Washington Whispers

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Washington Whispers
May 13, 2011
Volume 3 • Number 19
This Week in Washington
Commentary and Features
3 Missing a GOP Base
1 Washington Whispers
3 Big Talk on Immigration
8Capital Notions | By Robert Schlesinger
Political analysts say Newt Gingrich doesn’t have a natural base
for his run for president
Obama renews call for reforms, but many question if proposals
will go anywhere
4Shifting Attitudes Toward Beijing
Hillary Clinton takes aim at China’s human rights record
5 World REport
Arab leaders intensify crackdown; Denmark to reimpose border
controls
6 The Presidency | By Kenneth T. Walsh
Reflecting on the leadership of five presidents
7Special Report: AFGHANISTAN
Lawmakers and everyday citizens are questioning the war
Michelle Obama as gardener in chief; winning advice for Gingrich;
Ronald Reagan’s private jokes and stories
Send in the GOP’s clown presidential candidates
9 Washington Book Club
Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown
10 Blog Buzz
11Letters to the Editor
To release or not to release the bin Laden photos
12Editor’s Note
News You Can Use
12 Best Summer Vacations
Still looking for that perfect place? Try kicking back in San
Francisco, Mykonos, Nice, Maui, and more
Washington Whispers
By Paul Bedard
She’s Gardener in Chief
First lady Michelle Obama’s team is thinking about digging another garden—for cut flower arrangements
First lady Michelle Obama’s second job, as gardener in chief, could soon be taking up much more of her time—
and White House turf. In a move that would put her in Jacqueline Kennedy’s company among first ladies who’ve
radically changed the White House and its grounds, plans are being discussed to till up another part of the South
Lawn to make way for a garden of flowers she could use to fill vases in the East and West Wings.
White House chief florist Laura Dowling says that adding a second garden to the first lady’s sprawling veggie
patch would provide blossoms to use in her trademark “garden style” arrangements. “In terms of using things
from the garden, I feel like that’s in the works. We all know about her organic vegetable garden, and all she’s
done to promote healthy eating and living. I think the next step then is a cutting garden,” Dowling said when we
quizzed her at the recent Philadelphia International Flower Show.
The problem: Dowling doesn’t have permission to snip flowers from the White House grounds. “Right now
I think that the horticulturist wouldn’t encourage me to go out with my clippers,” she says. Not even the Rose
Garden? “Not from the Rose Garden,” she says. “I’d get into too much trouble.”
Asked what she’d advise the first lady to grow in her cut-flower garden, Dowling said that roses and hydrangea
would be the best to start with, along with tulips.
Unlike her recent predecessors, Obama has taken a new floral direction in the White House, choosing Dowling
and her romantic French garden style of arranging flowers. Dowling says the first lady’s goal is “American style”
displays that aren’t formal. “What she’s indicated to me is that she wants this feeling of garden style, natural,
casual elegance,” the florist says. Dowling approaches those objectives in how she poses the cut flowers and even
the vase they’re in, sometimes gluing items like little red potatoes to a vase to make it look natural.
“The first lady is remarkable in her sense of style,” Dowling adds, “and you can tell by the way she dresses.”
The importance of using flowers can’t be overstated, says Dowling, who heads a team of four full-time florists
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and several part-time workers. “Flowers play more than a decorative role,” she says. Through colors or even an
environmental theme, “they could play almost a diplomatic role.” And the first lady wants the displays where
visitors enter, Dowling notes, in order “to use flowers to welcome people to the White House.”
How Newt Gingrich Can Win
Now that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in the 2012 presidential race, longtime allies are pressing him
on two key issues: fixing his often-unfocused style of speaking and making his wife, Callista, a main campaign
feature. Famous for being the GOP’s “big thinker,” Gingrich too often detours from his main topic when talking
with groups, supporters, and even reporters, according to some of his backers. But they feel that a campaign
will offer unusual discipline and that he will learn to keep his focus. As for his wife, supporters say she can be a
strong, upfront asset in quieting concerns about his three marriages. Also working in his favor, say friends: He’s
a good fundraiser, is creative with social media, is well known, and proved he could work with Democrats like
Bill Clinton in balancing the budget, reforming welfare, and creating jobs. What’s more, says one, is that Gingrich
understands the difficulties of the presidency, having been second in the line of succession.
Backstory to New Reagan Book
For years they called it the Rosetta Stone at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library: a secret
collection of 4-by-6 notecards on which Reagan scribbled famous quotes, political wisdom, and favorite jokes.
Speechwriters and aides had heard about the collection, but had never seen it. So when foundation Executive
Director John Heubusch put out orders to find something eye-popping in the Gipper’s files to display at the
renovated facility, the Rosetta Stone was on the minds of many. By chance, Heubusch says, the cards were found
in a simple cardboard box marked “RR’s Desk,” and they’ve now been reprinted in The Notes: Ronald Reagan’s
Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom. “It rivals the Reagan diaries themselves,” says Heubusch. “It was like
finding buried treasure.” There were 46 cards with quotes, from sources as varied as Cicero and Lenin, which he’d
add to his inspirational speeches. And there were 45 cards of jokes and classic Reagan one-liners like: “Simple
diet—if it tastes good, spit it out.” And: “U.S. like Santa Claus—both leave gifts all over the world & wind up
holding the bag.” Says Heubusch: “You can’t come away from this without realizing that he was one of the most
well-read presidents in history.” l
Report Card: B+
President Obama, Week 121
“If only Obama could send in Navy SEALs to cut down the price of gas. Voter anger over pump prices are the big
drag on a White House that is still reaping political benefits from killing bin Laden.”
