Tag Archives: Henry Farrell

You Can’t Spell “Assange” Without…

Sarah Ellison at Vanity Fair:

On the afternoon of November 1, 2010, Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.org, marched with his lawyer into the London office of Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier. The encounter was one among many twists and turns in the collaboration between WikiLeaks—a four-year-old nonprofit that accepts anonymous submissions of previously secret material and publishes them on its Web site—and some of the world’s most respected newspapers. The collaboration was unprecedented, and brought global attention to a cache of confidential documents—embarrassing when not disturbing—about American military and diplomatic activity around the world. But the partnership was also troubled from the start.

In Rusbridger’s office, Assange’s position was rife with ironies. An unwavering advocate of full, unfettered disclosure of primary-source material, Assange was now seeking to keep highly sensitive information from reaching a broader audience. He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents, and they ended up at The Guardian in such a way that the paper was released from its previous agreement with Assange—that The Guardian would publish its stories only when Assange gave his permission. Enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic:

Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison has penned an extraordinary look into the relationship between Wikileaks and the traditional journalism outfits that have collaborated with it

Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic

Jack Shafer at Slate:

Julian Assange gives everybody headaches.

Not just the U.S. Department of State. Not just the Pentagon or Attorney General Eric Holder, who wants to indict Assange for something—anything. Not just Bank of America, which Assange has hinted will be the next to fall into his crosshairs. According to a Vanity Fair feature from the February 2011 issue, embargoed by the magazine until midnight, Jan. 5, the WikiLeaks founder has even been driving the news organizations he feeds absolutely nuts.

Assange bedevils the journalists who work with him because he refuses to conform to any of the roles they expect him to play. He acts like a leaking source when it suits him. He masquerades as publisher or newspaper syndicate when that’s advantageous. Like a PR agent, he manipulates news organizations to maximize publicity for his “clients,” or when moved to, he threatens to throw info-bombs like an agent provocateur. He’s a wily shape-shifter who won’t sit still, an unpredictable negotiator who is forever changing the terms of the deal.

“The Man Who Spilled the Secrets,” written by Sarah Ellison, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of War at the Wall Street Journal, also supplies a pocket history of the financially stressed, trust-supported Guardian. But the real meat is Assange’s relationship with the press, primarily the Guardian.

Assange started collaborating with the paper in 2010 after its star reporter, Nick Davies, convinced him that sharing raw data with a news organization would give the leaks greater visibility than merely publishing them on the WikiLeaks Web site. Once the Assange connection was made, the Guardian brought in the New York Times. Assange, flexing his proprietary rights, recruited Der Spiegel—“without consulting anyone at the Guardian or the Times,” Ellison writes—for the publication of the Afghanistan war leaks in July 2010.

The Der Spiegel deal ruffled the Guardian, as did Assange’s eventual inclusion of Britain’s Channel 4 TV network in the Afghan-files “consortium.” The Guardian‘s Davies felt so betrayed by Assange, Ellison reports, that the two have not spoken since.

Davies’ ire is only natural. All reporters become possessive of their sources. Even the most humble journalist will talk about his sources as if the individuals supplying information actually belong to him. These journalists grow furious when their sources work with other journalists. I’ve heard reporters speak with such intense pride about the sources they’ve cultivated that they make them sound like heirloom tomatoes that have been brought to vine-ripened perfection. More than anything, journalists expect a combination of trust and servility from their leakers.

Davies of the Guardian and others in the media seem to have misjudged Assange, thinking him just another source. Assange would probably slap you if you called him a “source” to his face. He calls himself a practitioner of “scientific journalism,” and while the label may be vainglorious, Assange isn’t completely loony. He has routinely published carefully collected, vital information on WikiLeaks.org. You can criticize the journalistic quality of his pages, but you can’t say they aren’t acts of journalism: They have steadily revealed unknown facts worth knowing.

Felix Salmon:

Instead, there seems to be something about Assange personally which sets people on edge and makes them dislike him intensely: his biggest fans are often those who have never met him or who have known him only for a very short amount of time.

That’s unfortunate, to say the least: it takes an issue which is messy to begin with and makes it a great deal messier. But at the same time, Assange has clearly been under an enormous deal of stress — and this is a man who once checked himself into hospital with depression after being charged with computer hacking in Australia. It’s easy to see how he wouldn’t have considered that to be an option in recent months.

My suspicion is that there’s something quite unstable and destructive about Assange’s current mental state and that there has been since before he was in Sweden. I hope his publishers have a lot of patience: getting his very expensive book into a publishable state could be a very arduous process indeed.

Henry Farrell:

Taken together, these suggest that Wikileaks-type phenomena are nowhere near as invulnerable to concerted state action as some of the more glib commentators have suggested. It needs money and proper organizational structures to work. The piece hints that the current version of Wikileaks – which seems an awkward amalgam of open source style volunteerism and personality cult – is on the brink of collapse. It also needs to be able to build and maintain connections with external organizations, both to get resources in, and to get information out. These present obvious vulnerabilities. They also suggest that it will be far more difficult to create a multitude of mini-Wikileaks than it appears at first sight. You need more than a secure connection and a website to make this model work. At a minimum, you need enough of an organization to be able to build and retain links with bigger media.

Finally, the most interesting consequence of Wikileaks is not that it has released much genuinely new information into the world (there are some consequential facts that were not widely known, but they are a relatively small part of the story). It is that it is redefining the boundary between facts that ‘everybody’ (for political elite values of ‘everybody’) knows but that are non-actionable in the public space, because they are not publicly confirmable, and facts that are both perceived as politically salient and confirmable, and hence are legitimate ‘news.’ Wikileaks means that many issues that are known are now also confirmably known, and confirmed as being known by the gatekeepers of public knowledge. I strongly suspect that this would not be true if Assange had not struck alliances with respected media organizations. The interesting action is precisely in the interaction between media organizations and organizations like Wikileaks, which are neither traditional sources nor media organizations themselves. This relationship is what will largely determine how the balance between ‘news’ and politically salient but non-actionable information shifts.

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Mighty, Mighty Voodoo

Martin Wolf at Financial Times:

To understand modern Republican thinking on fiscal policy, we need to go back to perhaps the most politically brilliant (albeit economically unconvincing) idea in the history of fiscal policy: “supply-side economics”. Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets. Supply-side economics said that one could cut taxes and balance budgets, because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.

The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch?

How did supply-side economics bring these benefits? First, it allowed conservatives to ignore deficits. They could argue that, whatever the impact of the tax cuts in the short run, they would bring the budget back into balance, in the longer run. Second, the theory gave an economic justification – the argument from incentives – for lowering taxes on politically important supporters. Finally, if deficits did not, in fact, disappear, conservatives could fall back on the “starve the beast” theory: deficits would create a fiscal crisis that would force the government to cut spending and even destroy the hated welfare state.

In this way, the Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. This innovative stance proved highly politically effective, consistently putting the Democrats at a political disadvantage. It also made the Republicans de facto Keynesians in a de facto Keynesian nation. Whatever the rhetoric, I have long considered the US the advanced world’s most Keynesian nation – the one in which government (including the Federal Reserve) is most expected to generate healthy demand at all times, largely because jobs are, in the US, the only safety net for those of working age.

True, the theory that cuts would pay for themselves has proved altogether wrong. That this might well be the case was evident: cutting tax rates from, say, 30 per cent to zero would unambiguously reduce revenue to zero. This is not to argue there were no incentive effects. But they were not large enough to offset the fiscal impact of the cuts (see, on this, Wikipedia and a nice chart from Paul Krugman).

Indeed, Greg Mankiw, no less, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, has responded to the view that broad-based tax cuts would pay for themselves, as follows: “I did not find such a claim credible, based on the available evidence. I never have, and I still don’t.” Indeed, he has referred to those who believe this as “charlatans and cranks”. Those are his words, not mine, though I agree. They apply, in force, to contemporary Republicans, alas,

Kevin Drum:

You should read the whole post. It’s mostly a recap of the past 30 years of Republican economic nihilism, but it’s a very clear, crisp recap. Wolf’s conclusion is sobering:

This is extraordinarily dangerous. The danger does not arise from the fiscal deficits of today, but the attitudes to fiscal policy, over the long run, of one of the two main parties. Those radical conservatives (a small minority, I hope) who want to destroy the credit of the US federal government may succeed. If so, that would be the end of the US era of global dominance. The destruction of fiscal credibility could be the outcome of the policies of the party that considers itself the most patriotic.

Our best hope, I think, is that Republicans nominate a Palin/Ryan ticket in 2012 and then go down to such an epic defeat that they finally get some sense knocked into them. On the other hand, the last time that happened we got Richard Nixon out of the deal. So maybe we’re just doomed no matter what.

Brad DeLong:

Like Paul Krugman, Martin Wolf is (almost) always right. And as in the case of Paul Krugman, given that Martin Wolf is (almost) always right I really really really wish he would be a little more optimistic. Perhaps if he drank more expensive wines at dinner?

