Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 4, 2008

The Voters Will Eventually Have The Last Word

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

As we wrapped up the day before Super Tuesday, it was an anti-McCain-fest from the Romney camp and his supporters. Talk radio and bloggers kept up the drum beat against McCain, bashing everyone from former GOP Presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole to respected conservative journalists. The voice of (French) reason could nevertheless still be heard/read. (And yes, there is very little pro-Romney rhetoric being voiced by the McCain foes, perhaps an indication as to why McCain has been able to build a 20 point lead in national polls. It is hard to beat someone with simply a “not him” argument, no matter how loudly one argues.)

Although his own campaign clarified last week that Romney did not support Ann Coulter’s declaration that McCain and Hillary Clinton were politically identical, Romney released his own ad asserting they really were and contending, among other things, that both Clinton and McCain opposed the appointment of conservative judges. (Justices Alito and Roberts, whom McCain vigorously supported, don’t qualify as conservative?) McCain finally hit back with a TV ad pointing out that Romney’s infatuation with Ronald Reagan is of recent vintage.

What to say? There will eventually be a winner and a general election. If McCain does prevail and win the nomination, even some of the harshest critics will reverse course and support the GOP nominee they excoriated. Others will sulk, perhaps denying needed votes in a close general election.

Mostly, the role of much of the conservative new media will be clarified. The distinction between provocative discussion and electoral influence will be laid bare. It is one thing to provide an alternate source of information for conservatives, help shape policy debates and correct imbalances in the mainstream media; it is quite another to assume that a majority of Republican voters will follow ballot box advice. Clarity is important.

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Hitchens on Lefkowitz

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

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Some Light Reading . . .

The historiography of the Holocaust has served as a ground for some of the longest and hardest-fought battles in 20th-century intllectual life. Now Eckhard Fuhr, an editor at Die Welt, brings us news of a welcome development in the discipline: the release of the first book in a planned sixteen-volume series (whose editors include the controversial historian Götz Aly) entitled The Persecution and Extermination of the European Jews by Nazi Germany 1933-1945. These books are collections of primary source texts–newspaper articles, letters, administrative records–intended to document the extent of civilian anti-semitism, the nature of individual resistance to Hitler’s regime, and the public and private attitudes of the Jews themselves. An ambitious project, which takes up the documentary effort begun by Saul Friedlaender in his monumental The Years of Extermination. It’s only available in German currently. And I doubt greatly that the series as a whole will much resemble Fuhr’s (exculpatory) final description of the first volume:

. . . [S]een from today’s horizon behaviour it is possible to identify and judge decency and malice, courage and cowardice, empathy and indifference. And all of these elements were present in the early years of the persecution of the Jews in a ratio which gave no hint of future genocide.

But it will be an important and necessary work.

The historiography of the Holocaust has served as a ground for some of the longest and hardest-fought battles in 20th-century intllectual life. Now Eckhard Fuhr, an editor at Die Welt, brings us news of a welcome development in the discipline: the release of the first book in a planned sixteen-volume series (whose editors include the controversial historian Götz Aly) entitled The Persecution and Extermination of the European Jews by Nazi Germany 1933-1945. These books are collections of primary source texts–newspaper articles, letters, administrative records–intended to document the extent of civilian anti-semitism, the nature of individual resistance to Hitler’s regime, and the public and private attitudes of the Jews themselves. An ambitious project, which takes up the documentary effort begun by Saul Friedlaender in his monumental The Years of Extermination. It’s only available in German currently. And I doubt greatly that the series as a whole will much resemble Fuhr’s (exculpatory) final description of the first volume:

. . . [S]een from today’s horizon behaviour it is possible to identify and judge decency and malice, courage and cowardice, empathy and indifference. And all of these elements were present in the early years of the persecution of the Jews in a ratio which gave no hint of future genocide.

But it will be an important and necessary work.

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Kleenex Nation

A few years ago, superstar satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, in the character of moronic Ali G, interviewed Newt Gingrich.

“Do you think a woman will ever be president?” asked Cohen.

“Absolutely,” Said Gingrich.

[…]

“But ain’t there the problem that if he [Saddam Hussein] declares war she’ll just start crying and everything?”

“The kind of woman who would rise to be president I think would be very comfortable saying if you really want to fight we’ll do what it takes.”

Hillary Clinton is about to declare victory in the war on satire. Blogger Jason George reports that she turned on the waterworks today at a speaking event in New Haven Connecticut:

Penn Rhodeen, who was introducing Clinton, began to choke up, leading Clinton’s eyes to fill with tears, which she wiped out of her left eye. At the time, Rhodeen was saying how proud he was that sheepskin-coat, bell-bottom-wearing young woman he met in 1972 was now running for president.

“Well, I said I would not tear up; already we’re not exactly on the path,” Clinton said with emotion after the introduction.

Every time Hillary “cries” it should be noted that that “bell-bottom-wearing young woman” is not only running for president, but for commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces—during war.

To make matters worse, like the Corsican brothers, who suffered each other’s pains while apart, the Clintons have embarked on a program of coordinated crying. Victor Davis Hanson reports that yesterday Bill Clinton went soft and blubbery at an LA Church:

[W]e got the swollen, teary-eyed reminiscences about his impoverished parent. His voice was at times barely audible. His pauses went on for a few seconds, as he carefully drew his breath and like Ajax in his soliloquy solemnly went on. He bit his lip enough no doubt to require minor surgery.

That the crying is calculated is an old story. But someone should tell the weepy twosome that when a nation is at war, its leaders’ tears have the same effect, fake or not.

A few years ago, superstar satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, in the character of moronic Ali G, interviewed Newt Gingrich.

“Do you think a woman will ever be president?” asked Cohen.

“Absolutely,” Said Gingrich.

[…]

“But ain’t there the problem that if he [Saddam Hussein] declares war she’ll just start crying and everything?”

“The kind of woman who would rise to be president I think would be very comfortable saying if you really want to fight we’ll do what it takes.”

Hillary Clinton is about to declare victory in the war on satire. Blogger Jason George reports that she turned on the waterworks today at a speaking event in New Haven Connecticut:

Penn Rhodeen, who was introducing Clinton, began to choke up, leading Clinton’s eyes to fill with tears, which she wiped out of her left eye. At the time, Rhodeen was saying how proud he was that sheepskin-coat, bell-bottom-wearing young woman he met in 1972 was now running for president.

“Well, I said I would not tear up; already we’re not exactly on the path,” Clinton said with emotion after the introduction.

Every time Hillary “cries” it should be noted that that “bell-bottom-wearing young woman” is not only running for president, but for commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces—during war.

To make matters worse, like the Corsican brothers, who suffered each other’s pains while apart, the Clintons have embarked on a program of coordinated crying. Victor Davis Hanson reports that yesterday Bill Clinton went soft and blubbery at an LA Church:

[W]e got the swollen, teary-eyed reminiscences about his impoverished parent. His voice was at times barely audible. His pauses went on for a few seconds, as he carefully drew his breath and like Ajax in his soliloquy solemnly went on. He bit his lip enough no doubt to require minor surgery.

That the crying is calculated is an old story. But someone should tell the weepy twosome that when a nation is at war, its leaders’ tears have the same effect, fake or not.

