Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 7, 2009

Exhausted and Blind

A new BBC World Service poll highlights a dangerous trend hampering the West’s ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The world community is so sick and tired of dealing with problems originating in the Middle East that they’re just about ready to quit trying solving them. Moreover, while Iran is the least liked country, Israel only ranks two positions above it (with Pakistan in between).

Iran had the poorest average ratings of the countries people were asked to rate, with 55 per cent feeling it has a negative influence in the world. Fourteen of the twenty one countries see it as having a negative influence… The largest number of countries – 19 out of 21 – give negative ratings to Israel.

Here’s what the world thinks about Israel:

Views of Israel have remained consistently negative with on average about one-half (51%) having a negative view and only one in five (21%) having a positive view. Nineteen countries have a predominantly negative view of Israel’s influence and only the United States leans positive while Russia is divided. (It should be noted that most polling was completed before the Israeli military action in Gaza.)

And about Iran:

Global views of Iran continue to be among the most negative out of all countries evaluated. On average out of countries polled in both 2008 and 2009, more than half (55%) continue to say Iran’s influence is mainly negative, while just 17 per cent say its influence is mainly positive. Fifteen countries view Iran’s influence negatively, only one country (India) leans toward viewing it positively, and five are divided. This is actually a bit of an improvement over last year when 17 countries had mostly negative views of Iran, while only Egypt leaned positive and Indonesia was divided.

Outside of the Unites States, Israel and Iran are largely thought of as countries that might as well destroy each other. World leaders working on this problem not only face a challenge regarding international diplomacy; they first need to convince their publics why they should even care.

A new BBC World Service poll highlights a dangerous trend hampering the West’s ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The world community is so sick and tired of dealing with problems originating in the Middle East that they’re just about ready to quit trying solving them. Moreover, while Iran is the least liked country, Israel only ranks two positions above it (with Pakistan in between).

Iran had the poorest average ratings of the countries people were asked to rate, with 55 per cent feeling it has a negative influence in the world. Fourteen of the twenty one countries see it as having a negative influence… The largest number of countries – 19 out of 21 – give negative ratings to Israel.

Here’s what the world thinks about Israel:

Views of Israel have remained consistently negative with on average about one-half (51%) having a negative view and only one in five (21%) having a positive view. Nineteen countries have a predominantly negative view of Israel’s influence and only the United States leans positive while Russia is divided. (It should be noted that most polling was completed before the Israeli military action in Gaza.)

And about Iran:

Global views of Iran continue to be among the most negative out of all countries evaluated. On average out of countries polled in both 2008 and 2009, more than half (55%) continue to say Iran’s influence is mainly negative, while just 17 per cent say its influence is mainly positive. Fifteen countries view Iran’s influence negatively, only one country (India) leans toward viewing it positively, and five are divided. This is actually a bit of an improvement over last year when 17 countries had mostly negative views of Iran, while only Egypt leaned positive and Indonesia was divided.

Outside of the Unites States, Israel and Iran are largely thought of as countries that might as well destroy each other. World leaders working on this problem not only face a challenge regarding international diplomacy; they first need to convince their publics why they should even care.

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Oh, the Choices

According to Sports Illustrated, New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, when he won the MVP award as a member of the Texas Rangers.

For Yankees haters everywhere, this stunning revelation creates a dilemma.  On one hand, we anticipated jeering Rodriguez with chants of “A-Fraud,” which is what former Yankees manager Joe Torre calls Rodriguez in his newly released book.  On the other hand, “A-Roid” now has a certain ring to it.  Meanwhile, the classic “Pay-Rod” chant — which commemorates Rodriguez’s two $250-million-plus contracts — might work well in light of the ongoing economic crisis.

According to Sports Illustrated, New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, when he won the MVP award as a member of the Texas Rangers.

For Yankees haters everywhere, this stunning revelation creates a dilemma.  On one hand, we anticipated jeering Rodriguez with chants of “A-Fraud,” which is what former Yankees manager Joe Torre calls Rodriguez in his newly released book.  On the other hand, “A-Roid” now has a certain ring to it.  Meanwhile, the classic “Pay-Rod” chant — which commemorates Rodriguez’s two $250-million-plus contracts — might work well in light of the ongoing economic crisis.

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Who Shrunk the Presidency?

