The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Although the Obama administration's announced pogrom again CIA officers who used harsh interrogation techniques against al Qaeda terrorist leaders proceeds with relatively little mention in the MSM, compelling and irrefutable evidence that the techniques worked is slowly coming to light.

Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club comments on this when he writes:
When a man “breaks” under interrogation, he does more than blurt out secrets. The process truly breaks something inside him; changes something forever. The mystery is what. It isn’t morals: Mohammed’s [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] transition from the man who boasted of decapitating Daniel Pearl to a hunter of his former associates still leaves a man who deals in violence and death. Breaking didn’t turn KSM into Gandhi; it didn’t convert him into a man you’d like to invite to dinner. Like others who have switched sides — double agents or police informers — betrayal is a lateral move within the same business.

The real key to breaking someone is to make him do something that will forever estrange him from his former life; to put him beyond the pale of forgiveness; to create such a change in attitude that he can never go back to his fold. It wasn’t the duress that broke KSM, it was what he did and said and thought under duress that brought him to the other side. He crossed some line which made him realize he could never come back into the Brotherhood. And he knows that he crossed it himself. Where did it leave him? In the night, facing some other way. Among the damned, betrayal is another pathway in the dark. But that’s where the damned like to live; amid things that are already broken. Real psychological conversion is something beyond the power of waterboarding to achieve, but interrogators are not in the business of offering salvation. They are in the profession of allowing vile men to reinvent themselves, to live for just a moment more on Raskolnikov’s ledge. “Where is it I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once!” If intelligence agencies had a pill that would turn a fanatical monster into Mother Teresa, they would be foolish to use it. Duress isn’t meant to shatter a man; it’s sole purpose is to leave all the fanatic’s vile cunning intact, only to break that thing which keeps him working for the other side.

And yet, those on the Left (including our Attorney General and our President) seem convinced that their definition of moral rectitude will cause the world to like us more. That a hyper-procedural rulebook that offers no threat of consequences to murderous scum will somehow “break” our enemies in a way that enhanced interrogation techniques cannot. That "a man who deals in violence and death" will somehow cross over to betray his fellow fanatics if only we were less harsh with him.

George Curry of The Philadelphia Inquirer presents the typical Left leaning mime:
Holder appointed John Durham, a highly respected career prosecutor, to investigate whether CIA interrogators tortured detainees in violation of U.S. law. The probe follows the release of a declassified CIA inspector general's report that found harsh interrogation techniques were used on detainees suspected of being terrorists. The report deplored what was called "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices.
What Curry fails to mention is that the same report indicates that the techniques (they are NOT “torture” in any historical or rational definition of the term) were successful in breaking people like Mohammed and leading to the acquisition of intelligence vital to the disruption on on-going terrorist plots. Oh, not to worry, what’s another 9/11 in comparison to the horror of frightening and causing discomfort for a mass murderer.
Besides holding mock executions, the report said, interrogators told suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that if the United States were subjected to another terrorist attack, "We're going to kill your children." Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged architect of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was threatened by interrogators who held a power drill and a loaded handgun to his head, the report stated.

Gasp … the inhumanity of it all. The terrorists were were not harmed and they were broken. But wait, the CIA caused these poor men psychological discomfort. We can’t have that … the Islamic world won’t like us if we cause psychological discomfort for people who want to kill us.
In a statement, Holder said: "As a result of my analysis of all of this material, I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees overseas."
And this from the same Eric Holder who, during his tenure in the Clinton administration, saw fit to pardon a known tax cheat and criminal, Marc Rich and champion the pardon of violent Puerto Rican nationalists. A true defender of the law, justice, and the United States.
Some critics of Holder have taken the position that as a country, we do not torture people in custody while, on the other hand, contending that we should not even examine whether federal laws were violated. That's the same kind of head-in-the-sand posture that got us into trouble before. Either we support torture or we don't.
The problem with Mr. Curry’s argument is that he defines “torture” to fit his delusional world view.

