Tag Archives: Max Boot

Try And Find Your Way Around Our Afghanistan Maze!

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Josh Duboff at New York Magazine:

Salehi was arrested in July after investigators wiretapped him soliciting a bribe in exchange for “impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.” He was promptly released after Karzai stepped in, however, which officials said may have been due to the fear he knew about “corrupt dealings” within Karzai’s administration. Both the CIA and Karazi declined to comment in response to inquires from the Times.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

A CIA spokesman declined comment on Salehi but told the Times that “reckless allegations from anonymous sources” don’t change the fact that the agency “works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan.” Another U.S. official said, “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

But others in the administration think the U.S. must maintain pressure in the battle against corruption in Kabul or risk seeing ordinary Afghans turn to the Taliban when they lose faith in the government.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times’s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission.

Mark Kleiman:

Once you start intervening in the politics of corrupt countries, you can’t live without the crooks, and you can’t live with them. I never thought I’d say it, but Michael Moore was completely right about Karzai. The problem with this sort of foreign-policy “realism”is how unrealistic it is in imagining that the victims of the crappy little tyrannies we support won’t come to hate our guts.

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The End?

Laura Rozen at Politico:

In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:

OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”

THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”

THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj

It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.

IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Grim at Blackfive:

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That’s more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.

1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.

2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.

3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.

4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .

5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.

6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”

James Jay Carafano at The Corner:

In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.

The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.

Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.

This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.

John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:

Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.

In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.

But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.

Conn Carroll at Heritage

Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:

Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.

Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.

Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.

Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.

The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.

The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.

It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.

Allah Pundit:

The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.

UPDATE: James Joyner

Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy

Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place

UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up

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Like A Rolling Stone, Part II

Bruce Drake at Politics Daily:

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA DELIVERS REMARKS ON GENERAL STANLEY A. MCCHRYSTAL

JUNE 23, 2010

[*] OBAMA: Good afternoon.

Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country.

I’m also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership that we need to succeed.

I don’t make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement about our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult. Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I’ve got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform.

Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary dedication, his deep intelligence and his love of country.

I’ve relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our new strategy in Afghanistan.

So all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal’s remarkable career in uniform.

But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security.

Andrew Sullivan rounds-up reactions.

Ed Morrissey:

Obama appears to have split the baby rather adeptly here, softening the blow of losing McChrystal by arguably trading up for the legendary Petraeus.  That should dampen criticism over cashiering McChrystal, especially among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Rich Lowry at The Corner:

I’m not sure how Obama could have handled this any better. He was genuinely graceful about McChrystal and his explanation of why he had to go made perfect sense. He called for unity within his adminstration in pursuing the war and sounded quite stalwart about both the war and about the strategy. More importantly, his choice of Petraeus as a replacement for McChrystal is a brilliant move: He gets a heavy-weight, an unassailable expert in this kind of warfare, and someone who presumably can step in pretty seamlessly. He also picked someone who has expressed (very diplomatic) misgivings about the July 2011 deadline and who will have the clout and credibility to tell the president that he can’t afford to go down in troops when July comes, should circumstances warrant. (It should also be noted that this is a step down for Petraeus and he can’t relish directly managing another war — that he will do so speaks to his selfless patriotism.) In short, Obama has made the most of a rotten situation.

Max Boot at Commentary:

If there is one general who can step quickly  into the top job in Afghanistan, it is Petraeus, who has been closely involved in formulating the campaign plan along with McChrystal. And if there is one general who knows how to handle the media and the political process (skills that McChrystal obviously lacked), it is Petraeus. That doesn’t mean that he is a “political general” — that dreaded epithet applied by combat soldiers to those who get ahead by playing office politics rather than by proving their worth on the battlefield. Petraeus has proven himself at every level of command, on the battlefield and off. His courage cannot be doubted. Neither can his skill. Already in Iraq, he has pulled off the greatest turnaround in American military history since Matthew Ridgway took over the 8th Army in 1950 during the dark days of the Korean War. Now he has to do it again in Afghanistan. Don’t bet against him.

As for General McChrystal, it is a tragedy that his sterling career has come to such an inglorious end. McChrystal is widely admired, especially in the Special Operations community, and for good reason. He turned the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq into a well-honed killing machine. He also did much to improve the situation in Afghanistan, injecting fresh energy into the war effort and designing a campaign plan that can succeed. He deserves enormous credit, too, for declaring in his first major report to the president last summer that the war effort would fail without a fresh injection of troops. That prompted Obama to send more troops, which now gives the NATO command a shot at success. Unfortunately the Rolling Stone incident showed that he was not quite ready to operate at the highest strategic level, where discretion and judgment are prized, and where Special-Forces swagger can be a liability.

But President Obama should not fool himself into thinking that, by replacing McChrystal with Petraeus, he has magically solved all of the problems with the war effort. There is still that little matter of the looming deadline — July 2011 — for troop withdrawals. Vice President Biden is pulling for a rapid pullout, and Defense Secretary Gates is taking a go-slow approach. McChrystal has been firmly aligned with Gates, while the U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has publicly backed the “light footprint” approach advocated by Biden. That tension will not disappear because of the change of command; Petraeus is a firm believer in the need for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign, just as McChrystal was. So far, President Obama has been mum on what the deadline means and how many troops will actually come out. He should back his new commander with a firm pledge to make any withdrawal strictly contingent on conditions being met, and he should leave open the possibility of sending more troops if necessary.

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

So, for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president.

Afghanistan 2010 may be an even tougher nut than Iraq 2007. Sure, Iraq looked like a mess back then, but the Americans hadn’t tried a lot of good ideas. In Afghanistan they have been trying them out and not finding them working very well. Counterinsurgency was a novel idea in Baghdad back then. It is not anything new in Kabul right now. Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn’t clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.

Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what to do about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke?

My second big concern is what happens to Iraq now. As readers of this blog know, I am very worried about trends there. If Iraq begins to fall apart, and Petraeus is busy in Kabul, who is going to step on? At the very least, they should consider extending General Odierno’s time there.

I thought Obama’s talk was rhetorically perfect, hitting all the right notes in explaining why McChrystal had to go, while paying tribute to McChrystal’s service. The only big question he left hanging in just what happens to Central Command. Will Petraeus try to have both commands? Will someone else take over? With Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern issues bubbling out there, this is a question that needs to be addressed ASAP.

Matthew Yglesias:

A bit oddly the only person I heard calling for this “fire McChrystal, replace him with Petraeus” move yesterday was Bill Kristol. I assumed he was just throwing something out there so outside the box that he could criticize Obama no matter what happens. Instead he got his way. I’ll be eager to see the reaction.

Adam Serwer at Tapped:

Conservatives recognized that McChrystal needed to be disciplined but wanted him to stay, largely because they were concerned his departure would mean a shift in strategy. Despite the tendency of the political press to describe military commanders in near-mythological terms, McChrystal is not irreplaceable, not even for those who want to see the current counterinsurgency strategy continue. With Gen. David Petraeus stepping in as his replacement, those on the right concerned with strategic continuity can breathe easy. Obama stressed that “we have a clear goal, we are going to break the Taliban’s momentum, we are going to build Afghan capacity, we are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al-Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same,” essentially reaffirming his commitment to the strategy decided on last fall. Petraeus’ Senate confirmation is likely to go through without incident.

Liberals were hoping that McChrystal’s departure would offer an opportunity for the administration to rethink a strategy that some suspect was adopted largely due to political pressure to continue the mission.They point to the recent difficulties in Marjah as evidence the strategy isn’t working to dislodge or weaken the Taliban, and maintain that the structure and corruption of the Afghan government is an intractable problem. At the very least, they would have liked a serious re-evaluation of the viability of the current counterinsurgency strategy.

The appointment of Gen. Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started. The near superhero status Petraeus enjoys isn’t simply due to his intelligence or capability as a leader — it’s also the result of media mythmaking about the Iraq War. Despite the ease with which the country has come to adopt the narrative that the 2007 troop escalation and the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy singlehandedly turned the Iraq War around, it remains untrue. As Michael Cohen helpfully continues to remind us, there were a number of factors involved, including ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, the Sunni tribes turning on al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and the Sadr ceasefire.

These things are complicated though, and it’s easier both for the press and for the general audience to shoehorn the complicated story of the turnaround in Iraq into a single epic narrative starring an indomitable warrior-hero, and the media won’t be able to resist the temptation to call this a sequel. The problem with flattening these things into facile narratives is that it dissuades Americans from thinking critically about the implications — both moral and practical — of important policy decisions. Which — aside from his admirable record — is surely part of why Petraeus was chosen.

EARLIER: Like A Rolling Stone

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder

Ed Morrissey

Luke Johnson at The Washington Independent

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Like A Rolling Stone

Michael Hastings at Rolling Stone:

How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?” demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It’s a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He’s in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.

“The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.

McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.

“Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “does this come with the position?”

McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

On the ground with the Runaway General: Photos of Stanley McChrystal at work.

The general stands and looks around the suite that his traveling staff of 10 has converted into a full-scale operations center. The tables are crowded with silver Panasonic Toughbooks, and blue cables crisscross the hotel’s thick carpet, hooked up to satellite dishes to provide encrypted phone and e-mail communications. Dressed in off-the-rack civilian casual – blue tie, button-down shirt, dress slacks – McChrystal is way out of his comfort zone. Paris, as one of his advisers says, is the “most anti-McChrystal city you can imagine.” The general hates fancy restaurants, rejecting any place with candles on the tables as too “Gucci.” He prefers Bud Light Lime (his favorite beer) to Bordeaux,

Talladega Nights

(his favorite movie) to Jean-Luc Godard. Besides, the public eye has never been a place where McChrystal felt comfortable: Before President Obama put him in charge of the war in Afghanistan, he spent five years running the Pentagon’s most secretive black ops.

The Spill, The Scandal and the President: How Obama let BP get away with murder.

“What’s the update on the Kandahar bombing?” McChrystal asks Flynn. The city has been rocked by two massive car bombs in the past day alone, calling into question the general’s assurances that he can wrest it from the Taliban.

“We have two KIAs, but that hasn’t been confirmed,” Flynn says.

McChrystal takes a final look around the suite. At 55, he is gaunt and lean, not unlike an older version of Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you’ve fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice.

Looting Main Street: Matt Taibbi on how the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities.

“I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner,” McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “no one in this room could do it.”

With that, he’s out the door.

“Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides.

“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”

Get more Rolling Stone political coverage.

The next morning, McChrystal and his team gather to prepare for a speech he is giving at the École Militaire, a French military academy. The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as “shortsighted,” saying it would lead to a state of “Chaos-istan.” The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place. “I want the American people to understand,” he announced in March 2009. “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn’t know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

Eric Zimmermann on The Hill:

On Tuesday morning, Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates suggested that the magazine gathered even more devastating information that could not be published.

“They said a lot of stuff to us off the record that’s not in the story, so we respected all those boundaries,” Bates told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Bates said the magazine has gotten zero pushback from McChrystal’s people.

“No. No, I haven’t heard that,” Bates said when asked whether McChrystal has claimed the magazine misquoted him. “Didn’t hear that during the course of the story. I didn’t hear that in his apology.”

