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Posted at 1:17 PM ET, 12/31/2010

Recess appointments send mixed messages

By Jennifer Rubin

Obama, by making six recess appointments, may be trying to reassure his liberal base that he will use the full range of executive powers to control the agenda next year. But in doing so, he has messed up his meta-message of bipartisan cooperation and called into question whether his foreign and national security policies are becoming any more sensible.

Let's take James Cole, the new number-two man in the Justice Department. As Bill Kristol observes in recalling Cole's own writing asserting that going after terrorists is like chasing drug dealers:

Now we have someone unambiguously dedicated to a criminal law understanding of the war on terror, the [Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, issued on September 14, 2001] notwithstanding, as deputy attorney general of the United States--without having been confirmed by the Senate. Surely congressional committees have a duty to call him before them to clarify his views. Does Cole think as deputy attorney general he is simply "a prosecutor fighting crime," or does he accept his responsibilities as part of the national security team carrying out policies authorized by the AUMF? If so, does he withdraw his criticism of Attorney General Ashcroft? And has he made his new understanding clear to the attorney general, and the president?

But what of the seeming movement by the Obama administration away from the ACLU-version of anti-terror policy (e.g. forget closing Guantanamo, defend indefinite detention, pull the plug on public trials for 9/11 terrorists)? Is he serious about moderating his views, or is Cole to be the real face and force behind a Justice Department that has been staffed with left-leaning attorneys hostile toward the prior administration?

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton (who is considering a 2012 presidential run) emails me, "It is outrageous that, after two years, President Obama is appointing someone who equates Islamicist terrorism with drug trafficking. Unless and until the President rejects his professorial worship of the law enforcement paradigm and accepts that we are in a new kind of war, America will be vulnerable." It was this sort of criticism that the Obama team had, we thought, sought to tamp down on by adopting a less ideologically-driven approach to the war on Islamic terrorism.

A smart conservative colleague mused yesterday that perhaps Cole was a sort of legacy candidate, a leftover nominee who predates the midterms and whom Obama wasn't going to abandon. That's quite likely the case, but if so, it reveals how paper thin Obama's move to the center is. If other considerations intervene -- a grouchy base, for example -- we see that out the window go comity and moderation.

A former Justice Department official also notes that Cole and Holder are former colleagues and close friends. The official wonders if "he may be just a yes-man rather than someone willing to give warranted but unwanted advice." Considering Holder's record in making ill-advised decisions that were later reversed (e.g., advising the White House it had no choice but to release the detainee abuse photos, proposing the trial of 9-11 mastermind KSM without consulting New York City elected leaders) this does not bode well for more vigorous vetting of Holder's proposals.

Likewise, the nomination of Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. as ambassador to Turkey flies in the face of the Obama team's belated effort to show devotion to democracy promotion and human rights. In this 2006 interview Ricciardone falls over himself excusing the backsliding of the Mubarak government on human rights. The imprisonment of editor Ayman Nour, for example, he passes off as inconsequential. ("The truth in Egypt is larger than one case.")

Even more noxious, in an interview a couple of months later he dismissed the epidemic discrimination of Coptic Christians. ("Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.")

His unctuous comments praising Egyptian "democracy" at the time Mubarak was backsliding and still wielding "emergency law" powers became infamous in the human rights community, as did his slobbering over the autocratic leader of Egypt. (He proclaimed: "President Mubarak is loved in the U.S., and we always welcome him and appreciate his advice and benefit from it. He is a figure of historic importance on the global arena, and for the U.S.")

Is that the sort of excuse-mongering we are expected to hear from him with regard to the Erdogan government? Are we soon to hear that he too is "beloved" in the U.S. and that Turkey is a model of free discourse?

The trouble with Obama's appointments, aside from the disturbing policies they embrace, is that they reveal his rhetorical poses as just that -- poses. If you want to know where policy is heading, look at the personnel. From Cole and Ricciardone we should expect more of the same on Obama's not-Bush war against Islamic terror and on his preference for despotic leaders over human-rights activists. So much for moderation, eh?

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 31, 2010; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Obama White House  
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Bill Kristol and John Bolton, more armchair warriors! Is there no end to the Republican supply?

Posted by: 54465446 | December 31, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why Obama making recess appointments is so terrible, but Bush's recess appointments are okay.

Is there no intellectual integrity in discussing politics?

Posted by: Amminadab | December 31, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"Bill Kristol and John Bolton, more armchair warriors! Is there no end to the Republican supply?"

It seems that the principle behind the brain-dead "hypocrite chickenhawks" argument (or epithet) is that only active and retired members of the armed forces are permitted to opine on foreign affairs. To be really principled, we would have to say only those who have actually seen combat. Naturally, only those who have seen combat would be eligible for the Presidency, a position which requires making decisions on the use of armed force, and we would have to amend the Constitution accordingly. But, then again, Congress is empowered to declare war, so how could those who haven't been in combat participate in such deliberations?