How about this. Let’s define “torture” as too much homework for Junior High Schoolers. After all, it can certainly cause psychological distress; it often leads to threats made by frustrated parents, and it invariably causes the population of students to look askance at their teachers. Oh … don’t consider the fact that torture (i.e., too much homework) accomplishes something worthwhile. Let’s investigate the teachers. After all, they’re active participants in “torture” and we’re a country of laws, aren’t we? As Mr. Curry so self-righteously notes: "Either we support torture, or we don't."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Less Safe

Those on the Left justifiably criticize those on the Right who adopt the mime—“My country, right or wrong.” There are situations in which justifiable criticism and action are required. Unfortunately, the developing CIA investigation is not one of them.

In fact, the current machinations of the Obama administration and Congressional leadership, leads an objective observer to believe that they have adopted an alternative mime—“My country … is always wrong.”

Using a hyper-procedural view of the Law that he thinks will provide him with cover, President Obama has sanctioned a Special prosecutor to investigate claims of “torture” within the ranks of the CIA. Using instances described by former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson in his 2004 report, Obama’s legion of supporters in the media breathlessly describe instances where serious threats were made, cigar smoke was blown in the face of a murderous Islamist terrorist (oh! the humanity), and yes, water-boarding was used. What these so-called journalists fail to report (it simply doesn’t fit into the mime) is described by The Wall Street Journal :
… the [Helgerson] report says the CIA "invested immense time and effort to implement the [program] quickly, effectively, and within the law"; that the agency "generally provided good guidance and support"; and that agency personnel largely "followed guidance and procedures and documented their activities well." So where's the scandal?

Mr. Helgerson describes how the CIA collaborated with the Pentagon, the Justice Department and even outside experts to develop specific guidelines for 10 enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that passed legal muster. The enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) "would be used on 'an as needed basis' and all would not necessarily be used. Further, the EITs were expected to be used 'in some sort of escalating fashion' . . ." The agency had psychologists evaluate al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, to ensure he would not suffer physical or long-term mental harm.

As the program expanded, the CIA "implemented training programs for interrogators and debriefers." By early 2003 it had created guidelines on detention and interrogation and required "individuals engaged in or supporting interrogations be made aware of the guidelines and sign an acknowledgment that they have read them." The guidelines also made "formal the existing . . . practice of requiring the field to obtain specific Headquarters approvals prior to the application of all EITs." This was hardly a rogue CIA.

There are undoubtedly millions on the Left who would love to see the CIA’s efforts against Islamist terrorists neutered. In fact, if this investigation proceeds and prosecutions begin, they will have gotten their wish. If the Special Prosecutor broadens the investigation (as special prosecutors always seem to do, recall the travesty that was the investigation of Bill Clinton) and indicts members of the past Bush administration, the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd will be absolutely orgasmic. After all, why bother considering the long-term effects of indicting a past administration over what amounts to policy differences. No reason to consider the political payback that will invariably occur down the road. Nah, BDS is alive and well, and it’ll be fun to, um, torture the past administration in the courts.

I sometimes wish that the extreme Left could be left alone to suffer the consequences of a CIA pogrom. But, of course, that can’t happen. If the CIA is neutered, if intelligence gathering suffers as a consequence, we’ll all be suffer the consequences.

Those on the extreme Left will feel wonderful as they preen from their self-defined moral high ground. But below, in the valley that is the real world, forces that aren’t quite so moral will observe what we’ve done and rest easier at night because our efforts against them will have been irreparably harmed. We’ll all be less safe, even though all of us did not participate in this evolving travesty.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As we approach the 8th anniversary of 9-11, it seems only fitting that the Obama administration, spurred on by Left-leaning members of the Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, has decided to begin a pogrom against the CIA. The New York Times reports”
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. named a veteran federal prosecutor on Monday to examine abuse of prisoners held by the Central Intelligence Agency, after the Justice Department released a long-secret report showing interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill another detainee’s children.

The Left wing of the majority party seems eager to expand the investigation further in an attempt to snare past Vice President Dick Cheney and maybe even the hated George W. Bush in the investigation’s Web. What these delusional fools don’t seem to understand is that they are establishing a precedent that will return to haunt every future President, Vice President, and administration. No good can come of it.