Byron York at The Washington Examiner:

I just got off the phone with a retired military man, with more than 25 years experience, who has worked with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the Pentagon.  His reaction to McChrystal’s performance in the new Rolling Stone profile?  No surprise at all.

“Those of us who knew him would unanimously tell you that this was just a matter of time,” the man says.  “He talks this way all the time.  I’m surprised it took this long for it to rear its ugly head.”

“He had great disdain for anyone, as he said, ‘in a suit,’” the former military man continues.  “I was shocked one day in a small group of people when he took [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to task in front of all of us.”

“The other thing about him is that he is probably one of the more arrogant, cocksure military guys I have run across.  That in itself is not necessarily a character flaw, but when you couple it with his great disdain for civilians, it’s a very volatile combination.”

The former military man is under no illusions about the general nature of relations between the military and the civilian leadership.  “I don’t consider this an anomaly,” he says.  “You can find examples of this going back to the founding of the republic.  Nevertheless, it is very disturbing that he would have such disdain for the civilian leadership.”

Andrew Exum:

I have been struck by the degree to which a lot of smart friends are in disagreement about what should be done about l’Affair Rolling Stan. In some ways, the argument about whether or not you dismiss Gen. McChrystal for comments made by the commander and his staff in this Rolling Stone article breaks down into unhappily familiar lines. Critics of the current strategy in Afghanistan unsurprisingly think McChrystal should be fired. Supporters of the strategy think that while the comments made to Rolling Stone were out of line, McChrystal should be retained in the greater interest of the war effort. Neither side, that I have yet seen, has acknowledged that either course of action would carry risk. The purpose of this post is to outline the risks of dismissing Gen. McChrystal as the commander of ISAF in response to the affair. This is an uncomfortable post to write. I very much admire Stan McChrystal and have looked up to him since my time in the Rangers when I fought in Afghanistan under his command. I know the man personally and worked with him last summer in an effort to analyze the war in Afghanistan and NATO/ISAF operations there. And so there may be a limit to how objective I can really be, but I’m a defense policy analyst, so I’m going to try and soberly analyze these risks without letting my admiration for McChrystal get in the way.

James Fallows:

If the facts are as they appear — McChrystal and his associates freely mocking their commander in chief and his possible successor (ie, Biden) and the relevant State Department officials (Holbrooke and Eikenberry) — with no contention that the quotes were invented or misconstrued, then Obama owes it to past and future presidents to draw the line and say: this is not tolerable. You must go. McChrystal’s team was inexplicably reckless in talking before a reporter this way, but that’s a separate question. The fact is — or appears to be — that they did it

The second step is what this means for US strategy in Afghanistan, the future of COIN, etc. But the first is for the civilian Commander in Chief to act in accordance with Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution and demonstrate that there are consequences for showing open disrespect for the chain of command.

And, yes, I would say the same thing in opposite political circumstances — if, for instance, a commander of Iraq operations had been quoted openly mocking George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Resign in protest: yes, a course of honor. But protest and mock while in uniform, no.

Jon Soltz at VetVoice:

I know something about this. In 2006, I worked with two Generals, appearing in national television ads critical of President Bush and his strategy in Iraq. Or, should I say, retired Generals. Major Generals Paul D. Eaton and John Batiste each made the painful decision to leave the military they loved, so they could speak out. To that point, they had held their tongues.

Why?

Because the order and efficacy of our Armed Forces falls apart without respect for the chain of command. Whether it’s a grunt respecting his company commander, or a General respecting the Commander in Chief, every single thing is predicated on the integrity of the chain of command. As soon as someone – especially someone as high up as General McChrystal – violates that respect, every single person under him begins to not only question the orders they’ve been given from above, but is given the signal that it’s OK to openly disagree or mock his or her superior.

And, violate that respect General McChystal and his subordinates have. Among other things, the Rolling Stone story reports first-hand that:

* McChrystal was disappointed with his first meeting with the President, and that he feels the President is uncomfortable and intimidated with military brass.

* McChrystal’s aid calls National Security Advisor James Jones a “clown.”

* Another aide says of envoy Richard Holbrooke, “The Boss [McChrystal] says he’s like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

* Bolstering that, McChrystal himself, receiving an email from Holbrooke says, “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to read it.”

* On Vice President Biden, who disagreed with the General’s strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal says while laughing, “Are you asking me about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?”

* An aide, mirroring his boss, adds, “Biden? Did you say Bite me?”

Anyone of lower rank would be immediately dismissed if he or she said of their superiors what General McChrystal said, or what he allowed members of his team to say.

This, of course, isn’t the first time that the General has been in trouble. Following a very public campaign for his preferred strategy in Afghanistan, which included a 60 Minutes interview that challenged the President, McChrystal landed in some hot water with the President, and was told to cool it. Frankly, McChrystal got off easy.

When General Eric Shinseki testified to Congress about his opinion on the force levels needed to invade Iraq, countering the strategy laid out by President Bush and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he was forced into retirement. Shinseki, unlike McChrystal, was asked his opinion, under oath, in front of Congress. There’s a difference between that professional conversation, and personal attacks on your superiors. Shinseki didn’t lead a public campaign to air his views, either. At any rate, McChrystal was given a second shot, where Shinseki was not.

Whether he continued his insubordination purposely, or stupidly and unintentionally, isn’t an issue. The issue, here, is that it happened. Again.

Thomas Donnelly and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

If Stan McChrystal has to go—and he probably does—it will be a sad end to a career of great distinction and a low moment in a lifetime devoted to duty, honor, and country. But the good of the mission and the prospects for victory in Afghanistan may well now demand a new commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

While there are obvious issues of civil-military relations exposed by the general’s cringe-inducing quotes in the “Runaway General” article in Rolling Stone—and while his staff appear to be off the leash entirely, a command climate for which McChrystal is responsible—the original source of the problem is above the general’s pay grade.

