Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 14, 2008

A Pedantic Point…

…on James’ post about “engaging” Hamas, perhaps, but one worth mentioning: Hamas sits on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Because of that designation, it is illegal for the U.S. government to “diplomatically engage” Hamas. So in a way, the argument on this question has the cart before the horse.

The question that would need to be settled first is: Should the State Department remove Hamas from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations?

…on James’ post about “engaging” Hamas, perhaps, but one worth mentioning: Hamas sits on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Because of that designation, it is illegal for the U.S. government to “diplomatically engage” Hamas. So in a way, the argument on this question has the cart before the horse.

The question that would need to be settled first is: Should the State Department remove Hamas from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations?

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Well, Here Is an Issue

There’s a limit to what John McCain can add to Snob-gate. Sure he can get in a barb or two. ( “It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re accused of being out of touch by a guy who thinks the whole country is worried about the high price of arugula or that you hunt ducks with a six shooter.”) Still, it will be up to Hillary Clinton to do the heavy lifting in there.

Foreign policy is another matter. He issues a statement today blasting Jimmy Carter’s decision to meet with Hamas. It includes this:

“The very idea that a former President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief would meet with a terrorist organization demands a clear stance from all presidential candidates. Refusing to take a stand, as Senator Obama has done, is not the strong leadership we need today. If Senator Obama is not decisive enough to condemn former President Carter, how can he be strong enough to deal with the threat they pose to America and to our allies?”

McCain can effectively use the issue of standing up to our enemies to contrast himself with Obama. Voters may be divided over Iraq, but having lunch with dictators may make voters, especially independents and moderate Democrats, queasy about whether Obama really will be a replay of the Carter administration.

Playing off one of Clinton’s current themes (Obama is not ready for prime time as a nominee), this seems to be an effort by McCain to get voters to ponder whether he is also unprepared for the major leagues of international diplomacy. There may be advantages in striking while Obama has his hands full, but by the same token McCain’s volley likely won’t get much attention from the media. After all they have their hands full just keeping up with Snob-gate.

There’s a limit to what John McCain can add to Snob-gate. Sure he can get in a barb or two. ( “It’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re accused of being out of touch by a guy who thinks the whole country is worried about the high price of arugula or that you hunt ducks with a six shooter.”) Still, it will be up to Hillary Clinton to do the heavy lifting in there.

Foreign policy is another matter. He issues a statement today blasting Jimmy Carter’s decision to meet with Hamas. It includes this:

“The very idea that a former President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief would meet with a terrorist organization demands a clear stance from all presidential candidates. Refusing to take a stand, as Senator Obama has done, is not the strong leadership we need today. If Senator Obama is not decisive enough to condemn former President Carter, how can he be strong enough to deal with the threat they pose to America and to our allies?”

McCain can effectively use the issue of standing up to our enemies to contrast himself with Obama. Voters may be divided over Iraq, but having lunch with dictators may make voters, especially independents and moderate Democrats, queasy about whether Obama really will be a replay of the Carter administration.

Playing off one of Clinton’s current themes (Obama is not ready for prime time as a nominee), this seems to be an effort by McCain to get voters to ponder whether he is also unprepared for the major leagues of international diplomacy. There may be advantages in striking while Obama has his hands full, but by the same token McCain’s volley likely won’t get much attention from the media. After all they have their hands full just keeping up with Snob-gate.

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Is Jimmy Carter in Violation of the Logan Act?

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

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Michael Yon’s Moment of Truth

The indispensable independent journalist Michael Yon, whose on-the-ground, grunt’s-eye-view reporting in Iraq has been one of the highlights of American journalism this decade, has a new book out, and he discusses it in a podcast with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith that can be found here.

The indispensable independent journalist Michael Yon, whose on-the-ground, grunt’s-eye-view reporting in Iraq has been one of the highlights of American journalism this decade, has a new book out, and he discusses it in a podcast with Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith that can be found here.