In their moral preening about “torture” and the “rule of law”, many of the Democrats seem not to remember the months and years immediately following 9-11. The threat of Islamist terrorism was very real (even if some on the extreme Left chose not to recognize it) and remains so to this day.

The CIA needed information and worked within defined and legally reviewed guidelines to acquire it. There is no evidence that real torture occurred. No one was killed, maimed, or permanently injured. Islamists did experience physical discomfort, terrifying but controlled coersion, and psychological stress, but nothing more.

They wanted to kill us. We needed information to stop them. And the Inspector General’s Report that The New York Times quotes to condemn the actions of CIA interrogators also states that these methods allowed the CIA to collect: "intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world." We acquired information that stopped other plots, that disrupted al Quaida operations, and that kept the country safe, but no matter, we were harsh, and we just can’t have that, can we?

The Times is breathless in its reporting of the harsh measures that were used:
In another session of questioning, the report said, one C.I.A. interrogator told investigators that Mr. Mohammed was told that if there was another attack on American soil, the C.I.A. would “kill your children.” Mr. Mohammed’s young sons were in the custody of Pakistani and American authorities at the time.

Among a litany of C.I.A. tactics, the report describes the “hard takedown,” when a detainee was grabbed and thrown to the floor before being moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. It details baths given to Mr. Nashiri, saying he was sometimes scrubbed with “the kind of brush one uses in a bath to remove stubborn dirt” to induce pain. In July 2002, the report says, a C.I.A. interrogator grabbed a detainee’s neck to restrict the prisoner’s carotid artery until he began to faint. Another officer then “shook the detainee to wake him,” and the “pressure point” technique was repeated twice more.

This is the same “Mr. Mohammed” who plotted the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans and the same “Mr. Nashiri” who plotted the deaths of 17 sailors in the attack on the USS Cole

But those who insist on exhibiting their moral superiority are somehow troubled over the fact that an interrogator threatened “Mr. Mohammed’s” children. Threatened only! No one touched a hair on their heads. The threat worked because "Mr. Mohammed" disclosed people and plots that allowed our intelligence services and military to save lives. “Mr. Nashiri" did the same.

Of course, the President tells us that he wants to “look forward.” This disingenuous statement is insulting. If Barack Obama truly wanted to “look forward” he would not have released top secret reports and would have reigned in his Attorney general – it’s done by every President all the time.

Instead he tries to have it both ways, throwing red meat to the left wing of his party but claiming that he’s been forced to do it and therefore, is not culpable for the outcome. That's not leadership.

William Murchison comments:
To appease the fundamentally unappeasable left wing, we haul operatives of the U.S. government through the justice system by probing, testing and suspecting them as if they were, well, terrorists; undercut the morale of our main principal intelligence and of terrorist hunters that have escaped the government's notice; and gladden the hearts of terrorists suddenly given to know what small consequences accompany defying U.S. interrogation. Do we risk foregoing vital intelligence that we would have been ecstatic to own on Sept. 10, 2001?
Put it merely in political terms. What's in it for Barack Obama? He thinks to earn the gratitude of ordinary -- as distinguished from left-left-left -- voters for affecting these amazing results? He has not merely handed the Republicans a rhetorical club with which to pummel him (rightfully, I might add), but he has also made it harder than ever to bring the country together over his health care project. No wonder he wanted to go on vacation. In Martha's Vineyard, he can nervously hope the furor will die away before he goes back to work.

Most people believe that Barack Obama is an astute political operator. Not this time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Letter To My Representative

After watching the health care debate unfold, I decided it was time to send a respectful e-mail to my Congressman, Ron Klein (D-FL, 22nd district). Here's what I wrote:
I am writing to express my concern about health care legislation that is being developed by the Congress and supported by the President.

It appears that the claims being made by both sides are overblown. On balance, however, supporters seem to be overselling weak, poorly constructed legislation.

The promises of "cost savings" associated with current health care legislation strain credulity. The CBO indicates that current legislation will cost over $1 trillion dollars over 10 years. Where will this money come from?

