relations, as reported by The New York Times:
PARIS — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned China on Friday that it would face economic insecurity and diplomatic isolation if it did not sign on to tough new sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, raising the pressure on Beijing to fall in line with an American-led campaign.
Speaking to students at the École Militaire, the prestigious French war college, Mrs. Clinton said, “China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing effect that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the gulf” — referring to the Persian Gulf — “from which they receive a significant percentage of their oil supplies.”
Firmness toward China has not been a distinguishing feature of American foreign policy, and this is refreshing. The Chinese have acted quite belligerently recently, and must understand that Americans are not marshmallows. Well, not most of us. Bush 41 was a notable appeaser of China, sending the "realist," Brent Scowcroft, to make nice to the Chinese while the blood from the Tiananmen Square massacres was still drying. That set an embarrassing tone that has gone on too long.
Mrs. Clinton — in a flurry of meetings this week in Europe, including one with the Chinese foreign minister — has tried to build momentum for new measures against Iran. Britain, France, and Germany back the effort, and Russia, which has often blocked previous efforts, now seems ready to act.
Only China, which imports crude oil from Iran and has large investments in its oil and gas sector, has said it would prefer to continue negotiating with the Iranian government. With a veto in the United Nations Security Council, it could block a move to impose additional sanctions.
“We understand that right now it seems counterproductive to you to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs,” Mrs. Clinton said in comments after a speech on European security. “But think about the longer-term implications.”
COMMENT: It still remains to be seen what kind of real pressure can be applied to China. But the Chinese, with their burgeoning international trade and influence, certainly wouldn't want to be isolated at the UN on behalf of a rogue nation like Iran.
It will be intriguing to see where Clinton goes with this issue, and whether any daylight will open, in the off-the-record paragraphs of the nation's media, between and Hillary and Barack.
January 29, 2010 Permalink
OH PLEASE – AT 11:23 A.M. ET: Speak of the pot calling the kettle racially diverse: The Dems are upset at some Supreme Court justices, as The Politico reports:
Senate Democrats are furious with Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito — and Alito’s silent State of the Union rebuke of the president is the least of their concerns.
Democrats say Alito crossed the line when he mouthed the words “not true” during President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday night. But worse, they say, both Roberts and Alito misled them during their confirmation hearings when they represented themselves as jurists who would respect precedent.
Is this serious? What line did Alito cross? What about The One's crossing a very thick line – criticizing a Supreme Court decision in the presence of the justices, and getting the facts wrong? Guess it doesn't count.
“You bet they misled,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the assistant majority leader and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
At issue is the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the campaign finance decision Obama was discussing Wednesday night when Alito mouthed his objections.
In last week’s 5-4 decision, a majority of the justices — including Roberts and Alito — ruled that the government cannot restrict corporations and labor unions from spending general funds on advertising to support or oppose specific candidates in federal elections. Some analysts predict that the decision will open the door to a flood of campaign advertising by corporations and unions leading up to Election Day — and that Republicans will be the primary beneficiaries.
COMMENT: Apparently, some Dems are shocked, shocked, to find out that John Roberts and Sam Alito are conservatives.
As for crossing a line, some senior Democrats, although they must have known that Obama was misstating the facts in denouncing the Court's decision, clapped for him loudly as they sat in a row just behind the Supreme Court justices. An act of supreme rudeness, if nothing else.
January 29, 2010 Permalink
SANITY IN THE GOP – AT 9:50 A.M. ET: Political litmus tests surface regularly in American politics. Try becoming a Democratic presidential candidate if you're pro-life. But the GOP, which, like the Dems, has its own nut wing to worry about, is resisting efforts to introduce a formal litmus test in this election year. From Andrew Malcolm at the L.A. Times's Top of the Ticket blog:
It looks like the Republican Party won’t be taking names or testing blood samples.
Meeting behind closed doors in Honolulu this afternoon the resolutions committee of the Republican National Committee adopted a watered-down version of the so-called “purity” test advocated by insiders who wanted candidates to complete a check list—8 of 10 needed to pass—to receive financial or organizational help from the party's national controlling body.
The precise wording remains to be worked out.
