Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 24, 2009

The Changing Face of Change

Yes, President Obama is closing Guantanamo Bay. But as it dawns on the mainstream media that prisoner relocation falls a bit short of national metamorphosis, industrious journalists are mining some unexpected corners in hopes of finding the change they had believed in.  Here’s Liz Sidoti, writing for the Associated Press:

Barack Obama opened his presidency by breaking sharply from George W. Bush’s unpopular administration, but he mostly avoided divisive partisan and ideological stands. He focused instead on fixing the economy, repairing a battered world image and cleaning up government.

So President Obama broke sharply from George W. Bush by being vague and wishy-washy?

If revolutionary change like that doesn’t make your head spin, then surely you’ll understand a new age is upon us after reading Sidoti’s closer:

In one Oval Office ceremony, Obama went through each executive order as he signed them, reading parts of each and methodically explaining them. He even halted a few times to ask for clarification from his White House counsel. That sort of deferral to someone else in a public setting and admission of a less-than-perfect command of the facts was never Bush’s style.

Funny, I don’t remember Obama running on a platform of refreshing ignorance, but I guess I’m just disoriented from being stuck in the age of Old Politics.

Still not convinced change is here? Consider this AP story, from Mary Clare Jalonick:

Visiting one of his favorite Chicago restaurants in November, Barack Obama was asked by an excited waitress if he wanted the restaurant’s special margarita made with the finest ingredients, straight up and shaken at the table.

“You know that’s the way I roll,” Obama replied jokingly.

Rick Bayless, the chef of that restaurant, Topolobampo, says Obama’s comfortable demeanor at the table – slumped contentedly in his chair, clearly there to enjoy himself – bodes well for the nation’s food policy. While former President George W. Bush rarely visited restaurants and didn’t often talk about what he ate, Obama dines out frequently and enjoys exploring different foods.

“He’s the kind of diner who wants to taste all sorts of things,” Bayless says. “What I’m hoping is that he’s going to recognize that we need to do what we can in our country to encourage real food for everyone.”

America was fed up with a president who thought he could eat simply at home, while the rest of the world just stood around and took it. When people of other nations get a load of our new president “slumped contentedly” over a margarita, the U.S. will all but have reclaimed its global preeminence.

Yes, President Obama is closing Guantanamo Bay. But as it dawns on the mainstream media that prisoner relocation falls a bit short of national metamorphosis, industrious journalists are mining some unexpected corners in hopes of finding the change they had believed in.  Here’s Liz Sidoti, writing for the Associated Press:

Barack Obama opened his presidency by breaking sharply from George W. Bush’s unpopular administration, but he mostly avoided divisive partisan and ideological stands. He focused instead on fixing the economy, repairing a battered world image and cleaning up government.

So President Obama broke sharply from George W. Bush by being vague and wishy-washy?

If revolutionary change like that doesn’t make your head spin, then surely you’ll understand a new age is upon us after reading Sidoti’s closer:

In one Oval Office ceremony, Obama went through each executive order as he signed them, reading parts of each and methodically explaining them. He even halted a few times to ask for clarification from his White House counsel. That sort of deferral to someone else in a public setting and admission of a less-than-perfect command of the facts was never Bush’s style.

Funny, I don’t remember Obama running on a platform of refreshing ignorance, but I guess I’m just disoriented from being stuck in the age of Old Politics.

Still not convinced change is here? Consider this AP story, from Mary Clare Jalonick:

Visiting one of his favorite Chicago restaurants in November, Barack Obama was asked by an excited waitress if he wanted the restaurant’s special margarita made with the finest ingredients, straight up and shaken at the table.

“You know that’s the way I roll,” Obama replied jokingly.

Rick Bayless, the chef of that restaurant, Topolobampo, says Obama’s comfortable demeanor at the table – slumped contentedly in his chair, clearly there to enjoy himself – bodes well for the nation’s food policy. While former President George W. Bush rarely visited restaurants and didn’t often talk about what he ate, Obama dines out frequently and enjoys exploring different foods.

“He’s the kind of diner who wants to taste all sorts of things,” Bayless says. “What I’m hoping is that he’s going to recognize that we need to do what we can in our country to encourage real food for everyone.”

America was fed up with a president who thought he could eat simply at home, while the rest of the world just stood around and took it. When people of other nations get a load of our new president “slumped contentedly” over a margarita, the U.S. will all but have reclaimed its global preeminence.

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The Empathy Slur

The MSM is intoxicated with the Obama “change” meme, even if there is little evidence of deviation from Bush’s actual policies. The Washington Post reports on President Obama’s Middle East remarks at the State Department this week:

In his remarks at the State Department, however, Obama did not veer too far from what had been Bush administration orthodoxy. He restated three conditions that the Islamist movement Hamas — which controls Gaza — must meet before it can be accepted as a diplomatic partner, even though Mitchell in 2007 co-wrote an editorial saying that “sometimes it’s hard to stop a war if you don’t talk to those who are involved in it.”

