Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 3, 2008

The Plight of Iraqi Translators

Owen West is a commodities trader at Goldman Sachs who happily left behind his plush existence on Wall Street to serve two combat tours as a Marine in Iraq. He has a harrowing tale to tell in this New York Post article—not about the dangers that he and his men suffered (he’s too modest go on about that) but about the danger that confronts his Iraqi translators.

These men have been marked for death because they have worked for the Americans. Yet the State Department bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for these heroes to get American visas. Two of the “terps” who worked with West are anxious to join the Marine Corps, and they have proved their loyalty a thousand times over by risking their lives to serve alongside the Marines. Their reward from our government? Endless paperwork hassles and delays that make it increasingly likely they will be killed. This is a national scandal that should be rectified at the highest levels. As West writes:

President Bush has a duty to intervene. The honorable remedy is to trust the US military: Let a returning brigade that wants to bring some of its interpreters home simply fill out the visa paperwork on base, then carry them along on the aircraft.

The sooner the better.

Owen West is a commodities trader at Goldman Sachs who happily left behind his plush existence on Wall Street to serve two combat tours as a Marine in Iraq. He has a harrowing tale to tell in this New York Post article—not about the dangers that he and his men suffered (he’s too modest go on about that) but about the danger that confronts his Iraqi translators.

These men have been marked for death because they have worked for the Americans. Yet the State Department bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for these heroes to get American visas. Two of the “terps” who worked with West are anxious to join the Marine Corps, and they have proved their loyalty a thousand times over by risking their lives to serve alongside the Marines. Their reward from our government? Endless paperwork hassles and delays that make it increasingly likely they will be killed. This is a national scandal that should be rectified at the highest levels. As West writes:

President Bush has a duty to intervene. The honorable remedy is to trust the US military: Let a returning brigade that wants to bring some of its interpreters home simply fill out the visa paperwork on base, then carry them along on the aircraft.

The sooner the better.

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An Obama Epiphany?

Blogger neo-neocon comments on what could be the most frighteningly messianic Barack Obama quote yet. During a speech at Darmouth College in January, Obama said:

My job this morning is to be so persuasive…that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.

What’s most alarming is that I can easily imagine audience members convulsing and dropping to the floor as they hear this. Neo-neocon offers the following analysis:

I can only assume—I can only hope—(and would it be inappropriate to say I can only pray?) that this sentence was delivered in a tone of gentle mockery, showing that he’s able to poke fun at himself, his hype, and those who seem to think he just might be the Second Coming.

Trouble is, I can’t find anyone describing him as speaking in that sort of tone. And if this line was delivered straight, in all seriousness—then be afraid. Be very afraid.

But why the either/or? Why not both/and? Maybe he strategically floated the line with a neutral tone in the hope that those predisposed to an Obama epiphany would be so affected, and those impervious would assume he was joking. In fact, such an approach might work very well from here on out. How better to build on his hysterical support base while deflecting charges of egomania.

Blogger neo-neocon comments on what could be the most frighteningly messianic Barack Obama quote yet. During a speech at Darmouth College in January, Obama said:

My job this morning is to be so persuasive…that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.

What’s most alarming is that I can easily imagine audience members convulsing and dropping to the floor as they hear this. Neo-neocon offers the following analysis:

I can only assume—I can only hope—(and would it be inappropriate to say I can only pray?) that this sentence was delivered in a tone of gentle mockery, showing that he’s able to poke fun at himself, his hype, and those who seem to think he just might be the Second Coming.

Trouble is, I can’t find anyone describing him as speaking in that sort of tone. And if this line was delivered straight, in all seriousness—then be afraid. Be very afraid.

But why the either/or? Why not both/and? Maybe he strategically floated the line with a neutral tone in the hope that those predisposed to an Obama epiphany would be so affected, and those impervious would assume he was joking. In fact, such an approach might work very well from here on out. How better to build on his hysterical support base while deflecting charges of egomania.

