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SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2010
JOINING THE HARD-LINERS – AT 7:30 P.M. ET: Add CIA chief Leon Panetta, who also happened to be Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff, to the foreign-policy group led by Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates. These are the adults, unlike the Samantha Power crowd, whose greatest craving is an honorary degree from Harvard and a kiss from the UN secretary general.
Panetta gives a serious warning:
WASHINGTON – CIA Director Leon Panetta says Iran probably has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear weapons, but that it likely would take two years to build the bombs.
Panetta also says he is doubtful that recent U.N. penalties will put an end to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
He says the penalties could help to weaken Tehran's government by creating serious economic problems. But he adds, "Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not."
And he is correct.
Panetta tells ABC's "This Week" that there is "some debate" as to whether Iran will proceed with the bomb.
There is indeed debate, but I suspect it's mostly among Western foreign policy pundits. Iran would not come this far, at such huge expense, and in the face of international pressure, simply to produce nuclear power plants to recharge iPods.
But Panetta is wise to suggest the possibility that Iran may not actually build bombs, but stop just short, retaining the technology. That may give Iran the best of worlds – the capacity to build weapons quickly, but an easing of sanctions.
We'll stand by. So far, nothing we've done has deterred Iran, and Obama does not exactly project an image of strength.
June 27, 2010 Permalink
BRITISH VIEW OF OBAMA'S AFGHAN ANTICS – AT 6:50 A.M. ET: The Brits were among the first of our allies to become skeptical about our prince, and that skepticism has only grown.
British reporters at the G-20 in Toronto have reported meetings between Obama and newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron with barely concealed hostility toward the president. Obama is believed to have tried to end the special relationship between Britain and America, which would certainly be consistent with Obama's world view. Democracies: Imperialists. Dictatorships: We must reach out.
Now Toby Harnden of The Telegraph examines Obama's Afghanistan moves, and tut tuts:
How wrong the conventional wisdom can be. Obama's actions in dragging McChrystal back to Washington and personally sacking him in as dramatic a fashion as possible in fact displayed weakness. They also avoided the real problem - his confused Afghanistan policy and dysfunctional civilian team.
No one would pretend that the profane, juvenile banter of McChrystal and his aides was clever or appropriate, never mind in the presence of an iconoclastic Rolling Stone reporter. The general, a legendary combat leader who engaged in fire fights in Iraq alongside SAS troopers while in his 50s, deserved to be reprimanded.
Inartful and ill-advised as the words were, however, they also spoke to a justifiable deep frustration within the US military in Afghanistan and contained a degree of truth about Obama's civilian officials that made the famously thin-skinned President decidedly uncomfortable.
I'm glad someone said it.
Team America, of course, was a bit dismissive of Obama himself and that cannot have gone down well with the self-regarding occupant of the Oval Office. Even more difficult to take must have been the warm words they had for Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, who large numbers of Democrats and even many Republicans now wish had prevailed in 2008.
Obama will find a way to get Hillary. Maybe an amorous male intern with a mother complex...
It has not escaped the attention of the anti-war Left that although firing McChrystal was justified as a way of asserting civilian control over the military, the result is the opposite. Petraeus is a much more popular figure than Obama and has deeper ties across the full spectrum of the Washington establishment than any general since Colin Powell (who, incidentally, Obama consulted about firing McChrystal).
The reality is that Petraeus can pretty much do what he wants now. Obama probably wouldn't sack him if he kneed Biden in the groin. Petraeus, as was his acolyte McChrystal, is rightly sceptical about Obama's promise to start withdrawing troops from July 2011.
The Obama, Clinton, Petraeus axis will be the most fascinating to watch in the coming two years...unless one or more resign.
So Obama would do well to avoid congratulating himself on winning last week's news cycle by brutally ending McChrystal's illustrious career. He has further alienated the broader military constituency and done nothing to curtail the in-fighting among his top foreign policy officials...
COMMENT: What an endorsement. What visitor from Mars would know that Obama was seen as a near- godlike figure less than two years ago. Now, as it was reported, his first question upon arriving in Canada for the G-20 was where the good golf courses were.
June 27, 2010 Permalink
QUOTE OF THE DAY – AT 11:01 A.M. ET: Silvio Canto Jr., on whose radio show I regularly appear, and whose website is here, alerts us to a column in The Economist, which well defines, in this quote, Obama's problem in trying to be commander-in-chief:
But the real failing exposed by the McChrystal fiasco is that the senior members of the president’s national-security team are at sixes and sevens and that he has allowed them to stay that way for a while. It has, accordingly, not taken long for this week’s events to revive the question of whether the Democrats can handle the armed forces as well as the Republicans. Les Gelb, a veteran journalist and former Pentagon official, suggests that the generals have more faith in Republican politicians to issue clear orders and stay the course when wars turn sour.
