According to this poll, 35% of all voters (and roughly 25% of Democrats) are having second thoughts about Barack Obama because of the Reverend Wright revelations. (Obama’s calling his grandmother a “typical white person” won’t help with the grandmother or white votes.) In some sense, despite our protestations about an endless primary schedule, we are all fortunate to have time to have second and even third thoughts. This luxury of time gave John McCain the ability to make his case and for the American people to see the impact of the surge, from which he benefited enormously. It will give Democrats time to fall in and out of love with Obama–and then assess the candidates with a better understanding of who they really are, how they operate under pressure, and whether they have the moxie to win a general election. Needless to say, with a shorter primary calendar, the outcome of both primaries might be different.
Posts For: March 20, 2008
ABC News’ Jake Tapper just reported on a startling interview given by Senator John Kerry:
Kerry said that a President Obama would help the US, in relations with Muslim countries, “in some cases go around their dictator leaders to the people and inspire the people in ways that we can’t otherwise.”
“He has the ability to help us bridge the divide of religious extremism,” Kerry said. “To maybe even give power to moderate Islam to be able to stand up against this radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion.”
Kerry was asked what gives Obama that credibility.
“Because he’s African-American. Because he’s a black man. Who has come from a place of oppression and repression through the years in our own country.”
Where to begin! Have notable Democrats become so intellectually sloppy as to draw some baffling equivalence between blacks and Muslims? The last I checked, Arab Muslims were none too happy with their black countrymen in northern Africa.
Also, where is this “place of oppression and repression” in which Obama has suffered “through the years”? Hawaii? Harvard? The Senate? We should find out immediately and do something about this horrific crisis.
Another thing. Let’s pretend John Kerry is right: Obama, as a result of the concentration of melanin in his skin, is endowed with the power to inspire moderate Islam to crush radicals. How does this play out exactly? A nice Shiite shop owner in Iran sees President Obama give a speech on television and then the next thing he knows he’s slaying a phalanx of mullahs Matrix-style? Let’s hope Obama understands that a power like that requires the close observation of international bodies.
Last, how is what John Kerry said less outrageous than what Geraldine Ferraro said? How is it different at all? They’re both attributing success solely to skin color.
Every day the race-obsessed Left discovers a new low. There is no end in sight for the Democrats’ identity nightmare. But an end to the Democrats’ chance at the White House is taking visible shape on the horizon.
Barack Obama is apparently as clueless about his convictions as everyone else is. Just two weeks ago, the Illinois Senator had this to say:
One of the things that I’ve known about myself for a long time,” he said, “is that, in difficult or stressful moments, I don’t get rattled. And I don’t get rattled during campaigns. I don’t get rattled when things are up … and I don’t get too low when things are down.
Yesterday, he said this:
In some ways, this controversy has actually shaken me up a little bit and gotten me back into remembering that the odds of me getting elected have always been lower than some of the other conventional candidates.
We had tremendous success, and I think we were starting to get a little comfortable and conventional right before Texas and Ohio.
Change comes from within, you know. But for Obama the contradictions aren’t merely restricted to matters of the psyche. He’s let fly a string of policy inversions that, when taken together, spells complete ideological and logistical disarray. These aren’t flip-flops, but simultaneously held convictions that negate each other by necessity. They run (in my simplified version) as fallows:
America should be out of Iraq, where al Qaeda is, but go back in if al Qaeda is there; America should talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who promises Israel’s destruction on a daily basis, but not Hamas because they’re set on destroying Israel. I will bomb Pakistan without permission should I find cause, but I want to hold a summit with every Muslim state to help close the gap between Islam and the West. I am the candidate of unity who’s willing to stake my run on a deep spiritual relationship with a venomous bigot.
This isn’t change, but rather a recipe for stasis. Being at odds with yourself in this way prohibits any movement. Such inner turmoil also explains the need to keep from getting rattled. If Obama is actually shaken up, there’s no telling how these conflicts may manifest . . .
Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic thinks he has caught out John McCain:
More ignorance from John McCain:
When McCain made a foreign policy gaffe in Jordan on Tuesday, it was Sen. Joe Lieberman who quietly pointed out the mistake, giving McCain an opportunity to correct himself in front of the international press corps. In Israel yesterday, NBC’s Lauren Appelbaum reports, Lieberman once again intervened when McCain made an incorrect reference about the Jewish holiday Purim — by calling the holiday “their version of Halloween here.”
Admittedly this falls more in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category than in the “holy s–t he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category where the Iran/al-Qaeda confusion belongs.
This is embarrassing, true — but far more for Matthew Yglesias and NBC’s Lauren Applebaum. In the first place, it was Joe Lieberman who told McCain, who would have no particular reason to know this, that Purim was the Israeli Halloween. The holiday of Purim is the version of Halloween in Israel in the sense that it is the day on which children dress up in costumes and parade through the streets and get treats. (That’s what hamantaschen, the triangular cookies whose photograph illustrates Yglesias’s own item, are — treats.) It’s a perfectly valid explanation of the holiday as it is celebrated in secular terms, and not only in Israel; my three-year-old daughter, for example, is getting dolled up as Cinderella when she goes to celebrate Purim this evening at synagogue, and she made a tie-dye t-shirt at her Jewish day school for the goings-on tomorrow.
