The 14-year-old boy in me is extremely excited about the tantalizing possibility that CIA director David Petraeus, the most talented general of his generation and one of the few broadly respected figures in American political life, is being mooted as a potential veep pick for Mitt Romney. Picking Petraeus would inject some real excitement into a race that has turned into the second coming of Clinton-Dole: a real snoozefest. It would instantly transform the 2012 election from a race over taxes, jobs, and health care (boring!) into one about the good stuff: foreign policy and national security.
But the grownup in me realizes that this a pundit's fantasy, not to mention a diversion of dubious provenance (I mean, come on -- are we supposed to believe Obama bundlers go around whispering sweet nothings in Matt Drudge's ear?). So here are five reasons why -- sorry, Bill Kristol -- it ain't gonna happen. (See also Chris Cillizza's convincing debunker.)
1. Petraeus doesn't want the job
How many times has David Petraeus disavowed holding any political ambitions? Here he is in March 2010: "I thought I'd said 'no' about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no ... I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you." Here he is in August 2012 in an exchange on Meet the Press:
PETRAEUS: Well, I am not a politician, and I will never be, and I say that with absolute conviction.
GREGORY: Well, that's what he said. But does that mean that you're totally clear? That you'd never run for President?
PETRAEUS: Yeah, I really am. You know, and I've said that I'll adopt what Sherman said and go back and look at what has come to be known as a Shermanesque answer on that particular question.
GREGORY: No way, no how?
PETRAEUS: No way, no how.
Of course, political figures go back on their word all the time. But as Petraeus himself has pointed out, it wouldn't be very auspicious for his first political act to be a flip-flop.
Not yet convinced? NBC's Andrea Mitchell tweeted earlier today: "sources close to Gen David Petraeus laugh off Drudge report he is a Romney veep possible - #notgonnahappen."
2. He's head of the CIA, for Pete's sake
Why would Petraeus want to leave his post as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, still one of the top jobs in Washington even after the post-9/11 "reforms," to be Mitt Romney's pilot fish? The vice presidency is still, even in the wake of powerful veeps like Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, a dog's breakfast. Or, as America's first No. 2, John Adams, once put it, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." (Or, if you prefer, "not worth a pitcher of warm piss," in the immortal words of FDR's otherwise unmemorable veep John Nance Garner.) Even if you see Petraeus as an ambitious climber always looking for the next branch, the vice presidency would be a step down, not a step up. In any case, he'd probably rather run the Pentagon.
3. Petraeus doesn't do domestic policy
Like Condi Rice, Petraeus doesn't do domestic issues. And if anything, he's got even less of a paper trail on things like education, where at least Rice showed some private interest. Can you imagine Petraeus weighing in on heated debates about abortion or tax policy? Me neither. Domestic issues may bore people like you and me, dear FP reader, but they are full of pitfalls for amateurs who aren't fully schooled in constituent politics. In any case, if Romney is clear about anything, it's that this election will be about jobs and the economy. And I don't think Petraeus's strong record of creating jobs for drone manufacturers is going to cut it.
4. Romney doesn't think outside the box
Even if you ignore the fact that Petraeus wouldn't take the job, would Romney even offer it to him? That's highly doubtful. The Romney campaign is all about avoiding John McCain's mistakes -- and one of those mistakes was thinking outside the box to choose Sarah Palin, then the little-known governor of Alaska. And we know how that worked out. No wonder Team Romney is thought to be in the hunt for an "incredibly boring white guy." The former Massachusetts governor is not known for flights of fancy -- one associate told New York magazine that Romney "never took big risks" as a business executive. As a politician, he's been even more cautious.
5. The White House categorically denied it
In his item, Drudge attributed the speculation that Romney might tap Petraeus to none other than POTUS himself. "President Obama whispered to a top fundraiser this week that he believes GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney wants to name Gen. David Petraeus to the VP slot!" he wrote.
But in Tuesday's press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney left no room for interpretation as to whether Obama had said such a thing. "I can say with absolute confidence that such an assertion [has] never been uttered by the president," Carney said, adding a swipe at Drudge for good measure. "And again, be mindful of your sources."
One usually has to parse White House statements for ye olde non-denial denial, but that's pretty categorical.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
It turns out that when you threaten to kill someone when making a job offer, it's difficult to guarantee their loyalty. Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab announced his defection from the regime Monday and vowed to support the opposition. He probably never wanted the gig in the first place: As the Associated Press reports, "Assad offered him the post and an ultimatum: Take the job or die."
Thuggish threats seem like the former opthamologist's preferred leadership style. One Sunni businessman, an opposition supporter close to the regime's inner circle, told me last year that Bashar has "anger-management issues." Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, in 2005 relayed Assad's threat to "break Lebanon" if the world tried to force the Syrian military to stop occupying its neighbor.