Newt Gingrich lambasted President Obama for his partisan vitriol at the House Democrats’ retreat this week, contending that it “shrinks his presidency”:

Reagan would never have allowed himself that level of partisanship and that kind of aggressiveness in that kind of setting . . So you could either have a strategy that says, ‘I’m going to go over and I’m going to be bipartisan and I’m going to prove it and here’s how I’m going to it. In which he case he wouldn’t have gone down last night. He would, in fact, have invited Pelosi and Boehner and he would have invited Reid and McConnell down to the White House to collectively hammer out the bipartisan compromise. That’s one strategy. Or there’s the strategy … that’s perfectly reasonable, that says, ‘I won, we won and we’re running over you but we’re going to deliver. … What he’s doing now is Carter-ism because he’s trying to live out both strategies and you gotta figure out which morning it is by which strategy he’s using today. And what that will do is totally clutter who he is.

There is something to that. It speaks to a fundamental challenge for Obama. He does not really have a set of skills (or hasn’t demonstrated that he possesses such skills) critical to governing. He doesn’t horse-trade or arm-twist. He doesn’t persuade on the merits. He dictates, complains and campaigns — ultimately not very effective means for a president. And the high rhetoric mixed with nasty partisanship is not only confusing, but it undercuts what for him was the key attraction for many voters — you remember: his temperament.

Why not argue his positions on their merits or directly engage Congress? He might not think he has to (“I won”), or he might not be very good at it. But the danger is that he will lose the enormous goodwill he has built up — and, if his Congressional majority shrinks, be left with precious little support even to muscle through his agenda.

It is odd behavior for someone whose campaign was so inspiring, who seemed to understand the power of lofty rhetoric and high-mindedness. It is almost as if he’s got the presidency and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He’d do well to follow the example of other successful presidents: aim high not low, don’t rely on Congress to carry the White House agenda, and remember that once the president becomes a mere pol he’s lost his advantage over every other pol in town.

Newt Gingrich lambasted President Obama for his partisan vitriol at the House Democrats’ retreat this week, contending that it “shrinks his presidency”:

Reagan would never have allowed himself that level of partisanship and that kind of aggressiveness in that kind of setting . . So you could either have a strategy that says, ‘I’m going to go over and I’m going to be bipartisan and I’m going to prove it and here’s how I’m going to it. In which he case he wouldn’t have gone down last night. He would, in fact, have invited Pelosi and Boehner and he would have invited Reid and McConnell down to the White House to collectively hammer out the bipartisan compromise. That’s one strategy. Or there’s the strategy … that’s perfectly reasonable, that says, ‘I won, we won and we’re running over you but we’re going to deliver. … What he’s doing now is Carter-ism because he’s trying to live out both strategies and you gotta figure out which morning it is by which strategy he’s using today. And what that will do is totally clutter who he is.

There is something to that. It speaks to a fundamental challenge for Obama. He does not really have a set of skills (or hasn’t demonstrated that he possesses such skills) critical to governing. He doesn’t horse-trade or arm-twist. He doesn’t persuade on the merits. He dictates, complains and campaigns — ultimately not very effective means for a president. And the high rhetoric mixed with nasty partisanship is not only confusing, but it undercuts what for him was the key attraction for many voters — you remember: his temperament.

Why not argue his positions on their merits or directly engage Congress? He might not think he has to (“I won”), or he might not be very good at it. But the danger is that he will lose the enormous goodwill he has built up — and, if his Congressional majority shrinks, be left with precious little support even to muscle through his agenda.

It is odd behavior for someone whose campaign was so inspiring, who seemed to understand the power of lofty rhetoric and high-mindedness. It is almost as if he’s got the presidency and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He’d do well to follow the example of other successful presidents: aim high not low, don’t rely on Congress to carry the White House agenda, and remember that once the president becomes a mere pol he’s lost his advantage over every other pol in town.

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Maybe “On” Is the Problem

The Obama administration is searching for a new term to replace “war on terror.” This is both predictable and a waste of time: “War on terror” is imperfect but, actually, quite reasonable.

While there may be some advantage to a new administration’s distancing itself from its predecessor and signaling to the world that there’s a new sheriff in town, this is not even the Obama team’s stated motivation.

They say, “What’s being sought is a more precise phrase.” I’m not sure this is possible. The urge to be more precise is a recipe for trouble, because if the Obama administration really wants, as it says it does, to recast U.S. strategy “in ideological as well as military terms,” it might fall into a trap.