Mr Obama, it seems, wants it both ways. That is understandable. Like Johnson before him, he is torn between his desire to build a liberal America at home and his need to fight an old-fashioned war abroad. He wants to succeed in Afghanistan but senses the limits of what America can achieve there. He would like the courage of his convictions but also a second term. To square these wants he may therefore have been a bit too clever for his own good. The great review last autumn produced a plan that both ramped up the war in a hurry and, with an eye on the 2012 election, set a date of July 2011 to begin to wind it down as well. The aim was to give the generals a chance to make progress and himself a chance to extract the forces if the generals failed.
It is ingenious—far more so than the refusal of Mr Bush to believe the experts who told him the Iraq war was lost. But winning a war can require a single-minded will as well as a subtle brain. Mr Obama has the latter; whether he has the stubbornness to stick to an unpopular war remains to be seen.
Very well said. I would add that most military people I know have more faith in Republicans to uphold the nation's values. We are not, after all, dealing with the Democratic Party of FDR, Truman, or Kennedy. This is McGovern's party, a party that is instinctively anti-military and even isolationist.
No president should have to prove himself to generals. It's usually the other way around. But, in the real world, not the world of Constitutional theory, the military must have confidence in its leaders. Our fighters in Afghanistan will have confidence in David Petraeus. Will they have confidence in their commander-in-chief? That will depend on him, and no amount of media hype about him can sway troops in the field.
June 27, 2010 Permalink
OBAMA GETS LUKEWARM PUBLIC SUPPORT ON McCHRYSTAL FIRING – AT 10:51 A.M. ET: Scott Rasmussen reports that the public supports President Obama's decision to send Gen. McChrystal to the showers, but that the level of support is hardly overwhelming:
Forty-seven percent (47%) of U.S. voters agree that it was appropriate for President Obama to fire America’s top commander in Afghanistan this week, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Thirty-six percent (36%) disagree and say the president should not have removed General Stanley McChrystal from his command. Another 17% are not sure.
Just 32%, however, believe it was appropriate for McChrystal to criticize the president and other top U.S. officials in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Fifty percent (50%) feel the general’s public comments were not appropriate. Nearly one-out-of-five voters (18%) are undecided.
Obama's action has not resulted in any bump in the polls. From this morning's Rasmussen report:
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 25% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15 (see trends).
Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president's performance. Fifty-four percent (54%) disapprove.
While those numbers are a bit of an improvement over Obama's recent lows, they hardly suggest a "let's rally behind the commander-in-chief mood." More of a "we've been burned before, so let's wait and see." I'd vote for the second one.
June 27, 2010 Permalink
REBOOTING AFGHANISTAN – AT 10:33 A.M. ET: Comments in the days since Gen. David Petraeus was made commander in Afghanistan indicate that Republicans and even mature Democrats (who meet periodically in a small closet) are ready to allow flexibility in Afghanistan, with an eye toward success. From The Politico:
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that Gen. David Petraeus should be given flexibility to work around the July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and should be allowed to choose his own civilian team.
"It is a major change in the middle of the surge. And I think you put the general in. He should make the call. If he can't work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. ... I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus’ basket," Feinstein said on "Fox News Sunday."
If Petraeus needs more time to complete the mission in Afghanistan, "I would say give it to him, absolutely,” Feinstein said. “I think that he has flexibility, realistically."
Graham, also on Fox, said he wants clarity on what the withdraw date means.
If it is a goal where we all will try to start transferring power over to the Afghans, I’m OK with that," he said. "If it’s a date where people begin to leave no matter what, a predetermined withdraw date, that in my view it will doom this operation.”
Some sound comments there, especially about giving Petraeus his own civilian team. He's got to have far more cooperation from the ambassador than McChrystal had.
CIA Director Leon Panetta detailed Sunday what a win in the Afghanistan war would look like:
"Winning in Afghanistan is having an country that is stable enough to ensure there is no safety for Al Qaeda for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaeda," Panetta said on ABC's This Week. "That is really the measure of success for us.Our purpose, our whole mission is to make sure that Al Queda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country. That is the fundamental goal of why the U.S. is there. The measure of success for is: Do you have an Afghanistan stable enough to make sure that never happens?"
Panetta is one of the adults in the Obama administration. That's a solid statement. But the key questions remain: Does Barack Obama agree with that sentiment, and is he willing to stand up to his left wing to achieve success?
I don't think those questions have been satisfactorily answered.