But the gist is that candidates would have to pledge their fealty to the party platform—which is a lot less stringent than the original resolution sponsored by Indiana’s James Bopp, Jr., a longtime conservative activist.
“No checklist,” Bopp confirmed outside the committee room. “There’s none of that in the resolution.”
COMMENT: That's dodging a bullet. James Bopp Jr. represents a kind of rigid, old-style Republican who wants enforced ideological purity for candidates, often the death knell for political parties. The Dems have plenty of ideological tests, and I'm not sure we want to use them as an example of greatness.
It's true that a political party cannot be an infinite tent. It has to have core principles. But there must be flexibility in advancing those princples. Otherwise, the party will wind up meeting in a closet.
January 29, 2010 Permalink
BULLETIN – AT 9:11 A.M. ET: Osama bin Laden has joined the global warming movement. Is this a bid for respectability? From the AP:
CAIRO (AP) - Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has called in a new audiotape for the world to boycott American goods and the U.S. dollar, blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for global warming.
In the tape, aired in part on Al-Jazeera television Friday, bin Laden warns of the dangers of climate change and says that the way to stop it is to bring "the wheels of the American economy" to a halt.
He says the world should "stop consuming American products" and "refrain from using the dollar," according to a transcript on Al-Jazeera's Web site.
The new message, whose authenticity could not immediately be confirmed, comes after a bin Laden tape released last week in which he endorsed a failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.
COMMENT: We should always be mindful of the fact that bin Laden and his associates are not stupid. They are tuned in to the world. They are up on things.
Before 9-11, bin Laden rarely mentioned the Arab-Israel conflict. His attention was elsewhere. But after 9-11, apparently realizing he could reap propaganda benefits among Western leftists, he started championing the Palestinians, leading to the absurd notion, spread in the West, that ending terrorism depends on solving the Israel-Palestine issue.
You may be sure that bin Laden's newest message will find a sympathetic ear among Western leftists and their trendy friends. "Well, the man does bad things, but if only we stopped polluting..." You can finish the sentence. It won't be long before ending terrorism will depend, in weak minds, on cap and trade.
Hey, maybe bin Laden will win the next Nobel Peace Prize. What a multicultural coup!
January 29, 2010 Permalink
UNBELIEVABLE – AT 8:57 A.M. ET: Charles Krauthammer examines the growing evidence that, with Eric Holder's Justice Department in charge, the Christmas-day bomber was entirely mishandled. From The Washington Post:
After 50 minutes of questioning him, the Obama administration chose, reflexively and mindlessly, to give the chatty terrorist the right to remain silent. Which he immediately did, undoubtedly denying us crucial information about al-Qaeda in Yemen, which had trained, armed and dispatched him.
We have since learned that the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab had been made without the knowledge of or consultation with (1) the secretary of defense, (2) the secretary of homeland security, (3) the director of the FBI, (4) the director of the National Counterterrorism Center or (5) the director of national intelligence (DNI).
Look, maybe they just didn't have the phone numbers handy. They're new in town. It's only a year.
The culprit should have been interrogated by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. But, uh, there was a bit of a problem:
Perhaps you hadn't heard the term. Well, in the very first week of his presidency, Obama abolished by executive order the Bush-Cheney interrogation procedures and pledged to study a substitute mechanism. In August, the administration announced the establishment of the HIG, housed in the FBI but overseen by the National Security Council...
...he HIG was not deployed because it does not yet exist. After a year! I suppose this administration was so busy deploying scores of the country's best lawyerly minds on finding the most rapid way to release Gitmo miscreants that it could not be bothered to establish a single operational HIG team to interrogate at-large miscreants with actionable intelligence that might save American lives.
These things are so difficult, especially with the health-care bill.
The fact is that Eric Holder and his crowd want us to return to the pre 9-11 view of terror, that it's merely a law-enforcement problem, something for the cops. It's the view from the left.
We are tempting fate with Eric Holder as AG. The president does not seem to understand. Or maybe he understands all too well...and doesn't really care.
January 29, 2010 Permalink
HOLD THAT HOLDER – AT 8:09 A.M. ET: As my friend, Silvio Canto Jr., puts it,
"Dismiss Attorney General Holder and call it 'the war on terror' again!"
