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The Wall Street Journal declares an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page shouldn’t be expected to ever give President Obama an easy time, or the benefit of the doubt. But it’s amazing the levels of hypocrisy they’re willing to shoulder in order to castigate the president. Take, for example, today’s editorial on the president’s bipartisan commission on deficit reduction.

Having proposed peacetime records for spending as a share of the economy—more than 25% of GDP this year and next—Mr. Obama now promises to make “the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems.” And what might those choices be? “Everything’s on the table. That’s how this thing’s going to work,” Mr. Obama said.

Peacetime records? Peacetime records? This is amazing to hear, because in almost every single other context the Wall Street Journal has usually joined the conservative howls that President Obama isn’t treating the struggle against terrorists like a “war.” And it ignores that we have two wars — two very expensive wars — going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and they might be contributing a little bit to that massive deficit. Those two wars, in fact, have cost the United States a total of $1.05 trillion through the end of 2010. The $150 billion cost of the two wars in 2009 alone amounted to 1 percent of the country’s $14 trillion GDP.

You can argue those wars are necessary — and for the purposes of this particular debate, I won’t dispute the point.  The point is that the Wall Street Journal, in its ongoing effort to paint the president in the worst possible light, has decided to apply peacetime spending standards to his record. You can argue that President Obama is spending too much money otherwise, but any honest accounting of “spending records” must take those wars into account. To do otherwise is dishonest political hackery.

Under Rupert Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal becomes a smarter, print version of Fox News

It used to be that the news pages of the Wall Street Journal were straightforward and the op-ed pages where you found the red meat for the right. Then Rupert Murdoch bought the joint:

Mr. Baker, a neoconservative columnist of acute political views, has been especially active in managing coverage in Washington, creating significant grumbling, if not resistance, from the staff there. Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits — “health care reform” is a generally forbidden phrase — and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride. (Of course, objectivity is in the eyes of the reader.)

Tension between Washington bureaus and headquarters is a common feature of newspapers, and none of the people I spoke to suggested that either Mr. Thomson or Mr. Baker lacked savvy as journalists or leaders — only that ideology was baked into the coverage through headlines, assignments and editing in a way that had never occurred in the past.

No surprise of course, and of course Murdoch is free to make the Wall Street Journal say whatever non-libelous thing he wants it to say. And apparently circulation is on the upswing there, one of the few papers anywhere in that situation. So good for him. But readers should understand: This is not the same old Wall Street Journal.

Michael Petrilli: Republicans can win being less racist, more smart

Michael Petrilli takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to tell Republicans they have a better chance of winning elections if only they stop being the “party of stupid” and start embracing folks they regularly decry as “elitist.”

What’s needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate “Whole Foods Republicans”—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated indiividuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work. (Not to mention that its founder is a well-known libertarian who took to these pages to excoriate ObamaCare as inimical to market principles.)

So how to woo these voters to the Republican column? The first step is to stop denigrating intelligence and education. President George W. Bush’s bantering about being a “C” student may have enamored “the man in the street,” but it surely discouraged more than a few “A” students from feeling like part of the team.

Even more important is the party’s message on divisive social issues. When some Republicans use homophobic language, express thinly disguised contempt toward immigrants, or ridicule heartfelt concerns for the environment, they affront the values of the educated class. And they lose votes they otherwise ought to win.

Coupla thoughts:

• Interesting that we’re a few weeks shy of 2010 — the second decade of the new century — and a guy advising Republicans on how to win elections suggests they might want to reach out to the non-racist-joke-telling demographic.

• It’s also interesting that Petrilli feels like the audience of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page — high-powered, high-income, highly connected folks who lean right — needs to be told that it’s ok to embrace the people the GOP typically derides as “elitist.” Because, uh, that audience is actually the elite, more or less. One multimillionaire to another: “Says here in the Wall Street Journal we should embrace the Whole Foods set.” “But what where will I get my pork rinds!?” The anti-elitist thing was always a hollow pose; if the GOP now must end the pose to win elections, at least our campaigns might be a bit more honest. But there’s always another culture war angle to hit, I’m sure.

