Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 12, 2008

Aftermath of the Obama Interview on Israel

Yesterday’s Barack Obama interview caused quite a stir on the Right blogosphere. The New York Times not surprisingly finds the interview a smashing success for Obama, perhaps because the reporter leaves out any mention of his assertion that Hamas likely finds him “worldly,” or that he doesn’t seem much bothered by the Hamas endorsement.

I do agree, however, with those who criticize statements put out by Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor accusing Obama of calling Israel a “constant sore” and “constant wound.” From the context I think it is obvious that Obama was referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not Israel per se. Those and other comments were disturbing enough for reasons discussed here and elsewhere without willfully misinterpreting them. (Neither the RNC nor McCain’s campaign representatives indicated any inclination to join in these responses, apparently content for now to let Obama speak for himself.)

The Republican Jewish Coalition did have this to say:

Once again, Senator Obama demonstrates his questionable grasp of America’s foreign policy. Senator Obama manages to excuse the inexcusable actions of anti-American militant jihadists by putting the blame for their actions on America’s foreign policy. America stands with Israel because it is one of our strongest allies and the only democracy in the Middle East. Senator Obama naively believes that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will solve the global scourge of radical Islamic extremism. Yet Senator Obama never says how he will reign in Hamas’ daily onslaught on Israel or Iran’s scurrilous condemnations of Israel. Is it any wonder Hamas has endorsed him for president?”

That seems to get it right: what is most disturbing is his acceptance of the perspective that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of all of the region and “all of our foreign policy” problems and his blasé attitude toward Hamas. He does not seem the least bit concerned that a terrorist organization would endorse him. At the very least this should demonstrate how absurd is his claim that there is no difference between his position and John McCain’s on this topic.

Yesterday’s Barack Obama interview caused quite a stir on the Right blogosphere. The New York Times not surprisingly finds the interview a smashing success for Obama, perhaps because the reporter leaves out any mention of his assertion that Hamas likely finds him “worldly,” or that he doesn’t seem much bothered by the Hamas endorsement.

I do agree, however, with those who criticize statements put out by Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor accusing Obama of calling Israel a “constant sore” and “constant wound.” From the context I think it is obvious that Obama was referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not Israel per se. Those and other comments were disturbing enough for reasons discussed here and elsewhere without willfully misinterpreting them. (Neither the RNC nor McCain’s campaign representatives indicated any inclination to join in these responses, apparently content for now to let Obama speak for himself.)

The Republican Jewish Coalition did have this to say:

Once again, Senator Obama demonstrates his questionable grasp of America’s foreign policy. Senator Obama manages to excuse the inexcusable actions of anti-American militant jihadists by putting the blame for their actions on America’s foreign policy. America stands with Israel because it is one of our strongest allies and the only democracy in the Middle East. Senator Obama naively believes that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will solve the global scourge of radical Islamic extremism. Yet Senator Obama never says how he will reign in Hamas’ daily onslaught on Israel or Iran’s scurrilous condemnations of Israel. Is it any wonder Hamas has endorsed him for president?”

That seems to get it right: what is most disturbing is his acceptance of the perspective that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of all of the region and “all of our foreign policy” problems and his blasé attitude toward Hamas. He does not seem the least bit concerned that a terrorist organization would endorse him. At the very least this should demonstrate how absurd is his claim that there is no difference between his position and John McCain’s on this topic.

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Bomb Rangoon — With Aid

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

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Bizarro Environmental Fight

Barack Obama criticized John McCain sharply for McCain’s global warming speech, deeming it “breathtaking” in light of McCain’s alleged record of voting against (unnamed) efforts for clean energy. McCain’s camp turned the tables and bashed Obama for voting for the Bush energy bill. That’s right: McCain is attacking the Democratic near-nominee for voting with George W. Bush on energy.

McCain also caught a break today from Hillary Clinton, who put out a statement saying, “While Senator McCain’s proposals may be improvement on President Bush’s, that’s not saying much.” It’s been a good day for McCain: he’s distanced himself from President Bush, reminded voters how his opponent voted for the much-demonized Bush-Cheney energy bill, and had Clinton say he’s essentially a centrist.

Barack Obama criticized John McCain sharply for McCain’s global warming speech, deeming it “breathtaking” in light of McCain’s alleged record of voting against (unnamed) efforts for clean energy. McCain’s camp turned the tables and bashed Obama for voting for the Bush energy bill. That’s right: McCain is attacking the Democratic near-nominee for voting with George W. Bush on energy.

McCain also caught a break today from Hillary Clinton, who put out a statement saying, “While Senator McCain’s proposals may be improvement on President Bush’s, that’s not saying much.” It’s been a good day for McCain: he’s distanced himself from President Bush, reminded voters how his opponent voted for the much-demonized Bush-Cheney energy bill, and had Clinton say he’s essentially a centrist.

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“The World”

In a radio interview, President Bush said “the world ought to be angry and condemn” the Burmese junta for their response to the cyclone that devastated their country eleven days ago. Waiting for “the world” to condemn something other than America or Israel will bring us into the next Presidential administration and beyond. And by then a million-plus Burmese will have died waiting.

