Israel, War On Terror

Hamas’ War on Israel is a Societal Suicide Bombing

This weekend, Hamas launched an all-out assault on Israel, hitting the country with rockets, drones, and commando strikes. The death toll on the Israeli side is already approaching four digits and when the fog of war lifts that death toll is likely to increase. Hamas terrorists murdered Israelis indiscriminately, turning a music festival into a killing ground.

The Israelis have responded with their own assault on Gaza, which includes shutting off the power to the Gaza Strip. The loss of civilian lives among the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza is likely to devastating as well. Hamas is engaging of its usual tactics of placing military assets in protected locations like mosques and hospitals, daring the Israelis to attack.

This war represents a massive intelligence failure for the Israelis. The IDF thought that they had contained Hamas, and up to 19,000 Palestinians were commuting from Gaza to Israel to work. Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has a detailed analysis of what happened and why in Foreign Affairs that provides some much needed context. Indyk’s thoughts on why Hamas decided to strike are important here:

The Arab world is coming to terms with Israel. Saudi Arabia is talking about normalizing relations with Israel. As part of that potential deal, the United States is pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority—Hamas’s enemy. So this was an opportunity for Hamas and its Iranian backers to disrupt the whole process, which I think in retrospect was deeply threatening to both of them. I don’t think that Hamas follows dictation from Iran, but I do think they act in coordination, and they had a common interest in disrupting the progress that was underway and that was gaining a lot of support among Arab populations. The idea was to embarrass those Arab leaders who have made peace with Israel, or who might do so, and to prove that Hamas and Iran are the ones who are able to inflict military defeat on Israel.

The reality is that the Palestinians have long been used as pawns for a proxy war against Israel. But the Middle East is changing—the Iranians have become the primary adversary for Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE. And Israel is a buffer against the Iranians. This attack is likely directed by the Iranians to try to drive a wedge between Israel and the Sunni states. Whether or not that works depends both on how indiscriminate Israel’s actions become and how the rest of the Middle East reacts. But ultimately the economic, security, and political interests of countries like Saudi Arabia remain better aligned with rich and industrial Israel than the Palestinians that have been treated alternately like pariahs and useful tools since Israel’s founding. Iran is threatened by an Israel-Saudi alliance, and this attack may have been directed in large part by Tehran.

This war will not leave either Israel or Hamas in a better position. The Israelis have already declared open war on Hamas, and Israel has the military might to level the Gaza Strip several times over. Israel does not particularly want to re-occupy the Strip and try to govern over a population nearly a third of its own while facing Hizb’allah in the north and the restive West Bank in the east. No matter what happens, Hamas has forced a complex humanitarian catastrophe on its own people that will take years to resolve, and may leave Gaza permanently poorer. Israel has already taken heavy losses and has shown that its intelligence into Gaza was deeply flawed. The Israeli government has said that this will be a long and difficult war, and that prediction is quite likely to be accurate.

It is quite possible that the already unpopular Netanyahu government falls after all is said and done. Netanyahu’s appeal was primarily predicated on his ability to keep Israel safe from terrorism. It is now beyond question that the Netanyahu government and the IDF failed that mission, and failed dramatically. While Israel will likely not move towards elections during wartime, Netanyahu’s days are numbered now.

This war is a tragedy for the region. It is a tragedy for the innocent civilians in Gaza that were placed into harms way be the terrorists of Hamas. It is a tragedy for the State of Israel that has lost hundreds if not thousands of lives and has been shaken to the core. It is a tragedy for the Middle East that was for the first time in decades trending more towards peace. It is a tragedy for the world that the free world now faces another conflict in an era of relative peace.

Hamas bears the blame for this. Hamas has turned the entire Gaza Strip into a suicide bomb, using it to strike at Israel no matter what the costs to the people of Gaza. Hamas must be destroyed if there is to be peace, but the costs to both Israel and Gaza will sadly be severe.

International Relations

Obama’s Damascus Debacle

President Obama once again has stepped firmly into a disaster largely of his own making, as he now threatens Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with military action. History is not without its sense of irony: here we have the same group of Democrats who campaigned against President Bush’s “war of choice” based on a Ba’athist dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction now advocating the very same thing. To see John Kerry forced to confront a skeptical Congress and convince them to go to war in the Middle East is like peering into Bizarro World.

President Obama is right on one thing, if only in theory. The use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians should be a categorical red line. Anyone government or non-governmental entity that launches an attack with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons should be blown off the face of the earth, no questions asked. In a perfect world, the international community would swiftly and surely punish such violations of basic international norms.

Of course, we don’t live in anything resembling a perfect world.

Obama may feel free to argue that the use of chemical weapons is a worldwide “red line” that demands immediate action, but saying it does not make in so. Until the Chinese and the Russians feel the same way, all of these high-minded proclamations of global resolve are for naught.

President Obama discusses Syria in the Oval Office.

President Obama discusses Syria in the Oval Office.

Instead, President Obama is demonstrating his naïveté on foreign policy matters. We do not live in an age of international harmony in which the saintly United Nations will come to the aid of the suffering Syrian people. We live in a world based on realpolitik. Vladimir Putin is perfectly fine with Assad gassing Syrians by the thousands. What he cares about is expanding Russian power in the region and the globe.

Even though I’m still a believer in enforcing international norms through the judicious use of military force—exactly the sort of person that the President could convince—the problem is that we are entering into yet another Middle Eastern conflict with no clear idea of just what we are hoping to achieve. Are we trying to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons? Exactly what is the point if the punishment will be no more than a token strike with drones or cruise missiles? That will not be an effective deterrent, and sends the message that the use of WMDs will lead to a piddling and ineffectual response.

