Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 4, 2009

British Anti-Anti-Semites in a Bind

Jewish critics of Israel in Britain are in a bind these days. As Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland writes today, British Jews are experiencing a wave of anti-Semitism whipped up by Israel-haters.

That strikes Freedland as unfair. He thinks it isn’t cricket for those who despise Israel to foment Jew-hatred on Albion’s sacred shores. While he rightly opposes the noxious libel that Israel is a Nazi state, he also believes it’s unfair to tar British Jewry with the blame for Zionism’s offenses. You see Freedland, like many of the thugs on British streets howling anti-Semitic invectives, is of the opinion that Israelis were wrong to try and stop the rain of terrorist missiles on their territory. For him — and for the “Free Palestine” demonstrators who cry out for the blood of “Jewish pigs” — the Israelis are pretty much always in the wrong.

Mind you, he manages to articulate his critique of Israel’s right to self-defense without being ill-mannered or anti-Semitic. But he’s outraged that liberals who have done all in their power to stifle any prejudice toward British Muslims in the wake of 9/11 and the 7/7 attack on British subways, aren’t as eager to defend British Jews. He even goes so far as to say that it’s wrong to demand that Jews disassociate themselves from Israel in order to guarantee their safety. After all, no decent person expects ordinary Muslims to condemn jihadist attacks on the West, do they?

This is all well and good and quite principled on Freedland’s part. I suppose he thinks he’s earned his anti-anti-Semitism merit badge with this column. But there’s an underlying fallacy to his reasoning.

The connection he fails to make is the straight line between the Jew-haters he disdains and the argument that Israel has no right to fight back against Islamist terrorists seeking to destroy it.

Sure, disagreeing with various Israeli policies does not automatically mean you are an anti-Semite. But those like Freedland, who bray about “Israel’s brutality in Gaza and the colossal number of civilian deaths that entailed,” are themselves engaging in false propaganda and buying into the lies and distortions that are aimed at undermining Israel’s right to exist.

The point is, if you are willing to acquiesce in terrorist attacks on Jews in southern Israel where a tiny democracy seeks to protect its people against terrorism, why is it not okay to beat them up in London? Freedland may think his proud denunciations of Israel should give him the right to live and write freely on the sceptered Isle. But there’s no difference between the Jew-hatred that drives Hamas and Fatah and the prejudices that fuel the domestic ugliness he deplores. Freedland wants British liberals to break their silence and “stand firmly against anti-Jewish prejudice.”

So long as he and other liberal Brits (including a growing number of Jews) support anti-Israel prejudice, there’s no chance of convincing the Jew-haters to behave.

Jewish critics of Israel in Britain are in a bind these days. As Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland writes today, British Jews are experiencing a wave of anti-Semitism whipped up by Israel-haters.

That strikes Freedland as unfair. He thinks it isn’t cricket for those who despise Israel to foment Jew-hatred on Albion’s sacred shores. While he rightly opposes the noxious libel that Israel is a Nazi state, he also believes it’s unfair to tar British Jewry with the blame for Zionism’s offenses. You see Freedland, like many of the thugs on British streets howling anti-Semitic invectives, is of the opinion that Israelis were wrong to try and stop the rain of terrorist missiles on their territory. For him — and for the “Free Palestine” demonstrators who cry out for the blood of “Jewish pigs” — the Israelis are pretty much always in the wrong.

Mind you, he manages to articulate his critique of Israel’s right to self-defense without being ill-mannered or anti-Semitic. But he’s outraged that liberals who have done all in their power to stifle any prejudice toward British Muslims in the wake of 9/11 and the 7/7 attack on British subways, aren’t as eager to defend British Jews. He even goes so far as to say that it’s wrong to demand that Jews disassociate themselves from Israel in order to guarantee their safety. After all, no decent person expects ordinary Muslims to condemn jihadist attacks on the West, do they?

This is all well and good and quite principled on Freedland’s part. I suppose he thinks he’s earned his anti-anti-Semitism merit badge with this column. But there’s an underlying fallacy to his reasoning.

The connection he fails to make is the straight line between the Jew-haters he disdains and the argument that Israel has no right to fight back against Islamist terrorists seeking to destroy it.

Sure, disagreeing with various Israeli policies does not automatically mean you are an anti-Semite. But those like Freedland, who bray about “Israel’s brutality in Gaza and the colossal number of civilian deaths that entailed,” are themselves engaging in false propaganda and buying into the lies and distortions that are aimed at undermining Israel’s right to exist.

The point is, if you are willing to acquiesce in terrorist attacks on Jews in southern Israel where a tiny democracy seeks to protect its people against terrorism, why is it not okay to beat them up in London? Freedland may think his proud denunciations of Israel should give him the right to live and write freely on the sceptered Isle. But there’s no difference between the Jew-hatred that drives Hamas and Fatah and the prejudices that fuel the domestic ugliness he deplores. Freedland wants British liberals to break their silence and “stand firmly against anti-Jewish prejudice.”

So long as he and other liberal Brits (including a growing number of Jews) support anti-Israel prejudice, there’s no chance of convincing the Jew-haters to behave.

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When It Rains, It Pours

The Obama team’s newest Commerce Secretary nominee has an “issue.” It seems Judd Gregg had a staffer implicated in the Abramoff mess. (Oh, and Gregg himself had to return $12,000 in Abramoff money in 2006.) I’m sure it’s nothing. Or if it is, he’s sorry. Or something.

As that renowned American theologian said, the chickens are coming home to roost. The holier-than-thou administration seems caught up in knots. But I’m sure Robert Gibbs will effectively and fluently fend off the press. By the way, has anyone noticed the press honeymoon is over?

The Obama team’s newest Commerce Secretary nominee has an “issue.” It seems Judd Gregg had a staffer implicated in the Abramoff mess. (Oh, and Gregg himself had to return $12,000 in Abramoff money in 2006.) I’m sure it’s nothing. Or if it is, he’s sorry. Or something.

As that renowned American theologian said, the chickens are coming home to roost. The holier-than-thou administration seems caught up in knots. But I’m sure Robert Gibbs will effectively and fluently fend off the press. By the way, has anyone noticed the press honeymoon is over?

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More F-22′s

I admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the F-22 Raptor. Not because it isn’t an impressive aircraft — it is –but because I felt that we didn’t need two new manned fighter aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II is also in the pipeline and it will be not only cheaper but more widely used, with not only the air force but also the navy and marine corps and American allies planning to buy it. But to say that we might have been better off not building the F-22 is not to say that we should now cancel it amid an economic downturn in which policymakers are desperate to keep workers working.

The F-22′s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, points out that “the program is responsible for about 95,000 jobs at 1,000 suppliers.” That is a strong argument for deciding to buy 20 more F-22′s on top of the 183 already planned, as the Air Force wants, rather than cancelling the program and saving $523 million, as administration budgeteers and Congressional Democrats seem to want to do.

I’d rather have money spent on fighter aircraft to make the world a safer place than on some of the stuff that is currently in the stimulus package. As the Financial Times notes, “[c]ondoms, honey bee insurance, ice-breaking polar ships — think of a boon-doggle and the almost $900bn US fiscal stimulus package appears to have it.” (I might exclude ice-breakers from the list of boondoggles but there are plenty of other examples to choose from.) The article goes on to note that “the projects singled out for criticism account for only $3bn to $5bn of the bill,” but that’s still more than the cost of the additional F-22s.

I admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the F-22 Raptor. Not because it isn’t an impressive aircraft — it is –but because I felt that we didn’t need two new manned fighter aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II is also in the pipeline and it will be not only cheaper but more widely used, with not only the air force but also the navy and marine corps and American allies planning to buy it. But to say that we might have been better off not building the F-22 is not to say that we should now cancel it amid an economic downturn in which policymakers are desperate to keep workers working.

The F-22′s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, points out that “the program is responsible for about 95,000 jobs at 1,000 suppliers.” That is a strong argument for deciding to buy 20 more F-22′s on top of the 183 already planned, as the Air Force wants, rather than cancelling the program and saving $523 million, as administration budgeteers and Congressional Democrats seem to want to do.

I’d rather have money spent on fighter aircraft to make the world a safer place than on some of the stuff that is currently in the stimulus package. As the Financial Times notes, “[c]ondoms, honey bee insurance, ice-breaking polar ships — think of a boon-doggle and the almost $900bn US fiscal stimulus package appears to have it.” (I might exclude ice-breakers from the list of boondoggles but there are plenty of other examples to choose from.) The article goes on to note that “the projects singled out for criticism account for only $3bn to $5bn of the bill,” but that’s still more than the cost of the additional F-22s.

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Commentary of the Day

Stuart Rose, on Jonathan Tobin:

You know, as the secretary and the others have said, when the Iranians unclench that fist, there will be a hand waiting to greet them.

Yikes! And we thought Condi Rice uttered some mealy mouthed statements. Do Obama and Clinton really believe the mullahs are basically petulant children, angry little boys who might, after a period of bluster — and funding terrorism (say, 30 years), be coaxed to negotiate in good faith by the promise of friendship with the U.S., just as North Korea is planning Iran’s welcome to the rogue nuclear club party?

One question for all those who were so high on Hilary, seeing her appointment as a sign that a tough-minded “realism” might characterize Obama’s foreign policy: What honestly, strongly held foreign-policy beliefs of hers did she sacrifice in order to be Secretary of State? Now, if she really is capable of putting her principles above her ambition, she will not rule out the possibility of resigning if Obama does nothing more vis-a-vis Iran than play a solo version of the European 3 who spent years being amiably hoodwinked by Tehran.

Stuart Rose, on Jonathan Tobin:

You know, as the secretary and the others have said, when the Iranians unclench that fist, there will be a hand waiting to greet them.

Yikes! And we thought Condi Rice uttered some mealy mouthed statements. Do Obama and Clinton really believe the mullahs are basically petulant children, angry little boys who might, after a period of bluster — and funding terrorism (say, 30 years), be coaxed to negotiate in good faith by the promise of friendship with the U.S., just as North Korea is planning Iran’s welcome to the rogue nuclear club party?

One question for all those who were so high on Hilary, seeing her appointment as a sign that a tough-minded “realism” might characterize Obama’s foreign policy: What honestly, strongly held foreign-policy beliefs of hers did she sacrifice in order to be Secretary of State? Now, if she really is capable of putting her principles above her ambition, she will not rule out the possibility of resigning if Obama does nothing more vis-a-vis Iran than play a solo version of the European 3 who spent years being amiably hoodwinked by Tehran.

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The New Backbone of the Sunni Resistance

When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah in July of 2006, something strange and new and unexpected took place. Arab governments blamed Hezbollah for sparking the conflict and didn’t complain about Israeli behavior until later. During the more recent war in Gaza we saw something similar; only this time the de-facto alignment of Israeli and Sunni Arab state-interests was even more obvious. Most Arab governments blamed Hamas for starting the latest round, and Egypt worked openly with the Israelis to achieve a new ceasefire arrangement that left their mutual enemy in the Gaza Strip weakened. “Saudi Arabia is no longer the backbone of the Arab alliance against Iran,” Asher Susser from Tel Aviv University said to me as the ceasefire went into effect. “Israel is.”

It’s bizarre, to be sure, to think of Israel as the backbone of a Sunni Arab alliance against Iran and its proxies, but Israelis aren’t the only ones who see things that way. Disgruntled Arabs from Cairo to Beirut and Damascus have noticed the same thing, and they aren’t happy about it.

“Egyptians Seethe Over Gaza, and Their Leaders Feel Heat,” read a headline in the New York Times a few weeks ago. “It is understood that Egypt gave the green light for the attack,” Rannie Amiri wrote in the Palestine Chronicle. “There is true and full collaboration between certain Arab regimes,” said Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, “especially those who have already signed peace deals with Israel, to crush any form of resistance.”

I heard similar complaints myself after the Second Lebanon War. “Gulf Arabs give bombs to Israel to kill my people!” one Lebanese Shia man said to me in a hysterical tone of voice at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut December of 2006.

Some of these accusations are madness on stilts. Gulf Arabs will never give Israel weapons, for instance. But even the more hysterical residents of Arabic countries see clearly that the geopolitical tectonic plates in the region are shifting. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen came out strongly against Hamas and in favor of their Fatah rivals at a meeting in Abu Dhabi this week.

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When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah in July of 2006, something strange and new and unexpected took place. Arab governments blamed Hezbollah for sparking the conflict and didn’t complain about Israeli behavior until later. During the more recent war in Gaza we saw something similar; only this time the de-facto alignment of Israeli and Sunni Arab state-interests was even more obvious. Most Arab governments blamed Hamas for starting the latest round, and Egypt worked openly with the Israelis to achieve a new ceasefire arrangement that left their mutual enemy in the Gaza Strip weakened. “Saudi Arabia is no longer the backbone of the Arab alliance against Iran,” Asher Susser from Tel Aviv University said to me as the ceasefire went into effect. “Israel is.”

It’s bizarre, to be sure, to think of Israel as the backbone of a Sunni Arab alliance against Iran and its proxies, but Israelis aren’t the only ones who see things that way. Disgruntled Arabs from Cairo to Beirut and Damascus have noticed the same thing, and they aren’t happy about it.

“Egyptians Seethe Over Gaza, and Their Leaders Feel Heat,” read a headline in the New York Times a few weeks ago. “It is understood that Egypt gave the green light for the attack,” Rannie Amiri wrote in the Palestine Chronicle. “There is true and full collaboration between certain Arab regimes,” said Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, “especially those who have already signed peace deals with Israel, to crush any form of resistance.”

I heard similar complaints myself after the Second Lebanon War. “Gulf Arabs give bombs to Israel to kill my people!” one Lebanese Shia man said to me in a hysterical tone of voice at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut December of 2006.

Some of these accusations are madness on stilts. Gulf Arabs will never give Israel weapons, for instance. But even the more hysterical residents of Arabic countries see clearly that the geopolitical tectonic plates in the region are shifting. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen came out strongly against Hamas and in favor of their Fatah rivals at a meeting in Abu Dhabi this week.

“Egypt is cooperating to a great extent with Israel,” Susser continued, “as are Abu Mazen and the Jordanians. There were more anti-Israel demonstrations in Dublin than there were in Ramallah.”

Most Arab governments, aside from Syria’s and possibly Qatar’s, are far more worried about Iranian regional dominance than they are about anything coming out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They know perfectly well that the State of Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are threatening Iran with a nuclear arms race. Surely they weren’t happy when Israel developed nuclear weapons, but they never retaliated with programs of their own. Bombastic anti-Zionist rhetoric to the contrary, they know Israel isn’t really a threat. Nor are they a serious threat to Israel anymore.

It wasn’t always this way.

