Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2009

Abbas’s Three No’s

Three months after Syria, Jordan, and Egypt lost substantial territory during the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab League convened in Khartoum and issued its infamous “three no’s”: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel.  Yesterday in Cairo, an uncharacteristically defiant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered an updated version of these no’s: “No amending the Arab peace plan; No normalization without withdrawal; and no to the Jewishness of the Israeli state.”

You may wonder where a feckless, powerless, and unpopular leader of a non-state entity gets off setting the ground rules for future negotiations with the elected government of a regional power.  As Jonathan has pointed out, the Obama White House has thrown its support so strongly behind Abbas – and issued such a strong condemnation of Israeli settlement expansion – that the Palestinian leader can hardly contain his newfound confidence.

Let this be a lesson to those who insist that a more “even-handed” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would produce faster peace dividends.  If anything, Abbas’s sudden bravado indicates that tilting against Israel makes its adversaries less compromising and makes peace prospects more hopeless.  Consider for a moment that two of Abbas’s three no’s – his refusal to amend the Arab peace plan and vocal opposition to Israel’s Jewish character – can be collapsed into one: an insistence on Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel proper.  This is a stipulation that no Israeli government would ever accept, while Obama rejected the “right of return” explicitly as “not an option” during his presidential campaign.

In short, chalk up another failure for President Obama’s ongoing experimentation with American foreign policy.

Three months after Syria, Jordan, and Egypt lost substantial territory during the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab League convened in Khartoum and issued its infamous “three no’s”: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel.  Yesterday in Cairo, an uncharacteristically defiant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered an updated version of these no’s: “No amending the Arab peace plan; No normalization without withdrawal; and no to the Jewishness of the Israeli state.”

You may wonder where a feckless, powerless, and unpopular leader of a non-state entity gets off setting the ground rules for future negotiations with the elected government of a regional power.  As Jonathan has pointed out, the Obama White House has thrown its support so strongly behind Abbas – and issued such a strong condemnation of Israeli settlement expansion – that the Palestinian leader can hardly contain his newfound confidence.

Let this be a lesson to those who insist that a more “even-handed” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would produce faster peace dividends.  If anything, Abbas’s sudden bravado indicates that tilting against Israel makes its adversaries less compromising and makes peace prospects more hopeless.  Consider for a moment that two of Abbas’s three no’s – his refusal to amend the Arab peace plan and vocal opposition to Israel’s Jewish character – can be collapsed into one: an insistence on Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel proper.  This is a stipulation that no Israeli government would ever accept, while Obama rejected the “right of return” explicitly as “not an option” during his presidential campaign.

In short, chalk up another failure for President Obama’s ongoing experimentation with American foreign policy.

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Fooling Only Yourself

Abe’s post (“Accepting the Unacceptable“) about Secretary Gates’s speech yesterday is a reminder that – as George Orwell warned us long ago – the debasement of language has both intellectual and political consequences.

When George W. Bush called Iranian nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” John Bolton said he was often asked what Bush meant by that, and always answered it meant they were unacceptable.  By the end of Bush’s second term, Bolton said he no longer knew what Bush meant.  Bush left office having denied Israel’s request for weapons to unaccept Iran’s program – although placing them in the hands of Iran’s intended first victim would have sent a credible signal to Iran to stop its program.  Bush also called Russia’s invasion of Georgia “unacceptable,” but left office with Russian troops ensconced in Georgia and its territorial integrity gone. 

Whatever “unacceptable” meant, it did not mean concrete consequences for Russia or Iran.  If Iran had previously been worried about the meaning of “unacceptable,” it had little cause for concern after seeing its practical application in Georgia, and still less after it watched the new administration deliver a reset button to Russia, with a video to the mullahs and serial apologies to the rest of the world.