Consider this tough talk from UN chief Ban Ki-moon: “I want to register my deep concern and immense frustration on the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis.” The problem is, something is only unacceptable if it’s not accepted. So, eleven days into the unacceptable, we’re still pretending that the UN is going to get around to caring about corpses that can’t be linked to the American military or the Israeli Defense Force.

On the heels of Ban Ki-moon’s statement, Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian arm, said “This is a huge disaster. It would overwhelm the capacity of any country.” In other words: accept it. So speaketh “the world.”

In a radio interview, President Bush said “the world ought to be angry and condemn” the Burmese junta for their response to the cyclone that devastated their country eleven days ago. Waiting for “the world” to condemn something other than America or Israel will bring us into the next Presidential administration and beyond. And by then a million-plus Burmese will have died waiting.

Consider this tough talk from UN chief Ban Ki-moon: “I want to register my deep concern and immense frustration on the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis.” The problem is, something is only unacceptable if it’s not accepted. So, eleven days into the unacceptable, we’re still pretending that the UN is going to get around to caring about corpses that can’t be linked to the American military or the Israeli Defense Force.

On the heels of Ban Ki-moon’s statement, Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian arm, said “This is a huge disaster. It would overwhelm the capacity of any country.” In other words: accept it. So speaketh “the world.”

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Obama and the “Constant Sore”

Abe notes some highlights from Barack Obama’s lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Monthly on Israel and Hamas. There are some other startling exchanges. No, he wasn’t asked hard-hitting questions as to whether his willingness to meet directly with Iran has sent a mixed or harmful message to groups like Hamas. And, no, he wasn’t grilled on Robert Malley. Oh, and don’t get your hopes up that he was asked how he could sit in the pews of a pastor who declared Israel a “dirty word.” But there was quite a bit to chew on.

He was asked if he was “flummoxed” by Hamas’ endorsement. The answer is not likely to set your mind as ease:

I wasn’t flummoxed. I think what is going on there is the same reason why there are some suspicions of me in the Jewish community. Look, we don’t do nuance well in politics and especially don’t do it well on Middle East policy. We look at things as black and white, and not gray. It’s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, “This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he’s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,” and that’s something they’re hopeful about. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they’re not confused about my unyielding support for Israel’s security.

No one is right or wrong, it’s all “gray” and he’s just the guy to let everyone know. What is jaw-dropping, however, is his assumption that Hamas might be impressed with his “worldly” outlook. That’s what Hamas has been searching for: someone who is worldly. And notice the evasion he employs (“talks with people”) to escape stating the obvious: they are thrilled he’s offered direct talks with their sponsor and Holocaust denier Ahmejinidad.

But that’s not the half of it. There is this exchange:

JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?
BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean that Israel is the “constant sore,” but the sentiment is likely to make Islamic militants swoon. They have long argued that the central problem in the Middle East is not lack of democracy, the appalling conditions of Arab populations, jihad terrorists or Shia-Sunni violence: It is the failure of Israel to recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Now they have a candidate to mouth their platitudes and, as a bonus point, disparage “hawkish” elements in the U.S. who would insist on a stalwart defense of Israel. (Might that include these elements’ opposition to meeting with Ahmejdinidad?) No wonder he wasn’t flummoxed by Hamas’ endorsement. He’s the best candidate Hamas could hope for.

Abe notes some highlights from Barack Obama’s lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Monthly on Israel and Hamas. There are some other startling exchanges. No, he wasn’t asked hard-hitting questions as to whether his willingness to meet directly with Iran has sent a mixed or harmful message to groups like Hamas. And, no, he wasn’t grilled on Robert Malley. Oh, and don’t get your hopes up that he was asked how he could sit in the pews of a pastor who declared Israel a “dirty word.” But there was quite a bit to chew on.

He was asked if he was “flummoxed” by Hamas’ endorsement. The answer is not likely to set your mind as ease:

I wasn’t flummoxed. I think what is going on there is the same reason why there are some suspicions of me in the Jewish community. Look, we don’t do nuance well in politics and especially don’t do it well on Middle East policy. We look at things as black and white, and not gray. It’s conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, “This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he’s not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,” and that’s something they’re hopeful about. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they’re not confused about my unyielding support for Israel’s security.

No one is right or wrong, it’s all “gray” and he’s just the guy to let everyone know. What is jaw-dropping, however, is his assumption that Hamas might be impressed with his “worldly” outlook. That’s what Hamas has been searching for: someone who is worldly. And notice the evasion he employs (“talks with people”) to escape stating the obvious: they are thrilled he’s offered direct talks with their sponsor and Holocaust denier Ahmejinidad.

But that’s not the half of it. There is this exchange:

JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?
BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean that Israel is the “constant sore,” but the sentiment is likely to make Islamic militants swoon. They have long argued that the central problem in the Middle East is not lack of democracy, the appalling conditions of Arab populations, jihad terrorists or Shia-Sunni violence: It is the failure of Israel to recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Now they have a candidate to mouth their platitudes and, as a bonus point, disparage “hawkish” elements in the U.S. who would insist on a stalwart defense of Israel. (Might that include these elements’ opposition to meeting with Ahmejdinidad?) No wonder he wasn’t flummoxed by Hamas’ endorsement. He’s the best candidate Hamas could hope for.

