Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Collateral Damage

First, we'll dispense with the obvious: Chris Hayes is an ass, one of those smug, snarky left-wing pundits that populate the airwaves at MSNBC and the pages of the Huffington Post.  As you've probably heard, Mr. Hayes got in a bit of trouble last week during a panel discussion on(you guessed, it, MSNBC) with the following observation on the nation's war dead:

I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

Hayes quickly discovered just how wrong he was.  Outraged veterans sent hundreds of e-mails to the network, and the national commander of the VFW demanded an apology.  Predictably, the pundit was forced to back-track, expressing regret for his comments on Monday.

Case closed?  Almost.  Unfortunately, in the rush to lambaste Hayes, at least one conservative managed to make himself look foolish--like the out-of-touch crowd at MSNBC, or The New Republic.  We refer to a poster named Don King at otherwise-excellent Flopping Aces.  Before tearing into Hayes, Mr. King offers his own military connections:

I come from a family with a proud military history. My father was a Leatherneck in WWII, seeing heavy action in the South Pacific. He was in the invasion of Okinawa and stood awestruck one August morning when he saw that mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.    

Just a couple of problems with that narrative.  First, the battle for Okinawa ended in June, almost two months before the bombing of Hiroshima.  By that time, most of the Marines had been redeployed to training sites across the Pacific, to prepare for the expected invasion of Japan.  Based on those realities, it's highly unlikely that Mr. King's father was still on the island when the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Secondly, if the elder King was on Okinawa--and saw that mushroom cloud--he probably had the best set of eyeballs in the history of the Marine Corps. Hiroshima, located on the western end of Honshu, is more than 600 miles from Okinawa.  Additionally, the mushroom cloud from Little Boy, the weapon used against Hiroshima, reached an altitude of 45,000 feet above the city.  Considering the distance between Okinawa and Hiroshima; the height of the cloud, curvature of the earth and other factors, it would be impossible to see the tell-tale cloud from Okinawa.

In fact, the only Americans who witnessed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the ground, were Allied POWs, being detained in or near those cities.  According to various accounts, as many as 20 American airmen were being held at a police headquarters in the heart of Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped; most were crew members from two B-24s and a Navy dive bomber that had been shot down during raids in southern Japan.  Among the B-24 crew members, only two survived.

Fate was kinder to an America POW who was in Nagasaki when the second atomic bomb was dropped.  Joe Kieyoomia was a Navajo from New Mexico who had been captured during the fall of the Philippines in April 1942.  He survived the nightmares of the Bataan Death March; internment in the infamous Cabanatuan POW camp (where scores of Americans perished each month); the "hell ships" that carried him to another prison in Japan, and finally, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.  Somehow, the concrete walls of his cell shielded Kieyoomia from the blast and he survived.

We owe an eternal debt to men like the B-24 crew members; those who perished in the hell ships and all those who gave their lives in defense of this nation.  All are heroes by any definition, even if twits like Chris Hayes disagree and some on our side see a reason to embellish their stories of service and sacrifice.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Polling Vets

Remember this Reuters headline from just two weeks ago?

"Obama Leading Mitt Romney Among Veterans"

According to the article, a poll commissioned by the wire service gave Mr. Obama a seven-point lead among voters who have served in the armed forces, "higher than his margin in the general population."  Reuters even found a number of veterans in South Carolina (a red state with a large military population) who planned to pull the lever for the president in November.  Here's a sample pull-quote from the puff piece:

Terry Seawright, a Navy reservist who drives a Fedex truck, voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to do so again in 2012. "I like the coolness and calmness of him," said Seawright, 46. "I like the way he handled Egypt and Libya. He said, ‘No troops on the ground.'"

Memo to the editorial team at Reuters: you might want to get your polling partners at Ipsos (which conducted the survey) to re-tabulate the results, or retract the original article.  Turns out that Reuters may be a bit off in gauging support among veterans for Mr. Obama's re-election.  

On this Memorial Day, Gallup is out with a new poll that shows Mitt Romney is an overwhelming favorite among voters who describe themselves as veterans.  In fact, Mr. Romney's lead is so lopsided, it clearly refutes the veracity of the earlier Reuters survey.  From Gallup's analysis:
U.S. veterans, about 13% of the adult population and consisting mostly of older men, support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama for president by 58% to 34%, while nonveterans give Obama a four-percentage-point edge.

