I spent an hour with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN talking about COMMENTARY, Iran, Iraq, and various sundry other things. You can watch it again at 11 PM Eastern on C-SPAN or online at www.cspan.org. Or, if you are in need of a sleeping aid, you can read the transcript here.
Posts For: October 5, 2008
This interchange on Fox News Sunday between Brit Hume and Mara Liasson is similar to what many conservatives are mulling over:
HUME: And what on earth are Joe Lieberman and John McCain talking about when they say that the long association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is off the table? Why is that off the table?
It’s an important part of Obama’s background and record. It’s one of the reasons people wonder about who he really is. My sense about it is that McCain is going to need to play rough, but it’s certainly within bounds to talk about Bill Ayres and Jeremiah Wright and Tony Rezko and the whole lot of them. And if the McCain campaign doesn’t do it, they’re out of their mind.
LIASSON: Somebody is going to do it. If it’s not the McCain campaign, a third-party group. His association with Reverend Wright was certainly more relevant than his association with Bill Ayres, which I think has been exaggerated by the McCain campaign and downplayed too much by Obama.
And why isn’t McCain willing to raise Wright? Fear (garnering the racist tag) and futility (it didn’t help Hillary Clinton) plainly play a role. But it is odd to leave out the one figure everyone agrees was closest to Obama and who expressed views which key voters believe are noxious. If you are going to make the case that Obama is a poor judge of character, was not honest about the extent of his affiliation with questionable characters (not his mentor, he claimed in unconvincing fashion), doesn’t “get” the values and sensibilities of average Americans, and used his position to dole out goodies (i.e. earmarks) to his bizarre collection of associates you would be hard pressed to come up with a better example. The aversion to doing so suggests the McCain camp — or McCain himself — may not be playing to win.
Karl Rove is as stumped as many less experienced gurus as to what the McCain camp is doing these days. On the decision to announce a pullout in Michigan, he confesses:
I don’t know. I don’t know. And not only that, but it set off a spat of internecine warfare inside the Michigan Republican Party with the former national committeeman sending a letter to Sarah Palin saying, “Please contest the state,” and then leaking that to the members of the state central committee, which guaranteed that it would be in the hands of the press.
On the McCain camp announcing a “We’re really going after Obama now” tactic:
Again, I’d wonder about that. I mean, some of the best strategies are the strategies that you don’t draw attention to. For example, right now Obama is running a television ad in battleground states where he basically calls government-run health care an extreme and tries to position himself as somebody who wants neither — no government-run health care or all government-run health care. I mean, he’s attacking single payer, which is sort of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. But you don’t see them out there announcing that. You don’t see them drawing attention to it. They simply let the tactic play out, have its impact.
All of this does reflect a lack of discipline and an compulsion to assure the base that they really are “doing something.” These errors and miscues come at a time in which the need for a precise, well-executed and high stakes strategy is needed to rescue the McCain campaign. To say that these moves unnerve and disappoint Republican insiders would be an understatement.
That said, neither of these slips or the ill-fated dash to Washington I think is the source of McCain’s difficulties. We are in the middle of an economic meltdown on the Republican President’s watch and McCain has been unable or unwilling to explain why voters should look to him to solve the crisis. That is not to say that McCain is doing worse than any other candidate might in this situation. Indeed it is remarkable that the race is as close as it is. But it is going to take some external set of events, a brilliant campaign execution and a whole lot of luck (or a substantial error on Barack Obama’s part) for McCain to turn this around.
Shmuel, I think the success you describe in Jenin is a thousand times more important than another summit. This is the first time that Abbas has shown himself to be seriously committed to genuine stability in a way that can result in a political entity — even a state — that could live in peace with Israel.
Why now? Probably because for the first time, his regime is under a direct threat from a Hamas overthrow. According to reports, Fatah is preparing a major anti-Hamas assault in the West Bank, which comes on the heels of Hamas’ own threatening to repeat its successes from Gaza in the rest of Palestinian territory. In other words, things have gotten so bad for him that he has realized how much he really needs Israel and the support of major powers.
Let’s hope he can stick around long enough to expand the Jenin project to the rest of the West Bank.
