Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 20, 2008

Re: Where Do The Votes Come From?

John, Barack Obama has an independent voter problem but he also has the challenge to keep Democrats in the fold. Even if you believe that most of the Hillary Clinton primary supporters won’t make good on their threat to vote for John McCain, there are many who will prefer McCain in the general election. The percentage of voters in the recent primaries threatening to do just that, especially in Rust Belt states, has been astonishingly high. So yes, he has a head start with Democratic primary voters, but he has some demographic and electoral challenges. And then there is Florida.

Is he the favorite? Not as much as he used to be.

John, Barack Obama has an independent voter problem but he also has the challenge to keep Democrats in the fold. Even if you believe that most of the Hillary Clinton primary supporters won’t make good on their threat to vote for John McCain, there are many who will prefer McCain in the general election. The percentage of voters in the recent primaries threatening to do just that, especially in Rust Belt states, has been astonishingly high. So yes, he has a head start with Democratic primary voters, but he has some demographic and electoral challenges. And then there is Florida.

Is he the favorite? Not as much as he used to be.

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Obama, In Code, to Hillary: The VP Slot Is Yours If You Want It

Read these words from his speech just now: “One of the most formidable candidates ever to run for this office….In her 35 years of public service, Hillary Rodham Clinton has never given up on her fight for the American people…We’ve had our disagreements, but we all admire her courage and her commitment and her perseverence…Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and has changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age and for that we are grateful to her.”

Hmmm. Hillary Clinton as a maker of change.

Obama-Clinton 2008. Put money on it.

Read these words from his speech just now: “One of the most formidable candidates ever to run for this office….In her 35 years of public service, Hillary Rodham Clinton has never given up on her fight for the American people…We’ve had our disagreements, but we all admire her courage and her commitment and her perseverence…Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and has changed the America in which my daughters and your daughters will come of age and for that we are grateful to her.”

Hmmm. Hillary Clinton as a maker of change.

Obama-Clinton 2008. Put money on it.

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Re: Where Do the Votes Come From

Jennifer, the answer to your question — how does Barack Obama redraw the map? — is that, if he does his job right, he won’t have to redraw the map. A vote against him in a primary is not a vote against him in the general election. These are, after all, Democratic primary voters, and it is to be expected that most of them will vote for the Democratic nominee. That is good news for Obama, because the turnout in these primaries has been so astonishingly high. If he gets 90 percent of the votes cast in the primaries, he will begin election day with 33 million votes in his pocket. There’s never been anything like this.

What we don’t know is whether the rejection of Obama in the states where he has received a shellacking by Democrats is suggestive of the attitudes of independent voters. There is some reason to believe it probably does, given just how liberal Obama is, but we just don’t know yet. In that possibility, there is McCain’s opportunity.

Jennifer, the answer to your question — how does Barack Obama redraw the map? — is that, if he does his job right, he won’t have to redraw the map. A vote against him in a primary is not a vote against him in the general election. These are, after all, Democratic primary voters, and it is to be expected that most of them will vote for the Democratic nominee. That is good news for Obama, because the turnout in these primaries has been so astonishingly high. If he gets 90 percent of the votes cast in the primaries, he will begin election day with 33 million votes in his pocket. There’s never been anything like this.

What we don’t know is whether the rejection of Obama in the states where he has received a shellacking by Democrats is suggestive of the attitudes of independent voters. There is some reason to believe it probably does, given just how liberal Obama is, but we just don’t know yet. In that possibility, there is McCain’s opportunity.

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Where Do The Votes Come From?

John, one lingering question from tonight: how can Barack Obama redraw the map? If West Vriginia and Kentucky are out and Ohio and Pennsylvania look shaky, he is going to have to rely on other states to get to 270 electoral votes in November. My state of Virginia, which Obama won big eons ago (February it was, but it seems like the 1970’s), was supposed to be one state he could pick up. But now comes the Commonwealth Poll showing John McCain leading Obama by 8 points with these tidbits:

McCain holds a strong lead in the more rural areas of the state including the northwest and western areas and a 9‐point lead in the Tidewater area. In vote‐rich Northern Virginia, Obama has a slight edge over McCain (41% to 36%). Obama also leads by 43% to 39% for McCain in the south central area, a region which includes Richmond. . . McCain garners 44% to Obama’s 34% among independents who are registered to vote. Registered Republicans support McCain over Obama by a wide margin; 81% for McCain to just 6% for Obama. Older voters, ages 65 and older, also show strong support for McCain. Among registered voters under age 65, nearly equal portions side with each candidate. Registered Democrats strongly support Obama (71%) over McCain (14%) in the general election. As expected, Obama has the support of nearly all African‐Americans in the state.

Ah, but the South (south of Virginia, which is really not the South) — what about all those primary voters Obama turned out there? There frankly just aren’t enough Democrats. Remember North Carolina? McCain is leading comfortably there too.

