Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 23, 2009

Even Spell-Check Wouldn’t Catch this One

Just how much of an unknown is Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Gov. David Paterson’s selection for filling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat?  Well, apparently so much of an unknown that Hillary isn’t sure whether her replacement – whom she has referred to as a “dear friend” – is named Kirsten or Kristen.  Check out the embarrassing statement that Hillary released to congratulate Gillibrand:

Today I congratulate Kirsten Gillibrand on her appointment by Governor Paterson to serve as Senator from New York. Kristen is an intelligent and dedicated public servant and a dear friend.

I’ve checked multiple news sources, and every version of the statement that I can find carries this Kirsten/Kristen error.

No need to draw broader implications about what this says about Clinton or her staff, other than the obvious: an identical statement for a woman named “Caroline” would have never contained this kind of error.  Thus, we have yet another example – however nit-picky – of the “storybook ending” that Jen has correctly highlighted in Gillibrand’s selection.

Just how much of an unknown is Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Gov. David Paterson’s selection for filling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat?  Well, apparently so much of an unknown that Hillary isn’t sure whether her replacement – whom she has referred to as a “dear friend” – is named Kirsten or Kristen.  Check out the embarrassing statement that Hillary released to congratulate Gillibrand:

Today I congratulate Kirsten Gillibrand on her appointment by Governor Paterson to serve as Senator from New York. Kristen is an intelligent and dedicated public servant and a dear friend.

I’ve checked multiple news sources, and every version of the statement that I can find carries this Kirsten/Kristen error.

No need to draw broader implications about what this says about Clinton or her staff, other than the obvious: an identical statement for a woman named “Caroline” would have never contained this kind of error.  Thus, we have yet another example – however nit-picky – of the “storybook ending” that Jen has correctly highlighted in Gillibrand’s selection.

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A Parody of Parity

The Boston Herald reports that Barack Obama is trying out some Israeli-Palestinian even-handeness:

“Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians,” Obama said.

So: on one hand there’s Palestinian terrorism and on the other there’s a “future without hope” caused by Palestinian terrorism. Frankly, President Obama’s obligatory “so, too” is PC folly. As long as leaders continue to strain for non-existent symmetry in approaching Israel’s fight against terrorists, we’ll know that “peace” efforts remain unserious, and that Israel will be forced to maintain the status-quo through stop-and-start warfare.

The Boston Herald reports that Barack Obama is trying out some Israeli-Palestinian even-handeness:

“Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so, too, is a future without hope for the Palestinians,” Obama said.

So: on one hand there’s Palestinian terrorism and on the other there’s a “future without hope” caused by Palestinian terrorism. Frankly, President Obama’s obligatory “so, too” is PC folly. As long as leaders continue to strain for non-existent symmetry in approaching Israel’s fight against terrorists, we’ll know that “peace” efforts remain unserious, and that Israel will be forced to maintain the status-quo through stop-and-start warfare.

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Bipartisanship Didn’t Make It to the Weekend

The new era of bipartisanship isn’t going so well, the Washington Post tells us:

Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of “petty grievances,” President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $825 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

The GOP’s shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama’s first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote — little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.

The problem is not just the Democrats’ high-handed process that shuts out Republicans. The issue is that the bill itself is objectively awful. If you think tax cuts and defense spending are better ways to “jump start” the economy, there is precious little to like. But even if you accept the Democrats’ premise that we should have a bunch of “shovel ready” projects and immediate infusions of spending into the economy, the bill doesn’t do that either. The Congressional Budget Office tells us: “For example, of $30 billion in highway spending, less than $4 billion would occur over the next two years. Of $18.5 billion proposed for renewable energy, less than $3 billion would be spent by 2011. And of $14 billion for school construction, less than $7 billion would be spent in the first two years.”

As David Brooks writes:

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy. This would involve big, simple programs with immediate impact — a temporary cut in the payroll tax, big aid to the states, expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps.

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.

But the stimulus bill emerging in the House of Representatives does neither of these things. The bill marked up Wednesday in the Appropriations Committee is a muddled mixture of short-term stimulus haste and long-term spending commitments. It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.

I suspect that all that sweet talk about bipartisanship is going to be thrown overboard and this will be rammed through on essentially a party-line vote. The President met today with House Republicans, reminding them “I won.” It doesn’t sound like he is actually in the mood to alter the bill’s substance, although he will go through the motions of meeting with them again next week. Meanwhile, the House bill is moving swiftly along.

Now the process may have annoyed Republicans, but the content has appalled them. They are now on firm ideological grounds to oppose it en masse.

Then it will be up to the President. Does he sign this very old-school, hodgepodge of a bill?  Brooks declares, “He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk.” But if he does just that (after all, he said he liked the Democrats’ bill), then the economy will either get better on its own or it won’t get better at all.  If the economy doesn’t perk up, the Democrats will be alone in shouldering the blame. After all, Nancy Pelosi told us: “Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.” And now they’ve demonstrated what they will do when left to their own devices.

The new era of bipartisanship isn’t going so well, the Washington Post tells us:

Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of “petty grievances,” President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support.

Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $825 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy.

The GOP’s shrunken numbers, particularly in the Senate, will make it difficult for Republicans to stop the stimulus bill, but the growing GOP doubts mean that Obama’s first major initiative could be passed on a largely party-line vote — little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras.

The problem is not just the Democrats’ high-handed process that shuts out Republicans. The issue is that the bill itself is objectively awful. If you think tax cuts and defense spending are better ways to “jump start” the economy, there is precious little to like. But even if you accept the Democrats’ premise that we should have a bunch of “shovel ready” projects and immediate infusions of spending into the economy, the bill doesn’t do that either. The Congressional Budget Office tells us: “For example, of $30 billion in highway spending, less than $4 billion would occur over the next two years. Of $18.5 billion proposed for renewable energy, less than $3 billion would be spent by 2011. And of $14 billion for school construction, less than $7 billion would be spent in the first two years.”

As David Brooks writes:

There is a strong case to be made for a short, sharp stimulus package to restrain the collapse of the American economy. This would involve big, simple programs with immediate impact — a temporary cut in the payroll tax, big aid to the states, expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps.

There’s also a very strong case to be made for long-term government reform. America could fundamentally rethink its infrastructure policies — create a new model adapted to new modes of community-building. It could fundamentally rethink human capital policies — create a lifelong menu of learning options, from pre-K programs to service opportunities for the elderly.

But the stimulus bill emerging in the House of Representatives does neither of these things. The bill marked up Wednesday in the Appropriations Committee is a muddled mixture of short-term stimulus haste and long-term spending commitments. It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach — rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.

I suspect that all that sweet talk about bipartisanship is going to be thrown overboard and this will be rammed through on essentially a party-line vote. The President met today with House Republicans, reminding them “I won.” It doesn’t sound like he is actually in the mood to alter the bill’s substance, although he will go through the motions of meeting with them again next week. Meanwhile, the House bill is moving swiftly along.

Now the process may have annoyed Republicans, but the content has appalled them. They are now on firm ideological grounds to oppose it en masse.

Then it will be up to the President. Does he sign this very old-school, hodgepodge of a bill?  Brooks declares, “He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk.” But if he does just that (after all, he said he liked the Democrats’ bill), then the economy will either get better on its own or it won’t get better at all.  If the economy doesn’t perk up, the Democrats will be alone in shouldering the blame. After all, Nancy Pelosi told us: “Yes, we wrote the bill. Yes, we won the election.” And now they’ve demonstrated what they will do when left to their own devices.

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The “Even-Handedness” Question

In the wake of Sen. George Mitchell’s appointment as Middle East envoy, conventional wisdom, as Jonathan mentioned, has held that the Obama administration will pursue a more “even-handed” approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  For supporters of Israel, the “even-handed” approach — for which President Obama advocated as a congressional candidate in 2000 — always means one thing: that Israel will be “pushed around” and forced into making dangerous concessions.  Naturally, these fears delight the anti-Israel crowd – particularly those who promote absurd conspiracy theories regarding the nefarious power of pro-Israel Americans, and salivate when the supposedly indomitable squirm.

However, I find this “even-handedness” debate incredibly trite.  For starters, what would “even-handedness” even look like?  At the moment, it would presumably be the happy medium between the demands of Hamas and those of the current Israeli government.  Does such a thing even exist?  Is it possible to find a “fair” compromise between an Islamist group that rejects Israel’s very existence and a democratic state that has supported a two-state solution for nearly two decades?  Indeed, there is simply no way to please both sides sufficiently (if at all), and therefore no way that both sides could possibly come to view Mitchell’s mission as “even-handed.”  Remember: the ultimate arbiters of whether or not a Middle East peace mission is “even-handed” are not the Abe Foxmans or Matthew Yglesiases of the world, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Second, concerns regarding an “even-handed” approach completely ignore America’s foremost objective in the Middle East — namely, promoting stability, both to counter Iranian-inspired radicalism and as a mechanism for ensuring the free-flow of oil.  In turn, the debate regarding “even-handedness” overlooks the simple fact that — even if it were hypothetically possible to compromise between Israeli and Palestinian positions — the U.S. would be unwilling to tolerate any downgrade in Israeli strength, and therefore unable to approach Israeli and Palestinian security demands even-handedly.  Support for a regionally dominant Israel has been a central component of American security policy in the Levant for decades, and deserves much of the credit for the absence of Arab-Israeli interstate warfare since 1973.  For this reason, it is hard to imagine Mitchell believing that U.S. policy in the Levant could somehow be recast around promoting Israeli-Palestinian parity, or that Israel could make security concessions in the name of “fairness” without undermining precious regional stability.

Of course, there’s every reason to believe that Mitchell will press Israel on its West Bank settlements much as he did in his 2001 “Mitchell Plan.”  And, particularly if he has to contend with a right-wing Israeli government that will likely emerge from the upcoming Knesset elections, there is good reason to expect that Mitchell will speak more critically of Israel than any Bush administration official ever did.  However, inasmuch as these small changes in tone might please the anti-Israel segment of the blogosphere, they do not constitute “even-handedness.”