Recent scientific studies of preventive care indicate that it represents a net cost, NOT a net cost saving. So preventive care (a worthwhile goal, no doubt) cannot defray cost. It actually increases cost. (source: New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal "Circulation")

The President argues that eliminating fraud and abuse will defray 2/3rds of the cost. Yet government efforts to eliminate fraud and waste in other programs have been woeful failures. Why should we believe that you'll magically succeed in this case?

As an aside: Why not spend a few years eliminating "fraud and abuse" in the government run Medicare/Medicaid system. If costs are reduced by 2/3rds (heck, if they're reduced by 20 percent!), I’ll be in line to support whatever health care legislation is proposed in 2012, but only after you've demonstrated competence in controlling ballooning costs in an already existing government health program.

House leaders talk incessantly about "reform" and why its a good thing. If that were the case, why is there no mention of tort reform in current legislation? By current estimates, the cost of medical malpractice litigation and the defensive medicine that it precipitates is between $200 - $400 billion. How could it not be part of a reform package?

In addition, no one has done a detailed risk analysis to determine whether proposed changes will have an negative impact. I'm sure you'll agree that something as profound a major health care legislation will have unintended consequences. What might they be? No one in congress has considered the issue, much less discussed it.

Bottom line -- many of your constituents will be watching you and your colleagues in the fall. If the House and the Senate act irresponsibly, if they pass bills that will burden our children and grandchildren will increased debt, if they raise taxes on the middle class after promising not to do so, if they implement a program that leads to serious and negative unintended consequences, they will be held accountable.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Primordial Politics

Although it's always difficult to create a generic characterization of the worldview of hundreds of millions of people, Raymond Ibrahim makes an attempt when he describes the Arab-Islamic worldview. His comments are dark, but past history seems to validate them:
This is a [Arab-Islamic] worldview typified by cynicism and stoicism: a belief that humanity is intrinsically opportunistic, selfish, and warlike; that might not only makes right, but should; that those in the right do not apologize or appease, but rather assert; a survival-of-the-fittest mentality; and, above all, sheer contempt for perceived weakness and equivocation, or in Islamic parlance, emasculate behavior. Let’s call this a worldview based on “primordial politics.”

Anyone who has spent time in the Islamic world or held sincere conversations with people from there — Muslim or Christian makes no difference — will know this to be true. In short, the worldview of the average person from the Islamic world is the antithesis of the postmodern, “therapeutic” worldview of the liberal West, where “feelings,” “mutual respect,” “toleration,” and the ability to “express oneself” are paramount. This is only natural: people bred in harsh environments (e.g., the vast majority of the Islamic world) are not impressed by soft or sublime words.

President Obama spent his early years in an Islamic country (Indonesia) under the guidance of an Islamic stepfather. Certainly he has had time to observe Islam in situ. Yet, it’s obvious that he does not share Ibrahim’s view that Primordial Politics drives the dominant Islamic mindset. It’s also obvious that he chooses to disregard hundreds, if not thousands of instances that would appear to validate Ibrahim’s view. Instead he has chosen to apply the postmodern approach uniformly throughout the Moslem world.

He speaks to the Arab-Islamic world in the language of reconciliation. He apologizes for past wrongs (perceived and actual) and asks for mutual respect and understanding. From the Western point of view, these are reasonable, even laudable, things to do. But the mindset of the majority of his Islamic audience is different. Although the words of some (I emphasize some) leaders of Islamic countries are mildly conciliatory, their actions are not.

As a case in point, consider recent events in Egypt and Israel. President Obama gave “a speech to the Muslim world” in which he applied his post-modern philosophy. He chose to apologize for our past wrongs and only alluded to egregious human rights abuses within the Arab world. He asked for mutual respect and understanding. And the Arab response was—silence. Sure, a few moderates said a few nice things, university students and intellectuals praised his effort, but at the political level, nothing changed.

His approach to Israel was somewhat different. There were no apologies (none were required) nor any soft words. Instead there was and is unrelenting pressure for concessions—all in the hope of appeasing Israel’s implacable Arab enemies.

