Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 21, 2008

Agreement From The Times’ Own Public Editor

Many bloggers, I among them, were quite critical of the New York Times 3,100-word piece, reported from Alaska, on Sarah Palin’s political career. My main take: the sweeping accusation which was at the heart of the piece (“she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance”) was never supported by the hodge-podge of one-sided and petty incidents described in the story. The Times’s own Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, agrees:

It began with a sweeping assertion: “Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.” Scott Blum of Atlanta said, “To justify stating this conclusion so forcefully in a front-page news article, the body of evidence had better be so compelling that most reasonable people would agree.” But Blum found the article “largely one-sided” and unconvincing.I think it presented a series of unflattering anecdotes, some confusing and incomplete, but never made the connection between style and results necessary to judge a politician who was overwhelmingly re-elected mayor and has an 80 percent approval rating as governor.

After going through some of the story’s anecdotes and some readers’ complaints he concludes:

The article was researched by three reporters, including Peter Goodman, who worked for the Anchorage Daily News for several years and covered Palin in Wasilla. He said the story was “fair, deeply reported and solid to the point that the McCain-Palin campaign has not challenged a single fact.” But had the article focused on fewer episodes, giving more facts to paint a fuller picture, it might have better served skeptical readers inclined to think The Times is biased. After several e-mail exchanges with the reporters, I think they had the answers to many of my questions, and some of the answers were in early drafts of a long story that was cut to fit in the paper.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, and Matt Purdy, the investigations editor who handled the Palin article, defended it. Keller disagreed with my premise that the article should have gone into the results of Palin’s style. He said, “We had to fit it into a manageable space, and the focus for us and for the reporters was how she hires.” The story demonstrated “a style very personal, sometimes petty, peremptory, and a style that demands a high degree of loyalty,” he said. “That tells you something about somebody who might be president.” But it doesn’t tell you the consequences of that style, which readers like Blum needed to be convinced. Interestingly, some of the information that was cut might have done that.

This isn’t exactly the first time this has happened. Hoyt has taken his own paper to task for the unsupported McCain-lobbyist tale and its treatment of the Reverend Wright story. All of these stories — surprise, surprise — favor Barack Obama and harm John McCain. So is it time to give up the pretense that the Grey Lady is fairly covering the race?

When we get to the point that the Times’ appointed guardian of journalistic ethics and competence can’t defend his own paper, perhaps the Grey Lady should consider changing that “All The News That’s Fit to Print” slogan.

Many bloggers, I among them, were quite critical of the New York Times 3,100-word piece, reported from Alaska, on Sarah Palin’s political career. My main take: the sweeping accusation which was at the heart of the piece (“she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance”) was never supported by the hodge-podge of one-sided and petty incidents described in the story. The Times’s own Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, agrees:

It began with a sweeping assertion: “Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.” Scott Blum of Atlanta said, “To justify stating this conclusion so forcefully in a front-page news article, the body of evidence had better be so compelling that most reasonable people would agree.” But Blum found the article “largely one-sided” and unconvincing.I think it presented a series of unflattering anecdotes, some confusing and incomplete, but never made the connection between style and results necessary to judge a politician who was overwhelmingly re-elected mayor and has an 80 percent approval rating as governor.

After going through some of the story’s anecdotes and some readers’ complaints he concludes:

The article was researched by three reporters, including Peter Goodman, who worked for the Anchorage Daily News for several years and covered Palin in Wasilla. He said the story was “fair, deeply reported and solid to the point that the McCain-Palin campaign has not challenged a single fact.” But had the article focused on fewer episodes, giving more facts to paint a fuller picture, it might have better served skeptical readers inclined to think The Times is biased. After several e-mail exchanges with the reporters, I think they had the answers to many of my questions, and some of the answers were in early drafts of a long story that was cut to fit in the paper.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, and Matt Purdy, the investigations editor who handled the Palin article, defended it. Keller disagreed with my premise that the article should have gone into the results of Palin’s style. He said, “We had to fit it into a manageable space, and the focus for us and for the reporters was how she hires.” The story demonstrated “a style very personal, sometimes petty, peremptory, and a style that demands a high degree of loyalty,” he said. “That tells you something about somebody who might be president.” But it doesn’t tell you the consequences of that style, which readers like Blum needed to be convinced. Interestingly, some of the information that was cut might have done that.

This isn’t exactly the first time this has happened. Hoyt has taken his own paper to task for the unsupported McCain-lobbyist tale and its treatment of the Reverend Wright story. All of these stories — surprise, surprise — favor Barack Obama and harm John McCain. So is it time to give up the pretense that the Grey Lady is fairly covering the race?

When we get to the point that the Times’ appointed guardian of journalistic ethics and competence can’t defend his own paper, perhaps the Grey Lady should consider changing that “All The News That’s Fit to Print” slogan.