The McCain camp got their wish — Bill Ayers is certainly the topic of the day. Barack Obama got sucked into the debate by — you knew this was coming – calling it all a “smear” and a “Swiftboat-style attack.” The McCain Camp blasted back with this statement:
The last four weeks of this election will be about whether the American people are willing to turn our economy and national security over to Barack Obama, a man with little record, questionable judgment, and ties to radical figures like unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers. Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended an unrepentant terrorist, or had a convicted felon help them buy their house — because those aren’t smears, those are true facts about Barack Obama.
Sarah Palin then did her part by taking on the AP, which argued that tying Barack Obama to a white terrorist was some form of racism. She put forth the wacky notion that Americans might want to know who the Democratic nominee is, who his associates are and what he believes – and that none of that has the least bit to do with race.
Well this is just Step One: getting the attention of the media and public. Step Two is explaining that the connection to Ayers is not trivial and that Obama has indeed lied about it. Then Step Three: explaining why this all matters. The latter is made more difficult by the financial crisis. It will certainly be difficult to convince Americans that this issue (essentially one of credibility and character) counts as much as the dismal economic news.
Was it a mistake for the McCain campaign to wait this late to go this route? Does it appear now to be a last-minute attempt to change the question? Perhaps “yes” on both. But regardless of whether it “works,” it is important that Obama and future candidates understand that their behavior (e.g. choosing to serve on the Woods Fund which doled out money to ACORN and a host of radical groups), their choice of associations (from Rezko to Ayers to Walsh) and their fundamental beliefs expressed through not just speeches but deeds (e.g. supporting the philosophy and goals of the Ayers-founded and led Annenberg Challenge) are open to scrutiny and deserve a full vetting by the voters.
Ehud Olmert, the recently-resigned prime minister of a caretaker Israeli government, is off to Russia, where he is planning on trying to stop the sale of the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran, as well as other possible sales to Syria. And he comes with a gift: An immense building in heart of Jerusalem, which once belonged to the Russian government, is being returned to Russia.
Meanwhile, Ehud Barak, the defense minister, is using this occasion to discuss Russia’s role in the Middle East. Calling on Russia to “play a positive role in the Middle East peace process, instead of providing weapons system which could destabilize the area,” Barak seems to be doing his best to undermine what looks like Olmert’s last diplomatic trip before he leaves office. Not that we should be surprised. As Tzipi Livni struggles to put together a government before the upcoming deadline that would otherwise send Israel to elections, Barak has every interest in attacking anything Kadima does, especially on foreign policy–Livni is, after all, the foreign minister.
According to Israeli law, caretaker governments are restricted from doing anything that might commit future governments to any course of policy, such as signing peace deals or giving away national assets. So it’s unclear whether Olmert can give his gift after all. But one thing seems clear: The next election campaign has begun, and short of a national emergency, we can expect a thoroughly dysfunctional government from now until a new one is formed, or elections are called.
Today, the standoff continues between Somali pirates who seized a Ukrainian-operated ship and the U.S. Navy. The USS Howard had closed within a few thousand yards of the MV Faina soon after its capture in the Gulf of Aden on September 25, and now there are five American warships guarding the Faina. The pirates first demanded $35 million in ransom for the vessel and her crew of 21, but it now appears they are willing to accept a seventh of that amount. Negotiations are apparently continuing between the ship’s owners and the criminals.
A U.N. Security Council resolution passed this June called on nations to use “all necessary means” to stop the Somali pirates. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet set up anti-piracy patrols in the dangerous waters off Somalia, but only the French have taken military action against these bandits, capturing six of them who had taken over a yacht in April. Our sailors have done little else but watch pirates seize ships in real time, observe them from afar, or ignore the situation altogether. With regard to the Faina, the U.S. Navy has said it will prevent the unloading of its cargo, which includes 33 Russian-built tanks headed for a Kenyan port.
Is that all we are willing to do? “Whatever the outcome, the Faina standoff is simply another symptom of the declining post-Cold War order,” notes Time‘s Tony Karon. It’s actually worse than that. The incident highlights the paralysis of American decision-making. Once we captured and killed pirates. Now, we merely put them under surveillance when we choose to do anything at all.
