Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 9, 2008

What’s Spanish For Hypocrite?

At a Georgia town hall meeting, Barack Obama found himself pontificating about American ignorance:

I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only . . . Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. But understand this, instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they’ll learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.

So to be clear: Americans must learn Spanish! Here’s the thing, though: Barack Obama, who holds several impressive first-tier degrees, “doesn’t speak Spanish.”

At a Georgia town hall meeting, Barack Obama found himself pontificating about American ignorance:

I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only . . . Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. But understand this, instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they’ll learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.

So to be clear: Americans must learn Spanish! Here’s the thing, though: Barack Obama, who holds several impressive first-tier degrees, “doesn’t speak Spanish.”

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The Essentials

Following the end of the Cold War, a study was commissioned by the US government to understand the new context of nuclear deterrence after the demise of the Soviet Union and in anticipation of possible future confrontations against regional powers with nuclear arsenal. the main point of the study, which is partially available, was that one needed “a value-based deterrence, holding at risk those assets that mean most to an opponent.”

Reading that document today brings to mind Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. Yesterday, Ali Shirazi, the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, stated that “The first U.S. shot on Iran would set the United States’ vital interests in the world on fire.” Shirazi does not reveal what exactly Iran would do if attacked, but he tries to evoke in our mind a scenario of terrible consequences. According to the “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,”

We must communicate. specifically, what we want to deter without saying what is permitted.’ And ‘We must be ambiguous about details of our response (or preemption) if what we value is threatened, but it must be clear that our actions would have terrible consequences for them.

Clearly, Iran has read the document.

But the most remarkable part of the recommendations is precisely in the section that addresses the central tenet of the new doctrine, namely that “We must communicate our capability to hold at risk what they value and, if possible, to protect what we value.” In expanding this concept, the author of the “Essentials” goes on, in a prescient fashion, to evoke Soviet deterrence in a particular instance when Soviet citizens where kidnapped in Lebanon:

The story of the tactic applied by the Soviets during the earliest days of the Lebanon chaos is a case in point. When three of its citizens and their driver were kidnapped and killed, two days later the Soviets had delivered to the leader of the revolutionary activity a package containing a single testicle–that of his eldest son–with a message that said, in no uncertain terms, “never bother our people again.” It was successful throughout the period of the conflicts there. Such an insightful tailoring of what is valued within a culture, and its weaving into a deterrence message, along with a projection of the capability that can be mustered, is the type of creative thinking that must go into deciding what to hold at risk in framing deterrent targeting for multilateral situations in the future. At the same time this story illustrates just how much more difficult it is for a society such as ours to frame its deterrent messages-that our society would never condone the taking of such actions makes it more difficult for us to deter acts of terrorism.

Have we learned the lessons of the “Essentials” in dealing with Iran? Hardly, if one considers the opening paragraph of the latest offer the West has recently delivered. I in no way think that that the Five Permanent Members of the Security Council should have sent Iran the testicle of, say, the eldest son of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But it is clear, from reading the language of international diplomacy to Iran against the background of the “Essentials,” that our strategy does not aim to establish deterrence vis-à-vis Iran. If anything, it is doing all it can to undermine it.

Following the end of the Cold War, a study was commissioned by the US government to understand the new context of nuclear deterrence after the demise of the Soviet Union and in anticipation of possible future confrontations against regional powers with nuclear arsenal. the main point of the study, which is partially available, was that one needed “a value-based deterrence, holding at risk those assets that mean most to an opponent.”

Reading that document today brings to mind Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. Yesterday, Ali Shirazi, the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, stated that “The first U.S. shot on Iran would set the United States’ vital interests in the world on fire.” Shirazi does not reveal what exactly Iran would do if attacked, but he tries to evoke in our mind a scenario of terrible consequences. According to the “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,”

We must communicate. specifically, what we want to deter without saying what is permitted.’ And ‘We must be ambiguous about details of our response (or preemption) if what we value is threatened, but it must be clear that our actions would have terrible consequences for them.

Clearly, Iran has read the document.

But the most remarkable part of the recommendations is precisely in the section that addresses the central tenet of the new doctrine, namely that “We must communicate our capability to hold at risk what they value and, if possible, to protect what we value.” In expanding this concept, the author of the “Essentials” goes on, in a prescient fashion, to evoke Soviet deterrence in a particular instance when Soviet citizens where kidnapped in Lebanon:

The story of the tactic applied by the Soviets during the earliest days of the Lebanon chaos is a case in point. When three of its citizens and their driver were kidnapped and killed, two days later the Soviets had delivered to the leader of the revolutionary activity a package containing a single testicle–that of his eldest son–with a message that said, in no uncertain terms, “never bother our people again.” It was successful throughout the period of the conflicts there. Such an insightful tailoring of what is valued within a culture, and its weaving into a deterrence message, along with a projection of the capability that can be mustered, is the type of creative thinking that must go into deciding what to hold at risk in framing deterrent targeting for multilateral situations in the future. At the same time this story illustrates just how much more difficult it is for a society such as ours to frame its deterrent messages-that our society would never condone the taking of such actions makes it more difficult for us to deter acts of terrorism.

Have we learned the lessons of the “Essentials” in dealing with Iran? Hardly, if one considers the opening paragraph of the latest offer the West has recently delivered. I in no way think that that the Five Permanent Members of the Security Council should have sent Iran the testicle of, say, the eldest son of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But it is clear, from reading the language of international diplomacy to Iran against the background of the “Essentials,” that our strategy does not aim to establish deterrence vis-à-vis Iran. If anything, it is doing all it can to undermine it.

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Fight Over Iran

Although Barack Obama is now (sort of) admitting Iran is a serious problem and is offering the potential for unilateral and multilateral sanctions, John McCain thinks he’s insufficiently tough and does not appreciate that we need “action” instead of more talk. He also took the opportunity at a presser today to remind voters about Obama’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization. (Obama in front of AIPAC later said it was a good idea after all.) McCain made a lengthly statement which included this:

It’s my understanding that this missile test was conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This is the same organization that I voted to condemn as a terrorist organization when an amendment was on the floor of the United States Senate. Senator Obama refused to vote, called it a provocative step. The fact is this is a terrorist organization and should have been branded as such.

A good start. However, it is fair to ask of the McCain camp about broader diplomatic deterrence, too. Like, for example, what the point of the already overly-rich European incentive package is and at what point can and should we end the bribe-athon. McCain today said:

I am convinced that our European allies and friends are ready to impose significant impactful and meaningful sanctions on the Iranians, especially financial, including trade and including international financial systems and that those sanctions can be effective in modifying Iranian behavior.

Perhaps. But if not, what is McCain prepared to do?

Although Barack Obama is now (sort of) admitting Iran is a serious problem and is offering the potential for unilateral and multilateral sanctions, John McCain thinks he’s insufficiently tough and does not appreciate that we need “action” instead of more talk. He also took the opportunity at a presser today to remind voters about Obama’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization. (Obama in front of AIPAC later said it was a good idea after all.) McCain made a lengthly statement which included this:

It’s my understanding that this missile test was conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This is the same organization that I voted to condemn as a terrorist organization when an amendment was on the floor of the United States Senate. Senator Obama refused to vote, called it a provocative step. The fact is this is a terrorist organization and should have been branded as such.

A good start. However, it is fair to ask of the McCain camp about broader diplomatic deterrence, too. Like, for example, what the point of the already overly-rich European incentive package is and at what point can and should we end the bribe-athon. McCain today said:

I am convinced that our European allies and friends are ready to impose significant impactful and meaningful sanctions on the Iranians, especially financial, including trade and including international financial systems and that those sanctions can be effective in modifying Iranian behavior.

Perhaps. But if not, what is McCain prepared to do?

