That’s the question I pose at Heading Right, after the Washington Post reports that Hillary Clinton has focused on Barack Obama’s less-than-muscular response to a hypothetical question about a terrorist attack on the US. What did Obama miss that Hillary, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson get right — and is it the Kitty Dukakis question of this primary season?
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now distances himself from remarks about how a military strike on Iran could delay their nuclear capabilities for ten years. Hours after the German magazine Focus produced the Olmert assertion that an attack using thousands of Tomahawk missiles could grind the Iranian program down for a decade, Olmert’s office called the PM’s remarks “general” and “off the record”:
“Iran’s nuclear program can be thrown back by years in a ten day attack using thousands of Tomahawk cruise missiles,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying in an interview published online by the German magazine Focus on Saturday.
Olmert had reportedly said that it would not be possible to completely halt Iran’s race to attain nuclear capability, but that a brisk attack that would delay it significantly was “technically feasible.” While saying that Israel does not seek military confrontation, Olmert added that “nobody excludes it.”
Only a few hours after the publication of the Focus article in Israeli media outlets, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement denying the report.
The PMO said Olmert was giving a Focus reporter only general information and that he was speaking off the record.
Olmert couched this military strategy in terms of a complete failure of global pressure to sway the Iranians, which so far looks prescient enough. Israel cannot abide a nuclear Iran under the present radical-Islamist mullahcracy and would be forced to act. Olmert asked whether it would do more damage in the long run, as a ten-day attack on Iran would certainly transform the Iranian people into the enemy of Israel.
Of course, wars tend to do that, and a “ten-day attack” is somewhat euphimistic. In reality, Israel would declare war on Iran by doing so. However, with their head of state openly declaring his intention to wipe Israel off the map, one can certainly argue that Iran has already declared a de facto state of war with Israel. Given the circumstance, Israel would have little choice but to make sure that their military and political enemy — a mantle which Ahmadinejad has claimed repeatedly — does not acquire weapons that would allow Iran to complete its declared mission.
One might ask Olmert why he didn’t see this clearly about Syria and Hezbollah last year, when he elected to attack Lebanese targets instead after Hezbollah provoked a war. A ten-day attack with thousands of Tomahawks would have set Bashar Assad back on his rump, and it would have taken all the steam out of Hezbollah by cutting off its political and military lines of communication. It would also have kicked out one of the struts of Iranian power and reach in the Middle East without destabilizing the nominally anti-Syrian government in Beirut.
Maybe Olmert learned a lesson last year, maybe not. At least he’s not offering platitudes about the uselessness of any military reaction to the prospect of a nuclear mullahcracy, and what it means for the war on terror.
A day after the Pentagon announced the capture of al-Qaeda mastermind Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, US forces in Iraq captured a number of AQI terrorists in a series of raids. They also found and detonated a truck bomb and discovered a cache of Iranian arms south of Baghdad:
U.S. forces detained 17 suspected insurgents in raids targeting al-Qaida in Iraq on Saturday, the military said, a day after the Pentagon announced the capture of one of the terror network’s most senior and experienced operatives.
Elsewhere, U.S. fighter jets destroyed a truck bomb discovered in Anbar province, and an American raid south of Baghdad netted insurgent weapons apparently imported from neighboring Iran, the military said Saturday. …
The U.S. military in Baghdad said Saturday’s raids targeting suspected al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents netted four people in Mosul; six near Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad; two near the Syrian border; two in the Iraqi capital; and three near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. The statement linked some to al-Qaida in Iraq, including one who allegedly served as an intelligence officer. …
In Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces detained eight suspected insurgents and confiscated three caches of weapons during a raid on an apartment complex on April 22, including mortars, rockets and ammunition. The weapons appeared to be new and “were stamped with recent dates and Iranian markings,” the military said.
In other news, the Danish military will send almost 500 troops to Basra to bolster the British contingent. It seems that ever since Britain and Denmark announced their intention to withdraw, the security situation has deteriorated. Troops from both countries now come under fire from the Shi’ite militias vying for power.
This is what happens when abandoning an area with a weak security apparatus in place. Now that the Brits and Danes have given the people of Basra a drop-dead date for their withdrawal, they have set in motion a fight for power that will only amplify as the withdrawal date approaches. Instead of throwing in with the central government, the flight of the Coalition has convinced Iraqis in that area that they have to find the strongest warlord for protection.