These days, the Bush administration seems unable to accomplish anything, even capture bandits on the high seas. It is not only the Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians who regularly humiliate the United States. Today, pirates are doing so as well.
Charlie Cook’s authoritative weekend column is a fun read for those election geeks interested in the event of an electoral college tie. It is an unlikely event, but more likely than most people might think, as ABC News’ Jake Tapper points out in his blog:
Why is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin expected to campaign in Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday night?
Because there is a highly plausible scenario involving battleground states — 19 plausible scenarios, in fact, according to the Obama campaign — where the day after Election Day Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., each have only 269 electoral votes — one short of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
The point Cook is making isn’t the obvious one: how such a tie might occur. Cook is going one step forward and is gaming out a tricky question: how will the House act in such case? It’s quite clear by now that the Democratic Party is going to increase its House majority coming November, but Cook concludes that this might not be enough for Obama–and that even the more Democratic House might end up deadlocked.
The important fact to understand is that if the House votes, every state delegation will get just one vote–namely, it’s not the number of members that’s significant but rather the number of delegations controlled by each party. 26 delegations will be necessary for a candidate to get the House approving his victory, and the Dems now already control 27. However:
[I]t might not be easy to reach 26 votes, given that a lot of Democrats serve districts with a long history of supporting the Republican presidential nominee. Would North Dakota and South Dakota’s at-large Democratic representatives — Earl Pomeroy and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin — vote with their electorate or their party? Although Obama is competitive in North Dakota, he is still likely to come up a bit short and has virtually no chance of winning in South Dakota. In her 2004 campaign, Herseth Sandlin indicated that she would be open to voting for the Republican nominee — President Bush in that case — in the event of a tie in the Electoral College.
I was amused to note–with all the (somewhat ridiculous) talk regarding Jewish voter impact on the outcome of the election–that a likely new Jewish House member might be the one, eventually, to make the call:
[I]f Democrat Ethan Berkowitz were to unseat longtime GOP Rep. Don Young in Alaska’s only House seat, Berkowitz would almost certainly seal his own defeat in 2010 if he stuck with his party and voted against a GOP ticket including the state’s popular governor.
But Berkowitz will hardly be the only one facing such a dilemma. Thus, Cook’s conclusion is inconclusive: “for Obama, winning the support of 26 House delegations could be harder than it sounds.”
I’ll be on C-SPAN tonight at 8 pm Eastern, an hour with Brian Lamb. It was taped a few weeks ago, and I have no memory what I said about anything. The only thing I remember is that my cellphone went off a couple of minutes into the interview.
An Egyptian spokesperson confirmed Saturday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked Egypt to invite Israeli and Palestinian leaders and members of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators to meet for a summit before President Bush leaves office in January. According to news reports, the event is planned for November, after the U.S. election. At the time of the conference, a new Israeli government, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, might be in place, and Palestinian leaders have spent the last couple of days predicting that Livni will keep the talks going–building on the momentum that was established a year ago, in the celebrated Annapolis summit:
In a news conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Abbas turned his attention to Livni, saying: “We feel she may continue in the path towards peace so that the Palestinian state will be established and this will be in the interests of Israel as much as it is an aspiration for the Palestinians.”
The Palestinian leader described Livni as a “peace partner” and said she was closely familiar with the details of ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas is probably right, but like most other observers he also understands that reaching a meaningful agreement before the end of the year–or before a new American president takes office–is unlikely to happen. However, while the last couple of weeks have brought a barrage of grim assessments of the peace process, it seems that now all sides have decided to get back to being more optimistic, and highlight some of the successes the Annapolis process can show–first and foremost, the achievement of Palestinian government in the town of Jenin, “the great hope of everyone who is trying to breathe new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” The deployment of an enhanced Palestinian force in this city has achieved quite a lot:
Four and a half months after the Jenin project began, it is proving a big success. The Shin Bet security service has received very few intelligence warnings about attempts at terror attacks emanating from the region, and clashes with the IDF have almost subsided. Commerce and industry have improved slightly, and – what is most important, from the Palestinian perspective – order has returned to the streets.
In Israel, too, the realization is slowly dawning that something positive is happening here. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi recently praised the changes taking place in Jenin. The city that once saw itself as the spearhead of the intifada, from which dozens of deadly suicide terrorists emerged, who carried out murderous attacks in Israel, is now a source of relatively good news.
