Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 8, 2008

Obama’s Domestic Childhood as Foreign Policy Experience

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has argued that playing kickball in Indonesia as an eight-year-old gave him “insight into how these folks think.” This past week, however, Obama’s bid to sell his childhood experiences as foreign policy experience took a new turn. On two occasions, Obama suggested that his domestically-spent childhood years also contributed to his understanding of certain key foreign policy challenges that he would confront as president.

The first–and better publicized–instance of this inane childhood-as-presidential-experience argument occurred during his speech at Wednesday’s AIPAC policy conference. Obama credited his Jewish summer camp counselor with educating him on Israel:

You know I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years-old. I had a camp counselor who was an American Jew but had lived in Israel for a time and he told me stories of this extraordinary land and I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve–preserve their identity through faith, family, and culture.

Allow me to inject my own childhood experiences as a summer camper in refuting this absurd claim: unless Obama’s camp counselor was Dennis Ross, the true influence of this counselor was likely limited to sports and girls. (No word yet on whether this camp counselor would be on Obama’s national security council.)

The second instance of Obama using his domestic childhood experiences to falsify foreign policy insights occurred in a U.S. News & World Report article on his Hawaii upbringing. In an exclusive interview, Obama bizarrely claimed that his youth in Honolulu informed his outlook on Asian economies:

My years in Hawaii make me more attuned to certain issues–the environment being a good example. … And the same would be true for my appreciation of Asian culture and the importance of the Pacific Rim. Obviously, as somebody who grew up in that area, you know, I’m particularly attuned to the rise of Asian economies and what that may mean for the United States.

It is simply impossible to know what Obama means by this–especially considering that his foreign policy webpage is entirely silent on the Asian economy, and that he has rarely spoken of Asia at all on the campaign trail.

Thus far, the mainstream media has declined to call Obama out on his unseemly embellishments regarding his childhood influences. This is probably great news for any New Yorker considering a future run at the presidency. After all, as virtually every nationality and culture is amply represented within the five boroughs, New York City high school graduates–following Obama’s reasoning–can claim impossibly deep foreign policy chops.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has argued that playing kickball in Indonesia as an eight-year-old gave him “insight into how these folks think.” This past week, however, Obama’s bid to sell his childhood experiences as foreign policy experience took a new turn. On two occasions, Obama suggested that his domestically-spent childhood years also contributed to his understanding of certain key foreign policy challenges that he would confront as president.

The first–and better publicized–instance of this inane childhood-as-presidential-experience argument occurred during his speech at Wednesday’s AIPAC policy conference. Obama credited his Jewish summer camp counselor with educating him on Israel:

You know I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years-old. I had a camp counselor who was an American Jew but had lived in Israel for a time and he told me stories of this extraordinary land and I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve–preserve their identity through faith, family, and culture.

Allow me to inject my own childhood experiences as a summer camper in refuting this absurd claim: unless Obama’s camp counselor was Dennis Ross, the true influence of this counselor was likely limited to sports and girls. (No word yet on whether this camp counselor would be on Obama’s national security council.)

The second instance of Obama using his domestic childhood experiences to falsify foreign policy insights occurred in a U.S. News & World Report article on his Hawaii upbringing. In an exclusive interview, Obama bizarrely claimed that his youth in Honolulu informed his outlook on Asian economies:

My years in Hawaii make me more attuned to certain issues–the environment being a good example. … And the same would be true for my appreciation of Asian culture and the importance of the Pacific Rim. Obviously, as somebody who grew up in that area, you know, I’m particularly attuned to the rise of Asian economies and what that may mean for the United States.

It is simply impossible to know what Obama means by this–especially considering that his foreign policy webpage is entirely silent on the Asian economy, and that he has rarely spoken of Asia at all on the campaign trail.

Thus far, the mainstream media has declined to call Obama out on his unseemly embellishments regarding his childhood influences. This is probably great news for any New Yorker considering a future run at the presidency. After all, as virtually every nationality and culture is amply represented within the five boroughs, New York City high school graduates–following Obama’s reasoning–can claim impossibly deep foreign policy chops.

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Virtually Normal?

Our CONTENTIONS colleague David Hazony has a piece in the new issue of The New Republic on the question of whether Israel is a normal country, or should even want to be. David writes that

from its inception, Zionism embodied two conflicting moods: the need for normalcy and the longing for uniqueness. The Jews who went to Palestine sought both. But, perhaps because the dream of normalizing was so grand and the work required so consuming, no one really noticed the inner tension between normalcy and uniqueness, or at least the need to figure out what, exactly, needed to be normal, and what special.