The International Crisis Group's latest report on Syria also contains this anecdote:
On 8 May, Bashar met with over twenty leading Sunni businessmen from the capital. He said that he had heard that some of them were supporting the revolution. He said that, if it was true, he was willing to do to [the historical commercial hubs of] Hamidiya and Madhat Pasha what he had done to Baba Amro. He wanted them to know that this would pose him no problem whatsoever.
Somewhere in Damascus, there is surely a lamppost with Bashar's name on it.
It pains me that I even need to explain this to some smart people who should know better -- I'm looking at you, Tyler Cowen -- but here are 5 reasons why Mitt Romney is not going to pick Condoleezza Rice as his running mate, no matter what Matt Drudge would have us believe. As Red State's Eric Erickson colorfully put it, "I don’t know who is hitting the crack rock tonight in the rumor mill, but bull shiitake mushrooms."
1. She's pro-choice. Among the many things conservatives dislike about Mitt Romney is the fact that he once espoused pro-choice views. He needs them to donate money and knock on doors and turn out on election day, so he's unlikely to do something so clearly guaranteed to alienate ye olde base. And this is to say nothing of the fact that the right has plenty of other reasons not to like her, from her torture fights with the Dick Cheney wing of the Bush administration to the fact that she has never married.
2. She's not interested. How many times has Condi Rice explained that she's just not that into politics? These are not the usual protestations of not being enamored of the veep job in particular; they are blanket denunciations of the very concept of being a politician. Condi doesn't want to kiss babies; she doesn't want to shake hands; she doesn't want to dial for dollars; she doesn't want to eat rubber chicken every night; she doesn't want to be Mitt's attack dog. When she says she'd rather be commissioner of the NFL, she means it.
3. She has no experience. Condi served as a not-so-great national security advisor and a pretty good secretary of state. She's generally a well-liked and well-respected public figure, and she's been smart about distancing herself from George W. Bush. But she has no record -- none -- of being interested in the big domestic policy issues like health care, jobs, entitlement reform, education, and so on. To foreign-policy wonks, these are deadly dull subject, and commenting on them is fraught with real pitfalls. Remember when Wesley Clark, a retired general, tried to talk about domestic policy? Yeah. And what's he doing now? Running a game show on NBC.
Romney, although he's a former governor, still comes across as a n00b when he talks policy. He'll want someone well versed in the ins and outs of Medicare, Social Security, and tax reform. That's not Condi.
4. She's being floated as a distraction. You don't have to be a political genius to recognize misdirection when you see it. Romney was having a tough news cycle yesterday, fueled by the Boston Globe's reporting that the candidate had spent longer as the official head of Bain than his campaign claims -- a tar-baby of a story that gets more difficult to explain the more you try.
Hey look, media, over there! Veep rumors! Condi's the perfect kind of story to get the chattering classes going -- an out-of-the-box pick that shows how tolerant and moderate Romney is. An elegant distraction, however transparent. And it seems to have worked.
5. Her name was leaked. The very fact that her name was given to Drudge -- assuming that actually happened -- suggests that she's expendable and therefore not a serious contender. Wake me up when we get a lot closer to the convention.
Now that Turkey has confirmed that one of its fighter jets was shot down Friday by Syria, I'd like to share this brilliant gem from a now-defunct blog called Syria Exposed, written in the Céline-like voice of a disgruntled former soldier in the Syrian army nicknamed "Karfan" -- which means "disgusted" in Arabic.
Here's a classic bit from 2006 about Karfan's experience working to protect the homeland from the Israeli air force:
Back when Karfan was forced to serve his country and waste two years of his already-useless life in the army, he was assigned to a radar unit in Lebanon. That was because his degree was in electronic engineering and all, although he himself did not have the slightest idea what did he study during those years he spent at university. Regardless of that fact, service at a radar station was both the most useless and most dangerous service in the Syrian Army. They were not allowed to ever turn on those junk backward radars the Russians had bullied Syria into buying. If they operate them, the Israelis would detect their location, send missiles and blow the whole thing up. You cannot think of any more useless way to spend a year and a half of your life: you have to sit inside a dead piece of junk that is supposed to detect enemy's airlines, but you cannot turn it on because if you do, it would be blown away, with you in it of course. The biggest fear was that one asshole up in the upper command, might actually take the risk and order them to turn the radars on one of those days. Every one there knew what would happen then; they code named it: The Suicide Order.
The rest of the post is great, too. Karfan, where are you now?
It looks like a deal has been reached for blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng. This just in:
STATEMENT BY VICTORIA NULAND, SPOKESPRSON
The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.
The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.
This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has been on a tear lately: breaking news on the files found in Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad safe house, revealing details of the backchannel negotiations between Erdogan and Ayatollah Khamenei, and now, channeling the Obama administration's negotiating strategy toward Iran.
