Tag Archives: Rich Lowry

Dump All Your Stock In Chalkboards Now!

Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

Furthermore, in the last quarter century, there have been transitions from allied dictatorships to allied democracies in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name only a few. The United States has played a role in helping those transitions turn out (reasonably) well. America needn’t be passive or fretful or defensive. We can help foster one outcome over another. As Krauthammer puts it, “Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.”

Now, people are more than entitled to their own opinions of how best to accomplish that democratic end. And it’s a sign of health that a political and intellectual movement does not respond to a complicated set of developments with one voice.

But hysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He’s marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.

Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats. Rather, it’s a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of short-sightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.

Rich Lowry at National Review:

Bill Kristol has an editorial on conservatives and Egypt. He takes a well-deserved shot at Glenn Beck’s latest wild theorizing

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic

Robert Stacy McCain:

Generally speaking, I’m a bigger fan of Kristol than of Krauthammer, mainly because Krauthammer is such an anti-Palin snob. In this case, however, I share Krauthammer’s forebodings of an Egyptian revolution and dislike Kristol’s effort to enhance his own Strange New Respect quotient by dissing Beck.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Glenn Beck went off on a rather extraordinary monologue last week about a caliphate taking over much of the world. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standardtook exception to what Beck said. And yesterday Beck fired back.

Set aside (if you can) Beck’s childish and churlish attacks on Kristol and focus on the substance of the disagreement.

Beck lectures Kristol on the dangers of “getting into bed with dictators.” It’s “really something the left does and not something the right should do.” But of course Bill’s position on Egypt is that America ought to get out of bed with dictators. That’s the main point of Kristol’s editorial, after all. And whether you agree with Kristol or not, he has been a strong advocate for the so-called Freedom Agenda, which argues that in the past the United States, in opting for “stability” over liberty in the Middle East, has gotten neither.

More important, though, people should simply listen to the original Beck meditation on the coming worldwide caliphate. It is Beck Unplugged, complete with chalkboards and maps; with happy faces and sad ones; with friends, enemies, and “frenemies”; with references to the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn; and of course dire, apocalyptic warnings. The result of the “coming insurrection” will be that the “whole world starts to implode.”

“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:

Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.

Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.

I’ve been warning about Glenn Beck for a couple of years now, concerned about his erratic behavior and conspiracy theories. “My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now — and will soon flame out,” I wrote in 2009. “Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism … he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

What about this don’t you understand, Mr. Wehner? Is it not shockingly clear to you? Glenn Beck has performed a great service for us, by highlighting the weakness of the Iberian Peninsula (the foremost challenge facing American policymakers at this moment, obviously)  and the role ancient Babylon will play in the coming campaign for the worldwide imposition of Muslim law. Combine this trenchant analysis of Muslim politics with his recent attempt to highlight the pernicious work of the nine most evil people in world history, eight of whom, entirely coincidentally, are Jewish, and you should begin to get the picture.

Of course, the conspiracy goes deeper than Beck has yet revealed; I’m hoping that, in coming days, if the Freemasons, working in concert with Hezbollah and the Washington Redskins, don’t succeed in suppressing the truth, that Beck will reveal the identities of the most pernicious players in this grotesque campaign to subvert our way of life. I can’t reveal too much here, but I think it’s fair to say that Beck will be paying a lot of attention in the coming weeks to the dastardly, pro-caliphate work of Joy Behar; tthe makers of Little Debbie snack cakes; the 1980s hair band Def Leppard; Omar Sharif; and the Automobile Association of America. And remember, you read it here first.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

And I’ve heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too–which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.

David Corn at Politics Daily:

As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right — and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books — and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won’t crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right’s main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.

Jeff Poor at The Daily Caller:

On “Morning Joe” Tuesday, the Weekly Standard editor appeared to promote “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” a collection of essays written by his father, Irving Kristol. During that appearance, New York magazine’s John Heilemann asked Kristol why Republicans were reluctant to challenge Fox News host Glenn Beck, a regular target of MSNBC’s personalities, as Kristol did in a column for the Feb. 14 issue of the Weekly Standard for his claim Islamists and liberal forces were collaborating to orchestrate a caliphate.

Kristol explained MSNBC wasn’t the place for such a “debate” and cited a 2010 Weekly Standard article that praised Beck in some regards for his role in the Tea Party movement, explaining the commentary on Beck goes both ways.

“Well, I’m not going to get into a debate with Glenn Beck here on MSNBC,” Kristol said. “I’ll debate him on Fox where we’re fair and balanced where we have these debates among ourselves. No, I don’t think that’s fair at all. Matt Continetti had a long piece a year ago on — partly on Glenn Beck, on the tea parties, what was healthy and not so admirable in certain strains of thoughts among people like Glenn Beck. So I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Oh, you guys should be calling him out and monitoring everyone on your side.’ That’s not — we publish what we believe in the Weekly Standard. I’m happy to defend to defend the Weekly Standard and what I say on Fox News Sunday.”

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Tucson II

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up of reacts.

David Frum at FrumForum:

What a terrible assignment, especially for a father of young daughters. The president did the job he needed to do, struck the appropriate notes in the appropriate way. He conspicuously forbore to make political points, quite the contrary: he urged against finger-pointing, in this sense agreeing with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. “But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.”