In the early days of the Arab-Israeli conflict, when Israel’s long-term survivability was more in doubt than it is now, some of these countries had to get in on the action whether they wanted to or not. Jordan was dragged kicking and screaming into the 1967 war against its will. Lebanon was transformed into a base for Palestinian attacks on Israel against the wishes of its hapless Christian and Shia residents. But this time not even Yasser Arafat’s old Fatah movement in the West Bank could be bothered. Hezbollah sat it out, as did the Syrians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so far removed from Iraq’s problems that the war in Gaza barely even registered there. Not only did Egypt refuse to help out Hamas, but Egypt clearly sided with the Israelis.

This strange new Israeli-Sunni “alliance,” if we dare call it that, is cynical and expedient. It’s an open secret, but the Arab states wish it were entirely secret. There is little or no affection for Israel in Arab capitals, and there probably won’t be for a long time. Most just don’t see the point in getting in Israel’s way of striking the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah — aside from the fact that refusing to do so angers the citizens who live in their countries.

“Tehran supports Hamas, as does Arab public opinion, while Arab governments, except Syria’s, tacitly support Israel,” an Israeli intelligence officer told me. “Iran doesn’t have to work very hard to gain influence with the Arab street.”

There’s a chance it might backfire on these Arab governments whose citizens, in the main, sympathize with Hamas and Hezbollah. They nurtured hysterical anti-Zionism among their populations because it served their own naked self-interest. “This is how our Arab dictators survive,” Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh said to me recently. “They constantly blame the miseries of our people on the Jews and the West and the Crusaders and the infidels and the Zionist lobby and the imperialists. They use all these slogans. Arab leaders always need to make sure that their people are busy hating somebody else, preferably the Jews and the Americans. Otherwise their people might rebel, and God forbid they might demand reforms and democracy.”

As usual, their people do want to rebel; only right now, on behalf of Hamas, at a time when anti-Zionism has outlived its usefulness. Cynical Arab regimes will have only themselves to blame if they’re toppled by their own political version of Frankenstein’s monster. Israelis should enjoy their tacit and hypocritical support while it lasts.

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The Car Experiment

The domestic auto industry is dying under a trio of crippling factors — excessively lucrative labor contracts, poor management, and government regulation. Bankruptcy could have addressed the first two, but there is little remedy for the latter. Indeed, the conflicting federal policies which give with one hand and take away with the other would be comical if they weren’t so destructive. The Washington Post reminds us :

President Obama’s move last week to support strict California vehicle emission standards was another blow to the industry, already reeling from financial pressures and dismal sales; the Big Three automakers yesterday said that January sales were down — 55 percent at Chrysler, 49 percent at General Motors and 39 percent at Ford — compared with a year ago.

Faced with yet another threat to their existence, the car companies naturally stepped up their lobbying efforts. Ten million more in lawyer and lobbyist fees. But this is an outrage, declares the perpetually outraged Rep. Henry Waxman:

I voted for money for the bailout because I want them to survive, but this makes me think that they have not yet stopped being controlled by their own self-interest. . . They are being shortsighted. This type of conduct has done a great deal of harm to America and the industry.

Yeah, how dare a publicly-held company be controlled by self-interest. Don’t they realize? They are now a government-directed experiment. The test is to see what will happen if government gives them enough handouts, big labor refuses to recognize economic reality, and Congress enacts more and more environmental regulation (and allows states to compete with one another in self-righteous escalation of those regulations).

I think we know where this is headed. We’ll wind up with a very expensive and crippled auto industry still incapable of making a profit. But that’s fine with Waxman because profit is just what comes from self-interest and we can’t have any of that.

The domestic auto industry is dying under a trio of crippling factors — excessively lucrative labor contracts, poor management, and government regulation. Bankruptcy could have addressed the first two, but there is little remedy for the latter. Indeed, the conflicting federal policies which give with one hand and take away with the other would be comical if they weren’t so destructive. The Washington Post reminds us :

President Obama’s move last week to support strict California vehicle emission standards was another blow to the industry, already reeling from financial pressures and dismal sales; the Big Three automakers yesterday said that January sales were down — 55 percent at Chrysler, 49 percent at General Motors and 39 percent at Ford — compared with a year ago.

Faced with yet another threat to their existence, the car companies naturally stepped up their lobbying efforts. Ten million more in lawyer and lobbyist fees. But this is an outrage, declares the perpetually outraged Rep. Henry Waxman:

I voted for money for the bailout because I want them to survive, but this makes me think that they have not yet stopped being controlled by their own self-interest. . . They are being shortsighted. This type of conduct has done a great deal of harm to America and the industry.

Yeah, how dare a publicly-held company be controlled by self-interest. Don’t they realize? They are now a government-directed experiment. The test is to see what will happen if government gives them enough handouts, big labor refuses to recognize economic reality, and Congress enacts more and more environmental regulation (and allows states to compete with one another in self-righteous escalation of those regulations).

I think we know where this is headed. We’ll wind up with a very expensive and crippled auto industry still incapable of making a profit. But that’s fine with Waxman because profit is just what comes from self-interest and we can’t have any of that.

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“Shuttlecock Diplomacy” Hit Into the Net

The Obama administration’s charm offensive with the Islamist regime in Tehran has gotten off to a bumpy start.

The Iranians announced today that a women’s team representing USA Badminton would not be allowed to enter the country to take part in an international tournament, despite being invited by the Iranian Badminton Federation.

The response from the State Department was shock that the administration’s recent overtures have been batted out of the court.

”This is a very unfortunate situation,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters, adding that the U.S. had not received any official notification of the reason for the visa refusal. He noted that both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remained committed to engaging with Iran under the proper circumstances.

”It’s not a good sign,” Wood said. ”You know, as the secretary and others have said, when the Iranians unclench that fist, there will be a hand waiting to greet them.”

The tournament had been touted as “the first educational, cultural, or sports exchange between the United States and Iran under the Obama administration.”

No doubt after listening to all the eyewash from Obama and his minions about the “tough diplomacy” and “smart power” that they will use to bridge the gap with the Muslim world, the Iranians have decided to remind the new team in Washington that a “why can’t we all just get along” and play badminton together philosophy won’t be enough to buy their cooperation.

Obama has come into office believing that he can use the force of his personality and good intentions to deal with Iran. But Iran’s support for terror and nuclear ambitions are not a game. The Islamic Republic is a deadly threat to the region and to the West. Tehran seems to view Obama’s sweet talk as weakness and they have, predictably responded to it with contempt.

The question is, how long will it take the president to realize exactly whom he is dealing with?

The Obama administration’s charm offensive with the Islamist regime in Tehran has gotten off to a bumpy start.

The Iranians announced today that a women’s team representing USA Badminton would not be allowed to enter the country to take part in an international tournament, despite being invited by the Iranian Badminton Federation.

The response from the State Department was shock that the administration’s recent overtures have been batted out of the court.

”This is a very unfortunate situation,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters, adding that the U.S. had not received any official notification of the reason for the visa refusal. He noted that both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remained committed to engaging with Iran under the proper circumstances.

”It’s not a good sign,” Wood said. ”You know, as the secretary and others have said, when the Iranians unclench that fist, there will be a hand waiting to greet them.”

The tournament had been touted as “the first educational, cultural, or sports exchange between the United States and Iran under the Obama administration.”

No doubt after listening to all the eyewash from Obama and his minions about the “tough diplomacy” and “smart power” that they will use to bridge the gap with the Muslim world, the Iranians have decided to remind the new team in Washington that a “why can’t we all just get along” and play badminton together philosophy won’t be enough to buy their cooperation.