Israeli normalcy is tightly intertwined with the Israeli obsession with legitimacy, the longing for the Jewish state to be accepted in the same way that other nations are accepted. In this, I take a slightly different tack than does David, who argues that Israelis should try to step away from the question of normalcy, and thereby add a touch of normalcy to their existence. After all, how many other peoples dwell so insistently on the question of their nation’s legitimacy, as do Israelis? Yet I think the prevalence of such existential questions has much less to do with the Israeli state of mind than with the refusal of so many to allow the Jewish state to take its place among the other nations.

One of the goals of Zionism was to take the diseased and often brutal relationship between gentile and Jew and elevate it to a new plane, so that Jews could interact with the gentile world in the realm of nation-states. By assuming the responsibilities of sovereignty, Jews would re-enter history on what was hoped to be an equal footing with those who in exile had been their tormentors. That project has been a dreamscape of success, insofar as Israel today is an economic, political, and military powerhouse. But it has been a failure insofar as the same diseased and brutal relationship that once existed between Jews and gentiles in the Diaspora has, in important ways, simply been replicated in the international discourse between Israel and other nations. There is probably no solution to this; Israel will never be permitted to be normal.

It strikes me as not a coincidence that the nation which has embraced its Jews more than any other in history — America — happens to be the same nation which today stands as Israel’s closest friend.

Our CONTENTIONS colleague David Hazony has a piece in the new issue of The New Republic on the question of whether Israel is a normal country, or should even want to be. David writes that

from its inception, Zionism embodied two conflicting moods: the need for normalcy and the longing for uniqueness. The Jews who went to Palestine sought both. But, perhaps because the dream of normalizing was so grand and the work required so consuming, no one really noticed the inner tension between normalcy and uniqueness, or at least the need to figure out what, exactly, needed to be normal, and what special.

Israeli normalcy is tightly intertwined with the Israeli obsession with legitimacy, the longing for the Jewish state to be accepted in the same way that other nations are accepted. In this, I take a slightly different tack than does David, who argues that Israelis should try to step away from the question of normalcy, and thereby add a touch of normalcy to their existence. After all, how many other peoples dwell so insistently on the question of their nation’s legitimacy, as do Israelis? Yet I think the prevalence of such existential questions has much less to do with the Israeli state of mind than with the refusal of so many to allow the Jewish state to take its place among the other nations.

One of the goals of Zionism was to take the diseased and often brutal relationship between gentile and Jew and elevate it to a new plane, so that Jews could interact with the gentile world in the realm of nation-states. By assuming the responsibilities of sovereignty, Jews would re-enter history on what was hoped to be an equal footing with those who in exile had been their tormentors. That project has been a dreamscape of success, insofar as Israel today is an economic, political, and military powerhouse. But it has been a failure insofar as the same diseased and brutal relationship that once existed between Jews and gentiles in the Diaspora has, in important ways, simply been replicated in the international discourse between Israel and other nations. There is probably no solution to this; Israel will never be permitted to be normal.

It strikes me as not a coincidence that the nation which has embraced its Jews more than any other in history — America — happens to be the same nation which today stands as Israel’s closest friend.

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Which Obama Campaign Will Show Up?

Many have remarked on Barack Obama’s weak finish in his primary race against Hillary Clinton. During the second half of the Democratic primary contest he lost seven of thirteen contests and lost the popular vote to Hillary by half a million votes. But why? How did he go from untouchable to unimpressive?

Part of the answer lies in his opponent — who got a whole lot better. Clinton figured out the right image: a mix of feminist icon, vulnerable underdog, policy wonk and little guy champion. She jabbed and weaved and picked up on her opponent’s errors and thrived off media bias. She counterpunched her way to success.

And the rest of the answer lies in Obama. Remember, he had never had an effective opponent in his entire political career, excepting Bobby Rush in his only unsuccessful race. And when confronted with an attacking opponent he did not do all that well. He groused about debate questions, he whined about the media and his team insisted he was inevitable so it did not matter.

Now some might say that this was the period when all the bad news came out — Reverend Wright, Father Pfleger, and Bittergate — and this confluence of events and revelations cannot be duplicated again. Accepting for a moment that there is no comparable new information as harmful as Reverend Wright, for example, there still are lessons to be learned for the general election.

First, newness wears off and Obama lacks a compelling, deeper message. The Agent of Change, New Politics, Turn the Page mantras are by now old hat and can’t really be trotted out as great, innovative themes. They are used catch words, trite even. But Obama’s next or more substantive level of messaging was far less uplifting and compelling: “I am not George W. Bush.” True enough, but not something about which to write a rock video.

Second, Obama does not like being pressured or pushed. He wants to eat his waffle, he wants the criticisms to be just so and he wants the media to be seen (well not even seen sometimes), but not heard.

Third, he is less comfortable and adept at running right than running left. When forced to explain he really does love religious and gun-owning America or to sound hawkish on foreign policy he is simply less comfortable and less believable, in large part, because of his own past words and positions. And in trying to reverse course he does damage to his New Politician bona fides.