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Pakistan Still Doesn’t Get It

On Saturday, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari addressed Parliament in a wide-ranging speech about the future of Pakistan’s domestic politics and international relations. He said Pakistan would use a strong hand against terrorists planning foreign attacks from bases on Pakistani soil, but added that he would “not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism.” According to the New York Times, this last stipulation was “broadly greeted by legislators, who loudly thumped on their desks to show their support.”

Speaking of loud thumps: hours later, 60 people were killed and 250 were wounded when a dump truck loaded with explosives crashed the gate of the Islamabad Marriott. If Islamabad wants to go on thinking their biggest national security problem is the occasional American incursion into the country’s tribal regions, they’re free to do so, but there’s no compelling reason for the U.S. to stop killing America’s enemies (and Pakistan’s internal saboteurs) because we’re stuck, yet again, with a feckless “partner” in the War on Terror. And if you think attacks such as this one are going to make Islamabad change its tune, consider that Zardari went on the radio afterward to give the obligatory condemnation of “cowardly” acts, and in so doing reiterated his firm stance against American operations in the tribal regions. In fact, according to the Telegraph’s Isambard Wilkinson,

public reaction to the bomb attack on the hotel was significant in that it did not roundly condemn the militants but reflected widespread ennui with America’s military policy in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The story goes that after 9/11, State Department official Richard Armitage told Pervez Musharaf that if Pakistan refused to cooperate with the U.S., it should “be prepared to go back to the stone age.” It was taken as a threat, but in truth, it works just as well as a non-interested prediction. If Islamabad wants to demonize the U.S. while al Qaeda makes in-roads into Pakistan, there will be more Marriotts to come. That’s their choice.

But America does not have a choice. We can’t lose in Afghanistan. It was the precipitous military withdrawals of the eighties and nineties that convinced terrorists groups of the U.S.’s vulnerability in the first place. The Iraq War has gone a long way in reversing that perception. The Afghanistan War has the potential to either confirm this change or undo it.  Simply put, that’s more important to the U.S. than the lukewarm allegiance of Pakistan.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari addressed Parliament in a wide-ranging speech about the future of Pakistan’s domestic politics and international relations. He said Pakistan would use a strong hand against terrorists planning foreign attacks from bases on Pakistani soil, but added that he would “not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism.” According to the New York Times, this last stipulation was “broadly greeted by legislators, who loudly thumped on their desks to show their support.”

Speaking of loud thumps: hours later, 60 people were killed and 250 were wounded when a dump truck loaded with explosives crashed the gate of the Islamabad Marriott. If Islamabad wants to go on thinking their biggest national security problem is the occasional American incursion into the country’s tribal regions, they’re free to do so, but there’s no compelling reason for the U.S. to stop killing America’s enemies (and Pakistan’s internal saboteurs) because we’re stuck, yet again, with a feckless “partner” in the War on Terror. And if you think attacks such as this one are going to make Islamabad change its tune, consider that Zardari went on the radio afterward to give the obligatory condemnation of “cowardly” acts, and in so doing reiterated his firm stance against American operations in the tribal regions. In fact, according to the Telegraph’s Isambard Wilkinson,

public reaction to the bomb attack on the hotel was significant in that it did not roundly condemn the militants but reflected widespread ennui with America’s military policy in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The story goes that after 9/11, State Department official Richard Armitage told Pervez Musharaf that if Pakistan refused to cooperate with the U.S., it should “be prepared to go back to the stone age.” It was taken as a threat, but in truth, it works just as well as a non-interested prediction. If Islamabad wants to demonize the U.S. while al Qaeda makes in-roads into Pakistan, there will be more Marriotts to come. That’s their choice.

But America does not have a choice. We can’t lose in Afghanistan. It was the precipitous military withdrawals of the eighties and nineties that convinced terrorists groups of the U.S.’s vulnerability in the first place. The Iraq War has gone a long way in reversing that perception. The Afghanistan War has the potential to either confirm this change or undo it.  Simply put, that’s more important to the U.S. than the lukewarm allegiance of Pakistan.

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The Republic of Ossetia?

“Today marks 18 years since the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed,” said Eduard Kokoity as his breakaway region celebrated its independence with a military parade in Tskhinvali yesterday.  “For 18 years, the people of South Ossetia have been proving their right to an equal place among other nations.”Prime Minister Putin must have been studying the Ossetian leader’s words with confusion, because in the last two weeks Kokoity has alternatively advocated that his region unify with Russia and maintain its claimed status as an independent state.  Now, Putin is undoubtedly alarmed as well: on Thursday the breakaway leader said that South Ossetia would retain its independence and seek to unify with North Ossetia.  North Ossetia is within the Russian Federation.