Obama has come into office believing that he can use the force of his personality and good intentions to deal with Iran. But Iran’s support for terror and nuclear ambitions are not a game. The Islamic Republic is a deadly threat to the region and to the West. Tehran seems to view Obama’s sweet talk as weakness and they have, predictably responded to it with contempt.

The question is, how long will it take the president to realize exactly whom he is dealing with?

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Erdogan’s New Value for Israel

Following his tirade against Israeli President Shimon Peres at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the darling of the Muslim masses.  Indeed, from Istanbul to Gaza to Tehran, Erdogan has been praised for his “courageous stand” against “Israeli criminals,” with Turkish flags — once despised for representing a devoutly secular state — now being carried alongside Palestinian flags in Islamist demonstrations throughout the Middle East.

Naturally, Israel is hardly pleased with this turn of events.  As David Hazony noted yesterday, Israel is considering downgrading its arms sales to Turkey, and Israeli tourism in Turkey has declined significantly.  But it seems to me that Jerusalem is failing to see the bigger picture: in the aftermath of his very undiplomatic outburst, Erdogan is actually more valuable than ever.

Remember: in the past year, Israel has relied on Turkey for brokering indirect peace negotiations with Syria — negotiations that, among other things, aim to terminate Syria’s longtime partnership with Iran.  Well, Erdogan’s newly found popularity throughout the Middle East might enable him to soften the political hit that Damascus would take if it abandoned Tehran under the terms of a Syrian-Israeli peace deal.  Indeed, Erdogan can now play the role of the “honest broker” — which, in the Muslim world (and certain parts of the blogosphere), has always required that peacemakers have a solid history of Israel-bashing.  For Israel, the ugly part — the Israel-bashing — has hopefully passed, creating an opening for Jerusalem to use Turkey’s sudden credibility within the Muslim world for pursuing peace with Syria more intensively.

Make no mistake: I found Erdogan’s outburst against Shimon Peres appalling, both for its hateful content and total lack of professionalism.  Inevitably, it has encouraged radicals in their mindless vilification of Israel and contributed to the further entrenchment of Islamist bigotry.  For this reason, Israel is right to stand up for itself in the short-run, as David has argued.  But what’s done is done — and, in the long run, Israel might as well find a way to use this sorry episode to its strategic advantage.

Following his tirade against Israeli President Shimon Peres at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the darling of the Muslim masses.  Indeed, from Istanbul to Gaza to Tehran, Erdogan has been praised for his “courageous stand” against “Israeli criminals,” with Turkish flags — once despised for representing a devoutly secular state — now being carried alongside Palestinian flags in Islamist demonstrations throughout the Middle East.

Naturally, Israel is hardly pleased with this turn of events.  As David Hazony noted yesterday, Israel is considering downgrading its arms sales to Turkey, and Israeli tourism in Turkey has declined significantly.  But it seems to me that Jerusalem is failing to see the bigger picture: in the aftermath of his very undiplomatic outburst, Erdogan is actually more valuable than ever.

Remember: in the past year, Israel has relied on Turkey for brokering indirect peace negotiations with Syria — negotiations that, among other things, aim to terminate Syria’s longtime partnership with Iran.  Well, Erdogan’s newly found popularity throughout the Middle East might enable him to soften the political hit that Damascus would take if it abandoned Tehran under the terms of a Syrian-Israeli peace deal.  Indeed, Erdogan can now play the role of the “honest broker” — which, in the Muslim world (and certain parts of the blogosphere), has always required that peacemakers have a solid history of Israel-bashing.  For Israel, the ugly part — the Israel-bashing — has hopefully passed, creating an opening for Jerusalem to use Turkey’s sudden credibility within the Muslim world for pursuing peace with Syria more intensively.

Make no mistake: I found Erdogan’s outburst against Shimon Peres appalling, both for its hateful content and total lack of professionalism.  Inevitably, it has encouraged radicals in their mindless vilification of Israel and contributed to the further entrenchment of Islamist bigotry.  For this reason, Israel is right to stand up for itself in the short-run, as David has argued.  But what’s done is done — and, in the long run, Israel might as well find a way to use this sorry episode to its strategic advantage.

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Lost and Downed

This is not the headline a White House likes to see, especially two weeks and a day after taking office:

“Administration Is Described as Being at a Loss”

This Washington Post headline is accurate (the story is about Tom Daschle’s withdrawal), making it all the worse.

Welcome to the big leagues, boys.

This is not the headline a White House likes to see, especially two weeks and a day after taking office:

“Administration Is Described as Being at a Loss”

This Washington Post headline is accurate (the story is about Tom Daschle’s withdrawal), making it all the worse.

Welcome to the big leagues, boys.

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Tax Problem Epidemic

The RNC caught a break — just in time. The Congressional seat (NY-20) opened by Kirsten Gillibrand’s elevation to the Senate has been identified by Michael Steele as a top priority. The Democrat Scott Murphy has a tax problem. Yeah, seriously. From a local news paper:

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday released documents showing liens the state Department of Taxation and Finance placed in 1999 on a computer software firm that Murphy founded.

The documents show the state placed a $20,805 lien on Small World Software — the company Murphy founded — on July 22, 1999, for taxes due at the end of February 2008. The debt, for unpaid sales tax, was paid on Dec. 29, 1999, according to the documents.The documents also show two other liens — one for $446 for unpaid withholding taxes and another for $298 in unpaid corporate taxes — dating back to 1997. The two smaller liens were still in place as of Monday afternoon, according to state Department of Taxation and Finance Spokeswoman Susan Burns

[. .   .]

Records show the tax liability in question dates to before Murphy’s sale of the company, however, and Murphy was employed by the new owners after the sale until 2000, said Paul Lindsay, another NRCC spokesman.

Murphy said in a subsequent statement that, while he did work for the company that bought Small World Software, he did not have “responsibility for things like taxes and filing various forms with the government.”

The good news for the Democrats: the special election has not yet been set and there may be time to dump Murphy. But will they? Without an op-ed from the New York Times reminding them how bad it looks to nominate tax scofflaws in a recession they might be inclined to tough it out. Then we’ll have our first electoral contest in which voters can register their view on the “taxes for thee but not for me” mindset which seems to be a fixture in Washington D.C. In upstate New York that might not go over so well.

The RNC caught a break — just in time. The Congressional seat (NY-20) opened by Kirsten Gillibrand’s elevation to the Senate has been identified by Michael Steele as a top priority. The Democrat Scott Murphy has a tax problem. Yeah, seriously. From a local news paper:

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday released documents showing liens the state Department of Taxation and Finance placed in 1999 on a computer software firm that Murphy founded.

The documents show the state placed a $20,805 lien on Small World Software — the company Murphy founded — on July 22, 1999, for taxes due at the end of February 2008. The debt, for unpaid sales tax, was paid on Dec. 29, 1999, according to the documents.The documents also show two other liens — one for $446 for unpaid withholding taxes and another for $298 in unpaid corporate taxes — dating back to 1997. The two smaller liens were still in place as of Monday afternoon, according to state Department of Taxation and Finance Spokeswoman Susan Burns

[. .   .]

Records show the tax liability in question dates to before Murphy’s sale of the company, however, and Murphy was employed by the new owners after the sale until 2000, said Paul Lindsay, another NRCC spokesman.