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NAFTA, Obama, and The Politics of Disingenuousness

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week took turns smashing NAFTA with rhetorical baseball bats as though it were a birthday pinata that had failed to open and pour its goodies out on the heads of unfortunate Ohioans. Hillary was forced, during that debate, to address the fact that she was lying through her teeth about the whole business, since she had said in 2004 that NAFTA had been good for America. This left Obama seemingly alone as an honest-to-goodness free-trade-basher. Then came the news that Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, had told the Canadian consul in Chicago that Obama didn’t mean what he was saying about NAFTA — and several days of backing and forthing, with the Canadians saying yes indeed Goolsbee had said it and Goolsbee saying he hadn’t said it that way. And of course Goolsbee is lying, because what possible incentive could the Canadian consul in Chicago have had to misrepresent their conversation in a private memo?

The proposals being offered in Ohio by the Democrats — pausing NAFTA, reopening NAFTA, doodling on NAFTA likethe treaty was a menu at Applebee’s — are not remotely serious, and will not be undertaken by either candidate should either candidate become president. What they are talking about cannot be done. NAFTA has the status of settled international law. We could abrogate it entirely, perhaps, but we cannot revise it at will, since there are two other signatories to it who might object to such a ploy.

More important than that, those two signatories (Mexico and Canada) are our largest trading partners, and it is not believable that two candidates who claim their primary foreign-policy platform is to correct the international image of the United States as a buccaneering unilateralist will actually dedicate a presidency to an act of buccaneering unilateralism the likes of which the world has never before seen.

Democrats are trying to ignite populist fire among voters in rust-belt states, and are doing so with an astonishing degree of disingenuousness. The only comparable act of disingenuousness I can think of is the repeated promise, made by Bill Clinton and by George W. Bush in election years as they hungered after Jewish contributions, that they would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They said it, knowing full well they would never actually attempt it, and my guess is, somebody will say it again this year too. And not do it.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week took turns smashing NAFTA with rhetorical baseball bats as though it were a birthday pinata that had failed to open and pour its goodies out on the heads of unfortunate Ohioans. Hillary was forced, during that debate, to address the fact that she was lying through her teeth about the whole business, since she had said in 2004 that NAFTA had been good for America. This left Obama seemingly alone as an honest-to-goodness free-trade-basher. Then came the news that Obama’s chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, had told the Canadian consul in Chicago that Obama didn’t mean what he was saying about NAFTA — and several days of backing and forthing, with the Canadians saying yes indeed Goolsbee had said it and Goolsbee saying he hadn’t said it that way. And of course Goolsbee is lying, because what possible incentive could the Canadian consul in Chicago have had to misrepresent their conversation in a private memo?

The proposals being offered in Ohio by the Democrats — pausing NAFTA, reopening NAFTA, doodling on NAFTA likethe treaty was a menu at Applebee’s — are not remotely serious, and will not be undertaken by either candidate should either candidate become president. What they are talking about cannot be done. NAFTA has the status of settled international law. We could abrogate it entirely, perhaps, but we cannot revise it at will, since there are two other signatories to it who might object to such a ploy.

More important than that, those two signatories (Mexico and Canada) are our largest trading partners, and it is not believable that two candidates who claim their primary foreign-policy platform is to correct the international image of the United States as a buccaneering unilateralist will actually dedicate a presidency to an act of buccaneering unilateralism the likes of which the world has never before seen.

Democrats are trying to ignite populist fire among voters in rust-belt states, and are doing so with an astonishing degree of disingenuousness. The only comparable act of disingenuousness I can think of is the repeated promise, made by Bill Clinton and by George W. Bush in election years as they hungered after Jewish contributions, that they would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They said it, knowing full well they would never actually attempt it, and my guess is, somebody will say it again this year too. And not do it.

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Putin’s Real Record

Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

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Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

Meanwhile, on a host of other measures relating to “public safety, health” and a “secure legal and property-owning environment,” Putin’s autocracy is doing no better, and in many cases worse, than the more democratic Yeltsin regime which preceded it.

McFaul and Stoner-Weiss cite a host of eye-opening statistics to make their point:

• “In the “anarchic” years of 1995-99, the average annual number of murders was 30,200; in the “orderly” years of 2000-2004, the number was 32,200.”

• “The frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia has increased under Putin. The two biggest terrorist attacks in Russia’s history — the Nord-Ost incident at a theater in Moscow in 2002, in which an estimated 300 Russians died, and the Beslan school hostage crisis, in which as many as 500 died — occurred under Putin’s autocracy, not Yeltsin’s democracy.”