The president’s challenge, as so often, was to make a human connection. In that, he succeeded tonight. He paid tribute to the individuality of the lost, honored the pain of the bereaved, and was crucial in bringing together the collective community acknowledgement of grief that is the only available comfort to those who mourn.
Rich Lowry at The Corner:

The pep-rally atmosphere was inappropriate and disconcerting, but President Obama turned in a magnificent performance. This was a non-accusatory, genuinely civil, case for civility, in stark contrast to what we’ve read and heard over the last few days. He subtly rebuked the Left’s finger-pointing, and rose above the rancor of both sides, exactly as a president should. Tonight, he re-captured some of the tone of his famous 2004 convention speech. Well done.

Michelle Malkin:

Bottom line:

Speeches and leadership are not the same thing.

Obama delivered one tonight, but failed at the other over the past three days as Pima County Sheriff Dupnik, Democrat Party leaders, and media abettors poisoned the public square with the very vitriol the president now condemns.

Right speech. Too late. Awful, awful venue.

Obama gets some goodreviews for hisspeech in the NY Times (and the sun rose in the east…).  Having read the speech, I am a bit of a non-believer – as with his condemnation of both Jeremiah Wright and his own grandmother or the criticism of left-winger Bill Ayers and offsetting righty Tom Coburn, Obama took his normal conciliatory tack of rebuking both sides and presenting himself as the calm man in the middle.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Barack Obama spoke to the city of Tucson, and to the United States of America, not so much as our President tonight, but as a member of our family. He spoke as a son–I couldn’t help but think of his personal regret over not being by his mother’s side when she passed as he said, “Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.” You could see the devastation insinuate itself onto, and then be quietly willed away from, his face. He spoke as a brother to his fellow public servants, killed and wounded in the events–an eager brother bringing the glad tidings the Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes. He repeated it, joyously, three times. But most of all, he spoke as a father–rising to a glorious peak describing the departed 9-year-old, Christine Taylor Green, a girl near the age of his daughters, whose own deaths, perhaps in the line of fire, he had so clearly been thinking about. And he spoke, more broadly, as the head of our national family, comforting, uplifting, scolding a little, nudging us toward our better angels.

Some of my friends may criticize Obama for not defending Palin specifically, or for waiting until the memorial to have rebuked those attempting to exploit the deaths for political gain.  On the first point, though, this was a memorial service and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to name other names than the dead, the wounded, and the heros who helped save lives.  The second point may be germane criticism of the previous couple of days, but even if it came late, Obama stepped up and led last night.

So kudos to President Obama for what may be the finest moment of his presidency.  I disagree with his policies and many of his tactics, and I will have no problem getting back to work in opposing them after this post publishes.  But he deserves credit and gratitude for his leadership at a point in time where the nation needed it, and I’m happy to give him both.

James Fallows:

The standard comparisons of the past four days have been to Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster and Bill Clinton after Oklahoma City. Tonight’s speech matched those as a demonstration of “head of state” presence, and far exceeded them as oratory — while being completely different in tone and nature. They, in retrospect, were mainly — and effectively — designed to note tragic loss. Obama turned this into a celebration — of the people who were killed, of the values they lived by, and of the way their example could bring out the better in all of us and in our country.

That is to Obama’s imaginative credit. (Even as the event began, I was wondering how he would find a way to match to somber tone of Reagan and Clinton.) More later, but a performance to remember — this will be, along with his 2004 Convention speech and his March, 2008 “meaning of race” speech in Philadelphia, one of the speeches he is lastingly known for — and to add to the list of daunting political/oratorical challenges Obama has not merely met but mastered.

David Weigel:

Last night, there arose a chorus of mostly-conservatives on Twitter attacking the tone of the memorial service in Tucson. There was some coverage on Fox News — there’s some more today — of this, but it didn’t define coverage. Nonetheless, Glenn Thrush reports that Robert Gibbs was asked about it, and surmised that the 13,000-odd people in attendance were “celebrating the miracle of those who survived” when they cheered.

We have a point of reference for all of this. In 2002, conservatives and Republicans complained that the tone of a memorial for Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was too political, too cheery. Wellstone’s sons explicitly asked the crowd — which included Republicans like Trent Lott — to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.”

Is that going to happen to the Tucson memorial? It shouldn’t. There was no partisan political message, although I suppose you could say that the president’s criticism of “cynicism or vitriol” buttressed what Democrats had been saying recently. I’d also argue that the tone in Tucson was more like the tone at the impromptu rally in New York City on September 13, 2001 —  the “bullhorn moment.” Wellstone was killed in an airplane accident. The Tucson victims were killed by a gunman who is awaiting trial and whose creepy smiling face has been made famous since Saturday. Thousands of New Yorkers — people didn’t know how many at the time — were killed by terrorists who committed suicide, but were led by terrorists still on the loose. (“The people who did this,” in Bush’s phrase.)

It isn’t up to anyone else how somebody grieves a local tragedy. And the tone at Tucson was understandable if you understand what, exactly, they were grieving or angry about.

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Great Nation Or Greatest Nation? Or, This Blog Post Brought To You By The Letter “F.”

Rich Lowry at NRO (entire column):

When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.

Yet, what other countries deserve this designation? For the sake of convenience, start at 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia ratified the modern system of nation-states. And grade on power, prosperity and goodness.

