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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Afghanistan, and Beyond

March 31st, 2009 - 8:46 pm

The refusal to see the terror war plain, which blinded the Bush Administration for seven years, continues to bamboozle our strategists.  It looms over the  “new” strategy for defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Afpak).  Listening to the president’s vision for the war–three dead letters his secretary of state proudly and mistakenly consigned to the garbage pail of history a few days ago–reminds me of the story of Mark Twain’s wife and his penchant for blaspheming.  One evening she tried to shock him by unleashing a torrent of four-letter words.  He chuckled, and said, “you’ve got the lyrics, dear, but the music’s all wrong.”

So it is with Obama.  The words are there, from “we will defeat you” to the counterinsurgency terms of art.  He reminds us that Iraqi terrorists abandoned al Qaeda and insists that we have to give Afghan terrorists the same chance.  He reminds us that Iraqi forces have now taken over most of the fighting in their country, and says that we must do the same in Afghanistan.  He calls for engineers, doctors, teachers and construction experts to help create social and political institutions capable of winning the allegiance of most Afghans.  He says that Pakistan and Afghanistan are parts of a broader problem, and he is right.

But the music is all wrong.  Read the speech,  and you’ll see that it doesn’t really parse.  All the pieces are there but they don’t fit together.  Everything is jumbled.  There is no sense of sequence, no recognition that the part he likes–from weaning the terrorists from al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, to building roads and schools and hospitals–can only work once the part he doesn’t like–killing enough bad guys and providing credible security–has succeeded.  He doesn’t seem to understand the essential part of the war, which is that the people on the ground will only commit to one side or another if they conclude that one side is going to win.  Otherwise they will avoid commitment, and seek to curry favor from everyone.

The Anbar Awakening only got going when the locals reached two conclusions: the Marines could not be beaten, and the Marines were not going to leave.  That took a while; the people had to see it and they had to have sufficient security to justify the enormous risk they took when they joined the battle against the terrorists.  The president  seems to think we can and should do everything at once:

In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target al Qaeda in Iraq. We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country.

There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who’ve taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that’s why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province.

I’d be delighted to sign on to this if he just added a clause at the end: “as our enemies are defeated there.”  First you defeat them (creating a decent army and police forces in the process), then you reconcile, and then you build the roads, schools and hospitals.  If you send in the school teachers before you’ve established adequate security, you’ll just provide the terrorists with fodder and hostages.

All too often, the president shows that he thinks negotiations are simply the result of good intentions, and that peace can be accomplished by the right sort of people.  But peace invariably is the result of war, and peace conferences don’t change the world by themselves; they provide a snapshot of a world that has already been changed by war.  A few days before his Afpak speech, the president celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Israel/Egypt peace agreement.  “As we commemorate this historic event, we recall that peace is always possible even in the face of seemingly intractable conflicts,” he said.  And then, referring to his own intentions, he continued:

The success…demonstrated that progress results from sustained     efforts at communication and cooperation…we honor the courage and foresight of these leaders…as we seek to expand the circle of peace among Arabs and Israelis, we take inspiration from what Israel and Egypt achieved three decades ago, knowing that the destination is worthy of the struggle.

But that’s not how it happened.  Not at all. 

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Angleton on Dennis Blair

March 29th, 2009 - 9:23 pm

“Early on, there was an admiral at the head of the CIA, and he was widely regarded as a buffoon.  It was pretty much an article of faith in the old days that you shouldn’t have a seaman running the Agency.  Army was ok (General Smith was great), but no Navy.”

I was chatting with my old friend, the late James Jesus Angleton, via the ouija board, and it was working very well.  The blossoms are out in Washington, and I was a bit worried about interference, but I needn’t have.  Anyway, for once JJA was a bit imprecise.  He was talking about Admiral Raborn, who was indeed badmouthed by Agency old hands for many years.  But he’d apparently forgotten Roscoe Henry Hillenkoetter, another admiral, who had headed up the Central Intelligence Group until the CIA was created by the National Security Act in 1947.  This largely unknown man served honorably and seemingly effectively for nearly three and a half years, and was succeeded by General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s wartime chief of staff.  They were all military guys until Allen Dulles succeeded Smith.

ML: “We’re kind of reverting to our earlier form, aren’t we?  It’s all military guys nowadays, and plenty of admirals…both in the Intelligence Community and at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where Admiral Mullen is firmly in charge, headed for a second term.  And of course we’ve got Admiral Dennis Blair at the top of the pyramid, he’s the Director of National Intelligence.”