Moscow, it appears, has backed itself into a corner.  It has just fought a war for self-determination and recognized the independence of South Ossetia.  What could the Kremlin possibly say when Kokoity asks for a statehood referendum of all Ossetians?

If the people in both parts of Ossetia want to join together, then perhaps we should support them.  After all, President Bush’s “freedom agenda” surely is big enough to include the right to be governed by one’s own kind.

So if the Ossetians indeed want to form a more perfect union, let’s recognize they have a right to do so.  Americans, once populating a breakaway region of their own, should not be supporting the maintenance of failing multicultural empires.

Especially the one ruled from the Kremlin.  Russia, in the last month, has dropped any pretense of being a responsible great power.  By saying  it sees no benefit in World Trade Organization membership, it has essentially proclaimed it does not want to be part of the international community.  And by announcing its opposition to a fourth set of Security Council sanctions on Iran-as Moscow did yesterday-it has made clear it wants to be the world’s leading troublemaker.  So what’s the point of compromising our principles in order to placate hostile autocrats?

“Today marks 18 years since the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed,” said Eduard Kokoity as his breakaway region celebrated its independence with a military parade in Tskhinvali yesterday.  “For 18 years, the people of South Ossetia have been proving their right to an equal place among other nations.”Prime Minister Putin must have been studying the Ossetian leader’s words with confusion, because in the last two weeks Kokoity has alternatively advocated that his region unify with Russia and maintain its claimed status as an independent state.  Now, Putin is undoubtedly alarmed as well: on Thursday the breakaway leader said that South Ossetia would retain its independence and seek to unify with North Ossetia.  North Ossetia is within the Russian Federation.

Moscow, it appears, has backed itself into a corner.  It has just fought a war for self-determination and recognized the independence of South Ossetia.  What could the Kremlin possibly say when Kokoity asks for a statehood referendum of all Ossetians?

If the people in both parts of Ossetia want to join together, then perhaps we should support them.  After all, President Bush’s “freedom agenda” surely is big enough to include the right to be governed by one’s own kind.

So if the Ossetians indeed want to form a more perfect union, let’s recognize they have a right to do so.  Americans, once populating a breakaway region of their own, should not be supporting the maintenance of failing multicultural empires.

Especially the one ruled from the Kremlin.  Russia, in the last month, has dropped any pretense of being a responsible great power.  By saying  it sees no benefit in World Trade Organization membership, it has essentially proclaimed it does not want to be part of the international community.  And by announcing its opposition to a fourth set of Security Council sanctions on Iran-as Moscow did yesterday-it has made clear it wants to be the world’s leading troublemaker.  So what’s the point of compromising our principles in order to placate hostile autocrats?

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Rabbis for Obama

Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown makes an interesting case against the “rabbis for Obama” initiative. It is good for Obama, he says (John made a similar assertion), but not so much for the rabbis and–more importantly–the Jewish people. “Insofar as American Jews overwhelmingly favor separation of Church and State”, he writes, “this initiative marks a sharp break from existing views held by both clergy and laity”:

[T]here is a world of difference between clergy supporting a candidate and clergy supporting a policy. Perhaps the rabbis should have pointed solely to issues that concern them and correlated these issues to arguments in the ongoing debate that is (or should be) the Jewish intellectual tradition. Their hearers could then draw their own conclusions about what to do November 4th.

Even here I would urge caution. For the Jewish intellectual tradition famously evinces a deep suspicion regarding political engagement. At the beginning of the Pirkei Avot tractate of the Mishna we come across the well known adage “Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get friendly with the government.” Shortly thereafter we read: “Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown makes an interesting case against the “rabbis for Obama” initiative. It is good for Obama, he says (John made a similar assertion), but not so much for the rabbis and–more importantly–the Jewish people. “Insofar as American Jews overwhelmingly favor separation of Church and State”, he writes, “this initiative marks a sharp break from existing views held by both clergy and laity”:

[T]here is a world of difference between clergy supporting a candidate and clergy supporting a policy. Perhaps the rabbis should have pointed solely to issues that concern them and correlated these issues to arguments in the ongoing debate that is (or should be) the Jewish intellectual tradition. Their hearers could then draw their own conclusions about what to do November 4th.

Even here I would urge caution. For the Jewish intellectual tradition famously evinces a deep suspicion regarding political engagement. At the beginning of the Pirkei Avot tractate of the Mishna we come across the well known adage “Love work. Hate authority. Don’t get friendly with the government.” Shortly thereafter we read: “Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t know why the McCain camp is making a particular fuss over Obama campaign mailers which are raising money by exploiting the financial crisis. Isn’t Obama’s entire campaign is based on convincing Americans that they are miserable?

Barack Obama is in danger of snatching “worst liar” mantle — is  the MSM waking up?