Is Spain the greatest ever? It had a nice run a couple of hundred years ago based on plundering the New World of its gold and silver. By 1800, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, it teeters on bankruptcy.

Is France? Its model of centralizing monarchy in the 17th century was extremely influential, and admirable — if you like elaborate court ritual, religious persecution and expansionistic wars. It gave the world the template for modern ideological madness in the French Revolution and for the modern tyrant in Napoleon. After the debacle of World War II, it recovered to a power of middling rank. If there’s no doubting the greatness of the French, their history comes with the implicit admonition: “Do not try this at home.”

Germany? In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a cultural jewel. And one of the most talented statesmen ever, Bismarck, forged a nation that became an industrial behemoth. It also had an illiberal heart. Germany today is an anchor of democratic Europe, but with a hellish black mark against it that will last for all time.

Russia? By the beginning of the 20th century, a decrepit autocracy sat atop a mass of misery. Then, things went south. The communists murdered and enslaved many millions across seven decades. Russia remains an important, if vastly diminished, power, governed by a prickly, grasping kleptocracy.

Britain? Getting warmer. It invented the rights that are the bedrock of liberal democracy. More than most European powers, it lived by Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” From a tiny island, it came to govern an enormous extent of the globe in a relatively benign colonialism. It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler. And it spawned the countries that have made the English-speaking world a synonym for good governance and liberty: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and America.

Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.

The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely. Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion. When a Marco Rubio talks of the greatness of America, it’s not bumptious self-congratulation. Our greatness comes with the responsibility to preserve our traditional dynamism and status as a robust middle-class society. To paraphrase the Benjamin Franklin of lore, we have the greatest country ever — if we can keep it.

Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard:

Over at NRO, you can read Rich Lowry’s engaging year-end column about America, “Yes, the Greatest Country Ever.”

The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”

And sources now tell us that Lowry’s been called to the White House this week for a secret meeting.

Meanwhile, we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.

Greg Sargent:

The last thing you need is more proof of the mindlessness and vapidity of the right’s attack on Obama for allegedly not believing in “American exceptionalism.” But Bill Kristol’s latest rendition is really worth savoring, because it unwittingly shows what nonsense it all is.

Kristol has a post up making the case that Obama has finally caved to the right’s attacks and has grudgingly conceded America’s greatness. The evidence? Kristol notes that in his weekly address on Saturday, the President hailed America as “the greatest nation on earth,” and “the greatest country in the world.”

This, Kristol says, showcases the “new, revised Obama.”

It’s unclear whether Kristol is joking, but given the idiocy we keep hearing along these lines, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he isn’t. So allow me to point out that Obama has been using these phrases for literally years now.

In his breakout speech at the 2004 Dem convention, Obama hailed the “greatness of our nation” and the “true genius of America.” And he’s repeatedly stated as president that we live in the greatest country evah. Way back in August 2009, Obama described America as “the greatest nation on Earth.” In October of 2009, Obama declared that “we live in the greatest country on Earth.”

In January of 2010, Obama described America as “the greatest nation in the world.” He called America the “greatest country on Earth” on September 25, again on September 29th, and still again on October 21st. And so on.

Jennifer Rubin:

Bill needs no defense from me, but let me explain the joke to Greg. It is not Obama who is the target of Bill’s humor, but the left and its disinclination to project American power and values. Bill, like many conservatives, has supported the president’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been quite generous in his praise of a number of Obama speeches. The point of the barb is to make clear that not even the liberal icon Obama adopts the left’s disdain for American exceptionalism, nor its desire to retreat from the war on Islamic terror. Conservatives, me included, are prone to marvel at the left’s propensity to sneer at George Bush’s formulation of American exceptionalism while remaining mute as their liberal hero does the same.

The point, you see, is not to discredit the president, but to discredit those that would pull him ever leftward on matters of national security. To the degree Obama sounds much like his predecessor and conducts a robust foreign policy (e.g. use of drones in Afghanistan, a continued presence in Iraq) conservatives will applaud and, candidly, take some glee in recognizing that a president cannot adopt a leftist world view and hope to successfully defend U.S. interests.

Paul Gottfried at The American Conservative:

Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”

Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.

It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.

Doug J:

There was a lot of chest-thumping, or weasel-whacking or monkey-strangling or what have you, about the awesomeness of the United States among the wingerati over the past few days. Rich Lowry declared that the United States is the best because we are the best, no one rocks as hard as we do, bitch.

Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.

Bill Kristol then gave Lowry some kind ironic boo-yah about the fact that Obama talked about how great the US is right after Lowry wrote his column.

The exchange was fairly typical of what passes for high-brow conservatism these days. And yet there are those who why conservatism has such little appeal for intellectually-inclined voters.

Andrew Sullivan:

Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).

So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they’re calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn’t because we object to the notion that babies are lovable – merely because most politicians aren’t. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.

Doug Mataconis:

Or, as DougJ at Balloon Juice put it, America Fuck Yeah.

I’ve really got to wonder what the purpose of stuff like this is. The GOP has been obsessed in recent years with the idea of national “greatness” and conservatives are quick to condemn and political leader who doesn’t make the appropriate statement about how the United States of America is the greatest country ever. It all strikes me as rather silly schoolyard boosterism. It doesn’t inform policy decisions, and it tends to lead to the rather dangerous idea of “My country, right or wrong.”