Consider this: if the word “terror” is the problem, the Obama team has its work cut out. Democrats used to accuse President Bush of blurring the lines between terror, “Islam, culture, and ideology. Fighting “terror” is a way of avoiding the “clash of civilizations” tag and embracing a more palatable concept, a technical description of the phenomenon the U.S. is trying to eliminate. Why would Obama now look for a more loaded term?

So, is “war” is the problem? Maybe that’s why Obama keeps talking about the “struggle” or “enduring struggle” against terrorism (and “extremism”). This is intended to convey the notion that the fight can’t be won by military means alone and that it’s really a battle for hearts and minds. But “struggle” is a weaker term than “war,” and one wonders if this heralds a weaker effort. If not, America’s enemies still might very well interpret it that way. Obama is best off keeping the term and explaining it to the world in his own way. Reasonable people can be easily convinced that the word “war” does not describe military means alone. And of course, reasonable people can also understand that a change of government does not mean that each and every policy of the preceding administration should be abandoned.

The Obama administration is searching for a new term to replace “war on terror.” This is both predictable and a waste of time: “War on terror” is imperfect but, actually, quite reasonable.

While there may be some advantage to a new administration’s distancing itself from its predecessor and signaling to the world that there’s a new sheriff in town, this is not even the Obama team’s stated motivation.

They say, “What’s being sought is a more precise phrase.” I’m not sure this is possible. The urge to be more precise is a recipe for trouble, because if the Obama administration really wants, as it says it does, to recast U.S. strategy “in ideological as well as military terms,” it might fall into a trap.

Consider this: if the word “terror” is the problem, the Obama team has its work cut out. Democrats used to accuse President Bush of blurring the lines between terror, “Islam, culture, and ideology. Fighting “terror” is a way of avoiding the “clash of civilizations” tag and embracing a more palatable concept, a technical description of the phenomenon the U.S. is trying to eliminate. Why would Obama now look for a more loaded term?

So, is “war” is the problem? Maybe that’s why Obama keeps talking about the “struggle” or “enduring struggle” against terrorism (and “extremism”). This is intended to convey the notion that the fight can’t be won by military means alone and that it’s really a battle for hearts and minds. But “struggle” is a weaker term than “war,” and one wonders if this heralds a weaker effort. If not, America’s enemies still might very well interpret it that way. Obama is best off keeping the term and explaining it to the world in his own way. Reasonable people can be easily convinced that the word “war” does not describe military means alone. And of course, reasonable people can also understand that a change of government does not mean that each and every policy of the preceding administration should be abandoned.

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The Best They Could Do?

No one ever accused Senate Republican moderates of being savvy negotiators. The actual total amount of the Senate bill appears to be $827B — and with interest it is over $1 trillion. Here is what Susan Collins said in support of it:

Collins said she could not vote for the $819 billion stimulus bill that passed the House last week. “It was bloated, expensive and ineffective,” she said.

“This compromise greatly improves the bill,” she said. “It will help our economy recover from a dangerous recession. It will help Americans throughout this country who are struggling because they have lost their jobs.”

But, it’s more now, right?

Then there is Arlen Specter, who seems less oblivious to his constituents than one might suspect. But he just doesn’t care:

Specter acknowledged that support for the package is “a very unpopular vote” among his constituents and that some aspects of the bill “give me heartburn.” But he added, “I believe we have to act, and that under the circumstances this is the best we can do.”

Actually, it’s not the best they can do. If Specter had insisted that more non-stimulative spending be eliminated or more tax cuts inserted he probably could have gotten it through.

There is no text yet available for the bill so it’s hard to tell how much “better” it is. But I think it’s fairly clear that it isn’t what it was advertised to be: temporary, targeted, and timely. It is the Democrats’ bill and they will live with its consequences.

No one ever accused Senate Republican moderates of being savvy negotiators. The actual total amount of the Senate bill appears to be $827B — and with interest it is over $1 trillion. Here is what Susan Collins said in support of it:

Collins said she could not vote for the $819 billion stimulus bill that passed the House last week. “It was bloated, expensive and ineffective,” she said.

“This compromise greatly improves the bill,” she said. “It will help our economy recover from a dangerous recession. It will help Americans throughout this country who are struggling because they have lost their jobs.”

But, it’s more now, right?