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The Not-So-Amazing Adventures of Chabon and Obama

I once wrote in the pages of COMMENTARY that Michael Chabon was, sentence for sentence, the best writer of English prose of his age in America. It is true his novels are gorgeously written, though it is also true that his last one, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, was a work of anti-Zionism so thoroughgoing that it makes Mearshimer and Walt look like Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion by contrast. The politics of that novel were hard enough for a qualified fan like me to take. Now he has written an article so risibly hagiographic about Barack Obama that I am inclined to take away the Prose Award I effectively bestowed on him back in 2002. Here, sample just a flavor of the uncritical, naive foolishness of Chabon’s piece:

[T]his radiant, humane politician…seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul….To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

And when we all wake up on Nov. 5, 2008, to find that we have made Barack Obama the president of the United States, the world is already going to feel, to all of us, a little different, a little truer to its, and our, better nature. It is part of the world’s nature and of our own to break, ruin and destroy; but it is also our nature and the world’s to find ways to mend what has been broken. We can do that. Come on. Don’t be afraid.

Chabon may hate Israel, but he loves tikkun olam. And he has a taste for Messianism. In Yiddish Policeman’s Union, he posits a Messiah who is the gay junkie son of an obese Hasidic rabbi-gangster. Now, with his new-found passion for the half-Kenyan, half-WASP Hawaiian-born Senator from Illinois, you figure Chabon is slapping himself on the side of the head–”Why didn’t I think of that?” He might as well have. His Obama is at least as much a fictional character as Kavalier or Clay.

I once wrote in the pages of COMMENTARY that Michael Chabon was, sentence for sentence, the best writer of English prose of his age in America. It is true his novels are gorgeously written, though it is also true that his last one, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, was a work of anti-Zionism so thoroughgoing that it makes Mearshimer and Walt look like Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion by contrast. The politics of that novel were hard enough for a qualified fan like me to take. Now he has written an article so risibly hagiographic about Barack Obama that I am inclined to take away the Prose Award I effectively bestowed on him back in 2002. Here, sample just a flavor of the uncritical, naive foolishness of Chabon’s piece:

[T]his radiant, humane politician…seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul….To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.

And when we all wake up on Nov. 5, 2008, to find that we have made Barack Obama the president of the United States, the world is already going to feel, to all of us, a little different, a little truer to its, and our, better nature. It is part of the world’s nature and of our own to break, ruin and destroy; but it is also our nature and the world’s to find ways to mend what has been broken. We can do that. Come on. Don’t be afraid.

Chabon may hate Israel, but he loves tikkun olam. And he has a taste for Messianism. In Yiddish Policeman’s Union, he posits a Messiah who is the gay junkie son of an obese Hasidic rabbi-gangster. Now, with his new-found passion for the half-Kenyan, half-WASP Hawaiian-born Senator from Illinois, you figure Chabon is slapping himself on the side of the head–”Why didn’t I think of that?” He might as well have. His Obama is at least as much a fictional character as Kavalier or Clay.

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Nile Virus

And speaking of Egypt, The New York Times offers an oddly-timed puff piece in its travel section on a visit to Cairo, the capital of America’s number 2 ally in the Middle East, “a teeming city that jars all the senses, all at once.” What the Times neglects to mention is that Cairo is literally the most polluted city on earth. For a precious glimpse at the culture that really pervades the jewel of the Nile, read this hilarious piece by none other than Robert Fisk, who discovered that a book on Saddam Hussein in Arabic was being sold in Cairo bearing his name–although he hadn’t written it.

And speaking of Egypt, The New York Times offers an oddly-timed puff piece in its travel section on a visit to Cairo, the capital of America’s number 2 ally in the Middle East, “a teeming city that jars all the senses, all at once.” What the Times neglects to mention is that Cairo is literally the most polluted city on earth. For a precious glimpse at the culture that really pervades the jewel of the Nile, read this hilarious piece by none other than Robert Fisk, who discovered that a book on Saddam Hussein in Arabic was being sold in Cairo bearing his name–although he hadn’t written it.

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Democratic Dissembling on Iraq

If they were being honest, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would say: “I want to pull all of our combat troops out of Iraq regardless of the consequences. Sure, a huge civil war could break out which would kill millions of people, foment international terrorism, and destabilize the entire region, but frankly I don’t give a damn. As long as our troops are home safe and sound, I’ll be happy.”

But rather than leveling with the electorate they continue to pretend that they can bring all of our combat brigades home and still leave behind a stable Iraq. Kind of like eating as many Twinkies as you like and still staying thin. Actually they go further and claim that the more Twinkies you eat, the thinner you will get: They contend that the faster we are to set a date certain for withdrawal, the more likely it is that Iraqi factions will reconcile with one another.

This is what they said in their last debate, January 31, in Los Angeles:

Clinton: At the same time, we have got to tell the Iraqi government there is no — there is no more time. They are out of time. They have got to make the tough decisions they have avoided making. They have got to take responsibility for their own country.

Obama: I do think it is important for us to set a date. And the reason I think it is important is because if we are going to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious, and prompt the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they have to have clarity about how serious we are.

It is indeed possible (though far from certain) that greater American pressure could make Iraqi politicos push through much-needed reconciliation legislation, such as the provincial powers law, but only if they think that by doing so they can forestall the evacuation of American forces which, it is generally agreed, would result in a bloodbath.

If, on the other hand, the message that we send to Iraqis is that we intend to withdraw soon, regardless of what they do, what incentive, precisely, do they have to make compromises? The overwhelming incentive under those circumstances would be to do nothing (such as sharing oil revenue) that might empower a competing faction that you may shortly be fighting in an all-out civil war. A guarantee of American disengagement is, thus, likely to retard rather than to advance the kind of political progress that Clinton and Obama claim to want.

A more self-defeating strategy is hard to imagine. The long-run consequence would be to make more likely another American intervention in Iraq under far less favorable circumstances than those that prevail today.

If they were being honest, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would say: “I want to pull all of our combat troops out of Iraq regardless of the consequences. Sure, a huge civil war could break out which would kill millions of people, foment international terrorism, and destabilize the entire region, but frankly I don’t give a damn. As long as our troops are home safe and sound, I’ll be happy.”

But rather than leveling with the electorate they continue to pretend that they can bring all of our combat brigades home and still leave behind a stable Iraq. Kind of like eating as many Twinkies as you like and still staying thin. Actually they go further and claim that the more Twinkies you eat, the thinner you will get: They contend that the faster we are to set a date certain for withdrawal, the more likely it is that Iraqi factions will reconcile with one another.

This is what they said in their last debate, January 31, in Los Angeles:

Clinton: At the same time, we have got to tell the Iraqi government there is no — there is no more time. They are out of time. They have got to make the tough decisions they have avoided making. They have got to take responsibility for their own country.

Obama: I do think it is important for us to set a date. And the reason I think it is important is because if we are going to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious, and prompt the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they have to have clarity about how serious we are.

It is indeed possible (though far from certain) that greater American pressure could make Iraqi politicos push through much-needed reconciliation legislation, such as the provincial powers law, but only if they think that by doing so they can forestall the evacuation of American forces which, it is generally agreed, would result in a bloodbath.

If, on the other hand, the message that we send to Iraqis is that we intend to withdraw soon, regardless of what they do, what incentive, precisely, do they have to make compromises? The overwhelming incentive under those circumstances would be to do nothing (such as sharing oil revenue) that might empower a competing faction that you may shortly be fighting in an all-out civil war. A guarantee of American disengagement is, thus, likely to retard rather than to advance the kind of political progress that Clinton and Obama claim to want.