This is what passes for political insight from the right these days, apparently.

Rich Lowry and Glenn Loury at Bloggingheads

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There Are Cordoba Guitars And Cordoba Houses, Part II

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

The Anti-Defamation League, which describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” released a statment this morning opposing the building of the 13-story mosque near Ground Zero.

“In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right,” says the ADL. Full statement here:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site.  We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

Marc Tracy at Tablet:

The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement opposing the construction of the Islamic community center a couple blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. (Earlier this week, a community board recommended that the Landmarks Preservation Commission allow the project to go through.) The release goes out of its way to grant Cordoba House’s organizers good intentions and to condemn the bigotry of some who oppose it. So what is the problem? “The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location,” the ADL argues, “is counterproductive to the healing process.”

It adds:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.

Founded in 1913, the ADL, in its words, “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” Except when it does the precise opposite.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I have explained my support for the Lower Manhattan mosque project before, but let me restate two points:

1) The organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate group interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. It is very far from being a Wahhabist organization;

2) This is a strange war we’re fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It’s not that hard to understand. I’m disappointed that the ADL doesn’t understand this.

Greg Sargent:

This is basically a concession that some of the opposition to the mosque is grounded in bigotry, and that those arguing that the mosque builders harbor ill intent are misguided. Yet ADL is opposing the construction of the mosque anyway, on the grounds that it will cause 9/11 victims unnecessary “pain.”

But look: The foes of this mosque whose opposition is rooted in bigotry are the ones who are trying to stoke victims’ pain here, for transparent political purposes. Their opposition to this mosque appears to be all about insidiously linking the mosque builders with the 9/11 attackers, and by extension, to revive passions surrounding 9/11. To oppose the mosque is to capitulate to — and validate — this program.

On this one, you’re either with the bigots or you’re against them. And ADL has in effect sided with them.

Paul Krugman:

So let’s try some comparable cases, OK? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?

One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group — because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world.

But ADL has apparently forgotten all that. Shameful — and stupid.

Update: Times staff briefly removed the link to the ADL statement, because it seemed to be dead — but it was apparently just a case of an overloaded server, and I’ve put it back.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

Humorist Will Rogers once said about the repeal of Prohibition, “Repeal is all right, but the wrong people are for it.” In this case, the wrong people are against Park51, and if Abe Foxman and the ADL can’t keep their personal feelings out of the issue, they should have just kept quiet instead of handing the Bigot Brigade a public relations gift. What a disgrace.

Adam Serwer at American Prospect:

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

J Street:

Today, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

During the high-tide of anti-semitism, and then again during the civil-rights movement, and often since, the Anti-Defamation League transcended its Jewish origins to stand as a courageous American voice against prejudice. But now, it’s making a mockery of its original mission and, in the process, it has sullied American Judaism’s intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion.  I miss the old ADL and so does America. Foxman should be fired immediately. (Meanwhile, hooray yet again for Michael Bloomberg.)

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Had the ADL genuinely tried to apply its universalistic mandate to the Jewish state, it would have become something like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) or B’Tselem (full disclosure: I’m on B’Tselem’s American board): Israeli human rights organizations that struggle against all forms of bigotry, and thus end up spending a lot of time defending Muslims and Christian Palestinians against discrimination by Jews. But the ADL hasn’t done that. Instead it has become, in essence, two organizations. In the United States, it still links the struggle against anti-Semitism to the struggle against bigotry against non-Jews. In Israel, by contrast, it largely pretends that government-sponsored bigotry against non-Jews does not exist. When Arizona passes a law that encourages police to harass Latinos, the ADL expresses outrage. But when Israel builds 170 kilometers of roads in the West Bank for the convenience of Jewish settlers, from which Palestinians are wholly or partially banned, the ADL takes out advertisements declaring, “The Problem Isn’t Settlements.”

For a long time now, the ADL seems to have assumed that it could exempt Israel from the principles in its charter and yet remain just as faithful to that charter inside the United States. But now the chickens are coming back home to America to roost. The ADL’s rationale for opposing the Ground Zero mosque is that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.” Huh? What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue? Would the ADL for one second suggest that sensitivity toward people victimized by members of a certain religion or race justifies discriminating against other, completely innocent, members of that religion or race? Of course not. But when it comes to Muslims, the standards are different. They are different in Israel, and now, it is clear, they are different in the United States, too.

More Goldberg

Mark Thompson at The League:

I don’t have any real problem with those who take offense at the decision to build this project a few blocks from Ground Zero, and particularly those who take such offense having had deep ties to New York on 9/11/01.