–National pollster John Zogby for Washington Whispers
The Whispers Poll
The nation often unites in euphoria after grabbing enemy leaders like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Which
of these past or current leaders should the U.S. have made its top target to seize?
Germany’s Adolf Hitler 49%
Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi 23%
North Korea’s Kim Jong Il 15%
Cuba’s Fidel Castro 8%
North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh 5%
Source: The Synovate eNation Internet poll was conducted May 6-10 among 1,000 nationally representative households by
global market research firm Synovate.
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This Week in Washington
Missing a GOP Base
Political analysts say Newt Gingrich doesn’t have a natural following for his run for president
By Susan Milligan
It was inevitable, perhaps, that Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker widely credited with bringing the
House into the Internet age, would announce his presidential bid by Twitter. But does Gingrich’s checkered past
erase whatever message he has for Republican primary voters about the future?
Gingrich has a solid list of pros: He’s smart, boasting a Ph.D., a college professorship, and authorship of nearly
two dozen books. He engineered a historic Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, giving the
party control for the first time in four decades. The “Contract With America,” which Gingrich co-wrote, became both
a conservative rallying call and an intellectual blueprint for the party. He has a demonstrated ability to raise money.
But the word “baggage” endures in his political résumé. As speaker, he was blamed for the government shutdowns
of 1995 and 1996. He was dogged by ethics complaints. He resigned his seat after a poor GOP electoral showing
in 1998. He’s been married three times, the last union coming out of an affair he had while speaker with a much
younger congressional staffer (and which was going on when Gingrich was leading impeachment proceedings against
President Clinton). That irritates social conservatives.
But Gingrich’s biggest trouble, political analysts say, is that there is no natural fit for him in a still-forming
Republican primary field. He doesn’t have a hold over the “birther” wing of the party or the libertarian following
of Rep. Ron Paul. Nor does he draw the establishment wing that might be attracted to former Massachusetts
Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Regionally, he
faces obstacles in the early contests, with Romney and Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Obama
administration ambassador, having an edge in Nevada, Pawlenty and fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann
having a neighborly advantage in Iowa (which could-be candidate Mike Huckabee won in 2008), and Romney
having a next-door relationship with New Hampshire. National polls show Gingrich in the dead center of a
broad potential GOP field, drawing an average 7.7 percent of the primary vote. “He’s a brilliant guy. He’s smart.
He’s articulate. I think he’s certainly one of three or four who have the ability to go down to the wire,” says GOP
consultant Ed Rollins, who worked for Huckabee in 2008. But “there’s not a natural base for him.”
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, says Gingrich seems to
be searching for a new persona. Once an intellectual leader in his party, Gingrich is now advancing a broader, less
professorial theme of American exceptionalism, Damore says, but it has yet to give him a foothold among primary
voters.
Gingrich will almost certainly be a force in the campaign, experts say, if for no other reason than his intellect and
his sheer force of personality. Whether this will push him across the line for GOP primary voters is unknown. But as
GOP consultant Whit Ayres says, “Stranger things have happened.” l
Big Talk on Immigration
Obama renews call for reforms, but many question if proposals will go anywhere
By Michael Morella
With the U.S.-Mexico border as his backdrop, President Obama reignited the debate on immigration reform with
a speech Tuesday in El Paso, Texas. But whether Obama’s call to action will resonate beyond that southwestern
Texas city and influence lawmakers and Latino voters remains to be seen.
A 2009 estimate from the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington,
D.C., clocked the number of illegal immigrants in the United States at about 11 million. Acknowledging that
number, Obama called reform “an economic imperative” for the United States—to stay competitive in the global
marketplace and to ensure job opportunities for Americans.
Obama touted his administration’s efforts on securing the border, saying the number of Border Patrol agents
has risen to 20,000 from about half that in 2004. He also took credit for reducing the rate of violent crime in
southwestern border cities and called on Congress to “put the politics aside” and bring the immigration issue back
into focus. “Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change
the law myself,” Obama said Tuesday. “But that’s not how a democracy works.”
In his presidential campaign, Obama promised an immigration bill during his first year in office. Now, more
than two years into Obama’s term, a major immigration overhaul has yet to get off the ground in Washington.
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Comprehensive reform might mean a combination of stepped-up enforcement at the borders, a revised program
to legalize immigrants, and other measures. But with a Republican majority in the House, the idea of sweeping
legislation is a nonstarter, says Gary Freeman, professor of government at the University of Texas–Austin who
focuses on immigration.
While many see no chance for comprehensive reform during the current Congress, piecemeal legislative
efforts might have a slim opportunity. On Wednesday, Democrats in the House and Senate reintroduced the
Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which Obama mentioned in his speech. The DREAM
Act would allow some undocumented immigrants who arrived here before age 16 or who have completed two
years of college or military service to become permanent residents. The bill passed in the House last year, but
failed to advance in the Senate in December.
Still, the president’s talk on immigration reform might be less of a call to action than a calculated effort to
court Hispanic voters. The president offered little in the way of new ideas, but gave “more a campaign speech than
anything else,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Latino voters have
been losing patience with Obama for his inability to deliver on immigration reform promises, Freeman says, and
while they aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of the GOP, they might abandon the Democrats
at the polls. But experts agree that immigration isn’t the only issue of importance to Latino voters: Education and
jobs are among other crucial considerations. And on all of these issues, they say, Obama’s actions are going to
speak louder than words. l
A Shift in Attitude Toward Beijing
Hillary Clinton takes aim at China’s human rights record
By Joshua Kucera
Hillary Clinton may be the top U.S. diplomat, but some undiplomatic remarks she made about China could
rupture the delicate relationship between the nations with the world’s two biggest economies.