The President has made it clear that the goal is not “regime change” or killing Assad. But that is precisely what the goal should be. If we want to effectively punish the use of weapons of mass destruction on civilians, we have to make the price unacceptably high. That means that the use of WMDs should be met with immediate, clear, and undeniable action. In short: if you want to use WMDs on civilians, the United States and its allies will hunt you down and kill you, destroy your military, and end your rule. Anything less gives tyrants like Assad the leeway to gas civilians and hope to survive the consequences.

Making this all even more complicated is that many of the Syrian rebels are tied to al-Qaeda and other Salafi groups. Even if Assad were deposed, Syria will likely end up embroiled in yet another bloody civil war in which the most likely winner will be radical Islamists. Our options are, to put it mildly, not good.

In the end, we are planning on going into Syria to try to “preserve credibility” by a series of ineffectual strikes, sending the message that if you use WMDs the United States will levy a small measure of its military might against you. Maybe. If we decide to bother.

Obviously, the Iranians are quaking in their boots.

If that were not enough, the situation is even worse. Great Britain, America’s staunchest ally in international affairs is out of the running. The French were the only coalition partners that we had going into Syria. (As an aside, this is because of France’s long interest in Syria, which was once a French protectorate.) But now, Obama’s sudden (but legally required) decision to consult Congress has left French President François Hollande in the lurch, and forcing him to go to the National Assembly in the hopes of getting permission to act against Assad. Contrast that to Iraq, where President Bush had nearly 40 coalition partners at the outbreak of the war—including the British. On Syria, the United States runs the risk of standing unnecessarily alone.

But this is a problem largely of President Obama’s own making. Despite his claim that “I didn’t set the red line,” the President’s very own words make it clear that he did set a red line with Syria. That in itself is respectable: the use of weapons of mass destruction rightly should be a red line for the United States. The problem is that Obama’s statement was made to look tough without being tough. What Obama should have done was to back up that statement with force: getting Congressional approval for a limited response targeting Assad and his military personally if there was a confirmed use of WMD.

Democratic partisans will argue that Obama would never have received the approval of the Republican House. Maybe so, maybe not. (I would guess that Obama could have squeaked it by.) But Obama is the one who decided not to even try to consult Congress until the last minute. Had this debate happened a year ago, the United States could have backed up its words with action now when it counts. But the President is openly and clearly contemptuous of working with Congress, abdicating the true source of his Presidential bully pulpit when it is needed the most.

Now, the United States faces an unnecessary crisis. Even if the President gets his approval to strike Syria, it will be too little, too late. The lesson being taught here is that the use of WMD against civilians will be tacitly tolerated, and that the United States is not to be feared, at least not under this Administration. And even if we do act in Syria, we will be acting in aid of a group of rebels closely associated with al-Qaeda who promise more bloodshed to the already ravaged Syrian people.

This is a situation that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place, but this Administration has abdicated leadership on the world stage. We have sent a message of weakness rather than resolve, and the world has taken notice. Our traditional allies are no longer with us, and we face a conflict with no clear goals, no clear resolution, and no real purpose.

While the President is right that the use of WMD is a categorical red line that should never be crossed, he lacks the political and international power to back up that statement. Even if we attack Syria, which is not a foregone conclusion, it will not achieve much. President Obama may think that it’s the credibility of Congress or the world that’s on the line, but the reality is that it was his credibility that was on the line, and he failed. Sadly, the consequences to America, Syria, and the world are likely to be severe.


Can The Iraqis Hold It Together?

Rare is the day that I find that Thomas Friedman has written something actually worth reading, but he manages to deliver an even-handed and even insightful look into the end of the war in Iraq. Of course, he cannot resist putting in a few digs at President Bush, but overall his message is true: the future of Iraq will be decided by whether the Iraqi people can pull their country together.

Friedman writes:

Iraq had its strategic benefits: the removal of a genocidal dictator; the defeat of Al Qaeda there, which diminished its capacity to attack us; the intimidation of Libya, which prompted its dictator to surrender his nuclear program (and helped expose the Abdul Qadeer Khan nuclear network); the birth in Kurdistan of an island of civility and free markets and the birth in Iraq of a diverse free press. But Iraq will only be transformational if it truly becomes a model where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the secular and religious, Muslims and non-Muslims, can live together and share power.

As you can see in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, this is the issue that will determine the fate of all the Arab awakenings. Can the Arab world develop pluralistic, consensual politics, with regular rotations in power, where people can live as citizens and not feel that their tribe, sect or party has to rule or die? This will not happen overnight in Iraq, but if it happens over time it would be transformational, because it is the necessary condition for democracy to take root in that region. Without it, the Arab world will be a dangerous boiling pot for a long, long time.

Friedman thinks that Iraq was a war where the U.S. and Iraq both paid too high a price, but he’s right in pointing out that the war had its benefits. Without the invasion of Iraq, we would not have seen the wave of revolutions across the Arab world that we’re seeing now. The visions of Iraqis going to the polls and choosing their own leaders left an indelible mark on the region. From Tunis to Tehran others in the Arab and Muslim world saw Iraq hold peaceful elections and wondered “why can’t I do this?” It took years to come to fruition, and it is far too early to see whether the Arab Spring will lead to a victory for Islamists or a real democratic movement (or some combination of both). But in the end, one thing was right: the invasion of Iraq marked a turning point.

That’s where the critics of the war in Iraq kept getting it wrong: they assumed that the U.S. and its allies went to war for one reason and one reason only: weapons of mass destruction. But wars are never that simple: and while WMDs were chosen as the primary causus belli for the war, that wasn’t the only one. The war in Iraq was intended to be a transformational moment for the region. It was, but it happened on a far longer timetable than the planners of the war perhaps thought.