What I do have a problem with is those who have determined that this is an appropriate issue for political activism, and particularly those supposed advocates of “small government” who view it as appropriate that government would step in here to restrict the property rights of a private organization.  What I do have a problem with is those who claim to advocate for “states rights” and federalism insisting that it is the job of the federal government to make sure that what is effectively a zoning decision of the New York City government is overruled.  What I do have a problem with is those who are using this proposed building to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment by branding it a “9/11 Victory Mosque,” and who presume to know more about Muslims than Muslims themselves and in the process create an “inescable trap” wherein all Muslims are either lying about not being jihadi terrorists or are just “bad Muslims.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

The left continues to feign confusion (it is hard to believe its pundits are really this muddled) as to the reasons why conservatives (and a majority of fellow citizens) oppose the Ground Zero mosque. No, it’s not about “religious freedom” — we’re talking about the location of the mosque on the ash-strewn site of 3,000 dead Americans. The J Street crowd and the liberal defenders of the mosque seem very bent out of shape when Americans want to defend the sensibilities of their fellow citizens and when they look askance at an imam whose funding appears to come from those whose goal is anything but religious reconciliation. Again, no one is telling Muslims not to build or pray in mosques; we on the right are simply asking them not to do it in the location where Islam was the inspiration for mass murder.

It is interesting that the word mosque is not employed by those excoriating the mosque opponents. As a smart reader highlights, why is it described as a “cultural center”? Pretty dicey to articulate exactly what position the left clings to — namely, that we must allow a mosque at Ground Zero. Well, when you are that precise, it does highlight the vast gulf between the left’s perspective and that of average Americans.  (And for the record, my objections to J Street obviously aren’t limited to the Ground Zero mosque. And I certainly do believe “you are either for us or you are for them” — when it comes to Israel and to America. That this notion disturbs the left tells you precisely why it is estranged from the vast majority of Israelis and Americans.)

Dan Senor is not confused in the least. He pens an open letter to the Ground Zero mosque imam, which gets to the heart of the matter. Recalling the 9/11 attack “committed in the name of Islam,” he explains:

We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim “military” victory—a milestone on the path to the further spread of Islam throughout the world. …

Rather than furthering cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, a Cordoba House located near Ground Zero would undermine them. Rather that serving as a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, it would function as a divide. Your expressed hopes for the center not only would never be realized, they would be undermined from the start. Insisting on this particular site on Park Place can only reinforce this counterproductive dynamic.

This is not some right-wing, extremist view. It represents the views of a large majority of Americans and of mainstream Jewish leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein — as well as Juan Williams. But the left – which has become obsessed with universalism and finds particularism and nationalism noxious – thinks it unseemly for Americans to look after the interests of Americans, and Jews to look after Jews (as to the latter, we can only be grateful that so many pro-Zionist Christians do as well).

Peter Wehner at Commentary

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Joe Lieberman comes out against building an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan:

“I’ve also read some things about some of the people involved that make me wonder about their motivations. So I don’t know enough to reach a conclusion, but I know enough to say that this thing is only going to create more division in our society, and somebody ought to put the brakes on it,” he said. “Give these people a chance to come out and explain who they are, where their money’s coming from.”

Sounds like he’s deeply troubled by the hilariously elongated chain of guilt-by-association constructed by critics.

Meanwhile, former Bushie Dan Senor writes:

9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there.

A couple things are striking about this argument. First, Senor claims that “Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials.” But the Muslim center is not being built on Ground Zero. It’s being built two blocks away, in a site that doesn’t feel especially connected to Ground Zero. Senor is suggesting that nothing but memorials should be built within (at least) a two block radius of Ground Zero. Forgive me for feeling skeptical that such a standard is being applied to any other proposed construction.

Second, there’s a very weaselly relativism at work here in his not-prejudiced plea to relocate the center. Senor is arguing, I support freedom of religion, and I believe that your group doesn’t support terrorism, but other Americans don’t feel this way. Of course this is an argument for caving in to any popular prejudice or social phobia whatsoever. Hey, I’m happy to let a black family move into the neighborhood, but other people here think you’re probably crackheads who spray random gunfire at night, so in order to prevent racial strife you should probably live somewhere else.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as the unlikely but passionate defender of the planned Muslim community center near ground zero, today traveled to Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan to deliver a stirring plea for sanity in what he called “[as] important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The Daily News’ Adam Lisberg reports that Bloomberg choked up at one point as he delivered the speech surrounded by religious leaders of different faiths, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Rather than attack the bigotry of the opponents of the so-called “ground zero mosque,” Bloomberg made several positive arguments for building the center. He traced the struggle for religious freedom in New York and affirmed the rights of citizens to do as they please with their private property:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

It’s worth noting that three Jewish leaders  — Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Community Council, Rabbi Irwin Kula from the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Cara Berkowitz from the UJA Federation — were present with Bloomberg during the speech, despite the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the project

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Few events in recent memory have called up the resonant ideological debates of 9/11 as forcefully as the mosque being planned near the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It appears these are debates we will keep having, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to let the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement proceed with their plans. Along with those plans will come more discussion of religious freedom, taste, and the specter of a Western/Muslim cultural World War

Ann Althouse:

Writes the NYT, reporting the city’s 9-0 vote against designating the building on the site a landmark. Now, as a matter of freedom of religion, it really was crucial not to let religion (or political ideology) affect the question whether that building should be classified under the law as a landmark, thus limiting the property rights of the owner. The requirement of neutrality in decisionmaking like that is fundamental to the rule of law.

One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.

That is clearly the way it had to be done. But what should not be lost, in understanding that, is that the owner’s freedom means that the owner has a choice. The owner is certainly not required to build a Muslim center and mosque on that site. Because it is a choice, it’s not wrong for the community to ask: Why are you making this choice? Why are you doing something that feels so painful to us? The community isn’t wrong to plead with the owner to choose to do something else with that property. It’s not enough of an answer to say we are doing it because we have a right to do it.