We are making an assumption here that Afghanistan can be won. There are many thoughtful people, including Urgent Agenda readers, who believe that it can't, and that withdrawal may be in our interest. Because these well-reasoned people may be right, and one made a powerful case at our Angel's Corner, it is up to the administration to come up with a strategy and resources that convince us that the fight is worth it.
June 27, 2010 Permalink
SATURDAY, JUNE 26, 2010
OUTRAGEOUS, DISGRACEFUL, REQUIRES AN APOLOGY – AT 8:29 P.M. ET: As readers know, we follow the sins of the media here, but rarely have I seen a piece of journalism, from a major source, as distorted and irresponsible as this. It's from The Politico, which usually does much better:
Former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin on Friday encouraged her supporters to read an article comparing the BP escrow fund to Nazism.
“This is about the rule of law vs. an unconstitutional power grab,” Palin tweeted, urging her followers to “Read Thomas Sowell’s article.”
The article Palin points to was published on Monday and likens President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler, saying the U.S. president is stripping away the freedom of his citizens without mass protest.
That is a complete outrage. The whole premise of this piece, by Andy Barr, is an outrage. Thomas Sowell, one of the most careful writers of our time, was merely indicating, from history, how freedom is lost. He was certainly not comparing Obama to Hitler.
“When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics,” Sowell wrote.
“In our times, American democracy is being dismantled piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.”
Sowell then wrote that Obama is exceeding his legal authority by creating the $20 billion fund, designed to pay claims for damages resulting from the ongoing oil spill off the Gulf Coast.
“Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere,” the conservative columnist wrote.
“And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Sowell also compares the American public under Obama to the “useful idiots” who followed Lenin's creation of the Soviet Union.
You can read Tom Sowell's excellent piece here. He also cites Franklin D. Roosevelt as someone who improperly expanded executive power. So I guess that means Roosevelt and Hitler were the same.
And the "useful idiots" reference? Here it is, from Sowell:
"Useful idiots" was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.
Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive.
Gee, you have to be informed. That's really dangerous stuff. Why that's, that's, that's McCARTHYISM. Oh my God.
Oh yes, Tom Sowell uses "useful idiots" once more in his piece:
Those who cannot see beyond the immediate events to the issues of arbitrary power — vs. the rule of law and the preservation of freedom — are the "useful idiots" of our time. But useful to whom?
COMMENT: This attempt to accuse Professor Sowell of linking Obama with Hitler and Lenin, and then to accuse Sarah Palin of endorsing such a comparison, is gutter-level journalism. This should never have gotten by an editor. Shame.
June 26, 2010 Permalink
CIVILIZATION ADVANCES – AT 8:22 P.M. ET: As Western economies collapse, and Iran moves closer to a nuclear bomb, leave it to the European Union to maintain the greatness of our civilization with new, innovative practices. From London's Daily Mail:
British shoppers are to be banned from buying eggs by the dozen under new regulations approved by the European Parliament.
For the first time, eggs and other products such as oranges and bread rolls will be sold by weight instead of by the number contained in a packet.
Until now, Britain has been exempt from EU regulations that forbid the selling of goods by number. But last week MEPs voted to end Britain’s deal despite objections from UK members.
The new rules will mean that instead of packaging telling shoppers a box contains six eggs, it will show the weight in grams of the eggs inside, for example 372g.
COMMENT: Well, any concerns about the collapse of the West should now be eased. This is the kind of change that guarantees our values for the next thousand years.
Okay, stop choking. If the Obama crowd gets its way, we'll have this kind of federal regulation within the next few years.
June 26, 2010 Permalink
DEAR LEADER AT WORK, FOCUSED ON THE GREAT ISSUES – AT 11:43 A.M. ET: The president is in Huntsville, Ontario, with the G-20, discussing global economic and military issues. His mind is keen. His mind focuses like a laser:
When U.S. President Barack Obama stepped off his helicopter in Huntsville on Friday, the first thing he said was, “You’ve got a lot of golf courses here, don’t you?” Industry Minister Tony Clement told the National Post in an exclusive interview.
“I told him, ‘We would really recommend and love it if you could come back here with Michelle and the kids at some point — we think you’d really love it here,’” Minister Clement said on the sidewalk of Huntsville’s Main Street, in his home riding. “I think I’ve planted a seed in the President’s mind.”
COMMENT: I think we all sleep better knowing that this man is watching over us. But, just to be sure, keep a shotgun next to your bed.
June 26, 2010 Permalink
FROM THE WORLD OF AMATEURISM – AT 10:49 A.M. ET: There are many lessons to be learned in dealing with the press, but one of the first is that there is no such thing as "off the record."