I also take issue with the idea that the war was waged “incompetently.” The fact is that we took out Saddam Hussein in a matter of days. Yes, we made plenty of mistakes in the post-war period. But that’s not because the U.S. was incompetent. It’s because the U.S. has not done anything like what it had to do in Iraq before in its history. The U.S. had never engaged in nation building on a scale like it had in Iraq. The analogies to the Marshall Plan ignore the fact that while Europe was devastated by World War II, it has had a tradition of democracy and civil society that has barely existed in Iraq. Of course we were going to screw things up: the most important thing was that we adapted to the situation as it happened. Sadly, the Bush Administration was slower to adapt than it should have, but the fact was that Bush’s embrace of the “surge” (against the political conventional wisdom) was the right choice, which even Friedman now admits.

If we had done what John Kerry would have had us do: abandon Iraq early and leave it to al-Qaeda and Iran, who knows what the Middle East would look like today. Iraq would have been ripped apart by a combination of al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias.

The planners of the surge were right in separating Iraq’s Sunnis from al-Qaeda. Once al-Qaeda in Iraq was destroyed by the joint U.S.-Iraqi forces, Iraq’s Shi’ites no longer felt the need to rally around groups like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Instead of trying to force a “political solution” without changing the reality on the ground, President Bush and the U.S. military set the groundwork for a political solution to happen on its own: something that could have only happened once al-Qaeda was defeated.

Now it’s ultimately up to the Iraqis to decide their own fate. The U.S. has left Iraq, and while leaving so completely without at least establishing basing rights in Iraq was an utter failure of the Obama Administration, the mission in Iraq was going to have to transition to Iraqi control at some point. We could not provide a security umbrella in Iraq—otherwise the Iraqis would have had no incentive to develop their own security umbrella.

But there is still a problem: President Obama got his wish. We’re out of Iraq now. And now President Obama will basically ignore Iraq—not that any of the Republican candidates care to engage there either. But right now, as Friedman notes, Iraq is in a state of transition that could either lead to a chance at a lasting democracy or a renewed civil war, At the very least we should be active in getting both sides to negotiate rather than start to rearm sectarian militias.

Right now, Iraq’s future is in grave trouble: the Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Iraq’s Sunni Vice President of being involved in terrorism and is threatening to upset the delicate political balance that has kept the peace in Iraq. The arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi threatens to split off the Sunni Iraqiya bloc, and since al-Hasmemi fled to Iraqi Kurdistan, it may lead to tension with the Kurds as well. If that happens, then Iraq could all too easily fall into civil war once again.

If President Bush were President, there would be extensive shuttle diplomacy going on to cool these tensions: but President Obama seems blithely uninterested in the long-term peace in Iraq. That mistake threatens to undo everything that more than 4,000 brave Americans fought and died to achieve.

We did pay a high price to bring a hope for democracy to Iraq, but what was achieved there could be transformative for the region and for the world. But if we neglect Iraq, we risk losing everything. It may be ultimately up to the Iraqis to shape their own future, but we cannot pretend that we’re not interested in the results, and we should not abandon them when we could help them create and maintain a stable and civil society.

International Relations, Politics, War On Terror

Obama’s War

The Washington Examiner has an interesting article on how President Obama used parliamentary trickery to talk Congress into approving a Libyan no-fly zone. It’s as though we have traveled into some bizarre parallel universe: President Obama, the peace candidate, has now fully embraced the the doctrine of preemptive military action. President Obama, who in 2007 said that “the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation” has unilaterally authorized a military attack on a nation that posed no imminent threat to this country.

President Obama speaks in Cairo

President Obama speaks in Cairo

Not to mention the fact that President Obama has now endorsed military tribunals at Guantanamo for al-Qaeda detainees

Exactly what is the difference between President Obama’s military policy and President Bush’s?

If You Strike At The King…

Of course, Obama’s supporters will argue that the difference between Obama’s wars and Bush’s is that Obama is supposedly more competent as a Commander in Chief. But the evidence suggests otherwise. What is our goal for military action in Libya? Are we trying to bring the rebels into power—without knowing who they really are? That hardly seems like a smart strategy. Is it to overturn Qaddafi? If that’s the goal, then why is President Obama denying any intention to assassinate the dictator? There is no clear goal, and the President’s desire to fight only a limited, bloodless war… or “kinetic military action” is in contradiction to the reality of war.

If our goal is to get rid of the Qaddafi regime, then the goal should be to blown Mohammar Qaddafi straight to hell. No questions asked. If we want to support the rebels, we should be doing what we did in Afghanistan—sending CIA teams to work directly with them in getting rid of the regime. (Which, admittedly, may already be happening.) We should not be fighting a war with half measures.

And worse of all, we may not be winning. We have committed to this fight, and once this nation commits to a fight, we should see it through. What message would Qaddafi’s continued rule over Libya send to the rest of the world. Al-Qaeda has always played off the Arab psychology of the “strong horse” versus the “weak horse,” and if Qaddafi hangs on, America (and the rest of its allies) will undoubtedly look weak.

Following In Bush’s Footsteps

So what should President Obama do? It’s clear that he faces a skeptical public and a restive Congress. (George W. Bush must be feeling at least some schadenfreude at this turn of events.) Plus, time may be running out. The Libyan rebellion cannot hold out forever, unless they are resupplied and rearmed from outside.

The President needs to admit that Qaddafi’s regime must be destroyed. We have committed to that end, and we have to see the task through. That means more than just engaging in limited and sporadic military action. That means decapitating Qaddafi’s military, cutting their supply lines, and killing them before they can kill civilians or the rebels. It is messy, it is bloody, and for all our technological advancement, it can’t be done effectively from 30,000 feet in the air.