Obama, to the delight of Israeli officials and Jewish groups, also did not mention Israeli settlement expansion in Palestinian territories, which Palestinians see as a roadblock to peace.

Well, the new President can’t be the same as George W. Bush so the Post concocts a point of differentiation: President Obama is showing “greater empathy” for the Palestinians. This is absurd. President Bush never lacked “empathy” for the Palestinians and, in fact, made the creation of a Palestinian state a fixture of U.S. policy and rhetoric about the Middle East.

In speech after speech — whether at the start of the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 or in the Rose Garden speech in April 2002 –  President Bush spoke eloquently of the aspirations of the Palestinians to live in peace and seek a better life for their children. From his Rose Garden speech:

[T]he world has watched with growing concern the horror of bombings and burials and the stark picture of tanks in the street. Across the world, people are grieving for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost their lives.

When an 18-year-old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the future, itself, is dying — the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people. We mourn the dead, and we mourn the damage done to the hope of peace, the hope of Israel’s and the Israelis’ desire for a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors; the hope of the Palestinian people to build their own independent state.

From Annapolis:

We meet to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation – a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security. We meet to help bring an end to the violence that has been the true enemy of the aspirations of both the Israelis and Palestinians.

.   .    .

The Palestinian people are blessed with many gifts and talents. They want the opportunity to use those gifts to better their own lives and build a better future for their children. They want the dignity that comes with sovereignty and independence. They want justice and equality under the rule of law. They want freedom from violence and fear.

The people of Israel have just aspirations, as well. They want their children to be able to ride a bus or to go to school without fear of suicide bombers. They want an end to rocket attacks and constant threats of assault. They want their nation to be recognized and welcomed in the region where they live.

Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations – and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity. Such a state will help provide the Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.

But President Bush’s oft-stated desire for a better life for the Palestinians is at odds with the MSM storyline that he was callous or out of touch. He couldn’t possibly have been just as concerned and empathetic as the all-caring, all-feeling President Obama.

Now all of this does raise the issue as to whether the degree of empathy the President “feels” is relevant as a matter of international policy. Is Hamas impressed by the fond wishes of the President for the people it uses as human shields? Does the UN pull back from its anti-Israel vendetta when it hears the President declare concern for humanitarian suffering? We know the answer from eight years of the Bush administration: No.

As time passes we may see an actual, rather than invented, divergence regarding Middle East policy from the Bush years. George Mitchell’s appointment has not engendered confidence by those who remember his 2001 report, a masterpiece of moral relativism. But for now, it appears that not much has changed –which explains why the media has to invent points of differentiation.

The MSM is intoxicated with the Obama “change” meme, even if there is little evidence of deviation from Bush’s actual policies. The Washington Post reports on President Obama’s Middle East remarks at the State Department this week:

In his remarks at the State Department, however, Obama did not veer too far from what had been Bush administration orthodoxy. He restated three conditions that the Islamist movement Hamas — which controls Gaza — must meet before it can be accepted as a diplomatic partner, even though Mitchell in 2007 co-wrote an editorial saying that “sometimes it’s hard to stop a war if you don’t talk to those who are involved in it.”

Obama, to the delight of Israeli officials and Jewish groups, also did not mention Israeli settlement expansion in Palestinian territories, which Palestinians see as a roadblock to peace.

Well, the new President can’t be the same as George W. Bush so the Post concocts a point of differentiation: President Obama is showing “greater empathy” for the Palestinians. This is absurd. President Bush never lacked “empathy” for the Palestinians and, in fact, made the creation of a Palestinian state a fixture of U.S. policy and rhetoric about the Middle East.

In speech after speech — whether at the start of the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 or in the Rose Garden speech in April 2002 –  President Bush spoke eloquently of the aspirations of the Palestinians to live in peace and seek a better life for their children. From his Rose Garden speech:

[T]he world has watched with growing concern the horror of bombings and burials and the stark picture of tanks in the street. Across the world, people are grieving for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost their lives.

When an 18-year-old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the future, itself, is dying — the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people. We mourn the dead, and we mourn the damage done to the hope of peace, the hope of Israel’s and the Israelis’ desire for a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors; the hope of the Palestinian people to build their own independent state.

From Annapolis:

We meet to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation – a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security. We meet to help bring an end to the violence that has been the true enemy of the aspirations of both the Israelis and Palestinians.

.   .    .

The Palestinian people are blessed with many gifts and talents. They want the opportunity to use those gifts to better their own lives and build a better future for their children. They want the dignity that comes with sovereignty and independence. They want justice and equality under the rule of law. They want freedom from violence and fear.

The people of Israel have just aspirations, as well. They want their children to be able to ride a bus or to go to school without fear of suicide bombers. They want an end to rocket attacks and constant threats of assault. They want their nation to be recognized and welcomed in the region where they live.

Today, Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations – and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity. Such a state will help provide the Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.