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Giddy in Damascus

Need proof that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is downright giddy about his upcoming trip to Paris? Start with the incredible media blitz that has been undertaken ahead of his landing at Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Indeed, Syria’s state-run news agencies are hard at work, providing full Arabic summaries of Assad’s latest conciliatory interview with Le Figaro; combing European airwaves to find French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s kind words for Assad during his interview with Radio Monte Carlo; and following virtually every preparation for Assad’s Parisian holiday with the tenacity that only severely totalitarian states possess.

But Assad isn’t just using this much-heralded sojourn to curry favor among his own people. In the past few days alone, the world’s most powerful optometrist has translated renewed French-Syrian relations into an impressive diplomatic blitz, greeting a Romanian parliamentary delegation in Damascus; receiving a friendly letter from Spanish King Juan Carlos, which promising improved relations; and enjoying the support of the Arab League only months after its Secretary-General all but blamed Syria for the Lebanese presidential crisis. Of course, these are only the latest diplomatic breaks for Assad, who recently made a historic trip to India and hosted the Icelandic foreign minister. And, hardly satisfied, Assad is pushing for more: when the Syrian prime minister recently addressed an audience at the opening of a new development center in Algeria, he used the occasion to call for greater cooperation with European municipalities and organizations, which was received favorably.

Still, Assad’s belief that he has hit the Parisian jackpot is best illustrated through the legal changes he has enacted. This morning, Assad amended Law No. 15 and established the General Commission for Real Estate Development and Investment, which intends to encourage foreign investment in the Syrian real estate market. In short, Assad is banking on Damascus’ recent diplomatic comeback translating into a sudden financial upswing.

Recent experience suggests that sticks have failed to shape Damascus’ behavior. Indeed, despite a downturn in relations with France and the Arab world during the Lebanese presidential crisis, Syria still was able to get what it wanted-namely, more power for Hezbollah, and therefore itself, in Beirut.

In turn, the next few weeks will determine whether the west is able to influence Syria with carrots. After all, as Assad’s good mood suggests, Sarkozy has served some crunchy carrots. Will these encourage Damascus to leave Iran’s orbit, end its relations with militant groups, and make peace with Israel? If not, the west will have to respond with fury-or risk the credibility of its diplomatic statecraft.

Need proof that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is downright giddy about his upcoming trip to Paris? Start with the incredible media blitz that has been undertaken ahead of his landing at Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Indeed, Syria’s state-run news agencies are hard at work, providing full Arabic summaries of Assad’s latest conciliatory interview with Le Figaro; combing European airwaves to find French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s kind words for Assad during his interview with Radio Monte Carlo; and following virtually every preparation for Assad’s Parisian holiday with the tenacity that only severely totalitarian states possess.

But Assad isn’t just using this much-heralded sojourn to curry favor among his own people. In the past few days alone, the world’s most powerful optometrist has translated renewed French-Syrian relations into an impressive diplomatic blitz, greeting a Romanian parliamentary delegation in Damascus; receiving a friendly letter from Spanish King Juan Carlos, which promising improved relations; and enjoying the support of the Arab League only months after its Secretary-General all but blamed Syria for the Lebanese presidential crisis. Of course, these are only the latest diplomatic breaks for Assad, who recently made a historic trip to India and hosted the Icelandic foreign minister. And, hardly satisfied, Assad is pushing for more: when the Syrian prime minister recently addressed an audience at the opening of a new development center in Algeria, he used the occasion to call for greater cooperation with European municipalities and organizations, which was received favorably.

Still, Assad’s belief that he has hit the Parisian jackpot is best illustrated through the legal changes he has enacted. This morning, Assad amended Law No. 15 and established the General Commission for Real Estate Development and Investment, which intends to encourage foreign investment in the Syrian real estate market. In short, Assad is banking on Damascus’ recent diplomatic comeback translating into a sudden financial upswing.

Recent experience suggests that sticks have failed to shape Damascus’ behavior. Indeed, despite a downturn in relations with France and the Arab world during the Lebanese presidential crisis, Syria still was able to get what it wanted-namely, more power for Hezbollah, and therefore itself, in Beirut.

In turn, the next few weeks will determine whether the west is able to influence Syria with carrots. After all, as Assad’s good mood suggests, Sarkozy has served some crunchy carrots. Will these encourage Damascus to leave Iran’s orbit, end its relations with militant groups, and make peace with Israel? If not, the west will have to respond with fury-or risk the credibility of its diplomatic statecraft.

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My Response to Mirengoff

Paul Mirengoff, one of the troika who writes for the outstanding blog Powerline, posted a piece taking issue, in a respectful way, with what I wrote here.

According to Paul, my claim that Barack Obama’s tack to the center is probably a wise move and, as such, underscores that “America remains a center-right, basically conservative leaning nation” is not quite right. In addition, my statement that “the fact that Obama understands this and is doing everything he can do inoculate himself against the charge of liberalism ought to be welcomed news to conservatives” is “too sanguine.” Paul points out that Obama isn’t even tacking significantly away from the left on most key domestic issues, e.g., health care, energy policy, and taxes. “Overall,” Paul writes, “Obama’s moves show only that America remains a centrist nation.”

I’m not sure Paul and I differ on all that much. But whether we do or not, I’ll take this as an opportunity to elaborate my views. My point, as I stated in my original post, is that conservatism, despite the challenges it faces today, is still the most appealing and popular political philosophy in America. Moreover, liberalism remains a lethal charge in a presidential campaign (if the charge sticks). It tells us something important that Obama will fight hard against the claim that he is a liberal, arguing that such labels are part of the “old politics” that he has magically transcended. McCain, on the other hand, is happy to be labeled a conservative.

There are certainly exceptions but, for the most part, both candidates are moving in a more conservative direction (which is not to say that Obama is running as a conservative). Even on taxes, Obama has indicated that he is not committed to raising it beyond 28 percent, and he’ll probably settle for something closer to 20 percent — not ideal by any means, but lower than it was during the Clinton presidency pre-1997. Obama is also much more likely to highlight his plan to taxes for middle class Americans than he is to argue that taxes will go up under an Obama administration. Nor is Obama portraying himself as an advocate for a HillaryCare-like government takeover of our health care system. And his recent statements on religion and the public square, abortion, terrorist surveillance, guns, trade, the military, patriotism, meeting with Ahmadinejad, and much else is an indication, I think, that even someone with Obama’s left-leaning tendencies understands that he must, at least during a presidential campaign, distance himself from contemporary liberalism.

I have written before that the ways in which America has become more and less conservative over the years is a fascinating and complicated discussion. We are, for example, probably more conservative on issues like crime and welfare than we were. No national politician is running on repealing welfare reform or retreating on anti-crime initiatives. In the 1990s it was widely believed that the gun debate would favor liberals; in this decade, Democrats have run from their opposition to guns as fast as their feet will carry them.

The military is far more respected than it once was, and Senator Obama is hardly advocating slashing its budget (which liberals did routinely in the 1970s and 1980s). No one is insisting that the top tax rate return to 70 percent, which is where it was when Ronald Reagan took office. On immigration, there is now widespread consensus on the need to secure our Southern border. As for energy policy: with gas costing more than $4 a gallon, drilling seems to be making a comeback. There is certainly more openness toward nuclear power than there once was. According to Justice Scalia, originalism is more popular in law schools these days than it was 20 years ago. We’ve made progress on insisting on high standards and accountability in education, to say nothing of the rise of charter schools. On abortion, the debate has moved in a somewhat more conservative direction, I think, thanks in part to sonograms and the debate about partial birth abortion. The view that divorce is a liberating and largely harmless act, including for children of divorced parents, is now widely viewed as the nonsense it always was. The belief that drug use is cool and liberating seems antiquated as well. And very few national figures are publicly in favor of quotas and racial set-asides.