So it may be too late for Hillary Clinton, but the electoral road is looking quite a bit rockier for Obama than it did two months ago. And I’m still searching for the state(s) which voted for George W. Bush in 2004 which Obama can flip to him.

John, one lingering question from tonight: how can Barack Obama redraw the map? If West Vriginia and Kentucky are out and Ohio and Pennsylvania look shaky, he is going to have to rely on other states to get to 270 electoral votes in November. My state of Virginia, which Obama won big eons ago (February it was, but it seems like the 1970’s), was supposed to be one state he could pick up. But now comes the Commonwealth Poll showing John McCain leading Obama by 8 points with these tidbits:

McCain holds a strong lead in the more rural areas of the state including the northwest and western areas and a 9‐point lead in the Tidewater area. In vote‐rich Northern Virginia, Obama has a slight edge over McCain (41% to 36%). Obama also leads by 43% to 39% for McCain in the south central area, a region which includes Richmond. . . McCain garners 44% to Obama’s 34% among independents who are registered to vote. Registered Republicans support McCain over Obama by a wide margin; 81% for McCain to just 6% for Obama. Older voters, ages 65 and older, also show strong support for McCain. Among registered voters under age 65, nearly equal portions side with each candidate. Registered Democrats strongly support Obama (71%) over McCain (14%) in the general election. As expected, Obama has the support of nearly all African‐Americans in the state.

Ah, but the South (south of Virginia, which is really not the South) — what about all those primary voters Obama turned out there? There frankly just aren’t enough Democrats. Remember North Carolina? McCain is leading comfortably there too.

So it may be too late for Hillary Clinton, but the electoral road is looking quite a bit rockier for Obama than it did two months ago. And I’m still searching for the state(s) which voted for George W. Bush in 2004 which Obama can flip to him.

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The Point About Kentucky

Commenter Nepat writes:

Hey, wait a minute. Did you copy and paste this post from last week? It’s deja vu all over again. Hillary wins again in Appalachia! Your point is clearly that Obama the Winner is a Big Loser in disguise….Kentucky made up its mind months ago. She’s been polling there at 62% for months. Hasn’t budged at all, really.

The point is, it should have budged, at least a little in his favor. It’s been the common opinion of political professionals for at least two weeks that he is the inevitable nominee. Newton’s political laws — the  laws of political gravity and political entropy — practically require that Democratic voters in Kentucky should have gravitated to him at least a little bit once his inevitability was assured. Instead, he has lost Kentucky by 35 points.

Obama is still going to win. And he is still a commanding favorite in November. But the simple fact of the matter is that he didn’t close the deal with his own party’s voters the way he should have, and that is primarily owing to mistakes he made and associations he could not escape. Which, in turn, suggests that the hazardous path to victory for McCain might be a little easier because his rival simply isn’t the political genius it looked like he might be at the beginning of the primary season.

Commenter Nepat writes:

Hey, wait a minute. Did you copy and paste this post from last week? It’s deja vu all over again. Hillary wins again in Appalachia! Your point is clearly that Obama the Winner is a Big Loser in disguise….Kentucky made up its mind months ago. She’s been polling there at 62% for months. Hasn’t budged at all, really.

The point is, it should have budged, at least a little in his favor. It’s been the common opinion of political professionals for at least two weeks that he is the inevitable nominee. Newton’s political laws — the  laws of political gravity and political entropy — practically require that Democratic voters in Kentucky should have gravitated to him at least a little bit once his inevitability was assured. Instead, he has lost Kentucky by 35 points.

Obama is still going to win. And he is still a commanding favorite in November. But the simple fact of the matter is that he didn’t close the deal with his own party’s voters the way he should have, and that is primarily owing to mistakes he made and associations he could not escape. Which, in turn, suggests that the hazardous path to victory for McCain might be a little easier because his rival simply isn’t the political genius it looked like he might be at the beginning of the primary season.

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“Never Giving Up”

Hillary Clinton gave her victory speech, echoing the same notes we have heard before: it isn’t over, she’s going on to June 3 and will run in all the primary races until then, Democrats have to count the 2.3 million votes in Florida and Michigan and she’s in it for all the “invisible people.” She exhorts all her supporters to keep going and keep fighting. What is missing is any direct attack on Barack Obama. She’s not deluded, in other words.

Hillary Clinton gave her victory speech, echoing the same notes we have heard before: it isn’t over, she’s going on to June 3 and will run in all the primary races until then, Democrats have to count the 2.3 million votes in Florida and Michigan and she’s in it for all the “invisible people.” She exhorts all her supporters to keep going and keep fighting. What is missing is any direct attack on Barack Obama. She’s not deluded, in other words.

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So Far, No Surprises

Demographics seem to be destiny in the Democratic primary race. Before the polls closed you could have guessed that Hillary Clinton, as she did in West Virginia, would trounce Barack Obama in Kentucky. A bit more surprising however is how much the Clinton voters in both Oregon and Kentucky don’t like Obama and how clear their preference is for John McCain in the general election.