So McChrystal should not be the only one to go.  Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and “AfPak” czar Richard Holbrooke should likewise either submit their resignations or be fired by President Obama.  Vice President Biden and his surrogates should be told to sit down and be quiet, to stop fighting policy battles in the press.  The administration’s “team of rivals” approach is producing only rivalry.

Max Boot at Commentary:

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

Spencer Ackerman:

You can read Gen. McChrystal’s apology in full here at the Washington Independent. No “clarification” that I expected last night after seeing the AP writeup of McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview disrespecting the Obama administration. “It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,” McChrystal emailed reporters instead. “Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.” You think?

McChrystal gets called to the White House on Wednesday to direct the monthly Afghanistan/Pakistan briefing — oh, and to explain himself and see if he can keep his job. As I wrote for the Washington Independent, firing him carries its risks. There’s only a year to go before the July 2011 date to begin the transition to Afghan security responsibility and the Kandahar tide is starting to rise. It’ll be hard to fire McChrystal without ripping the entire Afghanistan strategy up, and I’ve gotten no indication from the White House that it’s interested in doing that. On the other hand, if senior administration officials are and I just haven’t picked up on it, McChrystal just gave them their biggest opportunity.

And what an opportunity. You can read the Rolling Stone profile through Politico. The amazing thing about it is there’s no complaints from McChrystal or his staff about the administration on any substantive ground. After all, McChrystal and his allies won the argument within the White House. All the criticisms — of Eikenberry, of Jones, of Holbrooke, of Biden — are actually just immature and arrogant snipes at how annoying Team America (what, apparently, McChrystal’s crew calls itself) finds them. This is not mission-first, to say the least.

In fact, you have to go deep in the piece to find soldiers and officers offering actual critiques — and what they offer is criticism of McChrystal for being insufficiently brutal. Everyone of them quoted here is a mini-Ralph Peters, upset because McChrystal won’t let them “get our fucking gun on,” as one puts it. I have a lot of respect for Michael Hastings, the author of the profile, but there are many greyer shades of on-the-ground military perspective than that, and I’ve seen them up close. But Hastings does a good and insightful job of showing that McChrystal is stepping into a diplomatic vacuum and acting as an advocate for Hamid Karzai despite Karzai’s performance in office.

We’ll have to wait for Wednesday to see if McChrystal keeps his command. My guess is he’ll stay, because now the White House knows that a chastened McChrystal isn’t going to say anything else outside of his lane to any reporter. McChrystal’s apology, emailed to me and other reporters well before the Rolling Stone story dropped, suggests that he wasn’t trying to walk away from his command in a blaze of arrogance. But it’s on him to repair his relationship with his colleagues and his bosses.

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

My bet is that Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be gone within a week or so. Defense Secretary Gates canned Admiral Fallon as Central Command chief in the spring of 2007 for less pointed remarks, so he will look like a hypocrite if he does less here in response to McChrystal dissing Obama, Biden, and the White House in a new  article in Rolling Stone.

At any rate, it may be time for a whole new team in Afghanistan. My nomination is for Petraeus to step down an echelon and take the Afghanistan command. You could leave him nominally the Centcom chief but let his deputy, Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, oversee Iraq, the war planning for Iran, and dealing with Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. But more likely is that Petraeus will ask for another Marine general, James Mattis, who is just finishing up at Jiffycom, and who had planned to retire later this year and head home to Walla Walla, Washington. Petraeus and Mattis long have admired each other. The irony is that Mattis has a reputation — unfairly, I think — for speaking a little too bluntly in public about things like killing people. I think Mattis is a terrific, thoughtful leader.

I do wonder if this mess is the result of leaving McChrystal out there too long-he has been going non-stop for several years, first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. At any rate, his comments reflect a startling lack of discipline. He would expect more of one of his captains. We should expect more of him. I know, I’ve said worse about Biden. But part of my job is to comment on these things, even flippantly sometimes. Part of his job is not to.

CNN:

[Updated at 4:41 p.m.] Gen. Stanley McChrystal has submitted his resignation, Time magazine’s Joe Klein told CNN, citing an unnamed source. CNN is working to confirm Klein’s information.

UPDATE: Andy McCarthy at The Corner

UPDATE #2: Allah Pundit

Jim Pinkerton at Ricochet

Spencer Ackerman

Doug Mataconis

UPDATE #3: David Brooks in NYT

Dylan Stableford at The Wrap

The Week Magazine

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone

UPDATE #4: Conor Friedersdorf and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #5: Max Read at Gawker

Glenn Greenwald

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Going Back To The Green

Reuel Marc Gerecht at NYT:

IN 1985 — when no case officer could even dream of widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran like those that occurred a year ago this week — I first arrived on the Iran desk in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations. One of my colleagues was an older man who had entered the agency in its early days, when liberal internationalists and hawkish socialists ran most of America’s covert-action programs.

Intellectually irrepressible, softhearted (for an operative) and firmly on the political left, my colleague did not recognize national boundaries when it came to promoting human rights. He could talk for hours about why the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, the author of “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” was the answer to Iran’s religious tyranny. He was nearly alone within the directorate in his enthusiasm and plans for doing something to help Iranians against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theocracy.