The question of how much to push China to open up its political system has long been a difficult one for the
United States. Much of the American public likes officials to take a strong stand on freedom in authoritarian
countries. But that’s an extremely sensitive topic in Beijing, and the United States needs China’s cooperation on
issues like the economy, the environment, and security. The Obama administration began its term believing that
it would be best to talk to China’s leaders privately about human rights, while publicly giving abundant praise to
the partnership between the two countries.
That strategy has appeared to change with the dramatic protests and revolutions that have rocked the Middle
East. Departing U.S. Ambassador (and possible presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman gave a speech in April in
which he pointedly called attention to the plights of several prominent activists, including artist Ai Weiwei and
dissident Liu Xiaobo. But he did so gently. “The United States will never stop supporting human rights because
we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur,” he said. “We do so
not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship.”
Clinton, however, went much further. In an interview with the Atlantic this week, the secretary of state
said China’s human rights record was “deplorable” and that the Chinese government was afraid of what was
happening in the Middle East. “They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They
cannot do it,” she said. “But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”
Whether by design or not, Clinton’s comments were published at the start of a two-day Strategic and Economic
Dialogue, in which scores of Chinese officials came to Washington for talks with their American counterparts
on all aspects of the U.S.-China relationship. While that timing may have put a bit of a chill on the proceedings,
it also ensured that China wouldn’t publicly retaliate, says Ken Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings
Institution in Washington. Chinese leaders “are anxious to put a positive spin” on the talks, he says. “They didn’t
want to spoil the more positive stories about the dialogue by saying, ‘By the way, we object to Hillary saying our
human rights situation is deplorable and it’s going to lead to our downfall sooner rather than later.’ That’s a
somewhat dissonant note.” Indeed, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, asked on Thursday about Clinton’s
comments, generously suggested that they were taken “out of context.”
But the remarks were “undiplomatic and over the top,” Lieberthal says. It’s not clear whether they were made
intentionally, but if so, he adds, it was against the advice of the top China hands in the White House. Thus far,
Beijing seems willing to let the insult go—but that could change if the comments become widely known in China.
“Then the government will feel compelled to react harshly,” Lieberthal says. And that, both sides would agree,
would be deplorable. l
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World Report
Arab Leaders Intensify Crackdown on Protests
Security forces in Yemen killed more than a dozen protesters and wounded dozens more this week in
cities across the country, a sign that the escalating bloodshed there is unlikely to abate in the near future.
Government aircraft bombed rural areas north of the capital that are home to many rebellious tribesmen.
Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh retracted his offer to resign, saying he would stay in office
until peace returns.
Meanwhile, in Syria, tanks shelled residential areas of two cities, according to reports. Some 19 people were killed
across the country in clashes with state security forces, as the two-month-old uprising against President Bashar alAssad continues. Human rights groups say as many as 10,000 people, including some accused of fomenting the
revolt, have been detained in recent days, though about 300 in one city have been released. As many as 850 people
have been killed since the protests began, according to the U.N. human rights office. A government spokeswoman,
meanwhile, emphasized that while skirmishes continue, the government has bested the uprising. In a separate
development, an al Jazeera journalist detained while covering the protests has been deported to Iran, Syria’s most
powerful international ally.
More than 400,000 Raped Yearly in Congo
In a stunning new study, U.S. researchers say that more than 400,000 women are raped in the Democratic
Republic of Congo each year. The African nation of some 70 million people has suffered decades of conflict,
and the study found that an average of 1,100 women are raped every day, based on government survey data
from 2006 and 2007. “Nowhere is a woman in the Congo safe from sexual violence,” Tia Palermo, a coauthor
of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health, told Reuters. Experts at the United Nations
questioned the research methodology, however, saying that the survey sample size of 3,400 women was too
small to justify the study’s sweeping conclusion.
Denmark to Reimpose Border Controls
Years of integration by 25 European states have led to the dismantlement of numerous border controls along
their frontiers. But pressure from right-wing groups in Denmark prompted the government this week to
reestablish customs and border controls along that country’s borders with Germany and Sweden. Customs
booths will be erected at road crossings, airports, and harbors. Crime and illegal immigration are the chief
motivators for the reimposition of border controls, which have been largely relaxed since the 1995 Schengen
Agreement. Checks at the new customs booths will be random so as not to violate the 1995 pact, which
prohibits the establishment of universal border controls. Denmark has been a party to the treaty since 2001.
‘Dirty War’ Suspects Arrested in Argentina
Among the crimes committed during the “dirty war” that gripped Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s
was the practice of tossing dissidents from airplanes without parachutes. Three former policemen were arrested
this week in connection with what came to be known as the “flights of death.” The men are accused of being the
crew of a plane from which French nun Léonie Duquet, human rights activist Azucena Villaflor, and others were
thrown in 1977, according to news reports. Hundreds of political prisoners and leftist activists are believed to
have been killed in this terrifying fashion. Prosecution of those responsible for crimes during the dirty war has
been a politically sensitive issue in Argentina and largely ignored in Washington. Last month, a key witness to
a dirty war-era killing of a bishop was kidnapped and drugged, according to his lawyer. The man, Victor Oscar
Martinez, was the sole witness to the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon, who perished in a suspicious
car crash in July 1977. l
–Alex Kingsbury
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The Presidency
By Kenneth T. Walsh
Reflections on Five Leaders
Twenty-five years ago this month, I started covering the presidency for U.S.News & World Report. It’s been a
fascinating quarter century at the White House, and the occasion presents a natural opportunity to reflect on the
five men who led America through this period of transformational change—Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush,
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
They had vastly different philosophies and personal backgrounds, reflecting the diversity of America. Three
were Republicans—Reagan and both Bushes; the two others, Clinton and Obama, were Democrats. Reagan at 69
was the oldest man ever to become president; Clinton at 46 was among the youngest. Reagan and the Bushes
were wealthy when they entered the White House. Clinton and Obama were men of more modest means. Obama,
of course, was the first African-American president, a distinction of historic importance. Bush the father, Bush
the son, and now Obama led the country in major wars, but all the presidents made life-or-death decisions to send
American troops into harm’s way.