A more self-defeating strategy is hard to imagine. The long-run consequence would be to make more likely another American intervention in Iraq under far less favorable circumstances than those that prevail today.

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Why McCain?

Lots of people have theories about why John McCain is in very good shape for tomorrow. Some think it’s his personal characteristics. (The Pew poll offers some support for this theory with McCain’s favorable/unfavorable split at 72-18% among Republicans and Romney at 49-30%). Some think McCain has shown himself to be a real conservative. Others think being conservative or super-conservative is not enough to win elections, let alone Republican primaries. Some think the competition was weak. Still others find that Mitt Romney’s position changes (even on items in his own life story)are too much to bear, leaving them with no choice but to “question his sincerity.”

There are many reasons, but I would suggest an overriding one: the surge. Without McCain’s determination on the surge and its resulting success, the race would look quite different. In that effort, McCain did show his personal characteristics (tenacity and bravery, most clearly) and many Republicans, conservatives included, came to see him as a warrior in the toughest policy battle in recent memory. It was the means by which he distinguished himself from his competition and by which he could appeal to skeptics who came to see his past policy heresies in greater perspective. (Or it could just be that the competition was very, very weak.)

Lots of people have theories about why John McCain is in very good shape for tomorrow. Some think it’s his personal characteristics. (The Pew poll offers some support for this theory with McCain’s favorable/unfavorable split at 72-18% among Republicans and Romney at 49-30%). Some think McCain has shown himself to be a real conservative. Others think being conservative or super-conservative is not enough to win elections, let alone Republican primaries. Some think the competition was weak. Still others find that Mitt Romney’s position changes (even on items in his own life story)are too much to bear, leaving them with no choice but to “question his sincerity.”

There are many reasons, but I would suggest an overriding one: the surge. Without McCain’s determination on the surge and its resulting success, the race would look quite different. In that effort, McCain did show his personal characteristics (tenacity and bravery, most clearly) and many Republicans, conservatives included, came to see him as a warrior in the toughest policy battle in recent memory. It was the means by which he distinguished himself from his competition and by which he could appeal to skeptics who came to see his past policy heresies in greater perspective. (Or it could just be that the competition was very, very weak.)

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Obama’s Real Israel Problem

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

Last week, the blogosphere hotly debated Barack Obama’s stance on Israel. Here at contentions, Noah Pollak argued that Obama’s advisory staff suggests an unfavorable disposition towards Jerusalem, while I noted that Obama’s strongly pro-Israel statements on the campaign trail contrasted with his previous call for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over at The American Prospect, however, Matthew Duss intimated that these concerns were petty—“Good heavens, ‘an even-handed approach’? What’s next, wearing a keffiyeh?” The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias agreed.

Unfortunately, Duss and Yglesias declined to address criticisms of Obama’s apparent Israeli-Palestinian flip-flopping—which was first exposed by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist—substantively. But, with the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl affording downtrodden Jets fans ample time to mull, I’ve decided that Duss and Yglesias are right: our focus on the various forces shaping Obama’s outlook and statements on Israel is petty, though not for their condescending reasons.

Consider the following: over the next four-to-eight years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to be the least dynamic feature of Middle Eastern politics and, by extension, U.S. policy in the Middle East. Firmly in control of Gaza, Hamas is bound to remain an actively destabilizing force in Palestinian politics for years to come. Fatah—the U.S.’s great hope for Palestinian moderation post-Arafat—remains weak and unpopular, and its decline will accelerate once Abbas leaves office in 2009. Meanwhile, Israel’s leadership still sees no contradiction between pursuing peace and expanding settlements, further lacking the vision to transform short-term military successes against terrorism into long-term political solutions.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian sphere will remain unambiguously hopeless for years to come. It is thus hard to imagine Obama adopting Samantha Power’s advice that pumping billions of dollars into a nascent Palestinian state is a panacea. Indeed, focusing on Obama’s Israel outlook merely distracts from his potential approach to far more dynamic—and therefore critical—areas of Middle Eastern politics.

For example, consider U.S. public diplomacy—the area in which Obama has the greatest potential to truly affect change. As LinkTV reports, “many Arabs believe that Obama’s ethnicity and background give him a kinder understanding of Third World countries.” I can vouch for these sentiments: when Obama announced his candidacy early last year, his childhood years in Indonesia and Islamic middle name enthused my classmates at the American University in Cairo, who were otherwise strictly critical of American politics and policy. These students represent the foremost demographic that U.S. public diplomacy must attract if it is to succeed: they are well educated, fluent in English, exposed to American culture, and relatively liberal in their social outlooks.

Yet Obama’s policy proposals would immediately undermine his biographical advantages with this key Arab constituency. After all, Obama has repeatedly called for dialogue with Iran and a conference with the leaders of Islamic states—initiatives that would sacrifice these young moderates to the region’s most illiberal forces. In Iran, Obama’s overture would inflict double damage: it would represent official U.S. acceptance of the hostage-taking Revolutionary regime, while debunking public sentiment that views Iran’s isolation as too steep a price for Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic rhetoric. Ultimately, the U.S. would be more in bed with Middle Eastern authoritarians than ever before, acquiescing to Iranian ascendancy in the process.

In short, if Barack Obama truly views himself as an “agent of change,” then scrutinizing his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the least dynamic of all Middle Eastern policy areas—is wasteful. Rather, it is his approach on Iran, Arab democracy, and U.S. public diplomacy—fluctuating issues that will demand Obama’s immediate attention should he assume office—that require the deepest evaluation.

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Bottoms Up!

It has been called “Israel’s Abu Ghraib” by Israeli Arab parliamentarian and former Arafat toady Ahmed Tibi. This horrific incident has proved once and for all, Tibi continues, that Israeli soldiers “have long been stripped of their humane values…. Israeli society should be shamed by this footage, especially the families who raised such monsters.” The IDF has rushed to apologize, insisting that “this was apparently a severe and rare occurrence, which contradicts the spirit, values and norms the army demands of its soldiers. The incident is being investigated by the Central Command.”

Now, I do not think it is either prudent military practice or diplomatically savvy for an Israeli soldier to flash his bottom at a shepherd. It is, in fact, an insensitive thing to do. But Tibi, whose mentor invented the idea of butchering elementary-school children to terrorize a country, really should not be talking about monsters.

It has been called “Israel’s Abu Ghraib” by Israeli Arab parliamentarian and former Arafat toady Ahmed Tibi. This horrific incident has proved once and for all, Tibi continues, that Israeli soldiers “have long been stripped of their humane values…. Israeli society should be shamed by this footage, especially the families who raised such monsters.” The IDF has rushed to apologize, insisting that “this was apparently a severe and rare occurrence, which contradicts the spirit, values and norms the army demands of its soldiers. The incident is being investigated by the Central Command.”

Now, I do not think it is either prudent military practice or diplomatically savvy for an Israeli soldier to flash his bottom at a shepherd. It is, in fact, an insensitive thing to do. But Tibi, whose mentor invented the idea of butchering elementary-school children to terrorize a country, really should not be talking about monsters.

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Fish Wrap: Hating Hillary Is Like…Anti-Semitism?