Here Martin makes the case that America’s future depends on the rapid destruction of the Republican Party and its replacement by an alternative opposition party to the Democrats

Paul Krugman:

Wolf’s argument and main points are similar to those I made in a recent column; that’s not a criticism, because we need more people saying this.

Martin ends on a deeply pessimistic note. I wish I could disagree.

Doug J.:

I’m not sure that I agree that supply-side economics was the dominant factor in transforming Republicans from a minority party into a majority party; I don’t think the Republicans have been a majority party for many of the past 30 years and, to the extent that they have been, regional realignment based on opposition to civil rights has been the most important factor, IMHO.

That said, the supply side myth is, truly, economic crack cocaine that has the potential to bring about something as cataclysmic as a US government default—something many conservatives say they would welcome. The only thing that is likely to stop it is a demographic trend that may marginalize the Republican party.

Henry Farrell:

Martin Wolf in the FT today

Whatever the rhetoric, I have long considered the US the advanced world’s most Keynesian nation – the one in which government (including the Federal Reserve) is most expected to generate healthy demand at all times, largely because jobs are, in the US, the only safety net for those of working age.

I’m not sure I agree (or more precisely: your level of agreement with this statement will depend on exactly how you want to define Keynesianism) – but it’s worth pointing out that this is at the least quite consonant with Tyler Cowen’s arguments about Germany. On the one hand, this intellectual convergence could be taken as suggesting that Tyler’s case suggests that German-style social democracy works better than US style Keynesianism (an argument which I think Tyler agrees with, at least with respect to Germans). On the other, it could be taken as suggesting that despite Wolf’s frequent minatory statements about the external consequences of the German model, he believes that it works better in relative terms than US-style Keynesianism in providing internal economic security and political stability. Certainly, he is quite skeptical about the prospects of the US economic system given Republicans’ role as a blocking minority and perhaps majority in the near future (his most provocative suggestion is that Republicans are a perverted species of Keynesians).

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Erlernen Sie Von Uns, Amerika

Tyler Cowen at New York Times:

IN many countries, including the United States, there are calls for the government to spend more to jump-start the economy, and to avoid the temptation to cut back as debts mount.

Germany, however, has decided to cast its lot with fiscal prudence. It has managed rising growth and falling unemployment, while putting together a plan for a nearly balanced budget within six years. On fiscal policy and economic recovery, Americans could learn something from the German example.

Twentieth-century history may help explain German behavior today. After all, the Germans lost two World Wars, experienced the Weimar hyperinflation and saw their country divided and partly ruined by Communism. What an American considers as bad economic times, a German might see as relative prosperity. That perspective helps support a greater concern with long-run fiscal caution, because it is not assumed that a brighter future will pay all the bills.

Even if this pessimism proves wrong more often than not, it is like buying earthquake or fire insurance: sometimes it comes in handy. You can’t judge the policy by asking whether your house catches on fire every single year.

Keynesians have criticized fiscal caution at this point in the economic cycle, arguing that fiscal stimulus will give economies more, not less, protection against adverse events. But is that argument valid?

Certainly, in Germany, the recent history of fiscal stimulus wasn’t entirely positive. After reunification in 1990, the German government borrowed and spent huge amounts of money to finance reconstruction and to bring East German living standards up to West German levels. Millions of new consumers were added to the economy.

These policies did unify the country politically but were not overwhelmingly successful economically. An initial surge was followed by years of disappointing results for output and employment. Germany’s taxes remain high, and overall West German living standards failed to rise at the same rate as those of most other wealthy countries.

Persuading former East Germans to spend more as consumers turned out to be less important than making sure that they had the skills to mesh with the economic expansion of the country. It is no surprise that many Germans are now skeptical about debt-financed government spending or excessive reliance on domestic consumers.

In recent times, Germany has shown signs of regaining a pre-eminent economic position. Policy makers have returned to long-run planning, and during the last decade have liberalized their labor markets, introduced greater wage flexibility and recently passed a constitutional amendment for a nearly balanced budget by 2016, meaning that the structural deficit should not exceed 0.35 percent of gross domestic product.

More Cowen at his blog:

I would add a few points:

1. I am not sure why the American left so near-unanimously lines up behind Keynesian recommendations these days.  (Jeff Sachs is an exception in this regard.)  There are other social democratic models for running a government, including that of Germany, and yet a kind of American “can do” spirit pervades our approach to fiscal policy, for better or worse.  Commentators make various criticisms of Paul Krugman, but putting the normative aside I find it striking what an American thinker he is, including in his book The Conscience of a Liberal.  Someone should write a nice (and non-normative) essay on this point, putting Krugman in proper historical context.

2. You sometimes hear it said: “Not every nation can run a surplus,” or “Can every nation export its way to recovery?”  Reword the latter question as “Can every indiviidual trade his way to a higher level of income?” and try answering it again.  Productivity-driven exporting really does matter, whether for the individual or the nation.  It stabilizes the entire global economy,

3. There really is a supply-side multipler, and a sustainble one at that.

4. The phrase “fiscal austerity” can be misleading.  Contrary to the second paragraph here, even most of the “austerity advocates” think that the major economies should be running massive fiscal deficits at this point.  (And Germany had a short experiment with a more aggressive stimulus during the immediate aftermath of the crisis.)  They just don’t think it works for those deficits to run even higher.

5. The EU is an even less likely candidate for a liquidity trap than is the United States.  That said, how to distribute and implement additional money supply increases would be a serious political problem for the EU.  Simply buying up low-quality government bonds would work fine in economic terms, but worsen problems of moral hazard, perceived fairness, and so on.  This problem should receive more attention.

Instapundit

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist:

This is all very nice, but it’s worth pointing out that Germany’s programme of fiscal stimulus was among the largest in Europe (across developed nations). Germany’s unemployment rate is low, and it declined through some of the worst portions of the recession, but it’s important to point out that this is due in part to an ambitious work-sharing arrangement, in which employers are encouraged to reduce individual hours worked rather than lay off employees. This policy certainly helps to mitigate job losses during a downturn (which makes for great countercyclical policy, and which reduces the fiscal cost of recession) but it’s more likely to delay necessary structural reforms than accelerate them.

And finally, as you can see at right, Germany is one of the few large European economies to increase its deficit from 2009 to 2010. And its planned deficit reduction in 2011 is among the smallest in the euro area. If Germany is more successful than other economies at pulling through recession, it may be because it’s better at performing the ideal policy move—a move the that Mr Cowen appears to criticise when it’s urged by members of the American left—bigger short-term deficits followed by a credible switch to fiscal tightening down the road.

Mr Cowen’s point still stands, to some extent; other countries shouldn’t berate Germany for having the good sense to do what they ought to be doing. But I don’t think it’s quite accurate to sell the German experience as one of a triumph of structural savvy over countercyclical good sense.

Paul Krugman:

Here’s the latest, from Tyler Cowen:

Certainly, in Germany, the recent history of fiscal stimulus wasn’t entirely positive. After reunification in 1990, the German government borrowed and spent huge amounts of money to finance reconstruction and to bring East German living standards up to West German levels. Millions of new consumers were added to the economy.

These policies did unify the country politically but were not overwhelmingly successful economically. An initial surge was followed by years of disappointing results for output and employment.

This passage makes me want to stick a pencil in my eye. Let’s consider the case:

1. This was not an effort at fiscal stimulus; it was a supply policy, not a demand policy. The German government wasn’t trying to pump up demand — it was trying to rebuild East German infrastructure to raise the region’s productivity.

2. The West German economy was not suffering from high unemployment — on the contrary, it was running hot, and the Bundesbank feared inflation.

3. The zero lower bound was not a concern. In fact, the Bundesbank was in the process of raising rates to head off inflation risks — the discount rate went from 4 percent in early 1989 to 8.75 percent in the summer of 1992. In part, this rate rise was a deliberate effort to choke off the additional demand created by spending on East Germany, to such an extent that the German mix of deficit spending and tight money is widely blamed for the European exchange rate crises of 1992-1993.

In short, it’s hard to think of a case less suited to tell us anything at all about fiscal stimulus under the conditions we now face. And the fact that a prominent commentator on current events apparently doesn’t know that, after a year and a half of debating this issue — well, as I said, I’m feeling fairly despairing.

Pejman Yousefzadeh at The New Ledger:

Concerning Krugman’s first and second points, while no one was concerned about the West German unemployment rate post-unification, there certainly were concerns about the East German unemployment rate, which means that there were, at the very least, regional deflationary concerns specific to East Germany; note Krugman’s own comment that high unemployment brings about deflation as a “proximate risk.” As noted here, the unemployment rate in East Germany in 1992 was a whopping 15%. It went up to 16% in 1993, and remained steady in 1994. It was between 7-8% in West Germany during those periods. Unemployment in the former East Germany remains higher than it does in the West. Thus, contra Krugman, there were very real unemployment concerns post-unification, as East Germany struggled on the labor front, which helped raise legitimate deflationary concerns. The German government’s spending, as a consequence, did take place in depressed demand conditions, with high unemployment in East Germany haunting German policymakers.