These data, from an analysis of Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted April 11-May 24, show that 24% of all adult men are veterans, compared with 2% of adult women.
Obama and Romney are tied overall at 46% apiece among all registered voters in this sample. Men give Romney an eight-point edge, while women opt for Obama over Romney by seven points. It turns out that the male skew for Romney is driven almost entirely by veterans. Romney leads by one point among nonveteran men, contrasted with the 28-point edge Romney receives among male veterans.
Put another way, if the previous Reuters poll had any degree of accuracy, then there has been a 31-point swing among veteran voters in recent weeks.  Of course, that scenario is highly unlikely, at best.  Such swings among a particular demographic group are virtually unheard of; in fact, Gallup did some of its polling during the same time that Ipsos was coming up with very different results--among the same voting group.  The laws of probability suggest that both polls should reflect similar results, not the wide differential between the Gallup survey and the work done by Ipsos.  
So, what's the real story?  In political polling (and other forms of opinion survey), there are the occasional outliers, surveys that simply contradict previous findings on the same subject.  But once again, it's hard to envision an outlier--in this case, the Ipsos poll--that is so far off the mark.  
It's also worth noting that the internals for the Reuters survey were never published (or if they were, we couldn't find them).  By comparison, Gallup explains its sampling very clearly.  Their results are based on interviews with more than 3,000 individuals who are both veterans and likely voters, individuals who generally turn out on election day.  
Still, there is a cautionary tale in the Gallup findings.  When you remove veterans from the mix, Romney's advantage among male voters essentially vanishes.  Additionally, the percentage of veterans is the highest among the oldest age groups in the survey.  As the size of the veterans block continues to shrink, the GOP will find it harder to maintain its long-time lead among male voters.  
But in this election cycle, veterans will be a crucial segment of the electorate.  If you don't believe that, consider this recent development: last week, the Obama campaign began targeting military voters in Virginia, a key battleground state that the President carried in 2008.  But not surprisingly, most media outlets didn't understand the reason for the sudden push.  The Wall Street Journal claimed that the Obama campaign sensed an opportunity, citing a recent poll that showed Mitt Romney with only an eight-point lead among veterans.    
Clearly, the WSJ and its broadcast partner, NBC News, might want to conduct another survey of veterans in the coming weeks.  While they identified a GOP preference among that group, there is a sizable difference between their results, and those of the Gallup organization.  Indeed, that latter survey explains the real reason  for Mr. Obama's campaign targeting military voters and veterans.  In a nation with more than 20 million veterans, no incumbent president can given his opponent a 24-point lead, even among a group that represents less than 10% of the American population.  Five months ahead of the November election, the President is trying to make up lost ground, among a constituency where he's supposed to be "competitive."                          



Friday, May 25, 2012

"If Not Me, Then Who?"

A Memorial Day weekend reading assignment from retired Marine Corps Colonel Tom Manion, whose son, Travis, made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in 2007.  As he reminds us, remarkable men and women keep stepping forward to wear the nation's uniform--and defend our freedom--despite a decade of war.

Excerpts from Colonel Manion's op-ed, published by The Wall Street Journal:

When my son died in Iraq, his U.S. Naval Academy roommate, Brendan Looney, was in the middle of BUD/S (basic underwater demolition) training to become a Navy SEAL. Devastated by his good friend's death, Brendan called us in anguish, telling my wife and me that losing Travis was too much for him to handle during the grueling training regimen.

Lt. Brendan Looney overcame his grief to become "Honor Man" of his SEAL class, and he served in Iraq before later deploying to Afghanistan. On Sept. 21, 2010, after completing 58 combat missions, Brendan died with eight fellow warriors when their helicopter crashed in Zabul province. He was 29. Brendan and Travis now rest side-by-side in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

"The friendship between First Lt. Travis Manion and Lt. Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day: brotherhood, sacrifice, love of country," President Obama said at Arlington on Memorial Day 2011. "And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond."

But the essence of our country, which makes me even prouder than the president's speech, is the way our nation's military families continue to serve. Even after more than a decade of war, these remarkable men and women are still stepping forward.

On Memorial Day--and every day--they deserve our gratitude and thanks.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Barack and Don

Well, I guess we can all sleep a bit easier, since Loretta Lynn's real age has finally been revealed.  Turns out the country music legend is a bit older than she has previously admitted.  According to records obtained by the Associated Press, Miss Lynn was born in 1932, not 1935 as she has long claimed.  For those interested, that makes her current age 80, not 77.  It also means she was 15 years old when she married her husband Mooney, and  not 13, the age listed in her autobiography and the Oscar-winning film, Coal Miner's Daughter.