Can you believe how badly this one attorney general of the United States has messed things up? This is the man who decided to drop a slam-dunk case against the new Black Panthers for voter intimidation at the polls in 2008, and never explained the outrage. This is the man who brought decidedly leftist lawyers into the Justice Department, many of whom came from the same firm that made a cult out of defending Gitmo detainees. This is the man who decided to try the mastermind of 9-11 in a civilian courtroom in New York City, giving this individual the greatest media platform in the world and putting New Yorkers at risk. This is the man whose foot soldiers read the Christmas-day airline bomber his Miranda rights – even though the bomber isn't an American citizen – after only 50 minutes of interrogation, prompting the terrorist to clam up.
Eric Holder. What a guy. Prime candidate for early retirement and a gold watch.
Now, one of Holder's worst decisions seems to be crumbling. We reported early word last night. Confirmation has since come, but The New York Times, flying the leftist flag to the last, is grudging about it:
WASHINGTON — Facing mounting pressure from New York politicians concerned about costs and security, the Obama administration on Thursday began considering moving the trial of the chief organizer of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks out of Manhattan, administration officials said.
Considering? My friend, that corpse is cold. The trial won't be held in New York. If Obama hesitates over the change, Congress will refuse to appropriate the funds.
President Obama said through a spokesman that he still believed a civilian criminal trial for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has admitted planning the attacks, and four accomplices could be conducted “successfully and securely in the United States.” He did not mention New York specifically.
Mr. Obama left the decision on possible alternate sites to the Justice Department, which was scrambling to assess the options, administration officials said.
A decision to move the Sept. 11 trial from Manhattan would be a retreat by the administration from its calculated choice in November to bring the defendants to a courthouse just blocks from where the World Trade Center stood.
Yeah. "Calculated." But what, precisely, went into the calculation?
The dispute over a trial location, touched off when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York complained of costs and disruption, threatened to reopen the divisive question of how those accused of plotting the murder of more than 3,000 Americans should be brought to justice.
Huh? The dispute was touched off by Bloomberg? Do guys on The Times read their own paper? This dispute has been ongoing since the decision was first announced months ago? Bloomberg came to the party, this week, a bit late, after a public outcry.
Well, at least the job is getting done, despite Eric Holder. We'll keep an eye on it.
January 29, 2010 Permalink
THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2010
BULLETIN – AT 8:30 P.M. ET: Maybe the message got through. The New York Daily News is reporting this on its website:
White House officials have told the Justice Department to consider other venues for the 9/11 terror trial that was to be held in lower Manhattan, the Daily News has learned.
The decision came after Mayor Bloomberg and other politicians across the state railed against President Obama's plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan Federal Court.
Attorney General Eric Holder now has to think of other places where the trial could take place, officials said.
It was not immediately clear if the reassessment means the trial will definitely be moved out of the city.
COMMENT: If the story is true, the trial is out of the city. Congress won't appropriate the funds.
UPDATE AT 9:55 P.M. ET: Fox reports White House confirmation that the administration is looking for venues other than New York City for the trial of the mastermind of 9-11.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
OBIT – AT 7:36 P.M. ET: Howard Zinn has died. He was left-wing royalty. Presumably a "historian," Zinn was more a propagandist, yet his "history" is taken seriously by the gullible, especially the gullible who reside in Hollywood mansions. There was recently a History Channel documentary based on his work. He influenced Oliver Stone. Zinn taught at Boston University, whose former president accused him of "poisoning" the academic environment. Sadly, many people ignored that warning.
The New York Times runs an AP obit, which plays it relatively straight:
Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose book “A People’s History of the United States” became a million-selling leftist alternative to mainstream texts, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87 and lived in Auburndale, Mass...
...“A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.
He was one of the founders of the modern "America is terrible" movement.
Even liberal historians were uneasy with Professor Zinn, who taught for many years at Boston University. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”
In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Professor Zinn acknowledged that he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter, not the last, of a new kind of history.
A response? Is this a game? If it's a response, and written by a man teaching in a history department, shouldn't it adhere to high standards of accuracy? Apparently not, for this is a "new" kind of history. From what I've seen, a number of people writing for the mainstream media bought that line.