But what about Krugman’s third point, which is that the Bundesbank’s decision to raise rates showed that there was no zero bound? Krugman makes it sound as though inflationary concerns stemmed from the fact that the German economy was doing well and did not have unemployment concerns, but as the above paragraph shows, the German economy was suffering significant unemployment in the East, which naturally raised deflationary concerns. To the extent that deflation was avoided, it was not because the employment situation was ideal. Rather, it was because of policies concerning the post-unification exchange rate, which Wikipedia actually covers (and Krugman does not):

When a customs union was created between the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic) and West Germany (the “old” Federal Republic of Germany), there was a dispute over the rate of exchange for conversion of East German money to Deutschmarks. The Chancellor (Helmut Kohl) decided to ignore the advice of the Bundesbank, and chose an exchange rate of 1:1. The Bundesbank feared that this would be excessively inflationary as well as very significantly impairing the economic prospects of the area of the former East Germany. This dispute was particularly public because of the Bundesbank policy of communicating openly on such matters. Although public opinion normally supported the Bundesbank in matters of combating inflation, in this case Helmut Kohl prevailed, and the President of the Bundesbank, Pöhl, resigned. The Bundesbank had to use monetary measures to offset the inflationary effect.

So deflation was avoided, and rates had to be raised. But they weren’t raised because the German economy had reached anything resembling full employment, with low demand. No one could argue that it had, with East German unemployment rates hovering in the 15-16% range. Yet, reading Krugman, one would naturally think that East German unemployment simply was not a factor.

All of this shows, of course, that Cowen has the better of the argument, both in terms of the debate over the German economy in the immediate post-unification stage, and in the debate over what Germany–and the United States and other developed countries–ought to do with regard to future fiscal and economic policies. I understand that Krugman is loath to admit that Keynesian stimulus policies don’t work, and anytime anyone brings forth an example of them not working, Krugman tries to argue that said example is not apt. It should surprise no one that his arguments on this issue have a tendency to be highly misleading.

Mark Thoma:

About to hit the road for a long travel day, so don’t have time to do anything except point to the latest debate on fiscal policy: Tyler Cowen says the US could learn some things about fiscal policy from Germany, see here for his summary. But as Paul Krugman points out, it’s not clear what there is to learn since key conditions for fiscal policy effectiveness such as high unemployment and interest rates at the zero bound are not present in one of the key examples from Germany given in the column.

Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

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“Top Secret America” Burning Up The Tubes

Dana Priest and William Arkin at WaPo:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

These are not academic issues; lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.

They are also issues that greatly concern some of the people in charge of the nation’s security.

“There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that – not just for the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], but for any individual, for the director of the CIA, for the secretary of defense – is a challenge,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post last week.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials – called Super Users – have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up

Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman at Danger Room at Wired:

Figuring out exactly who’s cashing in on the post-9/11 boom in secret programs just got a whole lot easier.

U.S. spy agencies, the State Department and the White House had a collective panic attack Friday over a new Washington Post exposé on the intelligence-industrial complex. Reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin let it drop Monday morning.

It includes a searchable database cataloging what an estimated 854,000 employees and legions of contractors are apparently up to. Users can now to see just how much money these government agencies are spending and where those top secret contractors are located.

Check out the Post’s nine-page list of agencies and contractors involved in air and satellite observations, for instance. No wonder it scares the crap out of official Washington: It’s bound to provoke all sorts of questions — both from taxpayers wondering where their money goes and from U.S. adversaries looking to penetrate America’s spy complex.

But this piece is about much more than dollars. It’s about what used to be called the Garrison State — the impact on society of a praetorian class of war-focused elites. Priest and Arkin call it “Top Secret America,” and it’s so big and grown so fast, that it’s replicated the problem of disconnection within the intelligence agencies that facilitated America’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack.

With too many analysts and too many capabilities documenting too much, with too few filters in place to sort out the useful stuff or discover hidden connections, the information overload has become its own information blackout. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe,” a retired Army three-star general who recently assessed the system tells the reporters.

Julian Sanchez at Cato:

Intel-watchers have been waiting with bated breath for the launch of the Washington Post’s investigative series “Top Secret America,” the first installment of which appeared today, along with a searchable database showing the network of contractors doing top-secret work for the intelligence community. Despite the inevitable breathless warnings that the Post’s reporting would somehow compromise national security, there’s nothing online as yet to justify such fears, as even the Weekly Standard notes: The information was vetted by intel officials before being posted, and a good portion of it was already in the public domain, if not necessarily collated in such a convenient form.  Indeed, writers like Tim Shorrock, author of the invaluable Spies for Hire, have been reporting on the explosion of intelligence contracting for some time now—and in some instances the information you’ll find in Shorrock’s own contractor database is more usefully detailed than what the Post provides. None of this, to be clear, should at all diminish the enormous achievement of Dana Priest and William Arkin here: The real threat of their damning exposé should be to the job security of intelligence officials and contractors.  They paint a portrait of a sprawling intelligence-industrial complex drowning in data they’re unable to effectively process, and choked by redundancy

Gabriel Schoenfeld at The Weekly Standard:

The first installment of the Washington Post blockbuster, “Top Secret America,” by Dana Priest and William Arkin, two years in the making, is finally out today. It paints a surprisingly unsurprising picture of duplication and triplication in the intelligence world.

The story had provoked alarm among officials, and in some conservative quarters, that vital secrets would be spilled. “Is Wash Post harming intelligence work?” asked the Washington Times on Friday.  For its part, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence even put out a preemptive memo:  “We will want to minimize damage caused by unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified information. “

[…]

Indeed, it is hard to spot anything particularly damaging in the story. Its massive database and accompanying map of top-secret facilities in the United States, available on the Web, have been compiled from open-source material.

Leaks of highly classified information can pose a serious threat to our security. But in foreign policy reporting, leaks are also the coin of the realm.  Some of them pose no danger at all. Indeed, they are a principal channel by which the public is informed, which is why the  subject is so contentious.  In this particular instance, there does not even appear to have been a leak.  There is nothing top secret about “Top Secret America” (at least in its first installment). In this respect it is a case of false—and very smart—advertising.

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

Priest intends the article to be scary, and to a certain degree, it certainly is. It’s a searing reminder of how much a “big government” is out of the control even of those who purport to run it.   Although the tone of the piece seems to intend the criticism to be directed toward “Top Secret America” (i.e., the post 9/11 security complex) — any thinking person will realize what the nub of the problem is, and that’s this: Government grows — always, always, always — because that’s the nature of government unless citizens are fortunate enough to have leaders who actually care about restraining it.

Peter Huessy at Big Government:

The Washington Post has published massive amounts of secret intelligence material in the interests, they say, of improving US national security. The two authors, Dana Priest and William Arkin, complain about a national security enterprise that has grown by leaps and bounds since 9/11. The reveal in detail the firms working for the US intelligence community including their location, contracts, and work subjects, whether border security, cyber-security or counter proliferation.

There are two common explanations for the story. First, it is juicy story. It has lots of secret information. And for two reporters, pursuing a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, well isn’t this what reporters do? The second explanation: their view is that the national security establishment represented by the $75 billion intelligence community and its network of firms, organizations and contractors is not serving the American people, that it is bloated, redundant and need of serious downsizing. But all, mind you, to make our security better.

There may be a third explanation. It may be they think little if any of this intelligence work is necessary. Nearly a decade ago, on October 12, 2002, William Arkin, the co-author of the article, spoke at the Naval War College. One key part of his talk is nearly identical to the thesis of the Post article.  He said: “More than 30 billion of our tax dollars each year go towards government generated intelligence information. We had, and have, a CIA and an intelligence community that has a fantastic history of failure, that is mostly blind to what is going on in the world, that seems to know nothing and at the same time is so bombarded and overwhelmed with stimuli from its millions of receptors it can hardly sense what is happening.”

Arkin goes on in his 2002 speech to blame America for the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  He says our military prowess forced our adversaries to use attacks against our vulnerable infrastructure, such as airplanes or trains because they could not successfully fight our military. And he says our support for Gulf autocracies and stationing troops there gave cause for the attacks of 9/11. The implied solution is very simple: stop supporting harsh regimes, withdraw our forces from the Gulf and terrorism disappears.

This underlying view of what we are supposedly facing permeates the Post story as well. They describe what they think this vast intelligence enterprise is trying to do: “defeating transnational violent extremists,” “fortify domestic defenses and to launch a global offensive against al-Qaeda,” and find “clues that lead to individuals and groups trying to harm the United States.”

I have one small quibble, however, which is with the “redundancy and waste” argument about multiple agencies doing the same work.  This is a standard argument in favor of rationalization, and it’s not always wrong.  It should be noted, however, that some redundancy is actually a good thing, particularly on an issue like counter-terrorism.

Say a single bureaucracy is tasked with intelligence gathering about threat X.  Let’s say this bureaucracy represents the best of the best of the best — the A-Team.  The A-Team does it’s job and catches 95% of the emergent threats from X.  That’s still 5% that is missed.

