The conservative reaction to the U.S.-backed six-country deal with Iran to temporarily curb that country's nuclear program has been predictably hyperbolic. Right-leaning commentators are falling over themselves to call deal the worst foreign policy debacle since the 1938 Munich Agreement, in which Allied powers ceded portions of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler to avoid war. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal (who won a Pulitzer for commentary earlier this year) took it a step further, calling the deal "worse than Munich" in a November 26 column.
The implied comparison of 2013 Iran to the Nazi war machine is, to put it gently, stupid. Reason's Matt Welch already took it apart ("2013 Iran is to 1938 Germany what a flea is to a Tyrannosaurus Rex") and Foreign Policy's Daniel Drezner observes that spittle-flecked, sky-is-falling commentary of this sort is a too common feature of foreign policy punditry.
But let's take it face-value for a moment. The Iran deal is only a few days old and already it's "worse than Munich"? The reasoning behind that judgment, according to Stephens, was that while the Munich Agreement didn't prevent the war Hitler so desperately wanted, it did buy time for Britain and France to ramp up their war machines in preparation for the war's eventual outbreak. The Iran deal, he argues, has no "redeeming or exculpating aspects," which might explain why he devoted precisely zero words of his column to explaining what the deal actually contains. And, as ThinkProgress' Zack Beauchamp notes, Stephens certainly didn't "point to anything in the Iran deal worse than delivering Czech Jews to Hitler's tender mercies."
That right there is the missing perspective on all this "worse than Munich" business. Regardless of whether you think the Munich Agreement was a naïve attempt at peace-through-appeasement or the only option available to the Allies, it nonetheless precipitated a massive human rights calamity before the ink on the signatures had a chance to dry.
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens used the possibility of military intervention in Syria to rewrite the history of the Iraq war, falsely claiming the Bush administration's case against Iraq was supported by solid evidence.
Stephens, the Journal's foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor for international opinion pages, criticized the Obama administration's case for intervention in Syria by comparing it to Bush's decision to invade Iraq, which he claimed was made based on "highly detailed" intelligence revealing weapons of mass destruction. Stephens claimed the "testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix" supported the Bush administration's case for war, and accusations that the Bush administration lied were "libel" and "cheap slander":
Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on whitehouse.gov. The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."
By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.
The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.
So what should President Obama say when he addresses the country Tuesday night? He could start by apologizing to President Bush for years of cheap slander. He won't.
But Hans Blix told CNN in 2004 that the Bush administration "chose to ignore" his team's concerns about the lack of solid evidence in favor of war, and that prior to the invasion the evidence of WMDs in Iraq was revealed to be "shaky":
"I think it's clear that in March, when the invasion took place, the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart," Hans Blix, who oversaw the agency's investigation into whether Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Blix described the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 as "shaky," and said he related his opinion to U.S. officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"I think they chose to ignore us," Blix said.
Furthermore, an investigation into the lead up to the Iraq war found that statements President Bush made about Iraq misled the American people and Congress by inaccurately depicting the available intelligence. The 2008 Senate Intelligence Committee's report found that "policymakers' statements" in particular misrepresented the nature of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Bush's allegations "that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership" were "not substantiated by the intelligence." The report also found that statements by Bush and Vice President Cheney indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists for use against the U.S. "were contradicted by available intelligence information."
While there are serious questions about the wisdom of using military force in Syria, any debate must include the facts -- not the Journal's fanciful rewriting of history.
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens falsely claimed the embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa proved that President Obama had wrongly characterized the current threat of terror in his May speech on national security, when in fact the president specifically referred to threats from al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and the Middle East against diplomatic facilities.
Following the announcement that 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa would remain closed throughout the week with hundreds of additional security forces deployed to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen due to suspected terror threats, conservative media rushed to politicize the effort to protect American lives, dismissing security experts who praised the decision and falsely accusing President Obama of failing to recognize the realities of the war on terror.
Stephens furthered these attacks in his August 5 Journal column, claiming that the embassy closures revealed "a threat that makes a comprehensive and vivid mockery of everything the president said" in Obama's speech at the National Defense University on May 23. According to Stephens, the purpose of the president's national security speech was "to declare the war on terror won--or won well-enough--and go home," and the "facts and analysis" Obama used to discuss the nature of al Qaeda were proven "wrong" by the current situation in Yemen and the Middle East.