And those Kentucky exit polls tell the same story we’ve seen before: not only do white voters not like Obama (only 22% voted for him), neither do seniors, frequent church goers, non-college educated voters and the usual roster of groups immune from Obama-mania.

It seems that John Edwards didn’t do the trick.

Demographics seem to be destiny in the Democratic primary race. Before the polls closed you could have guessed that Hillary Clinton, as she did in West Virginia, would trounce Barack Obama in Kentucky. A bit more surprising however is how much the Clinton voters in both Oregon and Kentucky don’t like Obama and how clear their preference is for John McCain in the general election.

And those Kentucky exit polls tell the same story we’ve seen before: not only do white voters not like Obama (only 22% voted for him), neither do seniors, frequent church goers, non-college educated voters and the usual roster of groups immune from Obama-mania.

It seems that John Edwards didn’t do the trick.

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Kentucky Fried Obama

Barack Obama is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, but what has been obscured by the media frenzy over him is that he is a vastly weaker candidate than he once appeared to be. After two weeks of media insistence that Hillary is done and he is the Chosen One, he appears to have lost Kentucky by a margin of 2-to-1. That is simply bizarre. The one indisputable thing we know about the psychology of elections is that people like to vote for the candidate they think is going to be the winner. It doesn’t mean anything that he lost Kentucky; it means something that he didn’t lose it by five points, or by ten, but rather by 20 or more. Race may play a role here, but it doesn’t play a 30-point role; and it’s worth noting that one reason given in exit polls for white resistance to Obama is his connection to black racist Jeremiah Wright, a connection that is no one’s fault but Obama’s own.

Barack Obama is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, but what has been obscured by the media frenzy over him is that he is a vastly weaker candidate than he once appeared to be. After two weeks of media insistence that Hillary is done and he is the Chosen One, he appears to have lost Kentucky by a margin of 2-to-1. That is simply bizarre. The one indisputable thing we know about the psychology of elections is that people like to vote for the candidate they think is going to be the winner. It doesn’t mean anything that he lost Kentucky; it means something that he didn’t lose it by five points, or by ten, but rather by 20 or more. Race may play a role here, but it doesn’t play a 30-point role; and it’s worth noting that one reason given in exit polls for white resistance to Obama is his connection to black racist Jeremiah Wright, a connection that is no one’s fault but Obama’s own.

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Here’s A Strategy for Bush and McCain

Barack Obama is a supporter of the special-interest cesspool called the Agriculture Bill. I would hope John McCain — against it from the getgo — would make a very big deal of it, as it would be interesting to see Obama defend a bill giving subsidies to Kentucky thoroughbred horse breeders (a downtrodden group if ever there was one–I’ve heard some of them can’t even afford a private jet).

Someone please tell me why the following would be wrong, naïve, or counterproductive: Congress sends the bill to the White House. The President asks for fifteen minutes on TV, during which he 1) signs the veto message, 2) does a quick show-and-tell on the bill’s more egregious features, 3) says that this piece of legislation is Exhibit A of how and why Washington doesn’t work for the benefit of the people any more, 4) says this is the time to stop this sort of thing and 4) tells the people to E-mail their congressmen and senators (helpful crawl giving the House and Senate websites) and to say that they’re mad as hell about this and they’re not going to take it any more.

The president isn’t going to get anything out of Congress in the next eight months anyway, so he has nothing to lose by enraging Capitol Hill big time. Doing this would 1) cause the Congressional servers to collapse under an avalanche of irate e-mails, 2) raise his approval ratings, and 3) get the veto sustained.

It would also be a big boost to McCain, who actually has a track record against special-interest legislation, which Obama lacks.

Barack Obama is a supporter of the special-interest cesspool called the Agriculture Bill. I would hope John McCain — against it from the getgo — would make a very big deal of it, as it would be interesting to see Obama defend a bill giving subsidies to Kentucky thoroughbred horse breeders (a downtrodden group if ever there was one–I’ve heard some of them can’t even afford a private jet).

Someone please tell me why the following would be wrong, naïve, or counterproductive: Congress sends the bill to the White House. The President asks for fifteen minutes on TV, during which he 1) signs the veto message, 2) does a quick show-and-tell on the bill’s more egregious features, 3) says that this piece of legislation is Exhibit A of how and why Washington doesn’t work for the benefit of the people any more, 4) says this is the time to stop this sort of thing and 4) tells the people to E-mail their congressmen and senators (helpful crawl giving the House and Senate websites) and to say that they’re mad as hell about this and they’re not going to take it any more.

The president isn’t going to get anything out of Congress in the next eight months anyway, so he has nothing to lose by enraging Capitol Hill big time. Doing this would 1) cause the Congressional servers to collapse under an avalanche of irate e-mails, 2) raise his approval ratings, and 3) get the veto sustained.