We can expect this across the country if the US withdraws precipitately from Iraq. A pullout will embolden the violent and frighten the law-abiding, and the end result will be a completely failed state. Regardless of whether one supported the invasion or not, it is obviously not in the American interest to leave behind a collapsed Iraq where the boldest and most vicious terrorists rise to power in fiefdoms small and large.
Yesterday, the news broke that US forces had captured Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a senior al-Qaeda commander, in transit back into Iraq to take over the AQ operation there late last year. He had already racked up quite a record, having coordinated operations with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and having masterminded two attempts to assassinate Pervez Musharraf. They forgot to mention one important point on his resumé, however:
The al-Qaeda leader who is thought to have devised the plan for the July 7 suicide bombings in London and an array of terrorist plots against Britain has been captured by the Americans.
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a former major in Saddam Hussein’s army, was apprehended as he tried to enter Iraq from Iran and was transferred this week to the “high-value detainee programme” at Guantanamo Bay.
Abd al-Hadi was taken into CIA custody last year, it emerged from US intelligence sources yesterday, in a move which suggests that he was interrogated for months in a “ghost prison” before being transferred to the internment camp in Cuba.
Abd al-Hadi, 45, was regarded as one of al-Qaeda’s most experienced, most intelligent and most ruthless commanders. Senior counter-terrorism sources told The Times that he was the man who, in 2003, identified Britain as the key battleground for exporting al-Qaeda’s holy war to Europe.
How many people died in London? Over 50? One might think that should lead a news article that reports his capture — and yet the American press simply either didn’t know or didn’t care about their subject.
For instance, Dafna Linzer has the only Washington Post report on the capture, and the word “London” doesn’t appear once in it. What captures Linzer’s keen reportorial eye? Readers find out that the US held him in secret detention centers before transferring him to Guantanamo Bay:
An Iraqi man accused of being a key aide to Osama bin Laden and a top leader of al-Qaeda was arrested late last year on his way to Iraq and handed over to the CIA, the Pentagon announced yesterday, in what became the first secret overseas detention since President Bush acknowledged the existence of such a program last September.
The disclosure revealed that the Bush administration reopened its detention program within three months of announcing that no secret prisoners remained in the CIA’s custody. The program has been criticized by human rights organizations and U.S. allies.
In a statement yesterday, the Defense Department described Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 46, as “one of al-Qaeda’s highest-ranking and experienced senior operatives” and announced that he has been sent to the Pentagon-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush acknowledged the CIA’s detention program last September and transferred all 14 of its senior al-Qaeda suspects to Guantanamo Bay. One intelligence official said al-Iraqi was the first person held by the CIA since Bush made the acknowledgment, but the official would not say whether other people have been held since al-Iraqi was handed over to the agency earlier this year.
“What the president said in September was that there was no one in CIA custody at that time,” an intelligence official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “This individual was captured late last year, well after the president’s speech, and transferred to the CIA several weeks later.”
Yes, that’s quite a shock. When our intelligence services and military capture terrorists, who do not wear uniforms and conduct attacks on civilians — such as London commuters — we do not treat them like Italian POWs in 1944. They don’t qualify as POWs, but as unlawful combatants, and we are entitled to hold them and interrogate them without announcing their capture or making them available for outside visits. That makes their detention secret by definition.
How about the New York Times? Mark Mazzetti and David Cloud file the Gray Lady’s only report on “Mr. Iraqi”, and again it never mentions London. In fact, it doesn’t even talk about the involvement of “Mr. Iraqi” in any terrorist activity, just that he “is said” to be a “top aide” Osama bin Laden — as if he was Osama’s favorite personal secretary. Mr. Iraqi conducted terrorist operations that killed many people, but the Paper of Record can’t bring itself to mention any of that.
The Los Angeles Times, which goes to bed last among the three papers, manages not to get hysterical about the circumstances surrounding his capture and detention. Josh Meyer provides a more reasoned look at Abd al-Hadi al-Iraq, including some of his personal history that the other papers skipped. He reports that a “key ally” participated in the capture, and that revealing where it took place would put that relationship at risk of rupture — a good reason not to give al-Iraqi a platform. Meyer also fails to mention anything about the London bombings.
All of these papers had hours after the Times of London report to get the London bombings into the story. The Times goes to bed at 7 pm ET and hits the feeds and wire services. None of the American media bothered to check on Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. Readers should ask themselves whether that comes from a lack of intellectual curiosity, or whether it comes from a bias that puts the circumstances of the detention of a terrorist at a higher priority than the terrorism itself. We should also ask ourselves any practical difference exists between ignorance and bias.