All right—let’s assume that the President is on to something. In the West, conciliatory talk normally begets conciliatory talk. But in the Middle East, conciliatory talk is perceived as weakness, as an opening for even greater demands. Obama’s demands for Israeli concessions did not lead to Arab commensurate concessions, but rather to a hardening of Arab positions. Sure, Arab leaders will talk the talk when Western audiences are listening, but their actions belie their words.

Is it that the President does not understand this? Ibrahim comments:
Prior to the election, many hailed Obama’s Muslim roots, his “otherness,” as strategic to endearing the Muslim world to the U.S. In fact, his unique ability to appreciate the Islamic world’s epistemology — his experiences, not his name — was the real bonus. Unfortunately, not only is he not making use of this advantage; he is spearheading the reverse —apologies, concessions, and soft talk — all which will inevitably promote an even more assertive Muslim response. Yet he of all American presidents should — indeed, does — know better.

I don’t think he does.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rationing the Future

Dean Kamen is one of this country’s most prolific inventors, holding over 440 patents primarily in the medical field. He was interviewed in Popular Mechanics, and his views on the health care debate are interesting and honest. I’ll present a snippet here but you should read the entire interview.
Popular Mechanics: The federal government is considering major healthcare legislation that may have implications for medical R&D as well as the treatment of patients. What do you think of the current proposals for reform, inside and out of Congress?

Dean Kamen: I'm very worried that the entire debate over healthcare is a misguided attempt to deal with a subject nobody really wants to deal with openly.

PM: In what way?

Kamen: Well, I mean the whole supposition that "We have a crisis in health care." Our health care system has seen some of the greatest achievements of the human intellect since we started recording history: We're developing incredible devices and implantables to improve the quantity and quality of people's lives. We're developing pharmaceuticals that alleviate the need for surgery and eliminate the volatile effects of diseases. We're making the surgeries that are necessary ever less invasive. You can get a stent through your femoral artery all the way up into your heart and fix a blockage without surgery. I'd say, if we have a crisis, it's the embarrassment of riches. Nobody wants to deal with the fact that we're no longer in a world where you can simply give everybody all the health care that is available.

Each side of this debate has created the boogieman and monsters, like "We don't want let this program to come into existence because that will mean rationing." Well, I hate to tell you the news but as soon as medicine started being able to do incredible things that are very expensive, we started rationing. The reason 100 years ago everyone could afford their healthcare is because healthcare was a doctor giving you some elixir and telling you you'll be fine. And if it was a cold you would be fine. And if it turns out it was consumption; it was tuberculosis; it was lung cancer—you could still sit there. He'd give you some sympathy, and you'd die. Either way, it's pretty cheap.

We now live in a world where technology has triumphed, in many ways, over death. The problem with that is that it's enormously expensive. And big pharmaceutical giants and big medical products companies have stopped working on stuff that could be extraordinary because they know they won't be reimbursed, according to the common standards. We're not only rationing today; we're rationing our future.

A money quote from later in the interview summarized the most honest view of high tech health care: “Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not healthcare.”

But the costs are high aren’t they? We did spend $260 billion on pharmaceuticals last year, and that is a lot on money. Kamen responds:
That means all those vaccinations to prevent diseases, all those pills to treat diseases, all those pills to cure them so we don't have to treat them anymore.

Is it worth it? Are we paying too much?

To put things in perspective. We spent $121 billion on soft drinks and $90 billion on alcoholic beverages. We spent $409 billion on professional sports. Kamen comments:
Now if somebody in this country wants to explain to me that we ought to be spending about twice as much supporting sports as on all of our pharmaceuticals, then stop spending. You don't like that drug? You don't want to cure this disease? Don't buy it. But don't make villains out of people so that we can turn what is a real social responsibility issue into a political debate.

And that’s what is dishonest about the comments made by some players in this debate. They want to demonize entire industries, suggesting the profit is a bad thing. Even though the drive to create profit has resulted in medical advances that are the envy of the world.

Take the time to visit an old cemetery and take note of the ages of people who were buried prior to 1950. Those folks spent relatively little on medical care, but their lives were often cut short by diseases that can be readily handled today—not with surgery but with a pill.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Changing the Subject

From time to time, every experienced defense lawyer is faced with a case that is troublesome. The facts and evidence simply aren’t on the side of the defense. What to do?