Through it all, a few principles of leadership have remained crucial to presidential success, often pioneered by
iconic leaders of the past such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided America during the profound calamities of
the Depression and World War II.
Getting results. Perhaps the most important lesson is the simplest one. What Americans want most from their
president is effectiveness, not ideology, rhetoric, glitz, or charisma. Historian Robert Dallek, biographer of
Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and John F. Kennedy, says FDR knew how to compromise to get what he wanted.
Roosevelt was described as “a chameleon on plaid,” but his inconsistencies didn’t bother most Americans because
people felt that his policy experiments, such as Social Security and massive federal works projects to create jobs,
were appropriate for the times.
The most recent five presidents, at their best, showed similar flexibility in getting results. They jettisoned
ideology when their original ideas weren’t working or required updating. Reagan, more pragmatic than his critics
expected, was able to improve a weak economy and forge a partnership with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Together, they helped to end the Cold War. Obama is now testing this proposition anew as he tries to work with
majority Republicans in the House on today’s major issues, such as setting budget priorities and running the wars
in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. His initial impulse to spend vast sums of federal money to avoid a depression has
now given way to an emphasis on cutting the deficit. Obama also showed an ability to get results when he ordered
a risky raid that resulted in the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden. Obama seems to understand that the leaders
who deliver results are the ones who tend to get re-elected.
Be optimistic. This goes back to the ever-optimistic Roosevelt. White House aide Harry Hopkins once said:
“There’s something that he’s got. It seems unreasonable at times, but he falls back on something that gives him
complete assurance that everything is going to be all right.” At the heart of presidential optimism is the ability
to demonstrate a vision or at least a confidence that the future will be brighter and that the American people are
capable of solving even the most difficult problems. Reagan was a master at conveying optimism. Clinton did well
in this department, too. Obama has picked up the theme.
Character counts. The most successful presidents earned the nation’s trust and kept it. “You can hire pragmatic,
and you can buy and bring in policy wonks,” Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has written. “But you can’t buy
courage and decency, you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him. If he
does, they will give meaning and animation to the great practical requirement of the presidency. . . . He needs to
have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nonetheless, a vision of the future he wishes to create. This is a
function of thinking, of the mind, the brain. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn’t have the character—
the courage and heart—to see it through.”
The Bushes were strong in the character department, as was Reagan. Clinton’s personal character was deeply
flawed, as revealed in the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-lies scandal, but his public character, his lack of corruption,
was widely admired. Obama’s character appears unassailable.
Stay in touch. A modern president is insulated from everyday American life by security precautions, the
demands of his schedule, and the reality of government where a chief executive tends to associate almost
exclusively with Washington insiders instead of everyday people. This is where a president’s personal
background, life experiences, and family matter a great deal. Reagan never forgot his middle-class roots in Illinois
even though for most of his adult life he had been surrounded by Hollywood types and rich businessmen. Clinton
used polls and a wide network of friends and associates to keep in touch. George W. Bush always remembered
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his years working in the Texas oilfields. Obama says his family, especially his two young daughters and his wife
Michelle, keep him grounded.
Whatever works in helping a president break out of the White House “bubble” is worth trying. When all is
said and done, staying connected with everyday America is becoming one of the biggest challenges of the modern
presidency. l
Afghan War Reconsidered
Lawmakers and everyday Americans are taking a second look as the conflict drags on
By Alex Kingsbury
As if waking up bathed in cold sweat after a 10-year fever dream, military leaders, lawmakers, and the general
public are suddenly and seriously reconsidering the war in Afghanistan.
At a hearing this week, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, head of the influential Foreign Relations Committee
and a stalwart backer of the Afghan war effort, called the current course there “unsustainable,” noting that
it costs U.S. taxpayers $10 billion per month. And a bipartisan group of congressmen sent President Obama a
letter pleading for a timeline to end the conflict. “The American people want us to get out of Afghanistan. They
want us to go after al Qaeda. But they have long since realized that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan,” Democratic
Rep. James McGovern, also of Massachusetts, said at a press conference. Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North
Carolina said he couldn’t in good conscience support drastic cuts in domestic spending, as the GOP is supporting,
while money is being funneled to the corrupt government in Kabul.
The American public long ago soured on the war against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan.
A recent CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 52 percent of the country opposes the war, while only 42
percent support it. And a Gallup poll, taken a week after the killing of Osama bin Laden, found that 6 in 10 say it
is time to end the war. Republican voters in the same survey were evenly split at 47 percent in favor and opposed,
a dramatic decline in one of the last remaining bastions of public support for the conflict.
Even before the discovery and demise of bin Laden in Pakistan, the Pentagon and the White House had been
planning to begin at least a symbolic withdrawal of troops from the Afghan mission. There are currently more than
100,000 pairs of boots on the ground, in addition to tens of thousands of private security and support contractors.