Obama has called Iranian nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” but few people think he will do much beyond talk to Iran in the hope of securing another North Korea-type framework agreement.  His secretary of state warns of “crippling” sanctions, but knows they are unlikely to be imposed; or be enforced if imposed; or be effective even if enforced – they weren’t in the case of Cuba or North Korea, or with Saddam Hussein.  His secretary of defense has delivered a public warning to Israel not to consider the one action that might cause the Iranians some concern.  

The word “unacceptable” has become an Orwellian term, referring to something with which we disagree, but will in fact ultimately accept.  In his classic essay, Orwell referred to language sounding significant (such as “stand shoulder to shoulder“) but that actually “will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.”  He would have recognized the language in Gates’s speech, and its consequences.

Abe’s post (“Accepting the Unacceptable“) about Secretary Gates’s speech yesterday is a reminder that – as George Orwell warned us long ago – the debasement of language has both intellectual and political consequences.

When George W. Bush called Iranian nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” John Bolton said he was often asked what Bush meant by that, and always answered it meant they were unacceptable.  By the end of Bush’s second term, Bolton said he no longer knew what Bush meant.  Bush left office having denied Israel’s request for weapons to unaccept Iran’s program – although placing them in the hands of Iran’s intended first victim would have sent a credible signal to Iran to stop its program.  Bush also called Russia’s invasion of Georgia “unacceptable,” but left office with Russian troops ensconced in Georgia and its territorial integrity gone. 

Whatever “unacceptable” meant, it did not mean concrete consequences for Russia or Iran.  If Iran had previously been worried about the meaning of “unacceptable,” it had little cause for concern after seeing its practical application in Georgia, and still less after it watched the new administration deliver a reset button to Russia, with a video to the mullahs and serial apologies to the rest of the world.

Obama has called Iranian nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” but few people think he will do much beyond talk to Iran in the hope of securing another North Korea-type framework agreement.  His secretary of state warns of “crippling” sanctions, but knows they are unlikely to be imposed; or be enforced if imposed; or be effective even if enforced – they weren’t in the case of Cuba or North Korea, or with Saddam Hussein.  His secretary of defense has delivered a public warning to Israel not to consider the one action that might cause the Iranians some concern.  

The word “unacceptable” has become an Orwellian term, referring to something with which we disagree, but will in fact ultimately accept.  In his classic essay, Orwell referred to language sounding significant (such as “stand shoulder to shoulder“) but that actually “will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.”  He would have recognized the language in Gates’s speech, and its consequences.

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Hiding Behind the Readers

Last week, the New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt meted out a half-hearted wrist-slap to Maureen Dowd for her rip off of a Josh Marshall posting. This week, Hoyt lets the readers have their say. They are not amused by Dowd’s lame excuse or by the Times’ spinelessness in dealing with a high-profile columnist who plainly broke the rules of Journalism 101. One writes:

If Maureen Dowd actually got a 42 word “quote” in writing from a friend and then used it almost verbatim, why didn’t she attribute the comment to the e-mail correspondent who gave it to her? The fact that Ms. Dowd did not realize from whom she was taking the quote does not mean she was unaware that the unattributed words were not her own, which is the essence of plagiarism. You should have named it as such.

Another argues:

Crediting two bloggers doesn’t justify copying and pasting the words of a third. The words were clearly not Maureen Dowd’s, and even the punctuation was the same as Josh Marshall’s. Mr. Marshall isn’t pressing the issue and considers the matter closed, but that doesn’t justify letting Ms. Dowd off the hook with just a correction. The passive-voice note that she “failed to attribute a paragraph” seems to play down what actually occurred.

You note that “Dowd told me the passage in question was part of an e-mail conversation with her friend.” Since Ms. Dowd lifted someone else’s words without attribution, it seems odd that The Times is simply taking her word for how this incident occurred. I feel that this is plagiarism.

So Hoyt and the Times management haven’t the nerve to punish Dowd, but they are content to rummage through the mail bag and give space to readers who aren’t intimidated by Dowd. It is a rather passive-aggressive performance. And the question remains: is the standard at the Gray Lady now “one free plagiarism”? Or does that only apply to the grande dame of snark?