New Hampshaire’s  Union Leader thinks so: “For despite his rhetoric, he [Obama] is in fact campaigning so dishonestly that even The Washington Post and The New York Times have called him on it. Which means that he is in practice no different from those regular politicians against whom his entire campaign has been built.”

Obama better hope that there are not too many like Lynette Long – former Hillary fan, now McCain supporter arguing that the abortion issue has held women “hostage” to the Democratic party. Ya gotta love her chutzpa in wearing a Palin button into the Whole Foods in (super liberal) Bethesda, Maryland.

An interesting catch by Dan Blatt: for a guy who swears that Israel is close to his heart (“I deeply understood the Zionist idea,” he told AIPAC in recounting tales of his youth), Obama never mentions Israel in his book.

Joe Biden (“F” rated by the NRA) tries to sound tough on guns — and makes his running mate sound worse in the process. Are there Democrats who still think Biden was a good choice?

Those who have nothing good to say about Biden are keeping quiet.

And others are sharing these tidbits: “Biden’s miserly charitable giving jibes fairly exactly with the findings in Arthur Brooks’ Who Really Cares? which reports that “those who say they strongly oppose redistribution by government to remedy income inequality give over 10 times more to charity than those who strongly support government intervention, with a difference of $1,627 annually versus $140 to all causes,” a gap not explained away by discrepancies in religious giving. Last year, the tax returns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) show charitable giving of 27.3 percent to 28.6 percent of his income.”

But we forget: Obama’s charitable giving wasn’t that great either (.5%–6.1% of salary). Pretty odd for a guy who gave away plenty of other people’s money — even before getting to the U.S. Senate.

Is the McCain camp really going to start bring up Reverend Wright? It seems that Bill Ayers and James Johnson, not to mention Tony Rezko — now there’s a guy in the middle of the housing market — pack more punch.

Tom Maguire does his thing on the Taheri story and concludes that Obama confused the Iraqis, not to mention the staffer who issued denials about his alleged interference with negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement. I’m willing to accept that Obama was unclear and inarticulate in dealing with foreign leaders rather than mendacious.

Don’t know why the McCain camp is making a particular fuss over Obama campaign mailers which are raising money by exploiting the financial crisis. Isn’t Obama’s entire campaign is based on convincing Americans that they are miserable?

Barack Obama is in danger of snatching “worst liar” mantle — is  the MSM waking up?

New Hampshaire’s  Union Leader thinks so: “For despite his rhetoric, he [Obama] is in fact campaigning so dishonestly that even The Washington Post and The New York Times have called him on it. Which means that he is in practice no different from those regular politicians against whom his entire campaign has been built.”

Obama better hope that there are not too many like Lynette Long – former Hillary fan, now McCain supporter arguing that the abortion issue has held women “hostage” to the Democratic party. Ya gotta love her chutzpa in wearing a Palin button into the Whole Foods in (super liberal) Bethesda, Maryland.

An interesting catch by Dan Blatt: for a guy who swears that Israel is close to his heart (“I deeply understood the Zionist idea,” he told AIPAC in recounting tales of his youth), Obama never mentions Israel in his book.

Joe Biden (“F” rated by the NRA) tries to sound tough on guns — and makes his running mate sound worse in the process. Are there Democrats who still think Biden was a good choice?

Those who have nothing good to say about Biden are keeping quiet.

And others are sharing these tidbits: “Biden’s miserly charitable giving jibes fairly exactly with the findings in Arthur Brooks’ Who Really Cares? which reports that “those who say they strongly oppose redistribution by government to remedy income inequality give over 10 times more to charity than those who strongly support government intervention, with a difference of $1,627 annually versus $140 to all causes,” a gap not explained away by discrepancies in religious giving. Last year, the tax returns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) show charitable giving of 27.3 percent to 28.6 percent of his income.”

But we forget: Obama’s charitable giving wasn’t that great either (.5%–6.1% of salary). Pretty odd for a guy who gave away plenty of other people’s money — even before getting to the U.S. Senate.

Is the McCain camp really going to start bring up Reverend Wright? It seems that Bill Ayers and James Johnson, not to mention Tony Rezko — now there’s a guy in the middle of the housing market — pack more punch.

Tom Maguire does his thing on the Taheri story and concludes that Obama confused the Iraqis, not to mention the staffer who issued denials about his alleged interference with negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement. I’m willing to accept that Obama was unclear and inarticulate in dealing with foreign leaders rather than mendacious.

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Rally Problems

A friend from New York called me today with a question I find hard to answer. He is Jewish, Orthodox and Republican. Should he or shouldn’t he attend the rally against Iran tomorrow, from which Sarah Palin was disinvited? He was there in Sep. 2007, along with the thousands of others who came to protest Ahmadinejad’s previous visit to the UN. He was planning to come again, but now is not sure if he should really go.