This is not to say that America is a deeply ideological country — it isn’t and it never has been — or that conservatism is everywhere and in every way dominant. It clearly is not — and in some areas, including same-sex marriage and the environment — the tide has been moving against conservatism. Those who believed that eliminating the Department of Education and shutting down the federal government would be popular were wrong. And while attitudes may have shifted for the better on issues like divorce, there is hardly a national movement to repeal no-fault divorce laws. State-wide school choice initiatives have failed everywhere they have been tried.

But on balance, I think, it’s fair to say that conservatism has been on the ascendancy during the last 25 years and that we remain, in the main, a center-right nation. Might Barack Obama change all that if he is elected president? Perhaps. And might, with some luck, Obama be viewed as a successful president, as Paul suggests? It’s possible. But I think the odds are even better that if Obama governs as an orthodox liberal — which is certainly a distinct possibility, given his own record and the likely composition of the Senate and House in 2009 — there will be a fairly strong counter-reaction against him and his agenda. Something like that happened in 1994, just two years after Clinton and Gore swept into office and Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, and it might happen again.

I hope, however, it’s a proposition we don’t test.

Paul Mirengoff, one of the troika who writes for the outstanding blog Powerline, posted a piece taking issue, in a respectful way, with what I wrote here.

According to Paul, my claim that Barack Obama’s tack to the center is probably a wise move and, as such, underscores that “America remains a center-right, basically conservative leaning nation” is not quite right. In addition, my statement that “the fact that Obama understands this and is doing everything he can do inoculate himself against the charge of liberalism ought to be welcomed news to conservatives” is “too sanguine.” Paul points out that Obama isn’t even tacking significantly away from the left on most key domestic issues, e.g., health care, energy policy, and taxes. “Overall,” Paul writes, “Obama’s moves show only that America remains a centrist nation.”

I’m not sure Paul and I differ on all that much. But whether we do or not, I’ll take this as an opportunity to elaborate my views. My point, as I stated in my original post, is that conservatism, despite the challenges it faces today, is still the most appealing and popular political philosophy in America. Moreover, liberalism remains a lethal charge in a presidential campaign (if the charge sticks). It tells us something important that Obama will fight hard against the claim that he is a liberal, arguing that such labels are part of the “old politics” that he has magically transcended. McCain, on the other hand, is happy to be labeled a conservative.

There are certainly exceptions but, for the most part, both candidates are moving in a more conservative direction (which is not to say that Obama is running as a conservative). Even on taxes, Obama has indicated that he is not committed to raising it beyond 28 percent, and he’ll probably settle for something closer to 20 percent — not ideal by any means, but lower than it was during the Clinton presidency pre-1997. Obama is also much more likely to highlight his plan to taxes for middle class Americans than he is to argue that taxes will go up under an Obama administration. Nor is Obama portraying himself as an advocate for a HillaryCare-like government takeover of our health care system. And his recent statements on religion and the public square, abortion, terrorist surveillance, guns, trade, the military, patriotism, meeting with Ahmadinejad, and much else is an indication, I think, that even someone with Obama’s left-leaning tendencies understands that he must, at least during a presidential campaign, distance himself from contemporary liberalism.

I have written before that the ways in which America has become more and less conservative over the years is a fascinating and complicated discussion. We are, for example, probably more conservative on issues like crime and welfare than we were. No national politician is running on repealing welfare reform or retreating on anti-crime initiatives. In the 1990s it was widely believed that the gun debate would favor liberals; in this decade, Democrats have run from their opposition to guns as fast as their feet will carry them.

The military is far more respected than it once was, and Senator Obama is hardly advocating slashing its budget (which liberals did routinely in the 1970s and 1980s). No one is insisting that the top tax rate return to 70 percent, which is where it was when Ronald Reagan took office. On immigration, there is now widespread consensus on the need to secure our Southern border. As for energy policy: with gas costing more than $4 a gallon, drilling seems to be making a comeback. There is certainly more openness toward nuclear power than there once was. According to Justice Scalia, originalism is more popular in law schools these days than it was 20 years ago. We’ve made progress on insisting on high standards and accountability in education, to say nothing of the rise of charter schools. On abortion, the debate has moved in a somewhat more conservative direction, I think, thanks in part to sonograms and the debate about partial birth abortion. The view that divorce is a liberating and largely harmless act, including for children of divorced parents, is now widely viewed as the nonsense it always was. The belief that drug use is cool and liberating seems antiquated as well. And very few national figures are publicly in favor of quotas and racial set-asides.

This is not to say that America is a deeply ideological country — it isn’t and it never has been — or that conservatism is everywhere and in every way dominant. It clearly is not — and in some areas, including same-sex marriage and the environment — the tide has been moving against conservatism. Those who believed that eliminating the Department of Education and shutting down the federal government would be popular were wrong. And while attitudes may have shifted for the better on issues like divorce, there is hardly a national movement to repeal no-fault divorce laws. State-wide school choice initiatives have failed everywhere they have been tried.

But on balance, I think, it’s fair to say that conservatism has been on the ascendancy during the last 25 years and that we remain, in the main, a center-right nation. Might Barack Obama change all that if he is elected president? Perhaps. And might, with some luck, Obama be viewed as a successful president, as Paul suggests? It’s possible. But I think the odds are even better that if Obama governs as an orthodox liberal — which is certainly a distinct possibility, given his own record and the likely composition of the Senate and House in 2009 — there will be a fairly strong counter-reaction against him and his agenda. Something like that happened in 1994, just two years after Clinton and Gore swept into office and Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, and it might happen again.

I hope, however, it’s a proposition we don’t test.

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Alternate-Reality Iran

One of Barack Obama’s greatest talents is his ability to re-frame questions extemporaneously so that he can provide a solution to a problem he wishes existed, rather than the problem that actually does exist. His answer to Hezbollah’s mini-civil war in Lebanon two months ago was to call on Iran and Syria to reign in Hezbollah, as if those countries were bystanders whose help could be enlisted rather than the actual perpetrators of the crisis. Today, in noting Obama’s answer to a bilingual education question, Jonah Goldberg comments that “Obama has a great gift at sounding insightful when he insipidly changes the subject to something completely different and more helpful to his cause.”

And so it is again today with Obama’s response to the missile display staged by Iran this morning, which as Gordon pointed out below was intended as a demonstration of Iran’s retaliatory capabilities in response to an Israeli or American attack. The McCain campaign responded to the news by reiterating support for missile defense, which is the sensible thing to say when a terrorist theocracy makes a show of its ability to launch missiles at you and your allies.

Obama, though, had a different message — the same message on Iran that he delivers no matter the particulars of the situation:

Now is the time to work with our friends and allies, and to pursue direct and aggressive diplomacy with the Iranian regime backed by tougher unilateral and multilateral sanctions. It’s time to offer the Iranians a clear choice between increased costs for continuing their troubling behavior, and concrete incentives that would come if they change course.

And thus is the Iran confrontation re-defined as something in harmony with the aesthetic of Obama’s foreign policy. The premise of this alternate reality is that there has been scarcely any “work with our friends and allies” on Iran, virtually zero “aggressive diplomacy,” only tepid attempts at unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and no offering of incentives for changed behavior. Of course, all of these things have been the staples of U.S. and western policy going on six years — and every one of them has proven incapable of dissuading Iran from its nuclear objectives. That which has been tried but failed is simply re-cast as untried.