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McCain’s Thermostat

John McCain is talking climate change this week and has a new ad out on the subject. He outlines his embrace of a “cap and trade” carbon reduction plan in a speech in Oregon today. Even more interesting than the substance of the ad, I think, is the underlying message that he is, excuse the expression, the “third way,” standing between Democrats’ environmental extremism and Republicans’ inactivity. He’s looking for an issue to demonstrate his independence from standard-fare Republican policy–and this is it.

In response to the predictable attacks on his plan coming from the DNC and Obama’s team, the McCain folks have responded via email with a long list of the nice things all sorts of Democrats–from Harry Reid to Hillary Clinton to, well, Barack Obama–have said about his bipartisan efforts in this area.

In short, this is all about not being a George W. Bush Republican. It’s an attempt to assure independents that on a feel-good issue like global warming McCain will chart a middle course. Are conservatives grousing? You bet.

And McCain is probably delighted. That’s the point of all of this triangulation: to portray himself as occupying the sensible center. Will it work? Well, he’s not going to get Al Gore’s vote, but he never was. But for moderate voters opposed to supporting a candidate who’s “out of it” on an issue that has taken on the aura of a civic religion, this may help.

John McCain is talking climate change this week and has a new ad out on the subject. He outlines his embrace of a “cap and trade” carbon reduction plan in a speech in Oregon today. Even more interesting than the substance of the ad, I think, is the underlying message that he is, excuse the expression, the “third way,” standing between Democrats’ environmental extremism and Republicans’ inactivity. He’s looking for an issue to demonstrate his independence from standard-fare Republican policy–and this is it.

In response to the predictable attacks on his plan coming from the DNC and Obama’s team, the McCain folks have responded via email with a long list of the nice things all sorts of Democrats–from Harry Reid to Hillary Clinton to, well, Barack Obama–have said about his bipartisan efforts in this area.

In short, this is all about not being a George W. Bush Republican. It’s an attempt to assure independents that on a feel-good issue like global warming McCain will chart a middle course. Are conservatives grousing? You bet.

And McCain is probably delighted. That’s the point of all of this triangulation: to portray himself as occupying the sensible center. Will it work? Well, he’s not going to get Al Gore’s vote, but he never was. But for moderate voters opposed to supporting a candidate who’s “out of it” on an issue that has taken on the aura of a civic religion, this may help.

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Hillary Couldn’t Say This

Hillary Clinton’s remarks suggesting that Barack Obama has a white voter problem brought howls of protest from Democrats and pundits. What she didn’t say, probably because she is still nominally running for the Democratic nomination in a primary dominated by liberals, is that his race may not be as big a problem as his views. That’s the premise of this Los Angeles Times column, which makes a persuasive case that Obama’s appealing demeanor and the issue of his race have masked a larger, ideological problem.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter, admits: “The key is going to be whether Barack can avoid getting on defense on social ‘wedge’ issues and can stay on the offense on economic issues.” She’s not the only one who thinks Obama may be caught on the wrong side of the ideological divide. The LA Times piece explains:

Obama has “handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it’s not the only one,” Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. “He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual.”

Well, that sounds quite a bit like the McCain game plan. Jill Zuckerman reports:

“We’ll make the case that Barack Obama is a wonderful new voice selling old, discredited ideas, including the most massive tax increase since Walter Mondale ran for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser. “It’s a combination of weakness, not being ready to be president and not being able to deliver on the things he says he will deliver on.”

So it might have been more accurate for Clinton to have said that Democrats who nominate a left-liberal without foreign policy experience do so at their own peril, though she did try a bit of that with her “3 a.m.” ad. Obama has yet to confront an all-out ideological attack. Such criticism may sound like “old” politics. But all politics, in the end, is about making distinctions and getting voters to choose between candidates’ competing visions.

McCain’s camp appears eager to do just that, perhaps in the town hall formats where they believe their candidate thrives. (Has Obama ever faced questions from a crowd that doesn’t agree with his ideological premises?) How Obama stands up to that line of inquiry will in large part determine, just as much as the unavoidable politics of race, who wins in November.

Hillary Clinton’s remarks suggesting that Barack Obama has a white voter problem brought howls of protest from Democrats and pundits. What she didn’t say, probably because she is still nominally running for the Democratic nomination in a primary dominated by liberals, is that his race may not be as big a problem as his views. That’s the premise of this Los Angeles Times column, which makes a persuasive case that Obama’s appealing demeanor and the issue of his race have masked a larger, ideological problem.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter, admits: “The key is going to be whether Barack can avoid getting on defense on social ‘wedge’ issues and can stay on the offense on economic issues.” She’s not the only one who thinks Obama may be caught on the wrong side of the ideological divide. The LA Times piece explains:

Obama has “handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it’s not the only one,” Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. “He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual.”