It would also be a big boost to McCain, who actually has a track record against special-interest legislation, which Obama lacks.

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Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

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More On Goldberg

Sort of like the Israelis and Palestinians, Jeff Goldberg and I seem to be talking past one another. On Sunday he published a New York Times op-ed in which he said that it was imperative for America’s president to pressure Israel to dismantle its West Bank settlements–and the reason the president isn’t doing so is because major American Jewish organizations are in favor of the settlements. I argued on CONTENTIONS that the reason Israelis aren’t dismantling the settlements (and that President Bush isn’t pressing them to do so) has nothing to do with the views of American Jewish groups and everything to do with the dismal record of recent Israeli concessions in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. In both cases (as well as at the Camp David negotiations in 2000) Israelis thought that territorial concessions would lead to peace. Instead they led to the empowerment of terrorists. It’s an obvious point, and one I’m sure he’s familiar with, but one that Jeff never mentioned in his article.

Now, on his blog, Jeff objects only to one part of my critique, namely this sentence: “Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious “Lobby” holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case.” He tries to argue that it ain’t so, because he says he disagrees with their principal arguments. And what are their principal arguments? According to Jeff:

Max, as you well know, “The Israel Lobby” makes three principal arguments: The first is that American support for Israel – which is engineered solely by the Jewish community, the authors erroneously claim – hurts America. The second is that the organized American Jewish community, by advocating for policies that are not in America’s best interests, caused the Iraq war and is partially to blame for the attacks of 9/11. The third is that Israel’s behavior is so outrageous as to make it undeserving of American support, on moral grounds.

I think Jeff is being a bit too clever here. It’s true that these are three of the arguments that Mearsheimer and Walt make. But there is an even more basic argument that underlies everything else (as Jeff mentions in passing): that American policy toward Israel is determined not by a rational calculation of our priorities but by the political influence of “The Lobby.” “The reason why American politicians are so deferential [to Israel] is the political power of the Israel lobby,” Mearsheimer-Walt write on page 5 of their tract.

They even cite, among others, the same example of the Lobby’s power that Jeff uses: America’s unwillingness to force Israel to dismantle its settlements. On page 9 they write:

Israel’s situation would be better today if the United States had long ago used its financial and diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable Palestinian state on those lands. Washington did not so, however, largely because it would have been politically costly for any president to attempt it.

Compare this with the argument that Jeff makes in his Times article:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.

Maybe Jeff can explain the substantive differences between those passages, because I don’t see any.

I don’t take any joy from pointing out the resemblances. As I mentioned, I’ve long been an admirer of Goldberg, and one of his articles that I have particularly enjoyed was the masterly takedown of Mearsheimer-Walt that he did in the New Republic. I also agree with him that, in the long run, most of the West Bank settlements are not viable. (I do, however, think that those settlements located in the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem will have to remain within Israel, with the borders being drawn to offer the Palestinians land elsewhere as compensation. There have been several plans put forward that would achieve this.)

Moreover, I am glad to see in his Atlantic post that he makes a distinction that he didn’t make in the Times: “I don’t advocate a unilateral end to the occupation, just to the settlement project. An end to the occupation has to come about through negotiations with a viable Palestinian partner. A partner, by the way, who might be strengthened by a reversal of settlement program.” I take this to mean that he favors continued IDF action in the West Bank even after the settlers are gone. That makes sense, even if it would likely negate the suppose political benefits of a pull-out: Palestinians would still be steamed about seeing an Israeli military presence even if they don’t see any settlers.

That’s an issue to ponder for the future. At the moment, any large-scale removal of settlements is unwise. It would be seen as a reward not to “moderates,” but to the extremists of Hamas who continue to rain rockets down on Israel notwithstanding the previous withdrawal of all settlements from the Gaza Strip. The determination of if and when to pull out of the settlements should be made by Israel’s democratically elected leaders. It shouldn’t be forced down their throats by Washington policymakers.

But leave aside the merits of dismantling settlements. In his Times op-ed, Jeff wasn’t just arguing that this is a good idea but that this is a good idea thwarted by the pro-Israel lobby. The former proposition is certainly debatable. But the latter proposition is demonstrably false–whether it comes from a well-respected pro-Israel journalist or from a couple of pseudo-academic, anti-Israeli cranks.

Sort of like the Israelis and Palestinians, Jeff Goldberg and I seem to be talking past one another. On Sunday he published a New York Times op-ed in which he said that it was imperative for America’s president to pressure Israel to dismantle its West Bank settlements–and the reason the president isn’t doing so is because major American Jewish organizations are in favor of the settlements. I argued on CONTENTIONS that the reason Israelis aren’t dismantling the settlements (and that President Bush isn’t pressing them to do so) has nothing to do with the views of American Jewish groups and everything to do with the dismal record of recent Israeli concessions in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. In both cases (as well as at the Camp David negotiations in 2000) Israelis thought that territorial concessions would lead to peace. Instead they led to the empowerment of terrorists. It’s an obvious point, and one I’m sure he’s familiar with, but one that Jeff never mentioned in his article.