Now say you have another independent bureaucracy with a similar remit.  This agency is staffed by different people with their own set of blind spots.  Let’s even stipulate that we’re talking about the B-team here, and they’ll only catch 80% of the emergent threats from X.

If thesr two bureaucracies are working independently — and this is an important if — then the odds that a threat would go unobserved by both bureaucracies is .05*.2 = .01 = 1%.  So, by adding another bureaucracy, even a less competent one, the chances of an undetected threat getting through are cut from 5% to 1%.  That ain’t nothing.

Glenn Greenwald:

What’s most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this — National Security — is not only unfulfilled by “Top Secret America,” but actively subverted by it.  During the FISA debate of 2008 — when Democrats and Republicans joined together to legalize the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program and vastly expand the NSA’s authority to spy on the communications of Americans without judicial oversight — it was constantly claimed that the Government must have greater domestic surveillance powers in order to Keep Us Safe.  Thus, anyone who opposed the new spying law was accused of excessively valuing privacy and civil liberties at the expense of what, we are always told, matters most:  Staying Safe.

But as I wrote many times back then — often by interviewing and otherwise citing House Intelligence Committee member Rush Holt, who has been making this point repeatedly — the more secret surveillance powers we vest in the Government, the more we allow the unchecked Surveillance State to grow, the more unsafe we become.  That’s because the public-private axis that is the Surveillance State already collects so much information about us, our activities and our communications — so indiscriminately and on such a vast scale — that it cannot possibly detect any actual national security threats.  NSA whistle blower Adrienne Kinne, when exposing NSA eavesdropping abuses, warned of what ABC News described as “the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack.”  As Kinne put it:

By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it’s almost like they’re making the haystack bigger and it’s harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody.  You’re actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.

The Government did not fail to detect the 9/11 attacks because it was unable to collect information relating to the plot.  It did collect exactly that, but because it surveilled so much information, it was incapable of recognizing what it possessed (“connecting the dots”).  Despite that, we have since then continuously expanded the Government’s surveillance powers.  Virtually every time the political class reveals some Scary New Event, it demands and obtains greater spying authorities (and, of course, more and more money).  And each time that happens, its ability to detect actually relevant threats diminishes.  As Priest and Arkin write:

The NSA sorts a fraction of those [1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of daily collected communications] into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The article details how ample information regarding alleged Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hassan and attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab was collected but simply went unrecognized.  As a result, our vaunted Surveillance State failed to stop the former attack and it was only an alert airplane passenger who thwarted the latter.  So it isn’t that we keep sacrificing our privacy to an always-growing National Security State in exchange for greater security.  The opposite is true:  we keep sacrificing our privacy to the always-growing National Security State in exchange for less security.

Matthew Yglesias:

Beyond this, my main reaction is to think Glenn Greenwald draws too sharp a dichotomy between the view that Priest and Arkin are detailing a story of too much waste and inefficiency and the view that Priest and Arkin are detailing a story of “an out-of-control, privacy-destroying Surveillance State.” The point, as I see it, is that the one necessarily leads to the other. A surveillance state that sucks in everything creates an unmanageable flow of information. Pervasive secrecy makes coordination impossible. The scope and covert nature of the enterprise destroys accountability. In fact, it’s so unaccountable that even the people to whom it’s supposed to be accountable have no idea what’s going on:

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials – called Super Users – have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.

“I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ”Stop!” in frustration.

You can’t possibly run an effective organization along these lines, and the idea that pouring even more hazily defined powers to surveil and torture people is going to improve things is daft. The potential for abuses in this system is tremendous, and the odds of overlooking whatever it is that’s important are overwhelming. Meanwhile, though it’s hardly the key point I note that for all the vast sums of resources poured into the national security state since 9/11, the US government’s foreign language capabilities remain absurdly limited. But it seems to me that just being able to talk to people (and read the newspaper, watch the news, etc.) in their native tongue would produce much more in the way of useful information than all the wiretapping in the world.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

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Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security, Mainstream

There She Is, Miss Conservative…

John Hawkins at Right Wing News:

The 20 Hottest Conservative Women In The New Media (2010 Edition)

One of the most popular articles at RWN last year was, The 15 Hottest Conservative Women In The New Media. So, when you have a big hit, what could make more sense than  doing a sequel?

This time around, we had a new distinguished panel of judges. Besides myself, they included,

1) Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit.

2) Jonah Goldberg from National Review.

3) Andrew Malcolm from the LA Times’ Top of the Ticket.

4) Dan Gainor from Newsbusters (Among other places).

5) Van Helsing from Moonbattery.

6) Alfonzo Rachel from PJTV.

7) James Joyner from Outside The Beltway.

and

8) Blackfive.

The judges voted on over 50 contestants. After dropping the low score for each woman, the highest remaining scores made the list. Here are the women that made the final cut.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Yes, I was a judge of the Hottest Conservative Women in New Media “contest.” My shame spiral is bottomless.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

Snark and Boobs? The things you learn … I suspect you didn’t enlist an AEI intern for this assignment, but covered it yourself.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

Today marks exactly one year since my firing by Politics Daily’s Melinda Henneberger over Playboy’s list of “Top 10 Women I’d Like to Hate F***,” (I wrote an article denouncing it, and Henneberger deleted the story, then deleted me) which is what made me realize that ranking conservative hotties must be a seasonal thing. This year finds a much milder fleshfest, judged by a panel of doughy bloggers for the website Right Wing News. I’m going to have a problem with any list that includes Elizabeth “Media Lizzy” Blackney at any rank other than #1. I have several with this one.

Now, I’m not one of those people who think it’s never acceptable to notice that a beautiful woman is beautiful, and I understand the lure of easy linkbaiting (hence the headline). But there are ways, and there are ways.

In the modern media landscape, sex appeal is certainly a relevant factor to consider. What Right Wing News’ 20 Hottest Conservative Women In The New Media misses out on is that it’s not the only factor.

Their list consists of just that, a list and a photograph. No biographical info, no descriptions of their accomplishments, or critiques of their work. Just a picture and a link. There’s nothing there that would make anyone want to read anything these women write. Lest you doubt the level of the pig factor here, there’s this from one of the judges, James Joyner:

I would note that it would be useful to break the contest down into age brackets, as it’s a bit silly to have 20-somethings pitted against 50-somethings.

Maybe they ought to bring in a livestock scale, too, and break it down into weight classes.

My perspective on this list is influenced by the fact that I know a lot of the women on it. Aside from the fact that if I went up to Mary Katherine Ham and said “You’re hot!” she’d probably punch me in the arm, it’s just not an adequate measure of her worth as a human being. Sure, she has a beautiful smile that lights up a room, but she also pounds the pavement with an old-timey reporter’s notebook, noticing things that escape me.

And what about Michelle Malkin? You mean to tell me that a panel of 8 right-wing bloggers couldn’t crank out a paragraph about Michelle Malkin?

Which brings me to Lizzy. Like everyone on this list, I couldn’t disagree more with her politics, nor she with mine. However, she’s been a loyal friend and fan since before anyone had ever heard of me. She’s a Gold Star Wife, widowed at the age of 25, and mother of a now-14 year-old daughter. Much to my shock, she and I share many common views on parenting.

When I got into trouble for denouncing that Playboy article, Lizzy risked, and ultimately lost, a very beneficial relationship with AOL in order to do the right thing, not just out of loyalty to me, but to her own closely-held values.  While we don’t get to gab nearly often enough on her radio show, she’s always in my heart.

I don’t expect a link-baiting top 20 list to be able to take the full measure of Lizzy, or Tabitha Hale, who does huge work for Freedomworks, or Lori Ziganto, whose tweets will make you laugh out loud. But this list doesn’t even try.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

This pretty much seems to be the conservative view on women in the movement. They are welcomed in and valued for their ideas, provided they are first deemed suitably attractive by a panel of men.

Certainly this would explain the apparently widespread conservative belief that liberal women hate Sarah Palin because they envy her looks and happiness. It’s basically the gender analogue of the right-wing belief that progressive taxation is rooted in envy of the rich.

Henry Farrell:

It seems to me a wee bit unfair that all them healthy heterosexual Republican gals (and, for that matter, the five or six Log Cabin Republicans who have stuck it out despite all) can’t get in on the fun. So let me propose an alternative competition to find the Hottest Conservative Man In The New Media. And by one of those funny coincidences, the eight finalists for this much coveted award are the members of the “distinguished panel of judges” that Right Wing News has chosen to adjudicate which of the laydeez is the smokingest.1 Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:


Glenn Reynolds


Jonah Goldberg


Andrew Malcolm


Dan Gainor


‘Van Helsing’ from Moonbattery (artist’s depiction)


Alfonzo Rachel


James Joyner (who is actually a good bloke imo who really ought to have known better)

And remember! You can only pick one.

David Graham at Newsweek:

It’s hard to know where to start here. The whole thing feels pretty gross, but a little casual objectification in search of clicks is fine, right? No harm, no foul? (Goldberg tries to play it both ways, saying that his “shame spiral is bottomless.”)