But President Bush’s oft-stated desire for a better life for the Palestinians is at odds with the MSM storyline that he was callous or out of touch. He couldn’t possibly have been just as concerned and empathetic as the all-caring, all-feeling President Obama.

Now all of this does raise the issue as to whether the degree of empathy the President “feels” is relevant as a matter of international policy. Is Hamas impressed by the fond wishes of the President for the people it uses as human shields? Does the UN pull back from its anti-Israel vendetta when it hears the President declare concern for humanitarian suffering? We know the answer from eight years of the Bush administration: No.

As time passes we may see an actual, rather than invented, divergence regarding Middle East policy from the Bush years. George Mitchell’s appointment has not engendered confidence by those who remember his 2001 report, a masterpiece of moral relativism. But for now, it appears that not much has changed –which explains why the media has to invent points of differentiation.

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John Mearsheimer, Seer

Writing in the current American Conservative magazine, which one must always point out is neither American nor conservative, John Mearsheimer weaves a fable about Israeli aggression that is premised on a lie: that Israel wishes to re-occupy Gaza. Says Sheikh Hassan Mearsheimer:

The actual purpose [of Cast Lead] is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank.

Those tricky Jews. It’s almost as if they wanted Hamas’ rocket war, so they’d have a pretext for re-occupying Gaza.

Except that after the cease-fire the IDF promptly withdrew its forces. If Israel wanted to re-occupy Gaza, why didn’t it use the recent operation as an excuse to do so? And if the long-term Israeli goal is occupation, how come there was such an expansive political consensus for disengagement in 2005, one that continues to dominate despite the rise of Hamas and the escalation of its rocket war? And exactly which Israeli leaders are secretly pursuing re-occupation? Israel is in the midst of a national election, and not a single one of the three contenders for prime minister is running on a Gaza-reoccupation platform. Is Mearsheimer suggesting that Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak — and Likud, Kadima, and Labor — are engaged in an elaborate deception of the Israeli electorate?

I’ll stop right there, because this is a silly exercise. It assumes that Hassan Mearsheimer cares about the truth. After the war, Bret Stephens did something that Mearsheimer will never do — he asked Israeli officials what their strategy was:

In a wide-ranging interview, a senior military official offers perhaps the most authoritative explanation of his government’s war aims and his interpretation of its effects. “We have no desire to go back into Gaza,” he says. “We decided we’re not going to spend five years [in Gaza] like the five years Americans spent in Iraq.”

One gets the sense that if Mearsheimer had to do interviews, his career would be over.

Writing in the current American Conservative magazine, which one must always point out is neither American nor conservative, John Mearsheimer weaves a fable about Israeli aggression that is premised on a lie: that Israel wishes to re-occupy Gaza. Says Sheikh Hassan Mearsheimer:

The actual purpose [of Cast Lead] is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank.

Those tricky Jews. It’s almost as if they wanted Hamas’ rocket war, so they’d have a pretext for re-occupying Gaza.

Except that after the cease-fire the IDF promptly withdrew its forces. If Israel wanted to re-occupy Gaza, why didn’t it use the recent operation as an excuse to do so? And if the long-term Israeli goal is occupation, how come there was such an expansive political consensus for disengagement in 2005, one that continues to dominate despite the rise of Hamas and the escalation of its rocket war? And exactly which Israeli leaders are secretly pursuing re-occupation? Israel is in the midst of a national election, and not a single one of the three contenders for prime minister is running on a Gaza-reoccupation platform. Is Mearsheimer suggesting that Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak — and Likud, Kadima, and Labor — are engaged in an elaborate deception of the Israeli electorate?

I’ll stop right there, because this is a silly exercise. It assumes that Hassan Mearsheimer cares about the truth. After the war, Bret Stephens did something that Mearsheimer will never do — he asked Israeli officials what their strategy was:

In a wide-ranging interview, a senior military official offers perhaps the most authoritative explanation of his government’s war aims and his interpretation of its effects. “We have no desire to go back into Gaza,” he says. “We decided we’re not going to spend five years [in Gaza] like the five years Americans spent in Iraq.”

One gets the sense that if Mearsheimer had to do interviews, his career would be over.

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Lemon Socialism

Robert Reich surveys the bailout mania (plus the myriad actions by the Fed intended to prop up or loan money to failing firms) and concludes:

Put it all together and at this rate, the government — that is, taxpayers — will own much of the housing, auto, and financial sectors of the economy, those sectors that are failing fastest.

Consider too that the government already finances much of the aerospace industry, which is still doing reasonably well but depends on a foreign policy that itself has been a dismal failure. And a large portion of the pharmaceutical industry and health care sector (through the Medicare and Medicaid, the Medicare drug benefit, and support of basic research). These are in bad shape as well, and it seems likely the Obama administration will try to reorganize much of them.

