Tag Archives: Isaac Chotiner

Cheery Topics For The First Sunday Of The New Decade

Marc Thiessen at The Corner:

Several readers have asked: How is what Obama is doing with Abdulmutallab different from what Bush did with Richard Reid?

Simple answer: The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, here, here and here. Marshall:

Wow, this is getting pretty bad for the National Review and Marc Thiessen. Thiessen of course said that we tried Richard Reid in a regular American court since that was “long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over” to law enforcement. But as TPM Reader RM points out, President Bush okayed military tribunals a month before Reid tried to blow up the plane.

As I said, there’s no spinning this one. There’s no reason beside GOP electoral strategy for not trying AbdulMutallab in a regular American Court. But seriously, with National Review’s august history, can’t we at least get better fake answers?

Thiessen responds:

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall is hard at work exposing his ignorance. He’s got three posts up that attempt to rebut mine here on the Corner regarding the Obama administration’s decision to read Abdulmutallab his rights and give him a lawyer — thus ending his cooperation with investigators.

Where to begin? My post responded to critics who claim Obama is just doing to Abdulmutallab what Bush did to shoe bomber Richard Reid. I pointed out that Reid was captured a few months after 9/11, when we did not know all our options, and explained that the better comparison is Jose Padilla — who was captured in Chicago on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings, designated an enemy combatant, sent to the Charleston brig, and interrogated.

Gotcha, says Josh, pointing out that “President Bush okayed military tribunals a month before Reid tried to blow up the plane.” This is true — and irrelevant. The existence of this order does not prove his point. A decision had been made to create military commissions, but the complex policy questions about who would go to military commissions vs. civilian courts, how to handle detainees captured in the United States vs. those captured abroad, etc., had not been settled, and were not settled for some time. Josh clearly has no idea how this policy developed, or he would not make such ludicrous claims.

Marshall responds:

Thiessen makes the common mistake of believing that if you just pile enough facts on top of each other they will eventually amount to an argument. But it just doesn’t. You can find Thiessen’s post here. But the gist is that, contrary to my argument, the fact that President Bush had already okayed military tribunals in principle a month before Reid’s arrest is irrelevant because the administration had not yet had sufficient time to promulgate policies and procedures for tribunals and military detention. In other words, says Thiessen, the Reid decision was the right decision because it was the only option available at the time.

But this claim hardly stands scrutiny. It was a cardinal rule of the administration’s prosecution of the War on Terror that the commander-in-chief does not have to wait on administrative rulings or findings of fact to act in the nation’s defense. His war power is plenary. More concretely, though, Padilla, who was sent to military detention, was arrested only 6 months after Reid. Was it really all worked out by then? And if so, remember that Reid pleaded guilty only in January 2003, a full six months later. If everything had been worked out in May 2002 (for Padilla), President Bush could have plucked Reid out of the criminal court system and given him the Padilla treatment before his case ever came to trial. But he didn’t.

Thiessen’s point about Padilla doesn’t make much sense either. I said he was sent to military detention because we didn’t have enough evidence for a criminal trial. He says, no, we didn’t want to put him in a criminal court because the evidence would have allowed him to depose KSM and others then in CIA custody. In other words, I say six. And he says, Not so: it’s half a dozen! This is just another way of saying we didn’t have the evidence for a criminal trial.

And on waterboarding, Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

Those poll results must be incredibly disheartening for opponents of waterboarding. Not only do 58 percent support it, another 12 percent aren’t sure. That means 70 percent of Americans either support waterboarding the Christmas bomber or think it’s an open question whether it’s necessary. For the record, I’m in the against or not-sure camp. I’d want to know for sure whether other techniques couldn’t get relevant information and I’d want a better sense that this guy knows about an imminent threat. Marc’s right to note that only three captives were waterboarded for a reason: It should be a last resort. My hunch is that at least some of those 30 percent opposed to waterboarding Abdulmutallab oppose it for the same reason. And I’d bet that if this was a more dramatic ticking-bomb-type case the numbers supporting waterboarding would go up.

This is after two years of glowing speeches from Obama and a relentless media campaign to treat waterboarding as cruel and unusual torture. I think opposition to waterboarding is an honorable point of view, just like opposing the death penalty. But I think opponents to both are going to have to live with the fact that the American people disagree with them now and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Marc Thiessen at The Corner:

Jonah is absolutely right that opposition to waterboarding is an honorable position — but it’s a little more like pacifism than opposition to the death penalty.  As I explain in Courting Disaster, the evidence is overwhelming that waterboarding helped stop a number of terrorist attacks.  Which means if you oppose waterboarding in all circumstances, it means you are willing to accept as the price another terrorist attack.

That does not mean we have to waterboard Abdulmutallab, or even use enhanced techniques on him.  Use of those tactics should be rare, and reserved only for those who we are confident are withholding actionable intelligence on active threats.

Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism.  They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives.  We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service.  But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace.  Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.

More Thiessen:

As my old boss, Secretary Rumsfeld used to say, Americans have a pretty good “inner gyroscope.” It likely would not be necessary to use the waterboard to get Abdulmutallab to talk — only three terrorists underwent it and only 30 had any enhanced techniques used at all. But the vast majority of Americans have it right: You don’t put an enemy combatant who just committed an act of war into the criminal-justice system — and you certainly don’t give him a lawyer and tell him, “You have the right to remain silent.” You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

The only bright spot in the cases of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up that Christmas Day flight, and the five men who went to Pakistan to receive terrorist training, was that members of the wannabe-terrorists’ families approached authorities because of their children’s behavior. As an ever-larger percentage of right-wing commentators demand that Abdulmutallab be water-boarded or worse, it does seem worth asking whether parents will offer their children up to law enforcement if they–the parents–believe their kids will be tortured.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

It wasn’t so long ago that torture advocates insisted that it must be preserved as an option to prevent imminent attacks with weapons of mass destruction. Their ticking time bomb scenario was always unrealistic, and a flawed foundation for a legal regime, but somehow we’ve reached a far worse point in the debate where torture is deemed acceptable absent any imminent threat, or else opposing torture is deemed tantamount to pacifism, despite the obvious and incontrovertible fact that plenty of people who demonstrably aren’t pacifists oppose it.

Andrew Sullivan:

But here’s the critical line:

You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.

That’s the line that defines torture. If you can impose enough mental or physical pain or suffering to make someone tell you something you want to hear you have forced them to say something, true or false, to get the torture to stop. The fact of the matter is: this is illegal under any rational understanding of domestic and international law. In fact, domestic and international law mandates that governments do not even contemplate such measures, especially in extreme circumstances.

So National Review is urging law-breaking at the very highest levels of government. They are urging an extra-legal, extra-constitutional apparatus to seize and torture terror suspects outside of ticking time bomb scenarios as a matter of first resort. And yes, if they are advocating it against the pantie-bomber now, days after his capture, it is a first resort.

This is how far Cheney and the pro-torture camp have moved the debate, and why Obama’s calm attempt to overlook it is dangerous in the message it sends. What the Cheneyites themselves once refused to do, with Reid, they are now demanding Obama do to the pantie-bomber.

The few remaining voices on the right with any qualms about routine torture of terror suspects make their case with almost pathetic resignation. Glenn Reynolds seems to believe that openly exposing and opposing torture in a democracy is tantamount to endorsing and promoting it.


YEAH, BUT WITHOUT ANDREW SULLIVAN’S ANTI-TORTURE BLOGGING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN 56%: 58% Favor Waterboarding of Plane Terrorist To Get Information.

UPDATE: “My conclusion: the debate is over, and Dick Cheney won it.”

Reader Michael Gebert blames Andrew: “If fighting terrorists creates terrorists, surely being an endless hypocritical scold about waterboarding creates Dick Cheneys.” Yeah, I actually agree with Andrew on torture, but the more I read his stuff, the weaker my sentiments on the subject get . . . .

Sullivan on Instapundit:

What is his position now? We don’t know because his finger is still, as always, in the partisan wind. But he does passive-aggressively endorse torture-supporter Andy McCarthy’s belief that we should seize any suspect and subject them to “lengthy interrogation” (but, of course, he’s against torture), and links to every anti-Obama screed he can find. The entire gist of the linkage post is to oppose the position he explicitly took in 2003.

But we will get no accounting for the change. Because we never do.

Instapundit responds:

NO, ANDREW, it’s that you’re a preening, hectoring, self-centered, unpersuasive bad writer. That was my point, which you presumably got since you declined to include a link to my post. The more you argue that way — and the more you make it all about your self-satisfied sense of moral superiority — the less persuasive you are. Which, by now, has made you pretty damned unpersuasive indeed.