Say nothing bad about the dead. I was not an admirer. I certainly think there's a place in universities for alternative points of view, well argued. That's what the Great Conversation is about. But some carried it too far, and their influence was not helpful to the expansion of democracy.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
THE DANGER WE FACE – AT 7:08 P.M. ET: Anne Bayefsky, one of the best reporters around today – the UN recently tried to lift her credentials because some delegates griped that she wasn't following the party line – expands on the foreign-policy disgrace in last night's presidential address. From NRO:
President Obama’s message in the State of the Union address confirmed that he is tone-deaf to the grievous threats that exist to American national security and incapable of changing course before those dangers become a terrible reality.
The catastrophe of nuclear proliferation had finally made it to the top of the agenda by the time he took office. But over the past year, this president added disarmament to the same platform. He put the retention of U.S. nuclear weaponry on the U.N. negotiating table alongside Iranian acquisition of such arms. In this State of the Union address he wasn’t shy about reasserting this world view: “We are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people — the threat of nuclear weapons.” By which he meant, in American hands too. The president did not first and foremost promise never to let the genocidal Iranian regime acquire these weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the first national-security priority he articulated was to seek “to reduce our stockpiles and launchers.”
According to President Obama, only by weakening America can we hope to convince our enemies to stand down.
Ouch. Big ouch. Anne is right. This president follows the standard leftist line that we are all to blame. That's why he went around the world apologizing for us early in his term.
President Obama announced that in April he will hold another hand-shaking, hot-air-generating “nuclear security summit” — to control American and Russian arms. As for dealing with Iran, he could not manage to muster a single concrete move, just an empty “they too will face growing consequences.”
From whom? From the UN, where China has a veto? The president doesn't say.
This is an administration that has turned its back on inconvenient victims from Tehran to Tibet to Israel. An administration that has climbed on board the U.N. Human Rights Council, despite its being a tool of Islamic states for defeating rights. And yet the president disingenuously lectured: “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.”
We have asked regularly at Urgent Agenda whether Obama wants to be Kennedy or Carter. I'm afraid we got our answer last night. Welcome to the peanut farm. Jumbos available at slight extra cost.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
A TALE OF TWO PRESIDENTS – AT 6:35 P.M. ET: There's a great deal of comment across the internet on the way foreign and defense policy was almost ignored in the president's speech last night. It's really quite startling, considering the challenges we face. Compare please with a past president:
(CNSNews.com) – President Obama dedicated considerably less of his State of the Union address to foreign policy issues than did five previous presidents in their speeches of similar or shorter length.
About 850 words of Obama’s 7,080-word address – around 12 percent of the total – dealt with foreign affairs.
In contrast, President George W. Bush in his last SOTU devoted some 2,200 words (38 percent of the total) to foreign policy issues. That 2008 speech, Bush’s longest, was more than 1,300 words shorter than Obama’s Wednesday night address.
A comparison of the two speeches reflects the two presidents’ differing priorities.
Obama made one reference to “freedom” (“America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity”) compared to 10 references by Bush in 2008.
“Liberty” did not make an appearance in Wednesday’s speech; Bush used the word eight times.
Obama mentioned “terrorists/terrorism” three times and “al-Qaeda” twice; Bush in 2008 used “terror,” “terrorism” or “terrorists” 23 times and “al-Qaeda” 11 times. Bush additionally used the words “extremists” or “extremism” nine times.
COMMENT: Wasn't Obama the president who was supposed to put America on a higher moral plane? Make us more respected?
Respected among whom? Given his choice of language, we must be doing awfully well among despots, dictators and Iranian mullahs. For them, Obama is change they can believe in.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
WEIRD – AT 6:18 P.M. ET: There is a certain weirdness to the Obama administration. Either they think they can fool us all the time, or they actually believe what they're saying.
Earlier today we reported that Mayor Bloomberg of New York has joined the army of dissenters who believe that it is wrong to try the mastermind of 9-11 right in the heart of Manhattan, in a target-rich (for terrorists) environment. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles Schumer of New York also joined that army today. Feinstein is a senior Democrat regarded as one of the grown-ups of the Senate.
And what is the White House reaction? From The New York Times:
MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – President Obama has not changed his view on whether the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks should face trial in New York City, a White House spokesman said today, despite fresh criticism from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that the proceedings should be moved from Manhattan.
“Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is a murderous thug who has admitted to some of the most heinous crimes ever committed against our country,” Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters. “The president is committed to seeing that he’s brought to justice.”
Mr. Burton was responding to criticism from Mr. Bloomberg and other New York City officials that holding the terrorism trial at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan would be too expensive and disruptive for the city. In addition, Democratic senators like James Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas joined with the Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Susan Collins in writing a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urging that the trials not be held in New York.
COMMENT: As I said, weird. This issue is not whether KSM should be brought to justice. The issue is the risk to New Yorkers and the vast cost of trying him in Manhattan. He can be tried at a secured military base.
The arrogance of the White House response is telling. There is no real acknowledgment of the risks, or of the huge public and Congressional outcry. The attitude is, "We're right, everyone else is wrong." And you wonder what is so important about trying KSM in New York? The symbolism? We can do without it. The 9-11 plot also involved the Pentagon, so trying the culprits at a military base would also be symbolic.
We're not conspiracy theorists here, but we wonder there's some hidden motive. Is it possible that some in the Justice Department want KSM to have a huge media platform, the better to show the "root cause" of terrorism? Is it possible that some in the administration would like a hung jury, or even an acquittal, based on rejection of Bush administration tactics?
There has to be some explanation here other than the official one. There are too many thoughtful opponents, and the reasons given for the Justice Department decision are too flimsy. This requires a Congressional probe, which Democrats will probably block.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
EXPERT WITNESS – AT 10:58 A.M. ET: Urgent Agenda regularly receives information from special sources who cannot be identified. Here is a report from a very knowledgeable American of impeccable credentials about the situation we're now facing in Afghanistan:
The situation in Afghanistan is in steady decline: casualties are up as is the amount of territory under de facto Taliban control. As expected, Obama's delay in providing McChrystal the resources he needs to do authentic counterinsurgency operations is allowing the Taliban to get a little stronger every day. The troops originally requested under Bush/McKiernan are just now arriving and having an impact. It is too little too late, for all the obvious reasons. In a country as remote and compartmented as Afghanistan, the enemy is extremely fungible. With limited assets, a little good done here is undone there because we cannot in be in enough places at once. A couple of observations:
* McChrystal startled me with his extremely blunt embrace of at least some portion of the Taliban in some sort of power-sharing arrangement. This possibility was always tacitly understood, but I was surprised to see it stated so starkly. The Taliban, I think, will read this as a sign that they are winning and they will be reluctant to go to the bargaining table when they think they can win in the field.
* Pakistan's recent "success" against their own Taliban was extremely limited and simply returns things to the status quo: Punjabs are left to rule in Islamabad if the FATA Pashtuns are left to their semi-autonomous territories. This does Afghanistan little good. Pakistan was also recently blunt in outlining their real security interests, interests that do not necessarily align with our own. In a recent Financial Times article, Pakistan’s security establishment, which wields influence over the Afghan Taliban, says it is ready to facilitate talks to end the Afghanistan conflict in return for greater US backing in its competition with India for regional influence.
Counterinsurgency is successful when its civil and military components are complementary and reinforcing. The Petraeus/Crocker model is credited for much of the success we enjoyed in Iraq. So it was interesting to see US Ambassador (to Afghanistan) Eikenberry's cables in the papers stating such pronounced opposition to McChrystal's strategy. The problem may be that while McCrystal is clearly the top dog among the military players in Afghanistan, Eikenberry is just one of many civilian voices who have influence. In any event, it was dismaying to see his position "leaked" to The New York Times, as it must certainly encourage those who wish us ill.
In sum, things have not significantly changed in Afghanistan. Pakistan remains a sanctuary, we do not have enough troops, and the chain of command remains fundamentally dysfunctional, hampered by a NATO structure that is more designed to provide the appearance of solidarity than the actual unity of effort required for military operations.
In fact, the only real change seems to be increasing strictures on our troops' latitude to defend themselves with overwhelming firepower. Though well-intentioned (collateral damage, real or manufactured, is a good Taliban recruiting tool), it will inevitably lead to more coalition casualties as small unit leaders and pilots hesitate at critical moments.