What’s left? Most of high-tech, entertainment, hospitality, retail, and commodities. So far, at least, we taxpayers are not propping them up. And when the economy turns up — perhaps as soon as next year, most likely later — these sectors have a good chance of rebounding.

But the others — the ones the government is coming to own or manage — are less likely to rebound as quickly, if ever. If anyone has a good argument for why the shareholders of these losers should not be cleaned out first, and their creditors and executives and directors second — before taxpayers get stuck with the astonishingly-large bill — I would like to hear it.

It’s called Lemon Socialism. Taxpayers support the lemons. Capitalism is reserved for the winners.

If a smart liberal like Reich can figure this out and raise the alarm bell, one wonders why the new administration seems oblivious to both public opinion and sound advice on the dangers of the federal government acting like PAC-Man — gobbling up each bit of junk they find strewn in the wake of the economic crisis. Is there an overarching sense of where the cumulative impact of the bailout structure is leading us?

It is not surprising we haven’t heard much in that regard. The Treasury Secretary-nominee is a bureaucrat, albeit a skilled one, not a big picture economist who is going to put all the component parts together. But Larry Summers or Paul Volker are at the ready — and might take a break from the constant bailout activity to look at the portrait Reich paints.

Do we really want a mass of government-owned and directed businesses? And how do we pay for all the losses when the faltering firms finally go under? When the new administration comes up with comprehensive answers to these sorts of questions they’d do well to explain it to the public and the markets. That’s what the new “transparency” is all about, right?

Robert Reich surveys the bailout mania (plus the myriad actions by the Fed intended to prop up or loan money to failing firms) and concludes:

Put it all together and at this rate, the government — that is, taxpayers — will own much of the housing, auto, and financial sectors of the economy, those sectors that are failing fastest.

Consider too that the government already finances much of the aerospace industry, which is still doing reasonably well but depends on a foreign policy that itself has been a dismal failure. And a large portion of the pharmaceutical industry and health care sector (through the Medicare and Medicaid, the Medicare drug benefit, and support of basic research). These are in bad shape as well, and it seems likely the Obama administration will try to reorganize much of them.

What’s left? Most of high-tech, entertainment, hospitality, retail, and commodities. So far, at least, we taxpayers are not propping them up. And when the economy turns up — perhaps as soon as next year, most likely later — these sectors have a good chance of rebounding.

But the others — the ones the government is coming to own or manage — are less likely to rebound as quickly, if ever. If anyone has a good argument for why the shareholders of these losers should not be cleaned out first, and their creditors and executives and directors second — before taxpayers get stuck with the astonishingly-large bill — I would like to hear it.

It’s called Lemon Socialism. Taxpayers support the lemons. Capitalism is reserved for the winners.

If a smart liberal like Reich can figure this out and raise the alarm bell, one wonders why the new administration seems oblivious to both public opinion and sound advice on the dangers of the federal government acting like PAC-Man — gobbling up each bit of junk they find strewn in the wake of the economic crisis. Is there an overarching sense of where the cumulative impact of the bailout structure is leading us?

It is not surprising we haven’t heard much in that regard. The Treasury Secretary-nominee is a bureaucrat, albeit a skilled one, not a big picture economist who is going to put all the component parts together. But Larry Summers or Paul Volker are at the ready — and might take a break from the constant bailout activity to look at the portrait Reich paints.

Do we really want a mass of government-owned and directed businesses? And how do we pay for all the losses when the faltering firms finally go under? When the new administration comes up with comprehensive answers to these sorts of questions they’d do well to explain it to the public and the markets. That’s what the new “transparency” is all about, right?

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Doesn’t This Seem Familiar?

There was a noteworthy exchange between ABC’s Jake Tapper and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

TAPPER: The president wants this (stimulus) package to be bipartisan and he wants it to be stimulative. But when it passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, not one Republican voted for it. And there are lots of elements of this bill that economists say are not stimulative. There’s $726 million for after-school snacks, $50 million for the NEA, $44 million to repair the USDA, and $200 million to work on the National Mall, including grass. Does President Obama think that what passed under the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday was bipartisan and was stimulative?
GIBBS: There’s no question that the president believes that the bill is stimulative. Our analysis of the legislation right now is that 75 percent of this money will be spent in the next 18 months to create jobs and to get people working and to get the economy moving again. Absolutely, it’s stimulative. It puts money back in people’s pockets that we believe they’ll spend and help the economy. Look, I don’t want to get into this or that vote count in certain committees. This is a — as I said, this process is long and one that will wind through many curves. The president looks forward to working with members of Congress from both parties to ensure that it happens.

But Gibbs really didn’t respond to the nub of the question: Does President Obama want the larded-up, Democrat constructed stimulus bill or does he want a bipartisan bill? Gibbs won’t admit to the junk that is in the bill, but it seems clear the President at this stage isn’t making any effort to slow down the Pelosi steam train. All of the high-minded happy talk – about not allowing spending for the sake of spending, insisting on substantial infrastructure relief and enforcing the rule that spending needs to meet short and long term goals – is pretty much out the window. And, with it, much hope of a truly bipartisan deal.