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Meanwhile McCain Meets With His Base

There’s a strong temptation to simply sit back and watch the Democrats fight over who is a less genuine representative of smalltown America. Yet, John McCain (remember him?) is trying to stay in the news. His address to the AP Annual Meeting seemed to focus on reminding the media–one of his favorite constinuencies–why he is different from all the other politicians they cover: he gives the press unlimited access and talks to them incessantly. Truth be told, his tactic generally helps (as seen by the ease with which he batted down the New York Times’ ill-sourced lobbyist story).

This time round, McCain makes a bit of news by coming out in favor of the federal shield law. (Ted Olson has made the best conservative case for this position.) He also ventures into Barack Obama’s flub, but in a rather tame, “I love these people” sort of way. He says in part:

They were not born with the advantages others in our country enjoyed. They suffered the worst during the Depression. But it had not shaken their faith in and fidelity to America and its founding political ideals. Nor had it destroyed their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity. On the contrary, their faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today. And their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.

That is rather mild stuff, indicating perhaps that Team McCain has concluded that Hillary Clinton and the media are much better positioned to undermine Obama’s appeal among independents and Reagan Democrats.

There’s a strong temptation to simply sit back and watch the Democrats fight over who is a less genuine representative of smalltown America. Yet, John McCain (remember him?) is trying to stay in the news. His address to the AP Annual Meeting seemed to focus on reminding the media–one of his favorite constinuencies–why he is different from all the other politicians they cover: he gives the press unlimited access and talks to them incessantly. Truth be told, his tactic generally helps (as seen by the ease with which he batted down the New York Times’ ill-sourced lobbyist story).

This time round, McCain makes a bit of news by coming out in favor of the federal shield law. (Ted Olson has made the best conservative case for this position.) He also ventures into Barack Obama’s flub, but in a rather tame, “I love these people” sort of way. He says in part:

They were not born with the advantages others in our country enjoyed. They suffered the worst during the Depression. But it had not shaken their faith in and fidelity to America and its founding political ideals. Nor had it destroyed their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity. On the contrary, their faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today. And their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.

That is rather mild stuff, indicating perhaps that Team McCain has concluded that Hillary Clinton and the media are much better positioned to undermine Obama’s appeal among independents and Reagan Democrats.

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She’s On A Roll . . .

Hillary Clinton is just getting warmed up. She hits all the highlights here : San Francisco elites, guns, faith, and even a suggestion that Barack Obama shares George Bush’s alleged cluelessness about “invisible” people. When a campaign catches a break, a big one, the candidate usually starts to look and sound better, and Clinton is all but but tap dancing. And why not? If this poll is right, she’s caught a wave.

Hillary Clinton is just getting warmed up. She hits all the highlights here : San Francisco elites, guns, faith, and even a suggestion that Barack Obama shares George Bush’s alleged cluelessness about “invisible” people. When a campaign catches a break, a big one, the candidate usually starts to look and sound better, and Clinton is all but but tap dancing. And why not? If this poll is right, she’s caught a wave.

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Friends, Enemies–What’s the Diff?

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

Of course we know that Hamas’ acts of terror “must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation,” as a UN Human Rights council report stated earlier this year. Palestinian terrorism, while deplorable, is defensive and not to be confused with the morally and strategically unjustifiable terrorism of al Qaeda, who want to establish a global caliphate. Too bad someone forgot to tell Hamas:

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that “the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital,” would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become “an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe…Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam…Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad.”

So, the Pope visits the United States while simultaneously former U.S. President Jimmy Carter goes to talk righteousness with the gang who wants to unseat the Pope. This must be how Democratic diplomacy is going to restore America’s image abroad.

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Nakba Narratives

Take note of what will surely become a regular feature of observances of Israel’s 60th anniversary: manipulative media coverage of the nakba, or “catastrophe,” the Arab word for Israel’s birth in 1948. Here are the opening paragraphs of one such report from the AFP:

Palestinian officials said on Sunday they are preparing events to mark the 60th anniversary next month of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 Middle East war.