Last week, the New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt meted out a half-hearted wrist-slap to Maureen Dowd for her rip off of a Josh Marshall posting. This week, Hoyt lets the readers have their say. They are not amused by Dowd’s lame excuse or by the Times’ spinelessness in dealing with a high-profile columnist who plainly broke the rules of Journalism 101. One writes:

If Maureen Dowd actually got a 42 word “quote” in writing from a friend and then used it almost verbatim, why didn’t she attribute the comment to the e-mail correspondent who gave it to her? The fact that Ms. Dowd did not realize from whom she was taking the quote does not mean she was unaware that the unattributed words were not her own, which is the essence of plagiarism. You should have named it as such.

Another argues:

Crediting two bloggers doesn’t justify copying and pasting the words of a third. The words were clearly not Maureen Dowd’s, and even the punctuation was the same as Josh Marshall’s. Mr. Marshall isn’t pressing the issue and considers the matter closed, but that doesn’t justify letting Ms. Dowd off the hook with just a correction. The passive-voice note that she “failed to attribute a paragraph” seems to play down what actually occurred.

You note that “Dowd told me the passage in question was part of an e-mail conversation with her friend.” Since Ms. Dowd lifted someone else’s words without attribution, it seems odd that The Times is simply taking her word for how this incident occurred. I feel that this is plagiarism.

So Hoyt and the Times management haven’t the nerve to punish Dowd, but they are content to rummage through the mail bag and give space to readers who aren’t intimidated by Dowd. It is a rather passive-aggressive performance. And the question remains: is the standard at the Gray Lady now “one free plagiarism”? Or does that only apply to the grande dame of snark?

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Freezes, Then and Now

In the course of writing an article for an Israeli newspaper (Hebrew only), I went back to reading Ronald Reagan’s September 1, 1982 speech on Middle East peace (the Reagan Plan) and Israel’s response to this long-forgotten initiative. As Israel and the U.S. are at odds again over the issue of “settlement freeze,” it is worth revisiting Reagan’s call for a settlement freeze:

The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs and a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.

And on the day after, September 2, 1982, the Israeli government rejected this part of the Reagan plan:

In the Camp David agreement no mention whatsoever is made of such a freeze. At Camp David the Prime Minister agreed that new settlements could not be be established (though population would be added to existing ones) during the period of the negotiations for the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (three months being explicitly stated). This commitment was carried out in full. That three month period terminated on December 1978…

Reagan, like Obama, wanted Israel to freeze “settlement activity.” Netanyahu, like former PM Menachem Begin, argues that even during a “freeze,” there will be no freeze of “natural growth” (“population would be added to existing ones”). Thus, the real question about Obama has to do with the intensity and ferocity with which he will pursue the goal of settlement freeze.

In other words: has Obama decided that even if freeze means the collapse of the Israeli coalition – and the demise of Netanyahu’s government – he is still going to pursue it without compromise? Since bringing about peace is not in his power, maybe some of his advisors believe that the toppling of Netanyahu’s coalition will allow Obama to gain the trust of the Arab world.

In the course of writing an article for an Israeli newspaper (Hebrew only), I went back to reading Ronald Reagan’s September 1, 1982 speech on Middle East peace (the Reagan Plan) and Israel’s response to this long-forgotten initiative. As Israel and the U.S. are at odds again over the issue of “settlement freeze,” it is worth revisiting Reagan’s call for a settlement freeze:

The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transition period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs and a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.