But in the end, President Obama is right about one thing—even if inadvertently. For too long we have tolerated Arab dictators who have systematically oppressed their people, and the result has been the growth of groups like al-Qaeda. These dictators have systematically tried to suppress the normal civil society of a functioning state and replace it with cults of personality, pan-Arab nationalism, or sectarian intimidation. But what has happened is to create a situation in which the only groups that dare speak out, that give the people some escape valve, have been the religious fanatics.

President Bush seemed to instinctively understand this. President Obama does not, except in a deeply attenuated way. But ultimately, President Obama has stumbled into following the path of his predecessor. He has embraced everything that Candidate Obama railed against just a few short years ago: preemptive war, indefinite detention, all the sins of the Bush Administration. Next thing you know, he’ll be mispronouncing “nuclear.”

But the problem is that if President Obama is going to follow this path, he should do it boldly. If President Obama wants to be a champion of democracy in the Arab world, he should do so consistently. But sadly, this does not seem likely. Instead, President Obama is only taking action in Libya because the rest of the world has endorsed it. There is no “Obama Doctrine,” no grand strategy other than the hope that Qaddafi will fall and everything will be alright. Just as the Bush Administration (and some of its supporters) naively hoped that the fall of Saddam would lead to a flourishing of Iraqi democracy.

What is sad about this state of affairs is that not only is President Obama emulating many of President Bush’s strategies, he is emulating many of President Bush’s mistakes.

Politics, War On Terror

Bush’s Legacy

Tomorrow, George W. Bush rides off into history. The left is breathing a sigh of relief, their Emmanuel Goldstein is gone (although soon they will find another). Bush leaves an unpopular President—but so did Harry S. Truman. In many ways, Bush and Truman have had similar trajectories. Both began their terms in a time of war, and both made unpopular decisions. Like Truman, Bush will likely be vindicated by history. The narrow-mindedness and ravenous partisanship of Bush’s critics will become less and less relevant as time goes on, and a more fair-minded exploration of Bush’s legacy can begin.

George W. Bush has been systematically turned into a monster by the media. Bush the man has been obscured.

As a point of disclosure, I am only partially a fan of the President. His performance after September 11 was a masterstroke. The decision to invade Iraq was the correct one based on what was known at that point in history. At the same time, Bush’s second term was a disaster. When the President nominated the comically unsuitable Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, it was clear that Bush’s instincts for loyalty had become a flaw rather than a benefit. It was Gen. Petraeus and Sen. McCain that pushed for the surge against a recalcitrant Rumsfeld and Bush. The surge is what won the war in Iraq, and Bush only belatedly endorsed it. The Katrina disaster should not have been laid at Bush’s feet, but putting Michael Brown as the head of FEMA was unquestionably bad judgment. Bush’s tax cuts helped restore the U.S. economy and created millions of jobs. His wasteful spending and statist policies hurt the economy.

Where Bush has failed the most is where he abandoned conservative principles. The left wants to paint him as a radical conservative activist. The truth could not be more radically different. Bush dramatically expanded the size and scope of the federal government. He pushed for a massive increase in entitlement spending under Medicare Part D. He dramatically increased federal spending at nearly all levels. Hardly a fan of deregulation, it was under Bush’s watch that the ill-considered Sarbanes-Oxley bill was passed into law, a bill which dramatically increased the regulation of business. The picture of George W. Bush as laissez-faire radical could not be further from reality.

At the same time, Bush’s tax cuts helped keep the 2001-2003 recession from deepening. They helped America create millions of new jobs. Without them, it’s likely that Bush would never have been reelected. Those tax cuts put money back into the hands of working Americans. While Bush’s economic policies were flawed at best, it was not because of the tax cuts, but because of too much emphasis on state action.

The war in Iraq remains controversial, and will for some time. It seems quite possible that the Hussein regime systematically misled the entire world into believing that they had WMDS. It seems quite possible that the Hussein regime was lying to itself about what it really had. That is unsurprising for an dysfunctional autocracy like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. What did not happen is some sinister conspiracy to “lie” about WMDs to settle some personal score or gain access to oil. The Bush Administration weighed what evidence it had and made a decision based on that evidence. The evidence turned out to be deeply flawed. But the image of a Bush Administration hell-bent on war that was discarding mountains of contradictory evidence has no basis in reality. If Leon Panetta tells President Obama that a country has WMDs and terrorist ties and there is a “slam dunk” case for it, the same principle should apply. A President should never give the benefit of the doubt to this nation’s enemies. A President’s job, first and foremost, is to act on the evidence available and act decisively. President Bush did that, and President Obama should do the same.

This war against Islamist terror will continue. The supposed excesses of this war have led to an America that has not suffered another attack, no less a greater one than that visited upon us on September 11, 2001. We are not living in a fascist dictatorship, the Constitution has hardly been shredded, and our civil liberties remain. The hysteria and fear over this war came less from the President and more from his critics. Yet one unassailable fact remains: we have not been attacked since that fateful day. The plans of terrorists have been foiled, their leaders captured or killed, their hideouts destroyed, their money supply imperiled. Modern terrorism is sui generis, and the Bush Administration responded not be repeating the failed methods of the past, but by treating it as the serious threat it was. Did they always get it right? Of course not, but no Presidency could have been expected to. In facing an evolving and dangerous threat, this Presidency did what it could to keep this country safe. After the attacks, it seemed almost assured that we would be attacked again, and harder. Today, those attacks almost seem like a distant memory. We have the vigilance of the Bush Administration to thank for that. For all the flaws of their approach, it worked.