Now it is possible that the President was not merely stringing along the Republicans and intends to address some of their concerns. But it is an odd process indeed that allows the Democrats to run wild to the point where even the MSM notices the bill is a grab-bag of junk. (Anderson Cooper had a surprisingly hard-hitting segment on the spending pork and lack of bipartisan appeal on his show Friday night.)

So why did the Obama team let Nancy Pelosi go hog-wild? It isn’t clear whether she got the best of the new team or whether there is some rationale for letting her do whatever she wants now. At any rate, unless the White House — or perhaps the Senate – steps in to radically readjust the bill we’ll wind up with a near party-line vote on an enormous, very Old School spending bonanza. I’m not sure how that figures into the President’s plans for smart, non-ideological governance. But it must come as a disappointment to those who thought the Obama administration was going to exhibit more policy sophistication and political inclusiveness than its predecessor.

There was a noteworthy exchange between ABC’s Jake Tapper and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

TAPPER: The president wants this (stimulus) package to be bipartisan and he wants it to be stimulative. But when it passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, not one Republican voted for it. And there are lots of elements of this bill that economists say are not stimulative. There’s $726 million for after-school snacks, $50 million for the NEA, $44 million to repair the USDA, and $200 million to work on the National Mall, including grass. Does President Obama think that what passed under the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday was bipartisan and was stimulative?
GIBBS: There’s no question that the president believes that the bill is stimulative. Our analysis of the legislation right now is that 75 percent of this money will be spent in the next 18 months to create jobs and to get people working and to get the economy moving again. Absolutely, it’s stimulative. It puts money back in people’s pockets that we believe they’ll spend and help the economy. Look, I don’t want to get into this or that vote count in certain committees. This is a — as I said, this process is long and one that will wind through many curves. The president looks forward to working with members of Congress from both parties to ensure that it happens.

But Gibbs really didn’t respond to the nub of the question: Does President Obama want the larded-up, Democrat constructed stimulus bill or does he want a bipartisan bill? Gibbs won’t admit to the junk that is in the bill, but it seems clear the President at this stage isn’t making any effort to slow down the Pelosi steam train. All of the high-minded happy talk – about not allowing spending for the sake of spending, insisting on substantial infrastructure relief and enforcing the rule that spending needs to meet short and long term goals – is pretty much out the window. And, with it, much hope of a truly bipartisan deal.

Now it is possible that the President was not merely stringing along the Republicans and intends to address some of their concerns. But it is an odd process indeed that allows the Democrats to run wild to the point where even the MSM notices the bill is a grab-bag of junk. (Anderson Cooper had a surprisingly hard-hitting segment on the spending pork and lack of bipartisan appeal on his show Friday night.)

So why did the Obama team let Nancy Pelosi go hog-wild? It isn’t clear whether she got the best of the new team or whether there is some rationale for letting her do whatever she wants now. At any rate, unless the White House — or perhaps the Senate – steps in to radically readjust the bill we’ll wind up with a near party-line vote on an enormous, very Old School spending bonanza. I’m not sure how that figures into the President’s plans for smart, non-ideological governance. But it must come as a disappointment to those who thought the Obama administration was going to exhibit more policy sophistication and political inclusiveness than its predecessor.

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The Laughable Saudi Peace Plan

It is not only our enemies that will be testing the young new American president. So will our allies. Or should I say ostensible allies? The latest test comes from Saudi Arabia. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family and a former chief of Saudi intelligence, has penned an op-ed for the Financial Times with the headline: “Saudi patience is running out.”

The prince darkly warns Obama to adopt the Saudi peace plan for Israel…or else. The plan, in case you’ve forgotten, calls on Israel “to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognize the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.”

That this is not actually a solution to the Israeli-Arab dispute should be obvious to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of the region. If Israel were actually to withdraw from the West Bank, the almost certain result would be a toppling of a corrupt and deeply unpopular Fatah administration and its replacement with a popular and fanatical Hamas administration which would never accept Israel’s right to exist. Nominal recognition from a few more states such as Saudi Arabia would do nothing to solve Israel’s dire security problems emanating not only from Hamas and Hezbollah, but also from their sponsors in Syria and Iran. Further Israeli territorial concessions would have the same effect as its previous withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon, further emboldening its enemies to step up their attacks. Anyone who thinks that the ineffectual Saudis — any more than the ineffectual Egyptians who have already recognized Israel — would somehow protect Israel from the terrorists has been smoking a few hookahs too many.

Moreover, Prince Turki’s protestations of peace and goodwill are severely undercut by the rabid hostility his article exhibits toward Israel. He writes that the Israeli armed forces have “murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians” in the course of their “bloody attack on Gaza.” He also refers to Operation Cast Lead as a “calamity,” “butchery,” “the slaughter of innocents,” and a “disaster.” He lays almost all the blame for what happened at Israel’s feet — it was “Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians.”