And on the day after, September 2, 1982, the Israeli government rejected this part of the Reagan plan:

In the Camp David agreement no mention whatsoever is made of such a freeze. At Camp David the Prime Minister agreed that new settlements could not be be established (though population would be added to existing ones) during the period of the negotiations for the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (three months being explicitly stated). This commitment was carried out in full. That three month period terminated on December 1978…

Reagan, like Obama, wanted Israel to freeze “settlement activity.” Netanyahu, like former PM Menachem Begin, argues that even during a “freeze,” there will be no freeze of “natural growth” (“population would be added to existing ones”). Thus, the real question about Obama has to do with the intensity and ferocity with which he will pursue the goal of settlement freeze.

In other words: has Obama decided that even if freeze means the collapse of the Israeli coalition – and the demise of Netanyahu’s government – he is still going to pursue it without compromise? Since bringing about peace is not in his power, maybe some of his advisors believe that the toppling of Netanyahu’s coalition will allow Obama to gain the trust of the Arab world.

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He Got the Judge He Wanted

Peter Baker notes the irony: the president who ran as the post-racial candidate has selected a Supreme Court nominee who is anything but post-racial. He writes:

But four months later, identity politics is back with a vengeance. A president who these days refers to his background obliquely when he does at all chose a Supreme Court candidate who openly embraces hers. Critics took issue with her past statements and called her a “reverse racist.” And the capital once again has polarized along familiar lines.

The selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor brought these issues to the fore again for several reasons. Mr. Obama’s selection process was geared from the beginning toward finding a female or minority candidate, or both. Only one of the nine vetted candidates was an Anglo male, and all four finalists he interviewed were women. One of Judge Sotomayor’s most prominent cases involved an affirmative-action claim. And her comment on her Latina background shaping her jurisprudence provided fodder for opponents.

It doesn’t take  long to figure out that, as Abigail Thernstrom (conservative scholar and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) observes, “He didn’t pick a post-racial candidate. . . She’s a quintessential spokesman for racial spoils.”

Baker reports that the administration is shocked, just shocked, to find there’s identity politics going on. Could they really dispute that “they fostered identity politics through a selection process focused on adding diversity to the court”? That suggests they either missed the impact and distastefulness of Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech (and her opinion in Ricci) or that they are determined to play the identity politics game, while denying they would do such a thing.

As Thernstrom points out, the pick tells us much about the president. He could have chosen a “diversity” pick who didn’t identify with the race-conscious civil rights lobby. And he could have picked someone who was renowned for legal scholarship. Instead, he made a conscious choice to pick Sotomayor, who is openly contemptuous of the idea of judicial impartiality and who revels in identity politics. We must conclude that despite Obama’s campaign rhetoric this nominee is compatible with his views on judging as an exercise in empathy and with his broader views on race. Otherwise he could have chosen someone else, right?

Peter Baker notes the irony: the president who ran as the post-racial candidate has selected a Supreme Court nominee who is anything but post-racial. He writes:

But four months later, identity politics is back with a vengeance. A president who these days refers to his background obliquely when he does at all chose a Supreme Court candidate who openly embraces hers. Critics took issue with her past statements and called her a “reverse racist.” And the capital once again has polarized along familiar lines.

The selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor brought these issues to the fore again for several reasons. Mr. Obama’s selection process was geared from the beginning toward finding a female or minority candidate, or both. Only one of the nine vetted candidates was an Anglo male, and all four finalists he interviewed were women. One of Judge Sotomayor’s most prominent cases involved an affirmative-action claim. And her comment on her Latina background shaping her jurisprudence provided fodder for opponents.

It doesn’t take  long to figure out that, as Abigail Thernstrom (conservative scholar and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) observes, “He didn’t pick a post-racial candidate. . . She’s a quintessential spokesman for racial spoils.”

Baker reports that the administration is shocked, just shocked, to find there’s identity politics going on. Could they really dispute that “they fostered identity politics through a selection process focused on adding diversity to the court”? That suggests they either missed the impact and distastefulness of Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech (and her opinion in Ricci) or that they are determined to play the identity politics game, while denying they would do such a thing.