• “The death rate from fires is around 40 a day in Russia, roughly ten times the average rate in western Europe.”

• “At the end of the 1990s, annual alcohol consumption per adult was 10.7 liters (compared with 8.6 liters in the United States and 9.7 in the United Kingdom); in 2004, this figure had increased to 14.5 liters. An estimated 0.9 percent of the Russian population is now infected with HIV, and rates of infection in Russia are now the highest of any country outside Africa.”

• “Life expectancy in Russia rose between 1995 and 1998. Since 1999, however, it has declined to 59 years for Russian men and 72 for Russian women.”

• “In 2006, Transparency International ranked Russia at an all-time worst of 121st out of 163 countries on corruption, putting it between the Philippines and Rwanda.

• “Russia ranked 62nd out of 125 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index in 2006, representing a fall of nine places in a year.”

• “On the World Bank’s 2006 “ease of doing business” index, Russia ranked 96th out of 175, also an all-time worst.”

If he had not eliminated the independence of the press and made it virtually impossible for the opposition to field candidates, Putin might have been made to pay a price for some of these problems at the ballot box.

It will be interesting to see what fate will befall the Kremlin clique if oil prices fall in a big way. By then, of course, their power might be so secure that it won’t make any difference, but a collapse in oil prices would make clear for all to see what McFaul and Stoner-Weiss argue so persuasively: that autocracy in Russia isn’t really a success story.

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Upping the Ante

Today Israeli military intelligence reported that the “Grad” missiles that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon over the weekend was confirmed to have been of Iranian origin. The missile made a direct hit on an apartment building in a city that had, until recently, been thought outside the range of Hamas fire. A sixth-floor apartment was completely destroyed.

A few notes:

1. Hamas is an Iranian satellite. People love to confuse this point, mainly because Hamas is made up of Sunni Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel, rather than Shi’ite Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel. Yet for all intents and purposes, Hamas is doing whatever it can to replicate the successes of Hizballah by creating a state-within-a-state (or, to be more precise, a state-within-a-not-quite-state) armed and supported by Iran.

2. Hamas has weapons. We don’t know how those Grads got there, but it stands to reason that the ripped-open Egyptian border of a few weeks ago may have helped.

3. It is unclear what kind of fire Israel has to come under before international opinion graces Israel the right to retaliate. Granted, Hamas has less sympathy than did Yasser Arafat when he was running Gaza. But worldwide condemnations of the kind we’ve seen this week, from the EU and UNSC, do little service to democratic states struggling against terror. Nor does equally condemning Israel and Hamas help much. That is, after all, what terrorists thrive on–the presumption of equivalence.

For an interesting take on the Israeli perspective of all this, read my friend Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. He writes of an emerging conflict in which Israelis feel much less guilty about the plight of Palestinians than they used to:

Gaza’s people are being held hostage to a political fantasy. And the international community is abetting the tragedy. The U.N. actually considers Palestinians to be permanent refugees, to be protected in squalid but subsidized camps even though they live in their own homeland of Gaza, under their own government.

So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel’s destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel’s crime isn’t occupying but existing.

And so we move toward the next terrible round of conflict. This time, though, for all our anguish, we will feel a lot less remorse. Because even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist.

Read the whole thing.

Today Israeli military intelligence reported that the “Grad” missiles that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon over the weekend was confirmed to have been of Iranian origin. The missile made a direct hit on an apartment building in a city that had, until recently, been thought outside the range of Hamas fire. A sixth-floor apartment was completely destroyed.

A few notes:

1. Hamas is an Iranian satellite. People love to confuse this point, mainly because Hamas is made up of Sunni Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel, rather than Shi’ite Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel. Yet for all intents and purposes, Hamas is doing whatever it can to replicate the successes of Hizballah by creating a state-within-a-state (or, to be more precise, a state-within-a-not-quite-state) armed and supported by Iran.

2. Hamas has weapons. We don’t know how those Grads got there, but it stands to reason that the ripped-open Egyptian border of a few weeks ago may have helped.