And so on, in the typical way of anti-Israel zealots. Prince Turki concludes with a plea: “Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.”

It is hard not to laugh at a representative of one of the world’s most oppressive and intolerant regimes condemning the most democratic, liberal and tolerant government in the region as a “murderous… regime.” It is also hard to take seriously the prince’s professions of deep concern for the sufferings of Hamas, a terrorist group that is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s chief enemy, Iran, and whose destruction he would no doubt be delighted to witness.

This is part of the Saudi habit of trying to push new American administrations into being more “even-handed” in the Middle East — code for turning against Israel. Perhaps the Saudis really care about this issue. More likely they are eager to assert their anti-Israel credentials as a way to blunt Iran’s appeal and to bolster Saudi claims to preeminence in the Muslim world. It would be deeply unfortunate if, as appears likely, Obama plays into Saudi hands and acts as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is (a) the fulcrum of the Middle East and (b) resolvable through more American pressure on Israel. Neither proposition is remotely true, as the new president is likely to learn to his regret before too long.

It is not only our enemies that will be testing the young new American president. So will our allies. Or should I say ostensible allies? The latest test comes from Saudi Arabia. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family and a former chief of Saudi intelligence, has penned an op-ed for the Financial Times with the headline: “Saudi patience is running out.”

The prince darkly warns Obama to adopt the Saudi peace plan for Israel…or else. The plan, in case you’ve forgotten, calls on Israel “to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, returning to the lines of June 4 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly resolution 194; and to recognize the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.”

That this is not actually a solution to the Israeli-Arab dispute should be obvious to anyone with even a modicum of understanding of the region. If Israel were actually to withdraw from the West Bank, the almost certain result would be a toppling of a corrupt and deeply unpopular Fatah administration and its replacement with a popular and fanatical Hamas administration which would never accept Israel’s right to exist. Nominal recognition from a few more states such as Saudi Arabia would do nothing to solve Israel’s dire security problems emanating not only from Hamas and Hezbollah, but also from their sponsors in Syria and Iran. Further Israeli territorial concessions would have the same effect as its previous withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon, further emboldening its enemies to step up their attacks. Anyone who thinks that the ineffectual Saudis — any more than the ineffectual Egyptians who have already recognized Israel — would somehow protect Israel from the terrorists has been smoking a few hookahs too many.

Moreover, Prince Turki’s protestations of peace and goodwill are severely undercut by the rabid hostility his article exhibits toward Israel. He writes that the Israeli armed forces have “murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians” in the course of their “bloody attack on Gaza.” He also refers to Operation Cast Lead as a “calamity,” “butchery,” “the slaughter of innocents,” and a “disaster.” He lays almost all the blame for what happened at Israel’s feet — it was “Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians.”

And so on, in the typical way of anti-Israel zealots. Prince Turki concludes with a plea: “Let us all pray that Mr Obama possesses the foresight, fairness, and resolve to rein in the murderous Israeli regime and open a new chapter in this most intractable of conflicts.”

It is hard not to laugh at a representative of one of the world’s most oppressive and intolerant regimes condemning the most democratic, liberal and tolerant government in the region as a “murderous… regime.” It is also hard to take seriously the prince’s professions of deep concern for the sufferings of Hamas, a terrorist group that is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s chief enemy, Iran, and whose destruction he would no doubt be delighted to witness.

This is part of the Saudi habit of trying to push new American administrations into being more “even-handed” in the Middle East — code for turning against Israel. Perhaps the Saudis really care about this issue. More likely they are eager to assert their anti-Israel credentials as a way to blunt Iran’s appeal and to bolster Saudi claims to preeminence in the Muslim world. It would be deeply unfortunate if, as appears likely, Obama plays into Saudi hands and acts as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is (a) the fulcrum of the Middle East and (b) resolvable through more American pressure on Israel. Neither proposition is remotely true, as the new president is likely to learn to his regret before too long.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Unlike 99% of reporters who write on the subject, Scot Lehigh actually understands card check legislation and current labor law. He has a useful compromise: make the penalties more onerous for employers who violate current labor law during union campaigns. An additional element would be to provide quick injunctive powers for the NLRB so misbehavior can be halted and elections continued in good order.

Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this about the Republicans and the stimulus plan: “We look forward to continuing to seek their ideas, to seek their input and have a process where their ideas can be debated and voted on.” You get the sense they have no intention of incorporating any Republican ideas — after all the Democrats have the numbers to vote them down. If that’s the case — and the definition of “bipartisan” is synonymous with “humoring” — he can expect to get virtually no Republican votes.

And from the other side of the aisle, Mitch McConnell talks bipartisanship as well — but I didn’t hear him saying he would vote for the stimulus or support the far-left agenda of his Senate opponents. I’m thinking he’s thinking triangulation. He and his conference run against Democrats in the Senate not the one in the White House.