George W. Bush has been systematically turned into a monster by the media. Bush the man has been obscured. Yet George W. Bush is hardly an unfeeling monster. He is not the caricature that he has been made to be. That he has not defended himself is curious, but perhaps he does not think it his role to do so. Instead, the real George W. Bush is a complex character, motivated by an abiding sense of loyalty and faith, but also harmed by those same instincts. Hardly the unfeeling party-boy of the media’s funhouse-mirror image, the real President Bush is the man who would go to Walter Reed and comfort injured vets, rarely making a media event out of it. If we are to learn anything from the past eight years, we must first move beyond the crude image of President Bush painted by an ideologically homogenous media and see the real George W. Bush.

Sadly, it will likely be years before that happens. But history will judge the 43rd President of the United States with far less ideological rancor than there is now, and when his legacy is remembered it won’t be through the distorted lens of a partisan media, but with the hindsight of history. With that hindsight, the legacy of George W. Bush may be far different than what we would think. Like Truman, Bush may be remembered as a President who did what was right, but not what was popular.

International Relations, Iraq, Obama Administration, Politics, War On Terror

So Much For The Whole “Change” Thing…

President-Elect Obama has unveiled his national security team, and it’s hardly what his supporters would have suspected. Hillary Clinton gets the thankless job of Secretary of State, ensuring that she’ll never be President and keeping her well away from Washington. Robert Gates remains as Secretary of Defense, meaning that the chances of Obama “ending” the war in Iraq any sooner than McCain would have seem slim. Former General Jim Jones, who probably would have served in a McCain Cabinet, will be National Security Advisor.

Putting Clinton in as Secretary of State is an excellent way that she’ll be sidelined for the next four years. Secretaries of State tend not to have political careers after their service, mainly because it is nearly impossible to build up political capital when you’re rarely in the US. Not only that, but Obama knows quite well that the position will not be a very happy one. Tasking her with something like the Israel-Palestine crisis is Obama’s way of ensuring that she’ll be set up to fail from the beginning.

Keeping Gates at Defense is a smart move. The military was quite pro-McCain, and is suspicious of what Obama’s brand of “change” will be. There is little doubt that Obama will not pull us out of Iraq any faster than McCain or Bush would have. The war is largely won, and the media will happily ignore what bad news there is. The anti-war faction was played for the fools they are—Obama’s policies towards Iraq will be the same as if Bush got a third term, and keeping Gates is just one sign of that. It’s bad news for the Kossacks and Code Pink, but a smart move on the part of the President-Elect.

Gen. Jones is a strong pick for NSA. Obama needs military advisors who aren’t Wesley Clark, and Jones’ records seems relatively strong. That pick is another sign that Obama will not pull out of Iraq on an arbitrary timetable. It would be even better if Obama put Gen. Petreaus on the Joint Chiefs and Col. H.R. McMaster in at CENTCOM—it would drive the left nuts, but it would also be a continuation of Obama’s independent-minded defense policy choices.

Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder are less strong picks. Napolitano has a mixed record on immigration, and it doesn’t look like Obama has much interest in defending this nation against illegal immigration—not when they can be used to buttress Democratic numbers through voter fraud. Eric Holder made some very questionable choices with the pardon of Marc Rich, and is anti-Second Amendment. Both, however, will be confirmed, and probably by a large margin.

The Obama national security team does not stand for “change”—which is a reassuring move on his part. In a time of turmoil, making dramatic moves like pulling out of Iraq is not smart policy. Instead, Obama seems to be making pragmatic moves when it comes to foreign policy. Rather than providing a clear break with the policies of the Bush Administration, Obama is likely to continue many of them, including the Bush Doctrine.

Unsurprisingly, Victor Davis Hanson puts it adroitly:

I think we are slowly (and things of course could change) beginning in retrospect to look back at the outline of one of most profound bait-and-switch campaigns in our political history, predicated on the mass appeal of a magnetic leader rather than any principles per se. He out-Clintoned Hillary and followed Bill’s 1992 formula: A young Democrat runs on youth, popular appeal and charisma, claims the incumbent Bush caused another Great Depression and blew Iraq, and then went right down the middle with a showy leftist veneer.

At least in foreign policy, that may be the case. But the reality is that even if Obama really wanted radical change, it would be politically suicidal to do so. The world is dangerous, and getting more so by the moment. Obama the freshman Senator could play fast and loose, but President Obama will not have that luxury. Why the left may hate it, the “change we need” in terms of foreign policy may end up looking much more like “staying the course.”

Iraq, Politics, War On Terror

As Iraq Lifts Itself Up, Some Stick To The Script

Even as terrorists try to their best to sow fear, the signs of a major turnaround in Iraq continue as the inertia in the conflict now favors stability rather than violence.

Al-Anbar Province, once the center of violence in Iraq and a pipeline for terrorists, guns, and money is now a place of relative tranquility. The reason is simple: US resolve helped empower Iraqis to fight terrorism:

The U.S. military assault on Fallujah in 2004 yielded a significant U.S. victory both in moral and tactical terms, David Bellavia, a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army who served with the First Infantry Division for six years, said in an interview.

“I call it my generation’s Normandy because it identified for the enemy what the American fighting man was all about,” he said. “They completely underestimated us and had this idea that because we couldn’t use our technology, we wouldn’t have intestinal fortitude to see the battle through, but this is what ultimately delivered us.”

In 2005, Bellavia received the Conspicuous Service Cross, the highest award for military valor in New York state. He is also the author of “House to House,” which chronicles the Battle of Fallujah in graphic detail.