Sullivan responds:

So Glenn’s point is that bad writing is responsible for the US becoming a torturing nation under Cheney. If I had been able to be a good writer, I might have made a difference in the fight against torture. Reynolds, in stark contrast, waged a far more effective campaign against torture by writing and saying almost nothing, except for occasional credentializing statements that he is against it, while remaining in favor of everyone who is for it.

Yes, that sounds about right. Of course we are all imperfect writers. But that’s a subjective judgment and so I refer readers to my single attempt this past year to make the case as best I could in a single essay directed to the man ultimately responsible for the torture of countless prisoners, George W. Bush.

UPDATE: Joe Carter at First Things

UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez

UPDATE  #3: Thiessen responds to Carter


Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security, Torture

Rick Warren And Uganda

Lisa Miller at Newsweek:

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life, drew fire last year when he was invited to give the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. His support for Proposition 8 in California, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman only, and his anti-gay-marriage views concerned many in Obama’s base.

Now Warren’s on the defensive again, this time for his affiliation with Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan pastor who has endorsed proposed legislation in Uganda that makes certain homosexual acts punishable by life in prison or even, in some cases, death. Ssempa has made appearances at Saddleback and has been embraced warmly by Warren and his wife, Kay.

In October, Warren distanced himself from Ssempa and the Ugandan legislation, saying, “Martin Ssempa does not represent me; my wife, Kay; Saddleback Church; nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy,” a reference to Warren’s work in the developing world and Africa in particular. “In 2007 we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own.

“Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation.”

But Warren won’t go so far as to condemn the legislation itself. A request for a broader reaction to the proposed Ugandan antihomosexual laws generated this response: “The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.” On Meet the Press this morning, he reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: “As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides.” Warren did say he believed that abortion was “a holocaust.” He knows as well as anyone that in a case of great wrong, taking sides is an important thing to do.

Michael Triplett at Mediaite:

Ah, to be Rev. Rick Warren on a “very special” Thanksgiving Meet the Press.  Despite being connected to a Ugandan minister who supports the death penalty for gays, you don’t get asked about it — not even in a follow-up to the interview that occurred weeks earlier — and you aren’t pressed to explain your “I’m not a politician” position while calling abortion a “holocaust” and discussing your public position in opposing same-sex marriage in California.

Andrew Sullivan:

One of Rick Warren’s (and president George W. Bush’s) longtime allies in Uganda, Martin Ssempe, is the author of a classic piece of minority-baiting legislation. Its details belong in the history of genocidal hatred:

The Ugandan penal code already criminalizes sexual relations “against the order of nature,” a characterization that is frequently used to prosecute gays. Under the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, homosexual relations are specifically targeted. Anyone in a position of authority who is aware of a gay or lesbian individual has 24 hours to inform police or face jail time. Individuals found to engage in efforts to sexually stimulate another for the purpose of homosexual relations, or found touching another for that purpose, will face life in prison. Those who engage in “aggravated homosexuality” — defined as repeated homosexual relations or sexual contact with others who are HIV/AIDS infected — will face the death penalty.

This is an act of terror and murder against an already beleaguered minority, and Warren is an accessory to it. As a powerful figure in distributing AIDS funding in Uganda, he cannot bring himself to oppose a law that would condemn someone in a gay relationship to death, and imprison him or her for touching another human being, and inciting a wave of informing on family members and friends and acquaintances in order to terrify a sexual minority. This alleged man of God cannot speak out on this – except to protect his own p.r. His schtick of actually being the nice evangelical – a schtick that got him to Obama’s inauguration – is a lie. If he cannot condemn this fascist act of violence against a tiny minority of vulnerable human beings, then his position in this struggle is clear enough.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Andrew highlights the vicious homophobia of Pastor Rick Warren’s main ally in Uganda, a minister named Thomas Ssempa who burns condoms and seems ready to burn gays as well. I know Rick Warren fairly well, and though we disagree on some issues, he’s a good man who does good deeds across the planet, and it seems that he should be teaching Ssempa the error of his ways. I’ve e-mailed Rick to see what he has to say about Ssempa’s homophobia.

Allison Kilkenny:

He is taking sides. He believes abortion is a holocaust and it’s sometimes acceptable for homosexuality to be punished with the death penalty. That’s “taking sides” if ever I saw it.

As historian Howard Zinn says, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. We’re all resisters or collaborators by nature, even if we fold our hands and claim to be doing nothing because “doing nothing” allows those who are doing something (like actively promoting the killing of homosexuals) to operate unimpeded. So the train is moving in Uganda toward death sentences for gay people, and if pastor Ssempa is the train conductor, Rick Warren is at least a porter.

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow:


Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #3: Isaac Chotiner at TNR

Ross Douthat on Chotiner

UPDATE #4: Michael Gerson at Townhall

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, LGBT, Politics, Religion

All You Want To Do Is Wonk, Wonk, Wonk

Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

For Palin, the serious path required at least serving out her term as governor before returning to the national stage. For Huckabee, it could have involved anything from starting a think tank to running for the Senate in 2010. For both, it would have meant wedding their political identity to ideas as well as attitudes.

So far, they’ve chosen celebrity instead. Huckabee spent the last year hamming it up on a weekly talk show, and the last month hawking a book of inspirational Christmas stories. As for Palin — well, you probably know what she’s been up to lately.

Nobody should begrudge them their choices. Think tanks are a snooze; Senate races are a grind. Signing autographs for your adoring fans is more fun than rounding up budget votes in Juneau.

But they were the wrong moves if either wanted to become president someday. Huckabee’s gabfest is a weekly reaffirmation of the rap that he’s too lightweight for the Oval Office. Palin has sealed her identity as a culture-war lightning rod: she can inspire hysteria from liberals (ably catalogued in Matthew Continetti’s “Persecution of Sarah Palin”) and adulation from conservatives (visible at every stop along her book tour), but she’s unlikely to persuade anyone in the middle to trust her with the reins of government.

It’s possible to be a celebrity and a serious politician at the same time: Barack Obama’s career proves as much. But Obama’s celebrity status is frequently a political liability, and he’s (usually) wise enough to know it. That’s why he plays the wonk as often as he plays the global icon.

For now, no Republican leader projects a similar level of seriousness. Late in the Bush years, it was easy to dismiss conservatism as brain-dead. Among policy thinkers, that isn’t true anymore: the advent of Obama seems to have provided just the jolt that right-of-center wonks needed. But innovative proposals are useless without politicians willing to champion them.

Matthew Yglesias:

I think this is all pretty much right. And as Douthat goes on to argue, there are a number of right-of-center policy wonks who’ve tried to articulate some kind of meaningful response to the nation’s problems, only to be ignored. But is he right that “there are substantial political rewards awaiting the politician who becomes the voice of an intellectually vigorous conservatism?” I’d like to think he is. But it also seems to me that going all the way back to the rise of George W. Bush in 1999 we’ve seen the conservative movement tending to fetishize stupidity and put forward the notion that there’s something actually un-American about being thoughtful, having respect for scholarship, or incorporating any kind of nuance into your discussion.

9/11 served to intensify this and for a while turned it into a mainstream attitude. The idea that the country was just kind of screwed to have a dim bulb in office amidst a national crisis was too much to handle, so instead The New York Times started running articles saying “many Democrats who once dismissed Mr. Bush as too naive and too dependent on advisers to steer the United States through an international crisis are now praising his and his advisers’ performance. Some are even privately expressing satisfaction that Mr. Gore, who tried to make his foreign affairs experience an issue in the campaign, did not win.” That moment has, fortunately, waned somewhat in the mainstream. But not, I think, in the conservative movement.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

The first problem with this argument is that, er, Palin is unlikely to become a policy wonk because she is not very smart. What’s more, Douthat’s argument is tautological. Sure, it would be nice for the GOP if Palin and Huckabee were interested in policy. But if they were interested in policy, then they would not be so appealing to the GOP base. In other words, the problem is that a large part of the right has no interest in a policy wonk, and sneers at intellectuals and elites and the types of people Douthat would like to see running the party. A candidate who was interested in learning the ins and outs of the welfare state and health care policy is unlikely to ever achieve Palin/Huckabee levels of popularity with the grassroots.