Well, that sounds quite a bit like the McCain game plan. Jill Zuckerman reports:

“We’ll make the case that Barack Obama is a wonderful new voice selling old, discredited ideas, including the most massive tax increase since Walter Mondale ran for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser. “It’s a combination of weakness, not being ready to be president and not being able to deliver on the things he says he will deliver on.”

So it might have been more accurate for Clinton to have said that Democrats who nominate a left-liberal without foreign policy experience do so at their own peril, though she did try a bit of that with her “3 a.m.” ad. Obama has yet to confront an all-out ideological attack. Such criticism may sound like “old” politics. But all politics, in the end, is about making distinctions and getting voters to choose between candidates’ competing visions.

McCain’s camp appears eager to do just that, perhaps in the town hall formats where they believe their candidate thrives. (Has Obama ever faced questions from a crowd that doesn’t agree with his ideological premises?) How Obama stands up to that line of inquiry will in large part determine, just as much as the unavoidable politics of race, who wins in November.

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Victory in Serbia

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

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A Dignity Promotion For Hillary Clinton

Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Congressman and former Bill Clinton aide, didn’t like Ted Kennedy taking a shot at Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, you may recall, said Clinton wouldn’t make a good VP pick because someone with “nobler aspirations” was needed. Emanuel said of Kennedy:“The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals.”(H/T The Page) You don’t have to agree with the second sentence to think the first is on the mark.

We are now moving into the phase of the campaign where everyone gets their free swing at Hillary. As Cokie Roberts observed, much of the surrogate and media chatter has been “anything but respectful.” It may be emotionally satisfying for Obama supporters and media doyennes. And goodness knows both Clintons have definitely asked for some of the retaliatory shots.

But unless you are supporting John McCain, there is one big problem with all this Clinton-bashing: this is the last thing Barack Obama needs. Clinton, not surprisingly, is using it to whip up a backlash, hoping to ride it to big wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, which will prolong her run. And the Clintons don’t need much more encouragement to drag their feet and withhold full-throated support for Obama when the race does end. Her supporters, meanwhile, are acquiring yet another reason to resent Obama. Terry McAuliffe sounded the warning on Meet The Press:

She has 16.6 million very passionate supporters. We want to make sure at the end of this process, Tim, we as Democrats are all together. Sometimes we like to drive that car over the cliff of the Democratic Party. This is a very fragile time.

So Obama, the candidate who thinks our most vile enemies deserve a dignity promotion, might want to make sure his supporters grant one to his Democratic rival. After all, Obama’s sometime policy advisor Samantha Power tells us “I don’t think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does.” If he fails to demonstrate that he really understands this in a context closer to home (and makes sure his followers execute that policy with regard to Clinton), he’ll have failed in his first significant diplomatic effort. And, I suspect, come to regret it deeply.

Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Congressman and former Bill Clinton aide, didn’t like Ted Kennedy taking a shot at Hillary Clinton. Kennedy, you may recall, said Clinton wouldn’t make a good VP pick because someone with “nobler aspirations” was needed. Emanuel said of Kennedy:“The gratuitous attack on her is uncalled for and wrong. He is a better senator than that comment reveals.”(H/T The Page) You don’t have to agree with the second sentence to think the first is on the mark.

We are now moving into the phase of the campaign where everyone gets their free swing at Hillary. As Cokie Roberts observed, much of the surrogate and media chatter has been “anything but respectful.” It may be emotionally satisfying for Obama supporters and media doyennes. And goodness knows both Clintons have definitely asked for some of the retaliatory shots.

But unless you are supporting John McCain, there is one big problem with all this Clinton-bashing: this is the last thing Barack Obama needs. Clinton, not surprisingly, is using it to whip up a backlash, hoping to ride it to big wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, which will prolong her run. And the Clintons don’t need much more encouragement to drag their feet and withhold full-throated support for Obama when the race does end. Her supporters, meanwhile, are acquiring yet another reason to resent Obama. Terry McAuliffe sounded the warning on Meet The Press:

She has 16.6 million very passionate supporters. We want to make sure at the end of this process, Tim, we as Democrats are all together. Sometimes we like to drive that car over the cliff of the Democratic Party. This is a very fragile time.

So Obama, the candidate who thinks our most vile enemies deserve a dignity promotion, might want to make sure his supporters grant one to his Democratic rival. After all, Obama’s sometime policy advisor Samantha Power tells us “I don’t think anyone in the foreign-policy community has as much an appreciation of the value of dignity as Obama does.” If he fails to demonstrate that he really understands this in a context closer to home (and makes sure his followers execute that policy with regard to Clinton), he’ll have failed in his first significant diplomatic effort. And, I suspect, come to regret it deeply.

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Anyone Spot a “Yes” in These Answers?

From Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic interview with Barack Obama:

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, when I think about the Zionist idea, I think about how my feelings about Israel were shaped as a young man — as a child, in fact. I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel.

And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing.

[...]

JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?

BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.

That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.

From Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic interview with Barack Obama:

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, when I think about the Zionist idea, I think about how my feelings about Israel were shaped as a young man — as a child, in fact. I had a camp counselor when I was in sixth grade who was Jewish-American but who had spent time in Israel, and during the course of this two-week camp he shared with me the idea of returning to a homeland and what that meant for people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. There was something so powerful and compelling for me, maybe because I was a kid who never entirely felt like he was rooted. That was part of my upbringing, to be traveling and always having a sense of values and culture but wanting a place. So that is my first memory of thinking about Israel.

And then that mixed with a great affinity for the idea of social justice that was embodied in the early Zionist movement and the kibbutz, and the notion that not only do you find a place but you also have this opportunity to start over and to repair the breaches of the past. I found this very appealing.

[...]

JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?

BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.

That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world.

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The Meaning of Chinese Lies

“I want to tell you, I myself did not want to be the president,” said Chinese leader Hu Jintao on Friday, in response to a question from an eight-year-old student in Yokohama. “It was the people in the whole country who voted me in, and wanted me to be the president. I should not let the people throughout the whole country down.”

There was a national election in China? And everyone had the opportunity to vote? Hu Jintao was in fact picked to lead the country by one man, Deng Xiaoping, who had been dead for more than a half decade by the time Hu ascended to the top post in 2002.

There are many things we learn by Hu telling an obvious untruth in public. There is, for instance, the general craving of Beijing’s leaders for legitimacy. Then there is their mendacity. Yet the most important aspect of this lie is that it reveals the supreme confidence of Chinese supremos these days. They now expect us to accept what they say, no matter how absurd.

How did Hu Jintao become this self-assured? Almost all international leaders have become so solicitous of his feelings that he knows that none of them will ever humiliate him by pointing out the falsehood. So he naturally feels that he can fib with impunity.

And what does this mean for us? We know that Hu Jintao feels comfortable in lying. One can only wonder-and dread-what else he thinks he can do without consequence.

So will some president or prime minister please stand up and set the facts straight about how Hu got his current job? It’s time to cut that particular autocrat down to size. For everyone’s good.

“I want to tell you, I myself did not want to be the president,” said Chinese leader Hu Jintao on Friday, in response to a question from an eight-year-old student in Yokohama. “It was the people in the whole country who voted me in, and wanted me to be the president. I should not let the people throughout the whole country down.”

There was a national election in China? And everyone had the opportunity to vote? Hu Jintao was in fact picked to lead the country by one man, Deng Xiaoping, who had been dead for more than a half decade by the time Hu ascended to the top post in 2002.

There are many things we learn by Hu telling an obvious untruth in public. There is, for instance, the general craving of Beijing’s leaders for legitimacy. Then there is their mendacity. Yet the most important aspect of this lie is that it reveals the supreme confidence of Chinese supremos these days. They now expect us to accept what they say, no matter how absurd.

How did Hu Jintao become this self-assured? Almost all international leaders have become so solicitous of his feelings that he knows that none of them will ever humiliate him by pointing out the falsehood. So he naturally feels that he can fib with impunity.

And what does this mean for us? We know that Hu Jintao feels comfortable in lying. One can only wonder-and dread-what else he thinks he can do without consequence.

So will some president or prime minister please stand up and set the facts straight about how Hu got his current job? It’s time to cut that particular autocrat down to size. For everyone’s good.

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Re: Taking His Own Sweet Time

Abe, just as much a concern as Barack Obama’s delinquency in recognizing problems is his staffing and supervision of the that staff. Jake Tapper does yeoman’s work in compiling the list of “the staff did it” excuses that Obama has trotted out whenever things go awry. Sometimes staff does mess up, but it seems that a primary complaint from Democrats about George W. Bush was that he was never “accountable.”

After all, Presidents and Presidential candidates hire these people and are supposed to keep an eye on what they are up to. If staff is forever embarrassing the candidate it seems that he has hired poorly or failed to exercise rudimentary supervisory skills. Isn’t Obama the one who keeps telling us “No more Scooter Libby Justice! No more Brownie incompetence!”? Perhaps it’s time for Obama to stop blaming the little people.

Abe, just as much a concern as Barack Obama’s delinquency in recognizing problems is his staffing and supervision of the that staff. Jake Tapper does yeoman’s work in compiling the list of “the staff did it” excuses that Obama has trotted out whenever things go awry. Sometimes staff does mess up, but it seems that a primary complaint from Democrats about George W. Bush was that he was never “accountable.”

After all, Presidents and Presidential candidates hire these people and are supposed to keep an eye on what they are up to. If staff is forever embarrassing the candidate it seems that he has hired poorly or failed to exercise rudimentary supervisory skills. Isn’t Obama the one who keeps telling us “No more Scooter Libby Justice! No more Brownie incompetence!”? Perhaps it’s time for Obama to stop blaming the little people.

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Obama’s Apostasy Reality

In today’s New York Times, Edward N. Luttwak has written a solid, non-hysterical op-ed about the complications that could arise from the Muslim world’s perception of Barack Obama as an apostate.

Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama – not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law – another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known – as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

So: Islamists feel obliged to kill apostates. But many Islamists are inclined to kill all infidels, anyway. The larger challenge subsumes the ramifications of Obama’s religious journey. There are people with whom you can cooperate and people with whom you cannot. Obama’s apostate status just serves to clarify this point.