At a time when Thomas Friedman is writing his 35th column complaining about the state of America's train system and urging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to launch a third-party bid for the presidency, Ignatius is far and away America's must-read columnist right now. Iggy has always been known for his top-notch sources, especially in the intelligence community, but his columns seem especially well-sourced of late -- it's almost as if he has a weekly lunch with Tom Donilon or something.
Let's take a look at his latest. Ignatius says that "the smart money in Tehran is betting on a deal" -- picking up on a rise in the Iranian stock market to argue that a nuclear agreement is in the offing. "So far," he writes, "Iran is following the script for a gradual, face-saving exit from a nuclear program that even Russia and China have signaled is too dangerous. The Iranians will bargain up to the edge of the cliff, but they don’t seem eager to jump." According to Ignatius, under this deal, "Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, for use in medical isotopes."
In exchange, Iran would get ... nothing, at least right away. Ignatius suggests that the Europeans would agree to delay implementing their oil embargo, set to take effect July 1, and the Americans would delay their own fresh round of sanctions due to be implemented in late June.
Frankly, I don't see how this can work. There do seem to be signs that Khamenei is laying the political groundwork for a deal, for instance by bringing his pragmatic former president, Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, back into his good graces. But any deal that doesn't visibly benefit Iran -- rather than merely preventing future harm -- will inevitably be viciously attacked within the country's fragmented political system. And I suspect, given his past behavior, that the supreme leader will stick his finger in the air before staking out a clear public position.
It seems equally unlikely that President Obama will risk handing an electoral issue to his rival Mitt Romney by making any real concessions to Tehran. Americans may not be eager to fire up the B-52s -- and the Pentagon certainly isn't -- but they don't want to see their president look weak. And even if Obama did cut a deal, Republicans and pro-Israel groups would likely make a lot of noise, and might even be able to derail it.
Then there's Israel, which has set the bar extremely high for these negotiations, insisting among other things that Iran shut down its Fordow enrichment plant -- the one it spent years building in secrecy and burying 200 meters beneath a mountain outside the city of Qom at a cost of millions of dollars. Indeed, everything the Obama administration agrees to apparently has to be vetted with the Israelis, who have completely unrealistic notions about what Iran is willing to accept.
Moreover, the intricately choreographed arrangements of the type Ignatius suggests seem hard to imagine given the deep levels of distrust between the two sides. It beggars belief to think that two countries whose diplomats will barely even sit in a room with one another can work out "confidence-building measures" that will survive the political maelstrom news of a deal would unleash. We are not anywhere close to a Nixon going to China moment, in any sense of that hackneyed historical analogy.
What will most likely happen, as Time's Tony Karon lays out here, is that the can gets kicked further down the road: Talks will proceed for the sake of talks, and a decision about whether to bomb will be deferred until at least November (unless Iran crosses a red line like installing next-generation centrifuges at Fordow).
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that if you want to know what the Obama administration is thinking, read David Ignatius. But don't expect to be optimistic once you do.
On its Military and Defense page, the popular news site Business Insider is featuring two stories today by one F. Michael Maloof, who is blurbed as a "staff writer for WND's G2Bulletin, and a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense."
Story No. 1: Citing Russian sources, the headline claims that "Russia Is Massing Troops On Iran's Northern Border And Waiting For A Western Attack." The story goes on to say that "The Russian military anticipates that an attack will occur on Iran by the summer and has developed an action plan to move Russian troops through neighboring Georgia to stage in Armenia, which borders on the Islamic republic, according to informed Russian sources."
The news "comes from a series of reports and leaks from official Russian spokesmen and government news agencies who say that an Israeli attack is all but certain by the summer," Maloof continues. "[S]ources say that Russian preparations for such an attack began two years ago."
Story No. 2 alleges that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is basically in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran and is seeking a strategic alignment with the ayatollahs in Tehran. "For years," Maloof writes, "Shi'ite Iran has been a major financial supporter of the Sunni Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and quietly worked for some two years with the group to oust Washington-backed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year." He goes on to claim that "Analysts say that Iran's Shi'ite form of Islam has more appeal among Egyptian Sunnis than among Sunnis in other Arab countries." I've not seen any credible analysts make either claim before -- and it's worth noting that the Egyptian media is rife with anti-Shia invective these days.
This is the kind of questionable reporting you normally see on conspiracy-theory websites, not an ostensibly respectable outlet like Business Insider.