But the Leftists wouldn't allow for such a principle even when it comes to a minor decision like gays in the military. How's that for hypocrisy?

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin reminds me of the legendary Spanish space program of the Franco era--we pile a priest on top of a general on top of a priest--except she piles Bill Kristol on top of John Bolton on top of John Yoo. I suppose Krauthammer or Elliot Abrams is next.

Treating the Islamic terrorist problem as World War III or IV has been a disaster, so Mr. Cole is right about that one, and there is little reason to be disturbed by a bit of diplomatic puffing about Mubarak or Erdogan, considering that the alternatives would quite likely turn out to be worse, and the less we stick our fingers in the steaming Middle Eastern pie the less likely we are to be burned.

Ms. Rubin's pals, of course, are desperately seeking enemies to justify spending the country into bankruptcy in search of a major threat, frightening the public into tolerating ever more intrusive government (which now, apparently, even feels free to grope our privates when we fly), and maintaining permanent hostility with the Muslim world, pressing us ever deeper into the grasp of the Likud and its maniacal political allies.

As the old saw goes, this agenda is criminal, but even worse, it is folly.

Posted by: GrumpyOldMan | December 31, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

"So much for moderation, eh?"

I never believed that Barack Obama was "moderating" in the first place.

In anything but a purely superficial, expedient and meaningless manner, that is.

He is, physiologically, incapable of it.

Posted by: tanstaafl2 | December 31, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: GrumpyOldMan

Good to read you again Grump,but I want Lester here also.


Posted by: rcaruth | December 31, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Bolton's appointment was indeed outrageous since he doesn't believe in the UN. So he and Cole have something in common! Cole did not equate terrorism with drug war, but I suppose you're too busy spreading misinformation to look it up. You know like someone who works at a reputable newspaper would do! I'm quite familiar with your former work so no surprise, really. Carry on with the Obama Hate Machine. You all have your jobs to do.

Posted by: carolerae48 | December 31, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Lester, and John Heartland too.

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Obama likes tyrants, and would love to be one to America (can't and is frustrated), and does the next best thing -- enables them abroad (Russia, Iran) and abandons (Czechs, Poles, Iran Green Movement, Burma) or disparages (Honduras, Israel) advocates of freedom and human rights abroad. Libs show their cards: they couldn't care less about human beings living under tyranny; all that matters is POWER and domestic policy and bringing America down. You people just stink.

Is this Obama guy just the littlest little man, the tiniest tyrant, or what?

Posted by: johnnyramone | December 31, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

adam62 wrote:

"It seems that the principle behind the brain-dead "hypocrite chickenhawks" argument (or epithet) is that only active and retired members of the armed forces are permitted to opine on foreign affairs."

You knocked your straw man down, with the greatest of ease! Too bad you won't find that argument anywhere in my posts.

We are not just talking foreign policy here. We are discussing the persistent desire of those in Republican leadership positions to send our armed forces off to die in nations like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan in spite of the fact they never had any impulse to serve the nation in a similar capacity.

Of course there is no greater example of sheer cowardice in the nation's history than Dick Cheney.

However the case of John Bolton is instructive. He supported the Vietnam War, in his own words, right up until it was his turn to serve. Then:

" . . .by the time I was about to graduate in 1970, it was clear to me that opponents of the Vietnam War had made it certain we could not prevail, and that I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from."

The irony in that Kennedy actually spent two years in the Army, although of course never getting anywhere near a war zone as a rich man's son, but then again the Kennedys did lose one son in combat and the other injured.

The Bolton family may have read about war in the newspaper somewhere, sometime, probably the Baltimore Sun, since he put in some time in the Maryland National Guard (but says proudly that his father didn't pull any strings to get him in).

Given the above, I have to include one final quote from a new book called "Portraits of Success: Candid Conversations with 60 Over-Achievers." by Bert Perlutsky

Mr Perlutsky has a view of the world that is "Rubinesque" in it's upside down character.

Of Bolton he writes:

"John Bolton always strikes me as a man born in the wrong era. Everything about him, from his large mustache to his honesty and the blunt manner in which he voices his often-unpopular opinions, suggests a man who would have been more at home and better appreciated in, say, the 19th century. At times, he even seems like a fictional character, the sort of man little boys would read about and wish to emulate, both to their own personal advantage and that of their country."

Well, if not their country, then at least the state of Maryland!

Posted by: 54465446 | December 31, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

"You knocked your straw man down, with the greatest of ease! Too bad you won't find that argument anywhere in my posts."

And then you go on to make the very argument--people in leadership positions who have not served in the military are hypocrites. I know, you would like to remove from positions of authority only those who favor military action--those who haven't served and oppose war are, presumably, non-hypocrites. Very convenient for you, but it's so obviously nonsensical that I'm surprised leftists still spew that one forth--usually they discard used up arguments in a more timely manner. The simple fact is that whether or not one has served has nothing to do with one's views on whether military action is warranted in a particular case--all the rest is just vitriol, propaganda and personal abuse in place of thinking. I.e., Leftism.