Douthat responds:

Matt Yglesias and Isaac Chotiner both suggest that if a Republican politician were to embrace serious domestic policy ideas, Republican voters wouldn’t want anything to do with him. The conservative movement tends to “fetishize stupidity,” Yglesias writes, and believes that there’s “something actually un-American about being thoughtful, having respect for scholarship, or incorporating any kind of nuance into your discussion.” If Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee “were interested in policy, then they would not be so appealing to the GOP base,” Chotiner argues, adding that since movement conservatism “sneers at intellectuals and elites,” a conservative candidate “who was interested in learning the ins and outs of the welfare state and health care policy is unlikely to ever achieve Palin/Huckabee levels of popularity with the grassroots.”

I would really like to see this theory put to the test. Certainly there’s a strong anti-egghead bent on the Right, and you’re probably never going to see grassroots conservatives swooning for a purely cerebral candidate — a Adlai Stevenson or Bill Bradley type. But it’s possible for a candidate to have the common touch and to know a thing or two about domestic policy (see Clinton, William Jefferson), and I don’t see any evidence that a conservative politician couldn’t profit from trying to pull off that particular two-step.

For instance, would Sarah Palin lose a single right-wing fan if she suddenly started quoting National Affairs articles in all her speeches? I don’t think so. Or bracket Palin, since she’s so polarizing: Let’s suppose that Huckabee — a smart guy, and a fluent talker — decided to bone up seriously on policy before the 2012 campaign. Which grassroots fans would that cost him, exactly? True, most of Huckabee’s partisans like him more for who he is than what he stands for (a phenomenon that’s hardly unique to conservatives), but surely he could pick up a few more adherents by out-shining your average G.O.P. pol when he talks about, say, health care or entitlement reform. (A lot of people vote in Republican primaries, and for a lot of different reasons — they aren’t all just in it for the anti-elitism.)

Andrew Sullivan

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Movement, Politics

The Obligatory Blog Post

Some smatterings from the internets on Palin.

Jillian Rayfield at TPM:

Sarah Palin took aim at Newsweek on her Facebook page today, criticizing the magazine for using a “sexist” picture of her for its cover story this week.

The cover features a picture of Palin in a running outfit, taken from her August photo shoot with Runner’s World magazine. Newsweek‘s headline is “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sarah?”

Palin calls the choice of the picture “unfortunate,” and decries “the out-of-context Newsweek approach” that is “sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention – even if out of context.”

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

It’s early, but it’s got to be this from Sarah Palin’s Facebook reaction to Newsweek’s cover, which uses a photo of her clad in workout duds from her Runners World photo shoot:

If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin.

How do you judge a book by its gender?

It’s telling of something — either the degree to which Washington journalists rush to “break” the news of new Palin posts without reading them, or the tongue-in-cheek way they covered her — that several news outlets reported Palin’s response to Newsweek without noting this bit of gibberish.


Perhaps the gasbags and newsreaders in the infotainment complex find that distasteful or boring, but the women at least should probably think twice about perpetuating these stereotypes. They too will grow older like those other “unfeminine” women and won’t be able to show off their gams or otherwise market their sexuality. It might be a good idea to think ahead a little bit and ask themselves whether it’s a good idea to say that women who are no longer “sexy” are “playing by old pantsuit rules” and failing to “embrace their femininity.” They too are going to be beyond the years of being considered beauty pageant material someday.

I won’t even go into the notion that femininity equals sexiness because much smarter feminists than I have written volumes on the subject. Suffice to say that it’s more than a little bit startling to see such a thing advanced in the year 2009.

None of this is to deny that Palin is attractive and yes, sexy. She is. And I would never deny that physical attractiveness is an asset in our media culture. But that story framed her as doing something that other female politicians refuse to do because of some stuffy, feminist rules about pantsuits and “acting like men” when the fact is that Palin is not playing a serious political role, but rather a celebrity role where physical attractiveness is required. She is where she is not because of her hard work, study or political commitment, but because she is a compelling media figure and a huge part of that is because she is so attractive. Fine. But let’s not confuse these two things and tacitly condemn other women for taking their leadership roles seriously.

Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world. She doesn’t look like a pin-up and nobody expects her to. Just like most world leaders she is a middle aged person whose looks are incidental to their position of power. This is the way it works for men and should work for women too. The world has many beautiful celebrities to entertain us and god bless them all. What we have a shortage of is leaders with intellect and compassion and that can’t be discerned by whether or not they sexually excite you.

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

I just had a terrific interview with Governor Sarah Palin this afternoon. Her new book, Going Rogue, came out today. I’d like to say we talked a lot about her book, but I did not get it until 10:00 a.m. and had family stuff to take care of. I gave it a quick thumbing through, but largely asked questions based on readers submissions via twitter etc.

Up front, I asked Governor Palin what she wanted people to take away from her book. She said policy should be a take away. She wants people to read about what she thinks should be done to get the country back on its feet and help “everyday ordinary Americans,” a group she referred to repeatedly during our time together.

We spent a lot of the conversation talking about various policy issues.

Read to Lead

One of the criticisms leveled by the right when Palin was chosen as McCain’s nominee is that she had not shown she’d done the reading to lead, i.e. read the Hayek, Friedman, Goldwater, Bastiat, to form her thoughts. She admitted she is a gut level conservative, but also said that criticism comes mostly from “shallow people who have not delved into [her] record.”

I did not want to sound like Katie Couric and ask what she’s read, but I broached the subject and she went right into mentioning Thomas Sowell and Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. She said she has read some of the foundational stuff, but she sees no need to focus on the old writings. She likes “the modern stuff too.” Her preference is policy and application, focusing on writers who are not just following up on foundational conservative ideas, but applying those ideas too.

Nation Building

One of the issues that has divided the right lately is nation building. I asked her view and she said “I really do think America is blessed. We have taken a voluntary responsibility to assist other nations,” but we have to do our part at home first to build ourselves up. She said it didn’t do us any good to help lift up other countries if we weren’t lifting up ourselves. She cited “cutting taxes, helping employers, and building up our military” as examples.


With China in the news, I thought I’d ask her about that. She said China is a rising super power and we should treat it as such, but recognize there is an unbalanced trade situation right now complicated by our reliance on foreign energy sources at a time China has a voracious appetite for more and more energy of its own. “We should be selling energy to China,” Gov. Palin said.

While she wants good relations with China, she said our primary obligation must be to our existing allies. We need to make sure everyone knows we will absolutely stand by our allies and need to show our spine is still made of steel.

Ben Frumin at TPM:

Sarah Palin, speaking from a hotel room here in New York City, was a guest on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show today as part of her ongoing “Going Rogue” media blitz. She declared that Democrats are sheep, people aren’t responsible for climate change, and that the GOP civil war in the NY-23 congressional election was good for the Republican Party.

“I think this is exciting,” Palin said of NY-23. “It’s encouraging.”

Palin was one of several prominent Republicans who backed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in that race. The more moderate GOP candidate later dropped out and endorsed the Democrat, who eventually won.

UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates

UPDATE #2: Megan McArdle

Isaac Chotiner at TNR

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism, Mainstream, Political Figures

Andrew Sullivan And Isaac Chotiner Have Some Words For James Bowman


James Bowman in The Weekly Standard:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a tribute to our national talent for hypocrisy. Yes, President Clinton was prepared to agree, homosexual acts might be a risk to the high standards of morale, good order, discipline, and unit cohesion, but if nobody knew about them, then what harm could they do? Since then, nobody has thought up a better way of coping with this thorny problem. The left has nothing better to offer than riding roughshod over the opinions of the majority of servicemen–58 percent in the latest Military Times poll–and repealing the law. The same poll found that 10 percent of respondents would leave the service if gays were allowed openly to serve and another 14 percent would consider leaving. We have at least to take seriously the possibility that this would be the price of treating military service as a human right.

This it clearly cannot be. There are all kinds of people–the very young and the very old, the sick or disabled, violent criminals or, in combat roles, women–whom we regard as unfit to be soldiers. The fact that open homosexuals are also excluded cannot by itself be considered an injustice. The mere assumption that it is may be related to the fact that the advocates of integrating gay soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines into the armed forces so often speak, mistakenly, about the “repeal” of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy–as if, like waterboarding, it were a simple matter of presidential will to discontinue a practice that the “rights” lobby finds abhorrent. It’s an assumption that often seems to go with the moralized politics of the Age of Obama.


Yet if reason were to be readmitted to the debate, we might find something in the history of military honor to justify the principle now enshrined in the law decreeing that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” We know that soldiering–I mean not training or support or peacekeeping or any of the myriad other things soldiers do, but facing enemy bullets–is inextricably bound up with ideas of masculinity. We also know that most heterosexual males’ ideas of masculinity are inextricably bound up with what we now call sexual orientation. In other words, “being a man” typically does mean for soldiers both being brave, stoic, etc.–and being heterosexual. Another way to put this is to say that honor, which is by the testimony of soldiers throughout the ages of the essence of military service, includes the honor of being known for heterosexuality, and that, for most heterosexual males, shame attends a reputation as much for homosexuality as for weakness or cowardice.