Murphy said in a subsequent statement that, while he did work for the company that bought Small World Software, he did not have “responsibility for things like taxes and filing various forms with the government.”

The good news for the Democrats: the special election has not yet been set and there may be time to dump Murphy. But will they? Without an op-ed from the New York Times reminding them how bad it looks to nominate tax scofflaws in a recession they might be inclined to tough it out. Then we’ll have our first electoral contest in which voters can register their view on the “taxes for thee but not for me” mindset which seems to be a fixture in Washington D.C. In upstate New York that might not go over so well.

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Just Say No

I guess he “screwed up” again:

The Obama administration asked retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq but abruptly withdrew the appointment without explanation, Gen. Zinni said Tuesday.

Gen. Zinni, a former commander of Central Command, told The Washington Times that he had been offered the job by the White House national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, two weeks ago and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed the offer on Jan. 26.

“I started making arrangements,” Gen. Zinni said, but became concerned because he heard nothing further from the State Department or White House. He called Gen. Jones Monday night and was told that Christopher Hill, the outgoing assistant secretary of State for East Asia, was getting the job.

Gen. Zinni said no explanation was given. “That kind of bothered me,” he said. “I was told that I had it.”

There is more at issue here than bureaucratic incompetence: Barack Obama can’t give a thumbs down. His record of letting the rejection of intimates and associates simply happen, without any indication of his own volition is spotless. During the campaign, Jeremiah Wright essentially broke up with him and Bill Ayers took himself out of Obama’s sphere. After getting elected, then President-elect Obama somehow told the president of Poland that the U.S. both would and would not erect a desired missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. He refused to reject Timothy Geithner despite having obvious grounds; he stood by Tom Daschle and waited for the New York Times to force him down.

Even his hailed decisions are, in their fine print, merely delays of decisions. He is not substantively closing a detainee facility, but moving one. He is not exactly ending harsh interrogations and rendition, but assigning other people to think about ending them. He let Democrats on Capitol Hill have a free-for-all on the stimulus bill. If the bill is rejected, it won’t be rejected by him.

This is the bizarre reality of that famous presidential temperament. Barack Obama is not so much even-tempered as he is irresolute.

I guess he “screwed up” again:

The Obama administration asked retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq but abruptly withdrew the appointment without explanation, Gen. Zinni said Tuesday.

Gen. Zinni, a former commander of Central Command, told The Washington Times that he had been offered the job by the White House national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, two weeks ago and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed the offer on Jan. 26.

“I started making arrangements,” Gen. Zinni said, but became concerned because he heard nothing further from the State Department or White House. He called Gen. Jones Monday night and was told that Christopher Hill, the outgoing assistant secretary of State for East Asia, was getting the job.

Gen. Zinni said no explanation was given. “That kind of bothered me,” he said. “I was told that I had it.”

There is more at issue here than bureaucratic incompetence: Barack Obama can’t give a thumbs down. His record of letting the rejection of intimates and associates simply happen, without any indication of his own volition is spotless. During the campaign, Jeremiah Wright essentially broke up with him and Bill Ayers took himself out of Obama’s sphere. After getting elected, then President-elect Obama somehow told the president of Poland that the U.S. both would and would not erect a desired missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. He refused to reject Timothy Geithner despite having obvious grounds; he stood by Tom Daschle and waited for the New York Times to force him down.

Even his hailed decisions are, in their fine print, merely delays of decisions. He is not substantively closing a detainee facility, but moving one. He is not exactly ending harsh interrogations and rendition, but assigning other people to think about ending them. He let Democrats on Capitol Hill have a free-for-all on the stimulus bill. If the bill is rejected, it won’t be rejected by him.

This is the bizarre reality of that famous presidential temperament. Barack Obama is not so much even-tempered as he is irresolute.

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The Reviews Are Not Good

The aftermath of Daschle-gate is uniformly harsh. This report is typical:

Mr. Daschle’s sudden withdrawal comes two weeks to the day after Mr. Obama took office, and 24 hours after he told reporters that he “absolutely” stood by his nominee. The abrupt move stands to potentially dent the reputation for steadiness and managerial prowess that the 47-year-old president had cultivated over a smoothly run campaign and a transition to power that boasted of a swift vetting and nomination of top aides.

In a broadcast interview Tuesday night, Mr. Obama admitted to mistakes in handling the Daschle matter. “I’m here on television saying I screwed up and that’s part of the era of responsibility,” he told NBC News. “Ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

The president added that he is “frustrated with myself, with our team,” but said, “ultimately my job is to get this thing back on track.”

Had this been the only setback or bobble of late, the reviews might have been less biting. But we know Daschle is not the only problematic nominee and the President’s signature piece of legislation is losing steam fast. Now a plurality of voters oppose the current bill.

Suddenly the press has snapped out of its cheerleading role. They are now frowning, fretting and voicing uneasiness. How could the smartest, most wonderful candidate ever in their lives be off to such a rocky start? They hardly know where to begin.

Before they start to outright panic, they should remember the President has huge political advantages, including plenty of votes in the Congress. If he stops the bleeding from his atrocious personnel decisions and reworks the stimulus he could be riding high again. But it just goes to show — lots of brainy Ivy Leaguers don’t necessarily govern well. It takes common sense, a proper appreciation for the limits of your own personal charm and a willingness to compromise on substance. So far there hasn’t been much of any of that.

The aftermath of Daschle-gate is uniformly harsh. This report is typical:

Mr. Daschle’s sudden withdrawal comes two weeks to the day after Mr. Obama took office, and 24 hours after he told reporters that he “absolutely” stood by his nominee. The abrupt move stands to potentially dent the reputation for steadiness and managerial prowess that the 47-year-old president had cultivated over a smoothly run campaign and a transition to power that boasted of a swift vetting and nomination of top aides.

In a broadcast interview Tuesday night, Mr. Obama admitted to mistakes in handling the Daschle matter. “I’m here on television saying I screwed up and that’s part of the era of responsibility,” he told NBC News. “Ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

The president added that he is “frustrated with myself, with our team,” but said, “ultimately my job is to get this thing back on track.”

Had this been the only setback or bobble of late, the reviews might have been less biting. But we know Daschle is not the only problematic nominee and the President’s signature piece of legislation is losing steam fast. Now a plurality of voters oppose the current bill.

Suddenly the press has snapped out of its cheerleading role. They are now frowning, fretting and voicing uneasiness. How could the smartest, most wonderful candidate ever in their lives be off to such a rocky start? They hardly know where to begin.

Before they start to outright panic, they should remember the President has huge political advantages, including plenty of votes in the Congress. If he stops the bleeding from his atrocious personnel decisions and reworks the stimulus he could be riding high again. But it just goes to show — lots of brainy Ivy Leaguers don’t necessarily govern well. It takes common sense, a proper appreciation for the limits of your own personal charm and a willingness to compromise on substance. So far there hasn’t been much of any of that.

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Between No Consequences and “Grave Consequences”

Mukhtar Mai of Meerwala village, in the South Punjab region of Pakistan has been threatened with “grave consequences” if she does not drop her case against the men who gang-raped her in 2002.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan is due to hear the case next week.