The Rumsfeld strategy, while based on a sound premise, was ultimately based on the wrong premise. The worry was that more troops would mean more casualties, which emphasized the worries of American politicians rather than what really mattered—the security of Iraqi civilians. Even during the darkest days of the war, brave and resourceful military commanders like Col. H.R. McMaster were developing the tactics to fight and win in Iraq. In Fallujah, we demonstrated that we would not back down. That lesson was brought home time and time again, until finally the Iraqis started joining our side. Once that began to happen in a significant fashion, al-Qaeda was damned.

This ABC News report puts the usual spin on the good news: sure, violence is down, but will it last. What the media, Sen. Obama, and the rest of the antiwar partisans fail to understand is that the reduction in violence is the direct result of our fortitude on Iraq. For all of the President’s legion of faults, especially in the conduct of this war, his stubbornness may have saved Iraq from a humanitarian nightmare that would make Darfur look like nothing. His stubbornness and our military’s skill, combined with the bravery of the Iraqi people have paid off with a great peace dividend.

This peace will last so long as national reconciliation is in the interest of all the parties. The Sunnis are outnumbered. They tried violent resistance and were nearly ethnically cleansed. The Shi’ites also know that violence does not help them. They have political leverage, and because of that they have the most to lose if Iraq flies apart. They may have the numeric superiority, but if they start a civil war, the Sunnis will end up back in bed with al-Qaeda, and even if the Shi’ites win, it will be at a great cost, and would cause Iraq to fall into the hands of the Iranians. Iraqi and Iranians share a common religion, but nothing else.

Iraq can be peaceful, not because of some noble ambition, but because of enlightened self interest—and that is the most powerful force in the universe.

Yet all this could be undone by a public more interested in bread and circuses than world peace. The Democratic Party, by playing to the basest isolationist and xenophobic interests, is threatening the progress that has been made. A premature withdrawal from Iraq would undermine all this progress. If the US leaves, the Iraqis cannot yet keep the peace. A US presence is a necessity to provide the Iraqis with the security needed for progress. The argument that the US presence somehow undermines Iraq’s progress is ridiculous on its face—Iraq has made great political progress, and that progress is only possible because the Iraqis have security. If the Iraqi people cannot be secure in their homes, how can they possibly be expected to trust each other? I, for one, would love to see Sen. Obama spin his way out of that question.

Contrary to the ignorant and arrogant arguments that Iraqis are not pulling their weight, they are making great strides towards restoring the greatness of the nation of Iraq. Day by day, the Iraqis that work towards the betterment of their nation and fight against terror bring Iraq closer to the days when Baghdad can once again be a center of learning and commerce and a great world city.

We in America must never belittle their sacrifice. In a spirit of solidarity, we must continue to support our Iraqi allies in their fight against terror and oppression. Instead of giving them up, we should continue to support their struggles—after all, we were once a struggling young power as well.

It is fair to ask what we are fighting for. What we are fighting for in Iraq is this: that one day a joint US-Iraqi biotechnology venture can discover a cure for cancer, AIDS, or another terrible affliction. That some day, in a place like Darfur, US and Iraqi peacekeepers can work alongside each other again to restore another war-shattered country. That some day, Iraq will become a brother nation to us, an ally as great as those we liberated 60 years ago.

That dream is within the grasp of both the people of the United States and Iraq—but only if we do not let our short-term politics interfere.

The Law, War On Terror

“This Nation Will Live To Regret What The Court Has Done Today”

One of the professors at my law school teaches a course on “atrocious cases”—and today he will have something new to add to his syllabus. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the case of Boumediene v. Bush that represents one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism of our time. The Supreme Court, or at least five of its Justices, have decided that an alien outside the territory of the United States has the right to the writ of habeas corpus.

Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent (joined by Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia) explains why this decision is both overly broad but also unsatisfying to all:

So who has won? Not the detainees. The Court’s analysis leaves them with only the prospect of further litigation to determine the content of their new habeas right, followed by further litigation to resolve their particular cases, followed by further litigation before the D. C. Circuit—where they could have started had they invoked the DTA procedure. Not Congress, whose attempt to “determine-through democratic means—how best” to balance the security of the American people with the detainees’ liberty interests, see Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U. S. 557, 636 (2006) (BREYER, J., concurring), has been unceremoniously brushed aside. Not the Great Writ, whose majesty is hardly enhanced by its extension to a jurisdictionally quirky outpost, with no tangible benefit to anyone. Not the rule of law, unless by that is meant the rule of lawyers, who will now arguably have a greater role than military and intelligence officials in shaping policy for alien enemy combatants. And certainly not the American people, who today lose a bit more control over the conduct of this Nation’s foreign policy to unelected, politically unaccountable judges.

Justice Scalia’s dissent was blistering—even by his standards:

And today it is not just the military that the Court elbows aside. A mere two Terms ago in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U. S. 557 (2006), when the Court held (quite amazingly) that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 had not stripped habeas jurisdiction over Guantanamo petitioners’ claims, four Members of today’s five-Justice majority joined an opinion saying the following:

“Nothing prevents the President from returning to Congress to seek the authority [for trial by military commission] he believes necessary. “Where, as here, no emergency prevents consultation with Congress, judicial insistence upon that consultation does not weaken our Nation’s ability to deal
with danger. To the contrary, that insistence strengthens the Nation’s ability to determine—through democratic means—how best to do so. The Constitution places its faith in those democratic means.” Id., at 636 (BREYER, J., concurring).

Turns out they were just kidding.

Indeed they apparently were. Like Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown, the Supreme Court has told both the elected branches of government that they call the shots. If there were some strong constitutional logic behind this decision it would be one thing. But the majority opinion even admits that the law is at best murky on the issue of whether a foreigner has ever been granted habeas rights when they are outside the sovereign territory of the United States (and even that contention flies in the face of the weight of authority that decisively holds that they have no access to the writ). Undeterred, the Court chooses to dramatically rewrite settled precedent nonetheless. If prior cases had eviscerated and overruled the key Supreme Court precedent in Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), this decision has rendered it a nullity.