Alan Dershowitz has often infuriated conservatives with his liberal ideology and sharp-witted speech. He drew insults by the bucketload for defending OJ Simpson in the mid-90s, when it appeared OJ would require a strong team for an appeal– before a Los Angeles jury proved that celebrities don’t need Dershowitz’s services. However, Dershowitz has always remained strong in the war against radical Islam and a stalwart defender of Israel, and as such he has come increasingly into conflict with a man he once admired, Jimmy Carter.
Now Dershowitz has discovered that Carter gets his funding for his pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab positions from very suspect sources:
Recent disclosures of Carter’s extensive financial connections to Arab oil money, particularly from Saudi Arabia, had deeply shaken my belief in his integrity. When I was first told that he received a monetary reward in the name of Shiekh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, and kept the money, even after Harvard returned money from the same source because of its anti-Semitic history, I simply did not believe it. How could a man of such apparent integrity enrich himself with dirty money from so dirty a source?
And let there be no mistake about how dirty the Zayed Foundation is. I know because I was involved, in a small way, in helping to persuade Harvard University to return more than $2 million that the financially strapped Divinity School received from this source. Initially, I was reluctant to put pressure on Harvard to turn back money for the Divinity School, but then a student at the Divinity School, Rachael Lea Fish showed me the facts.
They were staggering. I was amazed that in the twenty-first century there were still foundations that espoused these views. The Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, a think-tank funded by the Shiekh and run by his son, hosted speakers who called Jews “the enemies of all nations,” attributed the assassination of John Kennedy to Israel and the Mossad and the 9/11 attacks to the United States’ own military, and stated that the Holocaust was a “fable.” (They also hosted a speech by Jimmy Carter.) To its credit, Harvard turned the money back. To his discredit, Carter did not.
Jimmy Carter was, of course, aware of Harvard’s decision, since it was highly publicized. Yet he kept the money. Indeed, this is what he said in accepting the funds: “This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.” Carter’s personal friend, it turns out, was an unredeemable anti-Semite and all-around bigot. …
The extent of Carter’s financial support from, and even dependence on, dirty money is still not fully known. What we do know is deeply troubling. Carter and his Center have accepted millions of dollars from suspect sources, beginning with the bail-out of the Carter family peanut business in the late 1970s by BCCI, a now-defunct and virulently anti-Israeli bank indirectly controlled by the Saudi Royal family, and among whose principal investors is Carter’s friend, Sheikh Zayed. Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of the bank, gave Carter “$500,000 to help the former president establish his center…[and] more than $10 million to Mr. Carter’s different projects.”
Wow. I have no great love for Jimmy Carter and think his jeremiad against Israel demonstrates a seriously foolish policy, but I had no idea of the scale of which the Saudis have bought him. There is no doubt that Carter has climbed into bed with some of the worst anti-Semites. Dershowitz points out that Abedi intended his BCCI bank to act as “the best way to fight the evil influence of the Zionists.”
The Arabs seem to have gotten a great deal for their investment. The Carter Center, Dershowitz notes, focuses its human-rights interests almost exclusively on Israel. It also scolds the Bush administration for its approach to the war on terror. Notably absent are any declarations against the Arab world for funding radical Islamist terrorism.
Dershowitz then calls out Carter for his hypocrisy on the impact of money on debate. Carter has argued that certain well-known journalists cannot be trusted to report accurately on Israel because some of their money comes from Jewish sources, although Front Page doesn’t link to those statements. However, Carter continues to write books and give speeches about the Middle East without disclosing his financial ties to anti-Semitic Saudi sheikhs.
The professor ends by saying that no one in public discourse has a ” lower ratio of real to apparent integrity than Jimmy Carter.” Many of us have known that for years, after Carter’s various Logan Act violations and selective outrage. No one makes the case quite as well as Dershowitz. (via TMV)
UPDATE: Zayed was not Saudi, but from Abu Dhabi; the correction comes courtesy of the infallibly discourteous Nandrews3 in the comments. I note that Nandrews doesn’t address the anti-Semitism of BCCI’s founder, however, nor the hypocrisy of Carter claiming that Jewish money makes people unable to be honest brokers in the Middle East while he rakes in millions from Arabs of whatever nationality.