The Bohemia Foundation reports:

On December 11, 2008 a message was sent to Mukhtar Mai by Sardar Abdul Qayyum, a sitting Federal Minister for Defense Production, to drop the charge against the accused.  According to Mukhtar Mai, the Minister called her uncle Ghulam Hussain and passed on a message to Mukhtar that she should drop the charges against the 13 accused of the Mastoi tribe who were involved either in the verdict against Mukhtar or gang raped her.  The Minister said that if she does not comply, he and his associates will not let the Supreme Court’s decision go in favor of Mukhtar.  It is believed that the Mastoi clan has political influence of sufficient weight to bring pressure to bear on the Supreme Court.

Mukhtar was gang raped on the order of a council of elders (panchayat) as punishment for her 12-year-old brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher clan, the Mastoi. Instead of taking her “punishment” quietly Mukhtar decided to speak out. Common custom would have been for her to commit suicide. Instead, she went to the police, her rapists were apprehended and an Anti-Terrorist Court sentenced six men to death; four for raping her and two for being a part of the panchayat that decreed the rape. The remaining eight accused were released. The government of Pakistan also awarded Mukhtar a judgment equivalent to $8,000 with which she started a school for girls. But in March 2005, the Lahore High Court reversed the trial court’s ruling. Five of the six were acquitted, while the death sentence of the sixth was commuted to life imprisonment. Mukhtar appealed and the case has been pending in the Supreme Court since July 2005.

During her last visit to the United States in 2007, Mukhtar gave an audience in Sacramento a progress report on her efforts. “First there was no school — now there is a school. There was no light — now there is light. There were three students — now there are 1,000 — and people know how to fight oppression.”

Mukhtar Mai of Meerwala village, in the South Punjab region of Pakistan has been threatened with “grave consequences” if she does not drop her case against the men who gang-raped her in 2002.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan is due to hear the case next week.

The Bohemia Foundation reports:

On December 11, 2008 a message was sent to Mukhtar Mai by Sardar Abdul Qayyum, a sitting Federal Minister for Defense Production, to drop the charge against the accused.  According to Mukhtar Mai, the Minister called her uncle Ghulam Hussain and passed on a message to Mukhtar that she should drop the charges against the 13 accused of the Mastoi tribe who were involved either in the verdict against Mukhtar or gang raped her.  The Minister said that if she does not comply, he and his associates will not let the Supreme Court’s decision go in favor of Mukhtar.  It is believed that the Mastoi clan has political influence of sufficient weight to bring pressure to bear on the Supreme Court.

Mukhtar was gang raped on the order of a council of elders (panchayat) as punishment for her 12-year-old brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher clan, the Mastoi. Instead of taking her “punishment” quietly Mukhtar decided to speak out. Common custom would have been for her to commit suicide. Instead, she went to the police, her rapists were apprehended and an Anti-Terrorist Court sentenced six men to death; four for raping her and two for being a part of the panchayat that decreed the rape. The remaining eight accused were released. The government of Pakistan also awarded Mukhtar a judgment equivalent to $8,000 with which she started a school for girls. But in March 2005, the Lahore High Court reversed the trial court’s ruling. Five of the six were acquitted, while the death sentence of the sixth was commuted to life imprisonment. Mukhtar appealed and the case has been pending in the Supreme Court since July 2005.

During her last visit to the United States in 2007, Mukhtar gave an audience in Sacramento a progress report on her efforts. “First there was no school — now there is a school. There was no light — now there is light. There were three students — now there are 1,000 — and people know how to fight oppression.”

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An Admission Against Interest

Yesterday President Obama openly admitted that he had erred in nominating former Senator Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services Secretary after Daschle withdrew his nomination in light of his tax woes. Obama was somewhat candid, saying “I screwed up.”

Such admissions are rare in public figures, especially politicians. They are often seen — and treated — as signs of weakness. To admit error is to invite further scrutiny, with such loaded questions as:

What, precisely was the error?

Was it in trusting Daschle’s word?

Was it in not properly vetting Daschle?

Was the magnitude of Daschle’s tax problems — six figures worth — not fully known?

Was the size of his error known, but the significance of such an error not properly understood?

What lessons have been learned from this error?

What steps are being taken to prevent such errors from being made in the future?

These are all awkward questions, and Obama’s admission of error opened the door to all of them. He could now capitalize on what’s being hailed as his disarming frankness. This would require addressing the issues made clear in Daschle’s withdrawal. He could also leave things as they are and get called out for covering up poor judgment with mock-candor.

Obama’s admission is a good first step, but woefully incomplete — especially coming from a man who ran for office on the strength of his judgment.

Yesterday President Obama openly admitted that he had erred in nominating former Senator Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services Secretary after Daschle withdrew his nomination in light of his tax woes. Obama was somewhat candid, saying “I screwed up.”

Such admissions are rare in public figures, especially politicians. They are often seen — and treated — as signs of weakness. To admit error is to invite further scrutiny, with such loaded questions as:

What, precisely was the error?

Was it in trusting Daschle’s word?

Was it in not properly vetting Daschle?

Was the magnitude of Daschle’s tax problems — six figures worth — not fully known?

Was the size of his error known, but the significance of such an error not properly understood?

What lessons have been learned from this error?

What steps are being taken to prevent such errors from being made in the future?

These are all awkward questions, and Obama’s admission of error opened the door to all of them. He could now capitalize on what’s being hailed as his disarming frankness. This would require addressing the issues made clear in Daschle’s withdrawal. He could also leave things as they are and get called out for covering up poor judgment with mock-candor.

Obama’s admission is a good first step, but woefully incomplete — especially coming from a man who ran for office on the strength of his judgment.

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Gotcha

The IDF’s attack came as such a surprise that Hamas had a hard time mustering Western journalists and doctors to Gaza who would be willing to lie on its behalf. One who did get there in time for the war was Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who made multiple media appearances throughout the war, decrying Israel’s “all-out war against Palestinian civilians” and its “deliberate attacks” against women and children.

But now it turns out that this “neutral observer” is in fact a member of the socialist Red party in Norway who came out in support of the terror attacks of 9/11. As he told the Dagbladet newspaper (via YNet):

The attack on New York did not come as a surprise with the politics the West has followed the last decades. I am upset by the terrorist attack, but I am at least as upset over the suffering that the US has caused. It is in this context that 5000 dead has to be seen…

When asked if he supported a terrorist attack against the US he answered:

Terror is a poor weapon, but my answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned.

Add another item to Hamas’s list of faults: A poor vetting process for its “neutral” observers.

The IDF’s attack came as such a surprise that Hamas had a hard time mustering Western journalists and doctors to Gaza who would be willing to lie on its behalf. One who did get there in time for the war was Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who made multiple media appearances throughout the war, decrying Israel’s “all-out war against Palestinian civilians” and its “deliberate attacks” against women and children.

But now it turns out that this “neutral observer” is in fact a member of the socialist Red party in Norway who came out in support of the terror attacks of 9/11. As he told the Dagbladet newspaper (via YNet):

The attack on New York did not come as a surprise with the politics the West has followed the last decades. I am upset by the terrorist attack, but I am at least as upset over the suffering that the US has caused. It is in this context that 5000 dead has to be seen…

When asked if he supported a terrorist attack against the US he answered:

Terror is a poor weapon, but my answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned.

Add another item to Hamas’s list of faults: A poor vetting process for its “neutral” observers.

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What Would Lincoln Do?

Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller will be leading a union rally for card-check today. But realistically where is card check going? There’s been buzz that it is coming up “sooner than expected.” Then we hear the President talk in wishy-washy terms and Joe Biden say “later” in the year. Well, perhaps it will come up for a vote in the House. But the Senate is quite another matter.