Oh yes, the term is used, has a generally accepted meaning, and most journalists play by the rules. But some don't, or find a way around those rules.
Today there are some in the military who are suggesting that General McChrystal and his staff were betrayed by the Rolling Stone reporter who revealed the comments that got McChrystal fired. From The Politico:
And from the department of a day late and a dollar short, a “senior military official” has told the Post that maybe all that locker room talk Michael Hastings scribbled in his notebook wasn’t on the record after all.
But the command has concluded from its own review of events that McChrystal was betrayed when the journalist quoted banter among the general and his staff, much of which they thought was off the record. They contend that the magazine inaccurately depicted the attribution ground rules for the interviews.
"Many of the sessions were off-the-record and intended to give [reporter Michael Hastings] a sense" of how McChrystal's team operated, according to a senior military official. The command's own review of events, the official said, gleaned "no evidence to suggest" that any of the "salacious political quotes" in the article were made during a series of on-the-record and background interviews Hastings conducted with McChrystal and others.
But why wait until two days after the general is fired to say it? And then not even go on the record yourself?
Too late, too late. You don't make damaging comments with reporters around, even if you think you're off the record. Government leaks like the Titanic after it met the iceberg.
And trust a reporter from a traditionally anti-military publication like Rolling Stone? What were these boys thinking?
Journalist embeds are usually embedded with the troops, at a level far lower than the area command. The McChrystal experience is going to make senior officers shy about giving a reporter this kind of access to the top again.
June 26, 2010 Permalink
A WARNING ABOUT TERROR – AT 10:32 A.M. ET: You'd think the Obamans would have gotten the message by now: Important government positions must be filled, and offices must be up and running, especially when the safety of the population is involved.
Apparently, the memo got misfiled, as Fox reports:
Vacancies in the United States' intelligence leadership, including the director of national intelligence and his chief deputies, are raising alarms over a potential "train wreck" of vulnerability, intelligence sources and others on Capitol Hill tell Fox News.
The goal of the national director is to maximize assets across the intelligence community. But the senior Republican on the House intelligence committee says that is not happening because the position, the nation’s top intelligence official, is now subordinate to the White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.
“The other DNIs have always been very, very professional. They've never been political. Under this administration, John Brennan has politicized intelligence. That's the danger here,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan said, adding that Brennan is not subject to congressional oversight as a presidential appointee.
The job opened up when previous Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was forced out last month after a series of apparent intelligence failures raised questions about the country's preparedness for detecting and stopping new terror plots.
The president's choice to replace Blair is James Clapper, a retired Air Force general and currently the top intelligence official within the defense department, but he still needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
COMMENT: It is only a matter of time before there's another attempted terror attack on the United States. An election year would be a good time for terror groups to try to shake things up and embarrass the president, if this president can be embarrassed.
There are other reports that government agencies, almost nine years after 9-11, are still not prepared to handle a mass attack. Well, I can't confirm that, but please note the federal response to the oil spill. Fill you with confidence?
June 26, 2010 Permalink
THE HEAT IS ON – AT 10:02 A.M. ET: One of the most distressing foreign policy developments has been the drift of Turkey, a member of NATO, away from the West and toward the Islamic countries of the Mideast. The State Department has noticed:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is warning Turkey that it is alienating U.S. supporters and needs to demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.
The remarks by Philip Gordon, the Obama administration's top diplomat on European affairs, were a rare admonishment of a crucial NATO ally.
''We think Turkey remains committed to NATO, Europe and the United States, but that needs to be demonstrated,'' Gordon told The Associated Press in an interview this week. ''There are people asking questions about it in a way that is new, and that in itself is a bad thing that makes it harder for the United States to support some of the things that Turkey would like to see us support.''
The "people" Gordon is referring to are congressional leaders, traditionally supportive of "our Turkish ally" who have issued warnings about Turkey's recent Islamic drift.
Gordon cited Turkey's vote against a U.S.-backed United Nations Security Council resolution on new sanctions against Iran and noted Turkish rhetoric after Israel's deadly assault on a Gaza-bound flotilla last month. The Security Council vote came shortly after Turkey and Brazil, to Washington's annoyance, had brokered a nuclear fuel-swap deal with Iran as an effort to delay or avoid new sanctions.
COMMENT: The statement is good, but will have to be followed by some vigorous private diplomacy. Turkey has access to NATO's classified information and, as a member, can veto some NATO decisions. The Turkey government that's been in power for about eight years has moved the country, step by step, toward the Mideast and away from Europe.
There may well have to come a point where Turkey risks expulsion from NATO if it continues on its current course, hostile to the West and to the United States.
At least State shows signs of concern.
June 26, 2010 Permalink