Simply put, the U.S. has critical objectives in the Middle East that true “even-handedness” — the kind that weighs conflicting Israeli and Palestinian security demands equally — would be unable to satisfy.  Even policymakers with minimal emotional attachment to Israel — James A. Baker III seems to be the favorite example — have ceded to this reality.  “Fairness” might be an appropriate doctrine for the schoolyard, but it has virtually no meaning in international relations, particularly when security interests are at stake.

In the wake of Sen. George Mitchell’s appointment as Middle East envoy, conventional wisdom, as Jonathan mentioned, has held that the Obama administration will pursue a more “even-handed” approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  For supporters of Israel, the “even-handed” approach — for which President Obama advocated as a congressional candidate in 2000 — always means one thing: that Israel will be “pushed around” and forced into making dangerous concessions.  Naturally, these fears delight the anti-Israel crowd – particularly those who promote absurd conspiracy theories regarding the nefarious power of pro-Israel Americans, and salivate when the supposedly indomitable squirm.

However, I find this “even-handedness” debate incredibly trite.  For starters, what would “even-handedness” even look like?  At the moment, it would presumably be the happy medium between the demands of Hamas and those of the current Israeli government.  Does such a thing even exist?  Is it possible to find a “fair” compromise between an Islamist group that rejects Israel’s very existence and a democratic state that has supported a two-state solution for nearly two decades?  Indeed, there is simply no way to please both sides sufficiently (if at all), and therefore no way that both sides could possibly come to view Mitchell’s mission as “even-handed.”  Remember: the ultimate arbiters of whether or not a Middle East peace mission is “even-handed” are not the Abe Foxmans or Matthew Yglesiases of the world, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Second, concerns regarding an “even-handed” approach completely ignore America’s foremost objective in the Middle East — namely, promoting stability, both to counter Iranian-inspired radicalism and as a mechanism for ensuring the free-flow of oil.  In turn, the debate regarding “even-handedness” overlooks the simple fact that — even if it were hypothetically possible to compromise between Israeli and Palestinian positions — the U.S. would be unwilling to tolerate any downgrade in Israeli strength, and therefore unable to approach Israeli and Palestinian security demands even-handedly.  Support for a regionally dominant Israel has been a central component of American security policy in the Levant for decades, and deserves much of the credit for the absence of Arab-Israeli interstate warfare since 1973.  For this reason, it is hard to imagine Mitchell believing that U.S. policy in the Levant could somehow be recast around promoting Israeli-Palestinian parity, or that Israel could make security concessions in the name of “fairness” without undermining precious regional stability.

Of course, there’s every reason to believe that Mitchell will press Israel on its West Bank settlements much as he did in his 2001 “Mitchell Plan.”  And, particularly if he has to contend with a right-wing Israeli government that will likely emerge from the upcoming Knesset elections, there is good reason to expect that Mitchell will speak more critically of Israel than any Bush administration official ever did.  However, inasmuch as these small changes in tone might please the anti-Israel segment of the blogosphere, they do not constitute “even-handedness.”

Simply put, the U.S. has critical objectives in the Middle East that true “even-handedness” — the kind that weighs conflicting Israeli and Palestinian security demands equally — would be unable to satisfy.  Even policymakers with minimal emotional attachment to Israel — James A. Baker III seems to be the favorite example — have ceded to this reality.  “Fairness” might be an appropriate doctrine for the schoolyard, but it has virtually no meaning in international relations, particularly when security interests are at stake.

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Commentary of the Day

A Kill-Lease Heal, on Jennifer Rubin:

“But if the President is serious about working with Republicans and not simply humoring them, he might take some of his former rival’s words to heart.”

Obama will certainly be taking his former rival’s words to heart – and then acting upon them. Regardless of differences in political affiliation/ideology and past differences; there seems to be genuine respect between these two men. There will certainly be many books written about these times and these two in particular in the decades to come. For now, rest assured that McCain’s opinions – no matter how contrary to some of Obama’s overall goals (or the arch-nemesis ultra-liberals so despised by contentionistas) – will be courted, respected and acted upon in almost all cases. Therefore, pending issues on foreign policy, Gitmo, Iraq will certainly have a McCain stamp on them before being finalized by executive order.

And… one more quick note. McCain is a favorite Republican of Democrats simply because of his friendly personality and centrist approach and willingness to find ideal compromises on many of the issues that confront us as a nation. McCain will always have more respect by dems and the population at large than a far more ideological man such as John Boehner for example (from my home state).

A Kill-Lease Heal, on Jennifer Rubin:

“But if the President is serious about working with Republicans and not simply humoring them, he might take some of his former rival’s words to heart.”

Obama will certainly be taking his former rival’s words to heart – and then acting upon them. Regardless of differences in political affiliation/ideology and past differences; there seems to be genuine respect between these two men. There will certainly be many books written about these times and these two in particular in the decades to come. For now, rest assured that McCain’s opinions – no matter how contrary to some of Obama’s overall goals (or the arch-nemesis ultra-liberals so despised by contentionistas) – will be courted, respected and acted upon in almost all cases. Therefore, pending issues on foreign policy, Gitmo, Iraq will certainly have a McCain stamp on them before being finalized by executive order.

And… one more quick note. McCain is a favorite Republican of Democrats simply because of his friendly personality and centrist approach and willingness to find ideal compromises on many of the issues that confront us as a nation. McCain will always have more respect by dems and the population at large than a far more ideological man such as John Boehner for example (from my home state).

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The War Crimes Canard

It is a testament to the screwiness of the “international community” and of international “human rights organizations” that we hear nothing about Hamas’s war crimes even though there is little doubt that Hamas is guilty of violating the most essential of all laws of war — the one that holds that there must be a clear distinction between combatants and civilians. No one denies that Hamas hides among civilians and tells its fighters to don civilian clothes. Yet instead of talk about war-crime trials for Hamas we hear instead that Amnesty International and its ilk are trying to put Israel on trial.

The odds of actual charges being filed in an actual court of law and leading to actual convictions are almost nonexistent. Israel is not even a signatory to the convention which created the International Criminal Court; therefore, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel. Various activists know this, so they are not even bothering to marshal real evidence. Instead they are convicting Israel in the court of international public opinion, with the news media credulously serving as judge and jury before a full accounting of the evidence has been heard.

What “war crimes” is Israel alleged to have committed? One that we hear a great deal about is the supposed lack of proportionality in its war-making. But there is no requirement in international law that one nation’s casualties be equivalent to those of its enemies. If there were, the U.S. would surely have been guilty of war crimes in World War II when its armed forces killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese following the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, which killed “only” 2,413 Americans.

There is a requirement in international law that a nation do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties and that the risks of collateral damage be weighed against the importance of hitting any particular target. If the military gains are far outweighed by the risks of civilian casualties then a law-abiding military is supposed to forgo hitting that particular target. Israel does as good a job as any armed force in the world of adhering to this standard. Most of its targeting decisions are reviewed by military lawyers, and its military has made heroic efforts to minimize damage by warning civilians in Gaza in advance of bombing raids.

Another bogus charge relates to Israel’s use of white phosphorus, an incendiary material that is used in small amounts in smoke shells designed to shield ground operations.  If you are a casual consumer of news articles like this one you would think that by deploying white phosphorous (Willy Pete in U.S. military slang), Israel has committed a war crime. Actually it is a perfectly legal weapon. Here is what globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan website, has to say on the subject:

White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. … The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol III of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects, which regulates the use of “any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons . . .”

The only legal restriction on the use of white phosphorous comes from the 1980 Geneva Protocol III Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Neither Israel nor the U.S. are parties to the convention, but their armed forces nevertheless observe its terms under what is known as “customary international law.”

As suggested above, Protocol III allows white phosphorous to be used to create smoke. It doesn’t allow it to be used directly against a civilian population. It goes on to say that: “It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons other than air-delivered incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

The Israeli government is now investigating whether any of its military units may have used white phosphorous too close to a “concentration of civilians.” That’s an amorphous, hard-to-define standard, and it’s possible that such a violation occurred because Hamas hides among civilians. But if such a violation did occur, it was clearly contrary to the guidance issued to Israeli troops and it will be dealt with, if necessary, by the Israeli military or its courts. I am still waiting for Hamas to prosecute its members who routinely violate international law not in violation of their instructions but in accord with them.

It is a testament to the screwiness of the “international community” and of international “human rights organizations” that we hear nothing about Hamas’s war crimes even though there is little doubt that Hamas is guilty of violating the most essential of all laws of war — the one that holds that there must be a clear distinction between combatants and civilians. No one denies that Hamas hides among civilians and tells its fighters to don civilian clothes. Yet instead of talk about war-crime trials for Hamas we hear instead that Amnesty International and its ilk are trying to put Israel on trial.

The odds of actual charges being filed in an actual court of law and leading to actual convictions are almost nonexistent. Israel is not even a signatory to the convention which created the International Criminal Court; therefore, the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel. Various activists know this, so they are not even bothering to marshal real evidence. Instead they are convicting Israel in the court of international public opinion, with the news media credulously serving as judge and jury before a full accounting of the evidence has been heard.

What “war crimes” is Israel alleged to have committed? One that we hear a great deal about is the supposed lack of proportionality in its war-making. But there is no requirement in international law that one nation’s casualties be equivalent to those of its enemies. If there were, the U.S. would surely have been guilty of war crimes in World War II when its armed forces killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese following the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, which killed “only” 2,413 Americans.

There is a requirement in international law that a nation do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties and that the risks of collateral damage be weighed against the importance of hitting any particular target. If the military gains are far outweighed by the risks of civilian casualties then a law-abiding military is supposed to forgo hitting that particular target. Israel does as good a job as any armed force in the world of adhering to this standard. Most of its targeting decisions are reviewed by military lawyers, and its military has made heroic efforts to minimize damage by warning civilians in Gaza in advance of bombing raids.