Then there is Arlen Specter, who seems less oblivious to his constituents than one might suspect. But he just doesn’t care:

Specter acknowledged that support for the package is “a very unpopular vote” among his constituents and that some aspects of the bill “give me heartburn.” But he added, “I believe we have to act, and that under the circumstances this is the best we can do.”

Actually, it’s not the best they can do. If Specter had insisted that more non-stimulative spending be eliminated or more tax cuts inserted he probably could have gotten it through.

There is no text yet available for the bill so it’s hard to tell how much “better” it is. But I think it’s fairly clear that it isn’t what it was advertised to be: temporary, targeted, and timely. It is the Democrats’ bill and they will live with its consequences.

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Sarkozy Outshines Biden

MUNICH-Nicolas Sarkozy’s star has fallen a bit since his election, what with his divorce and remarriage, his country’s economic woes, and various other problems. But Sarko was definitely the star of the Munich Security Conference. Amid the usual drone of cautious, boring, and often inane rhetoric, he delivered a humdinger of an address. For instance, while many of the speakers (including, sadly, Henry Kissinger, who should know better) were genuflecting before the starry-eyed notion of abolishing nuclear weapons, Sarko said forthrightly, “We will maintain our nuclear deterrent along with the British,” and told the delegates that France was less dependant than they were on Russian natural gas because of its nuclear energy program.

He also challenged the growing pacifism of the continent, saying: “Does Europe want peace or do we want to be left in peace?” If the former, he went on to argue, Europe will have to provide for its defense. If the latter, it can “blindfold” itself to the world’s dangers but will likely pay a high price for such foolish behavior. “Europe isn’t simply a market or an economy,” he argued, but also a set of values that need to be defended. “Do you know anyone who can be rich without an assured defense?” he demanded.

It wasn’t just what he said but the way he said it. Sarkozy was a bundle of energy, gesticulating with his hands, raising and dropping his voice for emphasis, and frequently turning to address “Angela,” the German chancellor who was sitting on the stage behind him (and whose own speech was a study in boredom).

By contrast Joe Biden, the conference’s most highly touted speaker, wasn’t nearly as impressive. In a gesture sure to strike his European audience as a bit high-handed, his handlers put a special podium on the stage for him complete with a vice presidential seal and he walked off after his prepared remarks without taking any questions. His speech itself broke no new ground. (The New York Times headline claims, “Biden Says U.S. Will Pursue Missile Plan Russia Opposes,” even though he said nothing about whether the U.S. will base interceptors in Eastern Europe.)

His primary message was pretty much what you’d expect. He promised Europeans: “we’ll engage, we’ll listen, we’ll consult.” But at the same time, “we say to our friends that the alliances, treaties and international organizations we build must be credible and they must be effective. That requires a common commitment not only to listen and live by the rules, but to enforce the rules when they are, in fact, clearly violated. ”

But he didn’t ask anything specific of the Europeans-no troops for Afghanistan, for instance, presumably because the administration is still trying to figure out what will be needed. In fact Afghanistan and Iraq were barely mentioned, without a word about the importance of the recent Iraqi elections or the need for building democracy in Afghanistan.

Biden once again parroted Obama’s promise to negotiate with Iran but gave no real reason to think that such negotiations should succeed. In fact he offered pretty much the same ”bargain” that the Bush administration was offering: “Continue down the current course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives.” Those “meaningful incentives” presumably boil down to normalization of relations with the U.S., a goal that the Iranian leadership has shown no interest in pursuing. Nor has Iran shown much concern about the “continued pressure and isolation,” perhaps because it’s not feeling that pressured or that isolated.

If I were in the Iranians’ camp, I would actually take the Obama-ites at their word and offer to negotiate endlessly even while the Iranian nuclear program draws closer to completion. Instead, as I reported yesterday, the Iranian representative here, Ali Larijani, gave a giant up-yours to the Obama administration. You might think that would nix the prospects for U.S.-Iran talks, but if so you would be cruelly deceived. The Democratic delegates I talked to dismissed Larijani’s remarks on the grounds that they were just for “domestic consumption” and if you listen to his words carefully enough (perhaps by playing them backwards at half speed?) you will hear a coded willingness to enter into fruitful dialogue with the United States. So despite their counterproductive rhetoric, the Iranians may well get the kind of negotiations that will serve their interests — if not the rest of the world’s.