In his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish offers an atrocious assessment of what he calls “anti-Hillaryism.” Fish goes from bad to disgraceful in the space of a dozen paragraphs. He writes:

She is vilified for being a feminist and for not being one, for being an extreme leftist and for being a “warmongering hawk,” for being godless and for being “frighteningly fundamentalist,” for being the victim of her husband’s peccadilloes and for enabling them.

Not true. The problem with Hillary is that she celebrates herself as the embodiment of everything and its antidote at once. She voted for military force, but not for war. She said yes to drivers’ licenses for illegals but disagreed with them in her heart. She announced that she’d found her own voice before summarily dispatching her husband on a trip across the country to speak for her.

Fish quotes Jason Horowitz from a GQ article on Hillary: “She is an empty vessel into which [her detractors] can pour everything they detest.”

More like a woman of a thousand faces. But Fish isn’t done with wrongheaded analogies. He concludes (astonishingly) of “Hillary Clinton-hating”:

The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay.

The mind reels. The stomach churns.

In his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish offers an atrocious assessment of what he calls “anti-Hillaryism.” Fish goes from bad to disgraceful in the space of a dozen paragraphs. He writes:

She is vilified for being a feminist and for not being one, for being an extreme leftist and for being a “warmongering hawk,” for being godless and for being “frighteningly fundamentalist,” for being the victim of her husband’s peccadilloes and for enabling them.

Not true. The problem with Hillary is that she celebrates herself as the embodiment of everything and its antidote at once. She voted for military force, but not for war. She said yes to drivers’ licenses for illegals but disagreed with them in her heart. She announced that she’d found her own voice before summarily dispatching her husband on a trip across the country to speak for her.

Fish quotes Jason Horowitz from a GQ article on Hillary: “She is an empty vessel into which [her detractors] can pour everything they detest.”

More like a woman of a thousand faces. But Fish isn’t done with wrongheaded analogies. He concludes (astonishingly) of “Hillary Clinton-hating”:

The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay.

The mind reels. The stomach churns.

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Billions for Defense!

The Bush administration is unveiling a new budget asking for $515 billion in defense spending. You’re going to be reading a lot of headlines in coming days such as “Rising Cost of Iraq War May Reignite Public Debate” and “Proposed Military Spending is Highest Since WWII.”

It’s true that we’re spending a lot of money on defense in absolute terms, but is it unaffordable? That’s like asking if a 7-series BMW is expensive. The answer is: It depends. For someone making $50,000 a year, a 7-series is prohibitively expensive. For someone making $5 million a year it’s cheap.

When it comes to defense spending, keep in mind that the United States is the richest country in the world, with a GDP of $13.75 trillion. That makes defense spending look pretty affordable, especially when compared to the cost of losing in Iraq and watching a region with the world’s leading oil reserves spin out of control.

The key fact to keep in mind may be found in this chart. It notes that even counting supplemental war spending, the defense budget still equals only 4 percent of GDP—1.5 percentage points lower than the average of the past 40 years.

It is in fact because we are so rich that our wars cost so much. It is possible to fight for much less, but the result would be higher casualties, as the Canadians, who have stinted on defense spending for years, are finding out in southern Afghanistan. Thanks to our massive treasury, we are able to provide our troops all sorts of protection, such as the new armored vehicles known as MRAP’s and ubiquitous IED-jammers, that poorer nations can’t afford. We also provide the best in air support, medical evacuation and treatment, intelligence and surveillance assets, and untold numbers of other “combat enablers” to allow our troops to get the most dangerous jobs done as safely as possible. Casualties are still higher than anyone would like, but they are pretty low when compared to past wars, especially past counterinsurgencies, precisely because of such spending.

There are also numerous comforts available to our troops at their Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan and Iraq that would have been unimaginable to previous generations of servicemen—everything from fully equipped PX’s to dining facilities serving multiple types of freshly made pies. And then there is the compensation awarded to our service personnel. They have to be paid a competitive wage, along with decent medical and retirement benefits, because they are all volunteers, not the conscriptees that have fought so many of our previous wars. Those personnel costs are rising because of the much-needed increase in the size of the ground forces.

If you add in the rising cost of military equipment—everything from Nimitz-class aircraft carriers to F-22’s—the wonder is that defense spending is so low, not so high. In fact defense spending needs to go even higher to make up for years of procurement shortfalls and the urgent need to expand our ground forces even further. But we’re rich enough to afford it. What we can’t afford is to stint on our armed forces at a time of war.

The Bush administration is unveiling a new budget asking for $515 billion in defense spending. You’re going to be reading a lot of headlines in coming days such as “Rising Cost of Iraq War May Reignite Public Debate” and “Proposed Military Spending is Highest Since WWII.”

It’s true that we’re spending a lot of money on defense in absolute terms, but is it unaffordable? That’s like asking if a 7-series BMW is expensive. The answer is: It depends. For someone making $50,000 a year, a 7-series is prohibitively expensive. For someone making $5 million a year it’s cheap.

When it comes to defense spending, keep in mind that the United States is the richest country in the world, with a GDP of $13.75 trillion. That makes defense spending look pretty affordable, especially when compared to the cost of losing in Iraq and watching a region with the world’s leading oil reserves spin out of control.

The key fact to keep in mind may be found in this chart. It notes that even counting supplemental war spending, the defense budget still equals only 4 percent of GDP—1.5 percentage points lower than the average of the past 40 years.

It is in fact because we are so rich that our wars cost so much. It is possible to fight for much less, but the result would be higher casualties, as the Canadians, who have stinted on defense spending for years, are finding out in southern Afghanistan. Thanks to our massive treasury, we are able to provide our troops all sorts of protection, such as the new armored vehicles known as MRAP’s and ubiquitous IED-jammers, that poorer nations can’t afford. We also provide the best in air support, medical evacuation and treatment, intelligence and surveillance assets, and untold numbers of other “combat enablers” to allow our troops to get the most dangerous jobs done as safely as possible. Casualties are still higher than anyone would like, but they are pretty low when compared to past wars, especially past counterinsurgencies, precisely because of such spending.

There are also numerous comforts available to our troops at their Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan and Iraq that would have been unimaginable to previous generations of servicemen—everything from fully equipped PX’s to dining facilities serving multiple types of freshly made pies. And then there is the compensation awarded to our service personnel. They have to be paid a competitive wage, along with decent medical and retirement benefits, because they are all volunteers, not the conscriptees that have fought so many of our previous wars. Those personnel costs are rising because of the much-needed increase in the size of the ground forces.

If you add in the rising cost of military equipment—everything from Nimitz-class aircraft carriers to F-22’s—the wonder is that defense spending is so low, not so high. In fact defense spending needs to go even higher to make up for years of procurement shortfalls and the urgent need to expand our ground forces even further. But we’re rich enough to afford it. What we can’t afford is to stint on our armed forces at a time of war.

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In Defense of Don B.

Donald Barthelme is among those writers, like Kurt Vonnegut and (please, no laughter) Richard Brautigan, whom I found funny—sometimes brilliantly so—before coming to resent them as one-trick ponies, responsible, albeit indirectly, for much of the dross which passes for humor in today’s literature. Years ago, when McSweeney’s appeared on my radar in website form, I found it funny for a while before getting the sinking feeling that many of its contributors were just “doing” Barthelme, piggybacking on a beloved formula. The consistent deadpan, the jarring concatenation of allusions and non sequiturs, the compulsive goofiness: It was déjà vu. It was depressing.