Finally, he does well at 10,000 feet soaring above the crowd with grandiose rhetoric and less well on the gritty details. Obama only became a one-man gaffe machine when forced to talk about specifics (even his own family history), and he doesn’t impress many with his command of detail.

So does any of this portend trouble for Obama for the general election? It might. The McCain camp is already putting Obama on the defensive on foreign policy and pressuring him to explain flip-flops as he moves to the political center. And certainly his ideological extremism is fodder for a general election race where key swing voters may regard him as too liberal.

But much depends on Obama himself. Can he recapture the effervescent atmosphere which pervaded his campaign and all the coverage before most people knew about Reverend Wright? Can he steer the conversation from the mundane to the lofty, or alternatively show some needed policy rigor and heft, effectively rebutting the doubts about experience? If he can’t do all or most of these, McCain may have as much success in the general election as Clinton did in the second half of her race. And even better, he won’t be miles behind in delegates to make Obama’s errors essentially immaterial.

Many have remarked on Barack Obama’s weak finish in his primary race against Hillary Clinton. During the second half of the Democratic primary contest he lost seven of thirteen contests and lost the popular vote to Hillary by half a million votes. But why? How did he go from untouchable to unimpressive?

Part of the answer lies in his opponent — who got a whole lot better. Clinton figured out the right image: a mix of feminist icon, vulnerable underdog, policy wonk and little guy champion. She jabbed and weaved and picked up on her opponent’s errors and thrived off media bias. She counterpunched her way to success.

And the rest of the answer lies in Obama. Remember, he had never had an effective opponent in his entire political career, excepting Bobby Rush in his only unsuccessful race. And when confronted with an attacking opponent he did not do all that well. He groused about debate questions, he whined about the media and his team insisted he was inevitable so it did not matter.

Now some might say that this was the period when all the bad news came out — Reverend Wright, Father Pfleger, and Bittergate — and this confluence of events and revelations cannot be duplicated again. Accepting for a moment that there is no comparable new information as harmful as Reverend Wright, for example, there still are lessons to be learned for the general election.

First, newness wears off and Obama lacks a compelling, deeper message. The Agent of Change, New Politics, Turn the Page mantras are by now old hat and can’t really be trotted out as great, innovative themes. They are used catch words, trite even. But Obama’s next or more substantive level of messaging was far less uplifting and compelling: “I am not George W. Bush.” True enough, but not something about which to write a rock video.

Second, Obama does not like being pressured or pushed. He wants to eat his waffle, he wants the criticisms to be just so and he wants the media to be seen (well not even seen sometimes), but not heard.

Third, he is less comfortable and adept at running right than running left. When forced to explain he really does love religious and gun-owning America or to sound hawkish on foreign policy he is simply less comfortable and less believable, in large part, because of his own past words and positions. And in trying to reverse course he does damage to his New Politician bona fides.

Finally, he does well at 10,000 feet soaring above the crowd with grandiose rhetoric and less well on the gritty details. Obama only became a one-man gaffe machine when forced to talk about specifics (even his own family history), and he doesn’t impress many with his command of detail.

So does any of this portend trouble for Obama for the general election? It might. The McCain camp is already putting Obama on the defensive on foreign policy and pressuring him to explain flip-flops as he moves to the political center. And certainly his ideological extremism is fodder for a general election race where key swing voters may regard him as too liberal.

But much depends on Obama himself. Can he recapture the effervescent atmosphere which pervaded his campaign and all the coverage before most people knew about Reverend Wright? Can he steer the conversation from the mundane to the lofty, or alternatively show some needed policy rigor and heft, effectively rebutting the doubts about experience? If he can’t do all or most of these, McCain may have as much success in the general election as Clinton did in the second half of her race. And even better, he won’t be miles behind in delegates to make Obama’s errors essentially immaterial.

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It’s Not Time to Talk to Syria

On Thursday, Senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry teamed up on a Wall St. Journal op-ed titled “It’s Time to Talk to Syria.” It’s a bizarre piece; they claim that “history shows that intensive diplomacy can pay off,” yet offer not a single plausible example to justify the claim. Their one anecdote — that Syria sided with the U.S.-led coalition in Desert Storm because James Baker visited Damascus so many times in the run-up to the war — is, to put it nicely, a cynical rewriting of history.

Why did Syria join the Desert Storm coalition? Because Hafez Assad had just lost his Soviet patron. As Daniel Pipes, who wrote a book about Syria’s switch from the Soviet to the American camp, pointed out:

Assad’s stand against Saddam Hussein won him an infusion of funds, new Arab friends, and an enhanced regional stature. It allowed him, in a single and stunningly deft maneuver, to switch from the anti-American to the pro-American camp … For Assad, the Iraqi invasion was a providential event, easing several of his worst dilemmas and rescuing him from the cul de sac of Soviet clientship.