MUNICH-Nicolas Sarkozy’s star has fallen a bit since his election, what with his divorce and remarriage, his country’s economic woes, and various other problems. But Sarko was definitely the star of the Munich Security Conference. Amid the usual drone of cautious, boring, and often inane rhetoric, he delivered a humdinger of an address. For instance, while many of the speakers (including, sadly, Henry Kissinger, who should know better) were genuflecting before the starry-eyed notion of abolishing nuclear weapons, Sarko said forthrightly, “We will maintain our nuclear deterrent along with the British,” and told the delegates that France was less dependant than they were on Russian natural gas because of its nuclear energy program.

He also challenged the growing pacifism of the continent, saying: “Does Europe want peace or do we want to be left in peace?” If the former, he went on to argue, Europe will have to provide for its defense. If the latter, it can “blindfold” itself to the world’s dangers but will likely pay a high price for such foolish behavior. “Europe isn’t simply a market or an economy,” he argued, but also a set of values that need to be defended. “Do you know anyone who can be rich without an assured defense?” he demanded.

It wasn’t just what he said but the way he said it. Sarkozy was a bundle of energy, gesticulating with his hands, raising and dropping his voice for emphasis, and frequently turning to address “Angela,” the German chancellor who was sitting on the stage behind him (and whose own speech was a study in boredom).

By contrast Joe Biden, the conference’s most highly touted speaker, wasn’t nearly as impressive. In a gesture sure to strike his European audience as a bit high-handed, his handlers put a special podium on the stage for him complete with a vice presidential seal and he walked off after his prepared remarks without taking any questions. His speech itself broke no new ground. (The New York Times headline claims, “Biden Says U.S. Will Pursue Missile Plan Russia Opposes,” even though he said nothing about whether the U.S. will base interceptors in Eastern Europe.)

His primary message was pretty much what you’d expect. He promised Europeans: “we’ll engage, we’ll listen, we’ll consult.” But at the same time, “we say to our friends that the alliances, treaties and international organizations we build must be credible and they must be effective. That requires a common commitment not only to listen and live by the rules, but to enforce the rules when they are, in fact, clearly violated. ”

But he didn’t ask anything specific of the Europeans-no troops for Afghanistan, for instance, presumably because the administration is still trying to figure out what will be needed. In fact Afghanistan and Iraq were barely mentioned, without a word about the importance of the recent Iraqi elections or the need for building democracy in Afghanistan.

Biden once again parroted Obama’s promise to negotiate with Iran but gave no real reason to think that such negotiations should succeed. In fact he offered pretty much the same ”bargain” that the Bush administration was offering: “Continue down the current course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives.” Those “meaningful incentives” presumably boil down to normalization of relations with the U.S., a goal that the Iranian leadership has shown no interest in pursuing. Nor has Iran shown much concern about the “continued pressure and isolation,” perhaps because it’s not feeling that pressured or that isolated.

If I were in the Iranians’ camp, I would actually take the Obama-ites at their word and offer to negotiate endlessly even while the Iranian nuclear program draws closer to completion. Instead, as I reported yesterday, the Iranian representative here, Ali Larijani, gave a giant up-yours to the Obama administration. You might think that would nix the prospects for U.S.-Iran talks, but if so you would be cruelly deceived. The Democratic delegates I talked to dismissed Larijani’s remarks on the grounds that they were just for “domestic consumption” and if you listen to his words carefully enough (perhaps by playing them backwards at half speed?) you will hear a coded willingness to enter into fruitful dialogue with the United States. So despite their counterproductive rhetoric, the Iranians may well get the kind of negotiations that will serve their interests — if not the rest of the world’s.

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And Now For Something Completely Horrifying

The television show Seinfeld premiered 20 years ago this July. Just in case you want to feel old.

The television show Seinfeld premiered 20 years ago this July. Just in case you want to feel old.

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A Development of Profound Significance

The Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. writes an instructive column in the Washington Post which includes this:

Those who had descended upon Iraq to defeat the United States through terrorism, initially finding favor and support from the “rejectionists,” have themselves been rejected by the Iraqi people. Their strategy to ignite a sectarian civil war has failed. And though they still pose a threat to security, those extremist Islamists were comprehensively and strategically defeated in a Muslim country, a development of profound significance.

The elements in Iraq who thought that they could dominate and create a new form of dictatorship with the trappings of democracy have discovered that they must accept the principles of power sharing.