As it turns out, many of the intellectual heavyweights who’ve driven Iran’s ever-growing pro-democracy Green Movement also love Popper and his defense of liberal democracy. The former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who is fascinated by (and a little fearful of) Western philosophy and the economic dynamism of liberal democracy, can’t stop writing about Popper. And the much more influential Abdolkarim Soroush, an Iranian philosopher of religion who may be the most important Muslim thinker since the 11th-century theologian al-Ghazali, also pays his respects to the Austrian in his efforts to create a faith that can thrive in a more open, democratic society.

As I consider the changes in Iran over the last year, the people who come quickly to mind are my covert-action-loving colleague, Karl Popper and the army of pro-democracy lay and clerical Iranian intellectuals who’ve been transforming their country’s culture and ethics. They are our guides to what the United States ought to be doing vis-à-vis Iran; they are also a reproach to how President Obama has so far conducted Iran policy.

Whereas the Reagan administration in the 1980s could do little to help Iranians (Ronald Reagan’s determined efforts to engage the clerical regime over the hostages in Lebanon certainly didn’t strengthen “moderates” in Tehran), Mr. Obama could do vastly more. By throwing in his lot with the freedom movement, he would surely increase the odds that we won’t have to live with a nuclear bomb controlled by virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic clerics. Democrats, once the champions of promoting pro-democracy movements, need to understand that the good that they can do for the people of Iran far exceeds the great harm that comes from doing nothing.

Yet for the United States to help, we need to first see clearly what’s been happening in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989 and over the last year. In the 1980s, when Iran’s youth were enthralled by the charismatic Khomeini, it would have been difficult to imagine that in two decades the same Muslim society would engage in the most damning critique of dictatorship ever seen in the Middle East.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Reuel Marc Gerecht, who knows Iran well, has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about how President Obama should deal with the Iran’s green movement. He is no less critical than John McCain, but considerably more subtle–and I think his main proposal, of giving tech support to the Iranian people, making it easier for them to access the internet via satellite, is a good one…so long as it is done quietly, without McCainiac bleating.

That said, I do believe that Gerecht overstates the capacity of the Green Movement to succeed in toppling the current, odious regime. To win, the reformers will have to find an alliance with the quietist members of the religious community; the bazaaris, whose businesses are being hurt by Iran’s increasing commercial isolation (not just the sanctions, but the unilateral decision by an increasing number of international corporations not to do business with this regime); and some of the more moderate “principleist” conservatives, who will be favored candidates in the next election.

A wise Iranian once said to me, “The Shah’s problem was that he saw Iran as Persian, but not Muslim. Khomeini’s problem is that he saw Iran as Muslim, but not Persian. We need a government that is both Persian and Muslim.” The regime needs to be changed, but perhaps not the Iranian constitution–if the growing number of not-so-activist and radical clerics, the quietists, can play the same role in Iran that Ayatullah Sistani has played in Shi’ite Iraq. The elements of a politically sane solution exist in Iran…but these elements will have to be both clever and lucky to remove the Revolutionary Guard from power.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Against his points one will hear the familiar argument, made by some Green leaders themselves, that the U.S. government is incapable of running a truly covert program and that the taint of American support will undermine the opposition’s credibility.

Perhaps. But aren’t the mullahs already painting the opposition leaders as American stooges? They don’t need actual evidence to make their charges; concocted evidence and bizarre conspiracy theories will do. After years of such charges, I am guessing that most Iranians are inured to regime propaganda and probably wouldn’t credit it even if it were true.

In any case, aren’t we always hearing about President Obama’s stellar popularity around the world? Surely anointment by The One would not hurt the chances of success in Iran — which, opinion polls suggest, is actually one of the more pro-American countries in the region.

John Noonan at The Weekly Standard:

The idea here isn’t necessarily to create a violent, anti-government insurrection within the Iranian regime; rather, the hope is to fuel the fires of revolution by facilitating messaging and communications. Capsizing the Mullahs can be done peacefully, but it won’t work without significant assistance from the West. That means that democratic nations should provide the technical kit necessary to assist the more isolated Green cells throughout the country, which would make tangible gains in Iran’s rural areas — where the regime draws much of its political backing. As Gerecht notes, supporting dissidents along technical lines would be relatively cheap, effective, and wholly in sync with America’s tradition of bolstering human rights and aspiring democracies throughout the world.

Most importantly, President Obama must start behaving like the leader of the free world, and stand shoulder to shoulder with Iranian dissidents. That means publicly recognizing their struggle, the nobility of their objectives, and the moral corruption and bankruptcy of the vicious Iranian regime.

Andrew Sullivan:

One way to see if an argument is worth its muster is to ask whether it addresses the core points of the best rebuttal. Reuel Marc Gerecht’s op-ed completely fails this test today. The obvious reason that president Obama decided to keep his support for the Green Movement in Iran muted was … to help the Green Movement in Iran. His view – shared in large part by Mousavi and Karroubi – was that too strong a US public stand would backfire. It would allow the mullahs to play the Great Satan card more effectively, and marginalize the message of the Greens. Now, it’s possible to disagree with that and see Iran as more like the old Soviet Union than a Muslim society with deep – and thoroughly understandable – suspicions about US meddling. But if so, you should make that case. Frankly, I remain unpersuaded that we should treat Iran like Czechoslovakia. I have learned something from this past decade which is that history and culture matter, that rhetorical grandstanding is no substitute for diplomacy and strategy, and that neoconservative projections about the Middle East have been proven spectacularly misguided, ill-informed and counter-productive.

Let’s put it this way: Gerecht’s op-ed this morning does nothing to change my mind.

Daniel Larison:

All of the usual baseless assertions are there: Obama can “throw his lot” in with the Green movement (how?), this will increase the odds that a non-existent Iranian bomb won’t be controlled by the current batch of clerics (why?), and Obama can do “vastly more” than Reagan did (what?). It is very much like Stephens’ column in simply presuming that Obama had the ability to help the Green movement constructively and chose not to use that ability.