Another bogus charge relates to Israel’s use of white phosphorus, an incendiary material that is used in small amounts in smoke shells designed to shield ground operations.  If you are a casual consumer of news articles like this one you would think that by deploying white phosphorous (Willy Pete in U.S. military slang), Israel has committed a war crime. Actually it is a perfectly legal weapon. Here is what globalsecurity.org, a nonpartisan website, has to say on the subject:

White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. … The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol III of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects, which regulates the use of “any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons . . .”

The only legal restriction on the use of white phosphorous comes from the 1980 Geneva Protocol III Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Neither Israel nor the U.S. are parties to the convention, but their armed forces nevertheless observe its terms under what is known as “customary international law.”

As suggested above, Protocol III allows white phosphorous to be used to create smoke. It doesn’t allow it to be used directly against a civilian population. It goes on to say that: “It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons other than air-delivered incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

The Israeli government is now investigating whether any of its military units may have used white phosphorous too close to a “concentration of civilians.” That’s an amorphous, hard-to-define standard, and it’s possible that such a violation occurred because Hamas hides among civilians. But if such a violation did occur, it was clearly contrary to the guidance issued to Israeli troops and it will be dealt with, if necessary, by the Israeli military or its courts. I am still waiting for Hamas to prosecute its members who routinely violate international law not in violation of their instructions but in accord with them.

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New Trade Sheriff in Town

Yesterday Timothy Geithner, in written responses to the Senate Finance Committee, stated that China was “manipulating” its currency.  The Treasury secretary nominee emphasized that “President Obama has pledged as President to use aggressively all diplomatic avenues open to him to seek change in China’s currency practices.”  The Bush Treasury had consistently refused to designate China a currency manipulator in its twice-yearly reports to Congress pursuant to the Trade Act of 1988.  The next such report is due in April.

The Trade Act doesn’t mandate anything more than negotiations once a country has been branded a currency manipulator.  Yet as Geithner also noted, Obama, while a senator, called for “tough legislation to overhaul the U.S. process for determining currency manipulation and authorizing new enforcement measures so countries like China cannot continue to get a free pass for undermining fair trade principles.”

The Bush administration approached China gingerly on trade and had relatively little to show for its polite and deferential approach.  The Chinese have lots of experience intimidating foreigners, and they were certainly successful with past administrations, which seemed to lose their swagger when approaching the Grand Celestial Court in Beijing.

These days, Beijing is not so fearsome.  Its economy, for one thing, is decelerating at an alarming rate.  Yesterday, the National Bureau of Statistics announced that China’s growth in the fourth quarter of last year was 6.8 percent.  Yet in reality it was closer to zero, and in December the economy probably shrank.  The slide is dramatic, considering that growth in 2007 was, according to newly revised official numbers, 13.0 percent — and it may have been higher than that due to poor sampling procedures that did not capture the results from small producers.

Not surprisingly, senior Chinese leaders are in a panic about the drop-off in economic performance.  Should the Obama Treasury label China a currency manipulator in April, they will undoubtedly huff and puff, but we should refuse to cower.  At this moment Beijing’s leaders know they need us more than we need them.  The stability of their regime depends on prosperity, and prosperity depends on access to the American market.  The United States, on the other hand, has the resources to fund its own debt, especially since American savings rates are increasing as consumption falls.

Will Obama trigger a trade war with China?  No one wants one, of course.  But no one in Washington should shrink from defending the American economy.  Beijing, after all, has never shed its mercantilist thinking, and now it is trying to protect its domestic market with currency and other barriers.  We need to speak plainly about this, and Geithner’s statement is a good start toward a sensible trade policy.

Yesterday Timothy Geithner, in written responses to the Senate Finance Committee, stated that China was “manipulating” its currency.  The Treasury secretary nominee emphasized that “President Obama has pledged as President to use aggressively all diplomatic avenues open to him to seek change in China’s currency practices.”  The Bush Treasury had consistently refused to designate China a currency manipulator in its twice-yearly reports to Congress pursuant to the Trade Act of 1988.  The next such report is due in April.

The Trade Act doesn’t mandate anything more than negotiations once a country has been branded a currency manipulator.  Yet as Geithner also noted, Obama, while a senator, called for “tough legislation to overhaul the U.S. process for determining currency manipulation and authorizing new enforcement measures so countries like China cannot continue to get a free pass for undermining fair trade principles.”

The Bush administration approached China gingerly on trade and had relatively little to show for its polite and deferential approach.  The Chinese have lots of experience intimidating foreigners, and they were certainly successful with past administrations, which seemed to lose their swagger when approaching the Grand Celestial Court in Beijing.

These days, Beijing is not so fearsome.  Its economy, for one thing, is decelerating at an alarming rate.  Yesterday, the National Bureau of Statistics announced that China’s growth in the fourth quarter of last year was 6.8 percent.  Yet in reality it was closer to zero, and in December the economy probably shrank.  The slide is dramatic, considering that growth in 2007 was, according to newly revised official numbers, 13.0 percent — and it may have been higher than that due to poor sampling procedures that did not capture the results from small producers.

Not surprisingly, senior Chinese leaders are in a panic about the drop-off in economic performance.  Should the Obama Treasury label China a currency manipulator in April, they will undoubtedly huff and puff, but we should refuse to cower.  At this moment Beijing’s leaders know they need us more than we need them.  The stability of their regime depends on prosperity, and prosperity depends on access to the American market.  The United States, on the other hand, has the resources to fund its own debt, especially since American savings rates are increasing as consumption falls.

Will Obama trigger a trade war with China?  No one wants one, of course.  But no one in Washington should shrink from defending the American economy.  Beijing, after all, has never shed its mercantilist thinking, and now it is trying to protect its domestic market with currency and other barriers.  We need to speak plainly about this, and Geithner’s statement is a good start toward a sensible trade policy.

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A Fractured Fairytale

Well, Governor Paterson has surprised not only us but, especially, his own party. He risked disappointing the President and the Kennedy clan ( yes, yes – she “withdrew,” so no hard feelings) and instead chose the more conservative, NRA-endorsed, upstate Congresswoman Kristen Gillibrand. Liberal Democrats are not amused and, as Jonathan noted, she may face a primary fight in 2010. Her former Congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district may now be up for grabs. So maybe this didn’t make the most political sense. But you have to love the moxie.

As for Gillibrand, she is in many ways the un-Kennedy even beyond the contrast in political philosophies. (No, Caroline didn’t have a philosophy or any policy ideas of her own, but since Maureen Dowd said Kennedy is just like her, we can safely assume Caroline is a garden-variety Upper West Side liberal.) But Gillibrand isn’t a plain-wrap New York Democrat. Nor is she from the entitled class of political wanna-bes. The New York Times reminds us:

Ms. Gillibrand, who had never held public office, won her seat in 2006 against great odds, defeating a four-term Republican incumbent in a race that turned intense and nasty in its final days. She proved to be a formidable candidate, raising millions of dollars and assembling a campaign organization that aggressively exploited the personal and political baggage of her opponent, Representative John E. Sweeney, who frequently found himself on the defensive.

It isn’t every day that an unknown, hardworking gal beats out a rich celebrity with political connections.  Come to think of it — we have found our storybook ending.

Well, Governor Paterson has surprised not only us but, especially, his own party. He risked disappointing the President and the Kennedy clan ( yes, yes – she “withdrew,” so no hard feelings) and instead chose the more conservative, NRA-endorsed, upstate Congresswoman Kristen Gillibrand. Liberal Democrats are not amused and, as Jonathan noted, she may face a primary fight in 2010. Her former Congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district may now be up for grabs. So maybe this didn’t make the most political sense. But you have to love the moxie.

As for Gillibrand, she is in many ways the un-Kennedy even beyond the contrast in political philosophies. (No, Caroline didn’t have a philosophy or any policy ideas of her own, but since Maureen Dowd said Kennedy is just like her, we can safely assume Caroline is a garden-variety Upper West Side liberal.) But Gillibrand isn’t a plain-wrap New York Democrat. Nor is she from the entitled class of political wanna-bes. The New York Times reminds us:

Ms. Gillibrand, who had never held public office, won her seat in 2006 against great odds, defeating a four-term Republican incumbent in a race that turned intense and nasty in its final days. She proved to be a formidable candidate, raising millions of dollars and assembling a campaign organization that aggressively exploited the personal and political baggage of her opponent, Representative John E. Sweeney, who frequently found himself on the defensive.

It isn’t every day that an unknown, hardworking gal beats out a rich celebrity with political connections.  Come to think of it — we have found our storybook ending.

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The Hinge of Political Fate

The political fates are indeed fickle. The sinking of Princess Caroline’s senate nomination has resulted in the appointment of a relative unknown: Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, an upstate New York Democrat.

Gillibrand is an attractive young politician who, in order to appeal to centrists in her largely Republican district, has earned the support of the National Rifle Association with her pro-Second Amendment stand. That means, unless she changes her tune on that issue, she will still face opposition from downstate liberals such as Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose entire political career has been based on her opposition to guns. McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a mad rampage by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad, has already said she will challenge Gillibrand in a primary next year.

If that is indeed the primary match up in 2010, then it will be interesting to see whether New York liberal feminists give Gillibrand (who was blasted by Moveon.org for voting for funding the Iraq war) the Sarah Palin treatment simply because of that NRA endorsement. (Will some of them say she’s “masquerading” as a woman?) Yet I think Gov. David Patterson’s political instincts in this case are pretty good. Gillibrand will not only balance the ticket for New York Dems next year, she may be a formidable candidate in her own right.

But more than that, I’m reflecting on how the course of history and politics can be altered by a single incident.

In late October 2006, Kirsten Gillibrand was just a likable well-funded Democrat running for Congress in a Republican district. Given the Democratic tide that was running high that fall, she wasn’t considered a sacrificial lamb. But neither was she given that much of a chance to beat incumbent John E. Sweeney who was sitting on a fat double-digit lead with time running out.