But insulting the Republicans at the White House with  a Rush Limbaugh jibe isn’t the way to win adherents. It is noteworthy that the insult  leaked, suggesting the Republicans are getting ready to burst the bipartisan façade. For a fellow who is supposed to respect his opponents Barack Obama sure has a habit of demeaning their legitimate policy concerns. (“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”)

Megan McArdle considers what happens when all the debt from the stimulus needs to be rolled over. Well, you can raise taxes or raise interest rates to keep borrowers in the game. But don’t bank on “growing” our way out of it. She writes that “the actual empirical evidence that massive government spending can shock an economy the size of ours into a permanently higher level of output is . . . well, it’s sort of hard to find a wittily apt description of something that doesn’t really exist.  There’s a lot of solid Keynesian theory that says it will be so.  But not that long ago we had a lot of pretty good theories from very smart economists about how this sort of financial crisis couldn’t really happen again in the first place.” But Tim Geithner is a genius, so he’s got the whole thing wired.

John McCain is “disappointed” that the new ethics rules are being waived in the first week.

Is Tim Geithner talking down the dollar (or up the yuan)? Some fret: “This would seem to be an especially crazy time to undermine the dollar, given that the Treasury will have to issue some $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new dollar debt in the next couple of years. A stronger yuan would also contribute to Chinese deflation and slower growth, which would only mean a deeper world recession. Even the Bush Treasury never formally declared China to be a currency “manipulator” in its periodic reports to Congress. If the Obama Treasury is now going to take that step, hold on to those gold bars. We’re in for an even scarier ride than the Fun Slide of the last few months.” You wish the Obama team would stop talking in slogans (“jump start the economy!”) and provide a unified explanation of what they are doing, including how they are going to manage an ever-greater debt held by the Chinese. (And why use the confirmation hearing to make threats –ones they have no ability to carry out?)

With Pat Toomey declining to challenge Arlen Specter in the primary will Specter veer left on card check and other hot-button issues? He could still draw other GOP opponents — and he still has to turn out the base in the general election.

One of the more succinct critiques of the huge stimulus plan comes from Gary Bauer: “It was sadly necessary to strengthen our banking systems which are a foundational structure in our economy, but the shopping spree now being proposed has little to do with shoring up the economy. It is much more about growing government and giving political payouts to favored industries, all the while laying unimaginable amounts of debt on our children.”

Republicans may be delaying confirmation on some of the cabinet nominees, but they have yet to demonstrate the unified resolve to reject any of them — even for tax or credibility issues which used to be considered disqualifying factors for high office. I understand Democrats voting for Obama nominees even when their behavior is “unacceptable,” but what’s the excuse for Republicans?

In the midst of Bush-bashing Nick Gillespie brings up  what should be a bipartisan target for reform: “Think for a moment about the thousands of Transportation Security Administration screeners — newly minted government employees all — who continue to confiscate contact-lens solution and nail clippers while, according to nearly every field test, somehow failing to notice simulated bombs in passenger luggage.” It seems the smart politicians who propose junking all the current nonsense would receive the undying gratitude of the airlines and every person who flies.

Governor Paterson didn’t win any style points in the Senate selection process: “In the aftermath, many top Democrats and even friends of Mr. Paterson see his governorship as reeling and troublingly disorganized. They believed that this was to be his defining year, one in which he could move beyond the unusual circumstances of his ascension to high office and prove he could lead the state through a perilous fiscal crisis. Some were unusually open in questioning the approach — and judgment — of the governor and the people around him.” Not an entirely bad result for the Republicans, even if Kirsten Gillibrand may be a formidable senate pick when her House seat opens up, a Democratic Senate primary race is likely and Paterson is wounded.

The New York Post details the mud slinging between the Paterson and Kennedy camps. If it weren’t for Blago and Roland Burris this would be the most bizarre Senate selection process ever.

And in the Princess Caroline aftermath, the Washington Post reminds us of the stunt in Delaware: “The governor of the First State chose Edward E. ‘Ted’ Kaufman to fill the vacancy created by the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as vice president. Mr. Kaufman worked for Mr. Biden for 21 years, 19 as chief of staff. When he was selected, there were whispers that Mr. Kaufman would step aside in 2010 to allow Mr. Biden’s son, who is Delaware’s attorney general and serving in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, to run for the seat. Those whispers became audible talk when Mr. Kaufman announced that he would not seek a full term. While this is not the most egregious example of treating a Senate seat like a family heirloom, it comes close.”

Unlike 99% of reporters who write on the subject, Scot Lehigh actually understands card check legislation and current labor law. He has a useful compromise: make the penalties more onerous for employers who violate current labor law during union campaigns. An additional element would be to provide quick injunctive powers for the NLRB so misbehavior can be halted and elections continued in good order.

Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this about the Republicans and the stimulus plan: “We look forward to continuing to seek their ideas, to seek their input and have a process where their ideas can be debated and voted on.” You get the sense they have no intention of incorporating any Republican ideas — after all the Democrats have the numbers to vote them down. If that’s the case — and the definition of “bipartisan” is synonymous with “humoring” — he can expect to get virtually no Republican votes.