And, he adds, the elections have given lie to the argument that “Iraqis could not comprehend democracy and therefore could not abide by its rules.” He nevertheless is not pushing American troops out so quickly. Rather, he argues that “the continued engagement of the United States in Iraq will be vital to ensuring that what has been achieved is not jeopardized, though the emphasis will inevitably shift from military issues to economic and diplomatic matters.”

This should be an easily embraceable formulation for the Obama administration: 1) The elections were a success; 2) The violence has diminished but the U.S. still has a critical role to play; and 3) The risk and cost of a precipitous withdrawal can easily be avoided by, as the Ambassador describes,  “joint consultantions” in accord with the status of forces agreement to determine the appropriate speed of the drawn down of forces. Hopefully, when the full machinery of the Obama foreign policy team is up and running the Ambassador’s comments will be echoed by U.S. officials.

There is a natural inclination, especially by those who opposed both the war and the surge, to be done with Iraq and “move on.” But now that the casuality rate has plunged, the central task has changed from anti-insurgency activities to peacekeeping. With the end point in sight, it should be far easier to be patient — which we have learned can pay off provided you ignore the vicissitudes of domestic political opinion.

The Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. writes an instructive column in the Washington Post which includes this:

Those who had descended upon Iraq to defeat the United States through terrorism, initially finding favor and support from the “rejectionists,” have themselves been rejected by the Iraqi people. Their strategy to ignite a sectarian civil war has failed. And though they still pose a threat to security, those extremist Islamists were comprehensively and strategically defeated in a Muslim country, a development of profound significance.

The elements in Iraq who thought that they could dominate and create a new form of dictatorship with the trappings of democracy have discovered that they must accept the principles of power sharing.

And, he adds, the elections have given lie to the argument that “Iraqis could not comprehend democracy and therefore could not abide by its rules.” He nevertheless is not pushing American troops out so quickly. Rather, he argues that “the continued engagement of the United States in Iraq will be vital to ensuring that what has been achieved is not jeopardized, though the emphasis will inevitably shift from military issues to economic and diplomatic matters.”

This should be an easily embraceable formulation for the Obama administration: 1) The elections were a success; 2) The violence has diminished but the U.S. still has a critical role to play; and 3) The risk and cost of a precipitous withdrawal can easily be avoided by, as the Ambassador describes,  “joint consultantions” in accord with the status of forces agreement to determine the appropriate speed of the drawn down of forces. Hopefully, when the full machinery of the Obama foreign policy team is up and running the Ambassador’s comments will be echoed by U.S. officials.

There is a natural inclination, especially by those who opposed both the war and the surge, to be done with Iraq and “move on.” But now that the casuality rate has plunged, the central task has changed from anti-insurgency activities to peacekeeping. With the end point in sight, it should be far easier to be patient — which we have learned can pay off provided you ignore the vicissitudes of domestic political opinion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rich Lowry points out: “On the stimulus, when Obama says ‘I won,’ he’s out of better arguments.” It’s also not very changey. I thought he was all about “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

John McCain’s finest moment? His hardline stance against the Obama stimulus bill. Giving up the approval of the elite media and Democrats for conservative economic principles is earning him well-deserved plaudits.

I don’t blame Leon Panetta for getting the answer wrong on rendition. It’s very hard to keep all the half-truths and posturings straight.

All the misdirection does have a price, however: “A foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of political minds, and Mr. Obama’s executive order did allay the anti-antiterror left. But the larger danger is that his multiple personality disorder — aggressive interrogations are banned, except when they aren’t — will lead to a nervous, risk-averse CIA that can’t or won’t act when most needed. Someone in Washington will always decide later that U.S. intelligence officers went too far, usually when lives no longer seem at stake.”

Things are so bad, Jon Stewart figured out how to mock the Obama administration. (h/t Mary Katherine Ham)

Gail Collins has this one right: “Although the Commerce Department has many important duties, like supervising the patent office, it’s sort of like an old attic where people throw stuff that doesn’t fit anyplace else. And while there have been some sterling commerce secretaries, it has been run for lengthy periods of time by complete morons and the nation didn’t seem to suffer appreciably.” Translation: boy, is Judd Gregg a sap.

Martin Feldstein joins the president’s economic advisory board (aren’t there about three  of these things?). His first bit of advice might be: Mr. President, read my op-ed explaining that the stimulus plan is a “$800B mistake.”