The litany of ensuing diplomatic debacles with Syria, from the Madrid peace conference in 1991 to the Shepherdstown negotiations in 2000, is of course never mentioned. And these were “intensive” talks to be sure, which Hagel and Kerry insist is the prerequisite for success with Syria.

But one should be long past expecting the engagement fetishists to properly construe recent history. What is truly troubling about their op-ed — something that seems to have completely escaped notice — is that they appear to be advocating a U.S. apostasy on the Hariri tribunal:

The U.N. tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which may soon issue indictments, is also creating pressure on the regime. If government officials are implicated, Syria could face increased international sanctions. The tribunal’s pursuit of justice must never be a bargaining chip, but it adds an incentive to improve relations that we should capitalize on.

The concluding sentence is so poorly written that it’s difficult to discern what the authors are trying to convey. But they appear to be arguing that the Hariri tribunal, which almost certainly will implicate high-level members of the Syrian regime in the massive Beirut car bombing that murdered Rafiq Hariri, would create a pretext for sanctioning the Assad regime; and that the threat of such sanctions would provide the United States an opportunity to come to Assad’s rescue with diplomatic engagement.

In other words, murdering Lebanese politicians will win the Assad regime the prospect of “improved relations” with the U.S. — at least in Kerry/Hagel-land. Which is very close to Obama-land.

On Thursday, Senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry teamed up on a Wall St. Journal op-ed titled “It’s Time to Talk to Syria.” It’s a bizarre piece; they claim that “history shows that intensive diplomacy can pay off,” yet offer not a single plausible example to justify the claim. Their one anecdote — that Syria sided with the U.S.-led coalition in Desert Storm because James Baker visited Damascus so many times in the run-up to the war — is, to put it nicely, a cynical rewriting of history.

Why did Syria join the Desert Storm coalition? Because Hafez Assad had just lost his Soviet patron. As Daniel Pipes, who wrote a book about Syria’s switch from the Soviet to the American camp, pointed out:

Assad’s stand against Saddam Hussein won him an infusion of funds, new Arab friends, and an enhanced regional stature. It allowed him, in a single and stunningly deft maneuver, to switch from the anti-American to the pro-American camp … For Assad, the Iraqi invasion was a providential event, easing several of his worst dilemmas and rescuing him from the cul de sac of Soviet clientship.

The litany of ensuing diplomatic debacles with Syria, from the Madrid peace conference in 1991 to the Shepherdstown negotiations in 2000, is of course never mentioned. And these were “intensive” talks to be sure, which Hagel and Kerry insist is the prerequisite for success with Syria.

But one should be long past expecting the engagement fetishists to properly construe recent history. What is truly troubling about their op-ed — something that seems to have completely escaped notice — is that they appear to be advocating a U.S. apostasy on the Hariri tribunal:

The U.N. tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which may soon issue indictments, is also creating pressure on the regime. If government officials are implicated, Syria could face increased international sanctions. The tribunal’s pursuit of justice must never be a bargaining chip, but it adds an incentive to improve relations that we should capitalize on.

The concluding sentence is so poorly written that it’s difficult to discern what the authors are trying to convey. But they appear to be arguing that the Hariri tribunal, which almost certainly will implicate high-level members of the Syrian regime in the massive Beirut car bombing that murdered Rafiq Hariri, would create a pretext for sanctioning the Assad regime; and that the threat of such sanctions would provide the United States an opportunity to come to Assad’s rescue with diplomatic engagement.

In other words, murdering Lebanese politicians will win the Assad regime the prospect of “improved relations” with the U.S. — at least in Kerry/Hagel-land. Which is very close to Obama-land.

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A Lady Goes to War

Today, First Lady Laura Bush arrived in Afghanistan for a half-day visit. She met President Hamid Karzai, but the focus of the trip was the women of Bamiyan province. In Bamiyan, Habiba Surabi, the country’s first female governor, accompanied Mrs. Bush, who met with women police trainees and visited an orphanage being built with the assistance of the Afghan-U.S. Women’s Council. (Seven years ago the Taliban regime dynamited two giant statues of Buddha that had stood for more than 1,500 years in that remote province.)

The contrast between the much-criticized Karzai government and the Taliban could not be greater. Karzai is struggling, but now children go to school and many of them are girls—about 38,000 according to Kabul’s statistics. Females constitute 45 percent of the school population, up from about zero during the days of Taliban rule.