UPDATE: Will Wilkinson

Allah Pundit

Greg Sargent

William Kristol at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #2: Dorothy Rabinowitz at WSJ

Alan Jacobs at The American Scene

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Joshua Cohen and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

Mark Schmitt and Rich Lowry at Bloggingheads

David Weigel and Dan Foster at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #3: Alex Massie here and here

UPDATE #4: Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek, his letter to Foxman

Abe Foxman writes a letter to Zakaria

Steve Clemons

UPDATE #5: Christopher Hitchens at Slate

Eugene Volokh

UPDATE #6: Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo

UPDATE #7: Charles Krauthammer at WaPo

Jonathan Chait at TNR

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #8: Joe Klein on Krauthammer

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic on Krauthammer

UPDATE #9: More Krauthammer

Kinsley responds

UPDATE #10: Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place

Steve Benen

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Filed under Religion

Wait, This Article Didn’t Appear In Slate?

Michael Grunwald at Time:

President Obama has called the BP oil spill “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” and so has just about everyone else. Green groups are sounding alarms about the “catastrophe along the Gulf Coast,” while CBS, Fox and MSNBC are all slapping “Disaster in the Gulf” chyrons on their spill-related news. Even BP fall guy Tony Hayward, after some early happy talk, admitted that the spill was an “environmental catastrophe.” The obnoxious anti-environmentalist Rush Limbaugh has been a rare voice arguing that the spill — he calls it “the leak” — is anything less than an ecological calamity, scoffing at the avalanche of end-is-nigh eco-hype.

Well, Limbaugh has a point. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it’s no leak; it’s the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It’s also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it’s important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. “The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared,” says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana. (See pictures of the Gulf oil spill.)

Yes, the spill killed birds — but so far, less than 1% of the number killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Yes, we’ve heard horror stories about oiled dolphins — but so far, wildlife-response teams have collected only three visibly oiled carcasses of mammals. Yes, the spill prompted harsh restrictions on fishing and shrimping, but so far, the region’s fish and shrimp have tested clean, and the restrictions are gradually being lifted. And yes, scientists have warned that the oil could accelerate the destruction of Louisiana’s disintegrating coastal marshes — a real slow-motion ecological calamity — but so far, assessment teams have found only about 350 acres of oiled marshes, when Louisiana was already losing about 15,000 acres of wetlands every year. (Comment on this story.)

The disappearance of more than 2,000 sq. mi. of coastal Louisiana over the past century has been a true national tragedy, ravaging a unique wilderness, threatening the bayou way of life and leaving communities like New Orleans extremely vulnerable to hurricanes from the Gulf. And while much of the erosion has been caused by the re-engineering of the Mississippi River — which no longer deposits much sediment at the bottom of its Delta — quite a bit has been caused by the oil and gas industry, which gouged 8,000 miles of canals and pipelines through coastal wetlands. But the spill isn’t making that problem much worse. Coastal scientist Paul Kemp, a former Louisiana State University professor who is now a National Audubon Society vice president, compares the impact of the spill on the vanishing marshes to “a sunburn on a cancer patient.” (See TIME’s interactive graphic “100 Days of the BP Spill.”)

Marine scientist Ivor van Heerden, another former LSU prof, who’s working for a spill-response contractor, says, “There’s just no data to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest in making BP look good — I think they lied about the size of the spill — but we’re not seeing catastrophic impacts.” Van Heerden, like just about everyone else working in the Gulf these days, is being paid from BP’s spill-response funds. “There’s a lot of hype, but no evidence to justify it.”

The scientists I spoke with cite four basic reasons the initial eco-fears seem overblown. First, the Deepwater oil, unlike the black glop from the Valdez, is unusually light and degradable, which is why the slick in the Gulf is dissolving surprisingly rapidly now that the gusher has been capped. Second, the Gulf of Mexico, unlike Alaska’s Prince William Sound, is very warm, which has helped bacteria break down the oil. Third, heavy flows of Mississippi River water have helped keep the oil away from the coast, where it can do much more damage. And finally, Mother Nature can be incredibly resilient. Van Heerden’s assessment team showed me around Casse-tete Island in Timbalier Bay, where new shoots of Spartina grasses were sprouting in oiled marshes and new leaves were growing on the first black mangroves I’ve ever seen that were actually black. “It comes back fast, doesn’t it?” van Heerden said.

Rich Lowry at The Corner:

I said last week that I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a major story in the mainstream press in the months ahead saying that the spill isn’t going to be as much of a disaster as advertised. And here come those stories, much sooner than I expected. First, we had the New York Times saying that the spill, at least on the surface, has gone missing. And, now, we have Time magazine reporting the environmental damage has probably been exaggerated (h/t Mike Allen’s Playbook)

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:

In short, the story is classic man-bites-dog, knee-jerk counterintuitivism. In reality, we have no idea yet how bad the damage in the Gulf is. The federal government is still only in the early stages of a natural resources damage assessment, a process to determine the full extent of the destruction. The government hasn’t even come up with an estime of how much oil leaked into the Gulf. And BP hasn’t yet finished the relief wells, meaning the disaster isn’t over yet. Meanwhile, the environmental impacts of the natural gas that has also been seeping into the Gulf remain unclear. And the article gives scant attention to the nearly 2 million gallons of dispersant applied by BP to break up the spill, which the country’s top environmental official has acknowledged is a science experiment of monumental proportions.