As Thernstrom points out, the pick tells us much about the president. He could have chosen a “diversity” pick who didn’t identify with the race-conscious civil rights lobby. And he could have picked someone who was renowned for legal scholarship. Instead, he made a conscious choice to pick Sotomayor, who is openly contemptuous of the idea of judicial impartiality and who revels in identity politics. We must conclude that despite Obama’s campaign rhetoric this nominee is compatible with his views on judging as an exercise in empathy and with his broader views on race. Otherwise he could have chosen someone else, right?

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You Don’t Need a Weatherman to See Which Way the Wind is Blowing

For months, supporters of Israel, as well as its foes in this country, have been trying to understand which way the wind is blowing in the Obama administration. But after the president’s meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it’s becoming quite clear that the breeze is swaying away from the Israelis. The president’s statements about Israeli settlements during the photo-op with Abbas on Thursday certainly sent the Palestinian away happy. As the New York Times report on the meeting indicated, Obama was prepared to directly intervene in a dispute that has usually been left to lower level functionaries:

Mr. Obama reiterated his call for a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and said he expected a response soon from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Mr. Obama’s words echoed — albeit less bluntly — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brusque call on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank. In expansive language that left no wiggle room, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”

Her comments took Israeli officials by surprise.

Mr. Obama said something similar last week during private talks with Mr. Netanyahu at the White House, and Mr. Netanyahu responded that he could crack down on outposts, but not on the natural growth of settlements, according to American and Israeli officials.

The administration then took the quarrel public, laying down the marker that allowing natural growth would not satisfy the United States and that administration officials would not limit themselves to the diplo-speak of the past that simply called settlement expansion “unhelpful.” The decision left the two allies hurtling toward their first public fight.

In the aftermath of the meeting, the Palestinians are spinning their triumph furiously for the world press. According to Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily.com, Obama promised Abbas that a future Palestinian state would have Jerusalem as its capital.

Klein quotes Nimer Hamad, Abbas’ senior political adviser as saying: “Abu Mazen (Abbas) heard from Obama and his administration in a very categorical way that a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is in the American national and security interest,” Hamad said.

Even more upsetting for Israelis is another quote in Klein’s story in which he cites another Palestinian Authority official, this one anonymous, who said, “We were told from this new administration they will not allow a Netanyahu government to hurt their efforts of rehabilitating U.S. relations with the Arab and Islamic world, which is a high priority of Obama.”

Even if one takes this last anonymous quote with a grain of salt, there is no question that the entire thrust of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy appears to lead toward downgrading the U.S. alliance with Israel. While virtually ignoring the nuclear quest in Iran which ensures that before long Israel will be faced with an existential threat to its existence, ironically Obama has now framed the talks with the Palestinians in a way that guarantees that no progress will be made. We can expect this trend will be confirmed in Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo this week.

Obama’s main accomplishment in these two meetings has been to encourage the Palestinians to believe that he will deliver the Israelis to them on a silver platter. In the same story by Klein the Palestinians make clear that they feel no pressure to make any reciprocal gestures to the Israelis such as recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. As was the case when Bill Clinton similarly encouraged Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat to think he could hold out for more and more concessions and raise the ante with violence, the result of this U.S. blunder will not be peace.

For months, supporters of Israel, as well as its foes in this country, have been trying to understand which way the wind is blowing in the Obama administration. But after the president’s meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it’s becoming quite clear that the breeze is swaying away from the Israelis. The president’s statements about Israeli settlements during the photo-op with Abbas on Thursday certainly sent the Palestinian away happy. As the New York Times report on the meeting indicated, Obama was prepared to directly intervene in a dispute that has usually been left to lower level functionaries:

Mr. Obama reiterated his call for a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and said he expected a response soon from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Mr. Obama’s words echoed — albeit less bluntly — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brusque call on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank. In expansive language that left no wiggle room, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”

Her comments took Israeli officials by surprise.

Mr. Obama said something similar last week during private talks with Mr. Netanyahu at the White House, and Mr. Netanyahu responded that he could crack down on outposts, but not on the natural growth of settlements, according to American and Israeli officials.