The National Committee for the Anniversary of the Nakba — the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used to denote the expulsion of some 700,000 Arabs during Israel’s war for independence — will stage several events in the coming weeks.

In case the AFP’s repetition didn’t make it clear: 700,000 Arabs were “expelled” during Israel’s war for independence. Except that they actually weren’t. Israel did not wage a “war for independence” — independence was peacefully declared on the eve of Britain’s withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine, several months after the UN had approved a partition plan for the territory. The next day, in the culmination of months of violence, Israel was invaded, as promised, by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq.

During the violence of 1947-1948, approximately 700,000 Arabs were displaced. Many fled preemptively and — they believed — temporarily, assuming an Arab victory. Many did so later, to escape the violence that was being waged in their names, in their villages. Some were expelled — although the historic evidence for this being motivated by ethnic, as opposed to military, concerns is slight.

These events are complicated and sometimes ambiguous, and the manner in which they are portrayed can serve to retroactively bestow victim and oppressor status on either Arab or Jew. The AFP has chosen to present an Arab war of annihilation against Israel as a Jewish war of expulsion against the Arabs. That should tell us a lot.

Take note of what will surely become a regular feature of observances of Israel’s 60th anniversary: manipulative media coverage of the nakba, or “catastrophe,” the Arab word for Israel’s birth in 1948. Here are the opening paragraphs of one such report from the AFP:

Palestinian officials said on Sunday they are preparing events to mark the 60th anniversary next month of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs during the 1948 Middle East war.

The National Committee for the Anniversary of the Nakba — the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used to denote the expulsion of some 700,000 Arabs during Israel’s war for independence — will stage several events in the coming weeks.

In case the AFP’s repetition didn’t make it clear: 700,000 Arabs were “expelled” during Israel’s war for independence. Except that they actually weren’t. Israel did not wage a “war for independence” — independence was peacefully declared on the eve of Britain’s withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine, several months after the UN had approved a partition plan for the territory. The next day, in the culmination of months of violence, Israel was invaded, as promised, by the armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq.

During the violence of 1947-1948, approximately 700,000 Arabs were displaced. Many fled preemptively and — they believed — temporarily, assuming an Arab victory. Many did so later, to escape the violence that was being waged in their names, in their villages. Some were expelled — although the historic evidence for this being motivated by ethnic, as opposed to military, concerns is slight.

These events are complicated and sometimes ambiguous, and the manner in which they are portrayed can serve to retroactively bestow victim and oppressor status on either Arab or Jew. The AFP has chosen to present an Arab war of annihilation against Israel as a Jewish war of expulsion against the Arabs. That should tell us a lot.

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But I Just Want To Drive To Work

Hillary Clinton is back to “listening” and taking questions from voters. In her latest North Carolina ad, she gets asked by “Tamie of Cherryville” about high gas prices. Her answer is a lovely non sequitur: Hillary goes on about the importance of renewable energy. Great answer–to some unasked global warming question. But nothing she said, of course, will affect Tamie’s plight now or anytime in the near future.

Hillary might have offered to reduce federal gas taxes. That would help right away. She might have said, as John McCain did, that she would stop adding to the National Petroleum Reserve. She might have explained the perils of a low dollar which make oil and all other commodities expensive. Or she could have gone the Al Gore route and said it is good that gas prices are high because that’s what must happen in a market economy to encourage development and use of alternative, non-carbon based fuels. She could have even encouraged Tamie to use public transportation or carpool with her friends.

But no. Hillary is going to spend $150B on renewable energy, so that in ten years Tamie might be able to get a solar-powered car. I actually think there may be good reasons for that, but it isn’t going to help Tamie anytime soon.

That is the peril of pretending to answer voters’ questions: sometimes they really do want an answer.