This is not, of course, to say that homosexuals are weak or cowardly–only that the reputation of manliness, which we know to be an important component of military honor, is in practice incompatible with the imputation either of homosexuality or of weakness and cowardice. Now presumably an argument for the armed forces’ being required to accept gay recruits is that it doesn’t have to mean this, and that this simple reality is merely the product of custom and convention and no essential part of the moral and emotional equipment of men capable of nerving themselves to face combat. Possibly they are right. But what if they are wrong? Is there any way to find out without taking a real risk with national security? Are the advocates of gays in the military prepared to say, fiat justitia, ruat caelum? And if so, do the rest of us, the majority of gays and straights alike who would prefer not to take such a risk with our lives, property, and freedom, have any say in the matter? Or are the wishes of this minority of a minority to be paramount? They say they demand the “right” to make the supreme sacrifice for their country, and yet they are unwilling to make the presumably lesser sacrifice of being publicly reticent about their sexual behavior–or the sacrifice of not being in the military. It doesn’t add up, somehow.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

What wing of society has decided that “the reputation of manliness” is incompatible with homosexuality? In other words, why is this true “in practice”? Well, because of people of like Bowman, that’s why!

Meanwhile, the Latin at the end of the passage is, I’d imagine, supposed to subtly remind the reader that society is going to the dogs. Don’t you remember the days when real men walked the earth? No? Well at least you can study ancient times. Bowman, unsurprisingly, has written a book called Honor: A History. (Do conservatives ever get tired of this stuff?) He also works for an outfit called The Ethics and Public Policy Center, which, according to its website, “was established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.” Yeah yeah. Can’t the Standard move beyond this nonsense? Apparently not, because the piece comes on the heels of the magazine’s decision to print Sam Schulman’s atrocious case against gay marriage. Readers are invited to debate which article is worse.

Andrew Sullivan:

Beneath the elegant prose and the admission that gay soldiers are as good as straight ones – and as American as anyone else – is an old schoolyard epithet: no sissies allowed, and all fags are sissies. Let me point out to this bigot that he might want to avoid a fight with a sissy, because many of them could take his sorry ass to the cleaners, and because many more, over the centuries, have fought and died for their country and are more men than he, from his armchair, will ever be.

And, of course, part of the reason for forcing gay soldiers into the closet and holding persecution over their heads is precisely to conceal the plain truth that these stereotypes are false. I remind Bowman that the first solider to lose a limb in the Iraq war was a gay man. That he risked all for his country, that he showed immense valor, should make him a hero to his country and to his commander-in-chief.

And what did they do to him? They fired him. Get angrier.

UPDATE: Nathaniel Frank at HuffPo

Leave a comment

Filed under LGBT, Military Issues

The Ranters, The Ravers, The Candlestick Makers


David Brooks in today’s NYT:

In 2008, after McCain had won his nomination, Limbaugh turned his attention to the Democratic race. He commanded his followers to vote in the Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton because “we need Barack Obama bloodied up politically.” Todd Donovan of Western Washington University has looked at data from 38 states and could find no strong evidence that significant numbers of people actually did what Limbaugh commanded. Rush blared the trumpets, but few of his Dittoheads advanced.

Over the years, I have asked many politicians what happens when Limbaugh and his colleagues attack. The story is always the same. Hundreds of calls come in. The receptionists are miserable. But the numbers back home do not move. There is no effect on the favorability rating or the re-election prospects. In the media world, he is a giant. In the real world, he’s not.

But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

Brooks has an interesting thesis today: that high-profile right-wing media figures don’t have the sort of political power that a lot of people, especially Republican politicians, think they do. Maybe he’s right. But several of the data points he assembles to make his case don’t seem all that convincing to me.

Start with his opening point, which he spends the most time on: Supposedly radio talk-show hosts proved their powerlessness by failing to deliver the nomination to Mitt Romney or keep it from John McCain. I don’t believe these guys really were boosting Romney through the winter of 2007, as Brooks has it. In my recollection, you saw a spate of high-profile conservative endorsements only after the New Hampshire and even the Florida primaries. For whatever reason — I suspect it was the hard-to-predict dynamics of a multi-candidate field — a lot of these folks did not endorse until it was too late for them to have an impact. Maybe their tardiness is an example of their lack of political sense; but it is at least possible that they could have exercised real political influence with a better strategy.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

In many respects, this is precisely what conservatives have been saying about the New York Times for years. It is an extremely parochial organ geared to a readership that thinks it’s cosmopolitan and objective but is really an arrogant niche. The irony is that the conservative critique of the Times is being vindicated every day as the newspaper’s relevance and readership steadily shrink. Meanwhile, even if talk radio’s clout isn’t as impressive as some think, it’s doing a heck of a lot better catering to its “niche” than the Times is catering to theirs.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

Brooks wants to scold Democrats for acting as if Limbaugh and Beck have “control” over the party. And then a paragraph later he ruefully admits that Republican officeholders submit to the crazies! He cannot have it both ways. If Republicans are going to “surrender” to Limbaugh, then Brooks should not scold Democrats for mentioning Limbaugh’s power.

Daniel Larison:

It remains true that immigration restriction will never win elections on its own, and it is also true that candidates who present themselves as nothing other than restrictionists are not going to win in the absence of any other compelling message. Hayworth and Graf were primarily restrictionist candidates, and they lost during an incredibly bad year for their party. There were more than a few supporters of “comprehensive reform” that also lost that year, because voters repudiated the GOP mostly because of the war that almost all Republicans, including both restrictionists and pro-amnesty types, continued to support. This is the real weakness of the Republican Party that Brooks can never bring himself to acknowledge in his analysis. It does not help make his case against both popular and populist conservatism, because most mainstream conservatives of all stripes are implicated in this foreign policy failure, and few more so than Brooks himself.

What Brooks fails to mention is that McCain and Huckabee did as well as they did during the primaries partly by avoiding the issue of immigration or, in Huckabee’s case, by simply reversing his immigration stance. How many times did McCain claim that he had “learned his lesson” from backlash in 2007? Of course, he had learned only that he and his allies could not be as obvious in their contempt for rank-and-file conservatives. In any event, he ignored immigration throughout the primaries and the general election, because he knew that there were no votes to be won by talking about his record. One moment Huckabee was the media darling, a folksy “compassionate” conservative who spoke to the NEA and defended mass immigration, and the next he attempted to make himself a populist firebrand aligned with the Minutemen and Chuck Norris. Furthermore, the problems most mainstream conservatives claimed to have with Huckabee concerned his fiscal record and his flirtations with foreign policy realism. Penalizing that sort of “deviationism” would likely not trouble Brooks quite so much. Brooks also fails to mention that the candidate favored by many of Brooks’ reformist conservatives, Giuliani, flamed out even more spectacularly than Thompson. As out of touch and unrepresentative as Limbaugh et al. may be, the reformists are even more so.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:

But the proposition that Brooks dismisses is arguable. Limbaugh and Beck may not represent a set of issue positions as much as an attitude about politics, one that is very common to Republican base voters, and one that, thanks to the contingencies of geography, demography, campaign finance rules and Congressional morays — must be embraced by GOPers in most of the country in order to keep their seats. It is undoubtedly true that there is no Beck or Limbaugh “majority” — and that the loudest voices on the right are those that tend to vote anyway  — objects in the mirror are farther away than it’s supposed.  I know that Limbaugh’s GOP and Beck’s GOP — although Beck is really best described as a conservative who doesn’t like the GOP — is not Brooks’s GOP.  But it’s the GOP distilled to its essence. And it’s one reason why, midterm gains next year notwithstanding, Republicans must incorporate these elements into whatever coalition it builds for the future.

Doug J.

In the main, arguing with Brooks is not that different from arguing with Rush Limbaugh. Let’s leave aside the fact that Brooks has quoted white supremacist Steve Sailer, claimed that immigrants bring with them a “culture of criminality”, and spends a great deal of time hippie-baiting, because my point here is about policy positions not rhetoric.

I’ve read nearly every column Brooks has written for the past eight years. They tend more towards personal profiles and cultural musings than policy pronouncements. The main policy positions I’ve seen him espouse are (1) support for the Iraq war, (2) support for vouchers/opposition to everything about our current educational system, and (3) concern-trolling about Democratic budget deficits (for whatever reason, the Bush budget deficits were not problematic for him). These are, of course, all positions that Limbaugh takes too. Obviously, you all know how the Iraq war turned out, but it’s also worth noting that political opposition to a robust stimulus package has had dire consequences.