The administration then took the quarrel public, laying down the marker that allowing natural growth would not satisfy the United States and that administration officials would not limit themselves to the diplo-speak of the past that simply called settlement expansion “unhelpful.” The decision left the two allies hurtling toward their first public fight.

In the aftermath of the meeting, the Palestinians are spinning their triumph furiously for the world press. According to Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily.com, Obama promised Abbas that a future Palestinian state would have Jerusalem as its capital.

Klein quotes Nimer Hamad, Abbas’ senior political adviser as saying: “Abu Mazen (Abbas) heard from Obama and his administration in a very categorical way that a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is in the American national and security interest,” Hamad said.

Even more upsetting for Israelis is another quote in Klein’s story in which he cites another Palestinian Authority official, this one anonymous, who said, “We were told from this new administration they will not allow a Netanyahu government to hurt their efforts of rehabilitating U.S. relations with the Arab and Islamic world, which is a high priority of Obama.”

Even if one takes this last anonymous quote with a grain of salt, there is no question that the entire thrust of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy appears to lead toward downgrading the U.S. alliance with Israel. While virtually ignoring the nuclear quest in Iran which ensures that before long Israel will be faced with an existential threat to its existence, ironically Obama has now framed the talks with the Palestinians in a way that guarantees that no progress will be made. We can expect this trend will be confirmed in Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo this week.

Obama’s main accomplishment in these two meetings has been to encourage the Palestinians to believe that he will deliver the Israelis to them on a silver platter. In the same story by Klein the Palestinians make clear that they feel no pressure to make any reciprocal gestures to the Israelis such as recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. As was the case when Bill Clinton similarly encouraged Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat to think he could hold out for more and more concessions and raise the ante with violence, the result of this U.S. blunder will not be peace.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Marty Peretz recounts the history of Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel and Israel’s unsuccessful efforts to give the Palestinians their state. He observes: “Now, the Obama administration is engaged in another try at the peace process, egged on presumably by the preposterous idea that, if Bibi only utters the magic phrase ‘two-state solution’ and halts construction even for natural growth in every single one of the settlements, America’s troubles in the world of Islam will not only ease but be transformed. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton, our martinet secretary of state, has enthusiastically rushed to formulate these instructions to Israel in the harshest possible terms. ” So did Peretz have Obama pegged all wrong? Those who saw this coming would rather be wrong than say, “We told you so.”

At some point maybe everyone can give up on the fiction that the Europeans really want Guantanamo closed: “Italy’s interior minister insisted Saturday that any decision to accept Guantanamo inmates must be unanimously made by members of the European Union and expressed worry the suspected terrorists might move easily through the union’s loose borders.”

What, you want consistency? “President Obama’s expressed hope today in his weekly address ‘that we can avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship that has bogged down this (Supreme Court nomination) process, and Congress, in the past’ runs against another historical first for the 44th president: his unique role in history as the first US President to have ever voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.”

The “magic may be wearing off” at CNN. It’s ratings have plunged. Perhaps there isn’t much audience for Obama-cheerleading masquerading as unbiased journalism. Whoops– the new Newsweek might want to take note.

James Carafano gets it right: “Just repeating the assertion that the Iran and North Korea threats are not imminent misses the point–a ‘slow go’ missile defense program only encourages both countries to advance their programs faster and leaves the US open to strategic surprise. Obama failed his first real foreign policy test-now even some on his side of the fence are urging him revisit a bad decision. We should all do what Joe Biden said, help the president when he is tested-let’s help him change his mind on cutting missiles defense.”

The car industry frets that Americans will break the new car habit. Hmm. Maybe building hybrid cars that are $3000-4000 more per vehicle is exactly the wrong strategy.