3. It is unclear what kind of fire Israel has to come under before international opinion graces Israel the right to retaliate. Granted, Hamas has less sympathy than did Yasser Arafat when he was running Gaza. But worldwide condemnations of the kind we’ve seen this week, from the EU and UNSC, do little service to democratic states struggling against terror. Nor does equally condemning Israel and Hamas help much. That is, after all, what terrorists thrive on–the presumption of equivalence.

For an interesting take on the Israeli perspective of all this, read my friend Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. He writes of an emerging conflict in which Israelis feel much less guilty about the plight of Palestinians than they used to:

Gaza’s people are being held hostage to a political fantasy. And the international community is abetting the tragedy. The U.N. actually considers Palestinians to be permanent refugees, to be protected in squalid but subsidized camps even though they live in their own homeland of Gaza, under their own government.

So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel’s destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel’s crime isn’t occupying but existing.

And so we move toward the next terrible round of conflict. This time, though, for all our anguish, we will feel a lot less remorse. Because even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist.

Read the whole thing.

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Obama Denies Iraqis Hope and Change

Nowhere is the gulf between Barack Obama’s inspirational message and his lifeless policy more evident than on Iraq. The candidate who has nearly assumed power-of-attorney for the words “hope” and “change,” and who recently denounced Republicans for their “mind-set of fear . . . fear of looking weak, fear of new challenges, fear of the unknown,” promises to walk away from the challenge in Iraq and to halt the most stunning cause for hope that region has ever seen. Although Obama speaks of unity, he is ready to undermine the burgeoning reconciliation of Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish citizens. In an Iowa speech this past November, Barack Obama offered, “I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, “You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.” Their future is our future, and in abandoning “those yearning faces” to the forces of chaos and jihad, Obama would indeed make America more vulnerable to those same agents of destruction.

For a snapshot of how the U.S. has actually affected critical change, there is a piece in today’s New York Times about Arab Jabour, Iraq. The area is a kind of microcosmic study of the challenges facing an emergent Iraqi state: Arab Jabour, in addition to having once been a Ba’athist hideout, was a haven for jihadists after the war began as well. Yet last year the U.S. troop surge, with the help of Sunni Awakening groups, took it back. Not only has violence there plummeted, but “Americans have sought to restore irrigation projects, injected millions of dollars in microgrants and aid projects to revitalize the economy, and used “helicopter diplomacy” to bring Shiite government officials to talk to Sunni leaders.” Where does Obama’s rhetoric begin to compete with real world transformation such as this? If elected, he promises drawdowns “immediately” and vows to have all combat troops out of Iraq by 2010.

This piece on the remarkable work of the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad quotes Khalid Ahmed Salih, chairman of a Tribal Support Council: “I will be straight with you. If the Americans pull out a little bit and the government can’t keep in touch with the locals, then things will go back.” They go on to talk to another Shi’ite leader:

Khaleel is optimistic about the future. He thinks the security will continue and prosperity is coming.
“Coalition forces now understand how to deal with the Iraqi people,” he said. “And nobody wants to go back to the troubled years.”

While Iraqis celebrate the surge’s success, Obama denigrates it and talks of revolutions. But if “we are the change we’ve been waiting for” over here, just who does Barack Obama expect to help long-suffering Iraqis ensure their own safe and prosperous futures?

Nowhere is the gulf between Barack Obama’s inspirational message and his lifeless policy more evident than on Iraq. The candidate who has nearly assumed power-of-attorney for the words “hope” and “change,” and who recently denounced Republicans for their “mind-set of fear . . . fear of looking weak, fear of new challenges, fear of the unknown,” promises to walk away from the challenge in Iraq and to halt the most stunning cause for hope that region has ever seen. Although Obama speaks of unity, he is ready to undermine the burgeoning reconciliation of Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish citizens. In an Iowa speech this past November, Barack Obama offered, “I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, “You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.” Their future is our future, and in abandoning “those yearning faces” to the forces of chaos and jihad, Obama would indeed make America more vulnerable to those same agents of destruction.