When the Bush administration basically stood by and watched as the Burmese junta crushed the peaceful protests in Rangoon three years ago, few people were daft enough to claim that Bush had failed to act aggressively enough on behalf of the “Saffron” revolution. Sane people recognized that there was not much that Bush or anyone else in the U.S. could do. Something worth remembering here is that sanctions imposed on Burma to punish the regime have simply suffocated the opposition and destroyed the middle class. Anyone who did attack Bush for failing to “throw his lot” in with Burmese protesters while also urging ever-stricter sanctions on the regime would now look quite ridiculous. Of course, the same ridiculous combination of rhetorical support for Iran’s opposition combined with a vindictive desire for “crippling sanctions” can be found in the writings of practically every Iran hawk.

[…]

Perhaps the most misleading part of Gerecht’s op-ed is the part that seemed at first to be almost a throwaway remark, but which he intended to be central to his argument. Gerecht wants us to side with the “friends of Karl Popper,” and he concludes that the Green movement is filled with “friends of Karl Popper” because some reform leaders and movement intellectuals are interested in Popper’s ideas. This is a quick sleight-of-hand on Gerecht’s part as he mentions how Khatami and Soroush have engaged with some of Popper’s ideas, and then transfers their interest in Popper to the entire movement, and this is supposed to lead us to believe that the entire movement is made up of “friends of Karl Popper.” Leaving aside how shaky a lot of Popper’s own analysis in The Open Society and Its Enemies was, I doubt that the simplistic opposition between the “open society” and totalitarianism that made sense to Popper in the mid-twentieth century will be all that useful and appropriate for Iran’s opposition, many of whose leaders still value the legacy of Khomeini.

For their part, the Iranian “friends of Karl Popper” should be very wary of the heirs of the people that Popper called the historicists, who confidently proclaim that their ideology is going to prevail and that history is on their side. The historicists that Popper was referring to believed that they had gleaned the fundamental principles of history and therefore understood how to implement these principles to create an imagined just society. Perversely, many of the latter-day Western enthusiasts of the “open society” and supposed admirers of Karl Popper regularly indulge in the historicist error that Popper deeply loathed.

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The Flotilla And Seichel

Isabel Kershner at NYT:

Israel’s deadly naval commando raid Monday morning on a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza is generating widespread international condemnation and diplomatic repercussions far beyond the waters where the confrontation occurred.

Several European nations summoned their Israeli envoys to explain Israel’s actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans for meeting with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the raid “state terrorism,” cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.

“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”

The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Steve Benen:

There are, not surprisingly, competing versions of exactly what transpired, and Israeli officials not only defended the existing blockade policy, but said Israeli forces faced resistance on the ships. Every claim has a counter-claim, of course, and those condemning the violent raid this morning insist Israeli forces attacked peaceful civilians, including a flotilla carrying a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Either way, as the AP noted, the pre-dawn violence has “set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.”

This much is clearly true. The ship was unofficially sponsored by Turkey, which has long been a key Israeli ally in the regional, and which recalled its ambassador to Israel this morning in the wake of the incident. The United Nations, among others, is demanding a detailed Israeli explanation.

The White House issued a written statement, noting that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries, and was gathering information to understand exactly what transpired in this “tragedy.”

Scott Lucas at Enduring America:

1605 GMT: Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that NATO’s spokesman James Appathurai had stated that the organisation would be gathered extraordinarily, at the request of Turkey.

NATO issued a very short statement earlier today: “NATO is deeply concerned about the loss of life in this incident. We look forward to a further establishment of the facts of what has happened.”

1600 GMT: IDF said Defne Y, the 5th ship in Gaza flotilla, cleared of its crew – Mavi Marmara currently being brought into Ashdod Port.

1555 GMT: Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros reports, “We’re hearing 14 activists have agreed to be deported and on way home;50 taken to prison in southern Israel resisting deportation.”

1550 GMT: Pictures of wounded activists were released. Plastic handcuffs during the transport of heavily wounded ones are noteworthy.

Gaza Flotilla Attack: Israel Line “We Are Sorry but It Was a Life-Threatening Situation!”
Gaza Flotilla Video: Questions from Last Report Before Israeli Attack
Gaza Video: “If You’re Watching This, The Flotilla Has Been Attacked”

1548 GMT: The United Nations Security Council will meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session that will start at 1 P.M., New York time.

1545 GMT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Chile: “This is a state terrorism.”

1515 GMT: While on his way to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “This is clearly a piracy. Israel must apologize and answer. According to unconfirmed information, we have around 50 wounded and 10 martyries. No country is above the international law.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands people are protesting in front of Israel’s Consulate General in Istanbul.

1500 GMT: Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Israel:

Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians. We strongly condemn these inhuman acts of Israel. This grave incident which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our relations.

Besides the initiatives being conducted by our Embassy in Tel Aviv, this unacceptable incident is being strongly protested and explanation is demanded from Israeli Ambassador in Ankara, who has been invited to our Ministry.

Whatsoever the motives might be, such actions against civilians who are involved only in peaceful activities cannot be accepted. Israel will have to bear the consequences of these actions which constitute a violation of international law.

May God bestow His mercy upon those who lost their lives. We wish to express our condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased, and swift recovery to the wounded.

1440 GMT: Israel’s Portrayal. Amidst the rush of Israeli depictions of the attack — with the continuing use of the word “lynching”, now from the commandos who carried out the assault — this story stands out from a “Ron Ben Yishai” in YNet:

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapon.