The AP account (published in the Washington Examiner and other papers) shows the effort employed by the wire service to determine Miss Lynn's real age:

"...Lynn's birth certificate on file at the state Office of Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Ky., shows that Loretta Webb was born on April 14, 1932, in Johnson County, Kentucky. That makes her 80 years old, not 77. Also on file is her marriage license and two affidavits from her mother, Clara Marie Ramey, and S.W. Ward Jr., who was not related to the family, listing the same birthdate.

The records weren't filed until 1965, which meant that Lynn needed multiple documents to prove her age at that time. Lynn's signature appears on the document as Loretta Webb Lynn.

Melvin Webb lists his daughter "Loretta" as 7 years old for the 1940 Census, according to a digital copy on file at the Kentucky Historical Society. Lynn's marriage license, obtained by the AP from the Johnson County clerk's office lists her as 15 on Jan. 10, 1948."

Whew...sure glad that's cleared up.  And now that we know Loretta Lynn's 80 and not 77, perhaps the AP will demand some sort of fitting punishment.  Perhaps Miss Lynn should be forced to return some of her gold records, or the Kennedy Center Honor that she received a few years ago.  Apparently, lying about the circumstances of your birth is a serious offense, judging from the AP's investigative work on Loretta Lynn.

Meanwhile, the world's largest news organization remains curiously silent on the "birth issues" that are still dogging President Obama.  During a cursory search, I couldn't find an single AP article on this week's revelation that Mr. Obama's literary agent listed him as being born in Kenya for more than 17 years, a period that spanned his graduation from Harvard Law School, through his first (and only) term as a U.S. Senator.  The  information appeared in both print and on-line forums describing the firm's clients.

The agent dismisses the Kenyan birth claim as some sort of "mistake."  Fair enough, but how did it linger for so long, as Obama progressed from being the first African-American President of Harvard Law, to a contender for the highest office in the land?  Moreover, we can't find anyone in the MSM (including the Associated Press) who has bothered to ask who was in charge of proofing the biography, including Mr. Obama himself.

Consider this: how many of your have generated or reviewed your own biography,  for an organization website, publication, or perhaps for an awards or recognition package.  Assuming your bio included your place of birth, how many of you would leave the information unchanged, even if the biography listed you as being born in another country?  Mr. Obama's inability (read: refusal) to spot the mistake and demand a correction speaks volumes about his character.  As Roger L. Simon observed the other day, this episode is a loser for the President, no matter how you slice it.  Whatever the real circumstances behind the literary firm biography, Mr. Obama looks like a liar.

So, why the deception about Obama's place of birth?  We'll assume, for a moment, that he was born in Hawaii, as indicated by his birth certificate (which was released more than two years after he entered the White House) and other information, such as the birth announcement that appeared in Honolulu newspapers.  Why, some 30 years later, did he (or his literary) change "Hawaii" to "Kenya?"  

Obviously, because the firm (and Mr. Obama) had something to gain. A more exotic biography would make Obama more enticing as a prospective offer, increasing his chances of getting a book deal (and an agent's fee for his literary representative).  But, when the author began setting his sights on the White House, the claim of a foreign birth became problematic, and the sixteen-year-old error was finally corrected.

Now, let's suppose a conservative politician (Mitt Romney, for argument's sake) made the same mistake.  Would the press be willing to buy the excuse of an editorial mistake--one that went unnoticed for more than 10 years? You can probably answer that one on your own.

But there's a larger issue at work here.  What type of individual lies about his background (or lets others do it for him) for the better part of two decades?  Writing at National Review, Mark Steyn likens Obama to Jay Gatsby, the F. Scott Fitzgerald character who invented a past that was most pleasing and convenient for him.  Steyn compares the aloof Obama to Fitzgerald's character, totally aloof as the social and political whirl spins about them.  In Steyn's words, "the more autobiographies [Mr. Obama writes] the less we know about him.  And obviously, what we do know about him has been carefully tested and contrived.  