For a snapshot of how the U.S. has actually affected critical change, there is a piece in today’s New York Times about Arab Jabour, Iraq. The area is a kind of microcosmic study of the challenges facing an emergent Iraqi state: Arab Jabour, in addition to having once been a Ba’athist hideout, was a haven for jihadists after the war began as well. Yet last year the U.S. troop surge, with the help of Sunni Awakening groups, took it back. Not only has violence there plummeted, but “Americans have sought to restore irrigation projects, injected millions of dollars in microgrants and aid projects to revitalize the economy, and used “helicopter diplomacy” to bring Shiite government officials to talk to Sunni leaders.” Where does Obama’s rhetoric begin to compete with real world transformation such as this? If elected, he promises drawdowns “immediately” and vows to have all combat troops out of Iraq by 2010.

This piece on the remarkable work of the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad quotes Khalid Ahmed Salih, chairman of a Tribal Support Council: “I will be straight with you. If the Americans pull out a little bit and the government can’t keep in touch with the locals, then things will go back.” They go on to talk to another Shi’ite leader:

Khaleel is optimistic about the future. He thinks the security will continue and prosperity is coming.
“Coalition forces now understand how to deal with the Iraqi people,” he said. “And nobody wants to go back to the troubled years.”

While Iraqis celebrate the surge’s success, Obama denigrates it and talks of revolutions. But if “we are the change we’ve been waiting for” over here, just who does Barack Obama expect to help long-suffering Iraqis ensure their own safe and prosperous futures?

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The Sleeping Giant Awakens

No, it is not Hillary or Bill Clinton that has woken up from a stupor; it’s the media. Either because they were guilted into some self-reflection by Saturday Night Live or because the Clinton team’s harping on biased media coverage took its toll, the media seems to be dropping its reverential tone toward Barack Obama.

Jake Tapper on NAFTA-gate: “And in fact, the story seems today more alive than ever. That is, if the press does its job.” Clinton goads them further with this, reported by MSNBC:

I would ask you to look at this story, substitute my name for Sen. Obama’s name and see what you would do with this story. That’s what I would ask you to do. If some of my economic advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments basically saying ignore what I’m saying because it’s only political rhetoric, I think it raises serious questions.

And Howard Kurtz devotes an entire column to the question of whether Barack Obama’s soft coverage (I suppose we can now all admit publicly that is was soft) is toughening. Kurtz cites an exchange in which Obama was finally asked about dropping his flag label pin, asking if it signifies “the end of a long period in which the media have gone easy on the man who could all but clinch the Democratic nomination in tomorrow’s primaries.” The heightened media coverage is one more reason (in addition to some brightening poll trends) why Clinton, I think, will be sticking around for quite a while after Tuesday.

No, it is not Hillary or Bill Clinton that has woken up from a stupor; it’s the media. Either because they were guilted into some self-reflection by Saturday Night Live or because the Clinton team’s harping on biased media coverage took its toll, the media seems to be dropping its reverential tone toward Barack Obama.

Jake Tapper on NAFTA-gate: “And in fact, the story seems today more alive than ever. That is, if the press does its job.” Clinton goads them further with this, reported by MSNBC:

I would ask you to look at this story, substitute my name for Sen. Obama’s name and see what you would do with this story. That’s what I would ask you to do. If some of my economic advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments basically saying ignore what I’m saying because it’s only political rhetoric, I think it raises serious questions.

And Howard Kurtz devotes an entire column to the question of whether Barack Obama’s soft coverage (I suppose we can now all admit publicly that is was soft) is toughening. Kurtz cites an exchange in which Obama was finally asked about dropping his flag label pin, asking if it signifies “the end of a long period in which the media have gone easy on the man who could all but clinch the Democratic nomination in tomorrow’s primaries.” The heightened media coverage is one more reason (in addition to some brightening poll trends) why Clinton, I think, will be sticking around for quite a while after Tuesday.

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The Israel of Latin America

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

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Blame Canada

The flap over what Obama economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, said to Canadian officials about Obama’s newfound fondness for protectionism just worsened. The Obama camp repeatedly denied any comments were made indicating that the Canadians should not worry about Obama’s talk of backing out of NAFTA. (What were they telling them, then–go ahead and start worrying?) A memo from the Canadian official documenting the call included this:

Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.