JJA: “Yeah.  And he succeeds another admiral, Mike McConnell.  And let’s not forget Admiral Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s DCI.  What a disaster he was!  He tore up the clandestine service, bragged about hiring women and minorities, and was so nutsy that some of the guys put out a phony memo over his signature, modeled on Captain Queeg’s obsession with a bowl of strawberries.”

ML: “So you’re probably skeptical about Admiral Blair, huh?”

JJA: “You bet.  And he hasn’t done much to reassure me.  There was that silly attempt to make Chas Freeman the head of the National Intelligence Council, for example.”

ML: “Yes, it doesn’t look good when one of your first big appointments gets blown up in the Congress.  And then the guy goes ballistic, accusing ‘agents of a foreign power’ of having brought him down.”

JJA: “Ah, yes, that would be the Jewish lobby, I mean the Israel lobby, wouldn’t it?  But the person who pulled the plug on Freeman was a Catholic woman from San Francisco, Speaker Pelosi.  And I don’t think her decision had much to do with Israel policy, it had to do with China.  Freeman had been ambassador there, and couldn’t bring himself to criticize the repression of the democratic dissidents.   On the contrary, he blamed Beijing for being insufficiently vicious.”

ML: “You agree?”

JJA: “Well I have a different sort of objection altogether.  I don’t want intelligence officers to make policy.  That’s not their job.  And Freeman was a policy person, not an intelligence expert.  And he said lots of things that led me to think he would have been a terrible intelligence officer.”

ML: “For example…”

JJA: “For example, he bragged

I’m a very practical man, and my concern is simply this: that there are movements, like Hamas, like Hezbollah, that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans, even though the United States supports their enemy, Israel.

That betrays a colossal ignorance of Hezbollah’s role in Iraq.”

ML: “And how!  We’ve captured many Hezbollah terrorists in Iraq.  And if I remember rightly, an American court recently ordered Iran to pay $25 million to an American family whose son was kidnaped and murdered by Hamas.”

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The I’s Had It

March 22nd, 2009 - 2:22 pm

President Obama has devoted a lot of time to foreign policy this past week, focusing like a laser beam on three countries that begin with the letter “I.”  He gave star billing in Washington to the prime minister of Ireland (who was treated a lot better than British Prime Minister Gordon Brown), during the course of which each read the other’s prepared text, perhaps a new departure in international diplomacy.  He also sent a letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (a member of the now defunct Communist Party), expressing confidence that the United States and Italy would work together “to overcome the current global political and economic hardships and build a safer world.”  The only problem with the letter was that the Italian president does not make policy; that power resides with the prime minister and his cabinet.  Perhaps the White House czars have issued an ukaz stipulating that the American president writes only to his peers, and thus instead of addressing himself to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, President Obama wrote to a man who holds an almost entirely ceremonial position.

This imprecision produced the predictable kerfluffle in Rome, as the leftist media and intellectuals pondered the event and concluded that Obama had deliberately stiffed Berlusconi.  The Italian prime minister thus joins his British counterpart in wondering what hope they are supposed to find in the recent change in diplomatic protocol in Washington.

Then the president turned his charm on the Iranian mullahs, releasing a video message to everyone celebrating Persian New Year, Norooz (or Nowrooz).  He began by explaining the holiday to the Iranians:

“This holiday is both an ancient ritual and a moment of renewal, and I hope that you enjoy this special time of year with friends and family.”

If he was trying to make nice to the mullahs, he should have omitted the “ancient ritual” reference, since that ritual–featuring bonfires (symbols from the ancient Zoroastrian faith) through which people leap and around which they dance–is banned in Iran, and anyone who engages in the ancient ritual is subject to beatings, arrest, and torture.  So, rather like the unfortunate “overcharge” button that Secretary of State Clinton gave the Russian foreign minister, the hoped-for change in our “relationship” with Iran got off to an unfortunate start.

The president continued with warm words for the Iranian people:

“Nowruz is just one part of your great and celebrated culture. Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place. “

True enough, but the whole idea of the Message to Iran was political, and he might have mentioned the long tradition of great and celebrated Persian political thought.  After all, the first known human rights “document” came from Cyrus the Great, and its message is daily rejected by the regime of the Islamic Republic.

Then he provided his vision of the Iranian peoples’ belief in hope and change.   “You will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays,” he earnestly intoned, “by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope.”