I remain pessimistic. The London Conference is likely to be what such gatherings regarding Afghanistan always are – a good forum for strong postures and forceful words – but it will produce little that commits or binds.
COMMENT: An authoritative, but grim picture. The question is whether we have the leadership in the United States that is committed to overcoming the problems and moving toward victory, or something approximating victory.
Well, Mr. Obama boasted in last night's speech that we're on track to have American forces start leaving Afghanistan in 2011, a pledge he's made to appease his political left. Our enemies undoubtedly noted this, and will plan accordingly. It's hard to be optimistic with the kind of leadership we have in Washington, with no great prospect for change until 2012.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
TOUGHNESS ON IRAN, OR JUST WORDS? – AT 9:50 A.M. ET: President Obama made a (very) brief reference last night to increased pressure on Iran because the Tehran regime has shown no give on its nuclear program.
Problem is, we've heard that line before, and nothing much has actually happened. The president's policy has been to speak loudly and carry a little stick.
Some moves appear to be coming, according to AP, but you have to read between the lines, and on all sides of them:
LONDON -- The Obama administration is preparing to circulate proposed tough new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as early as this week at the United Nations, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The proposed measures, which would target elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps under fresh penalties as well financial institutions under existing U.N. sanctions resolutions, are being finalized and prepared for debate in the U.N. Security Council, the officials said.
Yeah. Been there, done that. Both Russia and China have veto power in the Council, and China has said bluntly that it is opposed to new sanctions.
The officials would not predict when a vote might take place, but said negotiations on a proposed fourth round of U.S. Security Council sanctions could begin within weeks.
Obama's deadline for Iran to show progress in the nuclear talks was December 31st. Oh, he'd had a previous deadline in September. Those deadlines have come and gone, and now we're told that "negotiations" on sanctions might begin "within weeks." Or is that months?
They must be shivering in Tehran as they watch the Obama administration swing into action, uh, well, within weeks.
With Russia, and in particular China, skeptical of any new sanctions efforts, the Americans have to tread carefully to maintain six-power unity on how to deal with Iran.
Wait a second. Just what does that sentence mean? Russia and China oppose new sanctions so we have to tread carefully to maintain "unity"? What kind of unity could that be? What are we unified about?
Do you get the feeling that this "get tough on Iran" policy will wind up in the same place as all previous "get tough on Iran" policies?
Our skepticism overflows. The will seems to be missing. The teeth seem to be missing. The Russians and Chinese are definitely missing.
What precisely is our policy, as Iran gets closer and closer to a nuclear bomb?
January 28, 2010 Permalink
THE TRIALS, NOT – AT 9:12 A.M. ET: This is a building story. There is now a groundswell growing in Congress, and just about everywhere else, against the Justice Department's decision to try the mastermind of 9-11, and some of his bedfellows, in a civilian courtroom in New York City.
Senator Lindsey Graham said he is only one vote short of the number needed to cut off funding for the trial decision, which is intensely unpopular. Obama missed a golden opportunity last night to reverse the Justice Department's boneheaded move, but did not do so. The same Justice Department that decided on the Manhattan trial spectacular also intervened to read the Christmas-day airline bomber his Miranda rights, long before a reasonable interrogation of the dude was completed. Apparently, Obama's Justice team doesn't understand which country it serves.
The only people who seem in favor of the New York trials are Attorney General Eric Holder, the leftist lawyers he brought to his department, and the usual assembly of "progressives" in Congress and around the country who never met a jihadist they didn't "understand."
Now New York's Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who approved the trials originally, has decided that the preservation of his political neck requires a change of opinion:
Responding to growing pressure from downtown residents and business leaders, Mayor Bloomberg yesterday said the trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his fellow terrorists should be moved out of the city.
"It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn't cost $1 billion, which using downtown will, and it will also impact traffic and commerce and people's lifestyles," Bloomberg said.
"And it would be great if we didn't do it."
Earth to Mayor Mike: It isn't just lifestyles we're concerned about. It's deathstyles. Holding that trial in Manhattan puts a bulls-eye right on the back of every New Yorker.
Bloomberg agrees with a resolution from Community Board 1 this week calling on US Attorney General Eric Holder to move the trial out of the city.
If Eric Holder can't get the lower Manhattan ultra-libs on his side, who else is left?