1435 GMT: Washington’s Reaction. The US statement, given by White House spokesman Bill Burton, is far more restrained than the UN denunciation of Israel (1330 GMT) and even Britain’s expression of concern (1035 GMT). Burton said the Obama administration “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” and officials are “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

Ron Ben-Yishai at Ynet:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

Officials estimated that passengers will show slight resistance, and possibly minor violence; for that reason, the operation’s commander decided to bring the helicopter directly above the top deck. The first rope that soldiers used in order to descend down to the ship was wrested away by activists, most of them Turks, and tied to an antenna with the hopes of bringing the chopper down. However, Flotilla 13 fighters decided to carry on.

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows.

‘I saw the tip of a rifle’

The Navy commandoes were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters. The soldiers were told they were to verbally convince activists who offer resistance to give up, and only then use paintballs. They were permitted to use their handguns only under extreme circumstances.

The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter. At one point, the attackers nabbed one commando, wrested away his handgun, and threw him down from the top deck to the lower deck, 30 feet below. The soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost his consciousness. Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters’ legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes. “I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell,” one commando said. “He fired at us and we fired back. We didn’t see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn’t find him.” Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops.

The planned rush towards the vessel’s bridge became impossible, even when a second chopper was brought in with another crew of soldiers. “Throw stun grenades,” shouted Flotilla 13’s commander who monitored the operation. The Navy chief was not too far, on board a speedboat belonging to Flotilla 13, along with forces who attempted to climb into the back of the ship

David Bernstein:

I have my doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and there was obviously an operational/intelligence failure that led to Israel’s naval commandos having to open fire to defend themselves, giving the other side a propaganda victory. But it does appear that the physical violence started from the other side, which to begin with had the rather unhumanitarian mission of aiding Hamas, and, to the extent there were sincere humanitarian/peace activists involved, allowed themselves to get hijacked by violent Islamic extremists who manned one of the ships.

Net result of the “peace/humanitarian” mission: dead activists, wounded Israeli soldiers, no more humanitarian aid to Gaza than if Israel’s offer to transfer the aid to Gaza from Ashdod had been accepted, and a likely breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that were about to start. Congratulations.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas.  The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide.   Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?

The Israeli assault on the flotilla has galvanized Arab and international media attention (to say nothing of my Twitter feed).   Arab and Turkish publics appear to be truly outraged, as do the Turkish, Arab and many European governments.   The issue is evidently headed to the Security Council.  It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.  We’ll be keeping track of the story as it develops.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

The incident is being portrayed in the Arab press as an unprovoked attack by the soldiers. As usual, the flaw in this theory is that if the soldiers had set out to massacre the activists, they would have done a better job of it. Violence occurred on only one of the six ships, because only on that ship was it instigated by the pro-Palestinian activists. But that won’t stop the incident from triggering another round of world-wide Israel-bashing.

Jim Sleeper at Talking Points Memo:

The government has let the flotilla “drive Israel into a sea of stupidity,” writes Gideon Levy, a senior columnist for Haaretz the country’s most prominent liberal daily.

“We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second,” writes Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz. “We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel’s Vietnam.”

Burston would know: A Los Angeles native and Berkeley graduate, he moved to Israel in the 1970s with some young Americans I knew to settle in Kibbutz Gezer, a progressive outpost between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you can recall that in those Vietnam War/Nixon years Israel seemed a lot more noble and just to many of us than the U.S. did, you’ll understand why Burston served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat medic and studied medicine in Be’er Sheva for two years.

But Burston must also know that his scathing Vietnam analogy has its limits: The U.S. could have walked away from Vietnam with no dangerous consequences. In Gaza, by comparison, the influence of Iran and other powers make the Israeli situation a little more… existential. Israelis also don’t have Americans’ history of conquering a whole continent and not having to care about it. Their history, too, is more… existential.

But precisely for those reasons, Haaretz reports, Israeli security forces are now on high alert, bracing for protests closer to home, maybe even for a third intifada if it turns out that one of the Palestinian activists on board the flotilla was killed. That only underscores the government’s stupidity.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.

I don’t know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I’m trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel’s morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force?

UPDATE: Lots and lots of posts on this one. Just a handful, a sprinkling here.

Leslie Gelb, Reza Aslan and Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast

Max Boot at WSJ

Jonathan Schanzer at The Weekly Standard

Mona Charen at National Review

Megan McArdle

Daniel Drezner

Jim Henley

UPDATE #2: Elliott Abrams at The Weekly Standard

Marty Peretz at TNR

Daniel Larison (one of many posts) responding to Henley

UPDATE #3:  Leon Wieseltier at TNR

Robert Farley and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Heather Hurlburt and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

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Barack: Democratic Improvings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office.

The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Will Inboden at Foreign Policy:

The problem with these Obama Administration statements is not that they are technically false. Virtually every American would concede that, measured against a Platonic ideal, the American democratic system will always have areas for improvement. And virtually every American would also see President Obama’s election as a historic achievement in light of America’s troubled racial past.