The official size of the draw-down slated to begin in July is unknown, but U.S. officials hint at around 5,000 troops.
Exactly which troops will be withdrawn—support personnel versus infantry, for instance—is also not being made
public.
But waning public support isn’t the only issue the Obama administration faces on Afghanistan. The
legal authorization for the war, written just days after the 9/11 attacks, will need to be updated in the wake of
bin Laden’s death. In 2001, Congress granted the Bush administration sweeping authority to wage war. The
Authorization for Use of Military Force allowed the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force against
those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist
attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any
future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
That legislation led to the widespread interception of phone and E-mail traffic by the National Security
Agency; the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay and secret CIA “black site” prisons in
Thailand and Poland; the use of waterboarding during interrogations of at least three suspected militants; and a
campaign of aerial bombardment with unmanned drone aircraft in several nations.
With bin Laden’s mortal remains reportedly resting on the ocean floor, Congress is now debating whether that
legislative language needs mere updating or a large-scale rewrite, reflecting the changed nature of the global war
against al Qaeda and its affiliates, which are now located in countries including Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and
Indonesia. Draft language of a new authorization released Monday by House Armed Services Committee Chairman
Buck McKeon affirms that Washington is still in a state of war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and some liberal groups, say the proposed
authorization is even broader than the 2001 language and, in essence, gives the president unlimited authority
to wage a geographically boundless conflict indefinitely. “If Congress broadly turns over to the president the
power that Article I of the Constitution provides to Congress to declare war, it very likely will never get the
power back,” the ACLU and other groups said in a letter to the president this week. Congress hasn’t formally
declared war since 1942.
The war in the mountains and swamps of Afghanistan is, of course, just as real regardless of the legalese that
underpins it. But with some soldiers heading off to their fourth combat tour, a study released this week by the
Pentagon found that nearly 10 years of battle has taken a profound toll. Morale has plunged dramatically, with a mere
46.5 percent of troops saying last year that their morale was medium or higher, and about one in seven soldiers and
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one in five Marines saying it was high or very high. More than 6,000 service members have been killed in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and some 200,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries as a result of their service.
In addition to the national soul-searching prompted by the killing of bin Laden, the raid exposed serious military
and strategic quandaries that dominate the war against the Taliban. It is believed that elements within the Pakistani
military or security and intelligence services provided support to bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, some
40 miles from Islamabad. U.S. intelligence officials suspect that he lived there for perhaps six years. Similar factions
in Pakistan are also backing the Taliban and its allies in their fight against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and
providing Taliban leaders, like Mullah Omar, and leaders of the Haqqani insurgent network with a safe haven in
Quetta and other cities, according to formerly secret documents released by WikiLeaks. On Wednesday, the U.S. State
Department named Badruddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the network that operates in both Pakistan
and Afghanistan, as a specially designated global terrorist, which likely places him on the list of people the CIA is
authorized to kill or capture.
A key part of the Obama administration’s strategy has been increasing pressure on militant groups through a
campaign of drone strikes. There have been at least 24 drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan this year alone,
reflecting the administration’s penchant for the unconventional tactic of killing militants from the skies, despite
the greater risk of civilian casualties. In all of 2008, the last year George W. Bush was in office, there were only
35 drone attacks. In 2010, there were 117 such attacks, according to the Long War Journal website, which keeps
a running tally of the strikes. Critics of the strategy say that the attacks are increasingly targeting mid- and lowerlevel militants, rather than senior leaders, and that the campaign has not driven the Taliban or any other militant
group to the peace table. Past studies of the drone campaign suggest that as many as one third of all those killed
have been civilians, which has angered the Pakistani public.
Navigating a way out of this geopolitical labyrinth will now fall to a new security team, including CIA
chief Leon Panetta, who will assume command of the Pentagon, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander
in Afghanistan who will head the CIA and its drone campaign, and Ryan Crocker, the new ambassador
to Afghanistan. Crocker was seen as a key diplomat during the surge and gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces
in Iraq. He was also, appropriately, ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007. In 2009, Crocker wrote an
article for Newsweek outlining the differences between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Relentless internal
conflict is not endemic in Iraq. In Afghanistan it is,” he said, adding that the Taliban and al Qaeda had “learned
strategic patience.” For the first time, the debates in Washington are starting to reflect the country’s frustration
with the war in Afghanistan, a development that suggests American patience is fast running out. l
Capital Notions
By Robert Schlesinger
Send in the GOP’s Clowns
Pity Donald Trump. For a brief moment last month, his birther buffoonery powered him to the front of the
Republican pack. What a difference a birth certificate, a death announcement, and serious treatment by the press
makes. Now The Donald looks like one of the celebrity has-beens who gets fired on his television show—or worse,
like a celebrity has-been who doesn’t actually get onto the show at all.
Trump peaked in mid-April when a survey from the Democratic group Public Policy Polling set him as the
frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with 26 percent of the vote. Then reality intruded on Trump’s political
dalliance. The press went from treating him like a celebrity making silly noises about running to treating him
like a genuine would-be candidate, checking out who he contributed to and fact-checking his weird claims. Then
Obama’s long form birth certificate put an end to birtherism while Osama bin Laden’s violent end reminded us
that there are monsters in the real world and that the presidency is for serious people, not reality TV blowhards.
Public Policy Polling’s survey this week has him at 8 percent, in a fifth place tie with Ron Paul. But with
Trump-mentum fading, where can we hope to find entertainment value in the GOP primary field? The answer is,
where can’t you? Donald Trump, entertainer-turned-pol seems sure not to become the second coming of Ronald
Reagan. But neither will the other maybes and might-want-tos.