Joe Biden says there’s a 30% chance the White House will get it wrong. Better than 0% — the chance that Biden can stay on message (or the chance that Obama is satisfied he made the best VP pick).

It’s early but the Republican has a big polling lead in the race to fill Kirsten Gillibrand’s House seat.

Peter Robinson writes: “Permit House Democrats to draft his stimulus legislation? What could Obama have been thinking? Only one answer fits: Obama wasn’t thinking.”

A heart-breaking interview with the mother of a U.S.S. Cole victim who isn’t pleased at all with President Obama.

Maybe Robert Gibbs should email all the answers to reporters rather than give unintelligible ones at the briefings. I’m thinking Gibbs will be “promoted” before March 1.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell graps an early lead against his Democratic competitors. If you’re a Republican you’re probably lucky to run in 2009. (Unless of course the pork-a-thon spending bill proves to be exceptionally popular and effective. And fast-acting.)

Professor Bradley Smith’s advice to President Obama: “He’s got to make a case for the bill that goes beyond stating a) we need change and b) this particular bill is necessary, will create jobs, and restore economic health. Because right now, a growing number of people don’t believe any part of that second proposition. It is not enough to keep asserting things as true, or appealing to an imaginary ‘consensus’ of economists that doesn’t really exist. . .  The problem is, I am not sure that there is a respectable intellectual case for this stimulus bill.” Well, that would be a problem, especially for the economy.

Rich Lowry points out: “On the stimulus, when Obama says ‘I won,’ he’s out of better arguments.” It’s also not very changey. I thought he was all about “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

John McCain’s finest moment? His hardline stance against the Obama stimulus bill. Giving up the approval of the elite media and Democrats for conservative economic principles is earning him well-deserved plaudits.

I don’t blame Leon Panetta for getting the answer wrong on rendition. It’s very hard to keep all the half-truths and posturings straight.

All the misdirection does have a price, however: “A foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of political minds, and Mr. Obama’s executive order did allay the anti-antiterror left. But the larger danger is that his multiple personality disorder — aggressive interrogations are banned, except when they aren’t — will lead to a nervous, risk-averse CIA that can’t or won’t act when most needed. Someone in Washington will always decide later that U.S. intelligence officers went too far, usually when lives no longer seem at stake.”

Things are so bad, Jon Stewart figured out how to mock the Obama administration. (h/t Mary Katherine Ham)

Gail Collins has this one right: “Although the Commerce Department has many important duties, like supervising the patent office, it’s sort of like an old attic where people throw stuff that doesn’t fit anyplace else. And while there have been some sterling commerce secretaries, it has been run for lengthy periods of time by complete morons and the nation didn’t seem to suffer appreciably.” Translation: boy, is Judd Gregg a sap.

Martin Feldstein joins the president’s economic advisory board (aren’t there about three  of these things?). His first bit of advice might be: Mr. President, read my op-ed explaining that the stimulus plan is a “$800B mistake.”

Joe Biden says there’s a 30% chance the White House will get it wrong. Better than 0% — the chance that Biden can stay on message (or the chance that Obama is satisfied he made the best VP pick).

It’s early but the Republican has a big polling lead in the race to fill Kirsten Gillibrand’s House seat.

Peter Robinson writes: “Permit House Democrats to draft his stimulus legislation? What could Obama have been thinking? Only one answer fits: Obama wasn’t thinking.”

A heart-breaking interview with the mother of a U.S.S. Cole victim who isn’t pleased at all with President Obama.

Maybe Robert Gibbs should email all the answers to reporters rather than give unintelligible ones at the briefings. I’m thinking Gibbs will be “promoted” before March 1.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell graps an early lead against his Democratic competitors. If you’re a Republican you’re probably lucky to run in 2009. (Unless of course the pork-a-thon spending bill proves to be exceptionally popular and effective. And fast-acting.)

Professor Bradley Smith’s advice to President Obama: “He’s got to make a case for the bill that goes beyond stating a) we need change and b) this particular bill is necessary, will create jobs, and restore economic health. Because right now, a growing number of people don’t believe any part of that second proposition. It is not enough to keep asserting things as true, or appealing to an imaginary ‘consensus’ of economists that doesn’t really exist. . .  The problem is, I am not sure that there is a respectable intellectual case for this stimulus bill.” Well, that would be a problem, especially for the economy.

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