First, it's a good idea to speak to the jury in broad abstractions. Discuss the law, the need for the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the necessity to keep an open mind … who can argue with those abstractions?

Second, and far more important, when it comes to the facts, change the subject.

In an op-ed piece in USAToday , Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer act like beleaguered defense attorneys, defending proposed health care legislation.

They begin by discussing broad abstractions in the most reasonable language:
We believe it is healthy for such a historic effort to be subject to so much scrutiny and debate. The failure of past attempts is a reminder that health insurance reform is a defining moment in our nation's history — it is well worth the time it takes to get it right. We are confident that we will get this right.

Mom and apple pie. I couldn’t agree more.

But rather than moving immediately into cogent arguments that support their side of the debate, they change the subject, accusing those who disagree with them with nefarious motives:
However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland and protesters holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another congressman in Texas, where protesters also shouted "Just say no!" drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion.

So … “debate is healthy” according to the defense, but it represents an “ugly campaign … to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, [and] to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue."

The classic defense strategy – change the subject. In this case, when the facts and the evidence don’t support your position, demonize those who disagree.

The House Democratic leaders then go on to present their “facts.” Here’s a summary:
The first fact is that health insurance reform will mean more patient choice. It will allow every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it. And it will free doctors and patients to make the health decisions that make the most sense, not the most profits for insurance companies.

The House Democratic leaders may believe the their plan will lead to more choice, but they cannot provide evidence that refutes the legitimate argument that government option will push many companies to abandon their own plans and dump employees into the government plan. Over the long term, there is absolutely no evidence that choice will not be improved and clear indications that it will be curtailed.
Reform will mean stability and peace of mind for the middle class. Never again will medical bills drive Americans into bankruptcy; never again will Americans be in danger of losing coverage if they lose their jobs or if they become sick; never again will insurance companies be allowed to deny patients coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

The vast majority of middle class Americans have employer-provided health coverage, and only a tiny percentage is driven to bankruptcy because of health care costs. Should we overhaul the entire system with unproven and costly “fixes” to correct these shortcomings, or should we consider incremental reforms that might eliminate the problems without bankrupting the country?
Reform will mean affordable coverage for all Americans. Our plan's cost-lowering measures include a public health insurance option to bring competitive pressure to bear on rapidly consolidating private insurers, research on health outcomes to better inform the decisions of patients and doctors, and electronic medical records to help doctors save money by working together. For seniors, the plan closes the notorious Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" that denies drug coverage to those with between $2,700 and $6,100 per year in prescriptions.

Hmmm. The Congress’s own CBO indicates that there will be no healthcare saving under existing proposed legislation – none. In fact, costs will increase by $1.4 trillion over 10 years and more after that.

If Pelosi and Hoyer want to argue their case on its merits, the first thing they should do is refute the CBO’s findings. They can’t do it, so they suggest that removing the “donut hole,” instituted to keep prescription costs somewhat manageable, will somehow lower costs. How? They choose not to say.

To date it appears that the American public isn’t buying the strategy of keeping the abstraction level high, and when challenged, changing the subject. But that might change. The jury is still out.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


We're all pleased that months of negotiations and ex-President Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea lead to the extrication of reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a 12 year trumped up prison sentence. In the afterglow, it’s not the least bit surprising that proponents of negotiation-at-all-costs trumpet this minor success (for all but the reporter's families) as a argument for continuing negotiations.

Typical is the argument of Joseph Cirincione who suggests:
President Clinton did more than free two unjustly jailed journalists. He jump-started the successful diplomacy he had begun 15 years earlier.

He goes on to make the de rigueur argument that Clinton’s best effort during the late 1980s was ruined by George W. Bush (and fails to mention that promises extracted of the NoKos by the great stateswoman Madeline Albrecht were abrogated within months of their signing). Cirincione goes on to state:
With this success, Bill Clinton has demonstrated what effective diplomacy looks like. He has shown the former Bush officials what they should have done years ago. He may have convinced senior White House strategists that diplomacy is a political winner, paying dividends across issue areas.