Staying home would that he–like Hillary Clinton–chose politics over fighting a dangerous Iran. And it would look terrible if a rally against the President of Iran was only attended by few participants. On the other hand, attending might make the organizers feel that their decision is acceptable to him–which it was not. I felt bad to send him away with no concrete advice, but I thought this should be a personal decision. As an Israeli observer–neither a Republican nor a Democrat–I’m also reluctant to give advice on a matter that is purely political.

And anyway, I came to the conclusion that the politicization of the fight against Iran–undesirable as it was–was probably unavoidable. Thus, what I think now is that the organizers’ real mistake was not disinviting Palin but inviting Clinton. If they had decided early on that the rally would not host politicians this year, the whole embarrassing affair would have been avoided. Apparently, they were giving Clinton credit that she doesn’t deserve, believing that she would be able to ignore the political pressures of the season in order to send a clear message. In that, they forgot that she is after all a Clinton.

A friend from New York called me today with a question I find hard to answer. He is Jewish, Orthodox and Republican. Should he or shouldn’t he attend the rally against Iran tomorrow, from which Sarah Palin was disinvited? He was there in Sep. 2007, along with the thousands of others who came to protest Ahmadinejad’s previous visit to the UN. He was planning to come again, but now is not sure if he should really go.

Staying home would that he–like Hillary Clinton–chose politics over fighting a dangerous Iran. And it would look terrible if a rally against the President of Iran was only attended by few participants. On the other hand, attending might make the organizers feel that their decision is acceptable to him–which it was not. I felt bad to send him away with no concrete advice, but I thought this should be a personal decision. As an Israeli observer–neither a Republican nor a Democrat–I’m also reluctant to give advice on a matter that is purely political.

And anyway, I came to the conclusion that the politicization of the fight against Iran–undesirable as it was–was probably unavoidable. Thus, what I think now is that the organizers’ real mistake was not disinviting Palin but inviting Clinton. If they had decided early on that the rally would not host politicians this year, the whole embarrassing affair would have been avoided. Apparently, they were giving Clinton credit that she doesn’t deserve, believing that she would be able to ignore the political pressures of the season in order to send a clear message. In that, they forgot that she is after all a Clinton.

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Those Sneaky Democrats

An AP poll is out suggesting that Democrats harbor all sorts of racist tendencies and that danger lurks for Barack Obama. Yes, once again, we are all being told that an Obama defeat will be proof positive that Americans are rotten racists.

This raises a couple of questions. First, if Democrats in particular are such bigots, how did Obama win the primary? Second, one wonders if this all becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Just as when Obama got caught playing the race card gambit earlier in the summer and stories sprang up discussing whether Obama was a victim or a perpetuator of racial animosity, the notion that this is some grand post-racial campaign is again being proven wrong. How do voters who hear that they or their neighbors and friends are racists  react? It is not clear whether this garners Obama sympathy or infuriates voters whose support Obama will need.

As with voters who thought we might be in for some New Politics, those who longed to escape the racial politics of the last quarter century will be sorely disappointed. And you can be sure the racial blame game will only get dramatically worse if Obama loses.

An AP poll is out suggesting that Democrats harbor all sorts of racist tendencies and that danger lurks for Barack Obama. Yes, once again, we are all being told that an Obama defeat will be proof positive that Americans are rotten racists.

This raises a couple of questions. First, if Democrats in particular are such bigots, how did Obama win the primary? Second, one wonders if this all becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Just as when Obama got caught playing the race card gambit earlier in the summer and stories sprang up discussing whether Obama was a victim or a perpetuator of racial animosity, the notion that this is some grand post-racial campaign is again being proven wrong. How do voters who hear that they or their neighbors and friends are racists  react? It is not clear whether this garners Obama sympathy or infuriates voters whose support Obama will need.

As with voters who thought we might be in for some New Politics, those who longed to escape the racial politics of the last quarter century will be sorely disappointed. And you can be sure the racial blame game will only get dramatically worse if Obama loses.

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Abbas in the Journal

In an article published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, Mahmoud Abbas put to rest all illusions about the possibility of closing a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority soon. Ehud Olmert was willing to pay a high price in this deal. He was willing to give almost all of the disputed territory, to accept refugees, to divide Jerusalem. “The territorial price of an agreement with the Palestinians will bring us very close to a formula of ‘one to one.’ This should be said honestly and courageously,” he said last week. But apparently this is not enough. Abbas writes:

What is often overlooked is the enormous historic compromise we already made in accepting the two-state solution and the creation of our state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on only 22% of our historic homeland. No responsible leader could agree to a peace that further erodes this tiny territory and strips away even more of its natural resources, historic sites and beautiful landscapes. And no responsible leader will accept a “peace plan” that repackages the occupation and makes it permanent.