Take newly minted candidate Newt Gingrich, whose announcement video says we should “look reality in the
face, [and] tell the truth.” The truth and the reality are that Gingrich is an abrasive bomb thrower who resigned
his speakership after his colleagues, and most voters, had enough of him, not the profile swing voters usually latch
onto. His disapproval rating when he left office was 70 percent and was still as high as 38 percent as recently
as last summer. And Gingrich, a self-styled historian, is fighting history. Only once has a former speaker of the
house made the transition to the White House. That, NBC’s Chuck Todd notes, was James Polk in 1844. And not
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since James Garfield in 1880 has a politician achieved the White House having only served in the U.S. House of
Representatives.
Newt is not alone with this problem, of course. Sitting Rep. Michele Bachmann seems happy to conflate her
fanatical Tea Party following with actual broad-based support. But again her lack of experience in winning even
a statewide office in Minnesota makes one wonder whether she’s drinking tea or Kool-Aid. For sheer “what is he
thinking” chutzpah, however, it’s hard to beat Rick Santorum, whose last act in American politics ended when the
voters of his home state of Pennsylvania fired him from the U.S. Senate. I can think of one modern politician who
won the White House after losing his last previous election, and Richard Nixon is not a figure whose mantel many
GOPers lay claim to these days.
Sure Newt, Bachmann, Santorum, and, once again, Trump, are members of the GOP presidential B Team, but
is the A Team much more impressive? You can make an argument for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee,
if he gets in, that he has the personal warmth necessary to be competitive, but he is also an explicit religiously
focused conservative of the sort that often turns off swing voters. The best that can be said of Tim Pawlenty, the
former governor of Minnesota, is that he is inoffensive (read: bland), while the worst that can be said of 2008 vice
presidential candidate Sarah Palin is that she’s . . . Sarah Palin.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commented this week that “the chances [of his beating Obama] would actually
be quite good.” Apparently channeling some Trump-ian bombast, he added that, “The quality and the number
of people who have said they’d like to be associated is really quite awesome to me.” Also awesome is the idea of
someone running as a gimlet-eyed spending hawk whose previous job before governor was as George W. Bush’s
budget chief. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “By themselves, in fact, the Bush tax cuts and
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt that, under current
policies, the nation will owe by 2019.”
Then there’s Mitt Romney, who yesterday made his highest profile attempt to explain why the healthcare law
he passed while governor of Massachusetts, with an individual mandate, is good, but the national-level version
of it, signed by Barack Obama, is bad. Romney’s dilemma: He can’t embrace the individual mandate because
conservatives don’t like it any more at the state level than they do at the federal one. But he also can’t repudiate
it lest he feed the political chameleon image that led the Democratic National Committee this week to tout “Mitt
Romney, Version 5.0.”
The most damning illustration of the state of the GOP field may have come this week in a Politico report
noting that virtually the only issue the contenders agree on is that “Sharia law is a continuing threat to the United
States.”
One can’t help but look forward to the GOP nominee explaining that urgent threat in a general election debate
while standing next to the president who got bin Laden. l
Can the GOP beat Obama in 2012? Weigh in at [email protected]
The Washington Book Club
The Wars in Hindsight
By Alex Kingsbury
Donald Rumsfeld was one of the most controversial secretaries of defense in recent memory. He was at the helm
of the nation’s military through the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the hunt for al Qaeda, and
the uncertainty following 9/11. Before the killing of Osama bin Laden, he spoke to U.S. News about his new
autobiography, Known and Unknown. After bin Laden’s death, he spoke again about the impact on foreign
policy. Excerpts:
You oversaw a period of time in the Pentagon where many women were placed in combat, despite the laws. Do you have
thoughts on the culture shift?
Congress has acted in the area of women in combat and there are formal restrictions, which are fashioned for
conventional conflicts. So, when you have an unconventional conflict, there are no clear front lines. In [Iraq
and Afghanistan], this meant support and logistics soldiers in combat. You had women involved in combat and
getting wounded.
What do you think about the changes to “don’t ask, don’t tell”?
It’s an idea whose time has come. As a government, we need to listen to the senior leaders of the ground units. I
think that [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and his senior leadership are paying attention and moving forward
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in the best way for everybody.
What will history say about gays and women in the military?
As time goes on, people get more comfortable with these things. Think about segregation in the military. That’s
not even an issue today. We’ve got a society that’s diverse, we recruit from a diverse society, and we have a diverse
armed forces. That’s a good thing.
What would you have done differently?
I’ve written about it in the book. There are any number of things that, with the benefit of hindsight, you’re
able to re-evaluate. But the reality is that wars are uncertain things. They are terrible things. They are a failure
of foreign policy and they are to be avoided. But once you’re in them, the thinking that went into them by the
National Security Council and the president, the senior military people, the planning, the thought, tends to go by
the board after the first contact with the enemy. I’ve written about a whole series of things that might have been
done differently.
In Libya and Syria, do you see echoes of “rollback” from the Cold War?
It’s a good question. To think back to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, where Voice of America encouraged it
and we were not helpful in any way—that’s not helpful. After the first Gulf war, the Iraqis were encouraged to rise
up and were killed when we didn’t do anything. If the leader survives those uprisings, there’s a signal to his own
people that he’s immortal and untouchable and that they shouldn’t rise up. If you look at Libya today, from any
position on the political spectrum, where you think it’s going to end up is going to affect how much you support
what’s being done. If you are a colonel in the Libyan army and don’t like Qadhafi, but see that there’s ambivalence
in Washington about the end state, then they are much less likely to defect. Across the spectrum, people behave
rationally. The same thing is true in Syria. If the Syrians had a sense that the rest of the world was united in its
opposition to the Assad regime, then they might get an outpouring against him.