For reasons having to do with religious Jewish political correctness, I expect, Joe Lieberman found it necessary to say that, of course, Purim is so much more, which it is; it is the commemoration of the salvation through wit and cleverness of the Jewish people from a genocidal threat emanating from Persia (which is to say, Iran).
All in all, I think this falls in the “haha he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” category when it comes to Internet desk jockeys who evidently know relatively little about the customs of their own people. And as for the “holy s–t” stuff involving Iran and Al Qaeda, I think Mr. Yglesias should scroll through some posts here at Contentions down to Max Boot’s and learn something, maybe. Then go to shul this evening and get a glimpse of how there are actually children wearing…costumes.
“The response will be what you see and not what you hear . . .”
Funny, because the threat is all sound and no picture.
Just how seriously are we to continue taking these imageless recordings of Osama bin Laden? The credulity of the media has become instant and absolute. News outlets no longer even question whether the tapes are authentic or of recent vintage. It used to take an AV man at the CIA a few days to confirm that the scratchy, spliced hysteric was the world’s most wanted man; that process has now somehow been cut down to the speed of light. Authenticity is now taken at face-, er, voice-value.
This increase in credulity seems to correlate with the media’s fevered desperation for some flesh-and-blood villain to sell commercial air time. As the war on terror has become less sensational, and as the U.S. has taken out so many of her enemies, the networks are facing a grim programming dilemma: Where are the charismatic monsters of the last five years? Who are the new subjects of in-depth “closer looks” at primetime? Saddam is dead, his sons are dead, al-Zarqawi is dead, and Zawahiri never had “it.” The media has been so desperate for a bin Laden-like presence that they’ve taken up something of a talent search in hopes of finding his successor. So, when a new tape comes out, they milk it.
Bin Laden may very well be dead. As I pointed out yesterday, he hasn’t offered conclusive proof to the contrary in almost four years (even the “blackbeard” video of 2007 freezes whenever current events are mentioned.) This is no small failing for al Qaeda. They know how important it is to make the world see that their fearless and capable leader can elude the forces of the great Satan. Yet they can’t quite pull it off.
This is not a tenable situation. “Closure” is a nauseatingly touchy-feely term, even under the most benign conditions. But something like closure needs to be conferred upon the fate of the man who declared war on the West. After the Bush administration’s premature declarations of “mission accomplished” and an insurgency in its “last throes,” their hubris detector is set to extra-sensitive (as it should be). If they suspect anything about bin Laden’s fate, they’re not telling. In time, though, the question of bin Laden’s death will become unignorable, and it should be answered. Justice is much sweeter with proof. Just as threats become laughable without it.
There has been a long-running debate — well, a serious one, anyway, since the second intifada — on the question of whether the Israeli government should take disciplinary action against journalists whose “reportage” on Israel is unmistakably reeking of bias and outright mendacity. To take one of the more obvious examples: should the reporters and news organizations who for weeks so enthusiastically disseminated the Jenin massacre myth really have retained their work visas and press credentials?
For Israel, which probably is the most media-saturated country in the world, the relentless procession of false stories in recent years has done real damage to the country’s image abroad, and to its morale at home. Mohammed al-Dura, Jenin, the June 2006 Gaza beach explosion, the Qana bombing during the Lebanon war, the Gaza “blackout” this winter — these are just a few examples of crises created for Israel by journalists who are either staggeringly credulous (or incredibly cynical) in their willingness to promulgate a sensational story.
The main reason Israel should never expel journalists, say government and military officials when one broaches the matter, is because Israel would be consumed by international outrage over such supposedly fascistic tactics. I’ve always been skeptical of this claim: journalists, in my experience, are far more concerned with their own careers and notoriety than they are with defending the supposedly inviolable principles of their profession (for which many reporters operating in Israel don’t have much regard in the first place). My sense of things is that, especially among foreign correspondents, maintaining access is the preeminent interest.
Well, last week Israel did the unthinkable and put the kibosh on an entire news organization: Al Jazeera.
[Israeli] Ministers will refuse to do interviews and will deny visa applications from its staff, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahbe said.
He accused the Qatari-owned station of prioritising Palestinian suffering.
The station’s Jerusalem bureau chief denied bias and said Israel was trying to influence media coverage.
Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
This story has gone almost totally unnoticed, leading one to believe that there is actually not much outrage in the offing should the Israeli government take similar measures against other organizations that operate under the false pretense of being journalistic — while actually being propagandistic — concerns (have you ever read the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel?). And even if Israel does get criticized, pushing back against the worst of the activists masquerading as journalists is a fight that desperately needs to happen. And it is a fight that Israel can win.
Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech yesterday was an odd mix of The Nation and Commentary. From the Nation side came a resounding call to evacuate all American combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, leaving only “enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy.” Although he went on in the next sentence to deny that this is a “precipitous drawdown,” that’s precisely what it is.