Israel says its goal is two states, coexisting in peace. Again, I agree. But those states must be real states — sovereign, independent and viable. I cannot subject my people to an Israeli state and a Palestinian canton.

A guide to the perplexed:

Enormous historic compromise: We already did our share, and we’re done compromising. It’s now Israel’s turn.

further erodes this tiny territory: No 93%, no 96%, not even 99%. Abbas wants 100% of the West Bank.

repackages the occupation: No settlement blocks should remain in Judea and Samaria.

sovereign, independent and viable: We will not accept an agreement that will limit our sovereignty. Thus, the Palestinians will reject Israel’s demands to have a demilitarized Palestinian state and will refuse to give Israel security rights along the border with Jordan. Security arrangements are the least debated part of the Israeli-Palestinian future agreement– most commentators tend to focus on the more sexy problems of territory, refugees and Jerusalem. However, reaching an agreement on security matters will be crucial to any future agreement, and it seems as if Abbas has just raised the bar.

Abbas also writes:

We are impatient for our freedom. Yet partial peace, as proposed again by my current interlocutors, is not the way forward. Partial freedom is a contradiction in terms. Either a Palestinian lives free or continues to live under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.

There are two lessons to be learned from these words.

Abbas believes that if he waits longer he’ll get more from the Israelis–and he is ready to wait. The Palestinians have pocketed the concessions Olmert was willing to make, and the next Israeli Prime Minister will start negotiating from that point.

And as much the two sides are only “impatient” impatient to get the deal they want, not just any deal. Since the differences between the two parties seem impossible to bridge, a more modest goal–not a comprehensive peace–will be the advisable route for the next American president.

In an article published Friday in the Wall Street Journal, Mahmoud Abbas put to rest all illusions about the possibility of closing a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority soon. Ehud Olmert was willing to pay a high price in this deal. He was willing to give almost all of the disputed territory, to accept refugees, to divide Jerusalem. “The territorial price of an agreement with the Palestinians will bring us very close to a formula of ‘one to one.’ This should be said honestly and courageously,” he said last week. But apparently this is not enough. Abbas writes:

What is often overlooked is the enormous historic compromise we already made in accepting the two-state solution and the creation of our state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on only 22% of our historic homeland. No responsible leader could agree to a peace that further erodes this tiny territory and strips away even more of its natural resources, historic sites and beautiful landscapes. And no responsible leader will accept a “peace plan” that repackages the occupation and makes it permanent.

Israel says its goal is two states, coexisting in peace. Again, I agree. But those states must be real states — sovereign, independent and viable. I cannot subject my people to an Israeli state and a Palestinian canton.

A guide to the perplexed:

Enormous historic compromise: We already did our share, and we’re done compromising. It’s now Israel’s turn.

further erodes this tiny territory: No 93%, no 96%, not even 99%. Abbas wants 100% of the West Bank.

repackages the occupation: No settlement blocks should remain in Judea and Samaria.

sovereign, independent and viable: We will not accept an agreement that will limit our sovereignty. Thus, the Palestinians will reject Israel’s demands to have a demilitarized Palestinian state and will refuse to give Israel security rights along the border with Jordan. Security arrangements are the least debated part of the Israeli-Palestinian future agreement– most commentators tend to focus on the more sexy problems of territory, refugees and Jerusalem. However, reaching an agreement on security matters will be crucial to any future agreement, and it seems as if Abbas has just raised the bar.

Abbas also writes:

We are impatient for our freedom. Yet partial peace, as proposed again by my current interlocutors, is not the way forward. Partial freedom is a contradiction in terms. Either a Palestinian lives free or continues to live under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.

There are two lessons to be learned from these words.

Abbas believes that if he waits longer he’ll get more from the Israelis–and he is ready to wait. The Palestinians have pocketed the concessions Olmert was willing to make, and the next Israeli Prime Minister will start negotiating from that point.

And as much the two sides are only “impatient” impatient to get the deal they want, not just any deal. Since the differences between the two parties seem impossible to bridge, a more modest goal–not a comprehensive peace–will be the advisable route for the next American president.

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What Are They Up To?

This morning’s headlines make it clear: For Tzipi Livni to form a stable coalition will be even more complicated than she could have imagined. Yesterday, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak met in Tel Aviv.

Their goal? Well, that’s not quite clear yet. Some say they both want an early election, followed by a unity government between the two parties. Some say Barak is only trying to threaten Livni, by way of getting a better bargain in exchange for staying in her coalition. However, a third explanation is also possible: Barak is buying time, opening doors, making more options available for Labor. Eventually, he could go both ways. He can stay in the coalition, or leave and be Defense Minister under Netanyahu in the next government (no one in his right mind believes that Labor can win in any coming election).