And then there is Obama’s only novel idea: that one-on-one presidential diplomacy is the secret missing ingredient to success with Iran. Yet it is impossible to find even the slightest shred of evidence that Iran continues to pursue its nuclear and missile programs only because the President of the United States refuses to engage personally, or send an emissary on his behalf, with the regime. This is not something the Iranians have ever requested, and it is doubtful that they would even agree to such engagement if it was proposed. Obama has never bothered to elaborate on why he believes that this linchpin of his Iran policy would work, and for good reason: there is no personalized message the President could deliver which would drive the regime off a course to which it has remained obstinately dedicated despite several rounds of Security Council sanctions, despite the likelihood of military attack, and despite many layers of financial sanctions and penalties imposed by the U.S. and other governments around the world.

There is something profoundly dangerous about a candidate for president who refuses to engage with foreign powers as they are. Opposite Iran, Obama offers a combination of the discredited and the improbable.

One of Barack Obama’s greatest talents is his ability to re-frame questions extemporaneously so that he can provide a solution to a problem he wishes existed, rather than the problem that actually does exist. His answer to Hezbollah’s mini-civil war in Lebanon two months ago was to call on Iran and Syria to reign in Hezbollah, as if those countries were bystanders whose help could be enlisted rather than the actual perpetrators of the crisis. Today, in noting Obama’s answer to a bilingual education question, Jonah Goldberg comments that “Obama has a great gift at sounding insightful when he insipidly changes the subject to something completely different and more helpful to his cause.”

And so it is again today with Obama’s response to the missile display staged by Iran this morning, which as Gordon pointed out below was intended as a demonstration of Iran’s retaliatory capabilities in response to an Israeli or American attack. The McCain campaign responded to the news by reiterating support for missile defense, which is the sensible thing to say when a terrorist theocracy makes a show of its ability to launch missiles at you and your allies.

Obama, though, had a different message — the same message on Iran that he delivers no matter the particulars of the situation:

Now is the time to work with our friends and allies, and to pursue direct and aggressive diplomacy with the Iranian regime backed by tougher unilateral and multilateral sanctions. It’s time to offer the Iranians a clear choice between increased costs for continuing their troubling behavior, and concrete incentives that would come if they change course.

And thus is the Iran confrontation re-defined as something in harmony with the aesthetic of Obama’s foreign policy. The premise of this alternate reality is that there has been scarcely any “work with our friends and allies” on Iran, virtually zero “aggressive diplomacy,” only tepid attempts at unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and no offering of incentives for changed behavior. Of course, all of these things have been the staples of U.S. and western policy going on six years — and every one of them has proven incapable of dissuading Iran from its nuclear objectives. That which has been tried but failed is simply re-cast as untried.

And then there is Obama’s only novel idea: that one-on-one presidential diplomacy is the secret missing ingredient to success with Iran. Yet it is impossible to find even the slightest shred of evidence that Iran continues to pursue its nuclear and missile programs only because the President of the United States refuses to engage personally, or send an emissary on his behalf, with the regime. This is not something the Iranians have ever requested, and it is doubtful that they would even agree to such engagement if it was proposed. Obama has never bothered to elaborate on why he believes that this linchpin of his Iran policy would work, and for good reason: there is no personalized message the President could deliver which would drive the regime off a course to which it has remained obstinately dedicated despite several rounds of Security Council sanctions, despite the likelihood of military attack, and despite many layers of financial sanctions and penalties imposed by the U.S. and other governments around the world.

There is something profoundly dangerous about a candidate for president who refuses to engage with foreign powers as they are. Opposite Iran, Obama offers a combination of the discredited and the improbable.

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Playing Too Nice

On the very same day that Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post, “In many ways, we are witnessing one of the most promising periods in Russian history,” the Russian Foreign Ministry promised “to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods,” to the construction of an American-Czech missile shield. I don’t think this is what Dr. Kissinger had in mind.

But then, I’m not sure what he did have in mind. Kissinger had just returned from the 12th Annual Investors Conference in Moscow, and something strange happens at these global meet-and-greets. It’s as if Western attendees discuss everything but the enormous problems staring them in the face and then come back to rave about what good dinner companions they found in various autocrats. After schmoozing over endless courses of almond oil foam, President Bush came away from his G8 discussion with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev assuring Americans that the Putin flunky is “very comfortable, he’s confident, and . . . I believe that when he tells me something, he means it.” (This in light of the new military threat is a little worrisome). Kissinger came back from Moscow and wrote of the Putin-Medvedev twosome, “The government’s operation — at least initially — with two centers of power may, in retrospect, appear to be the beginning of an evolution toward a form of checks and balances.” And his strongest evidence for this rosy interpretation? Putin had not yet changed the constitution to extend his presidency indefinitely.

There is something else at work in all this cuddly talk among conservative foreign policy figures. With a few exceptions, they’ve lost their stomach for confrontation. After Iraq, policymakers of all stripes are less inclined to countenance muscular geopolitical postures. Bush has apologized for his cowboy rhetoric, given North Korea a free pass, and gone mum on Iran. Zimbabwe will pass into its next chapter of slaughter and mayhem without earning anything more than a few sanctions. And on and on. It’s as if hard-line foreign policy luminaries have begun to believe the election year characterizations of them as single-minded hawks bent on endless war. But as John Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

The U.S. is currently bending over backwards to find common ground with nations that continue to threaten American interests and the interests of other free nations. This is as it should be. But let’s not get into the habit of flattering dangerous actors and let’s not forget about that reserve 1%.

On the very same day that Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post, “In many ways, we are witnessing one of the most promising periods in Russian history,” the Russian Foreign Ministry promised “to react not with diplomatic, but with military-technical methods,” to the construction of an American-Czech missile shield. I don’t think this is what Dr. Kissinger had in mind.

But then, I’m not sure what he did have in mind. Kissinger had just returned from the 12th Annual Investors Conference in Moscow, and something strange happens at these global meet-and-greets. It’s as if Western attendees discuss everything but the enormous problems staring them in the face and then come back to rave about what good dinner companions they found in various autocrats. After schmoozing over endless courses of almond oil foam, President Bush came away from his G8 discussion with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev assuring Americans that the Putin flunky is “very comfortable, he’s confident, and . . . I believe that when he tells me something, he means it.” (This in light of the new military threat is a little worrisome). Kissinger came back from Moscow and wrote of the Putin-Medvedev twosome, “The government’s operation — at least initially — with two centers of power may, in retrospect, appear to be the beginning of an evolution toward a form of checks and balances.” And his strongest evidence for this rosy interpretation? Putin had not yet changed the constitution to extend his presidency indefinitely.

There is something else at work in all this cuddly talk among conservative foreign policy figures. With a few exceptions, they’ve lost their stomach for confrontation. After Iraq, policymakers of all stripes are less inclined to countenance muscular geopolitical postures. Bush has apologized for his cowboy rhetoric, given North Korea a free pass, and gone mum on Iran. Zimbabwe will pass into its next chapter of slaughter and mayhem without earning anything more than a few sanctions. And on and on. It’s as if hard-line foreign policy luminaries have begun to believe the election year characterizations of them as single-minded hawks bent on endless war. But as John Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

The U.S. is currently bending over backwards to find common ground with nations that continue to threaten American interests and the interests of other free nations. This is as it should be. But let’s not get into the habit of flattering dangerous actors and let’s not forget about that reserve 1%.

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I Predict a Flip-Flop

Gas prices are now a top concern of voters and Barack Obama’s Dr. No approach to increasing domestic oil supply (and almost every other idea on the production side) has even Democrats nervous. So why not switch positions and come out for “responsible energy development” and “environmentally safe drilling”?

It seems like a no-brainer. If he can change on FISA, NAFTA, Kyl-Lieberman, Iran, the surge (sort of), guns, abortion, campaign financing, corporate taxes, the payroll tax cap, his devotion to Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church, unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad, and an “undivided” Jerusalem, why not this? I figure it’ll take a couple of weeks (or until gas hits $5 a gallon, which ever comes first).

Whoa — after writing the above I see in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that Congressional Democrats are leaving open the possibility of off-shore drilling. And those mind-rays are working on an Illinois Senator (the other one, but not bad) who says, ” I’m open to drilling and responsible production.” See!

Gas prices are now a top concern of voters and Barack Obama’s Dr. No approach to increasing domestic oil supply (and almost every other idea on the production side) has even Democrats nervous. So why not switch positions and come out for “responsible energy development” and “environmentally safe drilling”?

It seems like a no-brainer. If he can change on FISA, NAFTA, Kyl-Lieberman, Iran, the surge (sort of), guns, abortion, campaign financing, corporate taxes, the payroll tax cap, his devotion to Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church, unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad, and an “undivided” Jerusalem, why not this? I figure it’ll take a couple of weeks (or until gas hits $5 a gallon, which ever comes first).

Whoa — after writing the above I see in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that Congressional Democrats are leaving open the possibility of off-shore drilling. And those mind-rays are working on an Illinois Senator (the other one, but not bad) who says, ” I’m open to drilling and responsible production.” See!

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Re: I am NOT Changing My Mind

Jennifer is quite right in her analysis of Barack Obama’s assertion that he is not, in the words of the New York Times, “pirouetting, leaping, lurching even, toward the political center.”

Senator Obama is clearly nervous that his transparent political shifts during the last few weeks is hurting him, and with good reason. Obama has not only not shown himself to be a practitioner of a new and more uplifting brand of politics; he is actually the embodiment of what he said he stands against (the “old” politics of poll-driven candidates who tell the American people what they want to hear instead of telling them what they need to hear).

Obama’s explanation for his head-snapping changes is a typical mix of both prickliness and arrogance. “Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he said. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.”

It appears as though Professor Obama’s students [read: most of America] need to be wrapped on the knuckles for failing to listen carefully to the complicated and endlessly nuanced worldview of the Great Man himself. What appear to mere mortals as one convenient and unprincipled lurch to the center after another turns out to be, when viewed from Obamian heights, a model of stunning consistency.

In truth, many of us have been listening for the entire campaign, which is why those on both the left and the right are commenting of Obama’s chameleon-like qualities.

In his comments in Georgia yesterday, Obama went on to say, “One of the things you find as you go through this campaign, everyone becomes so cynical about politics.” There is, he added, an “assumption that you must be doing everything for political reasons.”

In fact, not everyone is cynical about politics and not every office holder acts for only self-interested political reasons. It just happens that the Democratic candidate for President this year does. And if Obama wins the presidency, there will be an unmistakable irony that will emerge. Having raised hopes among his supporters so high so early, and in portraying himself as a rare, and even uniquely principled, public figure, Obama will be unmasked for what he is: a very talented, highly ambitious politician who emerged from the Chicago school of politics. And Obama, a man who promised to be the antidote for cynicism, will merely deepen it.

Jennifer is quite right in her analysis of Barack Obama’s assertion that he is not, in the words of the New York Times, “pirouetting, leaping, lurching even, toward the political center.”

Senator Obama is clearly nervous that his transparent political shifts during the last few weeks is hurting him, and with good reason. Obama has not only not shown himself to be a practitioner of a new and more uplifting brand of politics; he is actually the embodiment of what he said he stands against (the “old” politics of poll-driven candidates who tell the American people what they want to hear instead of telling them what they need to hear).

Obama’s explanation for his head-snapping changes is a typical mix of both prickliness and arrogance. “Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he said. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.”

It appears as though Professor Obama’s students [read: most of America] need to be wrapped on the knuckles for failing to listen carefully to the complicated and endlessly nuanced worldview of the Great Man himself. What appear to mere mortals as one convenient and unprincipled lurch to the center after another turns out to be, when viewed from Obamian heights, a model of stunning consistency.

In truth, many of us have been listening for the entire campaign, which is why those on both the left and the right are commenting of Obama’s chameleon-like qualities.

In his comments in Georgia yesterday, Obama went on to say, “One of the things you find as you go through this campaign, everyone becomes so cynical about politics.” There is, he added, an “assumption that you must be doing everything for political reasons.”

In fact, not everyone is cynical about politics and not every office holder acts for only self-interested political reasons. It just happens that the Democratic candidate for President this year does. And if Obama wins the presidency, there will be an unmistakable irony that will emerge. Having raised hopes among his supporters so high so early, and in portraying himself as a rare, and even uniquely principled, public figure, Obama will be unmasked for what he is: a very talented, highly ambitious politician who emerged from the Chicago school of politics. And Obama, a man who promised to be the antidote for cynicism, will merely deepen it.

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Re: Immigration

Jennifer is absolutely on target on John McCain and immigration. But what impressed me most about McCain’s speech was his appeal to patriotism. Barack Obama treated his LULAC audience pretty much as he does every special interest group he speaks to, as if they are all sitting there with their hands outstretched for whatever new federal program he can promise them. He should have titled his speech “Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Country but What Your Country Can Do for You“. McCain, on the other hand, emphasized Hispanics’ service to America:

When I was in prison in Vietnam, I like other of my fellow POWs, was offered early release by my captors. Most of us refused because we were bound to our code of conduct, which said those who had been captured the earliest had to be released the soonest. My friend, Everett Alvarez, a brave American of Mexican descent, had been shot down years before I was, and had suffered for his country much more and much longer than I had. To leave him behind would have shamed us. When you take the solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it is hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Lopez that so sadly adorn it. When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well.

It was a smart move. Hispanics have traditionally had a strong affinity for the military. Eligible Hispanics (you must be a citizen or legal permanent resident and have high school degree or equivalent) are actually somewhat more likely to enlist than whites (though less than blacks). And it’s not simply because they are using the military to increase their economic mobility. Hispanics who join the military are more likely to pick combat as opposed to technical or other specialties which put them at higher risk, which is why they have endured a higher combat casualty rate in Iraq.

One final note–LULAC has an interesting history, as I’ve written about at greater length in my book Out of the Barrio: Towards a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. Founded in 1929 in Texas, the organization restricted membership to U.S. citizens and Spanish was forbidden in its official meetings. LULAC listed among the duties of its members the following:

To foster the acquisition and facile use of the official language of the country that we may hereby equip ourselves and our families for the fullest enjoyment of our rights and privileges and the efficient discharge of our duties and obligations to this, our country.

LULAC long ago strayed from these principles, but most Hispanics have not. These are the Hispanics voters McCain is reaching out to and the ones he’s most likely to win over.

Jennifer is absolutely on target on John McCain and immigration. But what impressed me most about McCain’s speech was his appeal to patriotism. Barack Obama treated his LULAC audience pretty much as he does every special interest group he speaks to, as if they are all sitting there with their hands outstretched for whatever new federal program he can promise them. He should have titled his speech “Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Country but What Your Country Can Do for You“. McCain, on the other hand, emphasized Hispanics’ service to America:

When I was in prison in Vietnam, I like other of my fellow POWs, was offered early release by my captors. Most of us refused because we were bound to our code of conduct, which said those who had been captured the earliest had to be released the soonest. My friend, Everett Alvarez, a brave American of Mexican descent, had been shot down years before I was, and had suffered for his country much more and much longer than I had. To leave him behind would have shamed us. When you take the solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it is hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Lopez that so sadly adorn it. When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well.

It was a smart move. Hispanics have traditionally had a strong affinity for the military. Eligible Hispanics (you must be a citizen or legal permanent resident and have high school degree or equivalent) are actually somewhat more likely to enlist than whites (though less than blacks). And it’s not simply because they are using the military to increase their economic mobility. Hispanics who join the military are more likely to pick combat as opposed to technical or other specialties which put them at higher risk, which is why they have endured a higher combat casualty rate in Iraq.

One final note–LULAC has an interesting history, as I’ve written about at greater length in my book Out of the Barrio: Towards a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. Founded in 1929 in Texas, the organization restricted membership to U.S. citizens and Spanish was forbidden in its official meetings. LULAC listed among the duties of its members the following:

To foster the acquisition and facile use of the official language of the country that we may hereby equip ourselves and our families for the fullest enjoyment of our rights and privileges and the efficient discharge of our duties and obligations to this, our country.

LULAC long ago strayed from these principles, but most Hispanics have not. These are the Hispanics voters McCain is reaching out to and the ones he’s most likely to win over.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Yeah, great idea – give Joe Lieberman further reason to leave the Democratic party.

This sounds like a reasonable timetable until you realize everyone making the deal will likely be dead by then.

Speaking of timetables, John McCain isn’t biting, despite the media’s effort to hype Maliki’s comments coming out of the Status of Forces Agreement talks. Unfortunately, for the Democrats, Maliki is “not endorsing the Barack Obama agenda of immediate U.S. withdrawal starting on January 20.” (But maybe Obama’s withdrawal agenda is no longer operative. It’s hard to know.) At any rate, who would have thought Maliki would be playing to an active domestic polity and impressing his neighbors?

Hey, that’s the idea write a headline like “Candidates Refine Their Stances on a Changing Iraq” because it is so much easier for Obama if it seems they both have changed. Except they haven’t and the same article says McCain insists “withdrawal would come after victory in Iraq.” Darn. Seemed like a promising gambit.

I’m sure McCain’s cigarette comment will offend someone.

I love puppies, but the need for housetraining material still doesn’t justify keeping the Los Angeles Times around. And that’s according to people who write there .

It’s difficult to be a good ally and repair our allegedly frayed ties with our international friends while preaching protectionism. (But isn’t Obama for free trade this week? It’s tough to keep up.)

The Democrats still haven’t kissed and made up. And people can’t get it through their heads that Obama has been entirely consistent. What’s wrong with everyone?

Obama has done such an effective job of double-talk on Iraq at least one prominent pundit is convinced he is going to Iraq so as not to change policy. Or is he (the pundit) joking?

Yeah, great idea – give Joe Lieberman further reason to leave the Democratic party.

This sounds like a reasonable timetable until you realize everyone making the deal will likely be dead by then.

Speaking of timetables, John McCain isn’t biting, despite the media’s effort to hype Maliki’s comments coming out of the Status of Forces Agreement talks. Unfortunately, for the Democrats, Maliki is “not endorsing the Barack Obama agenda of immediate U.S. withdrawal starting on January 20.” (But maybe Obama’s withdrawal agenda is no longer operative. It’s hard to know.) At any rate, who would have thought Maliki would be playing to an active domestic polity and impressing his neighbors?

Hey, that’s the idea write a headline like “Candidates Refine Their Stances on a Changing Iraq” because it is so much easier for Obama if it seems they both have changed. Except they haven’t and the same article says McCain insists “withdrawal would come after victory in Iraq.” Darn. Seemed like a promising gambit.

I’m sure McCain’s cigarette comment will offend someone.

I love puppies, but the need for housetraining material still doesn’t justify keeping the Los Angeles Times around. And that’s according to people who write there .

It’s difficult to be a good ally and repair our allegedly frayed ties with our international friends while preaching protectionism. (But isn’t Obama for free trade this week? It’s tough to keep up.)

The Democrats still haven’t kissed and made up. And people can’t get it through their heads that Obama has been entirely consistent. What’s wrong with everyone?

Obama has done such an effective job of double-talk on Iraq at least one prominent pundit is convinced he is going to Iraq so as not to change policy. Or is he (the pundit) joking?

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Iranian Missiles and Russian Threats

Today, Iran test fired nine missiles at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. General Hossein Salami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards indicated that the tests were a warning to the United States and Israel. “Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch,” he said, according to Tehran’s official IRNA news agency.

Salami’s tests came just a day after Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would use “military-technical methods” if America’s missile shield is deployed in Eastern Europe. The Bush administration response was mild. Said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe “We will continue to have a dialogue with the Russians on this matter as Presidents Bush and Medvedev reaffirmed this week in their meeting in Japan.”

A continuing “dialogue,” Mr. Johndroe? After years of talks with Moscow on this issue it’s time for the United States to end private conversations and to start issuing public declarations of our own. The first one should inform the Russians that we will defend our allies against all aggressors and will consider interference with our defenses as a grave act. Moscow needs to be reminded of American resolve because that is the critical element of deterrence.

The Russians, unfortunately, look like they are testing America’s will. The Foreign Ministry’s statement, after all, was not the first threat to use military force in connection with the proposed European missile defense system. The risk is that the White House’s indulgent attitude to the Russians, embodied by Johndroe’s weak words, has merely emboldened them. This, in turn, has apparently encouraged the Iranians to engage in aggressive actions, such as today’s missile tests and provocative language.

The surest way to end up in a war is to ignore military threats. The Russians have been issuing a series of aggressive statements, and we appear not to hear them. We obviously have forgotten important lessons from the last century.

Today, Iran test fired nine missiles at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. General Hossein Salami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards indicated that the tests were a warning to the United States and Israel. “Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch,” he said, according to Tehran’s official IRNA news agency.

Salami’s tests came just a day after Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would use “military-technical methods” if America’s missile shield is deployed in Eastern Europe. The Bush administration response was mild. Said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe “We will continue to have a dialogue with the Russians on this matter as Presidents Bush and Medvedev reaffirmed this week in their meeting in Japan.”

A continuing “dialogue,” Mr. Johndroe? After years of talks with Moscow on this issue it’s time for the United States to end private conversations and to start issuing public declarations of our own. The first one should inform the Russians that we will defend our allies against all aggressors and will consider interference with our defenses as a grave act. Moscow needs to be reminded of American resolve because that is the critical element of deterrence.

The Russians, unfortunately, look like they are testing America’s will. The Foreign Ministry’s statement, after all, was not the first threat to use military force in connection with the proposed European missile defense system. The risk is that the White House’s indulgent attitude to the Russians, embodied by Johndroe’s weak words, has merely emboldened them. This, in turn, has apparently encouraged the Iranians to engage in aggressive actions, such as today’s missile tests and provocative language.

The surest way to end up in a war is to ignore military threats. The Russians have been issuing a series of aggressive statements, and we appear not to hear them. We obviously have forgotten important lessons from the last century.

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Maliki’s Demands

How concerned should we be about demands emanating from the Maliki government for a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops? Unless something changes dramatically, the answer I would give is: not very.

That’s not because the situation in Iraq is so stable that we can pull out American forces without doing any damage. Despite recent gains in security, the situation remains fragile and U.S. forces will need to remain in Iraq for years to nurture this embattled democracy-and not so incidentally to protect our own interests in the region. The good news is that Prime Minister Maliki, along with every other major figure in Iraqi politics, understands this. But they also understand that the people of Iraq are impatient for the return of full sovereignty and for the departure of foreign troops from their soil.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

How concerned should we be about demands emanating from the Maliki government for a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops? Unless something changes dramatically, the answer I would give is: not very.

That’s not because the situation in Iraq is so stable that we can pull out American forces without doing any damage. Despite recent gains in security, the situation remains fragile and U.S. forces will need to remain in Iraq for years to nurture this embattled democracy-and not so incidentally to protect our own interests in the region. The good news is that Prime Minister Maliki, along with every other major figure in Iraqi politics, understands this. But they also understand that the people of Iraq are impatient for the return of full sovereignty and for the departure of foreign troops from their soil.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Immigration

Immigration reform gives some in the conservative base heart palpitations. But if the Republican primary showed anything, it was that opposition to comprehensive immigration reform is not a winner at the ballot box. (John McCain’s support for immigration reform may have made the difference in Florida where he carried the Hispanic vote.)

McCain at LULAC on Tuesday set out the same formula he did in the primary: he will pursue border security first, establish the government’s credibility to control the flow of illegal immigration and then work on a compromise for those who are here. He explained:

I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation to fix our broken borders; ensure respect for the laws of this country; recognize the important economic necessity of immigrant laborers; apprehend those who came here illegally to commit crimes; and deal practically and humanely with those who came here, as my distant ancestors did, to build a better, safer life for their families, without excusing the fact they came here illegally or granting them privileges before those who have been waiting their turn outside the country. Many Americans, with good cause, did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States. But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our responsibility to meet this challenge will end with that accomplishment. We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them.

That is a formulation which does not please many on the Right, but it has the benefit of making political sense, not offending a growing segment of the electorate, and potentially achieving more on the border security front than immigration opponents have gotten so far.

And if conservatives irked with McCain think they will fare just as well on this issue with Barack Obama, they should review some of Obama’s debate comments. He’s not thrilled with building a fence and he’s not inclined to deny any benefits, including drivers’ licenses, to illegal immigrants.

After surviving a near-political death experience over the issue in the primary, McCain is clearly trying to play up his credentials as a bipartisan leader who (unlike his essentially AWOL opponent who did the bidding of Big Labor) at least tried to solve a knotty issue. But then again, the Republican primary showed that for all the heat it generates, immigration reform is not a make or break issue for most voters. (And that may explain why a relatively small part of his LULAC speech was devoted to immigration.)

Immigration reform gives some in the conservative base heart palpitations. But if the Republican primary showed anything, it was that opposition to comprehensive immigration reform is not a winner at the ballot box. (John McCain’s support for immigration reform may have made the difference in Florida where he carried the Hispanic vote.)

McCain at LULAC on Tuesday set out the same formula he did in the primary: he will pursue border security first, establish the government’s credibility to control the flow of illegal immigration and then work on a compromise for those who are here. He explained:

I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation to fix our broken borders; ensure respect for the laws of this country; recognize the important economic necessity of immigrant laborers; apprehend those who came here illegally to commit crimes; and deal practically and humanely with those who came here, as my distant ancestors did, to build a better, safer life for their families, without excusing the fact they came here illegally or granting them privileges before those who have been waiting their turn outside the country. Many Americans, with good cause, did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States. But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our responsibility to meet this challenge will end with that accomplishment. We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them.

That is a formulation which does not please many on the Right, but it has the benefit of making political sense, not offending a growing segment of the electorate, and potentially achieving more on the border security front than immigration opponents have gotten so far.

And if conservatives irked with McCain think they will fare just as well on this issue with Barack Obama, they should review some of Obama’s debate comments. He’s not thrilled with building a fence and he’s not inclined to deny any benefits, including drivers’ licenses, to illegal immigrants.

After surviving a near-political death experience over the issue in the primary, McCain is clearly trying to play up his credentials as a bipartisan leader who (unlike his essentially AWOL opponent who did the bidding of Big Labor) at least tried to solve a knotty issue. But then again, the Republican primary showed that for all the heat it generates, immigration reform is not a make or break issue for most voters. (And that may explain why a relatively small part of his LULAC speech was devoted to immigration.)

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Re: I am NOT Changing My Mind

Here’s another flip-flop: the new Obama sounds tough on Iran. Quite a departure from his past opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, his willingness to meet unconditionally with Ahmadinejad and his pooh-poohing of Iran as a serious threat (before it became a grave threat). Hillary Clinton will be happy to learn that Obama now thinks tough talk on Iran is perfectly fine. On the Left, any indication of getting tough with Iran is suspected to be a war threat cooked up by the Israel-inspired neocons, so it is not surprising that Obama never sounded like this during the primary. It will be interested to see how his fans on the Left react to his newest positioning. Has he been duped by the Israel lobby?

One flip-flop I will not begrudge him: deciding not to repeat his daughters’ TV interview. We have quite enough use of children as props and since minors generally don’t act as policy advisors (Amy Carter excepted) there is no reason to put them in the campaign spotlight. Good for him.

Here’s another flip-flop: the new Obama sounds tough on Iran. Quite a departure from his past opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, his willingness to meet unconditionally with Ahmadinejad and his pooh-poohing of Iran as a serious threat (before it became a grave threat). Hillary Clinton will be happy to learn that Obama now thinks tough talk on Iran is perfectly fine. On the Left, any indication of getting tough with Iran is suspected to be a war threat cooked up by the Israel-inspired neocons, so it is not surprising that Obama never sounded like this during the primary. It will be interested to see how his fans on the Left react to his newest positioning. Has he been duped by the Israel lobby?

One flip-flop I will not begrudge him: deciding not to repeat his daughters’ TV interview. We have quite enough use of children as props and since minors generally don’t act as policy advisors (Amy Carter excepted) there is no reason to put them in the campaign spotlight. Good for him.

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The Jewish Vote

The Jerusalem Post cites a new Gallup report about the impact of religious faith on attitudes to the presidential candidates. One interesting fact, which you sort of have to dig to get to, is that American Jews haven’t liked a Republican as much as McCain in over two decades. Since the report divides everyone up between people who “see religion as important in their daily lives” and those who do not, and does not give us the overall total about the Jewish electorate, we will have to fill in the key details with a little guesswork.

According to the poll, Jews who do see religion as important make up 39 percent of the Jewish vote. Of these, 45 percent support McCain, and a similar number for Obama. Now, in the other category (which is no higher than 61 percent of Jews), Obama trounces McCain, 68 to 26 percent. So, if we take 45 percent of 39 and add it to 26 percent of 61, we arrive at the following figure: About 33 percent of Jews support McCain. Now, compare this with the 24 percent that Bush got of the Jewish vote in 2004, and you have an important indicator of where Jewish instincts are today compared with four years ago. And here’s another interesting fact: This is basically the same figure of Jewish support for McCain in the last Gallup report, published two months ago. Meaning: Nothing, not Hillary’s dropping out, not Reverend Wright, not Obama’s multiple press conferences on Iraq — none of these have changed Jews’ opinions of the candidates.

Is this because Jews are continuing their gradual shift to the right, or because McCain somehow appeals to them in a way that Bush could not? Or are they just more scared of Obama than they were of John Kerry? I’m interested in comments on this one.

The Jerusalem Post cites a new Gallup report about the impact of religious faith on attitudes to the presidential candidates. One interesting fact, which you sort of have to dig to get to, is that American Jews haven’t liked a Republican as much as McCain in over two decades. Since the report divides everyone up between people who “see religion as important in their daily lives” and those who do not, and does not give us the overall total about the Jewish electorate, we will have to fill in the key details with a little guesswork.

According to the poll, Jews who do see religion as important make up 39 percent of the Jewish vote. Of these, 45 percent support McCain, and a similar number for Obama. Now, in the other category (which is no higher than 61 percent of Jews), Obama trounces McCain, 68 to 26 percent. So, if we take 45 percent of 39 and add it to 26 percent of 61, we arrive at the following figure: About 33 percent of Jews support McCain. Now, compare this with the 24 percent that Bush got of the Jewish vote in 2004, and you have an important indicator of where Jewish instincts are today compared with four years ago. And here’s another interesting fact: This is basically the same figure of Jewish support for McCain in the last Gallup report, published two months ago. Meaning: Nothing, not Hillary’s dropping out, not Reverend Wright, not Obama’s multiple press conferences on Iraq — none of these have changed Jews’ opinions of the candidates.

Is this because Jews are continuing their gradual shift to the right, or because McCain somehow appeals to them in a way that Bush could not? Or are they just more scared of Obama than they were of John Kerry? I’m interested in comments on this one.

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In Case You Were Confused

Barack Obama has made an art form of straddling, contradicting himself, and evading the implications of his remarks on the Supreme Court and constitutional law. But now we have confirmation (if any was needed) from one of his key surrogates (and a potential VP pick), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, that none of that matters. As she says, “[I]t’s about who fills the federal bench.” Well, her honesty is refreshing.

On that score, we know that Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens are Obama’s ideal judges. And we know that he generally wants judges who will roam around the jurisprudential landscape seeking to impose their own personal morality and social views on the rest of us. Deference to elected representatives? Not so much.

So, following Governor Napolitano’s lead, we now can disregard just about everything Obama says on constitutional law. All we need to know is that the dissenters in the cases on partial birth abortion and the D.C. handgun ban will be the models for filling Supreme Court vacancies and the hundreds of lower court judgeships over the next four, and possibly eight years.

If you like those decisions and the legal reasoning behind them, you’ll be delighted by an Obama administration. His running dialogue about the type of decisions which he favors, intended to take the sharp edges off his extreme views, is meaningless. We have all been warned.

Barack Obama has made an art form of straddling, contradicting himself, and evading the implications of his remarks on the Supreme Court and constitutional law. But now we have confirmation (if any was needed) from one of his key surrogates (and a potential VP pick), Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, that none of that matters. As she says, “[I]t’s about who fills the federal bench.” Well, her honesty is refreshing.

On that score, we know that Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens are Obama’s ideal judges. And we know that he generally wants judges who will roam around the jurisprudential landscape seeking to impose their own personal morality and social views on the rest of us. Deference to elected representatives? Not so much.

So, following Governor Napolitano’s lead, we now can disregard just about everything Obama says on constitutional law. All we need to know is that the dissenters in the cases on partial birth abortion and the D.C. handgun ban will be the models for filling Supreme Court vacancies and the hundreds of lower court judgeships over the next four, and possibly eight years.

If you like those decisions and the legal reasoning behind them, you’ll be delighted by an Obama administration. His running dialogue about the type of decisions which he favors, intended to take the sharp edges off his extreme views, is meaningless. We have all been warned.

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9 Percent ??

When your approval rating is at 12 percent, you figure it can’t go any lower, right? Well, from the dizzying heights of 12 percent, Congress now clocks in with a 9 percent approval rating. Isn’t it time for John McCain to start running against Congress? (Compared to Congress, President George W. Bush is a political rock star.)

If Congressional Republicans had recruited candidates more effectively, had not lost their reputation for fiscal responsibility, and had an actual agenda, they might have an opening to make some gains. (After all, what have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid done with their majorities other than spend a ton of taxpayer money and lose a zillion votes on Iraq?) Ah, well.

UPDATE: one of my colleagues pointed to this, indicating the 9 percent approval rating may be open to debate. Nevertheless, even in comparison to last month’s Rasmussen’s rating (11 percent), Congress is declining in popularity. And even if we were to be generous and count “fair” ratings as “approval,” Congress would still trail President Bush’s polling numbers. So yes, the public is grumpy and McCain would do well to turn his sites on Obama’s Congressional allies, who will no doubt push him ever farther to the Left.

When your approval rating is at 12 percent, you figure it can’t go any lower, right? Well, from the dizzying heights of 12 percent, Congress now clocks in with a 9 percent approval rating. Isn’t it time for John McCain to start running against Congress? (Compared to Congress, President George W. Bush is a political rock star.)

If Congressional Republicans had recruited candidates more effectively, had not lost their reputation for fiscal responsibility, and had an actual agenda, they might have an opening to make some gains. (After all, what have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid done with their majorities other than spend a ton of taxpayer money and lose a zillion votes on Iraq?) Ah, well.

UPDATE: one of my colleagues pointed to this, indicating the 9 percent approval rating may be open to debate. Nevertheless, even in comparison to last month’s Rasmussen’s rating (11 percent), Congress is declining in popularity. And even if we were to be generous and count “fair” ratings as “approval,” Congress would still trail President Bush’s polling numbers. So yes, the public is grumpy and McCain would do well to turn his sites on Obama’s Congressional allies, who will no doubt push him ever farther to the Left.

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Not That Funny

The BBC’s most recent “Jerusalem Diary” brings its readers Maysoon Zayid, a self-described “Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, from New Jersey, who is an actress, comedian and activist.” (She is in Adam Sandler’s latest flick, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Admittedly, I have not seen the film.) When asked by Tim Franks, the column’s author, where comedy fits in to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she replied:

“I was dating a Lebanese Christian Riverdancer who was gay,” she replies. “And I didn’t know it and I was very upset and I’d tell my friends and they’d crack up, and eventually I would crack up too.”

She believes there is an analogy: “Palestine-Israel is such a ludicrous issue.”

Her point is that the conflict is played out with the sophisticated paraphernalia of the developed world, and yet “everyone approaches it in such an illogical way that it’s almost clown-like.”

Maysoon says that it is not just that the issue can be comedic, but that comedy itself can exert a power. “If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won’t kill you.”

If the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be reduced to incompatibility between a gay “Lebanese Christian Riverdancer” and a “Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, from New Jersey, who is an actress, comedian and activist,” then who is whom? But even Zayid doesn’t take this loose analogy too seriously, at least if this bit from a past routine is to be viewed as congruent with the BBC’s breakdown of her philosophy:

I’ve spent my life trying to think something funny to say about Ariel Sharon. But I just can’t, because he’s such a f***. I just want his cholesterol to kick in and kill him. And I have this like really huge debate with myself, because, like, I find it really hard that I am not allowed to like murder people that need to be killed. And I’ve always thought to myself like if I was going to kill someone, I could only kill one person, who would it be? And I have this internal turmoil of choosing between Sharon and Britney Spears. And I can’t figure out what that says about me.

With humor like this who needs sorrow?

The BBC’s most recent “Jerusalem Diary” brings its readers Maysoon Zayid, a self-described “Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, from New Jersey, who is an actress, comedian and activist.” (She is in Adam Sandler’s latest flick, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Admittedly, I have not seen the film.) When asked by Tim Franks, the column’s author, where comedy fits in to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she replied:

“I was dating a Lebanese Christian Riverdancer who was gay,” she replies. “And I didn’t know it and I was very upset and I’d tell my friends and they’d crack up, and eventually I would crack up too.”

She believes there is an analogy: “Palestine-Israel is such a ludicrous issue.”

Her point is that the conflict is played out with the sophisticated paraphernalia of the developed world, and yet “everyone approaches it in such an illogical way that it’s almost clown-like.”

Maysoon says that it is not just that the issue can be comedic, but that comedy itself can exert a power. “If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won’t kill you.”

If the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be reduced to incompatibility between a gay “Lebanese Christian Riverdancer” and a “Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, from New Jersey, who is an actress, comedian and activist,” then who is whom? But even Zayid doesn’t take this loose analogy too seriously, at least if this bit from a past routine is to be viewed as congruent with the BBC’s breakdown of her philosophy:

I’ve spent my life trying to think something funny to say about Ariel Sharon. But I just can’t, because he’s such a f***. I just want his cholesterol to kick in and kill him. And I have this like really huge debate with myself, because, like, I find it really hard that I am not allowed to like murder people that need to be killed. And I’ve always thought to myself like if I was going to kill someone, I could only kill one person, who would it be? And I have this internal turmoil of choosing between Sharon and Britney Spears. And I can’t figure out what that says about me.

With humor like this who needs sorrow?

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