I met the Congressman that October while he was fund-raising in Philadelphia. At the time, the idea that he might be in danger was the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, he speculated about changes in the Republican House leadership and he clearly anticipated having more influence in the next term.

But then something unexpected happened. The Albany Times-Union published a report about police being summoned to Sweeney’s home in December 2005. The report claimed he had grabbed his wife’s neck and pushed her around the house. He was reported to have scratches on his face. The couple denied the charges and said the report was a fake that was leaked to the press by Gillibrand’s campaign. But they never produced a credible alternative version of the incident.

The Times-Union report turned the election around on a dime. On Nov. 7, 2006 Gillibrand defeated Sweeney, who was branded a wife abuser and a drunk, 53-47 percent. He became just another statistic in the Democratic sweep.

Since then, he has been arrested for drunk driving and he and his wife have divorced. Sweeney, a rising conservative Republican star with working-class roots (his father was the head of a shirt-cutters’ union local in Troy, N.Y.) was toast and Gillibrand’s career was launched.

Yet but for that leaked report, Gillibrand would not be about to sit in the United States Senate, a perch from which she may not be evicted for many years. Such are the ways of politics in which careers may be made or unmade in an instant. The fates are indeed fickle.

The political fates are indeed fickle. The sinking of Princess Caroline’s senate nomination has resulted in the appointment of a relative unknown: Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, an upstate New York Democrat.

Gillibrand is an attractive young politician who, in order to appeal to centrists in her largely Republican district, has earned the support of the National Rifle Association with her pro-Second Amendment stand. That means, unless she changes her tune on that issue, she will still face opposition from downstate liberals such as Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose entire political career has been based on her opposition to guns. McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a mad rampage by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad, has already said she will challenge Gillibrand in a primary next year.

If that is indeed the primary match up in 2010, then it will be interesting to see whether New York liberal feminists give Gillibrand (who was blasted by Moveon.org for voting for funding the Iraq war) the Sarah Palin treatment simply because of that NRA endorsement. (Will some of them say she’s “masquerading” as a woman?) Yet I think Gov. David Patterson’s political instincts in this case are pretty good. Gillibrand will not only balance the ticket for New York Dems next year, she may be a formidable candidate in her own right.

But more than that, I’m reflecting on how the course of history and politics can be altered by a single incident.

In late October 2006, Kirsten Gillibrand was just a likable well-funded Democrat running for Congress in a Republican district. Given the Democratic tide that was running high that fall, she wasn’t considered a sacrificial lamb. But neither was she given that much of a chance to beat incumbent John E. Sweeney who was sitting on a fat double-digit lead with time running out.

I met the Congressman that October while he was fund-raising in Philadelphia. At the time, the idea that he might be in danger was the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, he speculated about changes in the Republican House leadership and he clearly anticipated having more influence in the next term.

But then something unexpected happened. The Albany Times-Union published a report about police being summoned to Sweeney’s home in December 2005. The report claimed he had grabbed his wife’s neck and pushed her around the house. He was reported to have scratches on his face. The couple denied the charges and said the report was a fake that was leaked to the press by Gillibrand’s campaign. But they never produced a credible alternative version of the incident.

The Times-Union report turned the election around on a dime. On Nov. 7, 2006 Gillibrand defeated Sweeney, who was branded a wife abuser and a drunk, 53-47 percent. He became just another statistic in the Democratic sweep.

Since then, he has been arrested for drunk driving and he and his wife have divorced. Sweeney, a rising conservative Republican star with working-class roots (his father was the head of a shirt-cutters’ union local in Troy, N.Y.) was toast and Gillibrand’s career was launched.

Yet but for that leaked report, Gillibrand would not be about to sit in the United States Senate, a perch from which she may not be evicted for many years. Such are the ways of politics in which careers may be made or unmade in an instant. The fates are indeed fickle.

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Ayman Six-Pack

Forget Guantanamo Bay. If President Obama wants to shut down a counterproductive U.S. institution (particularly as it impacts American soft power), he should start immediately with our official international broadcasting network, Voice of America. The following comes from a VOA piece, by Ravi Khanna:

In his inaugural address Tuesday President Obama offered a new relationship with the Muslim world.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,” President Obama said.

With some exceptions on the fringes, most Muslims appear to have welcomed the new tone from President Obama.

Ayman Daraghmeh, a Hamas official in the Palestinian Legislative Council, is optimistic.

So: a Hamas official is representative of “most Muslims.” Imagine who the VOA considers “exceptions on the fringes.”

For the record: Some might be tempted to jump on the fact that Daraghmeh was heartened by Barack Obama’s words. But, in truth, Obama didn’t say anything wrong — or even un-Dubya like.

Forget Guantanamo Bay. If President Obama wants to shut down a counterproductive U.S. institution (particularly as it impacts American soft power), he should start immediately with our official international broadcasting network, Voice of America. The following comes from a VOA piece, by Ravi Khanna:

In his inaugural address Tuesday President Obama offered a new relationship with the Muslim world.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,” President Obama said.

With some exceptions on the fringes, most Muslims appear to have welcomed the new tone from President Obama.

Ayman Daraghmeh, a Hamas official in the Palestinian Legislative Council, is optimistic.

So: a Hamas official is representative of “most Muslims.” Imagine who the VOA considers “exceptions on the fringes.”

For the record: Some might be tempted to jump on the fact that Daraghmeh was heartened by Barack Obama’s words. But, in truth, Obama didn’t say anything wrong — or even un-Dubya like.

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Does Hillary Know Where She Is?

Yesterday, while watching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks during her Foggy Bottom homecoming, a question uncomfortably crept into my mind: does Hillary know where she is?  Does Hillary know that she is no longer on the campaign trail, where she spent two years (and arguably much longer) touting her leadership style in profoundly optimistic — and typically vague — terms?  Is she prepared for managing detail-oriented bureaucrats — i.e., people who will not be won over by vacuous stump speeches?  Does she really think that speeches at the State Department should be virtually indistinguishable from her campaign speeches in Middle America?

Indeed, I’m hardly convinced that Hillary knows the difference between being a campaigner and a policymaker — and I’ve had my doubts for quite some time.  Statements such as these do little to reassure me:

In my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, I spoke a lot about smart power. Well, at the heart of smart power are smart people, and you are those people. And you are the ones that we will count on and turn to for the advice and counsel, the expertise and experience to make good on the promises of this new Administration.

[...]

This is going to be a challenging time and it will require 21st century tools and solutions to meet our problems and seize our opportunities. I’m going to be asking a lot of you. I want you to think outside the proverbial box. I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better.

We cannot be our best if we don’t demand that from ourselves and each other. I will give you my very best efforts. I will do all that I can, working with our President, to make sure that we deliver on the promises that are at the very core of what this new Administration and this new era represent. So we need to collaborate, and we need to have a sense of openness and candor in this building. And I invite that.

Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect too many specifics in a statement like this.  But the fact remains: Hillary sounds like she is still on the stump.  She has not yet realized that typical campaign themes — such as working together, finding creative solutions for tough problems, and how great people like you are — sound miserably trite once the election is a distant memory and there is serious policy work to be done.  She apparently believes that sloganeering — such as coining the term “smart power” and using it ad nauseam — is still a substitute for outlining a substantive philosophy on the conduct of foreign affairs.

Hopefully she’ll snap out of it soon.  But I’m not too optimistic: Hillary has been in campaign mode for so long that the forced smiles for the camera and constant flow of sweet nothingness seem to have overtaken her.  For the moment, at least, we can be thankful that someone else is answering those pesky 3 A.M. phone calls.

Yesterday, while watching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks during her Foggy Bottom homecoming, a question uncomfortably crept into my mind: does Hillary know where she is?  Does Hillary know that she is no longer on the campaign trail, where she spent two years (and arguably much longer) touting her leadership style in profoundly optimistic — and typically vague — terms?  Is she prepared for managing detail-oriented bureaucrats — i.e., people who will not be won over by vacuous stump speeches?  Does she really think that speeches at the State Department should be virtually indistinguishable from her campaign speeches in Middle America?

Indeed, I’m hardly convinced that Hillary knows the difference between being a campaigner and a policymaker — and I’ve had my doubts for quite some time.  Statements such as these do little to reassure me:

In my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, I spoke a lot about smart power. Well, at the heart of smart power are smart people, and you are those people. And you are the ones that we will count on and turn to for the advice and counsel, the expertise and experience to make good on the promises of this new Administration.

[...]

This is going to be a challenging time and it will require 21st century tools and solutions to meet our problems and seize our opportunities. I’m going to be asking a lot of you. I want you to think outside the proverbial box. I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better.

We cannot be our best if we don’t demand that from ourselves and each other. I will give you my very best efforts. I will do all that I can, working with our President, to make sure that we deliver on the promises that are at the very core of what this new Administration and this new era represent. So we need to collaborate, and we need to have a sense of openness and candor in this building. And I invite that.

Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect too many specifics in a statement like this.  But the fact remains: Hillary sounds like she is still on the stump.  She has not yet realized that typical campaign themes — such as working together, finding creative solutions for tough problems, and how great people like you are — sound miserably trite once the election is a distant memory and there is serious policy work to be done.  She apparently believes that sloganeering — such as coining the term “smart power” and using it ad nauseam — is still a substitute for outlining a substantive philosophy on the conduct of foreign affairs.

Hopefully she’ll snap out of it soon.  But I’m not too optimistic: Hillary has been in campaign mode for so long that the forced smiles for the camera and constant flow of sweet nothingness seem to have overtaken her.  For the moment, at least, we can be thankful that someone else is answering those pesky 3 A.M. phone calls.

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McCain Isn’t Swooning

John McCain may be a maverick but he is no push-over. He gets to the nub of President Obama’s grandstanding on Guantanamo:

“I think that it’s a wise move,” McCain said about closing Guantanamo Bay. “But I also think that we should have addressed this whole issue completely, because it did not address the issue of those who we have in custody and can’t — and no country will take them back. We should have addressed the issue of those who we know would pose a threat to the United States, but we don’t have sufficient evidence to move forward.”