The one important thing that people watching these maneuvers should remember is this: tactics can change; the politics of the day might dictate all kinds of decisions; but Likud and Labor do share an important strategic goal–they both want to make Kadima go away. Kadima was formed by Ariel Sharon and it succeeded because of his popularity. Sharon is now gone, and the question at hand is this: will Kadima become a permanent feature of Israel’s politics, making the Israeli system one built around three major parties? Or will it disappear from the scene, living Likud and Labor as the two rivals for primacy? Naturally, both Likud and Labor would like the second option better. Thus, if Netanyahu and Barak choose to agree on an early date for election, no one should be surprised.

The main obstacle to such move is the fact that Labor now finds itself in a very tough position with the public. Most polls predict that Barak and his Party would lose many votes if an election were called, and this means that Labor will have to sacrifice now to gain (possibly) later. One of the ways with which Livni can still persuade Barak to stay in the coalition is some kind of commitment that she will not call an early election, giving the government the full two years it still nominally has before the official date for an election. Such a period of time– Barak hopes– will give him an opportunity to reestablish himself as a viable candidate for the Prime Ministership.

And there’s another reason in favor of a unity government (they now call it “emergency government”). If Israel’s leaders have decided that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is unavoidable, they’d want to do it together, sharing the burden, the blame–and hopefully the eventual credit.

This morning’s headlines make it clear: For Tzipi Livni to form a stable coalition will be even more complicated than she could have imagined. Yesterday, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak met in Tel Aviv.

Their goal? Well, that’s not quite clear yet. Some say they both want an early election, followed by a unity government between the two parties. Some say Barak is only trying to threaten Livni, by way of getting a better bargain in exchange for staying in her coalition. However, a third explanation is also possible: Barak is buying time, opening doors, making more options available for Labor. Eventually, he could go both ways. He can stay in the coalition, or leave and be Defense Minister under Netanyahu in the next government (no one in his right mind believes that Labor can win in any coming election).

The one important thing that people watching these maneuvers should remember is this: tactics can change; the politics of the day might dictate all kinds of decisions; but Likud and Labor do share an important strategic goal–they both want to make Kadima go away. Kadima was formed by Ariel Sharon and it succeeded because of his popularity. Sharon is now gone, and the question at hand is this: will Kadima become a permanent feature of Israel’s politics, making the Israeli system one built around three major parties? Or will it disappear from the scene, living Likud and Labor as the two rivals for primacy? Naturally, both Likud and Labor would like the second option better. Thus, if Netanyahu and Barak choose to agree on an early date for election, no one should be surprised.

The main obstacle to such move is the fact that Labor now finds itself in a very tough position with the public. Most polls predict that Barak and his Party would lose many votes if an election were called, and this means that Labor will have to sacrifice now to gain (possibly) later. One of the ways with which Livni can still persuade Barak to stay in the coalition is some kind of commitment that she will not call an early election, giving the government the full two years it still nominally has before the official date for an election. Such a period of time– Barak hopes– will give him an opportunity to reestablish himself as a viable candidate for the Prime Ministership.

And there’s another reason in favor of a unity government (they now call it “emergency government”). If Israel’s leaders have decided that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is unavoidable, they’d want to do it together, sharing the burden, the blame–and hopefully the eventual credit.

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Wonder Where They Got That Idea?

Nicholas Kristof complains about the campaign to “otherize” Barack Obama. While conceding that the McCain camp hasn’t done this, the implication is clear: those mean Republicans are up to no good. And weren’t they really suggesting he’s the Antichrist?

Well, no. The “otherness” is, I would suggest, almost entirely of Obama’s own making. First, he’s gone to pains to separate himself from his fellow citizens. He’s a citizen of the world, we were told in Berlin. And Bittergate reveals that he observes his fellow Americans as one would an odd tribe in a foreign land. And, of course, he never fails to remind us that he has (in his own words) a “funny name” and that he “doesn’t look like other Presidents.”

Moreover, by defending the oddest associations–with a hatemongering preacher and former terrorist Bill Ayers–as “ordinary” Obama has simply perpetuated the view that he travels in circles which he may find unexceptional but which everyone else in the country doesn’t. It’s hard to convince ordinary voters that it is “ordinary” to befriend someone who conspired to kill his fellow citizens.

But it is really the MSM and the liberal punditocracy that hype this issue. They suggest that “skinny” means black, that every criticism or compliment has a racial connotation. They can’t help but accuse Americans of harboring base racial views. Assigning bigoted feelings to Americans has become a cottage industry in the Left blogosphere.

So if Americans think that Obama is somehow different from the average American, perhaps it is because Obama and his presumably well-meaning Leftist friends have been telling them that for nigh-on two years. You can hardly blame them if they’ve come to believe it.