But Stephens ignored whole portions of Obama's speech in which he identified the very types of threats the intelligence community is working to avert. Obama's speech specifically referred to al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa -- including Yemen, Libya, and Syria -- as "the most active in plotting against our homeland" and acknowledged they posed "threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad" (emphasis added):
Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They've not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.
Instead, what we've seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda's affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP -- the most active in plotting against our homeland. And while none of AQAP's efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.
Unrest in the Arab world has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. But here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we continue to confront state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Other of these groups are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. And that means we'll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives -- perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks -- launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.
So that's the current threat -- lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.
Stephens concluded by attacking the media's "memory" of the speech, claiming the press had forgotten the realities of Obama's rhetoric in favor of praising the administration. But it's Stephens himself who seems to have forgotten whole sections of the speech that undermine his attack on the administration, which has worked to protect American lives by effectively responding to a type of terror it identified as many as four months ago.
From the March 21 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
Loading the player reg...
Right-wing media are attacking the Obama administration for engaging in "direct discussions" with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan. But General David Petraeus and other national security experts who have served in every administration since the presidency of Richard Nixon say that it is in America's interest to negotiate with the Taliban.
Recently, conservative media have been pushing for Israel or the United States to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, in some cases justifying an attack by claiming that Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon. In the context of Fox's efforts to beat the drums of war, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland distorted comments by Secretary of Defense and former CIA director Leon Panetta to claim that "Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a year or sooner." (Panetta actually said, "The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.")
Contrary to what conservatives claim, however, there are significant questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all. Indeed, 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates found no conclusive evidence that Iran is even trying to build a bomb. In January 31 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reiterated the fact that the U.S. intelligence committee does not have evidence to say that Iran is trying to build a bomb.
But there is another good reason to have some skepticism when conservatives warn that Iran is on the verge of having a nuclear weapon: they have been warning that Iran is months, a year, or at most two years away from the bomb for years. Here are some examples:
Conservative media are pushing for Israel or the United States to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, claiming that inaction will cause great harm to Israel. In doing so, however, they are ignoring questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all and minimizing the dangers of war with Iran.
In a February 6 Townhall.com piece, Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison, senior fellows with the Family Research Council (FRC), argued that Israel should "strike [Iran] now" as its "very survival is on the line," adding, "As worrisome as an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might be, Iran with a nuclear weapon is infinitely more." They concluded:
Today, surrounded by mortal enemies, with their backs to the wall, Israelis are told to take more "risks for peace" by a US. administration that is outraged by the sight of too many Jews in Jerusalem.
If we wait until the Iranians have sunk their nuclear weapons deep into hardened bunkers it will be too late. The Obama administration will not act in time. Later, will be too late.
Israel: Don't wait; hit the Iranian nuclear facilities now. The world will thank you for it.
During the February 7 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity said that "[t]here is a rise of Islamic extremism that is happening under [Obama's] watch, and he's not doing a thing," adding, "[h]e ought to be dropping bunker buster bombs on Iran's nuclear sites."
On February 8, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens appeared on Fox News' Happening Now to discuss his recent piece on whether Israel should bomb Iran. During the segment, Stephens said that "Israel should bomb Iran if it's going to strike decisively," adding: "If it's going to have a surgical attack that will set the Iranians back by six months or one year then the question becomes, What's the point of that? But if it's going to use a strike as a first stage in a broader program of regime change joined by the United States, then that's worthwhile." Stephens concluded the segment by saying:
As the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it, Iran is now entering what he calls a zone of immunity. They will have too much material too deeply buried to be susceptible to an Israeli strike. And that window is closing for them. Unless they take advantage of this opportunity they will have to live with a nuclear Iran, which will be devastating for Israel's interest.
And on the February 12 edition of Fox News' America's News Headquarters, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said that "if we don't become very serious and convince the Iranians that we will use significant military force to stop them they're going to just keep moving straight ahead," adding, "I think we're going to have to be prepared to use military force." He concluded:
I want this administration to get realistic and get tough about Iran. Stop this nonsense about talking to them, which goes back to when he was debating Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton told him to his face that he's naïve. Stop it. Cut it out, Mr. President. They don't want to talk to you. You know what they want to hear from you? That you're tough. That you are capable of attacking them if that is necessary and that you're not going to sit there and labor over it. That you are willing to do it if that is necessary to stop them from becoming a nuclear power. And he should say to them, in the toughest language he can come up with, there's no way on earth I'm going to let you become a nuclear power. It's just too darn dangerous.