If Obama were a different kind of candidate, he’d point to his particular Muslim predicament realistically. He’d be honest about what it means: that he typifies the kind of freedom that offends our enemies. From that credible position, he could begin to outline a plan of working with allies and besting antagonists. Instead, he buys into and advances every last pipe-dream of amelioration that Luttwak (incorrectly) claims has been “projected” onto him.

In today’s New York Times, Edward N. Luttwak has written a solid, non-hysterical op-ed about the complications that could arise from the Muslim world’s perception of Barack Obama as an apostate.

Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama – not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law – another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known – as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

So: Islamists feel obliged to kill apostates. But many Islamists are inclined to kill all infidels, anyway. The larger challenge subsumes the ramifications of Obama’s religious journey. There are people with whom you can cooperate and people with whom you cannot. Obama’s apostate status just serves to clarify this point.

If Obama were a different kind of candidate, he’d point to his particular Muslim predicament realistically. He’d be honest about what it means: that he typifies the kind of freedom that offends our enemies. From that credible position, he could begin to outline a plan of working with allies and besting antagonists. Instead, he buys into and advances every last pipe-dream of amelioration that Luttwak (incorrectly) claims has been “projected” onto him.

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Newsweek Gushes

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

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Shell Pulls Out

Energy giant Shell has pulled out of a $10 billion deal for a liquid natural gas (LNG) project at Iran’s South Pars field. Spain’s energy company Repsol has also withdrawn from the deal, which had been signed a little over a year ago.

LNG is the new frontier of energy development for Iran in particular–Iran hopes to address its chronic gasoline shortages by running its car industry on liquid gas and aims to switch from being a net gas importer to profitable exporter. There were three LNG projects in the South Pars field: the one that Shell and Repsol just canceled, one run by France’s TotalFinaElf and Malaysia’s Petronas, and one by Indian giant Reliance and BP. But pressure is on all companies to leave Iran without the necessary technology needed to develop its LNG capabilities–no small task, given the complexity of the installations needed.

This is an important and necessary blow to Iran’s energy plans. According to news reports, this can be attributed mainly to U.S. pressure. But the uncertainties of the political horizon are no doubt another factor for companies to withhold investments. Ultimately, the reason why companies should not invest in Iran–quite aside from the ethical issue of giving succor to a regime like Tehran’s–is that it is not in their own economic interest. Hopefully, Shell’s turnaround–after the recent difficulties caused by the Swiss gas deal with Iran–will set a new precedent for European energy companies.

Energy giant Shell has pulled out of a $10 billion deal for a liquid natural gas (LNG) project at Iran’s South Pars field. Spain’s energy company Repsol has also withdrawn from the deal, which had been signed a little over a year ago.

LNG is the new frontier of energy development for Iran in particular–Iran hopes to address its chronic gasoline shortages by running its car industry on liquid gas and aims to switch from being a net gas importer to profitable exporter. There were three LNG projects in the South Pars field: the one that Shell and Repsol just canceled, one run by France’s TotalFinaElf and Malaysia’s Petronas, and one by Indian giant Reliance and BP. But pressure is on all companies to leave Iran without the necessary technology needed to develop its LNG capabilities–no small task, given the complexity of the installations needed.

This is an important and necessary blow to Iran’s energy plans. According to news reports, this can be attributed mainly to U.S. pressure. But the uncertainties of the political horizon are no doubt another factor for companies to withhold investments. Ultimately, the reason why companies should not invest in Iran–quite aside from the ethical issue of giving succor to a regime like Tehran’s–is that it is not in their own economic interest. Hopefully, Shell’s turnaround–after the recent difficulties caused by the Swiss gas deal with Iran–will set a new precedent for European energy companies.

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Taking His Sweet Time

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When it comes to following Don Corleone’s sage advice, Barack Obama is a natural. Sure, he’s tight with Ted Kennedy and Bill Richardson, but they didn’t baptize his kids (like Jeremiah Wright), or advise him on foreign policy (like Robert Malley). Obama’s talent for cleaving to his political enemies is definitely a “change” from politics as usual. But is it change we can believe in?

The exit of Malley from Obama’s campaign is yet another instance in which the candidate who speaks of “the fierce urgency of now” addresses an immediate and obvious problem with the galling indifference of whenever. For at least six months, we’ve known that Robert Malley’s associates and his record of anti-Israel revisionism have no place in an American presidential campaign. But Obama, being Obama, could no sooner denounce his Arafat-embracing Middle East advisor than, say, not sell out his grandmother. Instead, the campaign shrugged the issue off by claiming Malley was not a “day-to-day” advisor.

Just as in the case of Jeremiah Wright, Obama tried to wish the whole thing away until the very source of the problem addressed him directly. Rev. Wright picked a fight with Obama, and Robert Malley called Obama up to cut ties. I’m not sure why Malley said that his own dealings with Hamas would be a “distraction,” when it’s doubtful Obama would have noticed.