Yet progress for schoolgirls in Bamiyan—and across the country—is in jeopardy. “We have seen a resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda killings and kidnappings in Afghanistan,” Mrs. Bush said. “I don’t want people to think it means we need to give up. I think it just means we really need to stand more strongly with Afghanistan.” We certainly do, and the First Lady will make this point on Thursday in Paris when she addresses a donor conference for Afghan reconstruction.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens notes in his most recent column, there are military solutions to insurgencies. That, of course, is true in Afghanistan, and Mrs. Bush’s efforts remind us why we need to support the struggling Karzai government.

Today, First Lady Laura Bush arrived in Afghanistan for a half-day visit. She met President Hamid Karzai, but the focus of the trip was the women of Bamiyan province. In Bamiyan, Habiba Surabi, the country’s first female governor, accompanied Mrs. Bush, who met with women police trainees and visited an orphanage being built with the assistance of the Afghan-U.S. Women’s Council. (Seven years ago the Taliban regime dynamited two giant statues of Buddha that had stood for more than 1,500 years in that remote province.)

The contrast between the much-criticized Karzai government and the Taliban could not be greater. Karzai is struggling, but now children go to school and many of them are girls—about 38,000 according to Kabul’s statistics. Females constitute 45 percent of the school population, up from about zero during the days of Taliban rule.

Yet progress for schoolgirls in Bamiyan—and across the country—is in jeopardy. “We have seen a resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda killings and kidnappings in Afghanistan,” Mrs. Bush said. “I don’t want people to think it means we need to give up. I think it just means we really need to stand more strongly with Afghanistan.” We certainly do, and the First Lady will make this point on Thursday in Paris when she addresses a donor conference for Afghan reconstruction.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens notes in his most recent column, there are military solutions to insurgencies. That, of course, is true in Afghanistan, and Mrs. Bush’s efforts remind us why we need to support the struggling Karzai government.

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Friedman Right On

Thomas Friedman nails the argument about Israel and Iran in today’s New York Times. One of the clear indicators of which side we should be on in Iran vs. Israel is to compare Iranian economic stagnation with Israel’s flourishing economy. He writes:

From outside, Israel looks as if it’s in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel’s currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java…

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

As usual, Friedman’s worldview is colored by his belief that everything boils down to economics. To the deeper questions such as why is Israel so much more economically creative, he offers no insight, indeed scarcely notices that such a question is worth asking. But the international community is often open to materialistic arguments such as Friedman’s, and given such a worldview, this is precisely the argument for him to be making.

Thomas Friedman nails the argument about Israel and Iran in today’s New York Times. One of the clear indicators of which side we should be on in Iran vs. Israel is to compare Iranian economic stagnation with Israel’s flourishing economy. He writes:

From outside, Israel looks as if it’s in turmoil, largely because the entire political leadership seems to be under investigation. But Israel is a weak state with a strong civil society. The economy is exploding from the bottom up. Israel’s currency, the shekel, has appreciated nearly 30 percent against the dollar since the start of 2007.

The reason? Israel is a country that is hard-wired to compete in a flat world. It has a population drawn from 100 different countries, speaking 100 different languages, with a business culture that strongly encourages individual imagination and adaptation and where being a nonconformist is the norm. While you were sleeping, Israel has gone from oranges to software, or as they say around here, from Jaffa to Java…

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

As usual, Friedman’s worldview is colored by his belief that everything boils down to economics. To the deeper questions such as why is Israel so much more economically creative, he offers no insight, indeed scarcely notices that such a question is worth asking. But the international community is often open to materialistic arguments such as Friedman’s, and given such a worldview, this is precisely the argument for him to be making.

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Boos and Hisses

If you look hard enough, you can see that Hillary Clinton’s adoring fans were booing Barack Obama during her farewell address. I frankly couldn’t pick it up on the TV coverage, but apparently it was embarrassingly noticeable to those there. This tells us a few things.

First, the we’re-mad-as-hell-and-we’re-not-voting-for-him phenomenon is not entirely a Republican pipe dream. The boo birds may eventually come around, but some of them sound awfully upset. Second, Hillary can’t deliver these people. Her mere presence is a reminder that Obama did her wrong. If anything, she may spur the sense that in four short years (two actually, because that’s when the next primary season will begin) she could be on the trail once again if Obama would just go away. Her talk about her noble crusade and never giving up hope may be counterproductive to the entire effort to get them on the Obama Express. Finally, people are not entirely rational. They cut off their noses to spite their faces all the time, and they let bitterness get the best of themselves. Telling them to stop being irrational doesn’t usually work.

Obama should be forewarned: in order to get the Hillary faithful to vote for him (not to mention volunteer or give money), he first has to get them to stop booing.

If you look hard enough, you can see that Hillary Clinton’s adoring fans were booing Barack Obama during her farewell address. I frankly couldn’t pick it up on the TV coverage, but apparently it was embarrassingly noticeable to those there. This tells us a few things.