James Wolcott’s brilliant essay on Barthelme articulates perfectly the pleasures and limitations of his fiction. Having read it, I’m prepared to admit that I’ve been too hard on Don B. and his acolytes (not that they care one way or the other). How could they have resisted the influence of what they so thoroughly enjoyed in Barthelme’s work? To hear Wolcott tell it, nobody could escape that pull:

Over the years, Barthelme’s antic break with the traditional tactful manner of the classic New Yorker story, where every stick of furniture and motivation was neatly, firmly in place, would expand into an entire wing of the magazine’s house style. His mastery of incongruity and curveball allusions helped liberate the whiz brains in the office and scramble the genetic code of the magazine’s humor and fiction irregulars: By the ’70s, the set-piece fictions and “casuals” of Ian Frazier, Veronica Geng, Mark Singer, Marshall Brickman, and George W. S. Trow abounded with absurdist dialogues, box scores, chess notations, chicken-scratch scribblings, send-ups of familiar minigenres (liner notes, movie blurbs, capsule reviews, wedding notices), multiple-choice quizzes, and mash-up satires . . . . They ran riot while Ann Beattie stood slightly off to the side, strumming her hair.

Today, I would hazard (I’ve always wanted to hazard), the track marks of Barthelme’s suave, subversive cunning are to be found less in postmod fiction—although David Foster Wallace’s dense foliage of footnotes suggests a Barthelmean undergrowth and George Saunders’s arcade surrealism has a runaway-nephew quality—than in the conscientiously oddball, studiedly offhand, hiply recherché, mock-anachronistic formalism of McSweeney’s, The Believer, The Crier, and related organs of articulate mumblecore.

I would say to those heirs apparent that my disdain, for what it’s worth, is a classic case of “I’m not mad at you—I’m just disappointed.” They haven’t done the difficult job of dynamiting their idols, our idols, and building something new and superior with the rubble. A few days ago, after reading a string of disappointing “comic novels,” I asked my friends to name the funniest books they’d ever read. The list is growing pretty long—I hope to share it one of these days—but not a single person named a Barthelme collection. Perhaps when the market is flooded with knockoffs, even the Louis Vuitton can start to look a bit phony.

Donald Barthelme is among those writers, like Kurt Vonnegut and (please, no laughter) Richard Brautigan, whom I found funny—sometimes brilliantly so—before coming to resent them as one-trick ponies, responsible, albeit indirectly, for much of the dross which passes for humor in today’s literature. Years ago, when McSweeney’s appeared on my radar in website form, I found it funny for a while before getting the sinking feeling that many of its contributors were just “doing” Barthelme, piggybacking on a beloved formula. The consistent deadpan, the jarring concatenation of allusions and non sequiturs, the compulsive goofiness: It was déjà vu. It was depressing.

James Wolcott’s brilliant essay on Barthelme articulates perfectly the pleasures and limitations of his fiction. Having read it, I’m prepared to admit that I’ve been too hard on Don B. and his acolytes (not that they care one way or the other). How could they have resisted the influence of what they so thoroughly enjoyed in Barthelme’s work? To hear Wolcott tell it, nobody could escape that pull:

Over the years, Barthelme’s antic break with the traditional tactful manner of the classic New Yorker story, where every stick of furniture and motivation was neatly, firmly in place, would expand into an entire wing of the magazine’s house style. His mastery of incongruity and curveball allusions helped liberate the whiz brains in the office and scramble the genetic code of the magazine’s humor and fiction irregulars: By the ’70s, the set-piece fictions and “casuals” of Ian Frazier, Veronica Geng, Mark Singer, Marshall Brickman, and George W. S. Trow abounded with absurdist dialogues, box scores, chess notations, chicken-scratch scribblings, send-ups of familiar minigenres (liner notes, movie blurbs, capsule reviews, wedding notices), multiple-choice quizzes, and mash-up satires . . . . They ran riot while Ann Beattie stood slightly off to the side, strumming her hair.

Today, I would hazard (I’ve always wanted to hazard), the track marks of Barthelme’s suave, subversive cunning are to be found less in postmod fiction—although David Foster Wallace’s dense foliage of footnotes suggests a Barthelmean undergrowth and George Saunders’s arcade surrealism has a runaway-nephew quality—than in the conscientiously oddball, studiedly offhand, hiply recherché, mock-anachronistic formalism of McSweeney’s, The Believer, The Crier, and related organs of articulate mumblecore.

I would say to those heirs apparent that my disdain, for what it’s worth, is a classic case of “I’m not mad at you—I’m just disappointed.” They haven’t done the difficult job of dynamiting their idols, our idols, and building something new and superior with the rubble. A few days ago, after reading a string of disappointing “comic novels,” I asked my friends to name the funniest books they’d ever read. The list is growing pretty long—I hope to share it one of these days—but not a single person named a Barthelme collection. Perhaps when the market is flooded with knockoffs, even the Louis Vuitton can start to look a bit phony.

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Goodbye, Gaza

Last week Noah Pollak and I suggested that the Gaza blockade, coupled with the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border, was good news, since it signalled a major shift of responsibility for Gaza, from Israel to Egypt. Although Eric Trager didn’t much agree, things are looking increasingly like Noah and I are right. Although the Egyptians have been trying to avoid taking responsibility for Gaza, it turns out that Hamas has plans of its own. According to reports, too see Gaza severing all economic ties with Israel as a high priority — a rare point of accord between Israel and Hamas. “Since the day we were elected,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s de facto ruler, “we have said that we want to progress toward breaking our economic ties with Israel.” He added that “Egypt is in a much better position [than Israel] to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip.”

Not surprisingly, folks in Ramallah are furious at the prospect of Israel conducting a separete foreign policy with Hamas, thereby creating two separate Palestinian non-states. And Egyptians are anything but thrilled at deepened ties between Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood types in Egypt. But after so many years of telling their own people that the plight of the Palestinians is the root of all evil, the Egyptian government will be hard-pressed to reject the Palestinians’ own plea for salvation.

This is complicated, and may not work, but it’s worth taking the experiment to its conclusion. The benefits of an internationally recognized separation between Israel and Gaza are as follows: (1) Israel is wrenched free of an intolerable situation in which it is forced to provide food, fuel, and electricity to a terror organization currently involved in killing Israeli citizens; (2) Israelis will no longer be an “occupier” in Gaza, and will have a r elative free hand militarily; (3) Egypt will have to answer, to some degree or another, for Hamas’ iniquities. Not a bad deal overall.

Yet we should not be popping corks. Perhaps this is the best way that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza could have ended. But in the big picture, what has happened over the last three years is that the Gaza Strip has shifted from being under Western rule to a full-fledged Iranian satellite. (Last week, Iran sent officials to Egypt to discuss their “help” with Gaza. Why is an American ally receiving delegations from Ahmedinajad?) To use Soviet-era language, this is the opposite of “containment.” There is nothing good, not for Israel and not for the US, about the rise of an Iranian client state in the thick of the Western middle East.

Hamas built its popularity not only on by fanning the flames of revolution, but also on the promise of more caring, less corrupt governance than what Arafat had offered. Let us hope that at some point, some kind of accountability kicks in, and that perhaps with the ameliorating influence of pro-Western Egypt, Hamas will one day find a way to drop all this terror stuff and try to build their Gaza on a positive Islamic vision. Not too likely–but we can dream, can’t we? All right, never mind.

