Thanksgiving Day Ruminations on America, Its Defenders and Its Enemies

Enough about turkeys today.  Let’s talk hawks and doves, taking as our text the work of two good writers with very different world views.

Clifford May, who leads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, starts his Thanksgiving Day column by giving thanks for the members of our nation’s armed forces.

At this moment, such men and women are far from their homes fighting an enemy whose goal is to make us submit — to them, their laws, and their authority. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamist revolution, put it succinctly: “People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!”We can argue about the best strategy for defeating these sworn enemies of America and the West — of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and moderate Muslims. But we should not be debating whether to be a bit more obedient; whether to appease this enemy; whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive to him; whether this conflict is our fault, at least as much as his.

Nor should we still be describing this global conflict as “overseas contingency operations” against “violent extremists” — phrases that cloud meaning and obscure understanding. The simple truth: Just as Nazism arose from within Germany, and Communism from within Russia, today radical and bellicose ideologies, movements, and organizations have arisen from within Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries.

I agree “we should not be debating … whether we can, through soft words and conciliatory deeds, make ourselves inoffensive” to our enemies.  And yet that debate continues.

I met Robert Wright at Princeton, where he was a year ahead of me, and over the years I’ve followed his commentary I’ve found that I respect him more than I agree with him.  He’s a thoughtful writer who presses his anti-war case without demonizing those who disagree.

Wright has a column in the online New York Times this week in which he argues that the war in Afghanistan is “Worse Than Vietnam.”  Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, and more expensive than Vietnam and Korea combined.  Wright argues that by making war in Afghanistan and Iraq on anti-American jihadists, “we’re creating them faster than we’re killing them,” although he has the grace to acknowledge that this view is “impressionistic.”

All told, then: in terms of the long-run impact on America’s economic and physical security, the Afghanistan war is as bad as the Vietnam War except for the ways in which it’s worse.

Still, the strategy in whose name both wars were launched, containment, makes sense if wisely calibrated. [Side note: how did the launch of the war in Afghanistan have anything to do with “containment”?] A well tuned terrorism containment strategy — dubbed containment 2.0 by the foreign policy blogger Eric Martin — would require strong leadership in the White House and in Congress. It would mean convincing Americans that — sometimes, at least — we have to absorb terrorist attacks stoically, refraining from retaliation that brings large-scale blowback.

That’s a tough sell, because few things are more deeply engrained in human nature than the impulse to punish enemies. So maybe the message should be put like this: Could we please stop doing Al Qaeda’s work for it?

The idea that retaliation is counter-productive has a logic to it.  The argument deserves to be taken seriously… but it leads to untenable places.  I fervently hope that America never gets to the point where it can “absorb terrorist attacks stoically.”  As the first commenter (of more than 300) on Wright’s blog post put it, “Neville Chamberlain could not have written a better article.”

Back to Clifford May:

We live in uncertain times. In the early 20th century, terrorism meant a bomb thrown into a carriage. Today, it means a passenger jet slammed into a skyscraper. Tomorrow it could mean the detonation of nuclear devices, the use of biological weapons to spread dread diseases, or even cyber attacks on our electronic infrastructure.

In the past, we fought godless enemies who killed without remorse. What could be worse than that? An enemy who believes the God he worships commands him to slaughter “infidels,” an enemy who loves death — his own and even that of his children. If that is not evil, nothing is.

Should we be thankful for this enemy and this war? No, but perhaps we can be thankful for the fact — and I believe it is a fact — that we Americans, most of us, or at least enough of us, are equal to the challenge we face.

This blog was founded on the premise that — paraphrasing something Edmund Burke apparently did not actually sayall that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  America is not without flaw, but I firmly believe it is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.  And people who deliberately fly airplanes into buildings are evil.

On this day of giving thanks I’m deeply grateful to the men and women of the American armed forces.  I pray for the well-being of all of them, but I’ve got a special stake in one. Harry, be safe, and thank you for your service.

Which Is the Lesser Evil: Airport “Porno Scanners” or Profiling?

From TSA website: Click to enlarge (you know you want to).
Images more explicit than this may be faked.

If you look up “droll” in the dictionary, there ought to be a picture of George Will.   Here’s the end of his current column, which kvetches about increased airport security:

The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points – the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public’s current political mood.