It’s nice to believe that if so-called reasonable people of good will got together and stopped listening to “extremists”, then everything would be well and good. It’s just not true. Plenty of completely and utterly disastrous policy decisions are supported by so-called reasonable people of good will.

Steven Hayward in WaPo:

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.
President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.
[…]The blend of entertainment and politics is not unique to the right (exhibit No. 1 on the left: “The Daily Show”). And it is perfectly possible to conduct talk radio at a high level of seriousness, and several talkers do well at matching the quality of their shows to their intellectual pedigree. Consider Hugh Hewitt (Michigan Law School), Michael Medved (Yale Law School), William Bennett (Harvard Law and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas) — all three of these brainiacs have popular shows on the Salem Radio Network.

With others — Michael Savage and “Mancow” come to mind — the charge of dumbing down is much more accurate. Rush Limbaugh adheres to Winston Churchill’s adage that you should grin when you fight, and in any case his keen sense of satire makes him deserving of comparison to Will Rogers, who, by the way, was a critic of progressivism. Others among the right’s leading talkers, such as Sean Hannity, seem unremittingly angry and too reflexively partisan on behalf of the Republican Party rather than the conservative movement (they are not the same thing).

Hayward at The Corner:

I’m already getting an avalanche of angry e-mails from Mark Levin fans complaining bitterly about the absence of any mention of him in my Post article, assuming (wrongly) that this oversight means I am critical or dismissive. I’m tempted to refer them to my favorite insider lightbulb joke: How many Straussians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: None — the light is made conspicuous by its absence. Let me say it clearly here: Mark is a very bright light.

The omission of Levin from my piece is conspicuous, but was a combination of deliberation and space limitations. Mark is a special case, and I could have chosen him instead of Glenn Beck for my approving case study at the end, but I decided to go with Beck because he’s in everyone’s cross-hairs at the moment, and also because I don’t think Mark needs to learn anything from me. I think Liberty and Tyranny is an excellent book, exactly the kind of book we need that explains in a serious way how liberalism has unraveled the Constitution thread-by-thread.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

As I’ve noted before, Mark Levin’s book does explain conservatism in a serious way — at times I’d go so far as to say that it describes it elegantly. But the most conspicuous flaw in the book, contra Mr. Hayward, is that it doesn’t explain “how liberalism has unraveled the Constitution” — it asserts that “Statism” has unraveled the Constitution, it never attempts a step-by-step account of the mechanisms by which this happened, and it never grapples with liberalism as it is actually practiced in the United States, instead relying on a straw man belief system that pretends as though people on the American left are basically freedom hating. It is useful to compare the book to Road to Serfdom, a book that actually does articulate a step by step process whereby leftist public policy undermines freedom.

I am not surprised that Mr. Hayward would find content in the book to praise, but I am puzzled that he offers that particular compliment, as it is unjustified by the content of the tome.

Allah Pundit

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

My friend Steve Hayward is author of The Age of Reagan. In this coming Sunday’s Washington Post Steve asks whether conservatism is lacking at present in the cranial department. It is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking column.

In the column Steve discusses the current imbalance between the intellectual and populist elements of the conservative project. He concludes with some kind words for Glenn Beck, whom I have been inclined to view, perhaps unfairly, as a self-promoting buffoon with a touch of Lonesome Rhodes added for good measure

Peggy Noonan in WSJ:

You know the current media environment. You think I’m about to say, “Boy, what’s said on cable, radio and the Internet now is really harmful and dangerous.” And you’re right, and it is. Some of the ranters don’t have the faintest idea where the line is. “They keep moving the little sucker,” said the William Hurt character, the clueless and unstoppable anchorman, in “Broadcast News.” They’ve been moving the little sucker for 20 years. But it’s getting worse, and those who warn of danger are right.

Two examples from just the past week. A few days ago, I was sent a link to a screed by MSNBC’s left-wing anchorman Ed Schultz, in which he explained opposition to the president’s health-care reform. “The Republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They’d rather make money off your dead corpse. They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don’t have anything for us.” Next, a link to the syndicated show of right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, on the subject of the U.S. military, whose security efforts at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh show them to be agents and lackeys of the New World Order. “They are complete enemies of America. . . . Our military’s been taken over. . . . This is the end of our country.” Later, “They’d love to kill 10,000 Americans,” and, “The republic is falling right now.”

Jesse Walker at Reason:

I’m going to stop quoting long chunks of the column, partly out of mercy for my readers and partly because I’m starting to feel like a heckler. I just think it’s remarkable (though not unprecedented) that Noonan can switch so easily from denouncing other media figures’ apocalyptic rhetoric to spouting apocalyptic rhetoric of her own. How easy would it be to turn her own arguments against her? (“Stop reading this and ask whoever’s nearby, ‘Do you find yourself worrying about Glenn Beck’s safety?'”) The novelty of her article is that she explicitly ties her fears of a pending catastrophe to a yearning for a strong hand to “rescue America from the precipice” and “lead through this polarized time.” The strong hand of…media “Elders.” Like William Safire. And, um, “Walter Cronkite, Bob Novak, Don Hewitt, Irving Kristol.” Yeah, she included Novak. I guess she never saw him on Crossfire.

Pareene at Gawker

K-Lo at The Corner:

In her latest column, Peggy Noonan warns about the “ranters,” but it’s worth noting who she is talking about. Unlike many who criticize talk radio (especially when the name Rush Limbaugh appears), Noonan is not lying about people’s records. And while you might say she’s a romantic, waxing nostalgic about the late “elders” of the media, every civilization can probably do with some civic romanticism.

UPDATE: Will at The League on Hayward

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Movement, Mainstream

Before These Crowded Democratic Primaries

Neil A. Lewis in NYT:

The story of the spectacular rise and fall of John Edwards, with its sordid can’t-look-away dimensions, is moving slowly but deliberately to its conclusion here in North Carolina.

Mr. Edwards, the one-term senator who came close to being elected vice president in 2004 and ran a credible campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, remains largely secluded at his 100-acre estate here.

But a federal grand jury in nearby Raleigh is investigating whether any crimes were committed in connection with campaign laws in an effort to conceal his extramarital affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter. At the same time, Mr. Edwards is moving toward an abrupt reversal in his public posture; associates said in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible.

Isaac Chotiner in TNR:

Two other things were worth noting. First:

“At the same time, Mr. Edwards is moving toward an abrupt reversal in his public posture; associates said in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible. Friends and other associates of Mr. Edwards and his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, say she has resisted the idea of her husband’s claiming paternity. Mrs. Edwards, who is battling cancer, “has yet to be brought around,” said one family friend…”

If true, this does not put Elizabeth Edwards in the best possible light, although the following detail does make you wonder about Ms. Hunter:

“Ms. Hunter gave her daughter the middle name Quinn, and people who have spoken with her said its resemblance to the Latin prefix for five was to proclaim that the baby was Mr. Edwards’s fifth child. (He had four with Mrs. Edwards, the oldest of whom was killed in a car accident).”


Charles Lemos at My DD:

In the New York Times story, there is this rich snippet:

“According to people familiar with the grand jury investigation, prosecutors are considering a complicated and novel legal issue: whether payments to a candidate’s mistress to ensure her silence (and thus maintain the candidate’s viability) should be considered campaign donations and thus whether they should be reported. When Mr. Edwards was running for president, and even later when he still held out hope of a senior cabinet position in the Obama administration, two of his wealthy patrons, through a once-trusted Edwards aide, quietly provided Ms. Hunter with large financial benefits, including a new BMW and lodging, that were used to keep her out of public view.”And this:

“The notion that Mr. Edwards is the father has been reinforced by the account of Andrew Young, once a close aide to Mr. Edwards, who had signed an affidavit asserting that he was the father of Ms. Hunter’s child.Mr. Young, who has since renounced that statement, has told publishers in a book proposal that Mr. Edwards knew all along that he was the child’s father. He said Mr. Edwards pleaded with him to accept responsibility falsely, saying that would reduce the story to one of a political aide’s infidelity.

In the proposal, which The New York Times examined, Mr. Young asserts that he assisted the affair by setting up private meetings between Mr. Edwards and Ms. Hunter. He wrote that Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.”

Geez, John no promise of a White House wedding? You’re dead to me John Edwards.