Hillary Clinton is back to “listening” and taking questions from voters. In her latest North Carolina ad, she gets asked by “Tamie of Cherryville” about high gas prices. Her answer is a lovely non sequitur: Hillary goes on about the importance of renewable energy. Great answer–to some unasked global warming question. But nothing she said, of course, will affect Tamie’s plight now or anytime in the near future.

Hillary might have offered to reduce federal gas taxes. That would help right away. She might have said, as John McCain did, that she would stop adding to the National Petroleum Reserve. She might have explained the perils of a low dollar which make oil and all other commodities expensive. Or she could have gone the Al Gore route and said it is good that gas prices are high because that’s what must happen in a market economy to encourage development and use of alternative, non-carbon based fuels. She could have even encouraged Tamie to use public transportation or carpool with her friends.

But no. Hillary is going to spend $150B on renewable energy, so that in ten years Tamie might be able to get a solar-powered car. I actually think there may be good reasons for that, but it isn’t going to help Tamie anytime soon.

That is the peril of pretending to answer voters’ questions: sometimes they really do want an answer.

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What Can They Call McCain?

On a recent radio show John McCain said

I detest war . . .It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description … Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.

Indeed, he should know.

With McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee, the call for the President’s daughters to suit up and go into combat has probably been sounded for the last time. The same goes for the charge that the President is a “chickenhawk,” or a war-hungry “armchair general” who’s avoided combat in his own life. Because those two “points” can find no purchase when applied to McCain’s support for the Iraq War, they have finally been excised from the Iraq discussion. And not a moment too soon.

A cause is rendered just or unjust based on considerations intrinsic to that cause, not because Jenna Bush isn’t a soldier—or because Joseph Stalin’s son was one, and not because those who decide to fight have not themselves necessarily seen battle.

The anti-war crowd that cries “chickenhawk” subscribes to the fallacy that people who have seen war would never again support combat. What’s most interesting about John McCain’s quote is the “might not” part. McCain–who never discusses his own son’s service in Iraq–understands that there are things worse than war. Tyranny without end perhaps being one of them. While that’s very easy for me to type, it can’t be easy for McCain to say. With the exception of Senator Jay Rockefeller, no one has questioned McCain’s firsthand war experience, and no one can call for him to “send” his own children into Iraq. John McCain’s presence in the presidential race can be credited with ridding us of some of the more frivolous aspects of the Iraq discussion and getting the public to focus on the cause itself.

On a recent radio show John McCain said

I detest war . . .It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description … Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.

Indeed, he should know.

With McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee, the call for the President’s daughters to suit up and go into combat has probably been sounded for the last time. The same goes for the charge that the President is a “chickenhawk,” or a war-hungry “armchair general” who’s avoided combat in his own life. Because those two “points” can find no purchase when applied to McCain’s support for the Iraq War, they have finally been excised from the Iraq discussion. And not a moment too soon.

A cause is rendered just or unjust based on considerations intrinsic to that cause, not because Jenna Bush isn’t a soldier—or because Joseph Stalin’s son was one, and not because those who decide to fight have not themselves necessarily seen battle.

The anti-war crowd that cries “chickenhawk” subscribes to the fallacy that people who have seen war would never again support combat. What’s most interesting about John McCain’s quote is the “might not” part. McCain–who never discusses his own son’s service in Iraq–understands that there are things worse than war. Tyranny without end perhaps being one of them. While that’s very easy for me to type, it can’t be easy for McCain to say. With the exception of Senator Jay Rockefeller, no one has questioned McCain’s firsthand war experience, and no one can call for him to “send” his own children into Iraq. John McCain’s presence in the presidential race can be credited with ridding us of some of the more frivolous aspects of the Iraq discussion and getting the public to focus on the cause itself.

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Why Doesn’t This Work?