Setting aside the ideological implications of Obama’s friendly enemies, why is no one alarmed by a Presidential nominee who, to quote another mob movie, has a habit of being late to his own funeral. Is Obama slow in analyzing crises because he’s carefully considering all the angles? Or because he can’t be bothered with any issue that distracts him from his historic destiny? He’ll answer the phone at 3 AM–only it’ll have been ringing since 3 in the afternoon.

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” When it comes to following Don Corleone’s sage advice, Barack Obama is a natural. Sure, he’s tight with Ted Kennedy and Bill Richardson, but they didn’t baptize his kids (like Jeremiah Wright), or advise him on foreign policy (like Robert Malley). Obama’s talent for cleaving to his political enemies is definitely a “change” from politics as usual. But is it change we can believe in?

The exit of Malley from Obama’s campaign is yet another instance in which the candidate who speaks of “the fierce urgency of now” addresses an immediate and obvious problem with the galling indifference of whenever. For at least six months, we’ve known that Robert Malley’s associates and his record of anti-Israel revisionism have no place in an American presidential campaign. But Obama, being Obama, could no sooner denounce his Arafat-embracing Middle East advisor than, say, not sell out his grandmother. Instead, the campaign shrugged the issue off by claiming Malley was not a “day-to-day” advisor.

Just as in the case of Jeremiah Wright, Obama tried to wish the whole thing away until the very source of the problem addressed him directly. Rev. Wright picked a fight with Obama, and Robert Malley called Obama up to cut ties. I’m not sure why Malley said that his own dealings with Hamas would be a “distraction,” when it’s doubtful Obama would have noticed.

Setting aside the ideological implications of Obama’s friendly enemies, why is no one alarmed by a Presidential nominee who, to quote another mob movie, has a habit of being late to his own funeral. Is Obama slow in analyzing crises because he’s carefully considering all the angles? Or because he can’t be bothered with any issue that distracts him from his historic destiny? He’ll answer the phone at 3 AM–only it’ll have been ringing since 3 in the afternoon.

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The World’s Largest Trope

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

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Wet Behind the CIA’s Ears

I noted recently in the Wall Street Journal that a striking 55 percent of all intelligence community analysts were hired after September 11, 2001. On balance, I argued, this is a positive development: “Whatever the cost in lack of experience, the creation of a youthful and highly responsive workforce, motivated by a desire to get into the fight against America’s enemies, has to be counted as all for the good.”

The CIA seems to have taken my comments to heart. On its website, it is now boasting about the inexperience of its intelligence analysts. It features a self-portrait of one of them — “Scott” — who hails from Michigan and has been with the agency for less than a year.

What are Scott’s credentials?

“[M]any people think that CIA employees spend their entire lives preparing to work at the Agency. Not me!”

Scott had a different plan: “I focused my studies on domestic politics and planned to work as a U.S. policymaker, not as a foreign-intelligence analyst.” But this lack of preparation was no barrier to entry for him or anyone else: “I’m not alone. I’ve been surprised to find how many officers did not expect to end up in the CIA.”

What is the CIA like these days? It certainly confounded Scott’s expectations. “Officers didn’t walk around in black suits; they dressed somewhat casual, many even wearing jeans on casual Fridays.” Even more significantly: “Headquarters didn’t feel like an intelligence agency; it felt like a college campus.”

Maybe it didn’t feel like an intelligence agency to Scott because it is not an intelligence agency at all, just a large government bureaucracy pretending to be one. As Scott puts it, it is a “great” place “for somebody like me who studied domestic politics and never expected to work with foreign intelligence.”

Here is another page from the CIA website addressed to another set of inexperienced recruits: K-through-5 elementary school students:  

You may have heard about the Central Intelligence Agency. But, do you know what we really do and how we do it? The people of the CIA do very important work. They help keep our country safe. They give our leaders information so they can make good decisions. And they take pride in their important jobs.

We have a lot of different jobs here. We have analysts, doctors, lawyers, scientists, geographers, and librarians, to name just a few.

Look through our pages and you will learn all about us. If you read carefully, you can become a CIA expert. We also have some fun stories and games for you.

Okay, let’s take a short time out from sharing fun stories and play a little game: where in the world is Osama bin Laden and can Scott help us find him? Run Scott run.

I noted recently in the Wall Street Journal that a striking 55 percent of all intelligence community analysts were hired after September 11, 2001. On balance, I argued, this is a positive development: “Whatever the cost in lack of experience, the creation of a youthful and highly responsive workforce, motivated by a desire to get into the fight against America’s enemies, has to be counted as all for the good.”

The CIA seems to have taken my comments to heart. On its website, it is now boasting about the inexperience of its intelligence analysts. It features a self-portrait of one of them — “Scott” — who hails from Michigan and has been with the agency for less than a year.

What are Scott’s credentials?

“[M]any people think that CIA employees spend their entire lives preparing to work at the Agency. Not me!”

Scott had a different plan: “I focused my studies on domestic politics and planned to work as a U.S. policymaker, not as a foreign-intelligence analyst.” But this lack of preparation was no barrier to entry for him or anyone else: “I’m not alone. I’ve been surprised to find how many officers did not expect to end up in the CIA.”