This success in Jenin can be interpreted in two different ways. As proof that only actions and changes on the ground can bring about real political change–the parallel effort at reaching an agreement at this stage is a waste of time and is spreading the false hope of possible final status agreement. Or as an indication that the Annapolis process, in general, is working and is helping in changing reality–we should keep it going.
A summit in November is unlikely to provide a definitive answer as to which of these assessments is closer to reality. Nevertheless, Secretary Rice can make a strong argument for such a summit. She’ll argue that this event should not be seen as a last-minute attempt at reaching an agreement in the mode of Clinton’s Taba talks (following the collapse of the Camp David summit in 2000), but rather as a maintenance measure. A couple of months ago, I wrote an article describing what the Bush administration should try to do in this arena before it leaves office, and while I’m not megalomaniac enough to assume that my advice was taken seriously, I do think that the Bush administration is basically moving at the direction I was pointing at:
[T]he president is still determined not to repeat what the previous president did. Hopefully, he will be sufficiently determined. Well-positioned persons note that Clinton passed down to his successor a dysfunctional peace process. A violent intifada. The size of the abyss into which the two sides slid was commensurate to Clinton’s ambition to bring an end to the conflict.
A senior official described it thus: “Clinton drove an expensive race car in order to reach the end of the race, but spun at the curve. What Bush got from him was not a car but a pile of rubble.” The outgoing president – in 10 months – intends to leave his successor the keys to a car in working order.
Thus, what the Egypt summit is all about is not an over-ambitious attempt at making Bush the master of ceremonies for the signing of a meaningless paper. Bush’s state of mind is one of a leader that is willing to leave credit issues for history to judge, and make life easier for his successor. In Egypt he’ll hope to reinforce international commitment to the process, but also to recommit a tired Palestinian leader and a newly-appointed Israeli leader. In essence, this event will not be the summit of the impatient–those who want quick fixes, this year, now, or else. It will be the summit of patience: stay on board, keep moving, and wait for the next president to get involved.
Whatever one might think about the prospects for peace, this summit makes sense. Better to have a process moving on than sliding again into the abyss.
Newsweek discovers Barack Obama’s fundraising irregularities — which sound Clintonesque.
That debate was no split decision, Fred Barnes argues: “The best measure of her success in the debate was this: She’s been a national political figure for only a few weeks but made no serious mistakes, while Biden, a senator since 1973, committed a string of gaffes. In talking about the Middle East, he made ‘seven errors in 60 seconds,’ according to columnist Charles Krauthammer. If she’d made even one or two of his mistakes, the media and the political community would have begun calling for her ouster from the McCain ticket. Biden, of course, probably won’t be held accountable. That he won the debate on points, on substance, is the media’s default position.”
The fallout from the McCain camp’s decision to pull out of Michigan continues to reverberate. At a time when they are desperately telling supporters and the media that they can still win, this was the last thing they needed.
Speaking of resource allocation what was Sarah Palin doing in California on Saturday? Yeah, fundraising – but you have to question that use of her time.
This was a line ( via Karl Rove) that Palin missed at the debate: “Biden has 35 years in the Senate, yet his record on national-security issues during that span has been atrocious. He might be able to name Germany’s chancellor, but he was wrong in his fierce opposition to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and to the surge in 2007.”
Maureen Dowd could save a lot of time and energy by simply writing twice a week “I still hate Sarah Palin.” Really, do her stream of invectives and oozing contempt convince anyone who doesn’t already think Palin is beneath them?
And yes, we also get that George Will dislikes McCain and won’t forgive him for McCain-Feingold.
McCain-Palin “won” Saturday according to Politico. Unfortunately for them “Saturday” doesn’t have any electoral votes.
Dan Blatt thinks there is a double standard at work and Barney Frank should have resigned from the House Banking Committee when his partner worked at Fannie Mae.
Sarah Palin’s attacks Saturday on the Obama-Bill Ayers connection raise the question as to whether she will now be the one to do the heavy lifting on Barack Obama’s past. In a few respects it makes sense. John McCain disdains this sort of thing and can barely bring himself to criticize his current Senate colleagues for their non-oversight of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Palin is also drawing huge crowds so her remarks will be heard by lots of people and picked up by local media at mass rallies in key states. And she certainly has a cheery way of twisting the knife.