Well, no. It’s great that there’s such a vibrant female presence in the conservative commentariat—Coulter and Malkin in particular have a stature that’s equaled only by the likes of Rush Limbaugh—but by any sensible standard, it’s clear-cut sexism: women trying to compete on the same intellectual playing field as the men being ranked for how sexy they look in their online profile, not how scathingly they dissect Obamacare.

But let’s say you don’t buy the idea that this is objectification. Come on, you say, anyone who calls her blog Snark and Boobs knows she’s trading on sex appeal. And it’s possible for men to both value a woman’s political criticism and find her attractive. (It’s also important to note that RWN also published a list of the 15 hottest new media guys on the right last year.)

But the right walks a narrow line when it comes to ogling women. In conservative circles, it’s more acceptable for women to be praised for both their brains and their beauty. But if that praise turns to criticism, looks becomes off limits, and critics are condemned (rightly so) for sexism. (See: those staunch defenders of women who railed against NEWSWEEK’s cover image of Sarah Palin in running shorts; they’re silent on the top-20 list.)

Lori Ziganto:

Listen, Newsweek. Most women like being complimented. Here’s an estrogen-insider secret for you; when a woman asks you if her arse looks fat, it is because she knows it does not. She just wants to hear you say it.  She knows she looks good; she’s already run the outfit by three girlfriends and her sister. She wants to be told she’s purty. And being told she is pretty doesn’t somehow magically remove her cerebral cortex (except maybe in Janeane Garofalo’s case. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened there).

Secondly, If any of your distinguished journalists had bothered to simply ask me, I would have told you what the name meant. No, it is not “trading in sex appeal.” It is meant in good humor. You see, we conservative women like our girl parts and will even poke fun at them from time to time. Good thing I didn’t name it my other thought, Boobsandsammiches, huh? Your heads would have exploded. Oh well, better luck next time!

I’ll speak only for myself because, unlike you, I don’t speak out of my arse – which doesn’t look fat, by the way, even if that offends your sanctimonious sensibilities – for others. I’m not trading in sex appeal. I’m a mother who home schools her daughter. I am a bookworm, a nerd, a person who cares deeply about the state of our country and the world, and someone who is quite content staying home.

I blog at several sites, most of which are comprised of mainly men, and I didn’t “trade on sex appeal” to get there, nor do I bring sammiches. (Although I would, if asked. Cooking doesn’t demean me either. I’m good at it and also enjoy the ego stroke of being told so). I’m also a woman who will not apologize for, nor feel demeaned by, the fact that she can, at age 39, wear a bikini to the pool and look darn good in it.

The problem is, you don’t truly think that is possible. How could a woman look feminine, yet still be accomplished? Worse, a mother! That’s crazy talk! You made that perfectly clear with the oh-so-respectful cover that you ran (shown above) on Sarah Palin. A Governor. With more executive experience than our current President and Vice President combined (and it sure shows now, doesn’t it?) To you, none of that mattered; She can’t possibly have a brain. She’s a beauty queen and all!

Y’all never stopped writing in your slam books, did you? Still smarting from the sting of being shot down for prom? It’s time to grow up. Learn these lessons first: Women are beautiful and successful. Women are feminine and accomplished. Women can look good and spout political opinion with the best of them. Women are not children and can handle being told that they are attractive and not feel diminished by it.

Melissa Clouthier:

Priorities people! Today is the day when we focus, laser-like, on the hottest conservative men for 2010. Unlike last year, the judges this year are out and proud and gorgeous in their own right. Wow, what fabulous, beautiful, accomplished and smart women. I was chief judge and jury, so any gray areas were mine to figure out. If you’re mad, get mad at me.

[…]

Now, to get to it. What were the criterion? Hot, hot and more hot. I can tell you that the women did vote based on whether they liked someone or not. They couldn’t help it. Hot + Jerk = Lower score.  But they all liked/disliked different folks, so there you go.

We sifted through 75 men and there were more we could have considered.  Each woman judged the guy on a simple 1 to 10 scale (10 being I’m-passing-out-delirious) and then we did it on straight percentage (so the guys who got a “2″ because of the jerk factor, that was factored in).  If that doesn’t sound fair, welcome to this thing called life. The fact is, women are wired differently than men and personality skews our judgment. Also, when there is a tie, we went with the face over the body. The ladies on Twitter made that decision. And so some guys tied in pure score and again, we chose the face because that’s what happens (or can happen) in life. There are no ties in baseball or something.

Tabitha Hale at Redstate:

John Hawkins of RightWingNews.com released his 20 Hottest Women in New Media last week. As these lists always do, it’s brought about a fresh round of controversy – both from those whose crush was left off the list, as well as those who are righteously indignant about the objectification of the women on the list. The objectification of men seems to not be an issue… Who knows, maybe Newsweek will rage about us making poor Jeff Emanuel take his shirt off for the 20 Hottest Conservative Men list. Or something.

Is it shallow? Yeah. So what? Here’s the thing: every woman on the Right Wing News list is fighting the good fight, and we’re confident in our work. We’ve all contributed substantially to the conservative cause. Some are more establishment, and some more grassroots. Some are more well known than others, and some are new to the field. The list of accomplishments varies… all are contributors with their own strengths and credentials.

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait got his knickers in a twist about it, stating that conservative women are “welcomed in and valued for their ideas, provided they are first deemed suitably attractive by a panel of men.” What he ignores is that we’ve ALREADY been welcomed. Women like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter have decades of work behind them. SE Cupp and Laura Ingraham are both published best selling authors. All of the women there have established themselves and are in demand among conservative circles.

His comment is obviously a jab that extends beyond John’s Top 20… all I have to say is look at the response the grassroots has had to Sarah Palin. To Michele Bachmann during the health care fight. Gov. Brewer on immigration in Arizona. Some of the top fighters on the Right are women, and time and again they’ve displayed the cajones that our men couldn’t seem to find.

The idea that a woman could see her name on a list of that nature and do nothing but take it as a compliment and move on just seems to make their heads explode.

[…]

And if there’s a woman out there who says she doesn’t like being told she’s pretty, she’s lying. When it’s not done, you know, by creepy old men leaning out their car window offering you a ride or something.

Melissa Clouthier facilitated the obligatory response to the list: LibertyPundits.net’s Top 20 Hottest Conservative Men. Four of the nine female judges were on the RightWingNews list – and the rest easily could have been.

I have yet to hear, well, anyone decry the objectification of these fine men. Newsweek, we even put aside our white supremacist overtones and added a couple non-white faces! It’s a fine collection, if I do say so myself.

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Filed under Conservative Movement, Feminism, New Media

American Enterprise Institute: Now With 100% Less Frum

David Frum at FrumForum:

I have been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute since 2003. At lunch today, AEI President Arthur Brooks and I came to a termination of that relationship.

Below is the text of my letter of resignation.

Dear Arthur,

This will memorialize our conversation at lunch today. Effective immediately, my position as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute is terminated. I appreciate the consideration that delays my emptying of my office until after my return from travel next week. Premises will be vacated no later than April 9.

I have had many fruitful years at the American Enterprise Institute, and I do regret this abrupt and unexpected conclusion of our relationship.

Very truly yours,

David Frum

Frances Martel at Mediaite:

The announcement comes shortly after Frum received a rush of criticism for a column suggesting that the passing of health care reform was the Republicans’ “Waterloo,” and that they “suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.”

The “Waterloo” piece, as well as subsequent criticism of the Republicans, was a deviation for Frum, who had been reliably supportive of the conservative cause throughout his career. While he received plenty of criticism from many on the right– most prone to dismiss him as a relic of the neo-conservative 2000s– and even got his old bosses in hot water with Rep. Darrell Issa, he managed to get the increasingly mellow Bill O’Reilly on his side despite saying the only people on the right who would benefit were those in the “conservative entertainment industry.”

Greg Sargent:

I just got off the phone with writer David Frum, and he says the conservative American Enterprise Institute assured him today that he isn’t being fired because of his recent blistering criticism of the GOP, as has been widely speculated this afternoon.

[…]

But Frum says AEI president Brooks at lunch today actually lauded him for making so much noise with that post.

“He said the thought might occur to me that this had to do with that,” Frum says. “He wanted to ally my anxieties on that score. He was very empatic.” Frum adds that Brooks said he “welcomed and celebrated” the debate he’d stirred up.

“He asked me if I’d like to work for AEI on a non salary basis,” Frum added. “He said it had nothing to do with my work and that after all these are hard times.”

“Big bad conservative think tank axes writer for criticizing GOP intransigence” is a seductive storyline for our times, but it may not be true.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

I caught up with Frum after the meeting. “Arthur Brooks insisted that this had nothing to do with my writings,” Frum said, adding that Brooks also did not challenge Frum’s fealty to AEI’s three core principles, which are described on the AEI website as, “expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise.”

An AEI spokeswoman, Veronique Rodman, sends over this statement: “While AEI makes it a practice not to discuss personnel matters, I can say that David Frum is an original thinker and a friend to many at AEI. We are pleased to have welcomed him as a colleague for seven years, and his decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him.”

So it goes. Is the timing a coincidence? Hard to tell. I guess one can take Arthur Brooks at his word. Or not.