The goal of our courts is not to make the law, but to follow the Constitution. This decision is not grounded in the jurisprudence of the Constitution, but of the whims of five. Justice Scalia puts it bluntly, but accurately:

Today the Court warps our Constitution in a way that goes beyond the narrow issue of the reach of the Suspension Clause, invoking judicially brainstormed separation-of-powers principles to establish a manipulable “functional” test for the extraterritorial reach of habeas corpus (and, no doubt, for the extraterritorial reach of other constitutional protections as well). It blatantly misdescribes important precedents, most conspicuously Justice Jackson’s opinion for the Court in Johnson v. Eisentrager. It breaks a chain of precedent as old as the common law that prohibits judicial inquiry into detentions of aliens abroad absent statutory authorization. And, most tragically, it sets our military commanders the impossible task of proving to a civilian court, under whatever standards this Court devises in the future, that evidence supports the confinement of each and every enemy prisoner.

The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today.

I certainly hope that it will, but if certain members of the judiciary have their way it will be as a tyranny of the few. Our country is, and should be, a nation of laws, not men. It is sad that we are elevating the whims of five Justices over the will of those who are responsible to the people.

Nerd-O-Rama, War On Terror

Hollywood’s Lost War

NOTE: This is a piece that was originally published a few days ago, but was lost to a server move.

Ross Douthat has a great piece in The Atlantic on how Hollywood is returning to the themes of the 1970s due in large part to the Iraq War:

Nothing in this commentary, however, bears much resemblance to the way American popular culture actually has evolved since 9/11. The latter-day cowboys have conspicuously failed to materialize: in the past six years, the movie industry has produced exactly zero major motion pictures dedicated to lionizing American soldiers fighting on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. Tears of the Sun proved to be an outlier; more typical of our cultural moment are the movies that its director and star turned out early last year. In Fuqua’s Shooter, a redneck sniper goes up against a conspiracy that’s headed by a villainous right-wing Montana senator (who happens to be a Dick Cheney look-alike) and aimed at covering up an oil company’s human-rights abuses. In Robert Rodriguez’s B-movie homage, Planet Terror, Willis plays another military man, but this time the plot, such as it is, turns on a zombie-creating nerve agent that may have been tested on Willis and his soldiers, the movie hints, as punishment for their having killed Osama bin Laden when the government wanted him kept alive and at large.

Such self-conscious nods to contemporary controversies should be taken, in part, as proof that our popular culture is more impervious to real-world tragedy than most critics would care to admit. The machine that churns out Hollywood blockbusters grinds on remorselessly, and nothing so minor as a terrorist attack is going to keep the next Pirates of the Caribbean from its date with box-office destiny.

But it wasn’t just the reassertion of America’s usual frivolity that caused the 9/11 moment to be stillborn; it was the swiftness with which the Iraq War replaced the fall of the Twin Towers as this decade’s cultural touchstone. It’s Halliburton, Abu Ghraib, and the missing WMDs that have summoned up a cultural moment in which bin Laden is a tongue-in-cheek punch line for a zombie movie and the film industry’s typical take on geopolitics traces all the world’s evils to the machinations of a White Male enemy at home.

Conservatives such as Noonan hoped that 9/11 would bring back the best of the 1940s and ’50s, playing Pearl Harbor to a new era of patriotism and solidarity. Many on the left feared that it would restore the worst of the same era, returning us to the shackles of censorship and conformism, jingoism and Joe McCarthy. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, another decade entirely seems to have slouched round again: the paranoid, cynical, end-of-empire 1970s.

We expected John Wayne; we got Jason Bourne instead.

What’s interesting is how all of Hollywood’s attempts to portray the war in Iraq have failed. Redacted was an absolute bomb. Ditto Lions for Lambs. Same for In the Valley of Elah. No doubt Stop Loss, the latest anti-war polemic will do no better. Hollywood is a town where the dollar is king, yet the studios keep churning out the same stories and keep getting the same results.

There’s no shortage of amazing stories coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan—including those that could offer a balance perspective on the horrors of war. Yet Hollywood keeps spitting out predictable, preachy anti-war films in which the military are either sadists or treated as pawns. The idea of actually telling a story without constantly having to insert a political message that has all the subtlety and nuance of a kick to the testicles seems totally alien to Hollywood these days. It’s as though the directors want to take a rhetorical bullhorn and say LOOK! I’M BEING TOTALLY RELEVANT NOW! CAN’T YOU FEEL THE OUTRAGE! Meanwhile, everyone’s gone home and turned on The Office.

What Hollywood doesn’t get is that it’s not that audiences are too stupid to see the greatness of their work, it’s that Hollywood is too sanctimonious to realize that their work isn’t great at all. It’s a sad commentary on Hollywood today that one of the most relevant shows in terms of exploring this war is Battlestar Galactica in which the terrorists are inexplicably attractive, yet evil robot clones. In Galactica the military and the government are not a bunch of moustache-twirling villains, but are portrayed as three-dimensional characters dealing with an impossible situation. (It helps that the showrunning, Ronald D. Moore, actually served in the military and offers a great deal of authenticity.) Hollywood can be relevant, at least in metaphorical form.

The reason why most of the Iraq War movies have failed is that they constantly try to be “message” movies. War is bad. Halliburton is bad. Bush is bad. Cheney is really, really bad. If the American people wanted to hear stories about how incompetent our government is, we’d watch the news. Hollywood keeps coming back to the same old clichés—the sadistic soldier, the heartless military bureaucracy, the “rogue agent.” All of those clichés have been used up more than Britney Spears, and don’t look any better.