While we like the Gatsby analogy for Mr. Obama, we think there's one that is even more appropriate.  In some respects, Obama's vague (but storybook) past reminds us of Don Draper on AMC's Mad Men. Anyone remotely familiar with the series knows that Draper, the creative director of two major advertising agencies, has long held a dark secret.  He was born Dick Whitman, the illegitimate son of a prostitute who lived in poverty as a child and was abused by his stepfather.

After dropping out of high school, Whitman winds up in the Army during the Korean War, serving under a lieutenant named Don Draper.  When the real Draper is killed in a gasoline fire (and his body is burned beyond recognition), Whitman takes his dog tags and becomes the lieutenant, figuring it may give him a chance for a better life.  His deception goes unnoticed until one of Draper's agency rivals, Pete Campbell, learns his secret and reveals the news to the firm's senior partner, Bert Cooper, who shrugs it off. "Who cares?" he tells Campbell.

To some degree, certain constituencies in American life resemble senior management at Sterling Cooper.  From their perspective, Barack Obama's many mistakes, lies and deceptions are easy enough to spot, but keeping him in office serves a larger purpose and agenda.   Key among those groups are the American media.  Having invested so much to get him into the White House, they will do almost anything to preserve him in power, even if it means overlooking certain, obvious contradictions.

That's why the AP will move heaven and earth to determine the real age of Loretta Lynn, but they can't be bothered to investigate similar contradictions involving the most powerful man on earth.  As for Mr. Obama, he understands there are certain advantages to changing your public persona when the need arises, particularly if no questions the switch, or the reasons behind it.  Too bad he went into politics.  Born a bit earlier, he might have had quite a career on Madison Avenue during the 1960s.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Five-Percent Non-Solution

Elements of the chattering class--namely, David Ignatius of the Washington Post--were positively atwitter in recent days, over a supposed "breakthrough" in nuclear talks with Iran.  Supposedly, Tehran has agreed to limit future uranium enrichment efforts to no more than five percent purity; that's adequate for medical purposes and basic research, but hardly sufficient for weapons development.  In return, President Obama has agreed to let the Iranians continue low-level enrichment activity.  From Mr. Ignatius's perspective, this could lead to some sort of broader agreement on Iran's nuclear program:

"... A compelling framework for future talks has been prepared by analysts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The authors are George Perkovich, a leading U.S. scholar on proliferation issues, and Ariel Levite, a former deputy director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. In preparing the plan, the Carnegie team has had quiet discussions with U.S. and Iranian experts.

The basic idea of the Carnegie proposal is to create a “firewall” between Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which it could pursue, and a military bomb-making program, which it couldn’t. Along with separating permissible from impermissible, the Carnegie authors propose special procedures for dual-use technologies that are near the dividing line."

Backers of the plan believe it has potential (in part) because of a recent statement by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.  In a televised statement made last February, Khamenei claimed that Tehran would never pursue nuclear weapons because such efforts are considered a "sin."  American officials--including Mr. Obama--saw that as something of a breakthrough, and sent feelers to Iran that Khamenei's statement might provide the foundation for some sort of eventual settlement.  

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama's five-percent solution has some rather serious problems.  Writing at National Review.com, Henry Sokolski of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center observes that U.S. officials are pinning too much hope on the International Atomic Energy Agency and its "ability" to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions:

"..What’s wrong with this argument? First, there is no mention of nuclear-fuel making in the NPT’s text, much less an inalienable right to this activity. All that is defended in the treaty is the right to develop and produce “peaceful nuclear energy.” Getting within weeks of acquiring a bomb by making nuclear fuel — especially when doing so is uneconomical and is not technically required in order to produce nuclear power — ought not to qualify.

Second, even though the IAEA claims it can safeguard nuclear-fuel making against military diversion, it can’t. This is hardly news. After all, if the IAEA could safeguard nuclear-fuel making, there wouldn’t be much of a bone to pick with Iran. Maybe Tehran cheated in the past, but if IAEA safeguards could prevent it from making a bomb now, all we’d have to do is let the IAEA work its magic.

Unfortunately, this is one nuclear rabbit the IAEA can’t pull out of its hat. Indeed, after failing over the last two decades to account for scores of bombs’ worth of weapons-useable fuels at Japanese and British civilian nuclear plants, the IAEA clearly can’t reliably detect diversions from declared nuclear-fuel-making facilities.

As for detecting covert nuclear activities, Syria’s covert nuclear reactor, Iran’s covert construction of its Natanz enrichment plant — which went undetected for 18 years — and Iraq’s covert nuclear activities all suggest how unreliable IAEA nuclear inspections can be.."