Lindsay Robertson at New York Magazine on the Dave Matthews Band tidbit:

Wow, that is alarmingly specific! And sad. And gross. (And we’re not just talking about the choice of band!) Dave Matthews is probably not pleased to have been dragged into this

Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

The only question now, it seems, is whether Edwards will eventually also admit that he loves Hunter, which is clearly what she has been hanging around for all along.  There’s no other reason to endure the fury Elizabeth Edwards has wrought as the woman scorned.

If Edwards does eventually admit that, Hunter will have played the whole thing perfectly.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus

Danielle Crittenden at New Majority

UPDATE #2: Ben Smith at Politico

Allah Pundit

Michelle Cottle at TNR

Jason Zengerle at TNR

1 Comment

Filed under Political Figures

Three Men And Afghanistan


Man #1: General Stanley McChrystal. Mark Tran in The Guardian:

The west must change its strategy in order to prevail in Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said today as he handed over to US and Nato commanders a sweeping review of operations that may lead to a demand for more troops.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Stanley McChrystal said. His findings will be submitted to President Barack Obama, who faces a public increasingly restive over a war that has lasted eight years.

McChrystal does not ask for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, but his grave reflections on the failure of strategy may well herald a request in a separate briefing to Obama expected later this autumn.

The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan was graphically illustrated during the recent elections, over which numerous complaints have been filed. Results are still being compiled, but a tally released today based on 48% of polling stations gave the incumbent president Hamid Karzai 45.8% of the vote to 33.2% for his nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai needs 50% to avoid a second round run-off.

McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June after firing his predecessor, David McKiernan. The document has been sent to the US military’s central command (CentCom), responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Ed Morrissey:

This will present Obama with some tough political choices.  The left wing of his party wants the US out of Afghanistan, regardless of the status of al-Qaeda.  The military wants to keep pursuing AQ, and most of the country would agree with that position.  Republicans will support Obama’s effort overseas as long as he remains flexible on strategy and tactics.

On the review, Spencer Ackerman:

We still don’t know what it says. Not even Defense Secretary Bob Gates does, apparently, though it went to the Pentagon and NATO. The initial reports are that it says a lot of what it’s been expected to say: the war is hard but not hopeless; more Afghan forces are necessary; intelligence collection and dissemination needs to improve; so does military-civilian coordination; so does U.S.-NATO coordination. There are no indications as yet that it will deal with broader strategic questions of what the war aims precisely are or how the U.S. will know when they’ve achieved them. (And McChrystal is deferring a decision to request more troops until a later date.)

This, from The New York Times, struck my eye:

“Just how many more Afghan police and soldiers General McChrystal wants is unclear. In Iraq, where conditions have stabilized markedly over the past two years, the American-trained Iraqi security forces number about 600,000.”

I had thought the plan was to get those troop and police numbers up to 400,000.

Marc Ambinder:

The president and his national security team are skittish, but they aren’t looking for a way to deny McChrystal what he thinks he needs. It will be quite interesting to see how McChrystal phrases his request. It won’t accompany the report — though the report will probably imply as much.

New troops would be funded by a new congressional appropriation. But the administration has promised to Congress that it would no longer fund the war by submitting supplemental requests, and the Defense Department has already programmed funds for the 2010 fiscal year. They cannot simply move a few billion dollars from here to there. There may not be enough troops, either. Soldiers on long deployments in Iraq will, if this happens, be sent to Afghanistan for another deployment.

So, assuming that the White House doesn’t renege on their supplemental promise, the earliest that McChrystal could get his additional troops would be at least a year from now.

And that might be exactly what the White House and the Department of Defense are counting on. After all, the new Afghanistan strategy — counterterrorism using the means of counterinsurgency — is still fairly new. As painful as it is, the administration seems to want to give it a chance to succeed.


McChrystal is engaging in some sleight of hand here. The top priority for the Obama Administration, at least in the President’s public statements, has never been “protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban.” We’ve heard about dismantling Taliban safe havens, but not that our military should be used as an internal security force. We should at least have that debate if it’s the new goal.

I’m more concerned that the Administration feels it has to race to show progress, basing their continued presence in Afghanistan not on any security objective, but simply meaning to justify the presence through demonstrable benchmarks. If the benchmarks, or “metrics” in the new parlance, are not tethered to a fundamental mission or strategy, how can we possibly define success? In recent years, the success or failure in achieving benchmarks or metrics have had no impact on the larger decisions of escalation or drawdown. A benchmark strategy just looks like a justification strategy rather than any kind of real assessment.


Man #2: Anthony Cordesman, in WaPo:

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months — any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.


McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each — although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to “hold” and keep the Afghan population secure, and “build” enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

Ezra Klein:

Monday’s op-ed by Anthony Cordesman is titled “How to Lose in Afghanistan.” In it, he uses the word “victory” three times. He uses the word “win” four time. He also mentions losing, and defeat. But nowhere does he define what winning is, or what losing looks like. He’s pretty clear that we want to win and we don’t want to lose. And he’s pretty clear that victory means giving Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal all the resources they request and all the authority they want and protecting them from “constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys.”

Cordesman and many others have certainly thought about this issue a lot and probably have working definitions of success. But there’s been a peculiar unwillingness to define any of this very clearly. Richard Holbrooke, when asked, said, “we’ll know it when we see it.” The strategy is, presumably, a little more distinct when detailed in White House meetings. But it’s hard to avoid the concern that these folks actually have a perfectly clear vision of success but recognize that it’s sufficiently ambitious that they’re unwilling to define it publicly. People like the idea of victory. But do they like the idea of trying to be the first country to ever successfully nation-build in Afghanistan?

Max Boot in Commentary:

So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).

Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”

Dave Schuler:

As I see it there are fundamental problems with a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. First, as long as the insurgents are able to flee to bases in Pakistan they will be difficult if not impossible to reduce and the Pakistani government despite brave talk has shown little inclination to eliminate these bases.

Second, there is no central government in Afghanistan to support. There is a Kabul government.

Third, there are no prospects whatever for Afghanistan itself shouldering the bulk of the burden of the counter-insurgency effort for the foreseeable future and our NATO allies have shown little enthusiasm for increasing their own commitments to the effort.

But most importantly the case has yet to be made to the American people that victory in Afghanistan is either achievable or even worth pursuing at least not in the time or at the cost that would be required. Commenters as diverse as Matthew Yglesias and Dennis the Peasant have pointed out that neither Dr. Cordeman nor Gen. McChrystal nor the Obama Administration have defined victory in Afghanistan. It’s darned hard to convince people that something is worth sacrificing for if neither you nor they know what it is. I suspect the American people are increasingly skeptical that what’s going on in Afghanistan is the war they signed on for.


Man #3: George Will:

Afghanistan’s $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise’s. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development.

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan’s recent elections were called “crucial.” To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American “success,” whatever that might mean.

Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a “renewal of trust” of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai’s government – his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker – as so “inept, corrupt and predatory” that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, “who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan’s “culture of poverty.” But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases – evidently there are none now – must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Mike Allen at Politico:

Will’s prescription – in which he urges Obama to remember Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870 – seems certain to split Republicans. He is a favorite of fiscal conservatives. The more hawkish right can be expected to attack his conclusion as foolhardy, short-sighted and naïve, potentially making the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.

Spencer Ackerman:

I’m not really sure how many minds this will actually change. Will’s never been much of a hawk, though he does represent something of a curmudgeonly conservative establishmentarianism. Dave can correct me if I’m off-base here.


Over email, Drudgico tells me that in his next column George Will will say it’s time to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan. I don’t especially care what George Will thinks about anything, but given the way things work hopefully it’ll provide some space to make that just a little bit more possible.

Ann Althouse

K-Lo at The Corner


UPDATE: On Will, Via Allah Pundit

Frederick Kagan at The Corner

Rich Lowry at The Corner


UPDATE #2: More on Will:

Peter Wehner in Commentary

Hugh Hewitt at Townhall

William Kristol at WaPo

Isaac Chotiner at TNR

Christian Brose at FP

1 Comment

Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT

“And You Will Know I Am The Lord When I Lay My Vengeance Upon You”- Ezekiel 25:17, Samuel L. Jackson-Style

sbnek8Inglourious Basterds opens.

Chris Orr at TNR:

That first scene is a knockout, one of the tautest cat-and-mouse exchanges since Dennis Hopper discussed Italian genealogy with Christopher Walken in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance–the surface bonhomie heightening, rather than concealing, the lethal tensions beneath. Though he overplays his hand on occasion in the latter portions of the film, Waltz is a genuine revelation as the smugly insinuating Jew-hunter Landa. If the actor were not already well-known in Europe, one would call it a star-making performance; instead, we can settle for star-importing.