The War Movie That Nobody’s Making

If anyone wants to make a truly great war movie, here’s what they need to do. Don’t try to give us a “message.” Don’t try to push an agenda. Just tell a story. You know, the thing that Hollywood is supposed to do well? You don’t have to create some scathing indictment of war—if you just show war it indicts itself. Saving Private Ryan is one of the greatest war movies ever made because it never flinches from showing the horrors of war. It’s not a “pro-war” movie, nor is it an “anti-war” movie. It’s just a movie about war. You don’t need to create the character of Col. Evil McHitler who secretly sells the organs of Iraqi children to Halliburton to be used to grease oil drills to expose the horrors of war. War is itself horrible, and by creating all these silly little contrivances Hollywood doesn’t add to their message, they detract from it.

The best films coming out of the Iraq War are documentaries. Gunner Palace is one of the best movies about this war, not because the filmmakers went in to push an agenda, but because they just turned the cameras on and let things happen. The real-life soldiers in Gunner Palace are more fascinating than the cardboard-cutouts in movies like Jarhead. The situations they face don’t require elaborate and silly conspiracy theories. Instead, they’re in the middle of an unfamiliar country filled with unfamiliar people. The lines between friend and foe are frequently blurred. There’s an amazing effective scene in Gunner Palace in which the unit arrests the Iraqi man that had been working with them as a translator for months. They arrest him for working with the same insurgents that were trying to kill them. Nothing in any Hollywood war film in the last few years is as powerful as the sense of betrayal and confusion that those real-world soldiers displayed. There are thousands of stories like that happening in Iraq—yet instead of letting those stories be told, Hollywood just generates more crude propaganda.

Douthat’s lengthy piece goes much deeper into the return of the culture of the 1970s in Hollywood, including how it’s effected more than just war movies. Still, we don’t need films that hearken back to the 70s any more than we need a return to avacado-green appliances and orange shag carpet. What we need are movies that are relevant to today. The reason why Hollywood’s effort to make war movies have led to box office death is that they keep missing the real stories. In trying to damn war in general and this war in particular they keep undermining themselves by replacing the complex horrors of war with crude stereotypes. It’s like trying to say that Nightmare on Elm Street is a deep exploration of Sigmund Freud.

Just because the war in Iraq is unpopular doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring through film—and exploring well. Hollywood’s attempts at “relevance” are ham-handed and self-defeating. Hollywood is supposed to be good at telling stories. Yet they are nowhere near as good as the men and women who have served in Iraq in understanding what this war is really about. For all Hollywood’s obsession with their own “bravery” none are so bold as to let the truly brave tell their own stories. Hollywood isn’t brave enough to create a movie told from the Iraqi perspective that depicts the systematic brutalization of the Hussein regime followed by the uncertainty and chaos. For all Hollywood’s bravery, few in Hollywood are so brave as to make a movie in which al-Qaeda is the enemies. It’s safe to indict your own government. We live in a free society. A film that indicts al-Qaeda could get you killed. So much for bravery. Instead, Hollywood gives us a steady diet of polemics that are designed to make sure we all think the right way about this war. Instead, they should simply show the reality and let us decide for ourselves.

There are a million stories coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s time that Hollywood told their stories, not the ones that our insulated Hollywood elites think will get them pats on the back from their own ilk. This war is becoming a “lost war,” and that does no service to the men and women who put their lives on the line for a conflict few of us can even begin to understand.

Idiotarianism, Iraq, War On Terror

Doing What They Do Best

David Weigel notes how the anti-war left is “moving on” after failing to “stop the war”:

If you’d said in January 2007 that Congress would fully fund the Iraq War, that there would be no timelines, and that a pro-war group fronted by Ari Fleischer would humiliate MoveOn… well, you’d be smarter than me.

It’s interesting to see that the surrender caucus has basically surrendered themselves. All the talk about how they were going to “end the war” ended up hitting the brick wall of reality. The Democrats didn’t have the votes, and the idea that there was a massive groundswell of opposition to the war never materialized. The reason behind that is rather simple: this war doesn’t effect most of us. This is not Vietnam. There’s no draft, the people fighting in Iraq are people who signed up to be in the military, not conscripts. Iraq is a theoretical issue for 90% of this country. They may not like the war, but it’s not something that directly effects them.

The other problem is that the anti-war left overplayed its hand. They immediately pronounced the surge to be a failure: which left them looking like idiots when the surge actually worked. To use a poker metaphor, the Democrats went all in thinking that they had a good hand—but when the flop actually came down, they ended up losing. Now the Democrats are in the unnecessary position of having to backtrack on their own rhetoric. It just proves the point that many of us have been making for years now: the Democratic Party is invested in failure in Iraq, and victory in Iraq is a loss for them. At some level, that comes down as unseemly, even for those who oppose the war.

I don’t think Iraq will be a major political issue. Al-Qaeda is unable to mount a convincing counteroffensive. Each day they wait they lose more, so if they had the capability of punching back it seems likely they’d have done it by now. Unless there’s a mass-casualty event, the American people have accepted Iraq as part of life. It doesn’t effect them, and it doesn’t fire people up who aren’t already anti-war.

That won’t stop the Democrats from using Iraq as a campaign issue, and Democrats respond strongly to it. However, it’s not the major issue that it was in 2004 and 2006 (and it wasn’t even the key issue in 2006). The Democrats bought into their own rhetoric: they assumed they won because of a groundswell of opposition to the war rather than the lack of leadership among the Republicans. They overplayed their hand, and now they’ve been forced to surrendering on surrender.