This ad, a fairly blatant attempt to repair Snob-gate damage, almost seems to worsen the fix Barack Obama is now in. “End the division” flashes on the screen. Really? His nasty put-down of rural Pennsylvanians to a crowd of San Francisco donors is precisely the type of divisive politics the ad is criticizing.

Obama’s billing as the post-racial, post-partisan Agent of Change seems to have lost its punch somewhere between Reverend Wright’s sermons and Obama’s dishing the dirt on rural folk with the in-crowd in San Francisco. The problem with being all things to all people (liberation theology congregant to black Chicago, erudite sociologist to Bay Area liberals, and Great Uniter to the rest of the country) is that, in the age of new media, anyone can all put the pieces together and reach a fairly obvious conclusion: Obama is telling everyone a different story. (He might do better to follow James Carville’s advice.) How old school. How–dare I say it?–Clintonian.

This ad, a fairly blatant attempt to repair Snob-gate damage, almost seems to worsen the fix Barack Obama is now in. “End the division” flashes on the screen. Really? His nasty put-down of rural Pennsylvanians to a crowd of San Francisco donors is precisely the type of divisive politics the ad is criticizing.

Obama’s billing as the post-racial, post-partisan Agent of Change seems to have lost its punch somewhere between Reverend Wright’s sermons and Obama’s dishing the dirt on rural folk with the in-crowd in San Francisco. The problem with being all things to all people (liberation theology congregant to black Chicago, erudite sociologist to Bay Area liberals, and Great Uniter to the rest of the country) is that, in the age of new media, anyone can all put the pieces together and reach a fairly obvious conclusion: Obama is telling everyone a different story. (He might do better to follow James Carville’s advice.) How old school. How–dare I say it?–Clintonian.

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Europe’s Leverage With Iran

When it comes to energy supplies, Iran is Europe’s alternative to Russia—a fact that explains the attraction of striking giant energy deals with Tehran.

But what’s in it for Iran? Iran can, if they wish, snub European companies and give lucrative energy deals to Chinese oil companies in exchange for political cover (which Europe would not provide). If Europe continues to support further sanctions against Iran, Tehran might indeed threaten such steps, as some in Europe fear. However, if Iran wishes ever to export gas to Europe, it needs either pipelines that will link Iran’s gas fields to the European grid or liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that would enable gas to be transported in liquid form. And here’s the rub–the leading companies in the field of LNG technology are all Western.

Iran may sit on the second largest world reserve of natural gas, and Europe may well need it. But the leverage is more on Europe’s side–because without European technology Iran’s natural resources will remain forever untapped. Incidentally, this is a possible area for sanctions too. Denying Iran the needed technology to develop this crucial sector and profit from it would hurt the regime where it’s most vulnerable.

When it comes to energy supplies, Iran is Europe’s alternative to Russia—a fact that explains the attraction of striking giant energy deals with Tehran.

But what’s in it for Iran? Iran can, if they wish, snub European companies and give lucrative energy deals to Chinese oil companies in exchange for political cover (which Europe would not provide). If Europe continues to support further sanctions against Iran, Tehran might indeed threaten such steps, as some in Europe fear. However, if Iran wishes ever to export gas to Europe, it needs either pipelines that will link Iran’s gas fields to the European grid or liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that would enable gas to be transported in liquid form. And here’s the rub–the leading companies in the field of LNG technology are all Western.

Iran may sit on the second largest world reserve of natural gas, and Europe may well need it. But the leverage is more on Europe’s side–because without European technology Iran’s natural resources will remain forever untapped. Incidentally, this is a possible area for sanctions too. Denying Iran the needed technology to develop this crucial sector and profit from it would hurt the regime where it’s most vulnerable.

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That Only Works If You Are Blameless

After a weekend of horrible press and an appearance by Hillary Clinton at Compassion Forum where she zapped him in words that would make Karl Rove grin (“Someone goes to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing.”), Barack Obama seems poised to go forward with a well-worn tactic: trying to counterpunch and throw the press off their target (him) by attacking his opponent.