• When you get down to it, though, Petrilli’s advice boils down to this: “The world has moved on. Gay and blacks are part of public life; so is widespread higher education. That’s a world largely created by Democrats and liberals, yes, but you’re going to have to adapt to it if you want to compete. It’s time.”

John Yoo doesn’t want a New York trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

And he might have good reasons. It’s hard for me to know, because as always, the Bush Administration’s torture advocate and enabler simply doesn’t have any credibility. Here’s an early line in his Wall Street Journal op-ed opposing the Obama Administration’s decision to give KSM a civilian criminal trial in New York:

It is a presidential decision—one about the hard, ever-present trade-off between civil liberties and national security.

And here’s why Yoo has no credibility: Go back and read the memos he wrote, the ones saying a president had the right to torture, to turn the United States into a lawless battleground against terrorists, to even suspend the First Amendment if he so chooses. And ask yourself: Has there been a post-9/11 issue in which John Yoo seemed to truly and earnestly balance civil liberties against national security? Or has he thrown civil liberties overboard every time? There’s an easy answer to that question.

Here’s the thing: Over time, I’ve come to suspect that rigorously governed military tribunals — ones that adhere rigorously to federal and international laws of war — might be the best way to try suspected terrorists. A good process can give terror suspects their day in court while holding legitimate national security concerns in balance — and there is the precedent, set by FDR during World War II. Foreigners accused of making war on the United States typically haven’t been granted the same rights as Americans under our system of justice.* And I’m troubled that the Obama Administration has set up a multi-tiered system of justice that gives terror suspects more rights … so long as they’re less likely to succeed at trial. I’m not a fan of kangaroo courts. Better to have one set of transparent rules for everybody.

* This is separate in my mind from the issue of whether New York should host the trial. Sure it should. That’s where the attack happened; it’s where justice should be delivered. KSM is not a supervillain. He’s not going to use his magneto powers to break out of prison and again make war on the U.S.

But I’d have an easier time taking seriously the argument of so many folks arguing for a military tribunal because we’re at war! if so many of the same people — like torture advocate John Yoo — weren’t also advocates for disregarding U.S. law and international war crimes law regarding torture because this is a different kind of war! The laws of war apply only when they’re to our advantage, it seems.

As it is, the decision to hold the trial in civilian courts in New York seems, as they say, to have made “all the right enemies.” Which makes me inclined to support the decision. Which is, frankly, a lousy reason to support it.

Ronald Reagan’s legacy: Sarah Palin

I won’t be reading Sarah Palin’s new book. I’ve got a stack of stuff at home that hasn’t been read yet, there’s only so many books you get to read in a lifetime and … well, I guess I don’t want to have spent a precious portion of that book-reading lifetime reading Sarah Palin.

I have tried, at times, to take Sarah Palin seriously. But honestly, it’s exhausting. In a rational world, a national candidate who’d proved so seriously out of their depth would’ve gone back to Alaska and stayed there. That Sarah Palin is still on our front pages is proof of the powers of the culture wars, I guess.

It’s also the result of Ronald Reagan’s legacy. I realized this when reading a column by her hagiographer, Matthew Continetti, in today’s WSJ. He tries to make the case for her as a 2012 presidential candidate by hearkening back to the Gipper:

What drives independents’ uncertainty is their feeling that Ms. Palin isn’t up to the job. Independents blanch at her perceived lack of expertise on issues unrelated to energy or abortion. They look at Ms. Palin’s disappointing interview with Katie Couric last year, or laugh at Tina Fey’s impression on “Saturday Night Live.” Her resignation—still not fully explained—stokes their worst fears.

However, other Republican politicians have profited when they exposed received wisdom about them as false. In 1980, Democrats portrayed Ronald Reagan as a dim-witted ideologue bent on starting a nuclear war.

Then Reagan debated President Jimmy Carter. The public watched as a conservative pragmatist with a puckish wit unmanned a self-important, humorless liberal. Suddenly, Reagan was no longer the “dangerous” choice. He won handily.

Could Ms. Palin follow Reagan’s example? Maybe.

Or maybe not. Reagan had been pegged as an amiable dunce, but once he got in front of an audience with his opponent was able to demonstrate that the “dunce” part of that description was, at best, a facile description. When Sarah Palin got in front of an audience — with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, specifically — she didn‘t demonstrate otherwise. She earned the distrust of independents.