You only need watch a few minutes of Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) hemming and hawing to see how badly some Red state Democrats don’t want to deal with this. It’s simply not the top priority for her, she explains. How would she vote? Well, she’s not “going to see in its present form.” Hmm. Is she in favor of it? “It’s not going to be productive to us in the things that are urgent to us now.” And on it goes.

If we learned anything by now it is that the President has limited political capital — and once it’s gone, its’ gone. If he spends it on card check, creates a huge political donnybrook, and puts his own Red state Democrats in jeopardy, it’s hard to see how he’s going to get much else done. But maybe they’ll give it a try. After all, they haven’t shown to be as politically savvy as everyone believed them to be.

Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller will be leading a union rally for card-check today. But realistically where is card check going? There’s been buzz that it is coming up “sooner than expected.” Then we hear the President talk in wishy-washy terms and Joe Biden say “later” in the year. Well, perhaps it will come up for a vote in the House. But the Senate is quite another matter.

You only need watch a few minutes of Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) hemming and hawing to see how badly some Red state Democrats don’t want to deal with this. It’s simply not the top priority for her, she explains. How would she vote? Well, she’s not “going to see in its present form.” Hmm. Is she in favor of it? “It’s not going to be productive to us in the things that are urgent to us now.” And on it goes.

If we learned anything by now it is that the President has limited political capital — and once it’s gone, its’ gone. If he spends it on card check, creates a huge political donnybrook, and puts his own Red state Democrats in jeopardy, it’s hard to see how he’s going to get much else done. But maybe they’ll give it a try. After all, they haven’t shown to be as politically savvy as everyone believed them to be.

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The Meaning of Sarah Palin

Two political figures dominated the final months of the 2008 presidential campaign. One was the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. The other had been unknown to all but 670,000 Americans only a few minutes before she was first introduced by the Republican nominee, John McCain, at a rally in Ohio on the Friday before the Republican National Convention, only 66 days before the November election.

By the close of that first weekend, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska had become a national sensation. Two days after that, she delivered her debut address at the Republican National Convention as the party’s vice-presidential nominee—a dazzling stemwinder, it was all but universally acknowledged. McCain’s dramatic and unexpected bet appeared to have paid off in spades.

But by November 4, the day of the election, Sarah Palin had been transformed into one of the most divisive figures in recent American history. There was almost no middle ground between those who had come to adore her and those who believed she represented just about every dark and dangerous element of contemporary American politics. In choosing Palin, McCain had hoped to shake up the race; but the fault lines exposed by the Palin earthquake were not the ones he had thought they might be. He had wanted to run against the Washington status quo as a reformer with an independent streak. He believed he was picking a fellow reformist politician with a history of taking on the leadership of her own party, and that Palin would prove acceptable to the Republican base because of her social conservatism. Instead, Palin became an instant cultural and political magnet, attracting some and repelling others and dragging a helpless McCain into a culture war for which he had little stomach. Indeed, the overheated response to Palin’s presence on the national stage, from both friend and foe, was oddly disconnected from Palin’s actual actions, statements, and record. It was a turn of events no one could have anticipated, and one that has much to teach us about American political life in our day.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the February issue of COMMENTARY.

Two political figures dominated the final months of the 2008 presidential campaign. One was the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. The other had been unknown to all but 670,000 Americans only a few minutes before she was first introduced by the Republican nominee, John McCain, at a rally in Ohio on the Friday before the Republican National Convention, only 66 days before the November election.

By the close of that first weekend, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska had become a national sensation. Two days after that, she delivered her debut address at the Republican National Convention as the party’s vice-presidential nominee—a dazzling stemwinder, it was all but universally acknowledged. McCain’s dramatic and unexpected bet appeared to have paid off in spades.

But by November 4, the day of the election, Sarah Palin had been transformed into one of the most divisive figures in recent American history. There was almost no middle ground between those who had come to adore her and those who believed she represented just about every dark and dangerous element of contemporary American politics. In choosing Palin, McCain had hoped to shake up the race; but the fault lines exposed by the Palin earthquake were not the ones he had thought they might be. He had wanted to run against the Washington status quo as a reformer with an independent streak. He believed he was picking a fellow reformist politician with a history of taking on the leadership of her own party, and that Palin would prove acceptable to the Republican base because of her social conservatism. Instead, Palin became an instant cultural and political magnet, attracting some and repelling others and dragging a helpless McCain into a culture war for which he had little stomach. Indeed, the overheated response to Palin’s presence on the national stage, from both friend and foe, was oddly disconnected from Palin’s actual actions, statements, and record. It was a turn of events no one could have anticipated, and one that has much to teach us about American political life in our day.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the February issue of COMMENTARY.

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A Sorry Apology

President Obama is getting a lot of credit for admitting he “screwed up” the nomination of Tom Daschle to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Here‘s what Obama told CBS News:

I made a judgment that he was the best person possible for the job. I was very eager to make sure that we can deliver on a commitment that I have to deliver healthcare for the American people. I think I messed up. I screwed up in not recognizing the perception that even though this is an honest mistake, I believe, on Tom’s part, that, you know, ordinary people are out there paying taxes every day and whether it’s an intentional mistake or not, it was sending the wrong signal. So again, this was something that was my fault. I continue to consider Tom Daschle an outstanding public servant, uh, and what we’re going to do now is make sure we get somebody confirmed and start moving forward.

But let’s examine this claim with a bit of care. President Obama’s argument is that “whether it’s an intentional mistake or not,” what Daschle did — which was to fail to report and pay his taxes — “was sending the wrong signal.” But of course that is precisely what Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did — and Geithner’s actions are as questionable and troubling as Daschle’s. If Obama was serious about his mea culpa, Geithner would be asked to leave as well. His presence — especially as the person overseeing the IRS — is “sending the wrong signal.” Yet Geithner is staying firmly in place.

What this means, I suspect, is that Obama, smooth talking as ever, is trying to get credit by taking blame for the Daschle debacle. He is taking “full responsibility” –even though in practical terms that means nothing at all. After all, Obama and Democrats supported Daschle to the hilt until Daschle withdrew his nomination. Once he was gone, the revelation seemed to have dawned on Obama that he had made a mistake. But if the epiphany was real, it would apply to Secretary Geithner.

The other thing Obama did in his interviews yesterday was defend his waivers for allowing lobbyists to work in his Administration. His defense is that the waivers — which he never mentioned, not even once, during the campaign — were limited in number.

The reality, of course, is that Obama made a pledge and, within days of taking office, violated it. If he really wanted to show he was taking responsibility and was going to do better, Obama would enforce his lobbying ban or admit he was wrong to champion it in the first place. But to continue to insist that what he did was fine and that the waivers are no big deal is an indication, I think, that the old Washington game is being played by its newest resident. And such games are, to quote America ‘s 44th President, childish things.

President Obama is getting a lot of credit for admitting he “screwed up” the nomination of Tom Daschle to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. Here‘s what Obama told CBS News:

I made a judgment that he was the best person possible for the job. I was very eager to make sure that we can deliver on a commitment that I have to deliver healthcare for the American people. I think I messed up. I screwed up in not recognizing the perception that even though this is an honest mistake, I believe, on Tom’s part, that, you know, ordinary people are out there paying taxes every day and whether it’s an intentional mistake or not, it was sending the wrong signal. So again, this was something that was my fault. I continue to consider Tom Daschle an outstanding public servant, uh, and what we’re going to do now is make sure we get somebody confirmed and start moving forward.