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

JR you hit it on the head - we can't focus on what Obama says so much as what he does, and his actions reveal he is not moving to the center.

I want to commend the Washington Post for providing you such a prominent forum from which you can comment so effectively on current affairs in Washington.

It's important to keep pointing out the gap between what Obama says he represents and what he actually does.

I certainly appreciate your insights and I'm sure your contrasting views will help broaden many points of view that based on some of the comments above really need to develop a tolerance for other opinions.

I think it was William Buckley who said “Though liberals do a great deal of talking about hearing other points of view, it sometimes shocks them to learn that there are other points of view.”

Posted by: Otiose1 | December 31, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

adam62 wrote:

"The simple fact is that whether or not one has served has nothing to do with one's views on whether military action is warranted in a particular case--"

Similar to the simple fact that whether or not one is a doctor should have no bearing on their opinion whether an illness should be treated with surgery, drugs or benign neglect.

Yes, I've heard the theory that knowledge of a subject is often an impediment to getting the right answer.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 31, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

"Similar to the simple fact that whether or not one is a doctor should have no bearing on their opinion whether an illness should be treated with surgery, drugs or benign neglect.

Yes, I've heard the theory that knowledge of a subject is often an impediment to getting the right answer."

Why, then, are you claiming that I knocked down a straw man? That's your argument--only those who have been in war (how much combat must they have seen--is one day enough? One month? Do we need military vetarans to answer that question?) can decide on whether to go to war. All I did was point out that it's a nonsensical argument, as anyone can plainly see. There are plenty of ways of studying war and being informed by those in combat; and plenty of people who have been in war obviously know nothing more than their own little corner of it. A 6th grader could see this. I also pointed out the obvious consequence: only those who have been in combat could make decisions on foreign policy, since foreign policy decisions could lead to war. (Unless you have some more complicated system in mind--when it comes to actually declaring war, we set Congress and the President aside and convene an assembly comprised of all the war vetarans in the country, or something along those lines.) And I also pointed out your own hypocrisy--that even for a little decision like DADT, you wouldn't leave it up to those involved in combat.

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Hey, anybody have any idea what the following is:

One Medal of Honor

One Navy Cross

One Distinguished Service Cross

Two Silver Stars

Four Bronze Stars

Six Purple Hearts

That's the total of combat decorations won by Democrats in the Senate alone.

Of course in the Senate, McCain is peerless, in a class by himself among Republicans.

I'm just getting started in my search of the House, but so far I found Democrats with:

Two Distinguished Flying Crosses

Four Bronze Stars

Three Purple Hearts

I did find one Republican Congressman with a Purple Heart, so far, but there's GOT to be more right?

I mean it can't just be a coincidence right?

Posted by: 54465446 | December 31, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

I await your plan for distributing votes accordingly--how many votes does the Medal of Honor winner get, how many per Purple Heart, etc.?

In the end, your argument is that the Republicans are bad men, very bad men. Which, even if true, would still say nothing about their foreign policy positions--which must, anyway, be shared by many tens of millions of Americans, otherwise why would those evil hypocrites espouse them?

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

The President and his allies in Congress won an hard fought battle to release 14 Judicial nominees from the "hold" status in exchange for four controversial nominees remaining on hold. That was on December 20th, right on the heels of tax and unemployment compromise. Sounded promising for bi-partisanship, but it was all for show. He will go left by administrative fiat as Charles Krauthammer addressed today; while going the recess appointment route whenever he can. Obama is quite insecure and, I believe, is through with feigning conciliation from this point on. It is Chicago hardball from now until '12.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | December 31, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse


You're right. The Democrats are soft on foreign policy and soft on patriotism and soft on wars. That's what your posts always imply, right?

Yet, I don't see those "tens of millions of Americans" who want to go to war, any war any where in the world volunteering to fight those wars, or for that matter nor do their offspring (because if they do we certainly have uniforms available for them).

Me personally, I would be satisfied with the Israeli model. So how about it, everybody goes, men and women. Still think those tens of millions would support John Bolton if their children, or God forbid, John Bolton's daughter were in danger of going?

Posted by: 54465446 | December 31, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

I prefer the volunteer model for the military, because it means those most motivated and best suited are likely to be serving; and I also believe in democracy, which means everyone has a right to participate in deliberations regarding war and peace. What we owe the men and women fighting is clear war aims and unequivocal support once we have committed them to those aims--and reasonable support for them and their families, especially when they are wounded or killed. Where we fail in any of those respects we should study why and try to do better. All the rest is just your own little fog of war.

Posted by: adam62 | December 31, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Actually Jennifer, the War Terror is looking more and more like The War On Drugs every day.

Posted by: Mannie_Davis | January 1, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Run, John Bolton, run.
The country needs you.
The Democratic Party needs you even more.

Maybe Bill Kristol could be yer running mate ?
Or Charlie Manson ?

Posted by: BrianX9 | January 2, 2011 2:49 AM | Report abuse

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