Reagan’s lesson was that you can succeed if you exceed expectations. Palin hasn’t. There’s nothing Reaganesque about her.

Afghanistan: How many Republicans does Obama have to consult to make Peggy Noonan happy?

Peggy Noonan pleads with President Obama to seek out the counsel of the GOP as he decides the Afghan War strategy:

The president is not, apparently, holding serious discussions with the most informed and concerned Republicans from Capitol Hill and what used to be called the foreign-policy establishment, and this, if true, is bad. The cliché that politics stops at the water’s edge is a fiction worth preserving. It’s a story that ought to be true and sometimes is true. There seems to be something in this president that resists really including the opposition. Maybe it’s too great a sense of self-sufficiency, or maybe he’s bowing to the reigning premise that we live in a poisonously partisan age, that the old forms and ways no longer apply. But why bow to that? To bow to it is to make it truer. The opposition is full of patriots who wish their country well. Bow to that.

You know why this is a really weird thing to say? Because Barack Obama’s defense secretary is a Republican — and was also George W. Bush’s defense secretary. Obama’s national security advisor was Condoleeza Rice’s special envoy to the Middle East — and, oh yeah, joined John McCain on the presidential campaign trail. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, is obviously a Democrat. But you could make the case that Obama’s war cabinet is damn near dominated by Republicans.

Maybe Fort Hood couldn’t have been prevented

My friend and nemesis Jim Lakely wants to pin at least some of the blame for the Fort Hood massacre … on the ACLU and its intimidation of the Army into “politically correct” modes of thought.  The glib answer is to suggest that civil rights groups don’t kill people — people kill people. And if the ACLU were so powerful in the ranks of the armed forces, I imagine we would’ve seen gays serving openly by now. It’s kind of a problematic theory.

Less glibly, it sounds like Maj. Nidal Hasan was raising red flags all over the place, essentially rooting on suicide bombers before an audience of Army doctors. But if he wasn’t drummed out of the service after that incident, it seems to me that political correctness isn’t really the Army’s problem — or, at least, not the only one.

As with 9/11, though, the question looms: Why wasn’t this prevented? There will be Congressional hearings, investigations and perhaps some new legislation that will supposedly seal the cracks in our national security infrastructure. But somewhere along the way, it should maybe be considered that large parts of the system worked the way they should’ve — and it still wasn’t enough. Sometimes bad things happen.

I mention this because of today’s Wall Street Journal report on pre-massacre communications between the FBI and the military about Hasan’s calls to a radical cleric:

The content of the pair’s communications didn’t raise red flags because terrorism task-force members checked with the military and found that Maj. Hasan was an Army psychiatrist who conducted research and was working on a master’s degree, FBI officials said.

The FBI checked on Maj. Hasan’s record with the military, but the Pentagon says it wasn’t given information about why those checks were being made. Typically, the FBI isn’t keen to raise suspicions about individuals without solid indications of possible wrongdoing. And in this case, it appears sharing more information would have been up to the FBI’s discretion.

It also isn’t clear whether military officials on those FBI task forces raised concerns to the counterterrorism supervisors they were assigned to serve, or whether the military members sought permission to report directly to the Army on Maj. Hasan — as they would have been required to do under post-9/11 rules on information-sharing. The bureau declined to answer whether such permission was sought.

There is also no way to know whether a tip to the Pentagon would have made a difference.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings, it appears some crucial information was shared in ways it wouldn’t have been before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Maj. Hasan’s communications with Mr. Awlaki were most likely intercepted by the National Security Agency. In either case, that means U.S. foreign-intelligence officials sent the communications to their domestic counterparts at the FBI.

Again: It’s early. We might find that FBI agents were cowed by notions of political correctness. But we might find that they simply didn’t have enough to go on. And that a bad thing happened despite the vigilance of critical parts of our national security infrastructure. It’s happened before. It will most certainly happen again. We can’t stop every bad thing from happening.