But let’s examine this claim with a bit of care. President Obama’s argument is that “whether it’s an intentional mistake or not,” what Daschle did — which was to fail to report and pay his taxes — “was sending the wrong signal.” But of course that is precisely what Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did — and Geithner’s actions are as questionable and troubling as Daschle’s. If Obama was serious about his mea culpa, Geithner would be asked to leave as well. His presence — especially as the person overseeing the IRS — is “sending the wrong signal.” Yet Geithner is staying firmly in place.

What this means, I suspect, is that Obama, smooth talking as ever, is trying to get credit by taking blame for the Daschle debacle. He is taking “full responsibility” –even though in practical terms that means nothing at all. After all, Obama and Democrats supported Daschle to the hilt until Daschle withdrew his nomination. Once he was gone, the revelation seemed to have dawned on Obama that he had made a mistake. But if the epiphany was real, it would apply to Secretary Geithner.

The other thing Obama did in his interviews yesterday was defend his waivers for allowing lobbyists to work in his Administration. His defense is that the waivers — which he never mentioned, not even once, during the campaign — were limited in number.

The reality, of course, is that Obama made a pledge and, within days of taking office, violated it. If he really wanted to show he was taking responsibility and was going to do better, Obama would enforce his lobbying ban or admit he was wrong to champion it in the first place. But to continue to insist that what he did was fine and that the waivers are no big deal is an indication, I think, that the old Washington game is being played by its newest resident. And such games are, to quote America ‘s 44th President, childish things.

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A Preview of a Preview

In my home county of Fairfax, Virginia the Democrat Sharon Bulova edged out the Republican Pat Herrity by 1200 votes in a race for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Next to the Governor, it is arguably the most influential post in the state and has been a stepping stone to higher office (for Tom Davis who left the Congress this year and Gerry Connolly who succeeded him.)

Why does this matter? It is a stunningly close result in a county that has swung heavily Democratic in recent years and helped turn the state Democratic in U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections. George W. Bush tied John Kerry in Fairfax. But by 2008 Barack Obama carried Fairfax 60-39%.

The difference seen last night was, in part, turnout. Approximately 15% for the local election compared to 74% for the 2008 presidential run. Nevertheless, 100,000 people turned out on a slightly snowy day and the Republican almost won. That’s a shocker.

Aside from turnout, of course, Barack Obama was not on the ballot. It makes a difference if the race is not “Obama vs. Eight Years of George Bush,” but rather: “Who’s going be the best local leader?”

Both political parties are reading the gubernatorial tea leaves. Republican Bob McDonnell needs to do better than 39% in Fairfax to win the state. A result in the mid or high 40s in Fairfax would virtually ensure a victory.

Larry Sabato, Virginia’s political guru, had this to say to me last night:

Bulova won but it should not have been this close. This is well over 100,000 votes. . .  The desire for change is still out there–and this time it worked in favor of the GOP. Not a bad sign for McDonnell in November.

Indeed, there may be hope for the Republicans in the era of Obama. And the Democrats can’t bank on the extraordinary 2008 results to repeat themselves in off-year elections.

In my home county of Fairfax, Virginia the Democrat Sharon Bulova edged out the Republican Pat Herrity by 1200 votes in a race for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Next to the Governor, it is arguably the most influential post in the state and has been a stepping stone to higher office (for Tom Davis who left the Congress this year and Gerry Connolly who succeeded him.)

Why does this matter? It is a stunningly close result in a county that has swung heavily Democratic in recent years and helped turn the state Democratic in U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections. George W. Bush tied John Kerry in Fairfax. But by 2008 Barack Obama carried Fairfax 60-39%.

The difference seen last night was, in part, turnout. Approximately 15% for the local election compared to 74% for the 2008 presidential run. Nevertheless, 100,000 people turned out on a slightly snowy day and the Republican almost won. That’s a shocker.

Aside from turnout, of course, Barack Obama was not on the ballot. It makes a difference if the race is not “Obama vs. Eight Years of George Bush,” but rather: “Who’s going be the best local leader?”

Both political parties are reading the gubernatorial tea leaves. Republican Bob McDonnell needs to do better than 39% in Fairfax to win the state. A result in the mid or high 40s in Fairfax would virtually ensure a victory.

Larry Sabato, Virginia’s political guru, had this to say to me last night:

Bulova won but it should not have been this close. This is well over 100,000 votes. . .  The desire for change is still out there–and this time it worked in favor of the GOP. Not a bad sign for McDonnell in November.

Indeed, there may be hope for the Republicans in the era of Obama. And the Democrats can’t bank on the extraordinary 2008 results to repeat themselves in off-year elections.

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Let’s Get Some Answers

In a measured tone, Prof. Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution asks President Obama some thoughtful questions on the legal aspects of keeping the nation safe:

How will the U.S. handle and detain suspected terrorists after the closing of Guantanamo?

“Under what circumstances, if any, should the law permit CIA interrogators to depart from military interrogation rules?”

What will the legal procedure be for trying terrorist suspects — military commissions, federal courts, new tribunal with special additions?

What position will the Obama administration take toward the International Criminal Court, and, specifically, should its authorizing treaty be submitted for ratification?

“Under what circumstances would President Obama order the use of American military force in the absence of a U.N. Security Council Resolution authorization?”

“What further rethinking does America’s law of surveillance require following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s passage last year?”

“Should the U.S. continue the practice of targeted killings, and if so under what circumstances?”

All these are important, complicated questions (and there are more in the article itself), and although he does not say as much, there’s a domino quality to Berkowitz’ presentation: the way the Obama team answers each question will necessarily impact many of the other questions. One major problem for the new legal team in dealing with these questions is the obligation to maintain security without having the clarifying “advantage” of a crisis:

A paradox in the struggle against terrorism is that we define success by prevention, yet successful prevention, because much of it goes unnoticed, causes vigilance to wane, and the public to grow more complacent.

Of course, Berkowitz is being optimistic here. He says it’s “the public” that grows more complacent — but the real question behind all the other questions he asks is this: is it just the public that has grown more complacent or is it the new administration, too?

In a measured tone, Prof. Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution asks President Obama some thoughtful questions on the legal aspects of keeping the nation safe:

How will the U.S. handle and detain suspected terrorists after the closing of Guantanamo?

“Under what circumstances, if any, should the law permit CIA interrogators to depart from military interrogation rules?”

What will the legal procedure be for trying terrorist suspects — military commissions, federal courts, new tribunal with special additions?

What position will the Obama administration take toward the International Criminal Court, and, specifically, should its authorizing treaty be submitted for ratification?

“Under what circumstances would President Obama order the use of American military force in the absence of a U.N. Security Council Resolution authorization?”

“What further rethinking does America’s law of surveillance require following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s passage last year?”

“Should the U.S. continue the practice of targeted killings, and if so under what circumstances?”

All these are important, complicated questions (and there are more in the article itself), and although he does not say as much, there’s a domino quality to Berkowitz’ presentation: the way the Obama team answers each question will necessarily impact many of the other questions. One major problem for the new legal team in dealing with these questions is the obligation to maintain security without having the clarifying “advantage” of a crisis:

A paradox in the struggle against terrorism is that we define success by prevention, yet successful prevention, because much of it goes unnoticed, causes vigilance to wane, and the public to grow more complacent.

Of course, Berkowitz is being optimistic here. He says it’s “the public” that grows more complacent — but the real question behind all the other questions he asks is this: is it just the public that has grown more complacent or is it the new administration, too?

Read Less




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