“The amount of oil and toxic dispersant pumped into the Gulf is unprecedented, and we know the marine impacts will be massive, we simply don’t know how long it will take for the ecosystem to rebound, and how significant the decrease in productivity will be until it recovers,” says Aaron Viles, campaign director at the Gulf Restoration Network.

Referring to the Time article’s author, Michael Grunwald, National Resources Defense Council lawyer David Pettit says, “I’m not sure what boats he’s been out on. When I went out from Plaquemines Parish two weeks ago, there were oiled marshes as far as the eye could see, plus all the islands we saw were oiled. I would agree that it’s too early to say what the long-term effect of that oiling will be, but by the same token I don’t think anyone can credibly say that there will be little or no effect.”

The article mentions the 488 dead sea turtles found in the Gulf, but says “only 17 were visibly oiled.” What it doesn’t mention, however, is that nearly 80 percent of those dead turtles are Kemp’s Ridley turtles, the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world. “When you get to that level of peril, every individual makes a difference,” says Doug Inkley, a wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation who was in the Gulf last week. Nor does a turtle need to be visibly oiled to die because of it; ingesting the oil, and the oil-dispersant mix, can also be deadly. And then there are the turtles that may have been burned alive.

I have quite a bit of respect for Grunwald, whose work on the Army Corps of Engineers and Hurricane Katrina was spectacular. But if he’s going to criticize folks for making premature doomsday predictions, then he, too, shouldn’t engage in making preemptive declarations that the problem is exaggerated, either. Doing so not only lets BP off the hook, but also contributes to the already waning interest in the disaster among the American public—nothing to see here, folks, back to your regularly scheduled environmental apathy.

Tom Maguire:

The oil was light, the water warm, and the bacteria feasted.  I recall a lot of talk that comparisons to the Valdez made no sense because Prince William Sound is so much colder, but still.

Here is a Rush flashback:

“The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there,” Limbaugh said. “It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Well, doing nothing made no political sense, and I assume all the skimming and booms accomplished something.  That said, the after-action reports will be compiled by the same people that insisted Something Be Done, so the results may not be entirely unbiased.

Digby:

Rush Limbaugh has been saying the oil spill is nothing more than a little leak that has caused almost no damage. Time Magazine is backing him up saying since the news that the slick “disappearing” evidence points to the fact that the whole thing was over-hyped for ratings and fundraising by environmental groups. (Seriously.)

But perhaps “disappearing” the wrong word. The right word is “dispersing.” And there are just a few niggling issues to discuss about that

[…]

BP seems to have ably headed off the worst of the PR disaster by keeping the worst of the oil more or less off the shoreline. The actual disaster may have been made worse by the use of toxic chemicals. So it’s all good.

James Joyner:

It’s a fascinating contra-conventional wisdom story, although the bottom line seems to be not so much that the disaster was hyped but that we just don’t have the ability to forecast the effects of these incidents with great confidence.   And that nature seems to have enormously strong coping mechanisms.

Let’s hope this is right.

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Filed under Energy, Environment

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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Filed under Af/Pak, Military Issues, Political Figures

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Diem, I Mean, Karzai? Part II

Dexter Filkins at NYT:

Two senior Afghan officials were showing President Hamid Karzai the evidence of the spectacular rocket attack on a nationwide peace conference earlier this month when Mr. Karzai told them that he believed the Taliban were not responsible.

“The president did not show any interest in the evidence — none — he treated it like a piece of dirt,” said Amrullah Saleh, then the director of the Afghan intelligence service.

Mr. Saleh declined to discuss Mr. Karzai’s reasoning in more detail. But a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Karzai suggested in the meeting that it might have been the Americans who carried it out.

Minutes after the exchange, Mr. Saleh and the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, resigned — the most dramatic defection from Mr. Karzai’s government since he came to power nine years ago. Mr. Saleh and Mr. Atmar said they quit because Mr. Karzai made clear that he no longer considered them loyal.

But underlying the tensions, according to Mr. Saleh and Afghan and Western officials, was something more profound: That Mr. Karzai had lost faith in the Americans and NATO to prevail in Afghanistan.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This confrontation between Karzai and his intelligence minisiter Amrullah Saleh–widely seen among the Americans as among the most competent members of Karzai government–has been the talk of Kabul and Washington this past week. My sources say that the confrontation got very hot, a major screaming match. My sources also say that Karzai’s insane accusation, that the U.S. conspired to launch rockets at his peace jirga, was more an outburst of unhinged fury than evidence of core paranoia. The real concern here is that the Karzai government may be splitting back into the same old Afghan factions: north versus south, Pashtuns versus the Northern Alliance.

There is also an India versus Pakistan dimension here. The Pakistanis, who have significant influence over the Afghan Taliban, have been demanding that Saleh be sacked; they consider him an Indian agent (he was active in the Northern Alliance, which received support from India). Saleh was able to remain in his job, despite serious disagreements with Karzai, in part because he had the strong backing of the CIA. Karzai’s willingness to sack him, or let him resign, could well be a sign that Karzai is tilting toward Pakistan, which would be crucial if there is to be a rapprochment with the Taliban.