Not everything in the film is quite so appealing, though the ratio of good Tarantino (the sharp dialogue; the structural inventiveness; the encyclopedic enthusiasm for historic cinema) to bad Tarantino (the bloodbaths-as-narrative-escape-hatches; the indecisive border between homage and parody) is considerably higher than it has been post-Jackie Brown. For any who might worry that Inglorious Bastards is, as the film’s marketing seems to promise, a Holocaust-revision variation on Kill Bill, a gory, unimaginative slog by baseball bat and bowie knife through acres of Nazi corpses, the movie is a very pleasant surprise. For those who were looking forward to such a Kill Wilhelm, well, you do still get a bit of batting practice.

Dana Stevens in Slate:

If Inglourious Basterds is offensive—and in spots, it’s wildly so—it’s not because Tarantino tries to bring Hitler and comedy together. That’s been done before—by Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, and others—back when the wound of the war was much fresher. The queasiness comes in when the movie unproblematically offers up sadistic voyeurism as a satisfying form of payback. As he’s trying to extract information from a German soldier, Brad Pitt’s character speaks a line that could function as the movie’s motto: “Watching Germans get beat to death is as close as we get to going to the movies.” Tarantino’s radical rewriting of the war’s ending is audacious and perversely enthralling. But if Inglorious Basterds were about something more than the cinematic thrill of watching Nazis suffer, it could have been a revelation.

Dennis Lim in Slate:

Since it premiered at Cannes in May, Basterds has met with some wildly conflicting reactions (some of them—no surprise given its breezily outrageous approach to a loaded subject—highly negative and morally accusatory). Tarantino’s career since Pulp Fiction continues to seem like one long backlash. Could it be that one of the most overrated directors of the ’90s has become one of the most underrated of the aughts?

Tarantino’s filmography is split in two by the six-year gap that separated Jackie Brown (1997) and Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), during which, among other things, he worked on the notoriously unwieldy Basterds screenplay (which was at one point supposed to be a miniseries). The received wisdom has it that he never quite made a comeback. But the criticisms most frequently leveled against him these days—he’s a rip-off artist, he makes movies that relate only to other movies, he knows nothing of real life, he could use some sensitivity training—apply equally, if not more so, to the earlier films. (Reservoir Dogs lifted many of its tricks directly from the Hong Kong film City on Fire; Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are the Tarantino movies with the most flamboyant use of racist language.) Reviewers and audiences may have wearied of the blowhard auteur, but there’s an argument to be made that Tarantino, far from a burnout case, is just hitting his stride, and that his movies, in recent years, have only grown freer and more radical.


Inglourious Basterds addresses head-on many of the standard anti-Tarantino criticisms. You say he makes movies that are just about movies? You think they present violence without a context? Luring the elite of the Third Reich to an Art Deco cinematheque in Nazi-occupied Paris, Basterds gleefully uses film history to turn the tables on world history; its context is nothing less than the worst atrocity of the 20th century. This only seems to have further infuriated Tarantino’s detractors, some of whom are appalled that this terminal adolescent would dare to indulge his notorious penchant for vengeful wish fulfillment on such sensitive and sacrosanct material.

Needless to say, Tarantino’s movie shares little common ground with—and, indeed, is probably a direct response to—your typical Holocaust drama. It has no interest in somber commemoration, and it refuses to deny the very real satisfactions of revenge. Like all of Tarantino’s films, Inglourious Basterds is about its maker’s crazy faith in movies, in their ability to create a parallel universe. His films have always implicitly insisted that movies are an alternative to real life, and with Inglourious Basterds, for the first time, he has done something at once preposterous and poignant: He takes that maxim at face value and creates his own counterfactual history. It may not be his masterpiece, but for sheer chutzpah, it will be hard to top.

Rob Hunter at Film School Rejects:

Much praise has already been bestowed upon Waltz’ Col. Landa, and the performance deserves every bit of it (and more). Landa is a master interrogator and detective (he even pulls out a pipe early on that would make Sherlock Holmes jealous), and Waltz presents his evil machinations as part of an irresistible and infectious force. Even knowing what Landa’s intentions are you can’t help but be charmed

and mesmerized by Waltz’ charisma, playful spirit, and winking expressions. He’s the loquacious Nazi uncle we all wish we had as children… at least until he knows you’re his, the laughter and smiles disappear, and he stares at you with a icy and predetermined resolve. At which point you’re completely fucked. Waltz could play nothing but interrogators for the rest of his career, and I would never tire of watching him work. (And while that may be better than his current resume of German TV movies, I hope he actually gets a bit more variety.) Laurent’s is the other fantastic performance here as Shosanna runs the gamut of emotions from loss to love to fear to rage. Watch the scene in the cafe where she meets Landa unexpectedly for the second time, watch her beautiful but terror-filled face as she silently pleads not to be left alone with him, and see if you aren’t moved. (And if you’re like me you’ll also immediately begin adding her other work to your Netflix queue.)


Pitt’s performance shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it may serve as a reminder that he’s at his best in roles that lean oddly comedic. Some may see his Tennessee mountain-man as a caricature, and while I’m open to that argument his commitment to the character and delivery of some of the film’s funniest lines has won me over regardless. Most of the remaining performances are solid, but two of them stand out as less than that. On the minor end, Fassbender misplays his British film critic-turned-soldier by over-doing the “jolly good” bits of dialogue most severely when we first meet him opposite Myers. The fact that Myers gives the more subdued performance of the two is shocking to say the least. And then there’s Eli Fucking Roth. He plays a Basterd nicknamed “The Bear-Jew” by the Nazi soldiers who’ve heard tales of him bashing in heads with a baseball bat. The character is imposing enough to overcome most of Roth’s suckage, but not enough of it. He murders every piece of dialogue he’s given, misses every comedic beat (aside from one involving Italian hand gestures), and his expressions consist solely of smarmy smirk or pursed-lipped psycho stare. It’s almost enough to wish Tarantino had played the role himself… okay, that’s not true, but Roth is pretty damn bad.

John Cairns at Film School Rejects

Jenna Busch at Huffington Post

Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic:

The horror-movie director Eli Roth—his film Hostel is the most repulsively violent movie I’ve ever seen twice—plays a Basterd known as the “Bear Jew,” whose specialty is braining Germans with a baseball bat. Roth told me recently that Inglourious Basterds falls into a subgenre he calls “kosher porn.”

“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth said. “My character gets to beat Nazis to death. That’s something I could watch all day. My parents are very strong about Holocaust education. My grandparents got out of Poland and Russia and Austria, but their relatives did not.”

Tarantino’s producer, Lawrence Bender, says that after reading the first draft of Inglourious Basterds, he told Tarantino, “As your producing partner, I thank you, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you, motherfucker, because this movie is a fucking Jewish wet dream.” Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the film’s executive producers, also reportedly enjoyed the film’s theme of Jewish revenge.

Tarantino told me he has received only positive reactions from his Jewish friends. “The Jewish males that I’ve known since I’ve been writing the film and telling them about it, they’ve just been, ‘Man, I can’t fucking wait for this fucking movie!’” he told me. “And they tell their dads, and they’re like, ‘I want to see that movie!’”

Andrew O’Hehir in Salon on Goldberg’s piece:

In his Atlantic article, Goldberg opines that no Jewish filmmaker would ever concoct such a brazen, violent and preposterously disconnected revenge fantasy (although it’s worth reconsidering “Hostel” in light of the fact that Eli Roth’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors). Wells implies, but doesn’t quite say, that the net effect of “Inglourious Basterds” may be anti-Semitic, in its depiction of Jews as deranged, unscrupulous killers. My own view is that Quentin Tarantino has no serious opinions or convictions whatever regarding Nazis or Jews or the Holocaust. Beneath all his B-movie genre-worship, Tarantino remains a pomo disciple of Jean-Luc Godard, playing an elaborate game of bait-and-switch with his audience and seeking to disarrange the conventional stories — or stories about stories — we’ve got in our heads. More simply, he’s just fucking with us.

More from Goldberg

UPDATE: Isaac Chotiner at TNR

UPDATE #2: Dennis Hartley

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, Religion

Darkness Loses Its Prince


Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, one of the nation’s most influential journalists, who relished his “Prince of Darkness” public persona, died at home here early Tuesday morning after a battle with brain cancer.

“He was someone who loved being a journalist, loved journalism and loved his country and loved his family, Novak’s wife, Geraldine, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

Novak’s remarkable and long-running career made him a powerful presence in newspaper columns, newsletters, books and on television.