Beyond that, there's the little matter of trusting Iranian leaders.  Saying they've been less-than-candid about their nuclear ambitions is being charitable.  In fact, Tehran has continued its march towards a nuclear weapons capability while engaging in endless rounds of talks and bluster with the rest.  Readers will recall that the Bush Administration gave some of its EU partners (England, France and Germany) permission to negotiate with Iran on the nuclear matter.  The dialogue dragged on for five years--with no progress whatsoever--until it became expedient for Iran to drop the matter altogether.  We can only guess how much progress was made by Iranian scientists and engineers during that interlude.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  Iran's friend on the international stage, North Korea, has pursued similar policies over the past 20 years, with an exceptional degree of success.  Not only did Pyongyang successfully develop nuclear weapons, it has tested them more than once.  In return, the U.S. and its partners could only muster the usual sanctions and diplomatic bromides.

Simply stated, Iran wouldn't spend decades--and billions of dollars--on a development program that would give them a nuclear weapon (and even more power in the region) only to stop short of the finish line.  On the other hand, Tehran has every reason to deceive and cheat, particularly if those efforts will buy it more time.

As for the Obama Administration, this is the latest exercise in kicking the Iranian nuclear can further down the road--the same tactic practiced by past administration.  There's little doubt the president's political advisers see a "deal" (or talks aimed at making a deal) as a convenient mechanism for removing Iran from the list of campaign issues.  During a second term, the logic goes, Mr. Obama would have more flexibility on the issue, and conclude an arrangement that could be even more favorable to Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel has quietly unified behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the IAF has been involved in rather intensive drills, and a number of Israeli military reservists have been called to active duty.  The last time we saw this sort of alignment was during the summer of 1967.  And we know what followed... .    

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Lesson for Incumbents

Watching returns from Tuesday's West Virginia Democratic Presidential primary, we began waxing nostalgic for a gentleman named Monroe Schwarzlose, and the lesson he taught an incumbent politician way back in 1980.

The politician was Bill Clinton, and he was running for re-election as Governor of Arkansas.  After just two years in office, Clinton was facing rising discontent at home (we mean Arkansas, not from a certain lamp-throwing spouse).  But Mr. Clinton thought a second term was his for the asking.  After all, he was the Boy Wonder governor, with an Ivy League education and a Rhodes scholarship behind him (even if he never completed his studies at Oxford).  Mr. Schwarzlose, by comparison, was a turkey farmer from rural Kingsland, Arkansas and something of a perpetual candidate.  As a Republican, he ran for a state house seat in 1974 and lost.  Four years later, he entered the Democratic primary for governor and pulled barely one percent of the vote against Bill Clinton and other candidates.  

Undeterred, Mr. Schwarzlose tried again in 1980.  His campaign was self-financed; by one account, the turkey farmer spent $4,000 in a bid to deny Clinton the Democratic nomination.   Most of the cash financed his travels around the state where Schwarzlose, typically clad in a pair of bib overalls, regaled audiences with stories about farming and rural life around Kingsland.  Instead of campaign literature, he passed out copies of his favorite home canning recipes.   Quite a contrast from the Clinton political machine.

But on primary day, Schwarzlose achieved what many believed impossible.  With no TV ads and just a handful of appearances around the state, he garnered 30% of the vote against Bill Clinton.  Experts dismissed it as something of a fluke, not realizing that Mr. Schwarzlose was tapping into growing discontent against Clinton and his policies.  During the November general election, Clinton got another surprise, losing to GOP challenger Frank White.  Clinton returned to the governor's mansion two years later, having learned a hard lesson about losing touch with the electorate.

Flash forward 32 years and the performance of another unlike candidate may be a harbinger for Barack Obama.  As you might have heard, the President of the United States lost 41% of the vote in the West Virginia primary to one Keith Judd.  Mr. Judd isn't even a resident of the West Virginia; he's currently incarcerated at a federal prison in Texas, serving a 17-year sentence for extortion.  But with an outlay of $2500 (the campaign filing fee), no advertising and no appearances on the stump (apparently, the feds frown on inmates hitting the campaign trail), Judd pulled over 40% of the vote against a sitting president.