Now, on his blog, Jeff objects only to one part of my critique, namely this sentence: “Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious “Lobby” holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case.” He tries to argue that it ain’t so, because he says he disagrees with their principal arguments. And what are their principal arguments? According to Jeff:

Max, as you well know, “The Israel Lobby” makes three principal arguments: The first is that American support for Israel – which is engineered solely by the Jewish community, the authors erroneously claim – hurts America. The second is that the organized American Jewish community, by advocating for policies that are not in America’s best interests, caused the Iraq war and is partially to blame for the attacks of 9/11. The third is that Israel’s behavior is so outrageous as to make it undeserving of American support, on moral grounds.

I think Jeff is being a bit too clever here. It’s true that these are three of the arguments that Mearsheimer and Walt make. But there is an even more basic argument that underlies everything else (as Jeff mentions in passing): that American policy toward Israel is determined not by a rational calculation of our priorities but by the political influence of “The Lobby.” “The reason why American politicians are so deferential [to Israel] is the political power of the Israel lobby,” Mearsheimer-Walt write on page 5 of their tract.

They even cite, among others, the same example of the Lobby’s power that Jeff uses: America’s unwillingness to force Israel to dismantle its settlements. On page 9 they write:

Israel’s situation would be better today if the United States had long ago used its financial and diplomatic leverage to convince Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and instead helped Israel create a viable Palestinian state on those lands. Washington did not so, however, largely because it would have been politically costly for any president to attempt it.

Compare this with the argument that Jeff makes in his Times article:

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.

Maybe Jeff can explain the substantive differences between those passages, because I don’t see any.

I don’t take any joy from pointing out the resemblances. As I mentioned, I’ve long been an admirer of Goldberg, and one of his articles that I have particularly enjoyed was the masterly takedown of Mearsheimer-Walt that he did in the New Republic. I also agree with him that, in the long run, most of the West Bank settlements are not viable. (I do, however, think that those settlements located in the immediate suburbs of Jerusalem will have to remain within Israel, with the borders being drawn to offer the Palestinians land elsewhere as compensation. There have been several plans put forward that would achieve this.)

Moreover, I am glad to see in his Atlantic post that he makes a distinction that he didn’t make in the Times: “I don’t advocate a unilateral end to the occupation, just to the settlement project. An end to the occupation has to come about through negotiations with a viable Palestinian partner. A partner, by the way, who might be strengthened by a reversal of settlement program.” I take this to mean that he favors continued IDF action in the West Bank even after the settlers are gone. That makes sense, even if it would likely negate the suppose political benefits of a pull-out: Palestinians would still be steamed about seeing an Israeli military presence even if they don’t see any settlers.

That’s an issue to ponder for the future. At the moment, any large-scale removal of settlements is unwise. It would be seen as a reward not to “moderates,” but to the extremists of Hamas who continue to rain rockets down on Israel notwithstanding the previous withdrawal of all settlements from the Gaza Strip. The determination of if and when to pull out of the settlements should be made by Israel’s democratically elected leaders. It shouldn’t be forced down their throats by Washington policymakers.

But leave aside the merits of dismantling settlements. In his Times op-ed, Jeff wasn’t just arguing that this is a good idea but that this is a good idea thwarted by the pro-Israel lobby. The former proposition is certainly debatable. But the latter proposition is demonstrably false–whether it comes from a well-respected pro-Israel journalist or from a couple of pseudo-academic, anti-Israeli cranks.

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McCain Is Losing the Iran Debate

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

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Scaring Them Already

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

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Good News From Sadr City

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

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Is It Another Election Day?

Yes, we have two more states to tally today and a not-quite declaration of victory in the offing from Barack Obama. (To understand what is really going on you need only watch this.) But for all intents and purposes the general election has already begun. Who was largely missing and unwilling to take advantage of the Obama’s Iran difficulties over the last week? Hillary Clinton, of course. That’s the surest sign that, although she doesn’t want to abandon her supporters, she sees the handwriting on the wall.

We watch the primary election returns not to count the delegates or to see who will win, but to assess the strengths and weakness of the eventual nominee. Will Obama improve among white working-class voters? Is the youth vote still turning out? Did John Edwards’ endorsement affect anything? (No, yes, and no.)

Meanwhile, the mainstream media can contemplate Clinton’s views on sexism and decide whether a headline like “PATTI’S GOT A CRUSH ON OBAMA? ” (in reference to Clinton’s former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle potentially signing up with the Obama camp) is fitting self-incrimination.

Yes, we have two more states to tally today and a not-quite declaration of victory in the offing from Barack Obama. (To understand what is really going on you need only watch this.) But for all intents and purposes the general election has already begun. Who was largely missing and unwilling to take advantage of the Obama’s Iran difficulties over the last week? Hillary Clinton, of course. That’s the surest sign that, although she doesn’t want to abandon her supporters, she sees the handwriting on the wall.