First, the we’re-mad-as-hell-and-we’re-not-voting-for-him phenomenon is not entirely a Republican pipe dream. The boo birds may eventually come around, but some of them sound awfully upset. Second, Hillary can’t deliver these people. Her mere presence is a reminder that Obama did her wrong. If anything, she may spur the sense that in four short years (two actually, because that’s when the next primary season will begin) she could be on the trail once again if Obama would just go away. Her talk about her noble crusade and never giving up hope may be counterproductive to the entire effort to get them on the Obama Express. Finally, people are not entirely rational. They cut off their noses to spite their faces all the time, and they let bitterness get the best of themselves. Telling them to stop being irrational doesn’t usually work.

Obama should be forewarned: in order to get the Hillary faithful to vote for him (not to mention volunteer or give money), he first has to get them to stop booing.

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How’s He Doing?

Barack Obama routinely says the Bush administration has left us more isolated internationally and that America’s image in the world must be repaired, even going so far as to suggest that our citizens are not proud to identify themselves as Americans when traveling overseas. Whether or not you think that is true, Obama so far has not demonstrated he would be very adept at improving matters.

We had the Colombia flap over his opposition to the free trade agreement. We saw the leaders of Mexico and Canada upset over his suggestion to rip up NAFTA. The Brits were concerned about Obama’s Iran remarks. And the latest flip-flop on Jerusalem generated not just upset here in the U.S., but anger and confusion abroad, as the New York Times reported:

That statement generated a storm of controversy in the Middle East, with one Kuwaiti daily calling it “a slap in the face” to Arabs. And over the last 24 hours, as Mr. Obama and his campaign have sought to explain his initial remarks, and suggested that an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve, they have been accused of backtracking, which has generated a new round of criticism, this one here at home among Jewish groups.

How could someone so well-meaning, allegedly so worldly and so expert in foreign policy manage to insult and upset so many foreign powers before he even gets to the Democratic convention? Well, Obama’s errors, whether they stem from domestic pandering(e.g. NAFTA and Colombia free trade) or inconsistency (e.g. Iran, Jerusalem), suggest that there is more to foreign policy than living overseas as a child. And has Obama bothered to talk to some of our allies in the region about his plan to immediately (or is it gradually now?) withdrawal U.S. troops from Iraq? I thought we were supposed to consult more with our allies.

No one likes the notion of “cowboy” foreign policy these days (although query what action in the Bush second term could be characterized as unilateral or undeferential to our allies). The only thing that may be worse is “bull in a china shop” foreign policy in an Obama administration.

Barack Obama routinely says the Bush administration has left us more isolated internationally and that America’s image in the world must be repaired, even going so far as to suggest that our citizens are not proud to identify themselves as Americans when traveling overseas. Whether or not you think that is true, Obama so far has not demonstrated he would be very adept at improving matters.

We had the Colombia flap over his opposition to the free trade agreement. We saw the leaders of Mexico and Canada upset over his suggestion to rip up NAFTA. The Brits were concerned about Obama’s Iran remarks. And the latest flip-flop on Jerusalem generated not just upset here in the U.S., but anger and confusion abroad, as the New York Times reported:

That statement generated a storm of controversy in the Middle East, with one Kuwaiti daily calling it “a slap in the face” to Arabs. And over the last 24 hours, as Mr. Obama and his campaign have sought to explain his initial remarks, and suggested that an undivided Jerusalem would be hard to achieve, they have been accused of backtracking, which has generated a new round of criticism, this one here at home among Jewish groups.

How could someone so well-meaning, allegedly so worldly and so expert in foreign policy manage to insult and upset so many foreign powers before he even gets to the Democratic convention? Well, Obama’s errors, whether they stem from domestic pandering(e.g. NAFTA and Colombia free trade) or inconsistency (e.g. Iran, Jerusalem), suggest that there is more to foreign policy than living overseas as a child. And has Obama bothered to talk to some of our allies in the region about his plan to immediately (or is it gradually now?) withdrawal U.S. troops from Iraq? I thought we were supposed to consult more with our allies.

No one likes the notion of “cowboy” foreign policy these days (although query what action in the Bush second term could be characterized as unilateral or undeferential to our allies). The only thing that may be worse is “bull in a china shop” foreign policy in an Obama administration.

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The Obama Europe Loves

From yesterday’s Times of London:

Just about the whole of France is backing Mr Obama. He is, in the words of Jack Lang, the former Socialist Culture Minister, “the America we love … the youth and racial mix of an America under transformation and in movement.”

Is there anything more suspicious than a French statesman describing the America he loves?

Going down Jack Lang’s list of America’s greatest hits raises a funny question. If the French are so excited about youth, racial diversity, and transformation, why are they demographically aging, defined by tribal identity, and violently resistant to reform? Could it be that the French are really infatuated with Obama because he tells Americans:

We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.