Last week Noah Pollak and I suggested that the Gaza blockade, coupled with the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border, was good news, since it signalled a major shift of responsibility for Gaza, from Israel to Egypt. Although Eric Trager didn’t much agree, things are looking increasingly like Noah and I are right. Although the Egyptians have been trying to avoid taking responsibility for Gaza, it turns out that Hamas has plans of its own. According to reports, too see Gaza severing all economic ties with Israel as a high priority — a rare point of accord between Israel and Hamas. “Since the day we were elected,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s de facto ruler, “we have said that we want to progress toward breaking our economic ties with Israel.” He added that “Egypt is in a much better position [than Israel] to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip.”

Not surprisingly, folks in Ramallah are furious at the prospect of Israel conducting a separete foreign policy with Hamas, thereby creating two separate Palestinian non-states. And Egyptians are anything but thrilled at deepened ties between Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood types in Egypt. But after so many years of telling their own people that the plight of the Palestinians is the root of all evil, the Egyptian government will be hard-pressed to reject the Palestinians’ own plea for salvation.

This is complicated, and may not work, but it’s worth taking the experiment to its conclusion. The benefits of an internationally recognized separation between Israel and Gaza are as follows: (1) Israel is wrenched free of an intolerable situation in which it is forced to provide food, fuel, and electricity to a terror organization currently involved in killing Israeli citizens; (2) Israelis will no longer be an “occupier” in Gaza, and will have a r elative free hand militarily; (3) Egypt will have to answer, to some degree or another, for Hamas’ iniquities. Not a bad deal overall.

Yet we should not be popping corks. Perhaps this is the best way that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza could have ended. But in the big picture, what has happened over the last three years is that the Gaza Strip has shifted from being under Western rule to a full-fledged Iranian satellite. (Last week, Iran sent officials to Egypt to discuss their “help” with Gaza. Why is an American ally receiving delegations from Ahmedinajad?) To use Soviet-era language, this is the opposite of “containment.” There is nothing good, not for Israel and not for the US, about the rise of an Iranian client state in the thick of the Western middle East.

Hamas built its popularity not only on by fanning the flames of revolution, but also on the promise of more caring, less corrupt governance than what Arafat had offered. Let us hope that at some point, some kind of accountability kicks in, and that perhaps with the ameliorating influence of pro-Western Egypt, Hamas will one day find a way to drop all this terror stuff and try to build their Gaza on a positive Islamic vision. Not too likely–but we can dream, can’t we? All right, never mind.

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Evaluating Edwards’s End

Dan Gerstein, a former political adviser to Senator Joe Lieberman, had an illuminating column over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal about the demise of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. He described the former North Carolina Senator as “the angry spear carrier of the hard-line left, running on a dark, conspiratorial form of populism,” one of the best characterizations of Edwards I’ve read. Gerstein’s thesis is that the failure of Edwards’s campaign sounds the death knell for the liberal netroots’ influence on our national discussion. It is the end, as he puts it, of the “politics of Kos.”

Would that it were so. While it’s no doubt true that the implosion of the second Edwards presidential candidacy spelled a stunning defeat for the netleft, (which had invested hopes in Edwards from the start and whose rhetoric most matched their own), the netroots have faced seemingly more significant defeats in the past and still overcome them. Howard Dean, whom Gerstein neglects to mention, was the candidate of this constituency. Yet his failure to win the nomination did not prevent his ascension to Democratic National Committee Chairman. Nor did it temper the attitude of the angry left or the emergence of an angry left candidate the next time around. As Charles Krauthammer brilliantly documented last week, Edwards’s campaign was the apotheosis of shamelessness, as the man reversed himself on nearly every significant political issue in order to appeal to the resentful wing of the Democratic Party. “He is angry,” Krauthammer wrote, “embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot’s very latest.” The same could be said of the Kos crowd.

Gerstein trumpets the simultaneous rise of Barack Obama, with his emphasis on reconciliation and unity, as further indication of the death of the angry left. It’s true that Obama never had a warm relationship with the netroots, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports in the current New Republic. This was a wise tactical decision on Obama’s part. But while  Obama has certainly appealed to some conservatives with his message of “hope,” he is still a political neophyte whom it’s too early to assume won’t prove Gerstein wrong: last week, he welcomed the endorsement of MoveOn.org (just as much a part of the angry left blogosphere as the Daily Kos). The end of John Edwards’s presidential campaign represents a temporary defeat for the angry left. But it’s premature to conclude that this political temperament has expired.

Dan Gerstein, a former political adviser to Senator Joe Lieberman, had an illuminating column over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal about the demise of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. He described the former North Carolina Senator as “the angry spear carrier of the hard-line left, running on a dark, conspiratorial form of populism,” one of the best characterizations of Edwards I’ve read. Gerstein’s thesis is that the failure of Edwards’s campaign sounds the death knell for the liberal netroots’ influence on our national discussion. It is the end, as he puts it, of the “politics of Kos.”

Would that it were so. While it’s no doubt true that the implosion of the second Edwards presidential candidacy spelled a stunning defeat for the netleft, (which had invested hopes in Edwards from the start and whose rhetoric most matched their own), the netroots have faced seemingly more significant defeats in the past and still overcome them. Howard Dean, whom Gerstein neglects to mention, was the candidate of this constituency. Yet his failure to win the nomination did not prevent his ascension to Democratic National Committee Chairman. Nor did it temper the attitude of the angry left or the emergence of an angry left candidate the next time around. As Charles Krauthammer brilliantly documented last week, Edwards’s campaign was the apotheosis of shamelessness, as the man reversed himself on nearly every significant political issue in order to appeal to the resentful wing of the Democratic Party. “He is angry,” Krauthammer wrote, “embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot’s very latest.” The same could be said of the Kos crowd.

Gerstein trumpets the simultaneous rise of Barack Obama, with his emphasis on reconciliation and unity, as further indication of the death of the angry left. It’s true that Obama never had a warm relationship with the netroots, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports in the current New Republic. This was a wise tactical decision on Obama’s part. But while  Obama has certainly appealed to some conservatives with his message of “hope,” he is still a political neophyte whom it’s too early to assume won’t prove Gerstein wrong: last week, he welcomed the endorsement of MoveOn.org (just as much a part of the angry left blogosphere as the Daily Kos). The end of John Edwards’s presidential campaign represents a temporary defeat for the angry left. But it’s premature to conclude that this political temperament has expired.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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Two Different Candidates

The side-by-side opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal, one by Hillary Clinton and the other by a trio of Barack Obama supporters (Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill) are revealing.

Clinton’s purpose is to describe her plan for “shared prosperity.” On health care she declares, “Unless we cover all Americans, we will never end the hidden tax that the uninsured pass on to the rest of us when they end up in the emergency room and we wind up footing the bill. ” Her solution–which she cleverly avoids describing in any particularity–is to pass a massive unhidden tax, mandate healthcare coverage, and do such amorphous and unattainable things as “cut unnecessary spending.” She has lots and lots of other ideas, from matching IRA’s to encouraging women and minorities to pursue science careers (white men can apparently stick to sociology) to “ending the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind” (otherwise known as spending gobs of federal money on education), all the while “making government more efficient and restoring fiscal responsibility.” You can argue there is plenty of “sharing” but not much “prosperity” in her agenda, or that her approach is not intellectually honest or coherent, but give her credit: she has lots she wants to do.