McCain said instead of closing Guantanamo Bay outright, he would have first continued the military commissions, which “after years of delay and obfuscation” were finally moving toward trials.

“So, the easy part, in all due respect, is to say we’re going to close Guantanamo,” McCain said. “Then I think I would have said where they were going to be taken. Because you’re going to run into a NIMBY [not in my backyard] problem here in the United States of America.”

There is something quite odd about freezing the military trials after years of complaining that detainees were being held without legal recourse. And declaring that Guantanamo is closing is the sort of PR stunt one might expect from a candidate, but not from a President intent on setting aside “childish things.”

McCain is equally skeptical about the spend-a-thon “stimulus” bill:

“I hope we can work together to, frankly, be a real stimulus package and not just a spending package that has every cat and dog and pet project that people have,” he said. “Because the object of a stimulus package is to stimulate the economy, not to just spend more and run up the debt to our kids and our grandkids.”

In addition to a real stimulus package, McCain said he believes the government should work to cut or eliminate payroll taxes.

“I think we should spend the money that we can immediately, but at the same time if we have a couple of quarters of positive GDP growth, then let’s start reducing and eliminating the huge, massive, unprecedented deficits that are going to accrue from these actions,” he said.

McCain is of course the Democrats’ favorite Republican — so long as he is taking positions contrary to his own party. Whenever he injects a dose of reality into the national security debate or fiscal conservative ideas into the economic debate, he is simply another Republican to be ignored in their eyes. But if the President is serious about working with Republicans and not simply humoring them, he might take some of his former rival’s words to heart.

John McCain may be a maverick but he is no push-over. He gets to the nub of President Obama’s grandstanding on Guantanamo:

“I think that it’s a wise move,” McCain said about closing Guantanamo Bay. “But I also think that we should have addressed this whole issue completely, because it did not address the issue of those who we have in custody and can’t — and no country will take them back. We should have addressed the issue of those who we know would pose a threat to the United States, but we don’t have sufficient evidence to move forward.”

McCain said instead of closing Guantanamo Bay outright, he would have first continued the military commissions, which “after years of delay and obfuscation” were finally moving toward trials.

“So, the easy part, in all due respect, is to say we’re going to close Guantanamo,” McCain said. “Then I think I would have said where they were going to be taken. Because you’re going to run into a NIMBY [not in my backyard] problem here in the United States of America.”

There is something quite odd about freezing the military trials after years of complaining that detainees were being held without legal recourse. And declaring that Guantanamo is closing is the sort of PR stunt one might expect from a candidate, but not from a President intent on setting aside “childish things.”

McCain is equally skeptical about the spend-a-thon “stimulus” bill:

“I hope we can work together to, frankly, be a real stimulus package and not just a spending package that has every cat and dog and pet project that people have,” he said. “Because the object of a stimulus package is to stimulate the economy, not to just spend more and run up the debt to our kids and our grandkids.”

In addition to a real stimulus package, McCain said he believes the government should work to cut or eliminate payroll taxes.

“I think we should spend the money that we can immediately, but at the same time if we have a couple of quarters of positive GDP growth, then let’s start reducing and eliminating the huge, massive, unprecedented deficits that are going to accrue from these actions,” he said.

McCain is of course the Democrats’ favorite Republican — so long as he is taking positions contrary to his own party. Whenever he injects a dose of reality into the national security debate or fiscal conservative ideas into the economic debate, he is simply another Republican to be ignored in their eyes. But if the President is serious about working with Republicans and not simply humoring them, he might take some of his former rival’s words to heart.

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All the News That’s Fit to Fund

Satire only works when there’s room for exaggeration between a subject and its characterization. For politically conservative satirists like P.J. O’Rourke things are getting extremely cramped. About a month and a half ago, O’Rourke wrote,

HELLO? Bailout people? Mr Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson? Aren’t you forgetting somebody? Like me? I’m a print journalist. Talk about financial meltdown! Print journalists may soon have to send their kids to public schools, feed dry food to their cats and give up their leases on Prius automobiles and get the Hummers that are being offered at such deep discounts these days.

Today the Associated Press reports:

The French state is to help provide free newspaper subscriptions to teenagers for their 18th birthdays, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday. But the bigger gift is for France’s ailing print media.

Sarkozy also announced a ninefold rise in the state’s support for newspaper deliveries and a doubling of its annual print advertising outlay amid a swelling industry crisis.

Sarkozy argued in a speech to publishers that the measures are needed because the global financial crisis has compounded woes for a sector already suffering from falling ad revenues and subscriptions.

Well, life imitating art is old news. What raises more concern is the newer phenomenon of American leaders imitating European socialists. O’Rourke just might be able to hang onto his Prius — even if it means forfeiting his calling.

Satire only works when there’s room for exaggeration between a subject and its characterization. For politically conservative satirists like P.J. O’Rourke things are getting extremely cramped. About a month and a half ago, O’Rourke wrote,

HELLO? Bailout people? Mr Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson? Aren’t you forgetting somebody? Like me? I’m a print journalist. Talk about financial meltdown! Print journalists may soon have to send their kids to public schools, feed dry food to their cats and give up their leases on Prius automobiles and get the Hummers that are being offered at such deep discounts these days.

Today the Associated Press reports:

The French state is to help provide free newspaper subscriptions to teenagers for their 18th birthdays, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday. But the bigger gift is for France’s ailing print media.

Sarkozy also announced a ninefold rise in the state’s support for newspaper deliveries and a doubling of its annual print advertising outlay amid a swelling industry crisis.

Sarkozy argued in a speech to publishers that the measures are needed because the global financial crisis has compounded woes for a sector already suffering from falling ad revenues and subscriptions.

Well, life imitating art is old news. What raises more concern is the newer phenomenon of American leaders imitating European socialists. O’Rourke just might be able to hang onto his Prius — even if it means forfeiting his calling.

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Decisions, Decisions

Commenting on my post the other day on Pete Seeger, a blogger at The Nation notes that “James Kirchick has engaged The Nation in some spirited debate over the years, most recently taking on our publication of Sean Penn’s essay about Raul Castro. Normally we welcome the argument. Today, though, we had to ask ourselves if he’s running out of worthy targets.”

Forgive my decision-making talents (or lack thereof), but there’s only so much stupidity in that magazine that I can deal with on a week’s basis. However, I trust that in the months and years to come there will be no shortage of Stalinists, terrorists, and murderers praised within its pages to supply me with a never-ending series of blog posts.

Commenting on my post the other day on Pete Seeger, a blogger at The Nation notes that “James Kirchick has engaged The Nation in some spirited debate over the years, most recently taking on our publication of Sean Penn’s essay about Raul Castro. Normally we welcome the argument. Today, though, we had to ask ourselves if he’s running out of worthy targets.”

Forgive my decision-making talents (or lack thereof), but there’s only so much stupidity in that magazine that I can deal with on a week’s basis. However, I trust that in the months and years to come there will be no shortage of Stalinists, terrorists, and murderers praised within its pages to supply me with a never-ending series of blog posts.

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Maybe It Was Just a Bad Speech

Charles Krauthamer was certainly underwhelmed by the Inaugural Speech:

Fascinating speech. It was so rhetorically flat, so lacking in rhythm and cadence, one almost has to believe he did it on purpose. Best not to dazzle on Opening Day. Otherwise, they’ll expect magic all the time.
.   .    .
The language lacked lyricism. The content had neither arc nor theme: no narrative trajectory like Lincoln’s second inaugural; no central idea, as was (to take a lesser example) universal freedom in Bush’s second inaugural.

This is odd because Obama is so clearly capable of more. But he decisively left behind the candidate who made audiences swoon and the impressionable faint. And that left the million-plus on the Mall, while unshakably euphoric about the moment, let down and puzzled by the speech. He’d given them nothing to cheer or chant, nothing to sing. Candidate Obama had promised the moon. In soaring cadences, he described a world laid waste by Bush, a world that President Obama would redeem — bringing boundless hope and universal health, receding oceans and a healing planet.

But now that Obama was president, the redeemer was withholding, the tone newly sober, even dour. The world was still in Bushian ruin, marked by “fear . . . conflict . . . discord . . . petty grievances and false promises . . . recriminations and worn-out dogmas.” But no more the prospect of magical restoration. In a stunning exercise in lowered expectations, Obama offered not quite blood, sweat and tears, but responsibility, work, sacrifice and service.

Krauthammer is mesmerized by the mediocrity, convinced there is a brilliant scheme or some emotional “withholding” going on. Because a speech so disappointing could have been crafted as such only deliberately, right?

This strikes me as the mellower flip side to how liberals reacted to Karl Rove. Every development in the world, every misstep by President Bush and every odd occurrence was somehow connected by the evil brain of Rove, a sinister and devious mind with superhuman powers. Now conservatives are falling into a similar pattern. It is all a magnificent plot engineered by the greatest politician of our day. A flat speech? Well, it’s part of the Obama Plan. Letting the House concoct a partisan mess of a “stimulus bill”? Part of the Obama Plan. Sending up a fellow with tax-evasion problems on the day he talks about ethics and transparency? Part of the Obama Plan.

Maybe there is an easier explanation: he doesn’t know what he wants to do or how exactly to do it. When you yourself don’t know where you are heading, it’s hard to communicate your direction to others.

You talk a lot of process, you call continuity “change,” and you wait for everyone to exhaust themselves. That’s what candidate Obama did. It’s harder to pull off as President, when you actually have to do things and make choices.

Ronald Reagan reminded us in his farewell address from the White House in January 1989:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation–from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.

I suspect that when President Obama figures out the content of his own agenda – what he actually wants to do and how he’s going to get it done –his speeches will improve. Until then, he’s just marking time.