Are you optimistic about the upheaval in the Mideast?
You have to be hopeful, but you have to be realistic. Large, young, unemployed populations don’t contribute to
a stable society. Then they have technologies where they can communicate with each other and people in other
countries and see what their situation is. They don’t have the opportunities that other people have, and for
years they couldn’t see it. Now, they can see it and it’s not surprising that they want better circumstances for
themselves.
Do the circumstances of Osama bin Laden’s death change any of your thinking about your conduct of the war on terrorism?
No. This masterful operation executed by Navy SEALs and CIA operatives shows the unquestionable importance
of improving U.S. intelligence capabilities, increasing the numbers, funding, and authorities of our special
operators, emphasizing joint operations, cultivating close linkages between DoD and CIA, and stressing the value
of a culture that allows for risk-taking and flexibility. These are all things President Bush and I worked like the
dickens to get accomplished after 9/11. I’m delighted to see President Obama and Secretary Gates embrace them
as well.
Does the killing of bin Laden force a re-evaluation of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as it pertains to our effort in Afghanistan?
Bin Laden’s capture and his apparent geographical proximity to the Pakistani state institutions certainly raise
legitimate questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against al Qaeda. It’s possible that members of
[Pakistan’s intelligence agency] or military knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts. It’s also possible they didn’t
know. While we should be pressing Pakistan with the tough questions, we should also be mindful that if relations
sour with a nation that provides us important assistance in the war on terror and supplies coalition forces in
Afghanistan and that has a considerable arsenal of nuclear weapons, things are not likely to get better. We do not
want Pakistan to become a failed state. l.
What do you think of Rumsfeld’s leadership? Weigh in at [email protected]
Blog Buzz
Recent chatter from the Thomas Jefferson Street bloggers, who weigh in on current events at usnews.com
Time for Obama to Offer an Economic Plan
By Peter Roff
The Republicans have been walking their talk. With the vote to abolish Obamacare, their effort to wring
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additional savings out of this year’s federal spending, their successful drive to block an increase in the federal
income tax, and the Ryan budget, they have shown they are serious about addressing the nation’s economic
problems. But the White House expects that John Boehner can be maneuvered into a position where he is
negotiating with himself while they stand pat and do nothing. It won’t fly. It’s time for the president to either lead
by putting his own plan on the table, follow, or just plain get out of the way.
Bring Home the Troops
By Leslie Marshall
The president had promised to begin reducing troop levels in July, and I believe that he not only will, but he
should. Reports show that our troops suffer lower morale now than in the past five years in Afghanistan. There
are soldiers that have done three or more tours of duty in Afghanistan; the wear and tear is beginning to show. So
it’s time to say, “won’t you come home Bill Bailey, won’t you come home” to our troops in Afghanistan once and
for all.
Cheering Up the World
By Jamie Stiehm
The 21st century was looking like a flop so far—a Broadway show gone dark. But then came a massive morale
boost for Americans and the world in the 11th year of the century. (Not a moment too soon.) Yes, there was a
single weekend that changed our outlook on the world. A perfect storm graced us after a terrible storm down
South tore parts of Tuscaloosa loose. Nothing like a royal wedding and the capture and death of Osama bin Laden
to “bring the spring.”
Governors Don’t Make the Best Presidential Candidates
By Scott Galupo
There’s no inherent reason why service in Congress is inferior to that in a governor’s mansion. A president who
is on intimate terms with the peculiarities of the federal budget and how it’s funded is well-positioned to shape
those budgets, for better or worse, in the future. (How many freshman House members knew what a “CR” was
before this year?) More importantly, the oft-claimed talent that governors supposedly have for balancing budgets
is, more often than not, a rank sham. Governors and state legislators are no more apt to make “hard choices” than
supposedly spendthrift Washington politicos.
More wit and insight from Thomas Jefferson Street are at www.usnews.com/opinion.
[email protected]
To Release or Not to Release
Yes, we should see the most graphic photos of Osama bin Laden (“Editor’s Note,” May 6) and any family
members. We saw the graphic photos of New York and the aftermath. I wonder if there are any photos of bin
Laden being hit with shoes before he was slid into the sea. If so, show them also. –Gerald Gibson Spring, Texas
It seemed to me Obama was a little high-handed in denying our right to see the photo of the dead terrorism
leader. It isn’t a matter of trotting it out as a trophy. It’s news, and we shouldn’t be denied our right to see it. Also,
it would help stop the conspiracy theories that he’s not actually dead. –Jacqueline Johnson Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Every night on TV the American people and their children can, and do, view photos of blown-up, shot,
maimed, and crushed human bodies on several versions of the popular CSI TV shows. Those shows even show
autopsies (staged to look very real) in detail that are amazing. Showing bin Laden’s shot-up body would be like
watching evening TV. What is the big deal? And, this idea that it might “inflame” extreme Muslims or other
people that don’t like the United States is a bunch of baloney. Those that don’t like us and want to do us harm
already do. The American people and the world need to be shown what happens to terrorists, no holds barred.
–Ralph Edmondson Ocala, Fla.