NOT.  Most Iranians look to the future with a deepening mood of despair.  The mullahs have long since wrecked the economy, and things are getting worse now, what with the price of oil at one-third its recent highs.  The single word that best describes the state of the Iranian people–to whom Obama explicitly directed these words–is “degradation.”  The drop in Iranian birth rates during the reign of the mullahs is the most dramatic in the history of fertility statistics, and is now below replacement.  The level of opiate addiction is five times that of China at the time of the Opium Wars. Any Iranian hearing the American president talk of renewed hope, would wonder if he was thinking of the Iranians in Beverly Hills, who rule the place.

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The Appeasers

March 15th, 2009 - 8:33 pm

Winston Churchill:  “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

They like to call themselves “realists,” but their proper name is “appeasers.”  They follow in the hollow footsteps of Neville Chamberlain, who signed an agreement with Hitler, believing it signalled “peace in our time.”  But it only encouraged the Fuhrer to believe that there was no will in the West to resist the onslaught of Nazi terror, and thus hastened the onset of the Second World War.  As Churchill darkly told Chamberlain upon his return to London, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

A group of today’s appeasers sent a letter to President-elect Obama just before the Inauguration (so that it was apparently drafted during the Gaza fighting), calling on him to negotiate with Hamas.  Others, such as the British Government, are undertaking negotiations with Hezbollah.  Vice President Joe Biden wants talks with the Taliban.  The pro-Israel Washington Institute wants to tone down the language we use, recommending we stop using phrases like “war on terror,” “global insurgency,” even “the Muslim world.” The president himself wants talks with Iran, as do numerous columnists, such as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen.  Secretary of State Clinton has dispatched diplomats to Damascus to talk to Bashar Assad.

The rationale for this surge in talks was provided in a recent issue of Newsweek, whose cover was in Islamic green, with a title in both Arabic and English:  “Radical Islam is a Fact.  Get Used to It.”  The lead essay was produced by Fareed Zakaria, and called for a more “sophisticated approach” to the Islamic world.  Zakaria argued that many of the radical Islamist groups are not part of a unified global movement against the West, that they had “local” grievances, and that these grievances could be dealt with one by one, presumably leading the groups to make peace with us.

The top “local grievance” is invariably the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Thus, General Scowcroft, one of the artisans of the failed policies of the George H.W. Bush Administration (the one that confessed failure to grasp “the vision thing”), and one of the signatories of the letter to Obama, blandly remarked “I see no reason not to talk to Hamas.”

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The War Against the Antisemites

March 9th, 2009 - 8:39 pm

Tonight we Jews read the Book of Esther, and we celebrate the battle our ancestors won against the antisemites in Persia more than two thousand years ago.  It could not come at a more appropriate time, as Benjamin Netanyahu organizes an Israeli Government whose main task is the protection of the Jews against antisemites in Persia.  Again.

Anyone who wants to learn more about the Book of Esther–and its signal importance in the history of political thought–should read Yoram Hazony’s The Dawn.  It is one of those stories that is generally recounted in a slightly abridged version.  That version goes like this:  King Ahashverosh (probably Xerxes I), “who ruled from Ethiopea to India,” ditched his wife, Vashti, for refusing to show off her natural beauty to the court.  In the ensuing competition, Esther became queen.

At the time, the Emperor’s chief consigliere, Haman (hard not to type ‘Hamas’) was lobbying to get the Emperor to approve the destruction of the Jews of the Empire, and he got Ahashverosh to sign a decree to that end.  Esther’s uncle, Mordechai–who was in considerable trouble because of his hardheaded independence, and refusal to bow before Haman–convinced Esther to appeal to her husband.  She did, and convinced Ahashverosh to protect the Jews.  Haman was hanged, ironically on the very gallows he and his sons had constructed for Mordechai, and Mordechai was elevated to the consigliere post.

And that is where most people think the story ends, but there is more, much more. For although Haman was gone, the decree–which had authorized a day of slaughter of the Jews–was still on the books, and could not be revoked.  So Mordechai travels all over the Empire, organizing and rallying the Jews to fight.  When the dreaded day comes, the Jews prevail, killing more than 76,000 antisemites.  That is indeed cause for celebration.

The Book of Esther is remarkably modern.  The Almighty does not make an appearance.  Everything is done by men and women, without Divine assistance.  The Jews themselves must fight for their survival, against the usual overwhelming odds.  Today’s antisemites will no doubt recognize the fingerprints of the Jewish Lobby, convincing the Emperor to act against what they might ‘realistically’ define as his own best interests.  And then the surprising ferocity of Jewish fighters, against steep odds, wiping out those who had planned their doom.

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Peggy and the Marines

March 6th, 2009 - 9:16 pm

A great article by Peggy Noonan on the Marines in San Diego.  A marine plane was going down, the pilot ejected at the last minute, the plane went into a house and killed three people.