The problem with President Obama’s reported statements is rather than, in context, they are untrue and unhelpful. There are several reasons why:

  • They are inaccurate. By any objective standard, American democracy is immeasurably more free, more vibrant, more healthy, and more democratic than the Kazakh autocracy.
  • They are counterproductive. Despite its own democratic backsliding, Kazakhstan this year holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an organization with a robust democratic charter and a notable track record of supporting democratic institutions. The Nazarbayev regime pushed for years to get the chairmanship to burnish its own legitimacy, not to advance OSCE principles. If President Obama’s intention was to get Kazakshtan to uphold its OSCE commitments, his words will backfire by instead sending the message to Nazarbayev that the U.S. isn’t serious about pressing for significant reform. Kazakhstan’s OSCE chairmanship had already been delayed by one year to allow time for Kazakhstan to make specific improvements in its own record. But given that Nazarbayev took few if any such steps — and if anything the situation worsened with a widely-condemned internet regulation bill — Kazakhstan seemed to be trying to call the OSCE’s bluff. This latest message from the Obama administration will only further reinforce Nazarbayev’s intransigence.
  • They are demoralizing. Besides Nazarbayev himself, Obama’s most important audience is the beleaguered Kazakh human rights and democracy activists, who need bold and unequivocal expressions of support from the most powerful and most free nation in the world — not hand-wringing and moral equivalency. The Kazakh government didn’t miss this opportunity to exploit the meeting. One can almost hear the smugness in the Kazakh Ambassador’s voice from this Wall Street Journal story:
  • Erlan Idrissov, Kazakstan’s ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview that Mr. Obama offered Mr. Nazarbayev the Winston Churchill quote on democracy being “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” the ambassador said.”

  • They undermine American interests in a strategic region. Events this past week in Kyrgyzstan only further show how tumultuous yet important Central Asia is, whether for energy supplies, military basing, counterterrorism cooperation, or any number of other issues. Russia and China are playing their own new version of the “Great Game” for influence. The United States will not succeed by imitating them in downplaying values, but rather by offering a distinct alternative model to the region of transparency, accountability, and rule of law. This approach does not unrealistically preclude cooperation with unsavory autocracies; it rather makes clear that engagement is not just with governing rulers but with their citizens and societies as well.
  • They undercut multilateralism. Kazakhstan’s chairmanship threatens to erode the OSCE’s historic effectiveness and credibility. If a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is strengthening multilateralism and international partnership, these statements don’t help. Downplaying Kazakhstan’s autocracy also diminishes the OSCE.
  • They reinforce the narrative of President Obama as too willing to apologize for America’s alleged misdeeds and imperfections, but not willing enough to defend American values. If this were an isolated incident, it might have drawn less attention. But it comes against the backdrop of a series of similar Presidential statements over the past year, and plays into a worrisome narrative of a President more impressed with himself than with the nation he leads.

President Obama addressed some of these last concerns admirably and forcefully in his Oslo speech last year. But with this latest missed opportunity with Kazakhstan, one worries that old habits might be returning.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

[…] what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Our president simply doesn’t hold this nation in very high esteem.

It made me wonder, though: what does it tell us about Obama that he would go so easy on a nation like Kazakhstan, whose human rights record is troubling (as Josh Rogin points out in his post over at Foreign Policy), having created an atmosphere of “quiet repression,” while being so eager to hammer a nation like Israel, which is not only a strong American ally but a moral beacon in so many ways? (Israel is not the only ally that has been berated or bullied or disrespected by Obama; the list grows seemingly every week.)

The type of approach Obama is embracing is actually worse than moral equivalency (for the record and for what it’s worth, the Obama administration insists there was no equivalence meant whatsoever between America and Kazakhstan); it is an inversion of morality. Perhaps it is Professor Obama’s effort at the transvaluation of values, of creating a world in which the role of the president is to criticize America and pound her best allies while turning a mostly blind eye to those who routinely violate human rights, from Kazakhstan to Venezuela to Iran. Whatever it is that explains Obama’s behavior, it is all rather dispiriting and a matter of real concern.

Barack Obama is a groundbreaking president, that is for sure.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Following up on Jen’s and Pete’s posts regarding Obama’s meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the nuclear-security summit: yes, it’s a bit rich that Obama would tell Nazarbayev that the U.S. is still “working” on its democracy — just like Kazakhstan! It even sounds like a scene that would make a nice addendum to that comedy classic Borat.

But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have. The larger issue is whether the president of the United States should be palling around with two-bit dictators like Nazarbayev.

I believe that our foreign policy should champion freedom and democracy, but I recognize that in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary. That includes cutting deals with states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the latter now the scene of a revolution against the dictator (Kurmanbek Bakiyev), with whom we made a deal to locate a critical American air base. That deal now looks suspect, but what choice did we have? To fight and win in Afghanistan, we need bases in the region, and the outcome in Afghanistan is more important than the outcome in Kyrgyzstan.

That is something that President Bush — denounced and praised as a “neocon” true believer — understand. He too hosted dictators like Nazarbayev at the White House — and no doubt said some soothing things to them about how much he respected them. That’s the kind of talk that is frequently used to grease diplomatic transactions.

Wehner responds:

In his response to Jen and me, Max writes: “But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have.”

The relevant question, of course, is not whether the issue of human rights was raised at all, but specifically what was said when the subject was broached. None of us were in the meeting between Obama and Nazarbayev, but here’s the report of what Michael McFaul, NSC senior director (who may well have been in the meeting), said:

In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.”

We also have this:

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told [Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal], “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and you don’t need to have worked in the highest branches of the federal government, to understand what transpired in the Obama-Nazarbyev meeting. Rather than put any pressure on Nazarbyev, Obama decided to make the banal observation that none of us have reached perfection in our quest for the Ideal State, and to prove the point, America’s president highlighted America’s imperfections. And McFaul, when pressed on whether Obama was making a moral equivalence comparison, insists that wasn’t the case – and then proceeds to cite the presidency of Obama as evidence that we are in the process of perfecting American democracy.

These kind of exchanges are actually quite helpful in a certain way; they reveal a particular cast of mind. And Obama’s reflex often involves denigrating America in public and in private, to – well, to do what exactly?

Gateway Pundit:

What historical steps?…
Ramming Obamacare through Congress against the will of the people?

Daniel Halper at The Weekly Standard

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