Sunday night Obama declared Hillary Clinton “should know better” and labeled her “shameless.” The obvious retort: so? (Sure, she is capitalizing on his error – because his blunder was giant, ugly and easily understood.)

Clinton’s spokesman replied more expansively:

“Sen. Clinton does know better — she knows better than to condescend and talk down to voters like Senator Obama did. Senator Obama’s outburst won’t change the fact that he has embraced his characterization of the millions of Americans who live in small towns.”

Today Obama continues that gambit in a speech, once again only admitting that his choice of words was clumsy and attacking Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the ones out of touch on economics.

You see, Obama’s ploy only works when a candidate doesn’t have a problem of his own with the voters. (This poll suggests he does.) Here, Obama’s problem is not an issue of comparison with Clinton (e.g. who is holier than thou on trade or who is worse on defending the Second Amendment), but rather his own rapport with Pennsylvania voters. She didn’t call them irrational gun-toting, Bible thumpers; he did. ( And ridiculing her in personal terms risks getting those women voters in an uproar, just as he did with his “you’re likeable enoughbon mot.)

If voters are going to forgive and forget they won’t do it because Hillary is being Hillary. Obama’s got to make nice with them. But he seems unwilling to do that because, at bottom, he really doesn’t think he did anything wrong. This is becoming standard operating procedure for Obama. (Associate with a racist; lecture the country on racial unity. Insult a state; lecture us about the mindset of rural Americans.) Lots of lectures and changing the subject; never a full-throated apology.

In that debate this Wednesday when Hillary, as we know she will, asks him to apologize to the statement he will need to do better than “you’re a fake.” We’ve already heard that. For once, we’d like to hear about him.

After a weekend of horrible press and an appearance by Hillary Clinton at Compassion Forum where she zapped him in words that would make Karl Rove grin (“Someone goes to a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing.”), Barack Obama seems poised to go forward with a well-worn tactic: trying to counterpunch and throw the press off their target (him) by attacking his opponent.

Sunday night Obama declared Hillary Clinton “should know better” and labeled her “shameless.” The obvious retort: so? (Sure, she is capitalizing on his error – because his blunder was giant, ugly and easily understood.)

Clinton’s spokesman replied more expansively:

“Sen. Clinton does know better — she knows better than to condescend and talk down to voters like Senator Obama did. Senator Obama’s outburst won’t change the fact that he has embraced his characterization of the millions of Americans who live in small towns.”

Today Obama continues that gambit in a speech, once again only admitting that his choice of words was clumsy and attacking Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the ones out of touch on economics.

You see, Obama’s ploy only works when a candidate doesn’t have a problem of his own with the voters. (This poll suggests he does.) Here, Obama’s problem is not an issue of comparison with Clinton (e.g. who is holier than thou on trade or who is worse on defending the Second Amendment), but rather his own rapport with Pennsylvania voters. She didn’t call them irrational gun-toting, Bible thumpers; he did. ( And ridiculing her in personal terms risks getting those women voters in an uproar, just as he did with his “you’re likeable enoughbon mot.)

If voters are going to forgive and forget they won’t do it because Hillary is being Hillary. Obama’s got to make nice with them. But he seems unwilling to do that because, at bottom, he really doesn’t think he did anything wrong. This is becoming standard operating procedure for Obama. (Associate with a racist; lecture the country on racial unity. Insult a state; lecture us about the mindset of rural Americans.) Lots of lectures and changing the subject; never a full-throated apology.

In that debate this Wednesday when Hillary, as we know she will, asks him to apologize to the statement he will need to do better than “you’re a fake.” We’ve already heard that. For once, we’d like to hear about him.