Joe Queenan, Barack Obama and the politics of “manning up”

Ben points me to this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Philly’s own Joe Queenan:

In demanding that the president man up and do the will of the people—as defined by last night’s polls—critics are insisting that the president dance with the one who brung him. Well, he is dancing with the one who brung him. Barack Obama got elected president in large part because an awful lot of blue-collar Democrats in Pennsylvania and Ohio and the border states voted for him. He didn’t get elected simply because of liberals in Malibu and Massachusetts. So, in reality, Mr. Obama already has manned up. He’s told the left wing of the Democratic Party that he’s running the show, not them. Not comfortable with that? Go blog about it.

That’s maybe the single paragraph in the entire piece that has a substantive critique in it. The rest of the piece boils down to: “The president’s liberal critics are effete wusses! And being president is hard!” Haha! That Joe Queenan sure is a tough guy! If he could just go around and punch all the WSJ’s readers in the face instead of having to do something so soft and hoity-toity as writing, I’m sure that would’ve been his first choice.

OK, snark off.

I’d counter Queenan by noting that Barack Obama also got elected president in large part because an awful lot of liberal Democrats in Pennsylvania and Ohio and the border states voted for him — instead of staying home or giving Ralph Nader another chance. He didn’t get elected simply because of the blue-collar workers.

Truth is: All winning presidential politics is coalition politics. Successful politicians are good at tending both their base and the folks closer to the center, and yes: that can be a tricky balancing act. But just because it’s tricky doesn’t mean liberals should shut up. If Obama never gets any pressure from the left to do stuff we want, what incentive will he have to do those things? A politician’s feet should always be held to the fire or he’ll almost always take the safest and least-principled approach. And Barack Obama is just a politician.

I’m not going to boycott Whole Foods

For five years in high school and college, I worked at a tiny grocery store owned by a Mennonite Sunday school teacher named Ray Franz. Ray was — is — a good, gentle, man, with a deep bass voice and ready chuckle. Despite a passion for serving the small community where we lived, he also (I learned) had an aversion to politics: He had served on the city council a couple of decades before and found that making hard decisions had been bad for business. And that was that.

I thought of Ray this week after John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, angered his customers by writing a Wall Street Journal op-ed opposing Democrat’s health care reform proposals and offering market- and behavior-based alternatives instead. The result? Many of my fellow liberals now want to boycott Whole Foods.

I won’t be joining them. We don’t buy a ton of Whole Foods — Trader Joe’s is closer and cheaper — but we do buy some.

For one thing, I’m not inclined to punish somebody for thinking differently than I do, unless those thoughts are particularly odious. I won’t be eating a cheesesteak at Geno’s anytime soon, for example, but that’s the exception.

Second: For the last couple of weeks we’ve been screaming about the anti-health reform advocates who have been screaming at the town halls. So an opponent of reform comes along and offers a thoughtful-but-still-contrary opinion — and we’re going to punish him for that? If that’s what we’re going to do, why shouldn’t people like Mackey scream and throw tantrums? There’ll be no percentage for our opponents to engage the debate in a rational way.

So a boycott is kind of counterproductive.

That said, I don’t think Mackey was a terribly smart businessman in all of this.

I think it’s important to recognize that Whole Foods does more than sell food. It’s sells an idea of food — you too can be a foodie and environmentally sustainable — that is, frankly, more associated with the left than the right. To the extent that I’ve ever seen “Whole Foods” and “arugula” mentioned by the right, it’s usually been in disdainful tones reserved for the “latte-sipping liberals.”

John Mackey has every right to his opinion — but purely as a business matter what he did was bad brand management.

The Wall Street Journal apparently thinks NOT torturing is illegal

Here’s the opening of their editorial:

Here’s a political thought experiment: Imagine that terrorists stage an attack on U.S. soil in the next four years. In the recriminations afterward, Administration officials are sued by families of the victims for having advised in legal memos that Guantanamo be closed and that interrogations of al Qaeda detainees be limited.

Should those officials be personally liable for the advice they gave President Obama?


For the “thought experiment” to really work, though, NOT torturing terror suspects would have to be illegal under domestic and international law, as well as treaties the United States had signed long before the attack. In order to honor all those laws, the United States would be compelled to torture possible terrorists.

Oh. Wait. That’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?

Reading the rest of the editorial, and it’s clear the Wall Street Journal doesn’t get it. The editorial board apparently thinks that torture opponents are motivated by politics instead of principle and, oh yeah, the clear intent of the law against torture.