But at some point McCain, either in interviews or in the remaining debates, will need to make the case himself. The debates are still drawing tens of millions of people and the post-debate spin takes up a couple of news cycles. Unless it comes up then, he will bypass the best chance to make his case directly to voters. His silence then will convey that this stuff just isn’t very important. The risk is obvious: he appears too “mean” and sullies his presidential image. That said, if he still believes he can win this, there’s no use in conserving energy or holding back if he can make an effective argument as to why the these past connections are important. And why are they?
First, it’s a matter of judgment. Obama’s advisors, friends and mentors (e.g. Reverend Wright, Father Pfleger, Tony Rezko, Rashid Khalidi Bill Ayers, Larry Walsh, James Johnson) make up a grab bag of problematic characters and bizarre personalities. What is his criteria for selecting associates and why did he find such flawed figures – or why did they find him?
Second, as each of these characters surfaced we got misdirection, denial and lies. Wright wasn’t really his spiritual mentor, you see. Ayers was just a guy in the neighborhood, don’t you know? Khalidi was only a professor at Chicago. But each of these was much more — friends by any ordinary person’s definition. Obama should have leveled with voters and instead obfuscated. As we know from the Clintons, lying is addictive and potentially fatal for a president who has grown confident in his ability to snow supporters and the public at large.
And finally, these characters – with the exception of Johnson (who is just a garden variety Washington insider/fixer who benefited handsomely at the taxpayers’ expense) and Walsh (who is like many an Illinois politician under FBI investigation) – share a common view of America: it’s a flawed, mean, racist country. Did Obama share this outlook? Did he not and instead concealed his contempt for everything these people espoused? It is hard to tell and reminds us how very little we actually know about Obama’s core beliefs — if he has them.
So it’s a good idea for McCain to let Palin loose, but it may not be sufficient. There are plenty of reasons why this nexus of associations matter and if McCain wants voters to believe it matters he better say so. Himself.
The AP reports that Sarah Palin for the second time on Saturday went after the Barack Obama-Bill Ayers connection. In Colorado she did not pull any punches:
Palin told a group of donors at a private airport, “Our opponent … is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” She also said, “This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America.” Palin, Alaska’s governor, said that donors on a greeting line had encouraged her and McCain to get tougher on Obama. She said an aide then advised her, “Sarah, the gloves are off, the heels are on, go get to them.”
Now she has the MSM listening. ABC details Palin’s attack:
“There has been a lot of interest in what I read, and what I read lately well, was reading my copy of today’s New York Times and I was really interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago,” Palin said. “OK, now I get to bring this up not to pick a fight, but it was there in the New York Times, so we’re gonna talk about it.
“And it turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters is a man who according to the New York Times, and are they ever wrong, according to the New York Times was a domestic terrorist and part of a group of that, quote, pushed a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol,” Palin continued. “Wow. These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes. This is not a man who sees America as I see America, OK?”
As Jake Tapper put it “Fasten your seat belts.” It is not only Ayers but Tony Rezko who will be making a reappearance in the campaign with word that “the FBI is looking into whether or not former Obama pal Tony Rezko — convicted in June of attempted extortion, mail and wire fraud, and aiding and abetting bribery — paid for all or part of $90,000 worth work on the Northwest Side Chicago home of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. ” Helping local politicians out with their housing problems seems to have been a pattern for Rezko.
Well this indeed is the beginning of McCain-Palin barrage to do what the MSM has not for almost two years: explain where Obama came from, what influenced his political career, who his mentors and friends were and why average voters should be concerned. It is the latter which may be the trickiest. Part of that turns on reminding voters that Obama and his campaign have deceived them and attempted to minimize the extent of his relationship with Ayers.
It is one thing to carry on an ongoing and robust relationship with a former terrorist. Americans are a surprisingly forgiving people. It is another thing however to lie to them — to say he was just a “guy in the neighborhood.” Americans don’t like being lied to, and if convinced they have been, may begin to wonder what other falsehoods they have been told.