Will joins Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer in a trifecta of WashPo conservative columnists opposed to the new screening procedures.  Here’s Parker describing the unappealing choices:

I don’t like the idea of some stranger – regardless of whether he or she can see my face – examining my concessions to gravity without my permission. …

As to the alternative, no thank you. The idea of a stranger, even one of the same sex, foraging around my private principalities is simply unacceptable. Forget the creepiness factor, which is sufficient; consider the principle – quickly! – before you get used to the notion that government has the right to do Whatever Is Necessary To Protect You.

From what, if not this?

Krauthammer thinks he knows a better way:

We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

Profiling doesn’t have to mean racial profiling — although, speaking strictly from a security point of view, obviously it would make sense to give a higher level of scrutiny to young male Middle Eastern Muslims.  Michael Totten, the independent journalist, describes how the Israelis keep their planes and airports safe:

Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people.

The Israelis do. They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

Grousing about the scanners is all well and good, but the danger is not theoretical — there was an actual incident of a bomb hidden in a man’s underwear. Next time I fly, I’ll shrug and walk through the scanner, if that’s what I’m told to do.

Obama Abandons an Afghanistan Deadline That Never Made Sense

White House photo of the announcement at West Point

Blogging is cool.  It creates a written record to back you up when you say “I told you so.”

Depending on who is telling the story, the Obama Administration has begun either “tweaking” or “publicly walking away from” the July 2011 date it set for beginning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. “2014 Is the New Date to Watch,” as one headline put it.

The 2011 date was first floated in the  December 2009 West Point when the President announced he would deploy additional troops to Afghanistan.  The next day I wrote:

I went to bed annoyed about the wishy-washyness of what David Ignatius has labeled the “surge, then leave” strategy — why commit to a July 2011 date to begin drawing down the troops?  The administration can’t even predict how many Americans will accept free money to buy a new car. What makes them think  they can predict that the country will be stable enough to start leaving in 18 months — in a situation where the enemy gets a vote?

But this morning I remembered that with Guantanamo, Obama has already proven his ability to abandon a silly deadline.  Once the troops are deployed, the boots on the ground will be real.  The withdrawal date will be a goal.

It’s Mr. Obama’s war now.


Obama’s Health Care “Victory” Plants the Seeds for His 2012 Defeat

John C. Goodman

I can’t find it now, but before the election I recall reading a smug liberal comment that it was mathematically impossible for the Democrats to lose enough Senate seats to give the Republicans a veto-proof majority of 60 seats.  Thus, the commenter said, Obamacare would be unrepealable even after the 2010 election.

Until the 2012 election, of course.

In an article titled “What Can Republicans Do About Obamacare?“, John C. Goodman describes why Obamacare opponents can afford to wait for a Republican president.  Here’s how it starts:

Everyone expects the new Republican House of Representatives will vote to repeal Obamacare. This move will probably be blocked in the Democrat-controlled Senate, however; and failing that, the president will use his veto pen to save the Democrats’ crown-jewel policy achievement.

Then what? Having health care as an issue may actually be a blessing for the GOP. Obamacare has been a gift to the Republican party. It was the single most important reason for their historic gains in last week’s election. Better still, it’s a gift that can keep on giving, if appropriately managed.

Remember, the really bad features of the law (mandates for individuals, fines for employers, federal regulation of everyone’s insurance, government-run health-insurance exchanges) don’t kick in for several more years (in 2014). In the meantime, Republicans don’t really lose very much if the best argument for voting Republican in the 2012 election remains in place.

On the other side of the aisle, the health-care-reform bill is an albatross hanging around Democrats’ necks. I doubt if any Democrat wants to cast an up-or-down vote on it again. And as long as it’s there (especially if it’s never really implemented), it will cost the Democrats many congressional seats. Imagine that the start date keeps getting pushed back. Along the way, Obamacare will be a big issue in every election. That scenario would be a nightmare for the Democratic party.

Note to Republicans:  PLEASE don’t throw away the chance by nominating Sarah Palin in 2012.


Conservatives Rally Behind Olbermann, Sort Of

Olbermann, from Wikimedia Commons

Like the good Christian I aspire to be, I try to respect people with opposing points of view.  Like the sinner I am, I make exceptions.  One of those is Keith Olbermann, he of the permasmirk and the infantile nightly “Worse, Worser and Worst Person in the World”. With his smarmy delivery and sanctimonious preening on behalf of left-wing positions, the man almost literally makes my skin crawl.