Two power players, Obama and Clinton, have together taken a giant step forward, advancing the agenda Clinton began 15 years ago. America is the better for it.

But NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, certainly no right-wing extremist and long-time proponent of negotiations with the NoKos, thinks that it may be time to consider sticks, rather than carrots:
There are new indications that North Korea may be transferring nuclear weapons technology to Myanmar, the dictatorship also known as Burma, and that it earlier supplied a reactor to Syria. For many years, based on five visits to North Korea and its border areas, I’ve argued for an “engagement” approach toward Pyongyang, but now I’ve reluctantly concluded that we need more sticks.

Burmese defectors have provided detailed accounts of a North Korean reactor, perhaps a mirror of the one provided to Syria, built inside a mountain deep in Myanmar. The reports, first aired in The Sydney Morning Herald this month, come from Desmond Ball, a respected Asia scholar, and Phil Thornton, a journalist with expertise on Myanmar, and there has been other fragmentary intelligence to back them up.

If the defectors’ accounts are true, the reactor “could be capable of being operational and producing a bomb a year, every year, after 2014,” Mr. Ball and Mr. Thornton wrote.

Back channel negotiations may still have some merit, but it’s very important that the Obama administration not be lulled into the rope-a-dope diplomatic strategy that is the stock in trade of countries like North Korea and Iran. Talk, empty promises, violation of the promises, more talk, more promises, but no real progress. That’s diplomatic rope-a-dope, all the while allowing further development of weapons of mass destruction and placing those weapons in the hands of unstable regimes.

Kristof concludes:
There are no good options here, and a grass-roots revolution is almost impossible. North Koreans, even those in China who despise the regime, overwhelmingly agree that most ordinary North Koreans swallow the propaganda. Indeed, Kim Jong-il’s approval rating in his country may well be higher than President Obama’s is in the United States.

Despite the brave rebellion of some Iranians, I would submit that the same holds for Iran. Barack Obama must come to understand that nuanced treatment of rouge regimes has its limits and, as Kristof admits, it’s sometimes necessary to use sticks as well as carrots.

If President Obama chooses passivity, it’s more than likely that the NoKos and the Iranians will soon have sticks of their own. Time is not on our side.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


Everything that the President of the United States does send signals, some obvious and directly intended to communicate to a broad spectrum of people, and others considerably more subtle and intended to communicate only with a narrow constituency who can read between the lines.

You probably haven’t heard of Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Obama administration has proposed her name as one of 16 people to be awarded America’s Medal of Freedom—our highest civilian honor.

In the case of Mary Robinson, President Obama’s actions are, of course, intended to send signals. In this case the signals are subtle and intended to communicate only with a narrow constituency.

Mary Robinson is a champion of human rights—a noble calling. But Mary Robinson is a bit more than that. She chaired the infamous 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa – a hate fest that allowed Arab and African thugocracies to demonize the United States and Israel for human rights violations while never mentioning their own profound violations of human rights.

Gil Troy and Tevi Troy comment on the lead up to Durban:
In the tense months before convening in Durban, Robinson failed to listen to pleas from Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), among others, to stop Arab dictators from hijacking an anti-racism conference to advance their anti-Zionist agenda. Afterward, she declared the disaster a success, even after she herself belatedly condemned the vicious anti-Semitism coursing through the streets of Durban at a parallel forum of nongovernmental agencies.

Throughout her tenure as Commisioner, Roberts has seen fit to criticize the US and Israel repeated, but has levied only indirect criticism of true human rights violators around the world. Par for the course at the UN, but, if I may be so bold, probably not the CV of a Medal of Honor recipient.

Until now.

Was the Obama administration lax in vetting Ms. Robinson? Given their thoroughness in vetting Hillary Clinton’s nominees at the State Department, I have to doubt it.

Rather, Obama is sending a subtle signal. His intended audience? Those within his base who believe that the US is the cause of all the world’s problems and that Abu Ghraib was the rule, not the exception. And more important, those in the Arab world who believe that Israel has no right to exist and will look kindly on a President who honors someone who vociferously criticizes the “Zionist entity.”

Signals matter, and on the foreign policy front, President Obama is sending the wrong kind.