In the case of the World vs. America, the world never had it so good. Europe’s charges against the U.S. were always mythical generalizations and never really had any legs. But Obama is all about anti-American myths: Couldn’t his characterization of small town Americans — with their guns and bibles and xenophobia — just as easily have come from some secular French pacifist? He validates European resentment.

And when it comes to the facts of the matter, Europe and Obama share a common disinterest. Sure, Obama represents the America France loves. But the America France has always needed is something different. It has guns and tanks and the will to do something about neighborhood bullies–whatever the neighborhood. America has done Europe’s dirty work since World War II, and Europe may call us all kinds of names but they’ve never lifted a finger to alter the situation. People like to laugh at John McCain’s proposal of a league of democracies, but I wonder what France would think of America’s de-fanged military and friend-to-everyone policy if they’re ever faced with a real threat during President Obama’s term.

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that his mother taught him “to disdain the blend of ignorance and arrogance that too often characterized Americans abroad.” She taught him to be European. But European anti-Americanism is supposed to be a quirky indulgence. Every few years, some prime minister makes a statement about how America needs to become more like Europe. And every few years, something flares up on the Continent and America swoops in to do what Europe can’t. And so the game continues. However, both Europe and America are in for a nasty surprise if we end up with a president who takes Europe’s case against America seriously.

From yesterday’s Times of London:

Just about the whole of France is backing Mr Obama. He is, in the words of Jack Lang, the former Socialist Culture Minister, “the America we love … the youth and racial mix of an America under transformation and in movement.”

Is there anything more suspicious than a French statesman describing the America he loves?

Going down Jack Lang’s list of America’s greatest hits raises a funny question. If the French are so excited about youth, racial diversity, and transformation, why are they demographically aging, defined by tribal identity, and violently resistant to reform? Could it be that the French are really infatuated with Obama because he tells Americans:

We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.

In the case of the World vs. America, the world never had it so good. Europe’s charges against the U.S. were always mythical generalizations and never really had any legs. But Obama is all about anti-American myths: Couldn’t his characterization of small town Americans — with their guns and bibles and xenophobia — just as easily have come from some secular French pacifist? He validates European resentment.

And when it comes to the facts of the matter, Europe and Obama share a common disinterest. Sure, Obama represents the America France loves. But the America France has always needed is something different. It has guns and tanks and the will to do something about neighborhood bullies–whatever the neighborhood. America has done Europe’s dirty work since World War II, and Europe may call us all kinds of names but they’ve never lifted a finger to alter the situation. People like to laugh at John McCain’s proposal of a league of democracies, but I wonder what France would think of America’s de-fanged military and friend-to-everyone policy if they’re ever faced with a real threat during President Obama’s term.

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that his mother taught him “to disdain the blend of ignorance and arrogance that too often characterized Americans abroad.” She taught him to be European. But European anti-Americanism is supposed to be a quirky indulgence. Every few years, some prime minister makes a statement about how America needs to become more like Europe. And every few years, something flares up on the Continent and America swoops in to do what Europe can’t. And so the game continues. However, both Europe and America are in for a nasty surprise if we end up with a president who takes Europe’s case against America seriously.

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War-Gaming Gaza

Yaacov Katz has an analysis in the Jerusalem Post about the Israeli military’s war planning for Gaza, and comments that

Israel has its own reasons for a cease-fire. First there is a desire to provide the residents of the Gaza-belt communities with a little peace and quiet after almost a decade of daily rocket attacks.

But more important is to be able to allow the IDF to focus on this summer’s real threat: Iran.

With Israel and Syria holding peace talks, the chances that Damascus would go to war with Israel have dramatically dropped. President Bashar Assad ruled out Syrian participation in such a war in an interview he gave last week.

With Syria already on the sidelines, a cease-fire in Gaza could also take Hamas out of the equation and allow the defense establishment to give its attention to Iran, which by the end of the year is expected to master nuclear technology.

It would be dispiriting although not implausible if Israeli officials were actually thinking along these lines, with each terror group and regime on Israel’s borders separated neatly into its own category. The central military problem today for Israel is that Tehran has done an efficient job of co-opting the groups (Hamas and Hezbollah) and regime (Syria) which stand most capable of fighting Israel. This war happens daily in and around the Gaza Strip, and has the potential to expand, through Hezbollah and Syrian rockets, to all of Israel.

A discrete attack on Iran may not be possible given the current state of affairs, even if there is a preexisting cease fire in Gaza and a peace process with Syria. Likewise, a discrete war against Hamas may not be possible given the existence of Hezbollah and Syria on Israel’s borders. Properly understood, Israel is facing a war against one enemy whose power has been extended to many locations.

Yaacov Katz has an analysis in the Jerusalem Post about the Israeli military’s war planning for Gaza, and comments that

Israel has its own reasons for a cease-fire. First there is a desire to provide the residents of the Gaza-belt communities with a little peace and quiet after almost a decade of daily rocket attacks.

But more important is to be able to allow the IDF to focus on this summer’s real threat: Iran.

With Israel and Syria holding peace talks, the chances that Damascus would go to war with Israel have dramatically dropped. President Bashar Assad ruled out Syrian participation in such a war in an interview he gave last week.

With Syria already on the sidelines, a cease-fire in Gaza could also take Hamas out of the equation and allow the defense establishment to give its attention to Iran, which by the end of the year is expected to master nuclear technology.

It would be dispiriting although not implausible if Israeli officials were actually thinking along these lines, with each terror group and regime on Israel’s borders separated neatly into its own category. The central military problem today for Israel is that Tehran has done an efficient job of co-opting the groups (Hamas and Hezbollah) and regime (Syria) which stand most capable of fighting Israel. This war happens daily in and around the Gaza Strip, and has the potential to expand, through Hezbollah and Syrian rockets, to all of Israel.

A discrete attack on Iran may not be possible given the current state of affairs, even if there is a preexisting cease fire in Gaza and a peace process with Syria. Likewise, a discrete war against Hamas may not be possible given the existence of Hezbollah and Syria on Israel’s borders. Properly understood, Israel is facing a war against one enemy whose power has been extended to many locations.

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Why Do The Metaphors Only Go One Way?

If you remember back to the Kentucky Derby on May 3 the media screamed “metaphor alert” when Big Brown beat the filly Eight Belles, who was tragically euthanized after the race. Hillary Clinton had been rooting for the filly and the latter’s untimely demise was ruefully remarked on as a sign of the human female’s impending doom.

Well Big Brown, the overwhelming favorite, fizzled in the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown’s trainer had previously remarked: “It’s a foregone conclusion. We’re running against not very good horses and he’s a very good horse.” Well, sometimes you need to run the race to find out the winner. It turned out Big Brown had nothing left when the chips were down and faded to last.

Okay, you get the point. And of course this race is no more predictive of the presidential race than the Kentucky Derby was of the Democratic primary. But two semi-serious points are worth noting. First, you see no  “Oh, no this is a sign” reaction from the media, which will no doubt ignore real signs, not to mention metaphorical ones. which might rain on their pro-Obama narrative. Second, you have to run races. Experts and odds are fun to follow, but life has a way of determining its own course. So the next time someone says about a political contest “It’s a foregone conclusion” or “It’s so-and-so’s year,” just say: “Big Brown.”

If you remember back to the Kentucky Derby on May 3 the media screamed “metaphor alert” when Big Brown beat the filly Eight Belles, who was tragically euthanized after the race. Hillary Clinton had been rooting for the filly and the latter’s untimely demise was ruefully remarked on as a sign of the human female’s impending doom.

Well Big Brown, the overwhelming favorite, fizzled in the Belmont Stakes. Big Brown’s trainer had previously remarked: “It’s a foregone conclusion. We’re running against not very good horses and he’s a very good horse.” Well, sometimes you need to run the race to find out the winner. It turned out Big Brown had nothing left when the chips were down and faded to last.

Okay, you get the point. And of course this race is no more predictive of the presidential race than the Kentucky Derby was of the Democratic primary. But two semi-serious points are worth noting. First, you see no  “Oh, no this is a sign” reaction from the media, which will no doubt ignore real signs, not to mention metaphorical ones. which might rain on their pro-Obama narrative. Second, you have to run races. Experts and odds are fun to follow, but life has a way of determining its own course. So the next time someone says about a political contest “It’s a foregone conclusion” or “It’s so-and-so’s year,” just say: “Big Brown.”

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While Democrats Were Fighting

The RNC and John McCain’s team, it seems, have been busy. This strategy briefing provides some sense, albeit from their biased perspective, that McCain has come a long way in organization and fundraising. Moreover, the McCain camp seems to have figured out where the race will be won: on domestic issues in key swing states. With economic signs flashing red, that is not necessarily a good thing, of course. But at least they have their act together, or more together than we might have imagined. Plus, they have a nifty new website which is getting good reviews.

None of this means that they don’t have their work cut out for them, but it does show they didn’t fritter away the days while Democrats were still fighting among themselves.

The RNC and John McCain’s team, it seems, have been busy. This strategy briefing provides some sense, albeit from their biased perspective, that McCain has come a long way in organization and fundraising. Moreover, the McCain camp seems to have figured out where the race will be won: on domestic issues in key swing states. With economic signs flashing red, that is not necessarily a good thing, of course. But at least they have their act together, or more together than we might have imagined. Plus, they have a nifty new website which is getting good reviews.

None of this means that they don’t have their work cut out for them, but it does show they didn’t fritter away the days while Democrats were still fighting among themselves.

Read Less




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