As irritating as Frum can be — and he can be very irritating — most of his policy positions, as far as I know, are reliably conservative. True, he’s a fan of RomneyCare, but then, er, so is the guy who’s at or near the top of the polls right now for the GOP nomination in 2012. And yes, I know, it’s predictable that a Chamberlain-esque RINO candy ass such as myself would defend a guy who whines about Rush Limbaugh at every opportunity, but Bartlett’s point about rigid conformity is well taken. Frum’s still a hawk, at last check; he was a McCain voter in 2008 and prefers market solutions in most cases, from what I know. He’s wrong about the GOP having mishandled O-Care and he’s annoying with his endless scolding of right-wing media, but hopefully it’s still possible to be a conservative who’s wrong (occasionally) and annoying (frequently) and nonetheless employable by a conservative think tank. Currently AEI has as a fellow one of the geniuses who helped craft McCain-Feingold. Ornstein’s conservative enough, but not David Frum?And yes, of course, AEI should be free to employ whomever it wants. Doesn’t mean they should be free from criticism, though, assuming that the suspicions about their motive here are confirmed. Oh, and a reminder to the media, which is surely polishing Frum’s new halo as I write this: When it comes to excommunicating conservatives, he knows whereof he speaks.

Bruce Bartlett:

As some readers of this blog may know, I was fired by a right wing think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing a book critical of George W. Bush’s policies, especially his support for Medicare Part D. In the years since, I have lost a great many friends and been shunned by conservative society in Washington, DC.

Now the same thing has happened to David Frum, who has been fired by the American Enterprise Institute. I don’t know all the details, but I presume that his Waterloo post on Sunday condemning Republicans for failing to work with Democrats on healthcare reform was the final straw.

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

Conor Friedersdorf

To sum up: The implication in Mr. Bartlett’s piece is that lots of people at AEI favored most aspects Obamacare — so many people, in fact, that AEI scholars were ordered against commenting on the subject at all. But lots of people at AEI did write publicly on the subject. Put another way, even if a few pro-Obamacare scholars had been silenced, Mr. Bartlett’s piece would be inaccurate as written. Perhaps he misheard Mr. Frum, or else Mr. Frum was mistaken or speaking imprecisely. I’ve followed the work of both men, and I’ve never known either to lie, so I presume there is some good explanation for the mistake.

Were any AEI scholars told to shut up about health care? Was there unspoken pressure? I sent an e-mail to all the folks listed on the think tank’s Web site, offering anonymity to anyone who requested it. I remain willing to expose even a partial vindication of Mr. Bartlett’s charge.

As yet, however, I’ve gotten only a lot of replies like this one from Charles Calomiris:

In all the years of my association with AEI no one ever suggested, much less ordered, that I say or not say anything. Quite the opposite; I was specifically told never to expect any guidance and I was guaranteed it in advance, which is why I was comfortable being involved with AEI for many years. The culture of AEI is completely contrary to attempts at control of academic thinking or speech. Freedom of thought is sacrosanct. I can tell you from personal knowledge that in many other think tanks in Washington that is not the case. At AEI, however, it is hard to imagine that these accusations could be true.

Or this one from Jack Calfee:

I have long admired Frum’s work, although I confess to not having paid much attention to his critiques of Republicans and conservatives. Speaking as one of the AEI health policy scholars, however, the notion that we have been muzzled on health care reform is bizarre. So many op-eds, so many AEI pubs, so many media appearances and interviews and quotes . . . I have to wonder whether David was quoted correctly on this point.

Or this one from Sally Satel:

I have never, ever been instructed/hinted/cajoled on what to say or write.

Or this from Edward Blum:

It has been my experience that AEI does not censor, discourage, or micromanage the work of its scholars and fellows or how they communicate with the press.

Or this from Rick Hess:

i’m curious about the sourcing of the Bartlett claim. i certainly never heard any such thing.

i do know that in my own field (K-12 and higher education), no one at AEI has ever attempted to steer, stifle, or influence my writing or speaking. this is particularly relevant, as much of my own work has been flagged over the years as heartburn-inducing by Bush administration proponents of No Child Left Behind and conservative proponents of school choice. indeed, AEI scholars writing on questions of education– including Charles Murray, Lynne Cheney, Christina Hoff Sommers, Mark Schneider, Andy Smarick, and myself have consistently reflected diverging and oft-contradictory views regarding policy, practice, and aims in our written and spoken work.

indeed, i’ll simply say that in my eight years at AEI I have felt far less intellectually constrained (through formal clearance mechansims or informal social norms) than i did in my previous role as a professor of education and government at the University of Virginia.

Does anyone at AEI have a different experience to relate? The offer of anonymity remains, even if you’re someone who already wrote me expressing a different opinion on the record. Meanwhile, all the folks who ran with the Bruce Bartlett angle — I’m looking at you, Howard Kurtz — should note that whatever else happens at AEI, good or bad, it is undeniably the case that various folks there have been commenting on health care.

Incidentally, the think tank is foolish to lose the talents of David Frum.

Bartlett responds:

To begin with, I think the important thing about what David told me is that I believed it instantly because it seemed very plausible for two reasons. First, I know from personal experience and from private comments by people I know in the conservative think tank community that there is enormous pressure to follow the Republican Party line. Those that dissent keep their mouths shut lest it cost them their job, a promotion, friendships or just because they don’t like to be hassled by those they work with. I’ve known people who shifted their specialties so they wouldn’t have to work in areas where they had objections to the party line that may have only involved tactics.
Second, I knew that there were a great many conservative health analysts who have long accepted the idea that universal coverage without a single-payer system basically requires some sort of individual mandate. Here, for example, is some testimony that Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation gave on this topic a few years ago before the party line changed. Sensible conservatives understand that you can’t cover preexisting conditions without a mandate and you can’t have a mandate without subsidies that have to be paid for. That leads logically to the system Mitt Romney enacted in Massachusetts that is virtually identical to the legislation that has just passed Congress.
So it didn’t surprise me at all that some AEI health specialists would have agreed with much of what Obama was proposing. Nor did it surprise me that the media and fundraising people at AEI might have suggested that they avoid making public comments supportive of the Democrats’ health plan. Before I was fired by NCPA I was often told that my comments critical of George W. Bush were unhelpful to fundraising even though they agreed that I was right on the substance.
I don’t have access to Nexis to check and see what comments AEI fellows might have said in the months before David made his comment to me and things may have changed afterwards. I have no way of knowing what things AEI people may have avoided saying or said off the record or on background to a reporter and were identified as a conservative health expert or whatever. Perhaps David was just wrong and that every AEI health expert was in fact opposed to every provision of the Democratic health plan and completely agreed with the Republican Party line that it was a huge step on the road to socialism that would completely destroy the American health system. I only know what he told me and that it rang true at the time he said it.
If it turns out that I misheard or misunderstood what David told me I promise a full retraction and public apology to AEI. In the meantime, my inclination is to believe anything David tells me and treat with deep skepticism anything I hear from AEI to the contrary. The organization has lost an enormous amount of credibility by firing him and hiring Republican political hacks like Marc Thiessen. That’s a statement I will never need to retract.

Jacob Heilbrunn at Huffington Post:

The banishment of David Frum from the American Enterprise Institute may be one of the best things that’s happened to him. He’s become a cause celebre. As a newly hot commodity, he’ll get gobs of publicity — a New Yorker profile must now be in the offing — and website hits for his fledgling FrumForum. But it’s not good for the conservative movement, which has regarded his efforts to drag it into modernity with increasing consternation.

Frum has long had the right stuff for the right, working at the Wall Street Journal and for the Bush administration. In recent months he’s been staking out somewhat heterodox stands, at least in the context of the conservative movement. Even mild dissent, however, is apparently too much for it to swallow. It has reached the point where, in Bolshevik fashion, it’s devouring its own children.

Is Frum really an apostate, a ranks-breaker? No, he isn’t. I haven’t seen any evidence that Frum, a vigorous polemicist, has fundamentally deviated from traditional conservative positions when it comes to Israel or tax rates. What he has argued for is a more modern Republican party that doesn’t stage a gadarene rush to the far right, but tries to come to terms with environmental issues, health care, and so on. Writing in the Washington Post on Thursday, Anne Applebaum observed that much of what Frum represents is a no-brainer for conservatives, who, like the British Tories, may well find themselves in the wilderness for many years if they refuse to acknowledge new realities.

Wonkette:

It is not like we are in love with David Frum, coiner of “Axis of Evil,” and general lover of war. But at least you can have a conversation with the guy, hypothetically!

Whenever we see an article or book from a Reasonable Conservative saying, “We need to tone down the rhetoric and stop following Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh,” though, it never takes the next step: how? Where is the implementation plan? These terrible scourges don’t come out of nowhere; everything follows a system of incentives, the biggest of which would have to be money, followed by short-term power. How do you make the exploitation of fear and constant outright lying and insanity less profitable, and less able to deliver short-term gains? The only solutions seem to be ones that would have the Republican party concede they’re following a failed ideology and must fold permanently or accept general minority party status for the next 25 years.