So I confess I immediately felt a frisson of delight at the news that he had been suspended indefinitely for violating MSNBC policy.  But despite charges of hypocrisy, even by liberal commentators, that label is more accurately applied to MSNBC itself than to its $30 million headliner.

Interestingly, Olbermann is getting significant support from the right flank of the blogosphere. In The Corner, Andy McCarthy adds his name to a list of conservatives who already had opined that Olbermann was getting a raw deal:

I’m with K-Lo, Jonah [Kathryn Lopez and Jonah Goldberg of NRO], Bill [Kristol of the Weekly Standard], and other lovers of free speech. If this hadn’t happened, and we didn’t know about NBC’s cockamamie policy, wouldn’t you have assumed that Keith Olbermann donated money to left-wing candidates? I certainly would have — if I had cared enough to give it a second of thought. …

Why … should MSNBC’s sparse viewership, which tunes in because it adores Olbermann and lefty pols, be deprived of their Keith-fix just because, besides promoting lefty pols, he supports them financially?

One of two things must be going on. Possibility no. 1: NBC News really is clueless: i.e., they actually believe, when they put Olbermann on “news” shows with other “objective, non-partisan journalists” like Chris Matthews, that we don’t realize opinion is being masqueraded as news — and thus they’re worried that Olbermann’s political contributions risk revealing the charade. Since it is a charade anyone who cares is already on to, consider the more likely possibility no. 2: as usual, there’s more to the story than we’re hearing.

A cynic might argue that conservatives are sticking up for Olbermann because his existence on the left provides protective cover for Fox News on the right.  In fact, a cynic has argued that.  Rachel Maddow:

“Let this incident lay to rest forever the facile, never-true-anyway, bull-pucky, lazy conflation of Fox News and what the rest of us do for a living,” she said. “I know everybody likes to say, ‘Oh, that’s cable news, it’s all the same. Fox and MSNBC, mirror images of each other.’ Let this lay that to rest forever. Hosts on Fox News raise money for Republican candidates. They endorse them explicitly, they use their Fox News profile to headline fundraisers. Heck, there are multiple people being paid by Fox News now to essentially run for office as Republican candidates….They can do that because there’s no rule against that as Fox. They’re run as a political operation; we’re not.”

Sorry Rachel, but what it lays to rest is the conceit that MSNBC is any less partisan than Fox.  Even at liberal Tina Brown’s “Daily Beast” site, Howie Kurtz points out the real hypocrisy:

On Election Night, Olbermann anchored the channel’s coverage, along with Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Lawrence O’Donnell. There was no attempt to add a conservative pundit for balance.

It’s not that I have any use for Fox News either, by the way.  Set aside the clownish Glenn Beck and the blowhards Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.  From what little I’ve watched of Fox’s sub-marquee journalists, they seem to do a serviceable job of presenting news from a conservative perspective, thereby providing an alternative to the overwhelmingly liberal mainstream media.  But I would have more respect for Fox if it owned up to its political leanings, rather than trumpeting  that Fox is “the only fair and balanced network” where “we report, you decide.”

If You Insist, I’ll Pontificate on the Election Results

Press conference photo from NY Times

A friend and former co-worker (“hi Father Tom!”) teased me by phone today about being at my day job when I could be blogging about the election.  I told him I knew there would be no shortage of commentary today about the election, and I didn’t think my dozens of daily readers are parked on my blog and repeatedly clicking the refresh button.

But what if I’m wrong about that?  From what I know about how Google Analytics works, I’m pretty sure a hundred clicks on the refresh button would still get logged as only one visit.  So if you recognize yourself in this paragraph: 1) get a life; and 2) could you at least click on the ads once in a while?  (Note to Google AdSense snipers: that was a joke — I’m not really trying to generate artificial ad clicks.  I will take this opportunity to explain, however, as allowed by AdSense guidelines, that my Google AdSense “earnings” to date total $62.79, or an average of 12 cents a day since May 2009.  (Ka-CHING!) I put “earnings” in quotes because I won’t see any money until if and when the total reaches $100.)

Where was I?  The election — which would seem like an even bigger win for the Republicans if not for the fact that a few zealots predicted a Senate takeover.  I don’t have much in the way of original brilliant insights, but I’ll share some of the best commentary I’ve seen today.