On May 15, 1963, Novak teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to create the “Inside Report” political column, which became the must-read syndicated column. Evans tapped Novak, then a 31-year old correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, to help with the workload of a six-day-a-week column.

Evans and Novak were the od d couple: Evans a Philadelphia blue blood and Yale graduate; Novak from Joliet, Ill. who attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.

Novak handled the column solo after Evans retired in 1993. The Chicago Sun-Times has been Novak’s home paper since 1966.

Kenneth Tomlinson at Human Events:

Throughout my life, I followed Bob Novak journalism like I followed the careers of my favorite sports figures. Later, as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, I would become one of Novak’s nominal bosses, though the fact was that every time I worked with him or was associated with him in any way, it was I who felt privileged. Few journalists have ever affected this country like Bob Novak.

I discovered the Evans-Novak column in the summer of 1963 shortly after it was launched by the New York Herald Tribune. I was a summer intern in Washington and a Goldwater fan, and it became apparent that reading Evans-Novak was the best way of following what was actually happening in the fledging Goldwater movement.

It turns out Novak, who got to know Goldwater covering the Senate, was no fan of the Arizona senator. But he was infatuated with the brilliant work of Goldwater political operative F. Clifton White, who actually orchestrated the Goldwater nomination. And White was a close source.

Timothy Carney at Human Events:
I remember a Baltimore Orioles game in 2004.  Novak invited me to join him and gave me two extra tickets.  I took my friend Sean Rushton — a conservative who shared Novak’s enthusiasm for supply-side economics — and Rushton’s wife.  Repeatedly, Rushton plied Novak with questions about the economy or the tax code.  Novak grunted off the questions and replied with comments about Rodrigo Lopez’s change-up or questions about the Orioles’ base-running.

Frustrated, Rushton got up to buy a beer, at which point his wife mentioned to Novak that her father was a racecar driver.  This, it turns out, was Novak’s fantasy job.  Sean returned to see his wife and Novak engaged in a lively discussion about auto racing.

Novak, of course, was also a conservative.  Although always close to the conservative movement, even when he was big enough that he didn’t need it.  Novak was always independent in his thought.  At times the conservative movement has been less tolerant of dissent within the ranks.  I was working for him in 2002 and 2003 when Novak stood against President Bush and the Iraq War.

Novak’s stance led some of the more bellicose writers in the movement to assail Novak’s character.  Neoconservative writer David Frum wrote a cover story for National Review on the eve of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, calling Novak, together with Pat Buchanan and other opponents of the invasion, “Unpatriotic Conservatives.”

Novak was an unapologetic warrior for his beliefs as a pundit, having spent decades building his credibility as a journalist.  Nicknamed “the Prince of Darkness”, a title he proudly used for his memoirs, Novak did not mince words or suffer fools lightly.  He became one of the premier conservative pundits in the US, but did not hesitate to criticize the Right — or to do so with brutal honesty — when he felt it was running off the rails.  He blasted the McCain campaign for misleading him on the running-mate selection process last summer, for instance.  A couple of months before that, he ripped the GOP for feeding at the public trough on ag subsidies while claiming the mantle of fiscal discipline.

It was just a little over a year ago that Novak announced that he had inoperable and terminal brain cancer.  He retired from most of his work, but that lasted only a few weeks before he began penning columns once again.  Novak had an indefatigable spirit and a drive that would have shamed men in perfect health half his age.  Unfortunately, Novak didn’t have much time left.

RIP, Mr. Novak, and thank you.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent

UPDATE: Conor Clarke at Sully’s place:

Novak was, to be perfectly honest about it, the least pleasant person I’ve ever interviewed. He didn’t shake my hand upon entering or leaving his office, and expressed fairly open contempt when I asked him a question about the Valerie Plame affair. His response was: “You can’t imagine how tired I am of answering those questions.” And then he proceeded not to answer the question.

I don’t mean to rag on the guy. It wasn’t his job to be pleasant — certainly not to the kind of nervous and uppity young reporter he ate for breakfast — and I didn’t get the sense he tried to give anyone an impression to the contrary. I hope it’s fair to say that he embraced the reputation that preceded him, and that the face grew to fit the mask. You don’t call your memoir “The Prince of Darkness” if you’re hoping to make new friends. (And on the day that I sat down with him I remember, distinctly, that he was wearing the same suit and tie that he wore glowering on the cover of his new book.)

Matthew Cooper at The Atlantic:

Novak’s worthy of a good biography. His life spanned the rise and fall of modern journalism. His own career was multiplatform long before it was cool. His religious journey from Jew to Protestant to Catholic is interesting and he’s there are a ton of source materials to work with. I hope someone writes it. I’m glad though it won’t be me

K-Lo at The Corner:

I did not know Bob well (he was always gracious when I encountered him in and around Washington and I always read him though!), but some close friends of mine did. And they loved him. Working for Bob Novak always seemed to inspire great loyalty to the man and a great love of politics and America

James Joyner:

I’m sure plenty of other remembrances will be fortchoming; Novak had a long and distinguished career.

Somewhere in the early paragraphs of most, I suspect, will be the name Valerie Plame.  His offhand mention of the CIA operative whose role in sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to investigate the “yellowcake” matter sparked the biggest domestic scandal of the Bush Administration and ultimately landed Scooter Libby in jail.

While I would later discover his columns, I got to know Novak over the years as a viewer of the various CNN talking heads shows on which he appeared, most notably “Crossfire.”  He played a caracature of himself, “The Prince of Darkness,” and was frankly not a very good commentator.   He was, however, a superb columnist and reporter.

The Plame matter will likely overshadow most of that, though, especially for those under 35 or so who never knew Novak for anything else.

Isaac Chotiner at TNR:

Novak had a reputation around Washington as a grumpy and dyspeptic personality, and his television co-hosts would always mock his “prince of darkness” image. Still, Novak was someone who clearly loved politics, and this made him easier to swallow. What was most striking about Novak–at least when I started watching CNN around the time of the 2000 election–was his absolute unwillingness to sound warm and cuddly. George W. Bush was elected as a compassionate conservative that year, and you could hardly get any Republican to sound nasty or angry. The lessons of Gingrich had been learned, and Bush and his allies loved talking about education and diversity. But then there was Novak: He wanted a big tax cut because he was wealthy and he felt he had earned it. He didn’t care much for programs that helped the poor–and not because he had a sophisticated neoconservative critique about their effectiveness. No, Novak just did not seem to care much; what’s more, he didn’t care that he appeared uncaring. As someone who always suspected that many people in the Republican Party wanted their tax cuts above all else, Novak was revealing and somehow refreshing. All Republicans weren’t like this, to be sure, but some were, and yet Novak was their only representative on television (Pat Buchanan is interesting to watch for precisely this reason–a lot of people think like he does, but they rarely share their opinions on network TV).

Crossfire was a lousy show and I’m glad it’s gone, but The Capital Gang–despite its reputation–was actually a mildly informative and very enjoyable debate show. And unlike too many panel shows these days, it was filled with ideological pundits who were not partisan hacks. Even though it only went off the air a few years ago, it feels like the product of a completely different era.

John Podhoretz in Commentary:

He was a difficult man in many ways, but I always found him interesting, lively, and friendly. And I have to say that, toward the end of his life, he wrote a riveting I-can’t-quite-believe-I’m-reading-this memoir entitled The Prince of Darkness, which may offer, in its unsparing portrait of his own character and how he maneuvered his way through a 50-year career, the most accurate (and most dispiriting) picture of life in Washington and the journalism game published in my lifetime. It was an unexpected achievement, because he surely knew he was leaving his readers with a bad taste in their mouths. But he was determined to get it all down and get it right, and he did.

Kate O’Beirne at The Corner:

My dear friend Bob Novak faced his illness with a remarkable fortitude and his typical forthright honesty. Incapable of ignoring the facts, he recognized what he was up against. In conversations with him over the past months, he gave short shrift to the kind of daily political news he once followed so intently, in favor of reminiscing about his earliest days in journalism. He would rather talk about his beloved grandchildren than how the Obama Cabinet was shaping up. It was once impossible to have a casual conversation with Bob without him pouncing on a random remark if he spotted that a tidbit of news had been shared. For decades, his work ethic was legendary, his schedule exhausting. He was a voracious reader. His illness exposed what he held most dear, and that was his family, his faith, his Army service. He never failed to express his gratitude to Geraldine. In the midst of such suffering, there was such grace. Bob Novak was a devoted husband and father, a loving grandfather, a loyal friend — and an extraordinary journalist. He will be missed terribly.

UPDATE: Jack Shafer in Slate

David Frum at New Majority

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream