Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 15, 2008

Jerusalem and Realism

Earlier today on Contentions, my colleague Eric Trager referred to Barack Obama’s  “June 4th AIPAC address, in which he declared that Jerusalem ‘must remain undivided.’ Clearly, this was a bone-headed remark: an ‘undivided’ Jerusalem is mutually exclusive with every realistic conception of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and it’s an issue that U.S. Presidents — let alone presidential candidates — have no business prejudging anyway.”

In the first place, U.S. presidents prejudge a great many things; that is what happens during campaign season, when candidates make promises and guarantees and inform the country what their positions are on the matters they are going to have to deal with as president. It was remarkable that Obama mentioned an “undivided Jerusalem” in his AIPAC speech — a clear sop to hawkish supporters of Israel — precisely because his general approach on foreign policy indicated he leaned in a different direction. And later that day, when he began to squirm away from what he had said, Obama demonstrated that he had only been whispering sweet nothings in the ears of American Jews whose support he found it necessary to seek more ardently because of some of the Jeremiah Wright comments.

In the second place, the assertion that any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians will require the re-division of Jerusalem is to suggest that the only “realistic” way for there to be a peace deal is for Israel to surrender a central tenet of Zionism in order to satisfy Palestinian irridentism. That is, to say the least, an arguable assertion, Eric.

Earlier today on Contentions, my colleague Eric Trager referred to Barack Obama’s  “June 4th AIPAC address, in which he declared that Jerusalem ‘must remain undivided.’ Clearly, this was a bone-headed remark: an ‘undivided’ Jerusalem is mutually exclusive with every realistic conception of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and it’s an issue that U.S. Presidents — let alone presidential candidates — have no business prejudging anyway.”

In the first place, U.S. presidents prejudge a great many things; that is what happens during campaign season, when candidates make promises and guarantees and inform the country what their positions are on the matters they are going to have to deal with as president. It was remarkable that Obama mentioned an “undivided Jerusalem” in his AIPAC speech — a clear sop to hawkish supporters of Israel — precisely because his general approach on foreign policy indicated he leaned in a different direction. And later that day, when he began to squirm away from what he had said, Obama demonstrated that he had only been whispering sweet nothings in the ears of American Jews whose support he found it necessary to seek more ardently because of some of the Jeremiah Wright comments.

In the second place, the assertion that any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians will require the re-division of Jerusalem is to suggest that the only “realistic” way for there to be a peace deal is for Israel to surrender a central tenet of Zionism in order to satisfy Palestinian irridentism. That is, to say the least, an arguable assertion, Eric.

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We Need the Freedom Legion

Are we Americans too chauvinistic to learn a thing or two from the French? I hope not, because in 1831 France had a great idea. It’s called the Foreign Legion, and, as Molly Moore reports in the Washington Post, it is still going strong. Today the Legion has 7,655 members, making it about the size of two U.S. army brigades. Its personnel come from 136 countries.

The ability to recruit so widely is a direct result of the Internet. “Once an almost exclusively European force,” Moore writes, “the Legion now counts Asians and Latin Americans among its fastest-growing cadres of soldiers. Although French law forbids the Legion to actively recruit beyond French borders, the Internet has rendered the law almost meaningless.”

But even as the face of the Legion has changed, its legendary esprit de corps remains unchanged. Its polyglot soldiers are bound together by the French language and by a shared desire to run away from their former lives. They have proven extraordinarily useful to France in the past, and remain so today. As Moore notes: “Legionnaires serve in Afghanistan, Chad and Ivory Coast with regular French military forces. They were deployed with U.S. military forces in Somalia in 1992 and have been part of peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Rwanda and Cambodia. They also took part in relief efforts in South Asia after the December 2004 tsunami.”

Why is this an example to learn from? Because, as I’ve argued in the past, we should be setting up our own Foreign Legion, which I’ve suggested should be called the Freedom Legion. Given the recruiting difficulties suffered in recent years by the army this would seem like a no-brainer. Why not hire gung-ho recruits from around the world? If the French can do it, we certainly could, and our task would be easier because a lot more potential recruits speak English than speak French.

Whenever I’ve made this proposal in the past, various objections have been raised, along the lines of, “How dare you suggest employing mercenaries”? Leave aside the fact that we have employed lots of mercenaries in the past and still do today (they’re called security contractors). Leave aside, too, that a much higher percentage of the U.S. armed forces were composed of foreigners in the 19th century. What I have never understand is why raising foreign forces would harm the United States when it hasn’t harmed France. When the benefits of global recruiting are so clear, and the harms so conjectural, it is hard to see why we still hold off.

Are we Americans too chauvinistic to learn a thing or two from the French? I hope not, because in 1831 France had a great idea. It’s called the Foreign Legion, and, as Molly Moore reports in the Washington Post, it is still going strong. Today the Legion has 7,655 members, making it about the size of two U.S. army brigades. Its personnel come from 136 countries.

The ability to recruit so widely is a direct result of the Internet. “Once an almost exclusively European force,” Moore writes, “the Legion now counts Asians and Latin Americans among its fastest-growing cadres of soldiers. Although French law forbids the Legion to actively recruit beyond French borders, the Internet has rendered the law almost meaningless.”

But even as the face of the Legion has changed, its legendary esprit de corps remains unchanged. Its polyglot soldiers are bound together by the French language and by a shared desire to run away from their former lives. They have proven extraordinarily useful to France in the past, and remain so today. As Moore notes: “Legionnaires serve in Afghanistan, Chad and Ivory Coast with regular French military forces. They were deployed with U.S. military forces in Somalia in 1992 and have been part of peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Rwanda and Cambodia. They also took part in relief efforts in South Asia after the December 2004 tsunami.”

Why is this an example to learn from? Because, as I’ve argued in the past, we should be setting up our own Foreign Legion, which I’ve suggested should be called the Freedom Legion. Given the recruiting difficulties suffered in recent years by the army this would seem like a no-brainer. Why not hire gung-ho recruits from around the world? If the French can do it, we certainly could, and our task would be easier because a lot more potential recruits speak English than speak French.

Whenever I’ve made this proposal in the past, various objections have been raised, along the lines of, “How dare you suggest employing mercenaries”? Leave aside the fact that we have employed lots of mercenaries in the past and still do today (they’re called security contractors). Leave aside, too, that a much higher percentage of the U.S. armed forces were composed of foreigners in the 19th century. What I have never understand is why raising foreign forces would harm the United States when it hasn’t harmed France. When the benefits of global recruiting are so clear, and the harms so conjectural, it is hard to see why we still hold off.

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Obama’s Pitiful Pakistan Plan

Here is Barack Obama on how he’ll deal with Pakistan’s lack of earnestness in helping us fight terrorism:

And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

But as usual, Obama doesn’t make anything clear. We already have Pakistan’s okay to take out high-level targets in the tribal region with predator drones, but do not have their okay to hunt down or take out targets using actual American troops. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently said

Our government’s policy is that our troops, paramilitary forces and our regular forces are deployed in sufficient numbers. They are capable of taking action there. And any foreign intrusion would be counterproductive. People will not accept it. Questions of sovereignty come in.

And handling such questions is more complicated than merely “mak[ing] it clear,” especially considering the suspicion Obama has already inspired among Pakistanis with his clumsily phrased vow to attack targets on Pakistani soil without permission from Islamabad. So: what’s Obama’s plan to get Pakistan on board with “foreign intrusion”?

It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Where in that region has humanitarian aid ever yielded military cooperation? For decades the U.S. has been the Palestinians’ chief benefactor and for decades we’ve been funding an enemy regime. Egypt, another massive recipient of American aid, has produced all that goodwill in Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the fiscal year 2001, the U.S. gave Afghanistan $117,869,525 in aid, and what happened after September 11? They protected their low-rent sponsor Osama bin Laden and told us to take a hike. Obama’s proposal is rehashed root-cause blather. He has no viable Pakistan plan.

Here is Barack Obama on how he’ll deal with Pakistan’s lack of earnestness in helping us fight terrorism:

And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

But as usual, Obama doesn’t make anything clear. We already have Pakistan’s okay to take out high-level targets in the tribal region with predator drones, but do not have their okay to hunt down or take out targets using actual American troops. Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently said

Our government’s policy is that our troops, paramilitary forces and our regular forces are deployed in sufficient numbers. They are capable of taking action there. And any foreign intrusion would be counterproductive. People will not accept it. Questions of sovereignty come in.

And handling such questions is more complicated than merely “mak[ing] it clear,” especially considering the suspicion Obama has already inspired among Pakistanis with his clumsily phrased vow to attack targets on Pakistani soil without permission from Islamabad. So: what’s Obama’s plan to get Pakistan on board with “foreign intrusion”?

It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Where in that region has humanitarian aid ever yielded military cooperation? For decades the U.S. has been the Palestinians’ chief benefactor and for decades we’ve been funding an enemy regime. Egypt, another massive recipient of American aid, has produced all that goodwill in Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the fiscal year 2001, the U.S. gave Afghanistan $117,869,525 in aid, and what happened after September 11? They protected their low-rent sponsor Osama bin Laden and told us to take a hike. Obama’s proposal is rehashed root-cause blather. He has no viable Pakistan plan.

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You Know How Ahamdinejad Loves U.S. Diplomats . . .

Madeleine Albright’s former spokesman, Jamie Rubin, just had an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to open an interests section in Tehran even if we’re not yet ready to reestablish full diplomatic relations. Rumor has it that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in favor of doing precisely that.

I can see the logic of such a move: If we have an interests section in Havana, why not in Tehran? Especially when Iran already has an interests section in Washington. Establishing our own diplomatic outpost in Iran would, at the very least, enhance our understanding of Iran and possibly even make it easier to undermine the regime.

But is now the right time to make such a move? The U.S. is pressing hard on its allies to impose sanctions on Iran to prevent the mullahs from acquiring the bomb. The regime is pressing back against American isolation and the threat of Israeli military action by firing missiles in a very public display of saber-rattling. It is also, of course, sending munitions to Iraq, which are blowing up American service personnel. And it continues to arm Hezbollah and Hamas in their struggle against our democratic allies in Lebanon and Israel.

What message would we send if we were to suddenly open up a diplomatic outpost in Tehran? Many in the Iranian government would get the idea–perhaps correctly–that our resolve was cracking and that American hopes of mobilizing an international coalition against Iran were fading.

Moreover, sending U.S. diplomats to Tehran would be creating hostages to fortune. Who can ever forget the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and the damage it did? And who can ever doubt that the current Iranian regime, which is exactly the same regime that presided over the barbaric seizure of our personnel during the Carter administration, is capable of such acts in the future? Our Foreign Service personnel could be in distinct danger especially if at some point the U.S. or Israel decide to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At the very least, if they were withdrawn before such a strike, that would be a valuable tip-off to the Iranians that could forfeit the element of surprise.

So while I am sympathetic to the arguments for opening an interests section in Tehran I am not convinced that now is the right moment.

Madeleine Albright’s former spokesman, Jamie Rubin, just had an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that it would be a good idea for the U.S. to open an interests section in Tehran even if we’re not yet ready to reestablish full diplomatic relations. Rumor has it that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in favor of doing precisely that.

I can see the logic of such a move: If we have an interests section in Havana, why not in Tehran? Especially when Iran already has an interests section in Washington. Establishing our own diplomatic outpost in Iran would, at the very least, enhance our understanding of Iran and possibly even make it easier to undermine the regime.

But is now the right time to make such a move? The U.S. is pressing hard on its allies to impose sanctions on Iran to prevent the mullahs from acquiring the bomb. The regime is pressing back against American isolation and the threat of Israeli military action by firing missiles in a very public display of saber-rattling. It is also, of course, sending munitions to Iraq, which are blowing up American service personnel. And it continues to arm Hezbollah and Hamas in their struggle against our democratic allies in Lebanon and Israel.

What message would we send if we were to suddenly open up a diplomatic outpost in Tehran? Many in the Iranian government would get the idea–perhaps correctly–that our resolve was cracking and that American hopes of mobilizing an international coalition against Iran were fading.

Moreover, sending U.S. diplomats to Tehran would be creating hostages to fortune. Who can ever forget the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and the damage it did? And who can ever doubt that the current Iranian regime, which is exactly the same regime that presided over the barbaric seizure of our personnel during the Carter administration, is capable of such acts in the future? Our Foreign Service personnel could be in distinct danger especially if at some point the U.S. or Israel decide to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At the very least, if they were withdrawn before such a strike, that would be a valuable tip-off to the Iranians that could forfeit the element of surprise.

So while I am sympathetic to the arguments for opening an interests section in Tehran I am not convinced that now is the right moment.

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One More Reason

Senator Joe Lieberman and the Democratic party seem to be edging closer to blows. Whether they will have a parting of the ways remains to be seen. But in a speech today at the U.S. Center for Global Engagement conference Joe Lieberman didn’t mince words. After reminding the audience about the bitter Congressional fights over the surge, Lieberman went on to remark:

On the other side were those like Senator McCain who argued that—in an interdependent world—we had a moral responsibility not to abandon the Iraqi people, that the violence we were seeing was being perpetrated by identifiable enemies of Iraqis and ours against identifiable human victims, that the bloodshed could be stopped, and the war could be won.

Fortunately for all of us, it is now clear: Senator McCain and others who shared his view were right, and Senator Obama and those who agreed with him were wrong.

I wish Senator Obama would just say that the surge is working, rather than changing his positions on how and when we should exit Iraq without acknowledging that these changes in position are understandably based on facts on the ground.

Aside from the power of those words, the speech is telling for another reason. The fact is that there is virtually no one in the Democratic party leadership who acted differently than Obama did. And there is not a single Democrat who has come forward to say without reservation the surge is working and affirm the need to change the party’s stance on Iraq. It is a source of dismay for those who still hold out hope for a reformed Scoop Jackson Democratic party (or even such a faction within the Democratic party).

Senator Joe Lieberman and the Democratic party seem to be edging closer to blows. Whether they will have a parting of the ways remains to be seen. But in a speech today at the U.S. Center for Global Engagement conference Joe Lieberman didn’t mince words. After reminding the audience about the bitter Congressional fights over the surge, Lieberman went on to remark:

On the other side were those like Senator McCain who argued that—in an interdependent world—we had a moral responsibility not to abandon the Iraqi people, that the violence we were seeing was being perpetrated by identifiable enemies of Iraqis and ours against identifiable human victims, that the bloodshed could be stopped, and the war could be won.

Fortunately for all of us, it is now clear: Senator McCain and others who shared his view were right, and Senator Obama and those who agreed with him were wrong.

I wish Senator Obama would just say that the surge is working, rather than changing his positions on how and when we should exit Iraq without acknowledging that these changes in position are understandably based on facts on the ground.

Aside from the power of those words, the speech is telling for another reason. The fact is that there is virtually no one in the Democratic party leadership who acted differently than Obama did. And there is not a single Democrat who has come forward to say without reservation the surge is working and affirm the need to change the party’s stance on Iraq. It is a source of dismay for those who still hold out hope for a reformed Scoop Jackson Democratic party (or even such a faction within the Democratic party).

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I Thought the Campaign Theme Was Change …

During the Jeremiah Wright controversy, Barack Obama developed an excellent strategy for pushing his campaign forward despite it. First, he let the issue fester for a good while, allowing cable news networks, print media, and the blogosphere to probe virtually every possible angle of the issue ad nauseam. Then, the campaign arranged a landmark event — Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia — which promised to address the issue head-on, but was ultimately jam-packed with obfuscations. Finally, the debate shifted away from the controversy and towards Obama’s performance. In this vein, reruns of a screaming preacher suddenly gave way to images of an eloquent contender, and the issue was mostly put to rest.

Well, it looks like the campaign is attempting a similar strategy in the aftermath of Obama’s June 4th AIPAC address, in which he declared that Jerusalem “must remain undivided.” Clearly, this was a bone-headed remark: an “undivided” Jerusalem is mutually exclusive with every realistic conception of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and it’s an issue that U.S. Presidents — let alone presidential candidates — have no business prejudging anyway.

But Obama’s meek backtracking on Jerusalem only raised new questions regarding his depth on foreign policy issues, forcing the campaign to announce another concern-allaying landmark event. In turn, the candidate will visit Israel and the West Bank this coming week. According to reports, the bid to make Obama look like a statesman will include photo-ops with the full roster of A-list Israeli and Palestinian political leaders (though a Middle East Money Shot is probably out of the question).

However, far from allaying concerns regarding Obama’s Middle Eastern bona fides, this trip should only exacerbate them. After all, Obama is merely embarking on the exact same adventure that President Bush has undertaken twice this year, and which Condoleezza Rice has braved twelve times since the beginning of 2007 alone — to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Indeed, Obama’s meetings with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas will only confirm the impression that he has learned nothing from recent Middle Eastern history, and is prepared to waste more diplomatic resources on two parties that are, at best, negligibly committed to executing what a peace agreement would require.

In an area where U.S. foreign policy could really use a change, the “agent of change” is coming up pathetically short.

During the Jeremiah Wright controversy, Barack Obama developed an excellent strategy for pushing his campaign forward despite it. First, he let the issue fester for a good while, allowing cable news networks, print media, and the blogosphere to probe virtually every possible angle of the issue ad nauseam. Then, the campaign arranged a landmark event — Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia — which promised to address the issue head-on, but was ultimately jam-packed with obfuscations. Finally, the debate shifted away from the controversy and towards Obama’s performance. In this vein, reruns of a screaming preacher suddenly gave way to images of an eloquent contender, and the issue was mostly put to rest.

Well, it looks like the campaign is attempting a similar strategy in the aftermath of Obama’s June 4th AIPAC address, in which he declared that Jerusalem “must remain undivided.” Clearly, this was a bone-headed remark: an “undivided” Jerusalem is mutually exclusive with every realistic conception of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and it’s an issue that U.S. Presidents — let alone presidential candidates — have no business prejudging anyway.

But Obama’s meek backtracking on Jerusalem only raised new questions regarding his depth on foreign policy issues, forcing the campaign to announce another concern-allaying landmark event. In turn, the candidate will visit Israel and the West Bank this coming week. According to reports, the bid to make Obama look like a statesman will include photo-ops with the full roster of A-list Israeli and Palestinian political leaders (though a Middle East Money Shot is probably out of the question).

However, far from allaying concerns regarding Obama’s Middle Eastern bona fides, this trip should only exacerbate them. After all, Obama is merely embarking on the exact same adventure that President Bush has undertaken twice this year, and which Condoleezza Rice has braved twelve times since the beginning of 2007 alone — to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Indeed, Obama’s meetings with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas will only confirm the impression that he has learned nothing from recent Middle Eastern history, and is prepared to waste more diplomatic resources on two parties that are, at best, negligibly committed to executing what a peace agreement would require.

In an area where U.S. foreign policy could really use a change, the “agent of change” is coming up pathetically short.

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What They Are Saying

Barack Obama’s travel partner lets on that his Iraq trip is about “details” and not a rethinking of strategy. What is clear is that there is scant mention of winning, victory(except that which equates to our exit) or achievements coming from Iraq in Obama’s refined, revised, but not so-different vision. He is fixated on “ending” the war, not on securing any gains. (Does he not realize that our presence was and will be essential to obtaining a vastly changed Iraq, both in the political and military realm? His take on the current political scene there suggests not.)

John McCain blasted back (and put some meat on the bones on his Afghanistan policy). The entire speech is here. His main message is: “Senator Obama will tell you we can’t win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.” Obama’s shifts, evasion, defensiveness and airbrushing of past positions have not gone unnoticed. From Jake Tapper:

Weeks ago, after Obama said he would be willing to listen to commanders in the ground to “refine” his policy, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Republicans said Obama was flip-flopping. Then after Obama clarified that he is sticking by his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, McCain and Republicans painted him as an intransigent partisan whose pending trip to Iraq is nothing more than a photo op. . . The success of the surge, combined with some posturing by McCain, have seemed to put Obama on the defensive, as evidenced by edits Obama’s campaign staff made to language on his campaign website decrying the surge as a failure, as well as a speech Obama delivered today in which he explained why this success doesn’t change his view of needing to withdraw U.S. forces in that country. . . What Obama did not mention today was that the surge had succeeded in ways he did not think it would.

For a moment there, it did look like Obama was finally, albeit belatedly, going stand up to the netroots and use the success of the surge to commit himself to victory in both fronts — both Iraq and Afghanistan. But that seems unlikely at this stage. If all he is going to learn from Iraq is how the details of his fixed timetable retreat are to be worked out, it hardly seems worth the trip.

Barack Obama’s travel partner lets on that his Iraq trip is about “details” and not a rethinking of strategy. What is clear is that there is scant mention of winning, victory(except that which equates to our exit) or achievements coming from Iraq in Obama’s refined, revised, but not so-different vision. He is fixated on “ending” the war, not on securing any gains. (Does he not realize that our presence was and will be essential to obtaining a vastly changed Iraq, both in the political and military realm? His take on the current political scene there suggests not.)

John McCain blasted back (and put some meat on the bones on his Afghanistan policy). The entire speech is here. His main message is: “Senator Obama will tell you we can’t win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.” Obama’s shifts, evasion, defensiveness and airbrushing of past positions have not gone unnoticed. From Jake Tapper:

Weeks ago, after Obama said he would be willing to listen to commanders in the ground to “refine” his policy, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Republicans said Obama was flip-flopping. Then after Obama clarified that he is sticking by his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, McCain and Republicans painted him as an intransigent partisan whose pending trip to Iraq is nothing more than a photo op. . . The success of the surge, combined with some posturing by McCain, have seemed to put Obama on the defensive, as evidenced by edits Obama’s campaign staff made to language on his campaign website decrying the surge as a failure, as well as a speech Obama delivered today in which he explained why this success doesn’t change his view of needing to withdraw U.S. forces in that country. . . What Obama did not mention today was that the surge had succeeded in ways he did not think it would.

For a moment there, it did look like Obama was finally, albeit belatedly, going stand up to the netroots and use the success of the surge to commit himself to victory in both fronts — both Iraq and Afghanistan. But that seems unlikely at this stage. If all he is going to learn from Iraq is how the details of his fixed timetable retreat are to be worked out, it hardly seems worth the trip.

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Time for a Post-Failure Iran Policy

In Today’s Wall Street Journal, John Bolton explains why economic sanctions will not persuade Tehran to abandon their nuclear ambitions:

Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran’s real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.

In other words, the fundamental diplomatic tool being applied to Tehran is fundamentally broken. We cannot take away from Iran what they do not have. The economic disaster engendered by the Khomeini revolution is more staggering than most people realize. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, forty percent of Iranians live below the poverty level. Oil production has fallen by at least a third since the revolution and any profits are shared only within the regime. According to Iran Focus, the country’s inflation rate is rising ten times faster than its national growth, and the average price of household goods has increased by twenty percent in the last year.

Moreover, the mullahs aren’t terribly concerned with the viability of Iran as a state at all. In the words of the revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

Yet, here we are. Broken sticks, no carrots left. As Bolton says,

Thus, instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran.

We need to start hearing from our candidates on this question.

In Today’s Wall Street Journal, John Bolton explains why economic sanctions will not persuade Tehran to abandon their nuclear ambitions:

Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran’s real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.

In other words, the fundamental diplomatic tool being applied to Tehran is fundamentally broken. We cannot take away from Iran what they do not have. The economic disaster engendered by the Khomeini revolution is more staggering than most people realize. According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, forty percent of Iranians live below the poverty level. Oil production has fallen by at least a third since the revolution and any profits are shared only within the regime. According to Iran Focus, the country’s inflation rate is rising ten times faster than its national growth, and the average price of household goods has increased by twenty percent in the last year.

Moreover, the mullahs aren’t terribly concerned with the viability of Iran as a state at all. In the words of the revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

Yet, here we are. Broken sticks, no carrots left. As Bolton says,

Thus, instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran.

We need to start hearing from our candidates on this question.

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Just the Facts (or Not)

There is something eerie about Barack Obama’s approach to the world: a defiance about facts and a belief that you can simply rewrite history and your own actions without anyone daring to mention it. We see this on a daily basis with Obama. It is one thing to assert that Iraq was not ground zero in the war against Al Qaeda when the war begun, but now? What about the facts — the battles in Mosul, killing of tens of thousands of Al Qaeda fighters, the psychological and practical damage done to Al Qaeda’s infrastructure? Does he not know or does he choose not to know?

Then there are his own comments and positions. These too can apparently be willed away. The old Obama is being purged. Can you imagine if he had used all these new caveats and conditional phrases during the primary campaign? He’d never have made it around Hillary Clinton’s left flank. It is one thing to change your mind and another to try to erase the memory of your former persona and positions.

At bottom, Obama appears to be weaving, grasping and ultimately making up his his own facts to avoid a tough predicament: offending his base. But given the choice between defending your country’s interests and taking on the extremists in your own party (who will likely vote for you anyway), it is surprising that the choice would prove to be so hard.

There is something eerie about Barack Obama’s approach to the world: a defiance about facts and a belief that you can simply rewrite history and your own actions without anyone daring to mention it. We see this on a daily basis with Obama. It is one thing to assert that Iraq was not ground zero in the war against Al Qaeda when the war begun, but now? What about the facts — the battles in Mosul, killing of tens of thousands of Al Qaeda fighters, the psychological and practical damage done to Al Qaeda’s infrastructure? Does he not know or does he choose not to know?

Then there are his own comments and positions. These too can apparently be willed away. The old Obama is being purged. Can you imagine if he had used all these new caveats and conditional phrases during the primary campaign? He’d never have made it around Hillary Clinton’s left flank. It is one thing to change your mind and another to try to erase the memory of your former persona and positions.

At bottom, Obama appears to be weaving, grasping and ultimately making up his his own facts to avoid a tough predicament: offending his base. But given the choice between defending your country’s interests and taking on the extremists in your own party (who will likely vote for you anyway), it is surprising that the choice would prove to be so hard.

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Tim McGirk, Jerk

Tim McGirk is Time magazine’s Jerusalem-based scribbler, and he posts frequently on Time‘s Middle East blog. McGirk is one of those correspondents — I believe it is a requirement for employment at Time — who voluptuously explores every nuance of Palestinian victimhood, real or imagined, and for the most part finds in Israeli society only brutality and deceit. His post today is a fine example.

Tony Blair was hoping to visit Gaza as part of his pointless, narcissistic adventure as ad hoc Arab-Israeli peacemaker. Until, that is, the Israelis notified him that they were in possession of specific intelligence about a planned assassination. Blair canceled his visit. McGirk’s response?

So what was the “specific security threat” that kept Tony Blair out of Gaza today? … Let’s see…who didn’t want Blair going to Gaza? The Israelis can’t have been too enthused about his visit; any visitor is struck by the devastation and poverty of the besieged enclave. … It was the Israelis, Time was told, who warned Blair’s delegation to cancel the trip because of the vague and all-encompassing term “security threat”. … A Hamas spokesman said it knew of no security threat to the ex-prime minister and blamed “Israel and other parties” who didn’t want Blair to witness “the catastrophe of the siege on Gaza”.

I’ll bet that Blair won’t be knocking at the gates of Gaza any time soon, no matter if the threat is real or invented.

Don’t you see? The Israelis, hoping to cover up their crimes, invented a “security threat” — they lied, in other words — to prevent Blair from going to Gaza and drawing attention to the “catastrophe” for which Israel is responsible. McGirk’s evidence of this? Literally none.

Tim McGirk is Time magazine’s Jerusalem-based scribbler, and he posts frequently on Time‘s Middle East blog. McGirk is one of those correspondents — I believe it is a requirement for employment at Time — who voluptuously explores every nuance of Palestinian victimhood, real or imagined, and for the most part finds in Israeli society only brutality and deceit. His post today is a fine example.

Tony Blair was hoping to visit Gaza as part of his pointless, narcissistic adventure as ad hoc Arab-Israeli peacemaker. Until, that is, the Israelis notified him that they were in possession of specific intelligence about a planned assassination. Blair canceled his visit. McGirk’s response?

So what was the “specific security threat” that kept Tony Blair out of Gaza today? … Let’s see…who didn’t want Blair going to Gaza? The Israelis can’t have been too enthused about his visit; any visitor is struck by the devastation and poverty of the besieged enclave. … It was the Israelis, Time was told, who warned Blair’s delegation to cancel the trip because of the vague and all-encompassing term “security threat”. … A Hamas spokesman said it knew of no security threat to the ex-prime minister and blamed “Israel and other parties” who didn’t want Blair to witness “the catastrophe of the siege on Gaza”.

I’ll bet that Blair won’t be knocking at the gates of Gaza any time soon, no matter if the threat is real or invented.

Don’t you see? The Israelis, hoping to cover up their crimes, invented a “security threat” — they lied, in other words — to prevent Blair from going to Gaza and drawing attention to the “catastrophe” for which Israel is responsible. McGirk’s evidence of this? Literally none.

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Rapid Response Run Amok

It has become axiomatic among liberals and on the Left that Democrats are somehow just too nice to win presidential races — that they get slimed and don’t slime back, that they get attacked and don’t counterattack, etc. They believe in ideas, you see, in calm persuasion, not in demagoguery, and therefore do not deign to stage a mud-wrestling match in the fever swamps. It was said of Michael Dukakis, it was said of Al Gore, and it was said of John Kerry. They were all just too high-minded to allow themselves not to be “swift-boated.”

This has become such conventional wisdom that liberal organizations and Democratic campaigns now raise fortunes of money by promising they will use the funds to go after and counter the “Republican attack machine” and to blow the whistle on Republican malfeasance as aggressively as Republicans have blown the whistle on them. The most sophisticated and most far-reaching effort in this regard is being staged by the Obama campaign, which has shown some deftness in pouncing on McCain campaign gaffes like Phil Gramm’s astoundingly ill-conceived peroration on the psychological aspects of the nation’s economic woes and the “whiners” who are upset because they have to pay $4.50 for a gallon of gas they paid $1.50 a year ago.

The problem with rapid response is precisely that it is rapid, and therefore might be hasty and ill-considered. That is clearly the case with the Obama camp’s amazingly dumb tantrum regarding the New Yorker cover — a magazine friendly to Obama whose illustration was clearly intended to be a parody of anti-Obama feeling on the Right. Three seconds of thought might have led the campaign to reconsider its decision to denounce the illustration. Six seconds of thought might have led the campaign to see the illustration as an opportunity, to say, “The New Yorker has brilliantly encapsulated the evil right-wing campaign against Barack and Michelle Obama, a campaign that must not be allowed to gain purchase in the American psyche.”

Had that been the response, an entire day on cable news would not have been spent on the illustration — it would instead have been a very minor story that would have been spun not as “is Obama a Muslim flag-burner” but rather as “Is the Right-Wing attack machine going too far yet again?”  Obama has now made certain that millions of people who never would have seen the New Yorker cover now have, and many of those people will take it literally. It’s a rapid response backfire.

Not to mention that it makes the Obama campaign look considerably less cool — and cool is a key element of the Obama magic. Andy Borowitz sums it up hilariously in a new Borowitz Report:

Obama Releases List of Approved Jokes About Himself
Bid to Help Late Night Comics

Saying he is “sympathetic to late night comedians’ struggle to find jokes to make about me,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes.

The five jokes, which Sen. Obama said he is making available to all comedians free of charge, are as follows:

Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, “You know, we don’t get many kangaroos here.” Barack Obama replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised. That’s why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, “I was expecting the farmer’s daughter.” Barack Obama replies, “She’s not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American Dream.”

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” Barack Obama replies, “His jockey just lost his health insurance, which should be the right of all Americans.”

Q: What’s black and white and red all over?
Barack Obama: The New Yorker magazine, which should be embarrassed after publishing such a tasteless and offensive cover, which I reject and denounce.

A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, “This joke isn’t going to work because there’s no Muslim in this boat.”

Maybe the Obama rapid-response team should consider taking a short vacation. And Obama too. I noted during the primary season that the man never smiles. Now it may come to seem that he never laughs.

It has become axiomatic among liberals and on the Left that Democrats are somehow just too nice to win presidential races — that they get slimed and don’t slime back, that they get attacked and don’t counterattack, etc. They believe in ideas, you see, in calm persuasion, not in demagoguery, and therefore do not deign to stage a mud-wrestling match in the fever swamps. It was said of Michael Dukakis, it was said of Al Gore, and it was said of John Kerry. They were all just too high-minded to allow themselves not to be “swift-boated.”

This has become such conventional wisdom that liberal organizations and Democratic campaigns now raise fortunes of money by promising they will use the funds to go after and counter the “Republican attack machine” and to blow the whistle on Republican malfeasance as aggressively as Republicans have blown the whistle on them. The most sophisticated and most far-reaching effort in this regard is being staged by the Obama campaign, which has shown some deftness in pouncing on McCain campaign gaffes like Phil Gramm’s astoundingly ill-conceived peroration on the psychological aspects of the nation’s economic woes and the “whiners” who are upset because they have to pay $4.50 for a gallon of gas they paid $1.50 a year ago.

The problem with rapid response is precisely that it is rapid, and therefore might be hasty and ill-considered. That is clearly the case with the Obama camp’s amazingly dumb tantrum regarding the New Yorker cover — a magazine friendly to Obama whose illustration was clearly intended to be a parody of anti-Obama feeling on the Right. Three seconds of thought might have led the campaign to reconsider its decision to denounce the illustration. Six seconds of thought might have led the campaign to see the illustration as an opportunity, to say, “The New Yorker has brilliantly encapsulated the evil right-wing campaign against Barack and Michelle Obama, a campaign that must not be allowed to gain purchase in the American psyche.”

Had that been the response, an entire day on cable news would not have been spent on the illustration — it would instead have been a very minor story that would have been spun not as “is Obama a Muslim flag-burner” but rather as “Is the Right-Wing attack machine going too far yet again?”  Obama has now made certain that millions of people who never would have seen the New Yorker cover now have, and many of those people will take it literally. It’s a rapid response backfire.

Not to mention that it makes the Obama campaign look considerably less cool — and cool is a key element of the Obama magic. Andy Borowitz sums it up hilariously in a new Borowitz Report:

Obama Releases List of Approved Jokes About Himself
Bid to Help Late Night Comics

Saying he is “sympathetic to late night comedians’ struggle to find jokes to make about me,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes.

The five jokes, which Sen. Obama said he is making available to all comedians free of charge, are as follows:

Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, “You know, we don’t get many kangaroos here.” Barack Obama replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised. That’s why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

A traveling salesman knocks on the door of a farmhouse, and much to his surprise, Barack Obama answers the door. The salesman says, “I was expecting the farmer’s daughter.” Barack Obama replies, “She’s not here. The farm was foreclosed on because of subprime loans that are making a mockery of the American Dream.”

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” Barack Obama replies, “His jockey just lost his health insurance, which should be the right of all Americans.”

Q: What’s black and white and red all over?
Barack Obama: The New Yorker magazine, which should be embarrassed after publishing such a tasteless and offensive cover, which I reject and denounce.

A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, “This joke isn’t going to work because there’s no Muslim in this boat.”

Maybe the Obama rapid-response team should consider taking a short vacation. And Obama too. I noted during the primary season that the man never smiles. Now it may come to seem that he never laughs.

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Why Even Bother?

Aside from Barack Obama’s curious political choice to roll out his new Iraq policy before going to Iraq as a matter of common sense and decision-making it is problematic. Consider this from Michael O’Hanlon, who has been doing his level best to convert Obama and the Democrats to a more fact-based approach to Iraq:

“To say you’re going to get out on a certain schedule — regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground — is the height of absurdity,” said O’Hanlon, who described himself as “livid.” “I’m not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn’t be president. I’ll leave that to someone else.”

Rich Lowry details the “anti-factual” (really, a-factual) approach of Obama, who deprived of contact with actual commanders and Iraqi officials, just makes stuff up:

Politically, Obama has to notionally support defeating al Qaeda in Iraq, so even after he’s executed his 16-month withdrawal, he says there’ll be a “residual force” of American troops to take on “remnants of al Qaeda.” How can he be so sure there’ll only be “remnants”? If there are, it’ll be because the surge he opposed has pushed al Qaeda to the brink. The more precipitously we withdraw our troops, the more likely it is to mount a comeback. Obama treats as a vindication a recent statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling for a timeline for withdrawal of US forces. But neither Maliki nor anyone around him talks of an unconditional 16-month timeline for withdrawal as being plausible. His defense minister says Iraqis will be ready to handle internal security on their own in 2012 and external security by 2020. The Iraqis most enthusiastic about Obama’s plan surely are al Qaeda members, Sadrists, Iranian agents and sectarian killers of every stripe. The prospect of a US president suddenly letting up on them has to be the best cause for hope they’ve had in months. His withdrawal would immediately embolden every malign actor in Iraq and increase their sway in Iraqi politics. Obama sticks to the badly dated contention that Iraqis “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.” In fact, roughly 15 of 18 political benchmarks have been met by the Iraqis – progress Obama threatens to reverse. Obama loves to say that we have to withdraw from Iraq “responsibly.” There’s nothing responsible about his plan. US commanders on the ground say it may not even be logistically possible. Does Obama even care? He says that when he’s elected he’d give the military a new mission – to end the war. Conditions in Iraq, let alone winning, are marginalia.

So why go to Iraq and why make a pretense of learning new facts? It seems that after all this Obama, like the critique he is so fond of providing of the current President, has no interest in really learning anything which would contradict his firmly held views: continued presence in Iraq is pointless, Iraq is unimportant in the fight against Al Qaeda, there has been no progress politically, and leaving on a 16-month schedule can proceed without risk. It is all, every bit of it, wrong and contrary to the best available evidence. But the inescapable fact is that Obama either out of intellectual stubborness or fear of his netroot base won’t and can’t recognize the new reality.

Mr. O’Hanlon has every right to be peeved. What we shouldn’t be is surprised.

Aside from Barack Obama’s curious political choice to roll out his new Iraq policy before going to Iraq as a matter of common sense and decision-making it is problematic. Consider this from Michael O’Hanlon, who has been doing his level best to convert Obama and the Democrats to a more fact-based approach to Iraq:

“To say you’re going to get out on a certain schedule — regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground — is the height of absurdity,” said O’Hanlon, who described himself as “livid.” “I’m not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn’t be president. I’ll leave that to someone else.”

Rich Lowry details the “anti-factual” (really, a-factual) approach of Obama, who deprived of contact with actual commanders and Iraqi officials, just makes stuff up:

Politically, Obama has to notionally support defeating al Qaeda in Iraq, so even after he’s executed his 16-month withdrawal, he says there’ll be a “residual force” of American troops to take on “remnants of al Qaeda.” How can he be so sure there’ll only be “remnants”? If there are, it’ll be because the surge he opposed has pushed al Qaeda to the brink. The more precipitously we withdraw our troops, the more likely it is to mount a comeback. Obama treats as a vindication a recent statement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling for a timeline for withdrawal of US forces. But neither Maliki nor anyone around him talks of an unconditional 16-month timeline for withdrawal as being plausible. His defense minister says Iraqis will be ready to handle internal security on their own in 2012 and external security by 2020. The Iraqis most enthusiastic about Obama’s plan surely are al Qaeda members, Sadrists, Iranian agents and sectarian killers of every stripe. The prospect of a US president suddenly letting up on them has to be the best cause for hope they’ve had in months. His withdrawal would immediately embolden every malign actor in Iraq and increase their sway in Iraqi politics. Obama sticks to the badly dated contention that Iraqis “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.” In fact, roughly 15 of 18 political benchmarks have been met by the Iraqis – progress Obama threatens to reverse. Obama loves to say that we have to withdraw from Iraq “responsibly.” There’s nothing responsible about his plan. US commanders on the ground say it may not even be logistically possible. Does Obama even care? He says that when he’s elected he’d give the military a new mission – to end the war. Conditions in Iraq, let alone winning, are marginalia.

So why go to Iraq and why make a pretense of learning new facts? It seems that after all this Obama, like the critique he is so fond of providing of the current President, has no interest in really learning anything which would contradict his firmly held views: continued presence in Iraq is pointless, Iraq is unimportant in the fight against Al Qaeda, there has been no progress politically, and leaving on a 16-month schedule can proceed without risk. It is all, every bit of it, wrong and contrary to the best available evidence. But the inescapable fact is that Obama either out of intellectual stubborness or fear of his netroot base won’t and can’t recognize the new reality.

Mr. O’Hanlon has every right to be peeved. What we shouldn’t be is surprised.

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The Twists and Turns of Progress in Iraq

Aside from a few stubborn holdouts, we’ve been virtually awash with good news on the Iraq political and military fronts. This AP story offers a more subtle, if telling, detail about change in the quality of life over there.

The corkscrew landing is a rite of passage for travelers to Iraq, who feel the pull of gravity as their airplane makes a rapid, spiraling descent to avoid ground fire.

So it was a surprise to one periodic visitor last week when the Royal Jordanian Airlines aircraft from Amman descended into Baghdad International Airport with the same lack of drama as any commuter flight anywhere. No sudden plunge, no tight rotation, no straightening out the flight path just before the runway.

It didn’t feel like flying into a war zone anymore.

The absence – on a number of recent civilian flights, at least – of the “corkscrew” maneuver is a measure of how security has improved in Iraq. Back in November 2003, a missile hit a DHL cargo jet just after takeoff. The pilot managed to land safely.

While the corkscrew landing is (for now) a thing of the past, the corkscrew itself is making a return to Iraq’s capital. From the Independent:

Alcohol is openly for sale once more in Baghdad. All over the Iraqi capital, drink stores, which closed their doors in early 2006 when sectarian strife was raging, have slowly begun to reopen. Two years ago, al-Qa’ida militants were burning down liquor stores and shooting their owners. Now around Saadoun Street, in the centre of the city, at least 50 stores are advertising that they have alcohol for sale.

The fear of being seen drinking in public is also subsiding. Young men openly drink beer in some, if not all, streets. A favourite spot where drinkers traditionally gathered is al-Jadriya bridge, which has fine views up and down the Tigris river. Two years ago even serious drunks decided that boozing on the bridge was too dangerous. But in the past three months they have returned, a sign that militant gunmen no longer decide what people in Baghdad do at night

An excellent trade, I’d say.

Aside from a few stubborn holdouts, we’ve been virtually awash with good news on the Iraq political and military fronts. This AP story offers a more subtle, if telling, detail about change in the quality of life over there.

The corkscrew landing is a rite of passage for travelers to Iraq, who feel the pull of gravity as their airplane makes a rapid, spiraling descent to avoid ground fire.

So it was a surprise to one periodic visitor last week when the Royal Jordanian Airlines aircraft from Amman descended into Baghdad International Airport with the same lack of drama as any commuter flight anywhere. No sudden plunge, no tight rotation, no straightening out the flight path just before the runway.

It didn’t feel like flying into a war zone anymore.

The absence – on a number of recent civilian flights, at least – of the “corkscrew” maneuver is a measure of how security has improved in Iraq. Back in November 2003, a missile hit a DHL cargo jet just after takeoff. The pilot managed to land safely.

While the corkscrew landing is (for now) a thing of the past, the corkscrew itself is making a return to Iraq’s capital. From the Independent:

Alcohol is openly for sale once more in Baghdad. All over the Iraqi capital, drink stores, which closed their doors in early 2006 when sectarian strife was raging, have slowly begun to reopen. Two years ago, al-Qa’ida militants were burning down liquor stores and shooting their owners. Now around Saadoun Street, in the centre of the city, at least 50 stores are advertising that they have alcohol for sale.

The fear of being seen drinking in public is also subsiding. Young men openly drink beer in some, if not all, streets. A favourite spot where drinkers traditionally gathered is al-Jadriya bridge, which has fine views up and down the Tigris river. Two years ago even serious drunks decided that boozing on the bridge was too dangerous. But in the past three months they have returned, a sign that militant gunmen no longer decide what people in Baghdad do at night

An excellent trade, I’d say.

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Can’t Sit On A Lead

This cogent analysis essentially boils down to: Barack Obama and his media friends buying into their own inevitability meme. After beating Hillary Clinton in one of the biggest upsets in presidential primary politics and reading his own laudatory press clippings, it was easy for the Obama camp to believe their candidate was unbeatable. But then there was a rocky June/July and the polls slid. What happened?

[I]t could also be that Obama, given his newness to the national scene and the doubts about his preparation and seasoning that his opponents have hammered away at, faces an extra burden when it comes to reassuring his softest supporters. The more real the possibility of an Obama presidency seems, the more these soft supporters will question their own instincts–and the more prone they’ll be prone to reconsider their allegiance when Obama faces the kind of press scrutiny he faced last week.

Put differently, Obama still has not cleared the presidential bar — either on character or as commander-in-chief. In a crucial time, when voters are considering whether the nominee could really be President, he took for granted–foolishly maybe–that he could do or say virtually anything without consequence. But there is only so much the media and public will tolerate. And in a month or so of many errors, gaffes, too much policy shifting, he rattled his supporters, confused the undecideds, and emboldened the opposition.

That, in part, is why ducking the town hall debates may hurt. (Perhaps not as much as an awful performance, which is certainly a legitimate fear.) By not mixing it up and demonstrating his prowess without a teleprompter, he does nothing to calm his supporters and dispel the new media meme which is substantially less friendly than the last one.

The question is: what can Obama do to reverse the storyline? One thing that he likely can’t do is return to the Great Man, zombie chanting phase of January-February. At this point, that’s likely to bring howls of derision. He could get serious on some new policy positions. And his trip abroad may help lift his stature in the eyes of some voters who now can’t quite picture him in the Oval office.

Nothing in politics and certainly nothing in a presidential race is irreversible. So it would be a mistake to think he can’t get his mojo back. But what got him the nomination — running left, hyping young crowds, creating a cult-like movement, and ducking really any hard national security issues — is not likely to get him the White House. We’ll have to see what else he can do and if he can function in pressers, debates and maybe even a town hall setting without a script.

This cogent analysis essentially boils down to: Barack Obama and his media friends buying into their own inevitability meme. After beating Hillary Clinton in one of the biggest upsets in presidential primary politics and reading his own laudatory press clippings, it was easy for the Obama camp to believe their candidate was unbeatable. But then there was a rocky June/July and the polls slid. What happened?

[I]t could also be that Obama, given his newness to the national scene and the doubts about his preparation and seasoning that his opponents have hammered away at, faces an extra burden when it comes to reassuring his softest supporters. The more real the possibility of an Obama presidency seems, the more these soft supporters will question their own instincts–and the more prone they’ll be prone to reconsider their allegiance when Obama faces the kind of press scrutiny he faced last week.

Put differently, Obama still has not cleared the presidential bar — either on character or as commander-in-chief. In a crucial time, when voters are considering whether the nominee could really be President, he took for granted–foolishly maybe–that he could do or say virtually anything without consequence. But there is only so much the media and public will tolerate. And in a month or so of many errors, gaffes, too much policy shifting, he rattled his supporters, confused the undecideds, and emboldened the opposition.

That, in part, is why ducking the town hall debates may hurt. (Perhaps not as much as an awful performance, which is certainly a legitimate fear.) By not mixing it up and demonstrating his prowess without a teleprompter, he does nothing to calm his supporters and dispel the new media meme which is substantially less friendly than the last one.

The question is: what can Obama do to reverse the storyline? One thing that he likely can’t do is return to the Great Man, zombie chanting phase of January-February. At this point, that’s likely to bring howls of derision. He could get serious on some new policy positions. And his trip abroad may help lift his stature in the eyes of some voters who now can’t quite picture him in the Oval office.

Nothing in politics and certainly nothing in a presidential race is irreversible. So it would be a mistake to think he can’t get his mojo back. But what got him the nomination — running left, hyping young crowds, creating a cult-like movement, and ducking really any hard national security issues — is not likely to get him the White House. We’ll have to see what else he can do and if he can function in pressers, debates and maybe even a town hall setting without a script.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In case you were worried that Barack Obama and the Democrats were on the verge of waking up and getting on board with domestic energy exploration and development, you can rest easy for now. Although the New York Times eggs them on into political oblivion, I still think they can switch positions –it wouldn’t be as egregious as some of the other policy shifts and would be far more beneficial.

This strikes me as exactly right on Jesse Helms.

Do you think it’s life-size?

How many politicians does it take to crash a bank and cost the taxpayers billions? Justone,apparently.

The Left and the “blame the neo-con conspiracy” club is going to be mighty upset about this quote about Iran: “Israel bears the brunt of that threat . . . and the safety not only of Israel but of the entire world depends on forcing Iran to give up its nuclear capability.” And they’ll be even more upset to learn it wasn’t Joe Lieberman, but Nancy Pelosi. Another dupe of the Israel lobby?

On the list of things Barack Obama doesn’t know (or knows incorrectly), this doesn’t seem so large. I’m sure someone can explain the chain of command if he is elected.

If you start playing it safe you better make sure your lead can hold up. You don’t want to hide from the public, forget about an agenda, let the media dictate the narrative. lose your brand identity and take unpopular positions only to find your lead is slipping away.

The mainstream media is always surprised. How could the public not overwhelmingly favor Obama? Just a mystery. Perhaps if they hadn’t hated Hillary Clinton so they would have paid closer attention to her arguments on electability.

This heart-breaking series on Chandra Levy is transfixing — women who make bad choices, men who are cads, police who make errors — with every paragraph you want to shout “Stop! Be smarter!” But it is way too late, of course.

And this comment on Obama’s latest Iraq pronouncement is from a sympathetic blogger: “Left unanswered is what would happen if the ground commanders urged Obama to keep troops in volatile areas for longer than a year — or what would happen if Obama began to withdraw troops at one to two brigades per month, and his commanders asked him to keep a brigade in place for an extra two or three months — or what would happen if violence erupted in places the U.S. recently left — or whether Obama’s residual force would be supplemented with brigades transferred from other parts of the country.” (And this doesn’t even include questions about the size, location and mission of the “residual force.”)

A striking poll on the candidates’ commander-in-chief ratings. Hillary Clinton didn’t run that “3 a.m.” ad for nothing.

I really don’t get the “they agree on so much” analysis of McCain and Obama. On all the big stuff — national security, the courts, taxes, spending, and energy — the differences are really big. It strikes me as an argument from the Left seeking to hide the huge chasm between the two candidates and to minimize the riskiness of Obama’s left-leaning positions. Another homage to the right-of-center electorate?

In case you were worried that Barack Obama and the Democrats were on the verge of waking up and getting on board with domestic energy exploration and development, you can rest easy for now. Although the New York Times eggs them on into political oblivion, I still think they can switch positions –it wouldn’t be as egregious as some of the other policy shifts and would be far more beneficial.

This strikes me as exactly right on Jesse Helms.

Do you think it’s life-size?

How many politicians does it take to crash a bank and cost the taxpayers billions? Justone,apparently.

The Left and the “blame the neo-con conspiracy” club is going to be mighty upset about this quote about Iran: “Israel bears the brunt of that threat . . . and the safety not only of Israel but of the entire world depends on forcing Iran to give up its nuclear capability.” And they’ll be even more upset to learn it wasn’t Joe Lieberman, but Nancy Pelosi. Another dupe of the Israel lobby?

On the list of things Barack Obama doesn’t know (or knows incorrectly), this doesn’t seem so large. I’m sure someone can explain the chain of command if he is elected.

If you start playing it safe you better make sure your lead can hold up. You don’t want to hide from the public, forget about an agenda, let the media dictate the narrative. lose your brand identity and take unpopular positions only to find your lead is slipping away.

The mainstream media is always surprised. How could the public not overwhelmingly favor Obama? Just a mystery. Perhaps if they hadn’t hated Hillary Clinton so they would have paid closer attention to her arguments on electability.

This heart-breaking series on Chandra Levy is transfixing — women who make bad choices, men who are cads, police who make errors — with every paragraph you want to shout “Stop! Be smarter!” But it is way too late, of course.

And this comment on Obama’s latest Iraq pronouncement is from a sympathetic blogger: “Left unanswered is what would happen if the ground commanders urged Obama to keep troops in volatile areas for longer than a year — or what would happen if Obama began to withdraw troops at one to two brigades per month, and his commanders asked him to keep a brigade in place for an extra two or three months — or what would happen if violence erupted in places the U.S. recently left — or whether Obama’s residual force would be supplemented with brigades transferred from other parts of the country.” (And this doesn’t even include questions about the size, location and mission of the “residual force.”)