UPDATE II: Bruce Kesler covered this topic in December, and tends to agree with Dershowitz. It would help if Carter opened the books at the Carter Center to get a clearer picture of who funds his work. Keep checking back with Bruce — he’s doing more research and may have more information later.
UPDATE: NZ couldn’t make it today, but hopefully we can get together on Monday. Michael and I had an excellent conversation, and James Boyce called from MS-NBC and talked about the Democratic debates. You can listen to the entire download at this link — just as you can with all CQ Radio and BTR shows.
Today’s installment of CQ Radio (2 pm CT) welcomes Michael Zak, author and blogger. He has a message for the Republican Party and that message is Back To Basics. He blogs at the Grand Old Partisan, and joins us in the first half to discuss how the Republicans need to proceed in order to regain power.
We’ll also talk again with NZ Bear from the Victory Caucus to discuss the developments yesterday in the Senate. We’ll talk about Joe Lieberman, the two Republican defections, what we can expect from the President and when, and what we can do to make a difference.
Be sure to join us at 646-652-4889! We’d love to get you into the conversation. And make sure you’re keeping up with the conversation at Heading Right!
We caught Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi in transit to Iraq a week ago, but the news has just been released. Apparently al-Masri hasn’t cut the mustard, as al-Iraqi meant to take over al-Qaeda operations in Iraq and push back against the joint US-Iraq effort (via Mac at Heading Right):
The United States has taken into custody a top al-Qaeda operative who plotted to assassinate Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and other officials, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.
Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi, who was taken to the US navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba about a week ago, was intercepted while trying to reach Iraq to take over Al-Qaeda operations and to plot attacks from there against western targets outside Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
He is “one of Al-Qaeda’s highest ranking and senior operatives at the time of his detention. He is associated with leaders of extremist groups allied with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and including the Taliban,” Whitman said.
It’s a good thing we’re committed to staying in Iraq, isn’t it? Because if we left, then we couldn’t catch AQ commanders before they had a chance to get situated in Iraq and start killing people by the dozens.
Oh, wait …
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard has more:
While in Pakistan, al-Hadi directed cross-border military operations against U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Al-Hadi also served as a conduit between al Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban and al Qaeda senior command operating inside Pakistan. He was behind the assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
“‘Abd al-Hadi was known and trusted by Bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri,” notes the Department of Defense. He was “in direct communication with both leaders and, at one point, was Zawahiri’s caretaker. ‘Abd al-Hadi also interacted with other senior al Qaeda planners and decision makers, such as Khalid Shaykh Muhammad and Abu Faraj al-Libi, and deceased al Qaeda members Hamza Rabi’a and ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Muhajir.”
Al-Hadi’s capture and subsequent interrogation will likely yield significant intelligence on al Qaeda’s global operations, and specifically operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Al-Hadi was a vital link in al Qaeda’s global network, who possesses knowledge on al Qaeda’s training, communications, personal ties and operations in the critical theaters of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Al-Hadi’s knowledge of al Qaeda’s command structure inside Pakistan will be of particular interest, as the U.S. believes Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda senior leaders are operating from command centers in Waziristan and Bajaur.
He’ll be valuable if he talks. Either the interrogators got a lot out of him in a week, or they’ve decided that they can’t get anything useful out of him at all. Otherwise, they wouldn’t tip off AQ by letting them know he’s been captured.
UPDATE II: Via the always-dependable Allahpundit, here’s some background that won’t surprise anyone but the “reality-based” community:
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured by the CIA as he was attempting to travel back to his native country, Iraq. He was going to Iraq, officials say, to “manage” al Qaeda’s operations, including plots on Western interests outside of Iraq.
He was captured by the CIA in late 2006…
During his time with the CIA, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was interrogated and revealed useful information about al Qaeda plots, which, officials say, have been disrupted as a result.
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi had met with al Qaeda members in Iran, officials also said.
So AQ is not only in Iraq but also in Iran. That headline at TalkLeft seems a bit … outdated. Also, this answers the question about timiing — they’ve had him for several months now, and have just transferred him to Gitmo.
Saudi Arabia has arrested over 170 suspected terrorists, including foreign-trained pilots, to end a plot against their oil fields. The terrorists allegedly planned to use commercial airliners to smash into the oil facilities and disrupt the entire global economy:
Police arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom had trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday. A spokesman said all that remained in the plot “was to set the zero hour.”
The ministry issued a statement saying the detainees were planning to carry out suicide atttacks against “public figures, oil facilities, refineries … and military zones” — some of which were outside the kingdom.