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More Malley Misjudgments

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

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Almost Takes Your Breath Away

Hillary Clinton is not very good at certain things, such as giving a rousing stump speech or sticking to the truth. But, given time to prepare, she is remarkably good at twisting the knife. Here’s part of what she had to say in her opening answer at Sunday’s Compassion Forum:

You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans. And I think it’s important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times. It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone’s journey. And, you know, when we think about the legitimate concerns that people have about trade or immigration, those are problems to be solved. And that’s what I think we should be focused on. But I am very confident that, as we move forward tonight and beyond, people will get a chance to get to know each of us a little better, and that’s really what I want to talk about. I will leave it to Senator Obama to speak for himself; he does an excellent job of that.

In short, she almost said everything she “wishes she could say.” She covered every base: electability worries for the superdelegates, general election competence concerns for the Democratic establishment, faith for the religious voters, empathy for the Pennsylvanians, and an extra jab at the end. For a guy so well-spoken why can’t he make himself understood without insulting millions of voters?

Here, again, she makes the connection between Obama, a “good man,” and other recent “good men” (meaning Kerry and Dukakis) who bombed at the ballot box because they were perceived as elitists. And she comes across  as almost sincere:  she really does believe Obama is electoral poison for the Democrats.

She really has learned a couple things in her years in the White House: how Democrats lose elections and how to go in for the kill.

Hillary Clinton is not very good at certain things, such as giving a rousing stump speech or sticking to the truth. But, given time to prepare, she is remarkably good at twisting the knife. Here’s part of what she had to say in her opening answer at Sunday’s Compassion Forum:

You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans. And I think it’s important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times. It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone’s journey. And, you know, when we think about the legitimate concerns that people have about trade or immigration, those are problems to be solved. And that’s what I think we should be focused on. But I am very confident that, as we move forward tonight and beyond, people will get a chance to get to know each of us a little better, and that’s really what I want to talk about. I will leave it to Senator Obama to speak for himself; he does an excellent job of that.

In short, she almost said everything she “wishes she could say.” She covered every base: electability worries for the superdelegates, general election competence concerns for the Democratic establishment, faith for the religious voters, empathy for the Pennsylvanians, and an extra jab at the end. For a guy so well-spoken why can’t he make himself understood without insulting millions of voters?

Here, again, she makes the connection between Obama, a “good man,” and other recent “good men” (meaning Kerry and Dukakis) who bombed at the ballot box because they were perceived as elitists. And she comes across  as almost sincere:  she really does believe Obama is electoral poison for the Democrats.

She really has learned a couple things in her years in the White House: how Democrats lose elections and how to go in for the kill.

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Don’t Worry, It Was An Accident

A powerful bomb went off in a mosque in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz on Saturday, killing 12 and wounding 160.

”Last night’s explosion in Shiraz was as a consequence of an accident and not the planting of a bomb,” explained Abbas Mohtaj, the deputy interior minister in charge of national security, according to a Reuters report.

What sort of accident?

Mohtaj did not give details, but the Associated Press, citing a statement on Iranian television, “said the blast may have been ’caused by explosives left behind from an earlier exhibition commemorating’ the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.”

Hmmm, a mosque stages an exhibition featuring live ammunition? If true, it tells us something interesting about the state of Islam in Iran. If false, it tells us something even more interesting about what Iranian officials obviously regard as a credible way to deny the fact that a bomb was set off in a mosque.

A powerful bomb went off in a mosque in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz on Saturday, killing 12 and wounding 160.

”Last night’s explosion in Shiraz was as a consequence of an accident and not the planting of a bomb,” explained Abbas Mohtaj, the deputy interior minister in charge of national security, according to a Reuters report.

What sort of accident?

Mohtaj did not give details, but the Associated Press, citing a statement on Iranian television, “said the blast may have been ’caused by explosives left behind from an earlier exhibition commemorating’ the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.”

Hmmm, a mosque stages an exhibition featuring live ammunition? If true, it tells us something interesting about the state of Islam in Iran. If false, it tells us something even more interesting about what Iranian officials obviously regard as a credible way to deny the fact that a bomb was set off in a mosque.

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