We watch the primary election returns not to count the delegates or to see who will win, but to assess the strengths and weakness of the eventual nominee. Will Obama improve among white working-class voters? Is the youth vote still turning out? Did John Edwards’ endorsement affect anything? (No, yes, and no.)

Meanwhile, the mainstream media can contemplate Clinton’s views on sexism and decide whether a headline like “PATTI’S GOT A CRUSH ON OBAMA? ” (in reference to Clinton’s former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle potentially signing up with the Obama camp) is fitting self-incrimination.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

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The Problem Isn’t The Lobbyists

A few reporters are onto some lobbyist connections in the Obama camp. We saw some of this earlier in the race when his “I don’t take oil company money” was shown to be less than accurate. But this whole argument, I’d say, is off base. (As is the effort by the McCain camp to purge its own lobbyists for the reasons discussed here.) It’s not as if lobbying is illegal. Last time I checked, it was protected by the First Amendment. The problem is politicians who cave into the special interests promoted by lobbyists.  David Brooks notes, speaking of the atrocious $307 billion farm bill,

Barack Obama talks about taking on the special interests. This farm bill would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. But Obama supported the bill, just as he supported the 2005 energy bill that was a Christmas tree for the oil and gas industries. Obama’s vote may help him win Iowa, but it will lead to higher global food prices and more hunger in Africa. Moreover, it raises questions about how exactly he expects to bring about the change that he promises.

So rather than count lobbyists, perhaps we should start counting dollars spent on boondoggles. This is a more meaningful measure of a candidates’ willingness to resist lobbyists’ invitations to spend the taxpayers dollars and override the public interest. And  it–rather than a neverending game of “spot the lobbyist”–might be a more fruitful exercise as we look for the next president.

A few reporters are onto some lobbyist connections in the Obama camp. We saw some of this earlier in the race when his “I don’t take oil company money” was shown to be less than accurate. But this whole argument, I’d say, is off base. (As is the effort by the McCain camp to purge its own lobbyists for the reasons discussed here.) It’s not as if lobbying is illegal. Last time I checked, it was protected by the First Amendment. The problem is politicians who cave into the special interests promoted by lobbyists.  David Brooks notes, speaking of the atrocious $307 billion farm bill,

Barack Obama talks about taking on the special interests. This farm bill would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. But Obama supported the bill, just as he supported the 2005 energy bill that was a Christmas tree for the oil and gas industries. Obama’s vote may help him win Iowa, but it will lead to higher global food prices and more hunger in Africa. Moreover, it raises questions about how exactly he expects to bring about the change that he promises.

So rather than count lobbyists, perhaps we should start counting dollars spent on boondoggles. This is a more meaningful measure of a candidates’ willingness to resist lobbyists’ invitations to spend the taxpayers dollars and override the public interest. And  it–rather than a neverending game of “spot the lobbyist”–might be a more fruitful exercise as we look for the next president.

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Slavin Gets It Wrong

Barbara Slavin’s op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle tackles the question of Iran in order to rebuke what she considers as growing “war talk” within the Bush Administration–although the White House Press Office today strongly rebuked the Jerusalem Post for publishing an article that attributed such war talk to the President, and denied any of its assertions. After criticizing this newfound militancy, Slavin explains why Iran would not be so much of a problem for the West after all. In her defense of Iran’s motives and intentions, Slavin mentions Tehran’s nuclear nuclear program only once–though Iran’s nuclear program is the principal reason why an outgoing Bush Administration might contemplate at all a military strike.

There are many reasons why a military strike poses significant risks and has potentially very serious consequences. But to ignore the the consequences of the alternative–that Iran succeeds in its nuclear pursuit–is not the most intellectually honest thing to write, though it spares Slavin from the troublesome exercise of having to list the likely consequences of Iranian success. And this is what’s truly missing from the debate about Iran–what would happen if Iran succeeded in its pursuit? Slavin dismisses Iran’s comparison with either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union–but while at some levels Iran may not be comparable to either, Iran remains wedded to a revolutionary ideology. A revolutionary power, by definition, will seek to change the regional status quo and to remake the world in its own image. In this trajectory, it will eventually find itself embroiled in war, even if that is the result of plain miscalculation. Slavin reassures us that the Iranians will not overstretch:

A country whose boundaries have barely changed since the 16th century, Iran is not able to or interested in recreating the Persian Empire and is not about to become a second Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. As Mohammad Atrianfar, a veteran publisher who is close to former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told me recently in Tehran: “We are not going to stretch our legs beyond the capacity of our carpets.”