“They had reached an advance stage of readiness and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al-Turki told the Associated Press in a phone call. “They had the personnel, the money, the arms. Almost all the elements for terror attacks were complete except for setting the zero hour for the attacks.”
The ministry did not say the militants would fly aircraft into oil refineries, as the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers flew planes into buildings in New York and Washington, but it said in a statement that some detainees had been “sent to other countries to study flying in preparation for using them to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom.”
Of course, these are the Saudis, so the possibility exists that this is a ruse used to round up dissidents. However, al-Qaeda has conducted operations against the Saudis before. The Sauds have had gun battles and extensive operations against AQ, and of course, we all remember Khobar Towers last decade.
The terrorists intended this to be a wide-ranging raid. They wanted to storm prisons to free their associates, attack military installations, and destroys economic targets, especially oil facilities. Apparently assassinations were also on the menu, as the Saudis said that “public figures” had been targeted. Saudi security forces uncovered a large cache of arms in the desert, which they displayed for domestic television audiences.
They also captured a whopping $32 million in cash. That kind of loss has to hurt.
What does this mean for the West and for the world? It will probably spike oil prices briefly, until investors and speculators are sure the immediate danger has passed. Once again, we will have to address the training of pilots for larger passenger jets, as it appears that we have inadvertently enabled the conversion of airliners into guided missiles. The amount of money confiscated shows that we have yet to fully cut off the financing of these groups, and that exposures of efforts like the Swift banking surveillance can seriously damage our ability to prevent terrorist attacks, in a general sense.
One big hit on the Saudi supply centers will make the economic fallout of 9/11 look like a minor Wall Street correction in comparison. We had better start getting serious about eliminating dependence on the world oil market and developing our own resources as quickly as possible.
Ever wonder how liberals would implement a gun-free America? After incidents like the mass murder at Virginia Tech, arguments for total gun control appear faster than anyone can say Ismail Ax, but they never quite explain how to get from point A to point Z. Fortunately for us, Toledo Blade columnist Dan Simpson takes us step by step through the process. The retired diplomat assures us that he’s no “crazed liberal zealot” as he skips merrily down the path to a police state (via QandO).
It starts off quietly enough:
Now, how would one disarm the American population? First of all, federal or state laws would need to make it a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and one year in prison per weapon to possess a firearm. The population would then be given three months to turn in their guns, without penalty.
One might think to start with a Constitutional amendment first. Simpson appears to have forgotten that pesky little 2nd Amendment — you know, the one that the Founding Fathers thought so unimportant as to put it before unreasonable search and seizure.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The former hunter explains that he doesn’t want to shut down that pastime:
Hunters would be able to deposit their hunting weapons in a centrally located arsenal, heavily guarded, from which they would be able to withdraw them each hunting season upon presentation of a valid hunting license. The weapons would be required to be redeposited at the end of the season on pain of arrest. When hunters submit a request for their weapons, federal, state, and local checks would be made to establish that they had not been convicted of a violent crime since the last time they withdrew their weapons. In the process, arsenal staff would take at least a quick look at each hunter to try to affirm that he was not obviously unhinged.
Aha, the tried and true “quick look”! So what would that “quick look” entail — checking for drool? A T-shirt that says, “The voices in my head don’t like you”? In the meantime, all of these “hunters” would have their firearms for weeks on end while the rest of us would be forcibly disarmed. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold probably would have qualified for a hunting license, and Cho managed to get past a records check, too. Would a “quick look” have stopped either of them — and would it provide a due process for the innocent that would get denied access to their hunting weapons?
But wait — remember that whole bit about unreasonable search and seizure? Well, if Simpson can ignore the 2nd Amendment, then why should he worry about the rest of the Constitution?
The disarmament process would begin after the initial three-month amnesty. Special squads of police would be formed and trained to carry out the work. Then, on a random basis to permit no advance warning, city blocks and stretches of suburban and rural areas would be cordoned off and searches carried out in every business, dwelling, and empty building. All firearms would be seized. The owners of weapons found in the searches would be prosecuted: $1,000 and one year in prison for each firearm. …
On the streets it would be a question of stop-and-search of anyone, even grandma with her walker, with the same penalties for “carrying.”
Got that? No search warrants, no probable cause, not even the suspicion of a “quick look” would be required. “Special squads” of police would simply blockade you, storm into your house without permission, and rip it to pieces looking for your weapons.