What is the CIA like these days? It certainly confounded Scott’s expectations. “Officers didn’t walk around in black suits; they dressed somewhat casual, many even wearing jeans on casual Fridays.” Even more significantly: “Headquarters didn’t feel like an intelligence agency; it felt like a college campus.”

Maybe it didn’t feel like an intelligence agency to Scott because it is not an intelligence agency at all, just a large government bureaucracy pretending to be one. As Scott puts it, it is a “great” place “for somebody like me who studied domestic politics and never expected to work with foreign intelligence.”

Here is another page from the CIA website addressed to another set of inexperienced recruits: K-through-5 elementary school students:  

You may have heard about the Central Intelligence Agency. But, do you know what we really do and how we do it? The people of the CIA do very important work. They help keep our country safe. They give our leaders information so they can make good decisions. And they take pride in their important jobs.

We have a lot of different jobs here. We have analysts, doctors, lawyers, scientists, geographers, and librarians, to name just a few.

Look through our pages and you will learn all about us. If you read carefully, you can become a CIA expert. We also have some fun stories and games for you.

Okay, let’s take a short time out from sharing fun stories and play a little game: where in the world is Osama bin Laden and can Scott help us find him? Run Scott run.

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Lieberman Explains

The McCain camp has been struggling to explain why Hamas’ endorsement of Barack Obama is relevant and why it is not a “smear” for John McCain to have raised it. Joe Lieberman explained it succinctly on Late Edition on Sunday:

But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, “Why?” And it suggests the difference between these two candidates. And I think Hamas and Hezbollah, which is now control of Beirut, apparently, are proxies, are wards of Iran, which is the very same country that constantly shouts “Death to America, death to Israel.”So I think one of John’s strengths, John McCain’s strength as president, frankly, is that our allies and friends around the world will trust him. And our enemies like Hamas and Iran will fear him. And I think they need to fear him. . . Senator Obama has said he would sit down, without condition, with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. That not only gives prestige to a terrible America and Israel- hater but it also threatens our allies in the region. Look, I’ll give you another example. This is an indirect step that could undermine our position in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Senator Kyl and I introduced the resolution in the Senate which called on the administration to impose economic sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is training and equipping Iraqis that are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers, hundreds of them. Senator McCain and Senator Clinton voted for that resolution. About three quarters of the Senate did. Senator Obama did not.

Perhaps Lieberman should head the rapid response team on this issue. This point is, after all, central to McCain’s argument that Americans should trust him, rather than Barack Obama, to be commander-in-chief. McCain’s team has to make sure voters understand why.

The McCain camp has been struggling to explain why Hamas’ endorsement of Barack Obama is relevant and why it is not a “smear” for John McCain to have raised it. Joe Lieberman explained it succinctly on Late Edition on Sunday:

But the fact that the spokesperson for Hamas would say they would welcome the election of Senator Obama really does raise the question, “Why?” And it suggests the difference between these two candidates. And I think Hamas and Hezbollah, which is now control of Beirut, apparently, are proxies, are wards of Iran, which is the very same country that constantly shouts “Death to America, death to Israel.”So I think one of John’s strengths, John McCain’s strength as president, frankly, is that our allies and friends around the world will trust him. And our enemies like Hamas and Iran will fear him. And I think they need to fear him. . . Senator Obama has said he would sit down, without condition, with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. That not only gives prestige to a terrible America and Israel- hater but it also threatens our allies in the region. Look, I’ll give you another example. This is an indirect step that could undermine our position in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Senator Kyl and I introduced the resolution in the Senate which called on the administration to impose economic sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is training and equipping Iraqis that are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers, hundreds of them. Senator McCain and Senator Clinton voted for that resolution. About three quarters of the Senate did. Senator Obama did not.

Perhaps Lieberman should head the rapid response team on this issue. This point is, after all, central to McCain’s argument that Americans should trust him, rather than Barack Obama, to be commander-in-chief. McCain’s team has to make sure voters understand why.

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Gunboat Diplomacy for Burma?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

Instead of launching a multinational intervention in Burma, as Gordon half-seriously suggested last week, why not, as Steve Sesser suggested eighteen years ago in the New York Times, exercise a bit of good old-fashioned American gunboat diplomacy?

In reporting on the 1988 revolt, I came to understand that the smallest gesture of U.S. military support–perhaps nothing more than a couple of battleships off the Burmese coast and a few warplanes over its skies–could have won the day for the Burmese people. Even today, with the army deeply split, merely the threat of American intervention might alone be enough to bring down the dictatorship.

The American origins of “gunboat diplomacy” date back to the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, when he dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world to show off American naval prowess. It was a tactic used to effect Roosevelt’s assertion of multination American interests in Latin America. Not only would the United States oppose European intervention in the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt declared America’s own, sole right to intervene (militarily, if need be) in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations should they be unable to maintain order or pay off debts owed to the United States.

“Walk softly and carry a big stick” is the saying associated with this form of military positioning. Why not dispatch a few aircraft carriers and battle ships within striking range of Rangoon to send a message?

Read Less




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