In stark contrast, Obama’s supporters focus almost entirely on his campaign, his “new majority for change,” and these Red state officials’ hope that he will deliver broad electoral success to the Democratic Party. They tout his fundraising prowess and describe in detail his biography. It is eight paragraphs into the column before they address any substance and only then is in the broadest strokes–”make healthcare affordable for every American,” “give all of our children a world class education” and develop “new sources of energy.” (My goodness, had the rest of us only thought of these!) Foreign policy gets a single paragraph which consists of the reminder that he opposed the Iraq war, wants to take care of veterans( the favorite non-foreign policy part of every Democrat’s foreign policy), and “conduct diplomacy with our adversaries as well as our friends.” That’s about it.

One does sympathize at some level with Clinton that she must confront, and indeed may lose, to a man offering a “program” of so little substance. But that may indeed be altogether acceptable to Democratic primary voters. They simply want her and her husband to be gone, they want to feel good about their unbridled liberal sentiments and they will worry about the rest later. The appeal of a confrontation free style of politics and the lure of a new majority may just be too tempting to resist.

The side-by-side opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal, one by Hillary Clinton and the other by a trio of Barack Obama supporters (Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill) are revealing.

Clinton’s purpose is to describe her plan for “shared prosperity.” On health care she declares, “Unless we cover all Americans, we will never end the hidden tax that the uninsured pass on to the rest of us when they end up in the emergency room and we wind up footing the bill. ” Her solution–which she cleverly avoids describing in any particularity–is to pass a massive unhidden tax, mandate healthcare coverage, and do such amorphous and unattainable things as “cut unnecessary spending.” She has lots and lots of other ideas, from matching IRA’s to encouraging women and minorities to pursue science careers (white men can apparently stick to sociology) to “ending the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind” (otherwise known as spending gobs of federal money on education), all the while “making government more efficient and restoring fiscal responsibility.” You can argue there is plenty of “sharing” but not much “prosperity” in her agenda, or that her approach is not intellectually honest or coherent, but give her credit: she has lots she wants to do.

In stark contrast, Obama’s supporters focus almost entirely on his campaign, his “new majority for change,” and these Red state officials’ hope that he will deliver broad electoral success to the Democratic Party. They tout his fundraising prowess and describe in detail his biography. It is eight paragraphs into the column before they address any substance and only then is in the broadest strokes–”make healthcare affordable for every American,” “give all of our children a world class education” and develop “new sources of energy.” (My goodness, had the rest of us only thought of these!) Foreign policy gets a single paragraph which consists of the reminder that he opposed the Iraq war, wants to take care of veterans( the favorite non-foreign policy part of every Democrat’s foreign policy), and “conduct diplomacy with our adversaries as well as our friends.” That’s about it.

One does sympathize at some level with Clinton that she must confront, and indeed may lose, to a man offering a “program” of so little substance. But that may indeed be altogether acceptable to Democratic primary voters. They simply want her and her husband to be gone, they want to feel good about their unbridled liberal sentiments and they will worry about the rest later. The appeal of a confrontation free style of politics and the lure of a new majority may just be too tempting to resist.

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Welcome Wikileaks

We will be hearing more about Wikileaks, as a report in today’s New York Times makes clear.

The deliberate release of what could be a classified document is “irresponsible and, if valid, could put U.S. military personnel at risk,” Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad, told the Times.

The document in question, if it is authentic — and there is no reason to believe it is not — shows that U.S. forces in Iraq were granted authority to enter Iran in hot pursuit of terrorists and former members of Saddam’s Hussein’s regime.

The document can be found at wikileaks.org. Wikileaks describes itself as “an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.” In support of their objectives, the organizers cite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Pentagon Papers case “that only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” “We agree,” they say.

Connecting the Dots does not agree, either with Wikileak’s purpose or with the implication that is actions are legal.

In the Pentagon Papers case the Supreme Court ruled against a prior restraint on the publication of the secrets turned over by Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times. It left open the possibility of prosecution of the Times after publication.

Indeed, in his concurring opinion, Justice White (joined by Justice Stewart)wrote,

The Criminal Code contains numerous provisions potentially relevant to these cases. Section 797 makes it a crime to publish certain photographs or drawings of military installations. Section 798,  also in precise language, proscribes knowing and willful publication of any classified information concerning the cryptographic systems or communication intelligence activities of the United States, as well as any information obtained from communication intelligence operations. If any of the material here at issue is of this nature, the newspapers are presumably now on full notice of the position of the United States, and must face the consequences if they publish. I would have no difficulty in sustaining convictions under these sections on facts that would not justify the intervention of equity and the imposition of a prior restraint.

There has never been a successful prosecution of a newspaper under the espionage statutes. But does Wikileaks qualify as a newspaper? Is it even part of the press? As leakers become emboldened by this new self-proclaimedly “untraceable” medium, this is a question that is going to be asked again and again.

We will be hearing more about Wikileaks, as a report in today’s New York Times makes clear.

The deliberate release of what could be a classified document is “irresponsible and, if valid, could put U.S. military personnel at risk,” Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad, told the Times.

The document in question, if it is authentic — and there is no reason to believe it is not — shows that U.S. forces in Iraq were granted authority to enter Iran in hot pursuit of terrorists and former members of Saddam’s Hussein’s regime.

The document can be found at wikileaks.org. Wikileaks describes itself as “an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.” In support of their objectives, the organizers cite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Pentagon Papers case “that only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” “We agree,” they say.

Connecting the Dots does not agree, either with Wikileak’s purpose or with the implication that is actions are legal.

In the Pentagon Papers case the Supreme Court ruled against a prior restraint on the publication of the secrets turned over by Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times. It left open the possibility of prosecution of the Times after publication.

Indeed, in his concurring opinion, Justice White (joined by Justice Stewart)wrote,

The Criminal Code contains numerous provisions potentially relevant to these cases. Section 797 makes it a crime to publish certain photographs or drawings of military installations. Section 798,  also in precise language, proscribes knowing and willful publication of any classified information concerning the cryptographic systems or communication intelligence activities of the United States, as well as any information obtained from communication intelligence operations. If any of the material here at issue is of this nature, the newspapers are presumably now on full notice of the position of the United States, and must face the consequences if they publish. I would have no difficulty in sustaining convictions under these sections on facts that would not justify the intervention of equity and the imposition of a prior restraint.

There has never been a successful prosecution of a newspaper under the espionage statutes. But does Wikileaks qualify as a newspaper? Is it even part of the press? As leakers become emboldened by this new self-proclaimedly “untraceable” medium, this is a question that is going to be asked again and again.

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Seymour Hersh’s Shot in The Dark

The Jerusalem Post noted yesterday that on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN show Seymour Hersh discussed an upcoming New Yorker piece in which he will disclose that “Israel did not have a clear idea of the nature of the facility it targeted in Syria in September 2007″ and that “the primary objective of the bombing was to send a forceful message to Iran.” The piece is appropriately titled “A Shot in the Dark.”

When I saw this, the first thing I thought of was John Bolton’s speech at the Herzliya Conference in Israel a couple of weeks ago. Bolton devoted a substantial portion of his talk to discussing the 2007 strike, and questioning why the Israeli and American governments have been so reticent on the nature of the target. Obviously, Bolton cannot explicitly reveal what happened. But his method of discussing the incident was to tiptoe around it so meticulously that the outline of what he thinks was targeted emerged with unmistakable clarity.