Charles Krauthamer was certainly underwhelmed by the Inaugural Speech:

Fascinating speech. It was so rhetorically flat, so lacking in rhythm and cadence, one almost has to believe he did it on purpose. Best not to dazzle on Opening Day. Otherwise, they’ll expect magic all the time.
.   .    .
The language lacked lyricism. The content had neither arc nor theme: no narrative trajectory like Lincoln’s second inaugural; no central idea, as was (to take a lesser example) universal freedom in Bush’s second inaugural.

This is odd because Obama is so clearly capable of more. But he decisively left behind the candidate who made audiences swoon and the impressionable faint. And that left the million-plus on the Mall, while unshakably euphoric about the moment, let down and puzzled by the speech. He’d given them nothing to cheer or chant, nothing to sing. Candidate Obama had promised the moon. In soaring cadences, he described a world laid waste by Bush, a world that President Obama would redeem — bringing boundless hope and universal health, receding oceans and a healing planet.

But now that Obama was president, the redeemer was withholding, the tone newly sober, even dour. The world was still in Bushian ruin, marked by “fear . . . conflict . . . discord . . . petty grievances and false promises . . . recriminations and worn-out dogmas.” But no more the prospect of magical restoration. In a stunning exercise in lowered expectations, Obama offered not quite blood, sweat and tears, but responsibility, work, sacrifice and service.

Krauthammer is mesmerized by the mediocrity, convinced there is a brilliant scheme or some emotional “withholding” going on. Because a speech so disappointing could have been crafted as such only deliberately, right?

This strikes me as the mellower flip side to how liberals reacted to Karl Rove. Every development in the world, every misstep by President Bush and every odd occurrence was somehow connected by the evil brain of Rove, a sinister and devious mind with superhuman powers. Now conservatives are falling into a similar pattern. It is all a magnificent plot engineered by the greatest politician of our day. A flat speech? Well, it’s part of the Obama Plan. Letting the House concoct a partisan mess of a “stimulus bill”? Part of the Obama Plan. Sending up a fellow with tax-evasion problems on the day he talks about ethics and transparency? Part of the Obama Plan.

Maybe there is an easier explanation: he doesn’t know what he wants to do or how exactly to do it. When you yourself don’t know where you are heading, it’s hard to communicate your direction to others.

You talk a lot of process, you call continuity “change,” and you wait for everyone to exhaust themselves. That’s what candidate Obama did. It’s harder to pull off as President, when you actually have to do things and make choices.

Ronald Reagan reminded us in his farewell address from the White House in January 1989:

And in all of that time I won a nickname, “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation–from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.

I suspect that when President Obama figures out the content of his own agenda – what he actually wants to do and how he’s going to get it done –his speeches will improve. Until then, he’s just marking time.

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Ex-Con Finds Work

Today in the New York Times, Robert F. Worth begins a story as follows:

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda‘s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

Had Times editors inserted “pointlessness” for “complications,” the sentence might have been of some analytic value. As it stands, the lede is a mystery: what’s less complicated than a freed terrorist returning to terrorism?  In 2007, Said Ali al-Shihri was released to Saudi Arabia, where he went through a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists,” before zipping over to Yemen to rise through the al Qaeda ranks. Not so complicated.

Worth quotes an American official as saying, “The lesson here is, whoever receives former Guantánamo detainees needs to keep a close eye on them.” I’m not so sure that’s the lesson. If countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen could be finger wagged into keeping a close eye on jihadists, the World Trade Center would be standing and Americans’ biggest safety concern would be some bird that caught a cold in Southeast Asia. I think the lesson here is more like: Guantánamo is actually filled with criminals.

And, by the way, just how did al-Shihri manage to escape the clutches of the demonic and ruthless Bush Torture Regime? “The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business.” Just as soon as he went through jihad rehab, I guess.

Today in the New York Times, Robert F. Worth begins a story as follows:

The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda‘s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

Had Times editors inserted “pointlessness” for “complications,” the sentence might have been of some analytic value. As it stands, the lede is a mystery: what’s less complicated than a freed terrorist returning to terrorism?  In 2007, Said Ali al-Shihri was released to Saudi Arabia, where he went through a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists,” before zipping over to Yemen to rise through the al Qaeda ranks. Not so complicated.

Worth quotes an American official as saying, “The lesson here is, whoever receives former Guantánamo detainees needs to keep a close eye on them.” I’m not so sure that’s the lesson. If countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen could be finger wagged into keeping a close eye on jihadists, the World Trade Center would be standing and Americans’ biggest safety concern would be some bird that caught a cold in Southeast Asia. I think the lesson here is more like: Guantánamo is actually filled with criminals.

And, by the way, just how did al-Shihri manage to escape the clutches of the demonic and ruthless Bush Torture Regime? “The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business.” Just as soon as he went through jihad rehab, I guess.

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Americans Mixed on Gitmo

The tide of international public opinion is decisively against Guantanamo Bay. Obama’s recent decision to close down the controversial detention center may be sincerely motivated by the premise of “boosting America’s image abroad.” Domestically, however, it will be a tougher sell because Americans seem to harbor mixed feelings toward Gitmo. Here’s Gallup:

Americans are sending no clear mandate on the issue. Slightly more think the United States should not close the prison than say it should, 45% to 35%. These views are similar to those expressed in 2007, at which time 33% favored closing the prison but 53% were opposed and 13% had no opinion. The major difference since that time is that slightly fewer now favor keeping the prison open (from 53% to 45%), and slightly more do not express an opinion (from 13% to 20%).

I don’t mean to suggest that major policy resolutions should be decided by public opinion polls. But these figures reflect the complexity of Americans’ attitudes toward Gitmo, which should therefore not be characterized as a black and white issue. It’s a complicated matter deserving serious consideration rather than political manipulation along partisan lines. Obama is taking on a risky political gamble with his hasty move to close down Gitmo. More from Gallup:

President Obama’s most loyal supporters — Democrats and liberals — do lean decisively toward closing the U.S. prison there. But Americans overall do not express such a clear preference, and in fact are more likely to prefer keeping the prison open. While swift action to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay will draw a clear dividing line between the policies of the Bush Administration versus the Obama Administration, it is more likely to be well-received by Obama’s most loyal base of support than by the broader cross-section of Americans who have generally given high marks to Obama’s presidential decisions so far. If Obama does choose to close the prison, which these data suggest would go against public opinion, at least to an extent, it could provide an early test of how much Americans’ high ratings of Obama to date will reflect the more controversial decisions Obama, as president, will now be forced to make.

A similar poll conducted last year by Rasmussen likewise suggests Obama hasn’t persuaded Americans on this issue. The poll’s results are from November of 2008: by a 49% to 32% margin, Americans reported that they do not think the prison should be closed. However:

Fifty-five percent (55%) of Republicans and 54% of unaffiliated voters say Obama is very likely to close the prison in his first year as president…

Even though Americans expected Obama to close Gitmo, and in spite of their confidence in Obama and support for his decisions, they are still unconvinced that closing this detention center is the right way to go. Whether they will change their minds after the fact remains to be seen. But even if they do give him the benefit of the doubt for now, the faintest hint of trouble on the terrorism front will retroactively make this move problematic.

The tide of international public opinion is decisively against Guantanamo Bay. Obama’s recent decision to close down the controversial detention center may be sincerely motivated by the premise of “boosting America’s image abroad.” Domestically, however, it will be a tougher sell because Americans seem to harbor mixed feelings toward Gitmo. Here’s Gallup:

Americans are sending no clear mandate on the issue. Slightly more think the United States should not close the prison than say it should, 45% to 35%. These views are similar to those expressed in 2007, at which time 33% favored closing the prison but 53% were opposed and 13% had no opinion. The major difference since that time is that slightly fewer now favor keeping the prison open (from 53% to 45%), and slightly more do not express an opinion (from 13% to 20%).

I don’t mean to suggest that major policy resolutions should be decided by public opinion polls. But these figures reflect the complexity of Americans’ attitudes toward Gitmo, which should therefore not be characterized as a black and white issue. It’s a complicated matter deserving serious consideration rather than political manipulation along partisan lines. Obama is taking on a risky political gamble with his hasty move to close down Gitmo. More from Gallup:

President Obama’s most loyal supporters — Democrats and liberals — do lean decisively toward closing the U.S. prison there. But Americans overall do not express such a clear preference, and in fact are more likely to prefer keeping the prison open. While swift action to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay will draw a clear dividing line between the policies of the Bush Administration versus the Obama Administration, it is more likely to be well-received by Obama’s most loyal base of support than by the broader cross-section of Americans who have generally given high marks to Obama’s presidential decisions so far. If Obama does choose to close the prison, which these data suggest would go against public opinion, at least to an extent, it could provide an early test of how much Americans’ high ratings of Obama to date will reflect the more controversial decisions Obama, as president, will now be forced to make.

A similar poll conducted last year by Rasmussen likewise suggests Obama hasn’t persuaded Americans on this issue. The poll’s results are from November of 2008: by a 49% to 32% margin, Americans reported that they do not think the prison should be closed. However:

Fifty-five percent (55%) of Republicans and 54% of unaffiliated voters say Obama is very likely to close the prison in his first year as president…

Even though Americans expected Obama to close Gitmo, and in spite of their confidence in Obama and support for his decisions, they are still unconvinced that closing this detention center is the right way to go. Whether they will change their minds after the fact remains to be seen. But even if they do give him the benefit of the doubt for now, the faintest hint of trouble on the terrorism front will retroactively make this move problematic.

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Been There, Done That

Jackson Diehl notices that President Obama has recycled more than President George W. Bush’s Middle East messenger:

[George] Mitchell’s recommendations, delivered during the Bush administration’s fourth month in office, will sound familiar, too. He called for a cease-fire, followed by a series of confidence-building measures. The aim was to restore a climate in which peace talks could succeed. Palestinian authorities were supposed to reform their security forces and stop terrorist attacks against Israel; Israel was asked to freeze all Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza. “Expansion of settlements undermines Palestinians’ confidence in Israel’s willingness to negotiate . . . a viable Palestinian state,” Mitchell and former senator Warren Rudman declared in an op-ed published in The Post.