DO IT, FRUM.

More Friedersdorf:

On the subject of David Frum, I’ve got a lot to say, and I’ll begin by disclosing a personal story. In January 2009, I had a particularly bad day: the Washington DC based web magazine where I worked folded; and immediately afterward, I got a call informing me that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer, and would soon undergo a significant surgery. I am unsure how Mr. Frum heard about the magazine closing, but he e-mailed to ask if I would call him. On doing so, he offered condolences on a professional disappointment — a nice gesture, especially since I had precious little to offer him as a professional contact, and wasn’t a friend — and when I revealed why the lost job hadn’t been much on my mind, he spoke to me for perhaps twenty minutes longer, conducting himself in a most gentlemanly fashion.

Understand that I hardly knew Mr. Frum. I’d met him perhaps thrice in person, always in a room full of people. Even now I’ve met him perhaps six times. Upon calling me that day, I am certain he didn’t expect me to say that my mother had cancer — what does one even say to a professional acquaintance in that situation, beyond a mumbled, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I still don’t know, because I can’t remember what Mr. Frum said, except that it consoled me greatly at the time, reassuring without being prying or presumptive: It was a polite, well-mannered, graceful, kind-hearted gesture, and it demonstrates two things. 1) The way Mr. Frum conducts himself isn’t intended to ingratiate himself to Washington DC’s liberal elite — he regularly demonstrates social graces on all sorts of occasions utterly unconnected with politics. 2) Probably Mr. Frum isn’t aware of how much he raised my spirits that day, which is another way of saying that being a gentleman — and striving to avoid shrillness, intolerance and boorishness — are commendable virtues and bedrocks of civil society. It is execrable to make civility into a vice, let alone an ideological signifier, as if most Americans don’t value these things regardless of their political beliefs, or benefit from a world where they are practiced.

Of course, David Frum is uncivil sometimes. I recall a line in Newsweek about Rush Limbaugh’s dimensions and manifold personal flaws that he phrased somewhat more harshly than was necessary (talk radio hosts bring out the worst in all of us), I’ve seen him scrap in the blogosphere, as so many of us sometimes do, and I object strongly to some of his rhetoric during the Bush era, when he questioned the motives of Iraq War opponents. But it is to his credit that he tries and usually succeeds in tempering the bad impulses that shadow us all in political argument. And it speaks poorly of anyone who criticizes not his rare failures, but his constant effort to resist them. What normal person wants to be like a boorish, mercenary talk radio host, for goodness sake? Since when are these qualities how conservatives define themselves “aesthetically”?

Other critics say that Mr. Frum is egotistical, disloyal, arrogant, self-important. Beyond the fact that these same people unselfconsciously laud Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity — self-important folks with out-sized egos if ever there were any — it is noteworthy that these criticisms are always offered as though they refute the arguments Mr. Frum is making about a given issue, or a politician, or conservatism, or the future of the Republican Party. It is an intellectual coward or a fraud who tries to discredit ideas by pointing out the alleged, totally irrelevant personality flaws of their advocates.

Love him or hate him, Mr. Frum has been around Washington DC a long time. He possesses knowledge on political history, policy, and politics that is broad and deep. He has an especially curious mind, and a willingness to flout the conventional wisdom, which influences him less than most people. Were movement conservatives less childish, irrational, and defensive in the face of dissidents, they’d learn something — even when he is wrong, he often raises worthwhile points that inform my thinking, much as I might disagree with his ultimate conclusions.

Paul Krugman:

David Frum* has been fired by the American Enterprise Institute; one has to assume that this is a response to his outspokenness about the Republican failure on health reform.

In discussing the Frum firing, Bruce Bartlett asserts that AEI has muzzled its health-care experts, because the truth is that they agree with a lot of what Obama is proposing. I find this quite believable; back in 2003 Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation, which is supposedly harder-right than AEI, proposed a health care reform consisting of … drumroll … an individual mandate coupled with subsidies to make insurance affordable. In short, Obamacare.

[…]

*I’m informed, by family members, that Frum is a distant cousin of yours truly.

Mike Allen at Politico:

EXCLUSIVE: David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.”

We talked at length afterward with an AEI official in an effort to get a specific response to Frum’s charge. But the group apparently doesn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with Frum, and stuck to this earlier statement from Brooks, blaming Frum for his departure: “David Frum is an original thinker and a friend to many at AEI. We are pleased to have welcomed him as a colleague for seven years, and his decision to leave in no way diminishes our respect for him.” Ask other AEI scholars how they felt about David’s mail and packages piling up outside his office. Frum, who will be 50 in June, had been on the payroll since leaving the Bush White House in 2003. He acknowledges he was very seldom at the office. But he maintains he developed and spread conservative ideas — AEI’s stated goal — with the 300,000 words a year that he writes for his blog, FrumForum.com; his weekly columns for CNN.com, The Week, and the National Post of Canada; his biweekly offerings for TIME and American Public Media’s “Marketplace”; and his three TV and three radio appearances in a typical week. He also landed Canadian Finance Minister James Flaherty for an AEI retreat last month that included donors. Frum tells us that regardless of his dismay with the party, he’ll stay registered GOP.

Charles Murray at The Corner:

I have known and liked David and Danielle Frum for many years, and what I am about to write will end that friendship. I regret that. But his statement goes beyond self-serving. It is a calumny against an organization that has treated him not just fairly but generously.

Regarding donor pressure: The idea that AEI donors sit down to talk with AEI’s president about who should and shouldn’t be on the staff, or what the staff should write, is fantasy. David has never seen the slightest sign of anything like that at AEI. He can’t have. He made it up. AEI has a culture, the scholars are fiercely proud of that culture, and at its heart is total intellectual freedom. As for the reality of that intellectual freedom, I think it’s fair to say I know what I’m talking about. I’ve pushed it to the limit. Arthur Brooks is just as adamant about preserving that culture as Chris DeMuth was, and Chris’s devotion to it was seamless.

I do not have any certain information to convey about David’s departure, except what Arthur Brooks has already said publicly: David resigned. He could have stayed. But I will tell what is common knowledge around AEI: David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute. Being a scholar at a think tank (or any institution) is not just a matter of acknowledging your affiliation in your books and op-eds. It’s also a matter of blogging at the institute’s blog, not just your own blog (David had a grand total of 3 posts on AEI’s blog in the year since it began), reviewing colleagues’ drafts, reacting to their ideas, contributing chapters to their books, organizing scholarly events, participating on the institute’s panels, attending the institute’s conferences, helping out with fundraising, serving on in-house committees, giving in-house seminars, and mentoring junior staff. Different scholars are engaged in these activities to different degrees. Full disclosure: I’m on the left-hand side of that bell curve (I make the trek from Burkittsville so seldom that I don’t even have an office at AEI). But David was at the left-hand tail. If I had to guess — and that’s what I’m doing, guessing — David’s departure arose from something as simple as this: Management thinks that an employee is not as productive a member of the organization as management thinks he should be. The employee disagrees. They part company.

I think that’s what happened. I also think that for David to have leveled the charge that Arthur Brooks caved in to donor pressure, knowing that the charge would be picked up and spread beyond recall, knowing that such a charge strikes at the core of the Institute’s integrity, and making such a sensational charge without a shred of evidence, is despicable.

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up

Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

Danielle Crittenden at FrumForum:

We have both been part of the conservative movement for, as mentioned, the better part of half of our lives.  And I can categorically state I’ve never seen such a hostile environment towards free thought and debate–the hallmarks of Reaganism, the politics with which we grew up–prevail in our movement as it does today. The thuggish demagoguery of the Limbaughs and Becks is a trait we once derided in the old socialist Left.  Well boys, take a look in the mirror.  It is us now.

David of course doesn’t need my defense–and a defense coming from his wife probably isn’t worth much (although I can categorically state this has been posted without his authorization, approval or even, um,  knowledge–he’s flying somewhere over the country right now).  My role right now is to pass him the flask in the trench.

But to return to Washington and dogs: Along with the bile, there has been an equally considerable outpouring of support and defense, from friends and foes alike, who–whether they agree with David or not–are horrified by the guillotine that is being set up in the public square of democratic debate.  They understand that nothing good can come of this, for anyone of any political stripe.

For this support, we are both very grateful.  And while I wouldn’t have thought it possible to admire David more than I do, I have to say he is still turning this old girl’s head–now more than ever.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

More Frum

More Bartlett

Christopher Buckley at The Daily Beast

Daniel Larison

John Holbo

UPDATE #2: Anne Schroeder Mullins at Politico

Maggie Gallagher at The Corner

Mark Schmitt at The American Prospect

UPDATE #3: Henry Farrell and Brink Lindsey on Bloggingheads

3 Comments

Filed under Conservative Movement, New Media

Will You Be My Friend? Circle Y For Yes, Circle N For No

Laura Rozen and Ben Smith at Politico:

The Obama administration shifted this week from red hot anger at Benjamin Netanyahu to an icier suspicion of the Israeli prime minister, who made clear during marathon meetings with U.S. officials that he would give ground only grudgingly on their goal of stopping construction of new Israeli housing units on disputed territory.

Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday evening for an unexpectedly long 89 minutes until about 7 p.m., then stayed to consult in the Roosevelt Room with his own staff, according to a source briefed on the meeting. Obama and Netanyahu then met again for 35 minutes at 8:20 p.m. at Netanyahu’s request, the source said. But the meetings were shrouded in unusual secrecy, in part because U.S. officials, who just ten days earlier called the surprise announcement of new housing in East Jerusalem an “insult” and an “affront,” made sure to reward Netanyahu with a series of small snubs: There were no photographs released from the meeting and no briefing for the press.

And as of late Tuesday evening, neither side had released the usual “readout” of the meetings’ content — a likely indicator of the distance between the sides.

Jackson Diehl at WaPo:

Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president’s meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States. Would Britain have expelled a senior Israeli diplomat Tuesday because of a flap over forged passports if there were no daylight between Obama and Netanyahu? Maybe not.

The White House’s explanations for Obama’s behavior keep shifting. At first spokesmen insisted that the president had to respond to the “insult” of the settlement announcement during a visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Biden — even though the administration knew that, far from being a calculated snub, the decision by a local council had taken Netanyahu himself by surprise.

Next the administration argued that the scrap was a needed wake-up call for Netanyahu’s right-wing government, which, it was said, had been put on notice that its failure to move toward a settlement with Palestinians was endangering U.S. interests in the region. But — assuming for the moment that the administration’s premise is correct — Obama chose to challenge Netanyahu on a point that is not material to the creation of a Palestinian state. As the Israeli leader has pointed out, previous U.S. administrations and the Palestinians themselves have already accepted that Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem will be annexed to Israel in exchange for territory elsewhere.

U.S. pressure on Netanyahu will be needed if the peace process ever reaches the point where the genuinely contentious issues, like Palestinian refugees or the exact territorial tradeoffs, are on the table. But instead of waiting for that moment and pushing Netanyahu on a point where he might be vulnerable to domestic challenge, Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun. As the veteran Middle East analyst Robert Malley put it to The Post’s Glenn Kessler, “U.S. pressure can work, but it needs to be at the right time, on the right issue and in the right political context. The administration is ready for a fight, but it realized the issue, timing and context were wrong.”

A new administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological — and vindictive.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (”Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

Quin Hillyer at American Spectator:

After yesterday’s meetings between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, for the first time in my life I quite literally feel more allegiance to the head of a foreign state than I do to the president of the United States. Mind you, this is personal: NOT allegiance to the foreign state, nor allegiance to its office of PM over this American government or the office of the president, but a greater personal allegiance — greater trust in, greater belief that his goals and stances are actually better for the United States itself — to the person of Netanyahu than to that of The One. Just so the left and MSM can’t go screaming like madmen, let me be even more clear: Let me change the word “allegiance” to “trusting respect,” and let me say also that this means I believe Netanyahu’s words, trust his judgment, and feel more secure in his motives, more than I believe, trust, and feel more secure with Obama. (This has nothing whatsoever with my loyalty to the United States of America, of course, which is undying. All too often, too many people conflate the man with the office of the presidency, but they are not one and the same. Obama is my president. But he is not a good one, and I do not have to respect him for me to respect the office.)

I write this not as a Jew, but as a cradle Episcopalian, or a sort of hybrid Anglo-Catholic. In short, not based on faith, but on reason. If the Jewish state can’t allow free people to build housing in Jerusalem, then the Irish state may as well not let Irish build in Dublin.

Daniel Larison responds:

This is silly. No one contests the sovereignty of Ireland over any of Dublin’s territory. There is not a population of die-hard Unionists living in Dublin that desire their own state. The Irish government isn’t sponsoring construction for zealous republicans in Unionist parts of the city on territory seized during one of the Republic’s previous wars with Britain. I’m sure Mr. Hillyer knows the differences in status between Jerusalem and Dublin. Like other sympathizers with the Israeli government’s position, he simply chooses to ignore them and pretends that this is a matter of perfectly legitimate housing policy decisions. He is free to do this if he likes, just as the Israeli government can persist in claiming this, but it isn’t likely to persuade the rest of the world that it is wrong not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Having read Netanyahu’s address to AIPAC, I was trying to think of another example of a contested city that was politically divided before a war and then completely captured in wartime that the victorious party declared as its capital city. Making such a city into a national capital is a very unusual thing to do, but then the circumstances during and after 1967 were unusual. The special religious status of Jerusalem makes the situation even more unusual, and obviously the place of Jerusalem in Jewish history makes it unusually important to Israelis. Indeed, the most reasonable claims Israel has on East Jerusalem derive from recognition that Israelis have legitimate claims on Jerusalem based in prior history and general agreement that Jerusalem is a very special case that is unlike every other case of disputed territory. If that is not the case, it certainly does not help Israel’s position regarding new construction on occupied territory.

On a different, but related note, Robert Wright at NYT:

Are you anti-Israel? If you fear that, deep down, you might be, I have important news. The recent tension between Israel and the United States led various commentators to identify hallmarks of anti-Israelism, and these may be of diagnostic value.

As you’ll see, my own view is that they aren’t of much value, but I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Symptom no. 1: Believing that Israel shouldn’t build more settlements in East Jerusalem. President Obama holds this belief, and that seems to be the reason that Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, deems Obama’s administration “the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history.” Bauer notes that the East Jerusalem settlements are “entirely within the city of Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel.”

That’s artful wording, but it doesn’t change the fact that East Jerusalem, far from being part of “the capital of Israel,” isn’t even part of Israel. East Jerusalem lies beyond Israel’s internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. And the common assertion that Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem has roughly the same legal significance as my announcing that I’ve annexed my neighbor’s backyard. In 1980 the United Nations explicitly rejected Israel’s claim to possess East Jerusalem. And the United States, which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions that Israel finds threatening, chose not to do so in this case.

In short, accepting Gary Bauer’s idea of what it means to be anti-Israel seems to involve being anti-truth. So I don’t accept it. (And if you’re tempted to accept the common claim that Israel is building only in “traditionally Jewish” parts of East Jerusalem, a good antidote is this piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann, published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s excellent new Middle East Channel.)

Gary Bauer responds to Wright at The Weekly Standard:

I’ve read Mr. Wright’s article a half dozen times, and I’m struggling to understand his strange definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. It seems that to Mr. Wright the more loudly you criticize Israel, the more pro-Israel you can claim to be. By that standard, the United Nations is a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment.

That’s a strange view of friendship. Wright and the Obama administration are in a frenzy over the view that Jews in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods are the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Wright certainly knows that most Palestinians consider all of Israel a “settlement.” They don’t want Jews in Jerusalem, and they don’t want them in Tel Aviv. They don’t want a Jewish state period.

The disputed area of Jerusalem, Ramat Shlomo, is not a settlement. It’s not in a Palestinian neighborhood. Twenty thousand Israeli Jews live there. The idea that neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo should be relinquished has never been on the negotiating table. It’s not a neighborhood that the Palestinians have ever had any intention of taking control of until the Obama administration raised it as an issue.

Wright also, in criticizing remarks by Abe Foxman, says more “settlements” in East Jerusalem makes it “harder to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact.” But it’s wrong to suggest that Palestinians’ dignity would be endangered by Jews living in their own country. Arabs are free to live anywhere in Israel. Does Mr. Wright think Jews would  be welcomed and be able to live safely in a new Palestinian state?

During the 19 years that Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, it expelled all the Jews living in what was historically the Jewish Quarter, and it destroyed all the synagogues and the homes of Jews. In contrast, when Israel reunited Jerusalem, it allowed Jews and Muslims to live in any part of the city and to worship freely.

There are some who publicly insist that America’s support for Israel irritates Middle East Muslims. But those in the Muslim world who hate America do so for many reasons. They dislike our support for Israel, but they also loathe our freedom. The truth is that many Muslims hate America—as they hate Israel—because we exist and insist on pluralism and tolerance.

Max Boot in Commentary:

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

Justin Logan at Cato:

I have been and remain skeptical that Washington could successfully force a deal on the Israelis and Palestinians.  To my mind, neither side seems willing to make the sorts of very painful concessions that would be necessary for peace.  I think that the big problem the I/P dispute presents for the United States is less inherent in the conflict than it is in the fact that the United States has placed itself in a position, as George Kennan wrote, where “each [side] has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party.”

But as long as we’re implicated in this sorry affair, we ought to be throwing our weight around to try to push both parties in the directions we think they ought to go.  As Wright writes, smiling and nodding no matter what Israel does isn’t friendship.

Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s the impression I get. Obama just faced down a loud bully, the GOP base, in crafting a needed and moderate settlement on a deep domestic issue. Don’t the odds of his facing down Netanyahu thereby get a little bit better? Linkage, dear reader, linkage.

UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff at Powerline

Instapundit

Glenn Greenwald

UPDATE #2: Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell at Bloggingheads

2 Comments

Filed under Israel/Palestine, Political Figures