It happens.  It’s terrible.  And then the Marines investigated.  They found incompetence and failure.  They punished ALL of them.  And Peggy makes the correct and important point:  Actually, a navy pilot made it and told her about it:

The day after the report I heard from a young Naval aviator in predeployment training north of San Diego. He flies a Super Hornet, sister ship to the plane that went down. He said the Marine investigation “kept me up last night” because of how it contrasted with “the buck-passing we see” in the government and on Wall Street. He and his squadron were in range of San Diego television stations when they carried the report’s conclusions live. He’d never seen “our entire wardroom crowded around a television” before. They watched “with bated breath.” At the end they were impressed with the public nature of the criticism, and its candor: “There are still elements within the government that take personal responsibility seriously.” He found himself wondering if the Marines had been “too hard on themselves.” “But they are, after all, Marines.”

Yes.  They are, after all, Marines.  This is one more example of a superior organization at work.  Being the father of Marines is an intense experience, especially when your son is in combat, but the pride that goes along with the anxiety is like none other, because you know that he’s one of the very best this society can produce, and he’s fighting alongside others like him, and commanded by others of the same ilk.

If we’re going to get through this bad patch, this is the sort of model that must inspire us, and which we must demand of our leaders, civilian and military.

No wonder Machiavelli always said that virtue was, in its essence, military.

The New Yorker Strikes Again

March 5th, 2009 - 9:35 pm

Hendrik Hertzberg writes

“One of the signs that a political movement may be approaching terminal decline is when its more excitable elements begin to see ‘fascism’ where none exists.”  And then he accuses me of accusing Obama of being a fascist.

One of the signs that a political guru may be approaching terminal decline is when he loses the ability to read.  I wrote that Newsweek was wrong to say “we are all socialists,” because Obama et. al. aren’t at all interested in abolishing private property.  But they are very interested in controlling large sectors of the economy, and of creating public-private partnerships and joint ventures.  Just as Mussolini was.  It’s what the “corporate state” was all about.

I said that this similarity with the fascist state did NOT extend beyond the economic sphere.  Had Mr. Hertzberg  still the ability to read, he’d have seen this:

The economics of the current expansion of state power in America are, as I said, “fascist,” but the politics are not.  We are not witnessing “American Fascism on the march.”  Fascism was a war ideology and grew out of the terrible slaughter of the First World War.  Fascism hailed the men who fought and prevailed on the battlefield, and wrapped itself in the well-established rhetoric of European nationalism, which does not exist in America and never has.  Our liberties are indeed threatened, but by a tyranny of a very different sort.

I’m sorry to see that Mr. H is losing it.  The ability to read, that is.

We’ve got a new Iran expert, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, whose expertise stems from a short visit that brought him in touch with a few people, and, now famously, some Iranian Jews.  He kicked off a firestorm of criticism for his claim that the Iranian Jews were well treated, worship feely, and did not fear the regime, although from time to time Jews were falsely accused of things.  More broadly, he denounced those who hold a “mad mullahs” view of Iran, and was particularly exercised by claims that Iran is similar to Nazi Germany.

He has now responded to his critics and reiterated some of his earlier claims.

Let’s be clear: Iran’s Islamic Republic is no Third Reich redux. Nor is it a totalitarian state.

Munich allowed Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland. Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries.

Totalitarian regimes require the complete subservience of the individual to the state and tolerate only one party to which all institutions are subordinated. Iran is an un-free society with a keen, intermittently brutal apparatus of repression, but it’s far from meeting these criteria. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist. Anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable.

This sort of talk bespeaks several things, from an ignorance of totalitarianism, to the history of Nazi Germany, and a blindness to evil.  The mullahs certainly require total subservience, and the ideology of the Islamic Republic is strikingly similar to that of the fascists in the 1930s.  “Intermittently brutal”?  You could have said the same thing about Hitler in the years before the war.  He didn’t become Chancellor one day and start killing the Jews the next; he tried various ways of getting rid of the Jews, of which the Holocaust was the “final solution.”  Before that, there was discrimination (Jews eliminated from certain professions), then ghettos, labor camps, and emigration.  Only when the war was in full swing, and the rest of the world had refused to take in the Jews, did the extermination begin.

As for the regime’s attitude toward the Jews, we have two clear negative indicators: the relentless campaign of Holocaust denial by President Ahmadinejad, and the recent crackdown on critics, many of whom were accused of spying for Israel.  I think the Iranian Jews are nuts to stay there, and I’m not at all sure they would be permitted to leave.  It serves the interests of the regime to have 25,000 hostages on call.  They love hostages.

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