President Obama says he is dead. Al Qaeda confirms that he is dead. I, for one, do not need photographic
evidence. Can the photo be a warning and put fear of the United States into the heart of a radical extremist? Have
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they not been witness to terror and bloodshed and hate all of their lives? They are immune to the effects of blood
and gore. They have no fear, and they have no conscience. Americans, on the other hand, cannot seem to get
enough of graphic violence in their lives and see it as entertainment. From movies, video games, and other media,
our morbid curiosity goes unsatisfied. If we had to witness bloodshed in our own lives on a nearly daily basis,
photographic evidence may not be such a big deal to us either. –Donna Hutcheson Colorado Springs, Colo.
The pictures of bin Laden should absolutely not be shown. The mission is over. The pictures would only
be used as propaganda, and the press will continue to rehash and dissect the raid. Some people will never be
satisfied no matter what you do. A heinous terrorist has been eliminated. That is all the world needs to know.
–Barbara Geistwhite Carlisle, Pa.
Giving Aid to Pakistan
Yes, we must keep the lines to Pakistan open. (“Bin Laden’s Death Shakes Alliance,” May 6) Pakistan is an ally
in a very hostile part of the world. The relationship is far from perfect, but while love is blind, friends try to not
notice. –David Whitten Auburn, Ala.
Editor’s Note
By Brian Kelly
It’s time to get back to the federal budget. Not that anyone wants to, but there really is no choice. The debt ceiling
deadline of August 2 has at least the potential of forcing the president and Congress to deal with the massive
deficit. But how? A dark-horse solution could come in the revival of the Simpson-Bowles plan, the presidential
commission that the president ignored. The plan spread the pain and totaled $4 trillion in cuts and revenue
increases over 10 years. Now the Senate’s “Gang of Six” is trying to turn it into a bill and pass it. Is this the way
to go? A remaking of the government in a furious legislative push? Sometimes it’s how these things get done.
Is there a better alternative? Please share your thoughts on the latest turns in the budget battle at [email protected]
News You Can Use: Travel
The Best Summer Vacations
Still looking for that perfect place? Try kicking back in one of these 12 cities
For many people, an almost primal urge to travel peaks right when summer rolls around. It no doubt harkens
back to the end of the elementary school year, the season most associate with free time and vacation. Of course,
the ideal trip is in the eye of the traveler. That’s why U.S. News’s list of the Best Summer Vacations includes a few
ideas for everyone—from tourist to beach bum to adventurer.
Our Travel channel experts (travel.usnews.com)shied away from the cliché summer trips and instead picked
destinations that give vacationers something different. And as with all of our Best Vacations lists, the selections
and rankings reflect a consensus from user reviews, expert opinions, and the feedback of U.S. News Travel website
users. Here are the twelve best spots to vacation this summer:
1. San Francisco
The City by the Bay is nice to visit in any season, thanks to comfortable temperatures and a fun-loving
atmosphere. Tours of Alcatraz prison or San Francisco Bay cruises can be fun for all ages, as are baseball games at
the AT&T Park where the San Francisco Giants play.
2. Mykonos
If you’re looking to add some pizzazz to your beach vacation, consider a trek to this little island in the
Mediterranean. Mykonos’ party-like atmosphere goes into high gear for the summer with beach bashes at
Paradise and Psarou beaches.
3. Nice
U.S. News Travel users have voted Nice the place to soak up the summer sun in the lap of luxury. Perched on
France’s pebbly southeast coast and facing the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is a see-and-be-seen location filled with
fragrant markets, fashionable storefronts, and delectable fine dining.
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4. Maui
In any season, Maui is a go-to island for soft, kaleidoscope sand and equally colorful sunsets. But during the
summer, skip the over-publicized Old Lahaina Luau in favor of June’s Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. Or use your
morning beach runs as training for late-summer’s Maui Marathon.
5. Paris
It is the City of Lights and the City of Love, but it’s also just a great place to take a vacation anytime. You might
want to plan your visit this July in time to witness the 98th Tour de France.
6. Los Angeles
“This city is the real deal,” says Jeff Levy, the publisher of Where magazines and a Los Angeles resident. “You
can start your morning on a beach in Malibu, and then hike in the mountains in the afternoon.” In summer
specifically, he suggests heading to the Hollywood Bowl, where there’s a live performance nearly every night from
July to September.
7. Montreal
Now that its chilly winter breezes have passed, Montreal makes a great alternative for travelers that are reluctant
to try a transatlantic flight. Like Paris, Montreal’s summertime schedule caters to both sports fanatics and artistic
types.
8. Seattle
Seattle doesn’t rain all the time. In fact, the managing editor of Seattle magazine (and life-long city resident)
Kristen Russell can attest to a glorious climate. “We have the kind of summer weather that other cities wish they
had,” she says. “It’s not as rainy and it’s rarely ever hot. You can go out and play without [dealing with] oppressive
heat.”
9. Aruba
Much of the Caribbean is stormy during the summer season, but Aruba lies safely outside the hurricane belt. And
as an alternative to the pristine beaches, the Aruba Wine, Food & Art Festival takes place at the start of June at
the Westin Resort & Casino of Palm Beach.
10. Munich
Explore the medieval palaces and renaissance churches of this German city. Or do as the locals do and head to one
of the biergartens. Sitting under a chestnut tree on the terrace of one of the city’s largest, Augustiner-Keller, is a
popular pastime for many.
11. West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach is often overlooked in favor of Miami or Key West. But that just means this city is all the better
for catching a few zzz’s on the beach. And once the sun goes down, dust the sand off and discover this city’s love
for live music.
12. Las Vegas
Lots of places in summer have great swimming pools. But only Las Vegas has pools with swim-up black-jack
tables (like you’ll find at the Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and casino). And the Freemont Street Experience hosts a
free concert series all summer to help visitors get acquainted with Vegas’ musical side.
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