A striking poll on the candidates’ commander-in-chief ratings. Hillary Clinton didn’t run that “3 a.m.” ad for nothing.

I really don’t get the “they agree on so much” analysis of McCain and Obama. On all the big stuff — national security, the courts, taxes, spending, and energy — the differences are really big. It strikes me as an argument from the Left seeking to hide the huge chasm between the two candidates and to minimize the riskiness of Obama’s left-leaning positions. Another homage to the right-of-center electorate?

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Unjust Journalism

Just Journalism has released a report on the British news coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Unsurprisingly, the report shows a marked bias against Israel, especially among the left-leaning media. The Guardian and the BBC for example had the biggest amount of coverage (the Guardian alone had eight op-eds on the subject) and the least friendly (66% of the Guardian coverage was negative, 27% was neutral and only 7% was positive). There are many important data and much insightful analysis in the report, and I recommend reading the entire thing.

Just Journalism has released a report on the British news coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Unsurprisingly, the report shows a marked bias against Israel, especially among the left-leaning media. The Guardian and the BBC for example had the biggest amount of coverage (the Guardian alone had eight op-eds on the subject) and the least friendly (66% of the Guardian coverage was negative, 27% was neutral and only 7% was positive). There are many important data and much insightful analysis in the report, and I recommend reading the entire thing.

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Abortion Politics

Remember how Barack Obama was going to use abortion to pry women voters away from John McCain’s grasp? During the primary he swore up and down that he, rather than Hillary Clinton, was the one to best preserve abortion rights. He even got NARAL to endorse him over Clinton (to the great dismay of many) before the primary race was even over.

That was then. Now the gambit is to be mum on abortion. Some activists are not amused:

For some reason, they” — meaning the Obama campaign — “don’t emphasize [abortion]. They emphasize other issues. Basically this issue is very strongly held by Republican suburban women,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Everyone keeps talking about shaving margins by reaching out to evangelicals. What about the suburban women who do want for themselves and daughters this fundamental right?”

(The umpteenth example of Democrats’ recognition that we have a right-of-center electorate is duly noted.)

On this issue, Obama’s change in emphasis is a low-risk strategy. Despite the earlier bold talk, the Obama camp must know that emphasizing Roe v. Wade isn’t going to help Obama with those values voters in key swing states. (Hence, he made the rather awkward and ultimately botched attempt to shade his abortion stance earlier this month.) Where are the single issue pro-choice voters going to go? Pro-life McCain isn’t going to win them over. Besides, there is a certain wink-wink quality to this pantomime between Obama and pro-choice voters, since Obama has made known his preference in judges – the single most important factor in abortion politics.

So is there any downside for Obama in shushing talk of abortion rights? The only risk is that those highly idealistic voters and former Hillary Clinton fans might lose faith in and decide they had rather not work for, or vote for, the Great Deceiver. (They can get in line with the disillusioned civil libertarians and the campaign reform/good government crowds, who aren’t getting what they bargained for, either.) The real danger for Obama, then, is the accumulation of the disenchanted activists. If you are banking on an army of faithful followers and small donors, there is only so much you can do to frustrate them before you feel a pinch.

Remember how Barack Obama was going to use abortion to pry women voters away from John McCain’s grasp? During the primary he swore up and down that he, rather than Hillary Clinton, was the one to best preserve abortion rights. He even got NARAL to endorse him over Clinton (to the great dismay of many) before the primary race was even over.

That was then. Now the gambit is to be mum on abortion. Some activists are not amused:

For some reason, they” — meaning the Obama campaign — “don’t emphasize [abortion]. They emphasize other issues. Basically this issue is very strongly held by Republican suburban women,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Everyone keeps talking about shaving margins by reaching out to evangelicals. What about the suburban women who do want for themselves and daughters this fundamental right?”

(The umpteenth example of Democrats’ recognition that we have a right-of-center electorate is duly noted.)

On this issue, Obama’s change in emphasis is a low-risk strategy. Despite the earlier bold talk, the Obama camp must know that emphasizing Roe v. Wade isn’t going to help Obama with those values voters in key swing states. (Hence, he made the rather awkward and ultimately botched attempt to shade his abortion stance earlier this month.) Where are the single issue pro-choice voters going to go? Pro-life McCain isn’t going to win them over. Besides, there is a certain wink-wink quality to this pantomime between Obama and pro-choice voters, since Obama has made known his preference in judges – the single most important factor in abortion politics.

So is there any downside for Obama in shushing talk of abortion rights? The only risk is that those highly idealistic voters and former Hillary Clinton fans might lose faith in and decide they had rather not work for, or vote for, the Great Deceiver. (They can get in line with the disillusioned civil libertarians and the campaign reform/good government crowds, who aren’t getting what they bargained for, either.) The real danger for Obama, then, is the accumulation of the disenchanted activists. If you are banking on an army of faithful followers and small donors, there is only so much you can do to frustrate them before you feel a pinch.

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What about Shalit?

Commenting on his support for the prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s minister for infrastructure, Benyamin Ben Eliezer, reportedly declared that “When I voted in favor, standing before my eyes was the suffering of the families . . . We want every mother to know that Israel will do its utmost in order to return her son when he is in the guard.” These are noble words, but one gets the impression that Minister Ben Eliezer, alongside his colleagues who supported the deal, focused too much on the families of Israel’s two prisoners in Lebanon (who are presumed dead) and forgot the family of a third prisoner, Gilad Shalit, who is most likely still alive and in Gaza. Will this deal make it easier for the Shalit family? Will it make it more likely for him to come home alive? Hard to fathom. As Bret Stephens says today in the Wall Street Journal,

But whatever happens, Israel has once again demonstrated to its enemies that their strategy of taking hostages works. Worse, it works even when those hostages are killed. If Regev and Goldwasser are dead, the situation of Cpl. Shalit – and any other Israeli who might be taken alive by Hezbollah or its ilk – becomes infinitely more precarious.

For this, Shalit and his family must thank Ben Eliezer and the Israeli government. Had the two Israeli soldiers been alive, this would have been an understandable dilemma – and a deal which would not necessarily jeopardise Shalit’s life. But as it may turn out, Israel capitulated for a bag of bones. It is the perfect recipe to get some more.

Commenting on his support for the prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s minister for infrastructure, Benyamin Ben Eliezer, reportedly declared that “When I voted in favor, standing before my eyes was the suffering of the families . . . We want every mother to know that Israel will do its utmost in order to return her son when he is in the guard.” These are noble words, but one gets the impression that Minister Ben Eliezer, alongside his colleagues who supported the deal, focused too much on the families of Israel’s two prisoners in Lebanon (who are presumed dead) and forgot the family of a third prisoner, Gilad Shalit, who is most likely still alive and in Gaza. Will this deal make it easier for the Shalit family? Will it make it more likely for him to come home alive? Hard to fathom. As Bret Stephens says today in the Wall Street Journal,

But whatever happens, Israel has once again demonstrated to its enemies that their strategy of taking hostages works. Worse, it works even when those hostages are killed. If Regev and Goldwasser are dead, the situation of Cpl. Shalit – and any other Israeli who might be taken alive by Hezbollah or its ilk – becomes infinitely more precarious.

For this, Shalit and his family must thank Ben Eliezer and the Israeli government. Had the two Israeli soldiers been alive, this would have been an understandable dilemma – and a deal which would not necessarily jeopardise Shalit’s life. But as it may turn out, Israel capitulated for a bag of bones. It is the perfect recipe to get some more.

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