I haven’t been able to locate a finished transcript of his remarks, but the IDC (which sponsors the conference) has posted rough transcripts of the conference presentations, the excerpt of which below I’ve edited for spelling and typos:

The general public still doesn’t know the relationship between North Korea and Syria and whether it was a joint effort, a trade of supplies or something else. Our governments however do know the details and I wonder if that censorship and classification of information is necessary . . .

Syria with its domination by Iran wouldn’t be able to build a nuclear facility without, at least, the acquiescence of Iran. Even with Iranian permission Syria still has two problems. First they don’t have the capability; secondly they don’t have the money. As a solution to this North Korea could provide the capability while Iran, from its oil sales, could provide the money.

In this case it’s more than cooperation and more like a joint effort. I feel that it’s clear that there is more here that needs to be disclosed. I feel that there isn’t any need for either the Israeli or United States governments to reveal how they came about the intelligence or about how they knew of the facility. Nor do I believe that there is a need to disclose the classified information about the operation.

What should not be withheld is what the facility actually was and why it was withheld….Now there won’t be a Syrian retaliation and there does seem to be North Korean involvement, so why not say so?

The reason why the Israeli government isn’t disclosing any information means that there is more occurring here and this information is being withheld because of the possibly that North Korea was violating their agreement of the Six Party Talks and proliferating nuclear arms against [that] agreement.

As characterized by Bolton, the Israeli strike wasn’t much of a “shot in the dark” at all. It will be interesting to see what Hersh (who has a fondness for shocking revelations from anonymous government sources) has to say about it.

The Jerusalem Post noted yesterday that on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN show Seymour Hersh discussed an upcoming New Yorker piece in which he will disclose that “Israel did not have a clear idea of the nature of the facility it targeted in Syria in September 2007″ and that “the primary objective of the bombing was to send a forceful message to Iran.” The piece is appropriately titled “A Shot in the Dark.”

When I saw this, the first thing I thought of was John Bolton’s speech at the Herzliya Conference in Israel a couple of weeks ago. Bolton devoted a substantial portion of his talk to discussing the 2007 strike, and questioning why the Israeli and American governments have been so reticent on the nature of the target. Obviously, Bolton cannot explicitly reveal what happened. But his method of discussing the incident was to tiptoe around it so meticulously that the outline of what he thinks was targeted emerged with unmistakable clarity.

I haven’t been able to locate a finished transcript of his remarks, but the IDC (which sponsors the conference) has posted rough transcripts of the conference presentations, the excerpt of which below I’ve edited for spelling and typos:

The general public still doesn’t know the relationship between North Korea and Syria and whether it was a joint effort, a trade of supplies or something else. Our governments however do know the details and I wonder if that censorship and classification of information is necessary . . .

Syria with its domination by Iran wouldn’t be able to build a nuclear facility without, at least, the acquiescence of Iran. Even with Iranian permission Syria still has two problems. First they don’t have the capability; secondly they don’t have the money. As a solution to this North Korea could provide the capability while Iran, from its oil sales, could provide the money.

In this case it’s more than cooperation and more like a joint effort. I feel that it’s clear that there is more here that needs to be disclosed. I feel that there isn’t any need for either the Israeli or United States governments to reveal how they came about the intelligence or about how they knew of the facility. Nor do I believe that there is a need to disclose the classified information about the operation.

What should not be withheld is what the facility actually was and why it was withheld….Now there won’t be a Syrian retaliation and there does seem to be North Korean involvement, so why not say so?

The reason why the Israeli government isn’t disclosing any information means that there is more occurring here and this information is being withheld because of the possibly that North Korea was violating their agreement of the Six Party Talks and proliferating nuclear arms against [that] agreement.

As characterized by Bolton, the Israeli strike wasn’t much of a “shot in the dark” at all. It will be interesting to see what Hersh (who has a fondness for shocking revelations from anonymous government sources) has to say about it.

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Two Surging Candidates

In the New York Times, Washington Post/ABC, Fox, Pew and Gallup national polls we have a tale of two very different races. John McCain’s lead in these polls ranges from 18% to 28%. The Pew poll breaks out conservative voters, showing McCain leading over Mitt Romney among these voters by a margin of 37 to 26%. (Although the other polls do not break out conservative voters, it frankly is not possible to lead by 20 points in a GOP national poll without leading by a healthy margin among conservatives.) McCain leads handily as the candidate best able to deal with a wide range of issues, including the economy. If there is a great “rally,” it is a rally to McCain among a broad base of Republicans. (And yes, there is a single poll, which has often been at odds with all other national polls and which  has consistently underestimated McCain’s support in primaries to date, that shows a much narrower McCain lead.)

The best news for Romney: a poll here showing a tied race, one here showing a lead in California (at odds with two others, but perhaps reason enough to send both candidates back to California for one last rally), and a close race in Georgia.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, these same polls range from a tie to a 10% lead for Hillary Clinton. The days of Clinton’s 30 point lead seem a distant memory. In state polls, California and Connecticut are now very close races, while the candidates have healthy leads in their own states. If there is a surge, it is for Obama who has been chasing his opponent all year and may have caught her just in time.

One important point to keep in mind: McCain’s victories in winner-take-all states may result in a commanding delegate lead. The Democratic primary’s proportional system is unlikely to give us such a dramatic result. The most likely, but by no means only, outcome: the Republicans resolve their differences very soon and the Democrats do not. This may either be a great advantage for the Democrats (providing a national rollercoaster ride that grips normally uninvolved citizens and shows both candidates off in their best light) or a disaster (creating a bloody and divisive battle while the Republicans heal their wounds). Either way, it will be quite a show.

In the New York Times, Washington Post/ABC, Fox, Pew and Gallup national polls we have a tale of two very different races. John McCain’s lead in these polls ranges from 18% to 28%. The Pew poll breaks out conservative voters, showing McCain leading over Mitt Romney among these voters by a margin of 37 to 26%. (Although the other polls do not break out conservative voters, it frankly is not possible to lead by 20 points in a GOP national poll without leading by a healthy margin among conservatives.) McCain leads handily as the candidate best able to deal with a wide range of issues, including the economy. If there is a great “rally,” it is a rally to McCain among a broad base of Republicans. (And yes, there is a single poll, which has often been at odds with all other national polls and which  has consistently underestimated McCain’s support in primaries to date, that shows a much narrower McCain lead.)

The best news for Romney: a poll here showing a tied race, one here showing a lead in California (at odds with two others, but perhaps reason enough to send both candidates back to California for one last rally), and a close race in Georgia.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, these same polls range from a tie to a 10% lead for Hillary Clinton. The days of Clinton’s 30 point lead seem a distant memory. In state polls, California and Connecticut are now very close races, while the candidates have healthy leads in their own states. If there is a surge, it is for Obama who has been chasing his opponent all year and may have caught her just in time.

One important point to keep in mind: McCain’s victories in winner-take-all states may result in a commanding delegate lead. The Democratic primary’s proportional system is unlikely to give us such a dramatic result. The most likely, but by no means only, outcome: the Republicans resolve their differences very soon and the Democrats do not. This may either be a great advantage for the Democrats (providing a national rollercoaster ride that grips normally uninvolved citizens and shows both candidates off in their best light) or a disaster (creating a bloody and divisive battle while the Republicans heal their wounds). Either way, it will be quite a show.

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