Goolsbee’s denials were classic non-denials: he claimed the statement was not an exact quote and that it was a “ham-handed” way of charachterizing his comments. But there is no flat-out denial from Goolsbee on the substance of the remarks. This plays into the “say one thing and do another” charge that Hillary Clinton has been raising. It may be too little and too late, but I expected Clinton to drive a truck through this opening. And sure enough, a press release from the Clinton camp just hit my in-box:

I don’t think people should come to Ohio and you both give speeches that are very critical of NAFTA and you send out misleading and false information about my positions regarding NAFTA and then we find out that your chief economic advisor has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink-wink, don’t pay any attention this is just political rhetoric.

The flap over what Obama economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, said to Canadian officials about Obama’s newfound fondness for protectionism just worsened. The Obama camp repeatedly denied any comments were made indicating that the Canadians should not worry about Obama’s talk of backing out of NAFTA. (What were they telling them, then–go ahead and start worrying?) A memo from the Canadian official documenting the call included this:

Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.

Goolsbee’s denials were classic non-denials: he claimed the statement was not an exact quote and that it was a “ham-handed” way of charachterizing his comments. But there is no flat-out denial from Goolsbee on the substance of the remarks. This plays into the “say one thing and do another” charge that Hillary Clinton has been raising. It may be too little and too late, but I expected Clinton to drive a truck through this opening. And sure enough, a press release from the Clinton camp just hit my in-box:

I don’t think people should come to Ohio and you both give speeches that are very critical of NAFTA and you send out misleading and false information about my positions regarding NAFTA and then we find out that your chief economic advisor has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink-wink, don’t pay any attention this is just political rhetoric.

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Pyongyang Blues

Israeli journalist Sever Plocker has penned one of the most impassioned pieces against the NY Philharmonic’s visit to North Korea. Far from being a “neo-con,” Plocker is actually a central figure in Israel‘s left-leaning journalistic establishment, and tends to sympathize with the Democrats on internal American debates. Yet when it comes to Pyongyang, he simply cannot understand why Americans are so thrilled. He writes:

America’s cultural elite has embraced the darkest, maddest, and most murderous regime on earth, North Korean communism. This is the regime that starved to death at least five million of its own citizens and eliminated as many as two million “subversive elements” in purges that continue to this very day.

I watched the live broadcasts of American networks, I read the stories published in US newspapers, and I was horrified. What happened to the journalists’ and newscasters’ natural sense of criticism? What happened to their liberal point of view? Apparently they melted in the snow that covered the empty streets and dark villages of North Korea’s police and terror state.

I recommend you read the entire piece.

Israeli journalist Sever Plocker has penned one of the most impassioned pieces against the NY Philharmonic’s visit to North Korea. Far from being a “neo-con,” Plocker is actually a central figure in Israel‘s left-leaning journalistic establishment, and tends to sympathize with the Democrats on internal American debates. Yet when it comes to Pyongyang, he simply cannot understand why Americans are so thrilled. He writes:

America’s cultural elite has embraced the darkest, maddest, and most murderous regime on earth, North Korean communism. This is the regime that starved to death at least five million of its own citizens and eliminated as many as two million “subversive elements” in purges that continue to this very day.

I watched the live broadcasts of American networks, I read the stories published in US newspapers, and I was horrified. What happened to the journalists’ and newscasters’ natural sense of criticism? What happened to their liberal point of view? Apparently they melted in the snow that covered the empty streets and dark villages of North Korea’s police and terror state.

I recommend you read the entire piece.

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Shooting Themselves In the Foot

John McCain should extend a hearty thanks to Hillary Clinton for launching the “3 A.M.” advertisement last week. The spot — which, as Seth Gitell of The New York Sun shows, is a rip-off of a 1992 commerical that George H.W. Bush used against Hillary’s husband — rightly questions Barack Obama’s preparedness to deal with a national emergency. The press turned the tables on Clinton, and asked if she had ever experienced a “red phone moment” before. She obviously hasn’t, and so Clinton’s fear-mongering has had the unintended effect of showcasing her own, absurd pretensions to power. The Democrats are clearly aware of their vulnerability on the most important issues facing the country — especially in light of the pending McCain challenge — as, yesterday on This Week, both Obama and Clinton’s chief spokesmen were given to listing off endorsements made by former generals and other brass as de facto evidence of their candidates’ suitability.