But at the same time that he calls for scuttling out of Iraq, Obama advocates a stepped up effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan along the lines that I and other contributors to COMMENTARY, The Weekly Standard, and similar magazines have advocated. To wit:
To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. . . .
This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. . . .
The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people-for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. . . .
And . . . we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.
This is all language that I can only applaud. What I fail to understand is how Obama thinks that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen our position in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the contrary, it will embolden Islamist radicals, allowing them to concentrate resources on those two countries that had hitherto gone to Iraq, where they have been fighting a losing battle for the past year. Unfortunately, Obama’s lack of seriousness on Iraq policy–so ably dissected by Pete Wehner in the upcoming issue of COMMENTARY–undermines his claims to seriousness on a host of other foreign policy issues.
Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.
Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.
In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.
Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.
Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.
The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?
Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.
But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.
That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.
Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989 took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.
Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.
Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.
Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.
But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.
There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:
senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”
Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980′s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.
What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?
When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.
Straight from his cave somewhere in Southern Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden has just sent his latest gift to Europe. Bin Laden’s flowery language is no news for the most part –his grievance against the Saudi ruling dynasty, his contempt for America, his overblown sense of grievance are a fixture of his rants. This time he also expressed sympathy for Holocaust deniers–though it is not clear if this was an endorsement for Iran (a religious foe for its Salafist doctrines) or for David Irving (an outright infidel). But there are important elements in his message that European policymakers would be foolish to ignore. Bin Laden’s threats to Europe have less to do with European participation in the Afghan mission than with the Danish cartoons:
And [you also know now] that these massacres are never erased from the memory of the peoples and the effects of this are not hidden. Although our tragedy in your killing of our women and children is a very great one, it paled when you went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe. And I bring your attention to a telling matter, which is that despite your publishing of the insulting drawings, you haven’t seen any reaction from the one and a half billion Muslims which includes an insult to the Prophet of Allah, Jesus the son of Mary [peace and prayers of Allah be upon him]. We believe in all of the Prophets [peace and prayers of Allah be upon him] and whoever detracts from or mocks any one of them is an apostate unbeliever.
The inaccuracies of this rant–the killing of priests and nuns in several Muslim countries in “retaliation” for the cartoons hardly qualified as “no reaction”–are beside the point. Bin Laden has just officially applied the doctrine of taqfir against Europe because of the Danish cartoons. Taqfir, it should be recounted, means the permission to punishment unbelievers by death: unbelief, more than any other sin, dooms souls to hell in Islamic thinking. What Bin Laden said is short for “Europeans, as a body politic, are apostates. And they deserve to die.”
This means that al-Qaida’s fury will now be visited upon Europeans for daring to insult the Muslim prophet. Not so much for our support for Israel (about which Europe is not exactly enthusiastic anyway), or for its military contribution to Afghanistan (which is not huge), its presence in Iraq (which is negligible), or its alliance with America. No, Europeans deserve to die because some cartoonists caricatured Muhammad two years ago and some newspapers, as an expression of defiance, reprinted them when they discovered that Bin Laden’s companions had tried to murder one of the cartoonists.
Ominous? Yes. But this message should be yet another wake-up call for Europeans who assume that Islamist grievance (and the terror it begets) are a consequence of foreign policy. The threat just issued by Bin Laden to Europe is a reminder that it is our conception of freedom, our open society, and our religious skepticism that are the offending qualities. So brace yourself for more fitna. Because Europeans, with all their frequently-derided predisposition to appeasement, are not about to embrace Islamic piety as a way out of their tiff with Bin Laden.
Here is a quite touching photo of John McCain at the Western Wall which provokes some reflection about where our presidents or future presidents should go and the symbolism created by their mere physical presence. McCain is telling his American and international audience that there is where he stands and will stand as president.
Throughout the early part of what for him is already a general election campaign, McCain’s goal continues to be to explain the very stark contrast between him and his Democratic opponents on how they see the world and how they envision America’s obligations. The dichotomy he would like us to see is this: he is a man who knows who are friends are, understands the stakes if we do not take our responsibilities seriously and refuses to play to the polls; his opponents, he contends, to varying degrees (either due to lack of political courage or lack of clear-sightedness) refuse to fess up with the American people about the stakes in Iraq and the type of adversaries we face around the world.
In contrast, Barack Obama speaks as though the dangers in the world are largely of our making and the “hard” thing is to “talk to our enemies.” For him what matters is to go and be seen by those who despise us.
It is, of course, demonstrably false that it is “hard” to go running off for meetings with Raul Castro and Ahmajinedad. In fact, the media will applaud, the Europeans will swoon and there are legions of academics who will encourage it. What really is hard is to stick by our friends and allies in the face of international pressure (or even when your personal “mentor” is villifying them in public) and see through unpopular commitments.
Where a president chooses to stand, visit and remain (or decline to walk out of) speaks volumes. McCain is hoping voters will come to understand that and agree with his choice of venues.