Who is F. Michael Maloof? Careful followers of the Iraq war's aftermath may remember that he, along with fellow analyst David Wurmser, was tasked by Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith after 9/11 with finding links between Iraq and al Qaeda. "Saddam used al-Qaeda as an indirect conduit because he needed plausible deniability," Maloof later said -- a claim that was hotly disputed within the U.S. intelligence community at the time and widely discredited after the invasion, including in a 2004 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Maloof's security clearance was revoked, though his allies continued to defend his work. ("The Wurmser-Maloof work was professional: carefully researched, organized, and well presented," Feith wrote in his memoir.)
And what is G2Bulletin? According to its website, "Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin is your independent, online intelligence resource edited and published by the veteran newsman and founder of WorldNetDaily.com. Each week he taps his vast network of international intelligence sources to bring you credible insights into geo-political and geo-strategic developments."
Yes, that WorldNetDaily, one of the main "birther" websites promoting the false idea that President Obama was not born in the United States.
My question is: Why Is Business Insider publishing this stuff?
For Iran watchers, the week or so leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington has been a busy one.
First, on Friday, the latest International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards report came out on Iran's nuclear program, conveniently giving fodder for all sides of the bomb-Iran debate. The IAEA report, as an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security describes, shows that Iran is expanding its uranium enrichment program, including in its deeply buried Fordow plant, but having trouble with next-generation centrifuge technology that could make its breakout to a nuclear weapon much faster. (See also the New York Times, which concludes, "The report is likely to inflame the debate over whether Iran is nearing what Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, calls entering a 'zone of immunity.'")
Also on Friday, the Times reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have not changed their view that "there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb." The Los Angeles Times ran a similar story a day earlier. (In his Friday sermon, Iran's supreme leader seemed to confirm this assessment, calling nuclear weapons a "sin.")
Then, on Monday, both the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press reported on the tense negotiations between Israel and the United States over what to do about all this. The Israelis are apparently "fuming" that Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly warned against an Israeli strike on Iran's facilities. Last week's visit to Israel by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon reportedly did not go well precisely for this reason. ("We made it clear to Donilon that all those statements and briefings only served the Iranians," one Israeli official told Haaretz, a comment sure to infuriate the White House.)
The Israelis do not plan to tell their American counterparts if they do decide to attack Iran, the AP's Kimberly Dozier reported, a move a U.S. intelligence official interpreted for her as Israel wanting to give the United States plausible deniability in the event of a strike. But another way to look at it is as one more sign that Israel and the United States simply do not trust one another.
The key issue under discussion is what the appropriate "red lines" are -- Iranian actions that would trigger a military response by Israel or the United States. For Israel, the bar is lower, but nebulous: Defense Minister Ehud Barak talks about Iran soon entering a "zone of immunity" that will make an attack impossible. For the United States, the big no-no is weaponization. The Israelis believe that waiting until Iran decides to build a weapon is too late, but it's not clear they have the capability to take out Iran's nuclear sites (read: Ferdow) on their own.
The Journal suggests that Obama is coming Netanyahu's way on this, but a story in today's Los Angeles Times says the opposite. Clearly there's a policy fight going on behind the scenes, and the president's recent claims that he and Bibi are on the same page can't be taken seriously. Haaretz reports tonight that "Netanyahu wants Obama to state unequivocally that the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain 'red lines,'" and that the distrust between the two men only seems to be deepening. Each leader feels the other is meddling in his country's domestic politics -- Obama by seeking to turn Israeli public opinion against a strike (example), and Netanyahu by working with Republicans to attack the president as soft on Iran.
The million-dollar question is whether all this drama is really about establishing a credible threat to get the Iranians to capitulate (while terrifying European and Asian countries into boycotting Iranian oil), or whether Israel is indeed serious about attacking if the sanctions don't work, and is earnestly seeking U.S. buy-in.
I have some sympathy for the view that, by publicly warning against strikes, the Obama administration is undercutting Israel's deterrent. Bluster aside, Iran has shown a tendency to back down when frightened, as in 2003 when it is thought to have shuttered its nuclear weapons program, and more recently when it toned down its tough talk about blocking the Strait of Hormuz.
But threats have consequences, too. U.S. officials haven't clearly articulated why they believe all this war talk is unhelpful, but I suspect two reasons. One is the rising cost of gasoline, perhaps the issue that terrifies the political side of the White House most heading into November. Tensions over Iran are already adding about $10 per barrel to the price of oil, some analysts say, threatening to choke off America's nascent economic recovery and make Obama a one-term president.
But the more serious issue is that if you make such a threat, you actually may need to carry it out someday. Is that something Barack Obama, a man who has staked his presidency on winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wants above all to do "nation-building at home," is prepared to do? He's already committed to preventing Iran from getting the bomb, taking containment off the table. He's shown little inclination for taking the big political risk of putting some sort of "grand bargain" on the table. But if sanctions don't bring Iran around -- and there's no sign yet that they will -- and sabotage and asking nicely don't do the job, what then?
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