The problem with that statement is that neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union believed they were overstretching until it was too late. Nuclear capability will give Iran the kind of umbrella of impunity that will allow it to double its mischief in the region without fear of retribution. Do you like the way Hezbollah and Hamas behave in their respective domains? You will love it when Iran has nukes! Do you find it hard to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict now? Try when Iran’s nukes enable its proxies to up the ante. Are you worried about Shia unrest in Kuwait and Bahrain? Prepare for more trouble when Iran’s nuclear bomb casts a shadow on those countries. Do you think oil prices are too high? Save for a cold winter, when Iran’s speedboats swarm the Gulf and harass supertankers. Do you really think anyone will risk a nuclear showdown for any of the above?

Consider this as well: Iran might lend its nukes and ballistic missiles to friends like Venezuela, to get San Francisco within range. It would not be overstretching–Hugo Chavez will surely pick up the bill to pay the costs of the exercise. Unbelievable? Why? Fidel Castro did it with the Russians in 1962–so why shouldn’t we expect a not a rerun, given that Iran’s revolutionary vocation, as an anti-Western power aspiring to change the world to its own image, does not need to overstretch. It will suffice to have some allies, friends and supporters to bankroll and supply, under its nuclear umbrella, in order to make this world an infinitely more dangerous place.

War might be premature–but war talk, as a reminder to Iran that it will pay a steep price for staying the course, is a better option than what Slavin has to offer.

Barbara Slavin’s op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle tackles the question of Iran in order to rebuke what she considers as growing “war talk” within the Bush Administration–although the White House Press Office today strongly rebuked the Jerusalem Post for publishing an article that attributed such war talk to the President, and denied any of its assertions. After criticizing this newfound militancy, Slavin explains why Iran would not be so much of a problem for the West after all. In her defense of Iran’s motives and intentions, Slavin mentions Tehran’s nuclear nuclear program only once–though Iran’s nuclear program is the principal reason why an outgoing Bush Administration might contemplate at all a military strike.

There are many reasons why a military strike poses significant risks and has potentially very serious consequences. But to ignore the the consequences of the alternative–that Iran succeeds in its nuclear pursuit–is not the most intellectually honest thing to write, though it spares Slavin from the troublesome exercise of having to list the likely consequences of Iranian success. And this is what’s truly missing from the debate about Iran–what would happen if Iran succeeded in its pursuit? Slavin dismisses Iran’s comparison with either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union–but while at some levels Iran may not be comparable to either, Iran remains wedded to a revolutionary ideology. A revolutionary power, by definition, will seek to change the regional status quo and to remake the world in its own image. In this trajectory, it will eventually find itself embroiled in war, even if that is the result of plain miscalculation. Slavin reassures us that the Iranians will not overstretch:

A country whose boundaries have barely changed since the 16th century, Iran is not able to or interested in recreating the Persian Empire and is not about to become a second Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. As Mohammad Atrianfar, a veteran publisher who is close to former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told me recently in Tehran: “We are not going to stretch our legs beyond the capacity of our carpets.”

The problem with that statement is that neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union believed they were overstretching until it was too late. Nuclear capability will give Iran the kind of umbrella of impunity that will allow it to double its mischief in the region without fear of retribution. Do you like the way Hezbollah and Hamas behave in their respective domains? You will love it when Iran has nukes! Do you find it hard to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict now? Try when Iran’s nukes enable its proxies to up the ante. Are you worried about Shia unrest in Kuwait and Bahrain? Prepare for more trouble when Iran’s nuclear bomb casts a shadow on those countries. Do you think oil prices are too high? Save for a cold winter, when Iran’s speedboats swarm the Gulf and harass supertankers. Do you really think anyone will risk a nuclear showdown for any of the above?

Consider this as well: Iran might lend its nukes and ballistic missiles to friends like Venezuela, to get San Francisco within range. It would not be overstretching–Hugo Chavez will surely pick up the bill to pay the costs of the exercise. Unbelievable? Why? Fidel Castro did it with the Russians in 1962–so why shouldn’t we expect a not a rerun, given that Iran’s revolutionary vocation, as an anti-Western power aspiring to change the world to its own image, does not need to overstretch. It will suffice to have some allies, friends and supporters to bankroll and supply, under its nuclear umbrella, in order to make this world an infinitely more dangerous place.

War might be premature–but war talk, as a reminder to Iran that it will pay a steep price for staying the course, is a better option than what Slavin has to offer.

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McCain On Cuba

Having temporarily exhausted the subject of Iran, John McCain moved on to Cuba today with a speech on Cuban Independence Day. Not surprisingly, he took issue with Barack Obama’s stated intention to talk directly (yes, again without preconditions) with Raul Castro:

Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba. When asked in a questionnaire about his policy toward Cuba, he answered: “I believe that normalization of relations with Cuba would help the oppressed and poverty-stricken Cuban people while setting the stage for a more democratic government once Castro inevitably leaves the scene.” Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators – there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy. I believe we should give hope to the Cuban people, not to the Castro regime.

But McCain had broader thoughts in mind, taking Obama (and Hillary Clinton also) to task for suggesting we rip up NAFTA and for opposing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, accusing them of “wishing to retreat behind protectionist walls and undermine a key hemispheric ally.”