Peter Wehner:

After watching President Obama’s press conference, Democrats who are still left standing must have been mortified. The depth of his self-delusion was stunning. To put things in perspective: the Democratic Party just suffered the worst repudiation any political party has since before the middle of the last century. …

If you listened to the president, though, the “shellacking” was because of process rather than substance. ObamaCare, he assured us, is a sparkling, wondrous law; the only downside to it was the horse-trading that went on to secure its passage. They would be “misreading the election,” the president helpfully informed Republicans, if they decide to “relitigate the arguments of the last two years.”…

After his victory in 2008, Obama’s message to Republicans was: “I won.” Today, after his party was throttled, Obama’s message is: “Come let us reason together.”

What we saw today was less a president than a dogmatist — a man who appears to have an extraordinary capacity to hermetically seal off events and evidence that call into question his governing philosophy, his policies, and his wisdom. The election yesterday was above all a referendum on the president’s policies, yet his big takeaway was not to relitigate his agenda. …

The author of one of the worst political debacles in American history seems to have learned almost nothing from it.


President Obama came close, but he still just cannot admit that his radical policies and their effects on the economy are the cause of his devastating political rebuke. …

For most of the press conference, a humbled but deer-in-the-headlights Obama half-heartedly argued that the populist outrage against his own massive debt, huge wasteful government, and elitism was really outrage against the economy he inherited, an outrage that he shares. We don’t know it, the president hints, but we are still angry at the Bush years, and yesterday mistakenly took our wrath out on Obama’s methodical, albeit too slow, efforts at recovery. In short, there was little admission whatsoever that Obama’s message and the way he pushed it turned off millions — there was no repentant Clinton, circa autumn 1994, here; instead, a shocked Obama who seems hurt that we do not appreciate him.

I don’t think the American people — who just last week heard their president boast that Republicans had to sit in the back seat, and that Latinos should punish their Republican “enemies,” and who have now given him the greatest midterm putdown in over a half-century — suddenly will pay much attention to his calls for an end to the old divisiveness.


During his press conference this afternoon, President Obama insisted that the American public doesn’t want to “re-litigate the past.” Roughly four minutes later, he insisted that he inherited the deficit, which got worse because of a recession he inherited, as well. Somehow Obama forgot to mention that he increased spending 23 percent, tripling the deficit in the process.

No wonder he doesn’t want to re-litigate the past. …

For a year, as he relentlessly pushed a healthcare bill, against public opposition, his advisers kept telling the press that once he got his healthcare priority passed, he would “pivot” to focusing on jobs. So while the country bled jobs from its economic jugular, Obama crammed through an unpopular piece of legislation that wouldn’t fully kick into effect until 2014. He did not do so in secret. “A crisis,” his chief of staff explained numerous times, “is a terrible thing to waste.” But the point he wants people to take away is that all of the runaway spending on his watch—much of which was focused on “reforms” that, by design, will do nothing to deal with the recession for years, if ever—was all done for an emergency that he inherited.


Barack Obama’s election, The New Republic’s John Judis wrote two years ago, “is the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the 1990s, was delayed by September 11, and resumed with the 2006 election.” This was truer than Judis realized, for he seemed not quite to grasp that a culmination is the reaching of the highest point. He imagined new highs still to come…

In his victory speech, [Florida Senator-elect Marco] Rubio–quoted by blogger Jonathan Adler–issued a very pertinent warning to his party:

We make a great mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party. What they are is a second chance, a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be not so long ago.

Rubio is absolutely right. Pajamas Media’s Frank J. Fleming summed it up best when he observed last month that Republicans were going to “win huge” because they “kind of suck”–in contrast with the Democrats’ “Godzilla-smashing-through-a-city level of suck–but a really patronizing Godzilla who says you’re just too stupid and hateful to see all the buildings he’s saved or created as he smashes everything apart.”

If we assume that Republicans remain in general disrepute, one must conclude that John Judis got it exactly wrong two years ago. This was a thundering rejection of Obama-style liberalism.

I’ll close with a Facebook quote from a liberal friend who was sharing a HuffPo article about Mississippi Gov. and uber-Republican Haley Barbour:

“A short portly white conservative from a small town in the Deep South” vs. Obama in 2012 – the outcome of that would sure tell you something fundamental about this country, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it would tell you that conservatives outnumber liberals.