Come the general election, John McCain won’t have to make a big show of his opponent’s lack of experience in crisis management, whoever that opponent may be. Hillary Clinton has already done it for him.

John McCain should extend a hearty thanks to Hillary Clinton for launching the “3 A.M.” advertisement last week. The spot — which, as Seth Gitell of The New York Sun shows, is a rip-off of a 1992 commerical that George H.W. Bush used against Hillary’s husband — rightly questions Barack Obama’s preparedness to deal with a national emergency. The press turned the tables on Clinton, and asked if she had ever experienced a “red phone moment” before. She obviously hasn’t, and so Clinton’s fear-mongering has had the unintended effect of showcasing her own, absurd pretensions to power. The Democrats are clearly aware of their vulnerability on the most important issues facing the country — especially in light of the pending McCain challenge — as, yesterday on This Week, both Obama and Clinton’s chief spokesmen were given to listing off endorsements made by former generals and other brass as de facto evidence of their candidates’ suitability.

Come the general election, John McCain won’t have to make a big show of his opponent’s lack of experience in crisis management, whoever that opponent may be. Hillary Clinton has already done it for him.

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Two Windows Are Closing At Once

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

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After All That, She Could Win

Despite the horrid press and doom-and-gloom campaign leaks, Hillary Clinton is within the margin of error in Texas and slightly ahead in Ohio. She has gotten off the defensive and the press, if not favorable, has been talking about her issues – Tony Rezko, national security, and media “unfairness.” As a bonus, critics (contrary to the “free ride” for Barack Obama line) have begun to question what exactly he has done to “build bridges.” A few even have the nerve to question whether his refusal to wear a flag pin on his label, his relationship with Bill Ayers and his wife’s comment that she had never been proud of her country before her husband started winning primaries could be used against him by those crafty Republicans. (The media cannot quite bring themselves to admit that these facts actually suggest a real disregard for the patriotric sensibilities which animate most Americans, but raising the issue is a start.) Even a liberal pundit or two has shown dismay over Obama’s pandering on protectionism.

So if she should win Texas and Ohio there will be a gasp from the media (not to mention some of those superdelegates) who will then have to discard the Obama-mania, invincibility argument and absorb the new storyline: she’s baaaaaack. True, she won’t reach 2025 delegates by June, but the fact remains–neither will he. Momentum, press spin and the appearance that Obama can not take a punch will weigh heavily on those superdelegates. Oh, and with a little help from Governor Crist (hmm, who’s he trying to help?) the race could be extended by a do-over in Florida.

Now if she loses Ohio and Texas? Even the most die hard supporters won’t be able to come up with a scenario to rescue her.

Despite the horrid press and doom-and-gloom campaign leaks, Hillary Clinton is within the margin of error in Texas and slightly ahead in Ohio. She has gotten off the defensive and the press, if not favorable, has been talking about her issues – Tony Rezko, national security, and media “unfairness.” As a bonus, critics (contrary to the “free ride” for Barack Obama line) have begun to question what exactly he has done to “build bridges.” A few even have the nerve to question whether his refusal to wear a flag pin on his label, his relationship with Bill Ayers and his wife’s comment that she had never been proud of her country before her husband started winning primaries could be used against him by those crafty Republicans. (The media cannot quite bring themselves to admit that these facts actually suggest a real disregard for the patriotric sensibilities which animate most Americans, but raising the issue is a start.) Even a liberal pundit or two has shown dismay over Obama’s pandering on protectionism.

So if she should win Texas and Ohio there will be a gasp from the media (not to mention some of those superdelegates) who will then have to discard the Obama-mania, invincibility argument and absorb the new storyline: she’s baaaaaack. True, she won’t reach 2025 delegates by June, but the fact remains–neither will he. Momentum, press spin and the appearance that Obama can not take a punch will weigh heavily on those superdelegates. Oh, and with a little help from Governor Crist (hmm, who’s he trying to help?) the race could be extended by a do-over in Florida.

Now if she loses Ohio and Texas? Even the most die hard supporters won’t be able to come up with a scenario to rescue her.

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Rice’s Misplaced Priorities

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

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