This is only the tip of a very distressing iceberg (or, given the locale, the leading edge of a blinding sandstorm). I’ll have more on it in my print column this week.

After several months of seeming to have calmed down in the wake of the uproar that followed his controversial, and most likely corrupted, election “victory,” it seems that Karzai has once against returned to the phlegmatic, seemingly irrational at times, behavior that we saw several months ago when he was doing things like threatening to join the Taliban. If nothing else, Karzai has proven that he is an unreliable “ally,” a fact which itself calls into question the entire reason for the American mission in Afghanistan, which at this point seems to be reduced to fighting the Taliban that Karzai threatened to join and propping up Karzai’s seemingly corrupt regime.

I’ve been asking for a couple years now what the heck we’re doing in Afghanistan, and when I see the leader of the nation we’re supposed to be defending acting like this, it just makes me wonder why we aren’t getting out of their faster.

Rich Lowry at The Corner:

Was just talking to someone following this situation closely, who thinks the thrust of this story may be slightly dated. He thinks that Karzai was somewhat reassured by his trip to Washington last month. But there’s no doubt that he’s hedging his bets.

Zach Rosenberg:

Karzai’s priorities are increasingly diverging from the U.S. The resignations of Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, and Hanif Atmar, the Minister of Interior, while supposedly connected to security lapses at the recent Peace Jirga in Kabul, hint at deeper problems. Saleh and Atmar were said to share key priorities with the U.S., and were widely acknowledged to be among the most reliable members of the Afghan government. As always, rumors are rife about the true instigation and meaning of their resignations, and one possible consequence is that Karzai gets more direct control over key security services. Karzai, who appointed one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to chair the Peace Jirga, has never seemed especially enthusiastic about either the planned Kandahar offensive or the good governance meant to follow it.

The Kandahar offensive, and subsequent claims of success, appear to be a foregone conclusion. Based on past evidence, a strong Taliban presence and bad governance after the assault seem similarly inevitable. I plan to keep a close eye on Alex Strick’s Twitter feed when the time comes.

Spencer Ackerman:

Perhaps it’s time to put a sharper point on these two phenomena. The Obama administration decided last year to underscore to the Karzai government that the scope of its relationship with the U.S. needed to change. So out comes the July 2011 “inflection point,” a date to signal the beginning of the end of America bearing the lion’s share of the burden in the war, a beginning for transition to Afghan control, and a kick in the ass for the Karzai government to get around to governing.

But it’s an ambiguous date. The Obama administration adds that Afghanistan is going to be a strategic long-term partner long after the U.S. withdraws its troops, and everyone in NATO understands the money will keep flowing. Gen. McChrystal begins hugging Karzai even tighter, and the rest of the Obama administration eventually follows suit, recognizing that he’s the only game in town. So the political message is — to put it judiciously — subtle.

Maybe too subtle. Karzai’s most visible initiative following the announcement of the July 2011 date hasn’t been an intensified effort at governing, as we can see in Marja. It’s been to seek reconciliation with the Taliban through the Peace Jirga. And unsurprisingly, the Taliban isn’t interested. If you were a Taliban fighter, and you saw that the Karzai government wasn’t actually making itself more relevant to people’s lives in the areas in which you operate but it was dangling an olive branch before you, that would probably look like negotiating from the point of weakness. Why not just continue fighting when your enemy is weak and looking to sue for peace?

Maybe there’s a way to change Karzai’s behavior. The Kabul Conference may be an opportunity to underscore that reconciliation without intensified governance isn’t going to change insurgent calculations. Or maybe — as a diplomat argued to me yesterday — the governance effort is a lagging indicator that just takes more time to manifest than Washington-based jerks like me are willing to concede. And the logic of underscoring in a real way to Karzai that the U.S. isn’t writing a blank check anymore is compelling. But a preliminary assessment of the political utility of setting the July 2011 date is that it’s not having the intended effect on Afghan governance.

DRJ at Patterico:

Wars and allies are sometimes thrust upon us. Like him or not, Karzai’s support is vital to winning in Afghanistan but Obama has alienated him and is now stuck trying to climb back to where he began 18 months ago. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan has become the longest-ever war America has fought and its monthly costs outpace the War in Iraq. It’s worth it if our leaders are committed to winning but it’s not clear they are.

It’s also interesting to watch President Obama repeatedly try to harange, intimidate and cajole foreign leaders into doing what he wants. It worked domestically. It’s not working as well outside the U.S.

Jules Crittenden:

Whatever happens in this three-quarters surge, in these talks with the Taliban and with Karzai’s government, the end state needs to al Qaeda destroyed or at least in a box. Neither of those things are going to happen if the Taliban gains any kind of role or leverage in government in anything but a severely diminished state. It also isn’t going to happen if we don’t have a long-term military presence in the area in some form.

So if Karzai has no confidence in the Americans, is actively seeking to undermine the Americans and the surge, and is interested in making nice with the Taliban indiscriminately, whether for some high ideals of peace or to save his own neck, what the heck do we, or Afghans who aren’t interested in that kind of arrangement, do about it.

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