The board suggested another federal site, possibly West Point, an Air National Guard base at Stewart Airport, the federal prison in upstate Otisville, or White Plains federal court.
Uh, now just wait one little moment. The White Plains federal courthouse is right around the corner from where Urgent Agenda is written. Maybe the fellas could pick a more appropriate location. We get enough sirens here as they bring in the "accusees" every day.
Sen. Charles Schumer yesterday also joined the growing list of lawmakers hoping to move the trial out of the city.
COMMENT: I doubt if these trials will ever be held in New York. Too much opposition. This is an issue where a number of Dems in Congress will probably bow to public opinion and refuse to back the Obamans.
Holding the trials in New York is not only dangerous and disruptive, it gives the terror defendants the world's greatest media stage to make their case. Why do I think some of the radicals in the Obama administration thought that would be a fine idea?
January 28, 2010 Permalink
PENNSYLVANIA – AT 8:47 A.M. ET: Poll results for Pennsylvania's upcoming Senate race are dramatic, for a state that usually goes blue. Arlen Specter, formerly a Republican, but now running as a Democrat, is in major trouble.
A new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows conservative Republican Pat Toomey, who will be the GOP candidate, beating Specter, 45% to 31%, a 14-point spread. A recent Rasmussen poll shows Toomey up by nine.
That is considered a Democratic seat because of Specter's switch, and now seems ripe for a GOP takeover in November. With Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, the Dems lost their 60-vote supermajority, the number needed to block a Republican filibuster. It appears there may be further erosion, if current trends continue.
COMMENT: By the way, Obama made an unseemly attack on the Senate in his speech last night, apparently frustrated by Senate rules. We recall no such concern when he was in that body, although he didn't show up enough to notice the rules. He started running for president almost as soon as he became a senator.
January 28, 2010 Permalink
THE SPEECH – AT 8:32 A.M. ET: President Obama gave his State of the Union speech last night. Remember? No, neither do I. No speech fades faster than the SOTU. And there were no great quotes, a characteristic of Obama's eloquent but unmemorable efforts.
Victor Davis Hanson gives us his take on Mr. Obama's address:
After Obama spent 2009 ignoring jobs in order to focus on health care, he tells us that 2010 will be the year of jobs. So after a year of promiscuously talking about higher income, payroll, health-care, and inheritance taxes on “them,” Obama suddenly believes that small business is the engine of growth, and will therefore get new tax cuts and credits.
Likewise, after ignoring or negating his campaign promises about coal, gas, and nuclear power in his first year, suddenly Obama announces that we’re going to develop them!
Some choice Obama tactics, now getting tiresome:
He trotted out the usual straw men: “I was told by some,” “Washington has been telling us,” etc. And once these awful straw men are set up, our hero Obama answers defiantly, “I don’t settle for second place!” The straw-man ploy is now stale.
The “I didn’t ask for” trope: Obama acts as if he bravely endures persecution on our behalf, rejects the easy path, and presses ahead on the difficult path.
The “they did it” trope: So when Obama talks of “lobbying” and “horse trading” on health care, apparently some right-wing nut in the Senate started buying votes at $300 million a clip? The Washington insider who has the White House and Congress blames . . . Washington!
The “Bush did it” trope: So Obama’s deficits are the result of Bush’s spending and weak economy — but is a relatively quiet Iraq due to Bush’s successful surge? No. Obama himself will bring the war in Iraq to a close. He did not offer one word of praise for Bush in a speech calling for unity.
And a few others:
The above-it-all lecturing: After blaming Bush for 30 minutes and castigating the Republicans for “just saying no to everything,” Obama lectures on Washington’s partisan bickering.
The meaningless deadlines and promises: No speechwriter should invoke Iran and a deadline to comply on nonproliferation; no one believes Obama after the past four failed deadlines, and he should give it all a break.
COMMENT: By the way, most of the comment on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's GOP response has been favorable. McDonnell once again showed that he knows how to strike exactly the right tone, one of the things that got him elected governor by a landslide recently, in a state that at times seemed to be drifting toward blue. He also invoked Scott Brown, a gracious thing from a guy who may see Brown as competition for a presidential or vice presidential nod down the line.
January 28, 2010 Permalink