. . .

The problem, of course, is that the Mitchell plan of 2001 was a flop. Formally endorsed by all sides, endlessly discussed for more than a year, it was eventually folded into Bush’s “road map” scheme of 2002 — which, in turn, also went nowhere. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat repeatedly promised but never delivered action by the security forces to end Palestinian attacks. The new Israeli prime minister — Ariel Sharon — rejected the freeze on settlements. Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, made no effort to overcome Sharon’s resistance, and they cut off all contact with Arafat after he was caught trying to import a shipload of weapons.

Now, as Diehl notes, the landscape for “peace” is worse than in 2001 given the rise of Hamas, the division between Israel’s Palestinian “peace partner” into two warring factions, and the lack of desire by Hamas for peace. So why trot out the same rhetoric and the same negotiator?

One possibility is that President Obama understands all this and is simply buying time, giving the Arab world a heaping portion of “hope” (pretty talk about the peace process). Perhaps he is well aware that none of this is going anywhere for the foreseeable future — unless, of course, Hamas can be dismantled as the governing entity of Gaza.

The other possibility is that, as on so many other topics, the Obama team is displaying a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Bush was disengaged. We didn’t try hard enough to bring about peace. Obama is the only President who’s ever been committed to peace in the Middle East. The source of the problem is mutual mistrust. And on it goes — none of it accurate, but all of it earnestly repeated as dogma. It is that sort of talk that leaves you wondering where they’ve been these last eight years. (And Hillary Clinton knows better, right? It seems she of all people knows exactly how hard her husband strove for that elusive peace deal.)

It may be that the Obama team, led by Mitchell, envisions a new twist: they’re going to start ratcheting up the “even-handedness” talk and start pushing Israel around in an effort to achieve those lauded “confidence building” measures. (Ironic, isn’t it, that bullying Israel is supposed to bring about an era of confidence?) We don’t know that to be the case, and Obama’s pro-Israel supporters have much credibility at stake denying that might be what’s in store. But we simply don’t know what else “different” the Obama team has in mind.

At “best,” the Obama team will mimic their predecessors. The Bush administration spent endless time searching for the magic key to unlock Middle East peace. It was a useless effort but their feverish peace-seeking activity was coupled with a deeply-held, often-expressed commitment to Israel’s security. The danger with the Obama group is that we’ll have a continuation of the former and a shortage of the latter.

In the end, the Middle East doesn’t revolve around Americans’ electoral college. Hamas doesn’t care who is in the White House and isn’t going to be charmed by its latest occupant. Israel survived James Baker and will survive George Mitchell, as well. The cycle of war and truce seems destined to continue — unless of course the Obama team can capitalize on the war and figure out how to shove Hamas out of power. That would be change.

Jackson Diehl notices that President Obama has recycled more than President George W. Bush’s Middle East messenger:

[George] Mitchell’s recommendations, delivered during the Bush administration’s fourth month in office, will sound familiar, too. He called for a cease-fire, followed by a series of confidence-building measures. The aim was to restore a climate in which peace talks could succeed. Palestinian authorities were supposed to reform their security forces and stop terrorist attacks against Israel; Israel was asked to freeze all Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza. “Expansion of settlements undermines Palestinians’ confidence in Israel’s willingness to negotiate . . . a viable Palestinian state,” Mitchell and former senator Warren Rudman declared in an op-ed published in The Post.

. . .

The problem, of course, is that the Mitchell plan of 2001 was a flop. Formally endorsed by all sides, endlessly discussed for more than a year, it was eventually folded into Bush’s “road map” scheme of 2002 — which, in turn, also went nowhere. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat repeatedly promised but never delivered action by the security forces to end Palestinian attacks. The new Israeli prime minister — Ariel Sharon — rejected the freeze on settlements. Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, made no effort to overcome Sharon’s resistance, and they cut off all contact with Arafat after he was caught trying to import a shipload of weapons.

Now, as Diehl notes, the landscape for “peace” is worse than in 2001 given the rise of Hamas, the division between Israel’s Palestinian “peace partner” into two warring factions, and the lack of desire by Hamas for peace. So why trot out the same rhetoric and the same negotiator?

One possibility is that President Obama understands all this and is simply buying time, giving the Arab world a heaping portion of “hope” (pretty talk about the peace process). Perhaps he is well aware that none of this is going anywhere for the foreseeable future — unless, of course, Hamas can be dismantled as the governing entity of Gaza.

The other possibility is that, as on so many other topics, the Obama team is displaying a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Bush was disengaged. We didn’t try hard enough to bring about peace. Obama is the only President who’s ever been committed to peace in the Middle East. The source of the problem is mutual mistrust. And on it goes — none of it accurate, but all of it earnestly repeated as dogma. It is that sort of talk that leaves you wondering where they’ve been these last eight years. (And Hillary Clinton knows better, right? It seems she of all people knows exactly how hard her husband strove for that elusive peace deal.)

It may be that the Obama team, led by Mitchell, envisions a new twist: they’re going to start ratcheting up the “even-handedness” talk and start pushing Israel around in an effort to achieve those lauded “confidence building” measures. (Ironic, isn’t it, that bullying Israel is supposed to bring about an era of confidence?) We don’t know that to be the case, and Obama’s pro-Israel supporters have much credibility at stake denying that might be what’s in store. But we simply don’t know what else “different” the Obama team has in mind.

At “best,” the Obama team will mimic their predecessors. The Bush administration spent endless time searching for the magic key to unlock Middle East peace. It was a useless effort but their feverish peace-seeking activity was coupled with a deeply-held, often-expressed commitment to Israel’s security. The danger with the Obama group is that we’ll have a continuation of the former and a shortage of the latter.

In the end, the Middle East doesn’t revolve around Americans’ electoral college. Hamas doesn’t care who is in the White House and isn’t going to be charmed by its latest occupant. Israel survived James Baker and will survive George Mitchell, as well. The cycle of war and truce seems destined to continue — unless of course the Obama team can capitalize on the war and figure out how to shove Hamas out of power. That would be change.

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A Gaza Post-Mortem

A fragile quiet prevails in Gaza and Israel today, its duration unknown. It would be satisfying to say that Israel won, but clearly it did not. The political leadership did not allow the IDF to continue advancing until Hamas’s leadership, ensconced in bunkers underneath hospitals, could be eliminated. This act would have consummated the operation, demonstrated Israeli seriousness, and extended the current peace interregnum.

But despite what could have been, the reality is sinking in: Hamas lost. According to news reports, Hamas’s Damascus leadership ordered the group to attack withdrawing IDF forces — and Hamas refused. Hamas vowed that there was nothing Israel could do to make it stop firing rockets, and today Sderot is quiet. Hamas vowed that it would fight until the blockade was lifted, and today the blockade remains in place.

Assuming Hamas continues to hold its fire, there are a few conclusions we can draw about the war:

1. It was probably the most lopsided engagement of its size the IDF has ever fought. Only four Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas, while over 600 Hamas fighters, leaders, and other militants were eliminated. Larger numbers were wounded or captured. That’s an astonishing testament both to the IDF’s proficiency and to Hamas’s ineptitude. Reports indicate that Hamas, despite extensive mentoring from Iran and Hezbollah, proved incompetent and cowardly on the battlefield.

2. No IDF soldiers were abducted, no helicopters were shot down, and no tanks were destroyed. These were central objectives for Hamas that were intended to create “victory images” for the group. Instead, Hamas’s followers were treated to images of Ismail Haniyah declaring victory from a bunker. The contradiction between rhetoric and reality could not be more obvious.

3. Hamas’s regional allies — Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran — sat on the sidelines throughout the war. This is rather embarrassing, given the manner in which these groups celebrate their collective dedication to resistance.

4. Hamas was unable to sustain a consistent level of rocket fire throughout the engagement. Before the IDF attacked, close to 100 rockets per day were launched from Gaza; during Cast Lead, that number dwindled into the teens. Hamas was thus unable to meet the benchmark set by Hezbollah in 2006, when the IDF was unable to reduce the level of rockets raining on Israel.

5. Over two thirds of Hamas’s missile inventory was eliminated, and 80 percent of its smuggling tunnels were either destroyed or damaged. The IDF estimates that Hamas now possesses only a few dozen Grad missiles. The major post-war danger, however, is that there does not seem to be a way to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its smuggling infrastructure. Egypt, as usual, promises to be unhelpful.

6. The political fallout among the Palestinians remains to be measured, but there is some anecdotal evidence that people in Gaza aren’t feeling terribly proud of the resistance as they wade through the rubble. As one Hamas sympathizer writes in The Independent,

The silent majority, I think, have changed their mind about Hamas. They question whether to vote for them again. [Hamas is going to allow elections? -- NP] Some say whoever was in power the Israelis would do the same. But that is for afterwards. Right now we all stand by Hamas because we are together in this problem. Right now, the Palestinian people, are suffering and paying the price. Gaza is destroyed. It’s set us back 20 years. When things are more normal, people will see the catastrophe.

A report in the Guardian quotes another Gazan:

I am totally against the so-called resistance, because it proved a total failure. We used to hear these slogans of how strong our resistance is. I believed the slogans. But when the war started, nothing happened. I live in an area close to the border with Israel. I used to see hundreds of Hamas and other factions’ gunmen waiting for Israeli troops who might storm Gaza. But, since the first day of the war, none of them appeared. And Hamas still talks about a resistance that did nothing to protect our people.

The war certainly will not convince many Palestinians that terrorism against Israel is wrong (I don’t think anything could do that); but it might show them that it is unwise and dangerous, and that Hamas is a poor vehicle for their ambitions.

7. Hamas did not expect such a ferocious Israeli response to its abandonment of the lull and escalation of the rocket war. And most of all, it did not expect a ground war. Cast Lead demonstrates once again that jihadists tend to be poor strategic thinkers because they end up being convinced by their own messianic propaganda. Hamas’s leaders thought Israel was afraid to send the IDF into Gaza — a grave failure of analysis.