True, Mr. Obama may be the most unpopular Democratic politician in a heavily Democratic state, thanks to his war on the coal industry.  But there were plenty of Democrats in West Virginia who voted against Obama and have no direct ties to the coal business.  Put another way, they're fed up with the President and his policies and willingly pulled the lever for a convicted felon, whose only "campaign photo" was his prison mug shot.

It's easy to dismiss Judd's performance as little more than a protest vote, just as the pundits did in Arkansas back in 1980.  But sometimes, even quixotic candidates can provide a serve as something of a political barometer.  Mr. Obama is hardly destined for defeat in November, but he's not exactly a shoo-in, either.  Maybe that's why Democratic strategist James Carville published an op-ed at CNN.com, warning his party (and President Obama) could lose this fall, if they remain complacent.  We can only hope.
ADDENDUM:  And if Mr. Obama doubts the anger in the American electorate, he might consult with his "favorite" Republican, Richard Luger, the soon-to-be former Senator from Indiana.                                        

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Credit Where It's Due

They will never receive any credit, but George W. Bush and his advisers deserve our lasting thanks for deciding to hold terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, and conducting their trials through military tribunals, instead of a federal courtroom.

The wisdom of this approach was on display yesterday, during the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, and two other senior Al Qaida figures.  According to The New York Times (and other media accounts), the proceedings were a study in confusion and obfuscation, as the defendants did their best to delay and disrupt the arraignment hearing:

"Khalid Shaikh Mohammed fingered his long, henna-dyed beard and stared down in silence on Saturday, pointedly ignoring a military commissions judge asking in vain whether the self-described architect of the Sept. 11 attacks understood what was being said and whether he was willing to be represented by his defense lawyers.

Minutes later, Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the five detainees arraigned on Saturday as accused conspirators in the attacks, stood, knelt and started praying. Later, he shouted at the judge that he should address their complaints about prison conditions because “maybe you are not going to see me again.”

“Maybe they are going to kill us and say that we have committed suicide,” he added.

One defendant, Walid bin Attash, was wheeled into the courtroom in a restraint chair for reasons that were not disclosed.

Amid disruptions both passive and aggressive, the government’s attempt to restart its efforts to prosecute the five defendants in the long-delayed Sept. 11 case got off to a slow and rocky start in a trial that could ultimately result in their execution."

After hours of jostling over procedural issues, all five defendants deferred entering a plea. The judge set a hearing date for motions in mid-June; the trial is not likely to start for at least a year.  

Now, imagine this little tableau taking place in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan, before a phalanx of reporters, with dozens of TV live trucks and huge crowds clustered outside.  It would be a made-for-the-media spectacle, dominating the headlines for days.  Every outburst, every contrived comment from the defendants would be instant gist for the pundits and analysts, giving Al Qaida a free platform they have long craved.

And, lest we forget, this was how the Obama Administration planned to try terror suspects until a rare moment of common sense intervened, and the White House decided to stick with military tribunals.  Instead of a global stage, KSM and his fellow killers will have to make due with pool coverage from a handful of reporters at Gitmo.  Instead of a battery of ACLU lawyers, they have a small defense team which they may (or may not) cooperate with.  And instead of a federal judge trying to ride herd over a legal circus, the Al Qaida defendants have a no-nonsense military judge, Colonel James L. Pohl.

Of course, the antics that unfolded yesterday at Gitmo were utterly predictable.  We've often stated that the long trial of the so-called "20th Hijacker" (Zacarias Moussaoui) was a template for court proceedings against other Al Qaida figures.  It took the federal government almost four years to convict the defendant, amid proceedings that were, at times, both frustrating and bizarre, reflecting Moussaoui's attempts to frustrate the legal process.

Because Moussaoui was captured by U.S. agents on American soil, his trial in federal court was dictated by law.  But KSM and the terrorists at Gitmo were nabbed overseas, and with their designation as combatants, military tribunals became the most viable option.  The prosecution of Al Qaida terrorists at Gitmo will likely drag on for years, but without the media circus that terrorists crave and in a secure environment.  Security costs for a trial in a New York federal court were pegged at $300-500 million a year, with the interruption to normal traffic and commerce costing millions more.

President Obama, who "officially" launched his re-election bid this weekend, has tried to blame his predecessor for everything that's wrong with the country.  It would be refreshing (and completely uncharacteristic) if he would--just once--give George W. Bush credit for making the right call.  On the issue of trying terror suspects, Mr. Bush was correct in opting for military tribunals, and the wisdom of that approach will be affirmed in the months and years that follow.