Nicholas Kristof complains about the campaign to “otherize” Barack Obama. While conceding that the McCain camp hasn’t done this, the implication is clear: those mean Republicans are up to no good. And weren’t they really suggesting he’s the Antichrist?

Well, no. The “otherness” is, I would suggest, almost entirely of Obama’s own making. First, he’s gone to pains to separate himself from his fellow citizens. He’s a citizen of the world, we were told in Berlin. And Bittergate reveals that he observes his fellow Americans as one would an odd tribe in a foreign land. And, of course, he never fails to remind us that he has (in his own words) a “funny name” and that he “doesn’t look like other Presidents.”

Moreover, by defending the oddest associations–with a hatemongering preacher and former terrorist Bill Ayers–as “ordinary” Obama has simply perpetuated the view that he travels in circles which he may find unexceptional but which everyone else in the country doesn’t. It’s hard to convince ordinary voters that it is “ordinary” to befriend someone who conspired to kill his fellow citizens.

But it is really the MSM and the liberal punditocracy that hype this issue. They suggest that “skinny” means black, that every criticism or compliment has a racial connotation. They can’t help but accuse Americans of harboring base racial views. Assigning bigoted feelings to Americans has become a cottage industry in the Left blogosphere.

So if Americans think that Obama is somehow different from the average American, perhaps it is because Obama and his presumably well-meaning Leftist friends have been telling them that for nigh-on two years. You can hardly blame them if they’ve come to believe it.

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Debate Preview

Looking ahead to next week’s presidential debate, Bill Kristol makes some suggestions for John McCain:

McCain needs to alarm voters about Obama’s dovishness–reminding them of his opponent’s misjudgment of the surge, for example–and tie around his neck all the stupidities of the woolly-minded Democratic party. He might want to mention in this context Biden’s rich career of misjudgments on foreign policy (against Reagan’s defense buildup, against the first Gulf war, flip-flopping on Iraq, silly talk on Iran–and more!), and cite the tough words uttered not so long ago about Obama’s naïveté and weakness by the woman Obama passed over as his running mate.

In addition to dovishness, McCain has another line of attack : indecisiveness. That’s a theme he was pushing this week as Obama hemmed and hawed about whether he supported the AIG bailout. (We still don’t know what Obama’s view is.) And that was Obama’s failing this summer when Russia invaded Georgia: he failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and immediately respond with a condemnation. (Instead he went the ever-popular — with Democrats, that is — moral equivalence route.)

To some extent, Obama’s cool demeanor and intellectual approach to straightforward policy questions (e.g. his horrible performance with Rick Warren) lead to the perception that he’s not an action-oriented, decisive leader.  In that regard Hillary Clinton was right: it is hard to imagine Obama responding forcefully let alone quickly to the “3 a.m.” call.

Whether McCain can convey that about his opponent in a ninety-minute debate remains to be seen, but sometimes debates do allow voters to peer into the mindset of the candidates. Remember the Mitt Romney “consult the lawyers” moment? It revealed the exceedingly cautious and  corporate outlook of a man not quite comfortable in the potential role of commander-in-chief. It was a small slip, but one that hung over Romney’s head for some time. On just such moments do some elections turn.

Looking ahead to next week’s presidential debate, Bill Kristol makes some suggestions for John McCain:

McCain needs to alarm voters about Obama’s dovishness–reminding them of his opponent’s misjudgment of the surge, for example–and tie around his neck all the stupidities of the woolly-minded Democratic party. He might want to mention in this context Biden’s rich career of misjudgments on foreign policy (against Reagan’s defense buildup, against the first Gulf war, flip-flopping on Iraq, silly talk on Iran–and more!), and cite the tough words uttered not so long ago about Obama’s naïveté and weakness by the woman Obama passed over as his running mate.

In addition to dovishness, McCain has another line of attack : indecisiveness. That’s a theme he was pushing this week as Obama hemmed and hawed about whether he supported the AIG bailout. (We still don’t know what Obama’s view is.) And that was Obama’s failing this summer when Russia invaded Georgia: he failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and immediately respond with a condemnation. (Instead he went the ever-popular — with Democrats, that is — moral equivalence route.)

To some extent, Obama’s cool demeanor and intellectual approach to straightforward policy questions (e.g. his horrible performance with Rick Warren) lead to the perception that he’s not an action-oriented, decisive leader.  In that regard Hillary Clinton was right: it is hard to imagine Obama responding forcefully let alone quickly to the “3 a.m.” call.

Whether McCain can convey that about his opponent in a ninety-minute debate remains to be seen, but sometimes debates do allow voters to peer into the mindset of the candidates. Remember the Mitt Romney “consult the lawyers” moment? It revealed the exceedingly cautious and  corporate outlook of a man not quite comfortable in the potential role of commander-in-chief. It was a small slip, but one that hung over Romney’s head for some time. On just such moments do some elections turn.

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