But he’s not a “crazed liberal zealot”. Oh, no, no, no. He just thinks that the government should have the right and the duty to ignore the Constitution and to invade your homes. Oddly, Simpson doesn’t see the irony in that the 2nd Amendment intended to keep government from acting in exactly the manner he describes and endorses. The 2nd Amendment was meant to stop people like Don Simpson.
Oh, by the way: this defender of America is a member of the editorial boards for both the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Gazette.
Note: I’m really, really hoping this turned out to be satire, but I somehow doubt it.
I skipped watching the first Democratic presidential debate, but according to all accounts, I didn’t miss too much. The New York Times tried to frame the evening in the best possible light, but even the Gray Lady conceded that it turned into an ennui to forget:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was professorial and emphatic as she spoke Thursday night about health care, Iraq and whether Wal-Mart was good for America (a “mixed blessing,” she decided) .
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, by reputation a dynamic performer, was reserved and cautious as he talked about a donor with a shady past, how he would respond to a terrorist attack on American shores and his biggest mistake (not doing more to stop Congress from intervening in the Terri Schiavo case, he said).
The setting was the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2008 campaign, a surprisingly sedate and meandering affair, filled with as many moments of awkward humor as memorable insight into the qualifications of the candidates or the policy differences among them. …
The debate, at South Carolina State University, was shown on MSNBC and moderated by the NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who at times appeared to struggle with the unwieldy field of eight candidates whose remarks were packed into a 90-minute event; at several points he resorted to asking for a show of hands to try to spotlight similarities or differences among them. (None went up when Mr. Williams asked if any of the others on stage supported the call by Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio to begin impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney, the vice president).
At another point, when Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, one of the most verbose senators, delivered a one-word answer that drew laughter from the audience, when Mr. Williams asked whether he had the discipline to lead the free world.
“Yes,” he said. The audience laughed at his brevity. Mr. Biden, looking proud of himself, said nothing else, as Mr. Williams silently if slightly uncomfortably waited for him to expand on his remarks.
One has to credit any event in which Joe Biden, a man known for his love for his own voice, restricts himself toa single syllable. Unfortunately, this is the one event where people watch to learn the candidates’ positions. “Listless” was the one descriptive used by Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny that seems to sum up the event.
Even terrorist talk apparently did not rouse the Democrats from their stupor. Tigerhawk live-blogged the debate last night, and reported what looks like a minor Michael Dukakis moment for Obama and Edwards:
To Obama: “If we learned that two American cities were hit by terrorists and we further learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had been the world of al Qaeda, how would you change the U.S. military stance overseas as a result?”
Obama: Talks about our domestic emergency response. Then says we need good intelligence, even though the question presumed that we knew. Says we should not “alienate the international community.” We need to talk.
Me: Obama totally avoided the question, refusing to say a single thing about our military stance.
Edwards (same question): I would make certain we knew who was responsible, and then I would act swiftly and strongly. Then I would want to know how this happened without us knowing in advance.
Me: These are very cerebral, “talking points” answers. I think Williams was looking for a passionate response, and that these guys blew it.
Same question to Clinton: “Having been a senator on 9/11, I understand the horror of that sort of attack. I think a president must move as swiftly as prudent to retaliate.” Lots of emphasis on reliation. “That doesn’t mean we should go looking for other fights. Let’s focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them.”
Me: Hillary crushed Edwards and Obama on this question. They looked like were deer-in-the-headlights, and bleated on irrelevantly. Clinton rolled through them, focusing on the need for retaliation. On that answer, she would have my vote (if somebody put a gun to my head and made me vote for a Democrat).
Unfortunately, she gave that one back when she claimed that the Virgina Tech massacre was the fault of the federal government. Huh? Was V-Tech a federal facility? She claimed that Cho’s access to guns after his mental problems was a federal problem — one that she and Bill made sure was solved during the Clinton administration — but the problem was in Virginia state law, not the federal law. The federal law had not changed since the Clintons left the White House.
And besides, the correct answer was that the fault lies with Cho.
I have a deep skepticism about televised debates in any case. It’s usually a forum for posturing and gotchas, where the only insight one gets is whether candidates have a quick enough wit to keep pace. It tells nothing else about a candidate that one couldn’t glean from a campaign website and a little research, and often tells less than nothing at all. This appears to be the case with last night’s debate, where America got to see nine varieties of political vanilla.