And from the other side of the aisle, Mitch McConnell talks bipartisanship as well — but I didn’t hear him saying he would vote for the stimulus or support the far-left agenda of his Senate opponents. I’m thinking he’s thinking triangulation. He and his conference run against Democrats in the Senate not the one in the White House.

But insulting the Republicans at the White House with  a Rush Limbaugh jibe isn’t the way to win adherents. It is noteworthy that the insult  leaked, suggesting the Republicans are getting ready to burst the bipartisan façade. For a fellow who is supposed to respect his opponents Barack Obama sure has a habit of demeaning their legitimate policy concerns. (“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”)

Megan McArdle considers what happens when all the debt from the stimulus needs to be rolled over. Well, you can raise taxes or raise interest rates to keep borrowers in the game. But don’t bank on “growing” our way out of it. She writes that “the actual empirical evidence that massive government spending can shock an economy the size of ours into a permanently higher level of output is . . . well, it’s sort of hard to find a wittily apt description of something that doesn’t really exist.  There’s a lot of solid Keynesian theory that says it will be so.  But not that long ago we had a lot of pretty good theories from very smart economists about how this sort of financial crisis couldn’t really happen again in the first place.” But Tim Geithner is a genius, so he’s got the whole thing wired.

John McCain is “disappointed” that the new ethics rules are being waived in the first week.

Is Tim Geithner talking down the dollar (or up the yuan)? Some fret: “This would seem to be an especially crazy time to undermine the dollar, given that the Treasury will have to issue some $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new dollar debt in the next couple of years. A stronger yuan would also contribute to Chinese deflation and slower growth, which would only mean a deeper world recession. Even the Bush Treasury never formally declared China to be a currency “manipulator” in its periodic reports to Congress. If the Obama Treasury is now going to take that step, hold on to those gold bars. We’re in for an even scarier ride than the Fun Slide of the last few months.” You wish the Obama team would stop talking in slogans (“jump start the economy!”) and provide a unified explanation of what they are doing, including how they are going to manage an ever-greater debt held by the Chinese. (And why use the confirmation hearing to make threats –ones they have no ability to carry out?)

With Pat Toomey declining to challenge Arlen Specter in the primary will Specter veer left on card check and other hot-button issues? He could still draw other GOP opponents — and he still has to turn out the base in the general election.

One of the more succinct critiques of the huge stimulus plan comes from Gary Bauer: “It was sadly necessary to strengthen our banking systems which are a foundational structure in our economy, but the shopping spree now being proposed has little to do with shoring up the economy. It is much more about growing government and giving political payouts to favored industries, all the while laying unimaginable amounts of debt on our children.”

Republicans may be delaying confirmation on some of the cabinet nominees, but they have yet to demonstrate the unified resolve to reject any of them — even for tax or credibility issues which used to be considered disqualifying factors for high office. I understand Democrats voting for Obama nominees even when their behavior is “unacceptable,” but what’s the excuse for Republicans?

In the midst of Bush-bashing Nick Gillespie brings up  what should be a bipartisan target for reform: “Think for a moment about the thousands of Transportation Security Administration screeners — newly minted government employees all — who continue to confiscate contact-lens solution and nail clippers while, according to nearly every field test, somehow failing to notice simulated bombs in passenger luggage.” It seems the smart politicians who propose junking all the current nonsense would receive the undying gratitude of the airlines and every person who flies.

Governor Paterson didn’t win any style points in the Senate selection process: “In the aftermath, many top Democrats and even friends of Mr. Paterson see his governorship as reeling and troublingly disorganized. They believed that this was to be his defining year, one in which he could move beyond the unusual circumstances of his ascension to high office and prove he could lead the state through a perilous fiscal crisis. Some were unusually open in questioning the approach — and judgment — of the governor and the people around him.” Not an entirely bad result for the Republicans, even if Kirsten Gillibrand may be a formidable senate pick when her House seat opens up, a Democratic Senate primary race is likely and Paterson is wounded.

The New York Post details the mud slinging between the Paterson and Kennedy camps. If it weren’t for Blago and Roland Burris this would be the most bizarre Senate selection process ever.

And in the Princess Caroline aftermath, the Washington Post reminds us of the stunt in Delaware: “The governor of the First State chose Edward E. ‘Ted’ Kaufman to fill the vacancy created by the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as vice president. Mr. Kaufman worked for Mr. Biden for 21 years, 19 as chief of staff. When he was selected, there were whispers that Mr. Kaufman would step aside in 2010 to allow Mr. Biden’s son, who is Delaware’s attorney general and serving in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, to run for the seat. Those whispers became audible talk when Mr. Kaufman announced that he would not seek a full term. While this is not the most egregious example of treating a Senate seat like a family heirloom, it comes close.”

Read Less




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