There are several things wrong here.
Right-wing media outlets including Fox Nation, Jim Hoft's Gateway Pundit, the Drudge Report, and Andrew Breitbart's Big Peace are highlighting a Ynet article describing a conversation between President Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. According to reports, the two presidents, apparently unaware that their microphones were on, had the following exchange at the G-20 conference in Cannes, France:
"Obama began by reproaching Sarkozy for not warning him in advance that France would vote in favour of Palestinian membership of UNESCO," the website reported. "The conversation turned to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with Sarkozy saying, 'I don't want to see him anymore, he's a liar.'
"To which President Obama replied: 'You've had enough of him, but I have to deal with him every day!' Obama then asked Sarkozy to try to convince the Palestinians to slow down with their UN membership drive."
What the right-wing blogs aren't emphasizing is the substance of this conversation: Obama's request to Sarkozy to ask the Palestinians to slow their push for U.N. membership. Simply put, Obama was asking Sarkozy to do something that Israel wants.
Focusing on that would have clashed with the right wing's false narrative that Obama is anti-Israel, something his record contradicts. This theme has resurfaced repeatedly, from Fox's Eric Bolling theorizing that the Palestinian bid for statehood is a "setup" to make Obama seem pro-Israel, to Fox figures' and Rush Limbaugh's distortion of Obama's comments on the 1967 Israel borders and Netanyahu's response. There has also been a litany of highly inflammatory and unsubstantiated statements from the right on Obama's Israel record. The Wall Street Journal has also joined the chorus.
In fact, Obama's record on Israel is supportive, and his actions have been praised by Israeli leaders. Netanyahu thanked Obama for his support during the last U.N. General Assembly meeting, for providing assistance in extracting Israeli security guards from the Israeli embassy in Cairo, for helping to fund a missile defense system to protect Israel, and for the killing of Osama bin Laden. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, now the defense minister, said in August that he "can hardly remember a better period of ... American support" for Israel than "right now."
From the August 19 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
Loading the player reg...
From the August 9 edition of Fox Business' Freedom Watch:
Loading the player reg...
Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal is a smart guy. At least, I assume he is. After all, only someone with extreme confidence in his intellectual capability would make this the thesis sentence of a print op-ed:
I just think the president isn't very bright.
Yep. Stephens inked an entire column on how President Obama is stupid, and he brought horrible analogies to bear in supporting his argument:
The aircraft was large, modern and considered among the world's safest. But that night it was flying straight into a huge thunderstorm. Turbulence was extreme, and airspeed indicators may not have been functioning properly. Worse, the pilots were incompetent. As the plane threatened to stall they panicked by pointing the nose up, losing speed when they ought to have done the opposite. It was all over in minutes.
Was this the fate of Flight 447, the Air France jet that plunged mysteriously into the Atlantic a couple of years ago? Could be. What I'm talking about here is the Obama presidency.
Yeah! Those dead pilots were total morons, too!
Anyway, Stephens' evidence that the president is not intelligent is that Obama says and does things with which Stephens disagrees. And, since Stephens already demonstrated that he's among the brighter bulbs in the box, ipso facto, President Jughead:
Then there is Mr. Obama as political tactician. He makes predictions that prove false. He makes promises he cannot honor. He raises expectations he cannot meet. He reneges on commitments made in private. He surrenders positions staked in public. He is absent from issues in which he has a duty to be involved. He is overbearing when he ought to be absent. At the height of the financial panic of 1907, Teddy Roosevelt, who had done much to bring the panic about by inveighing against big business, at least had the good sense to stick to his bear hunt and let J.P. Morgan sort things out. Not so this president, who puts a new twist on an old put-down: Every time he opens his mouth, he subtracts from the sum total of financial capital.
Then there's his habit of never trimming his sails, much less tacking to the prevailing wind. When Bill Clinton got hammered on health care, he reverted to centrist course and passed welfare reform. When it looked like the Iraq war was going to be lost, George Bush fired Don Rumsfeld and ordered the surge.