8. Throughout the war, Hamas demanded that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza. The war is over, and Israel isn’t lifting the blockade. Hamas hoped to use the war to generate international pressure on Israel to alleviate the blockade, but instead such pressure (at least so far) is coalescing around the need to prevent Hamas from benefiting from the reconstruction phase.

9. What was the consensus of peaceniks, doves, and Juiceboxers just three weeks ago? It was, as usual, defeatism: there is no military solution, the IDF will never stop the rockets, we must address Hamas’s grievances, Israel is only hurting itself, and can we please have a Time Magazine cover with a Star of David behind barbed wire? The same people said the same things about suicide bombings as the IDF commenced Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and started building the security fence. I’d say the defeatists are zero-for-three: Defensive Shield lived up to its name; Cast Lead has stopped (so far) the rockets from Gaza; and look who didn’t show up to the war: Hezbollah, still smarting more than two years after its last encounter with the IDF.

Ehud Ya’ari, writing in the Jerusalem Report, sums up the campaign aptly:

Hamas has the ability to rehabilitate itself and this should not be taken lightly. But this time it will be hard to mollify Palestinian public opinion. There is no enthusiasm for Hamas’s period in power; its fighting prowess has hardly inspired awe, and there is no longer any faith in its leaders.

For Hamas, the war was a major setback, but not a devastating one — only because Israel decided not to make it so. In the long term, Israel’s refusal to press its advantage will likely become the most salient fact of Cast Lead.

A fragile quiet prevails in Gaza and Israel today, its duration unknown. It would be satisfying to say that Israel won, but clearly it did not. The political leadership did not allow the IDF to continue advancing until Hamas’s leadership, ensconced in bunkers underneath hospitals, could be eliminated. This act would have consummated the operation, demonstrated Israeli seriousness, and extended the current peace interregnum.

But despite what could have been, the reality is sinking in: Hamas lost. According to news reports, Hamas’s Damascus leadership ordered the group to attack withdrawing IDF forces — and Hamas refused. Hamas vowed that there was nothing Israel could do to make it stop firing rockets, and today Sderot is quiet. Hamas vowed that it would fight until the blockade was lifted, and today the blockade remains in place.

Assuming Hamas continues to hold its fire, there are a few conclusions we can draw about the war:

1. It was probably the most lopsided engagement of its size the IDF has ever fought. Only four Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas, while over 600 Hamas fighters, leaders, and other militants were eliminated. Larger numbers were wounded or captured. That’s an astonishing testament both to the IDF’s proficiency and to Hamas’s ineptitude. Reports indicate that Hamas, despite extensive mentoring from Iran and Hezbollah, proved incompetent and cowardly on the battlefield.

2. No IDF soldiers were abducted, no helicopters were shot down, and no tanks were destroyed. These were central objectives for Hamas that were intended to create “victory images” for the group. Instead, Hamas’s followers were treated to images of Ismail Haniyah declaring victory from a bunker. The contradiction between rhetoric and reality could not be more obvious.

3. Hamas’s regional allies — Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran — sat on the sidelines throughout the war. This is rather embarrassing, given the manner in which these groups celebrate their collective dedication to resistance.

4. Hamas was unable to sustain a consistent level of rocket fire throughout the engagement. Before the IDF attacked, close to 100 rockets per day were launched from Gaza; during Cast Lead, that number dwindled into the teens. Hamas was thus unable to meet the benchmark set by Hezbollah in 2006, when the IDF was unable to reduce the level of rockets raining on Israel.

5. Over two thirds of Hamas’s missile inventory was eliminated, and 80 percent of its smuggling tunnels were either destroyed or damaged. The IDF estimates that Hamas now possesses only a few dozen Grad missiles. The major post-war danger, however, is that there does not seem to be a way to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its smuggling infrastructure. Egypt, as usual, promises to be unhelpful.

6. The political fallout among the Palestinians remains to be measured, but there is some anecdotal evidence that people in Gaza aren’t feeling terribly proud of the resistance as they wade through the rubble. As one Hamas sympathizer writes in The Independent,

The silent majority, I think, have changed their mind about Hamas. They question whether to vote for them again. [Hamas is going to allow elections? -- NP] Some say whoever was in power the Israelis would do the same. But that is for afterwards. Right now we all stand by Hamas because we are together in this problem. Right now, the Palestinian people, are suffering and paying the price. Gaza is destroyed. It’s set us back 20 years. When things are more normal, people will see the catastrophe.

A report in the Guardian quotes another Gazan:

I am totally against the so-called resistance, because it proved a total failure. We used to hear these slogans of how strong our resistance is. I believed the slogans. But when the war started, nothing happened. I live in an area close to the border with Israel. I used to see hundreds of Hamas and other factions’ gunmen waiting for Israeli troops who might storm Gaza. But, since the first day of the war, none of them appeared. And Hamas still talks about a resistance that did nothing to protect our people.

The war certainly will not convince many Palestinians that terrorism against Israel is wrong (I don’t think anything could do that); but it might show them that it is unwise and dangerous, and that Hamas is a poor vehicle for their ambitions.

7. Hamas did not expect such a ferocious Israeli response to its abandonment of the lull and escalation of the rocket war. And most of all, it did not expect a ground war. Cast Lead demonstrates once again that jihadists tend to be poor strategic thinkers because they end up being convinced by their own messianic propaganda. Hamas’s leaders thought Israel was afraid to send the IDF into Gaza — a grave failure of analysis.

8. Throughout the war, Hamas demanded that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza. The war is over, and Israel isn’t lifting the blockade. Hamas hoped to use the war to generate international pressure on Israel to alleviate the blockade, but instead such pressure (at least so far) is coalescing around the need to prevent Hamas from benefiting from the reconstruction phase.

9. What was the consensus of peaceniks, doves, and Juiceboxers just three weeks ago? It was, as usual, defeatism: there is no military solution, the IDF will never stop the rockets, we must address Hamas’s grievances, Israel is only hurting itself, and can we please have a Time Magazine cover with a Star of David behind barbed wire? The same people said the same things about suicide bombings as the IDF commenced Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and started building the security fence. I’d say the defeatists are zero-for-three: Defensive Shield lived up to its name; Cast Lead has stopped (so far) the rockets from Gaza; and look who didn’t show up to the war: Hezbollah, still smarting more than two years after its last encounter with the IDF.

Ehud Ya’ari, writing in the Jerusalem Report, sums up the campaign aptly:

Hamas has the ability to rehabilitate itself and this should not be taken lightly. But this time it will be hard to mollify Palestinian public opinion. There is no enthusiasm for Hamas’s period in power; its fighting prowess has hardly inspired awe, and there is no longer any faith in its leaders.

For Hamas, the war was a major setback, but not a devastating one — only because Israel decided not to make it so. In the long term, Israel’s refusal to press its advantage will likely become the most salient fact of Cast Lead.

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Envoy = “Engagement”?

For his first round of political appointments, President Barack Obama has overwhelmingly chosen strong-minded individuals with storied political resumes: Hillary Clinton for State, Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services, Bill Richardson for Commerce (until he withdrew), etc.  Apparently, the operating assumption has been that reputedly capable people can be trusted to perform their roles authoritatively – even when they otherwise lack the necessary expertise for running their respective agencies (see Panetta, Leon).

The appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell as Middle East envoy is consistent with this trend.  Indeed, throughout his three decades in national politics, Mitchell has solidified his reputation as a fair-minded and talented problem solver.  In turn, the assumption seems to be that — as an infamously capable person — Mitchell represents the Obama administration’s best hope for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, or at least a long-term cease-fire.

Yet this very assumption will doom Mitchell’s mission from the start.  After all, an envoy needs more than wits and a strong political reputation to be successful — first and foremost, he needs the president’s unyielding and unambiguous support.  As Aaron David Miller noted in his recent book, a successful envoy needs Middle Eastern leaders to believe that he speaks for the president himself, so that the various inducements that the envoy might use to push the negotiations along are credible and actionable.  This requires that the president remain totally engaged in the negotiations, even if from afar, so that the envoy’s every action contains the imprimatur of the commander-in-chief.

For this reason, Obama would be making a huge mistake if he believes that sending an envoy to the Middle East — no matter how excellent that envoy might be — counts as “engagement.”  If he is serious about making any progress at all in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, Obama must be prepared to invest his own political capital in ensuring that George Mitchell’s mission is taken seriously.  Simply put, Mitchell’s own political capital will not suffice for this particular role.

For his first round of political appointments, President Barack Obama has overwhelmingly chosen strong-minded individuals with storied political resumes: Hillary Clinton for State, Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services, Bill Richardson for Commerce (until he withdrew), etc.  Apparently, the operating assumption has been that reputedly capable people can be trusted to perform their roles authoritatively – even when they otherwise lack the necessary expertise for running their respective agencies (see Panetta, Leon).

The appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell as Middle East envoy is consistent with this trend.  Indeed, throughout his three decades in national politics, Mitchell has solidified his reputation as a fair-minded and talented problem solver.  In turn, the assumption seems to be that — as an infamously capable person — Mitchell represents the Obama administration’s best hope for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, or at least a long-term cease-fire.

Yet this very assumption will doom Mitchell’s mission from the start.  After all, an envoy needs more than wits and a strong political reputation to be successful — first and foremost, he needs the president’s unyielding and unambiguous support.  As Aaron David Miller noted in his recent book, a successful envoy needs Middle Eastern leaders to believe that he speaks for the president himself, so that the various inducements that the envoy might use to push the negotiations along are credible and actionable.  This requires that the president remain totally engaged in the negotiations, even if from afar, so that the envoy’s every action contains the imprimatur of the commander-in-chief.

For this reason, Obama would be making a huge mistake if he believes that sending an envoy to the Middle East — no matter how excellent that envoy might be — counts as “engagement.”  If he is serious about making any progress at all in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, Obama must be prepared to invest his own political capital in ensuring that George Mitchell’s mission is taken seriously.  Simply put, Mitchell’s own political capital will not suffice for this particular role.

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