This, it seems, is a central anomaly in Obama’s foreign policy vision. For domestic political gain (i.e. the need to genuflect before Big Labor) Obama jettisoned his pledges to pursue multilateralism and improve our standing with our allies. It’s hard to think of two cases–withdrawing from a mutually beneficial trade agreement and abandoning a loyal ally under seige from Hugo Chavez–which would do more to undermine faith in America’s willingness to keep commitments and to raise fears that when the going gets tough (or not very tough at all, in Colombia’s case) we will throw our friends to the wolves of international terrorism. (Oh, wait–we would immediately abandon Iraq regardless of the consequences.)

So there is indeed a very interesting debate to be had: which candidate would improve our alliances and create greater international stability. That’s a nice substantive discussion worth a town hall debate or two.

Having temporarily exhausted the subject of Iran, John McCain moved on to Cuba today with a speech on Cuban Independence Day. Not surprisingly, he took issue with Barack Obama’s stated intention to talk directly (yes, again without preconditions) with Raul Castro:

Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba. When asked in a questionnaire about his policy toward Cuba, he answered: “I believe that normalization of relations with Cuba would help the oppressed and poverty-stricken Cuban people while setting the stage for a more democratic government once Castro inevitably leaves the scene.” Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators – there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy. I believe we should give hope to the Cuban people, not to the Castro regime.

But McCain had broader thoughts in mind, taking Obama (and Hillary Clinton also) to task for suggesting we rip up NAFTA and for opposing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, accusing them of “wishing to retreat behind protectionist walls and undermine a key hemispheric ally.”

This, it seems, is a central anomaly in Obama’s foreign policy vision. For domestic political gain (i.e. the need to genuflect before Big Labor) Obama jettisoned his pledges to pursue multilateralism and improve our standing with our allies. It’s hard to think of two cases–withdrawing from a mutually beneficial trade agreement and abandoning a loyal ally under seige from Hugo Chavez–which would do more to undermine faith in America’s willingness to keep commitments and to raise fears that when the going gets tough (or not very tough at all, in Colombia’s case) we will throw our friends to the wolves of international terrorism. (Oh, wait–we would immediately abandon Iraq regardless of the consequences.)

So there is indeed a very interesting debate to be had: which candidate would improve our alliances and create greater international stability. That’s a nice substantive discussion worth a town hall debate or two.

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Why Good People Don’t Serve

Hans Von Spakovsky pens an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal recounting his tale of horror as a nominee for the FEC. I and many others have described how he was vilified by the Left and the civil rights lobby (but I repeat myself) for daring to question the orthodoxy–which proved legally unsustainable in multiple court cases–of certain elements of the permanent civil service staff of the Voting Rights Section of the Department of Justice. The fact that all of the legal positions which Spakovsky took–whether on Georgia or Indiana voting ID or the Texas congressional redistricting–were upheld by federal courts means little. The Left extracted its pound of flesh and refused to permit his confirmation for a new position with the FEC.

It is any wonder that qualified, decent people are afraid to submit themselves to the torment–and it is torment–of the confirmation process and accompanying ridicule by groups who lack intellectual honesty, but hold great sway over Senators? We see with Spakovsky it is not just judges but all appointees who suffer in this way. The lesson, I fear, will be that principled individuals will either not serve or will keep their heads down, bite their lip and hope they don’t stir the pot sufficiently to call attention to themselves and thus preclude further advancement in government. (And for conservatives the message is plain: don’t ever serve in a civil rights capacity.) Spakovsky will no doubt enjoy a distinguished career elsewhere, but others may simply say “No way.”  Our loss.

Hans Von Spakovsky pens an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal recounting his tale of horror as a nominee for the FEC. I and many others have described how he was vilified by the Left and the civil rights lobby (but I repeat myself) for daring to question the orthodoxy–which proved legally unsustainable in multiple court cases–of certain elements of the permanent civil service staff of the Voting Rights Section of the Department of Justice. The fact that all of the legal positions which Spakovsky took–whether on Georgia or Indiana voting ID or the Texas congressional redistricting–were upheld by federal courts means little. The Left extracted its pound of flesh and refused to permit his confirmation for a new position with the FEC.

It is any wonder that qualified, decent people are afraid to submit themselves to the torment–and it is torment–of the confirmation process and accompanying ridicule by groups who lack intellectual honesty, but hold great sway over Senators? We see with Spakovsky it is not just judges but all appointees who suffer in this way. The lesson, I fear, will be that principled individuals will either not serve or will keep their heads down, bite their lip and hope they don’t stir the pot sufficiently to call attention to themselves and thus preclude further advancement in government. (And for conservatives the message is plain: don’t ever serve in a civil rights capacity.) Spakovsky will no doubt enjoy a distinguished career elsewhere, but others may simply say “No way.”  Our loss.

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