The tragic figure of Robert McNamara reminds us that government officials can and should ask the kind of policy questions he posed after it had long ceased to matter. His sad fate reminds us of the enormous potential consequences of failing to do so.
Almost more than Nixon, more than LBJ, Robert McNamara came to personify America's tragic engagement in Vietnam. "McNamara's War," Senator Wayne Morse had called it in the spring of 1964, a description that the then cocky former "whiz kid" and Ford Motor Company president turned Pentagon chief had enthusiastically embraced. He was "pleased" to be associated with Vietnam, he replied, and would do "whatever I can to win it."
On the third day of what is arguably the most serious crisis in the history of the 30-year-old Iranian revolution, President Obama finally weighed in with a three-part message.
First, our coolly cerebral leader said, he was "deeply troubled" by the apparent irregularities in Iran's presidential election and the violence in the Tehran streets. But second, it was "up to the Iranian people" to decide who should govern them. The U.S., he added, would continue to respect Iran's sovereignty. And third, he remained ready to engage in "hard-headed diplomacy" on Iran's nuclear program, its support for terrorism, and issues of national security concern to the United States no matter how the current crisis was resolved.
There are two equally appalling explanations for what happened in Iran's presidential elections on Friday: Either the election was stolen, or it wasn't. Either scenario leads to the same conclusion: This is a truly sad day for Iran.
But it also confronts President Obama and others who oppose the hard-line clerics who have run the country (into the ground) since its revolution 30 years ago with a painful choice.
It is still possible, though unlikely, that 62.6 percent of Iran's eligible voters may have spurned the pragmatic, reformist policies of former prime minister Mir Hussein Mousavi in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the anti-Semitic, economically incompetent, Holocaust-denying president.
Not since the Sermon on the Mount has a speech in the Middle East been so anticipated.
In "The Muslim Speech," as it is being called, President Obama will, of course, restate his desire to engage "based upon mutual interests and mutual respect," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday. He will also discuss how the U.S. and Muslim communities can "bridge some of the differences that have divided them," focusing on such "issues of concern" as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "violent extremism" -– note the absence of the adjective "Islamic" before extremism. Gibbs said that Obama would also talk about "new areas for partnership…that serve the mutual interests of our people."
The dramatic foiling of a year-long plot to blow up two New York City synagogues and shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York has important lessons for combating terrorism in America. First, it reinforces the New York Police Department's argument that militant Islamic terrorist threats to the United States may increasingly be homegrown.
Law enforcement officials say they believe that at least three of the four accused were converts to Islam, that all four had been in prison. One official said that they may have met and perhaps been radicalized while attending a post-prison release rehabilitation program in Newburgh, some 70 miles north of New York City.
President Obama changed his mind today. Thank goodness. After weighing his commitment to less secrecy and greater openness in government against the safety of American troops overseas, he sided with the soldiers. That meant ordering the Pentagon not to release as planned hundreds of photos which supposedly document American abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2005. It was a tough call, his aides said. But it was also, of course, a quintessentially political one. Obama does not want to be blamed for exposing our war-fighters to even greater jeopardy than they already face.
The World Health Organization has raised its global pandemic alert level from 3 to 4 and sources say the alert will almost inevitably rise to level 5. But what does that really mean?
It's hard to know based soley on what spokesmen for the Geneva-based health organization have been saying. The WHO's Internet site is a mess, and public health experts have been overwhelmed tracking and fighting swine flu, leaving puzzled citizens to fend for themselves. So I'm grateful that Sarah Russell, of the WHO, took the time to spell it out for me. The levels, she told me, are like "avalanche warnings." In other words, there's not a lot you can do about them except get off the the mountain — not easy since the mountain is our planet – or look up as often as you can. No specific guidance about what states and people should do, or not do, is automatically attached to any specific level of threat, Ms. Russell explained.
Almost one hundred days ago, Barack Obama mapped out an extraordinarily ambitious foreign policy and national security agenda of reconciliation with people of different ideologies and faiths. It's goal? To forge a "new way forward" based on "mutual interest and mutual respect." Its symbol is an extended American hand in exchange for an unclenched fist.
How's he doing? Very well, given the mess he inherited. He has implemented key campaign pledges, at least rhetorically, while leaving himself considerable wiggle room. On his first day in office, for instance, he announced that he would close Guantanamo and end "enhanced interrogation techniques," known to most English speakers as torture. But he pushed Gitmo's closure off by a year and created a task force to decide whether, where, and how the "worst of the worst" and future detainees are to be held. While he abolished torture, he formed another group to study which techniques are legitimate and devise a broader framework for their use. Wisely, Obama has usually created a trap door for himself, in case a decision or policy turns out to be unrealistic or unwise.
Was there any hand that President Obama would refuse to shake on his "unclenched fist" Latin American tour? Apparently not.
Mr. Obama not only warmly embraced Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Friday night on his trip to the region, he thanked him for the book that Chavez gave him during the Latin American Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Mr. Obama called the donation to the Obama library "a nice gesture" since "I'm a reader." But I wonder how scintillating our president will find Chavez's selection: "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," by Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano. The book, predictably, blames the United States and other foreign interests for exploiting Latin America for centuries.
In the daring rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali kidnappers, the Obama administration has sent a strong message to those who seek to hold other Americans hostage on the high seas: Pirates beware. The party is over.
The New York Daily News reported as early as Thursday that Navy had been itching to whack the pirates who have increasingly harassed ships and their cargo off the coast of Somalia, but were waiting for President Obama to give the order.