Mr. Obama, by contrast, appears to consider himself immune from error. Perhaps this explains why he has now doubled down on Heckuva Job Geithner. It also explains his insulting and politically inept habit of suggesting--whether the issue is health care, or Arab-Israeli peace, or change we can believe in at some point in God's good time--that the fault always lies in the failure of his audiences to listen attentively. It doesn't. In politics, a failure of communication is always the fault of the communicator.
If Obama had done everything Stephens' wanted him to do, that would have been smart. It may not seem convincing to you, but, again, you forget how bright Bret Stephens is. After all, he name-dropped Socrates, Aristotle, Plutarch, and Forrest Gump in repackaging many-years stale right-wing talking points and condensing them into one hackish exercise in sophistry.
That takes real smarts. The kind you don't get at President School.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly open to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines that President Obama laid out in May in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that called for a peace agreement based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon swaps. However, when Obama made the proposal, the conservative media decried it as "potential suicide" and "the destruction of Israel."
In a May 24 column, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens wrote that President Obama is an "Anti-Israel [p]resident" and that "[t]he contempt was again on display Sunday, when Mr. Obama spoke to the Aipac policy conference in Washington." Stephens further wrote, "What Mr. Obama offered is a formula for war, one that he will pursue in a second term."
From Stephens' column, headlined, "An Anti-Israel President":
When this president wants to make a show of his exquisite diplomatic sensitivity -- burgers with Medvedev, bows to Abdullah, New Year's greetings to the mullahs -- he knows how. And when he wants to show his contempt, he knows how, too.
The contempt was again on display Sunday, when Mr. Obama spoke to the Aipac policy conference in Washington. The speech was stocked with the perennial bromides about U.S.-Israeli friendship, which brought an anxious crowd to its feet a few times. As for the rest, it was a thin tissue of falsehoods, rhetorical legerdemain, telling omissions and self-contradictions. Let's count the ways.
And then there was that line that "we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric." Applause! But can Mr. Obama offer a single example of having done that as president, except perhaps at the level of a State Department press release?
What, then, would a pro-Israel president do? He would tell Palestinians that there is no right of return. He would make the reform of the Arab mindset toward Israel the centerpiece of his peace efforts. He would outline hard and specific consequences should Hamas join the government.
Such a vision could lay the groundwork for peace. What Mr. Obama offered is a formula for war, one that he will pursue in a second term. Assuming, of course, that he gets one.
In his September 21 Wall Street Journal column, deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephen argued for the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, saying: "Gays in the military: The White House and Congress owe them better":
The values argument isn't the half of it. Since DADT came into force in 1993, some 14,000 service members have been discharged under the policy--the equivalent of an entire division of warfighters. Investigating and processing each case has its costs; so does recruiting and training each replacement. How much? A 2006 commission organized by UCLA's Palm Center and led by former Defense Secretary William Perry put the total cost of each discharge at $42,835, meaning the policy has now cost the U.S. taxpayer around $600 million.
That's not pocket change, especially for a military scrounging for savings. It's also no small matter at a time when the military's recruitment standards for age, education, physical fitness and moral standards have been steadily declining. In the last two years alone the Army and Marines have granted an unprecedented number of "moral waivers" to recruits with previous felony convictions.
But what about the argument that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would harm recruitment, morale and unit cohesion? Mr. Laich doesn't buy it. Existing military regulations strictly prohibiting or regulating sexual conduct would still apply, and violators would continue to be punished. NATO militaries, as well as Israel's, have integrated gay service members without issue. And similar arguments to the ones being made now against repealing DADT were made when African Americans, and later women, were integrated into the army.
"Five years from now we'll look back at this and say, what was all the fuss?" he says. "These young soldiers, sailors and Marines come from a society where gays and lesbians are readily accepted and work with them and go to school with them."
In the meantime, it's worth noting that there are an estimated 48,000 homosexuals on active duty or the reserves, many of them in critical occupations, many with distinguished service records. If they pose any risk at all to America's security, it is, paradoxically, because DADT institutionalizes dishonesty, puts them at risk of blackmail, and forces fellow warfighters who may know about their orientation to make an invidious choice between comradeship and the law. That's no way to run a military.
Conservative media have continued to accuse the imam leading the initiative to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan of being a "secret radical," pointing to his remark that "the United States' policies were an accessory" to the 9-11 attacks. In fact, Rauf has condemned terrorism and has been widely described as "moderate," and his comments on 9-11 are not outside the mainstream.