Ilya Somin explains just how problematic “empathy” is in judging: “When critics of the [Lily] Ledbetter decision claim that the conservative justices lacked ‘empathy’ for the plaintiff, they mean not that the conservative justices were unaware of her feelings, but that they failed to identify with them sufficiently. As Barack Obama recently put it, ‘the quality of empathy’ he looks for in judges includes ‘understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes’ [emphasis added]. Advocates of judicial empathy claim not only that judges sometimes must determine the mental states of litigants, but also show sympathetic ‘identification’ with them. At the very least, they want judges to put themselves in litigant’s shoes to a far greater extent than merely knowing what the litigants think or feel. And they want that kind of empathy to be a basis for judicial decisions in some important cases.” That would be the same as bias, right?

Marty Peretz recounts the history of Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel and Israel’s unsuccessful efforts to give the Palestinians their state. He observes: “Now, the Obama administration is engaged in another try at the peace process, egged on presumably by the preposterous idea that, if Bibi only utters the magic phrase ‘two-state solution’ and halts construction even for natural growth in every single one of the settlements, America’s troubles in the world of Islam will not only ease but be transformed. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton, our martinet secretary of state, has enthusiastically rushed to formulate these instructions to Israel in the harshest possible terms. ” So did Peretz have Obama pegged all wrong? Those who saw this coming would rather be wrong than say, “We told you so.”

At some point maybe everyone can give up on the fiction that the Europeans really want Guantanamo closed: “Italy’s interior minister insisted Saturday that any decision to accept Guantanamo inmates must be unanimously made by members of the European Union and expressed worry the suspected terrorists might move easily through the union’s loose borders.”

What, you want consistency? “President Obama’s expressed hope today in his weekly address ‘that we can avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship that has bogged down this (Supreme Court nomination) process, and Congress, in the past’ runs against another historical first for the 44th president: his unique role in history as the first US President to have ever voted to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee.”

The “magic may be wearing off” at CNN. It’s ratings have plunged. Perhaps there isn’t much audience for Obama-cheerleading masquerading as unbiased journalism. Whoops– the new Newsweek might want to take note.

James Carafano gets it right: “Just repeating the assertion that the Iran and North Korea threats are not imminent misses the point–a ‘slow go’ missile defense program only encourages both countries to advance their programs faster and leaves the US open to strategic surprise. Obama failed his first real foreign policy test-now even some on his side of the fence are urging him revisit a bad decision. We should all do what Joe Biden said, help the president when he is tested-let’s help him change his mind on cutting missiles defense.”

The car industry frets that Americans will break the new car habit. Hmm. Maybe building hybrid cars that are $3000-4000 more per vehicle is exactly the wrong strategy.

Ilya Somin explains just how problematic “empathy” is in judging: “When critics of the [Lily] Ledbetter decision claim that the conservative justices lacked ‘empathy’ for the plaintiff, they mean not that the conservative justices were unaware of her feelings, but that they failed to identify with them sufficiently. As Barack Obama recently put it, ‘the quality of empathy’ he looks for in judges includes ‘understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes’ [emphasis added]. Advocates of judicial empathy claim not only that judges sometimes must determine the mental states of litigants, but also show sympathetic ‘identification’ with them. At the very least, they want judges to put themselves in litigant’s shoes to a far greater extent than merely knowing what the litigants think or feel. And they want that kind of empathy to be a basis for judicial decisions in some important cases.” That would be the same as bias, right?

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Subtle, but Dishonest

A small but illustrative addition to the Andrew Sullivan file. Andrew, quoting from what is apparently an MJ Rosenberg translation of an interview Martin Indyk gave to Yedioth Ahronoth, declares:

And Netanyahu is behaving as Indyk noted: “like the boy who killed his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan.” He should know who he’s dealing with.

But Indyk didn’t say that Bibi is behaving that way. He said that in the future, Bibi shouldn’t behave that way. Here is the non-Dowdified quote:

“Of course [Bibi] has political constraints,” [Indyk] said. “There is great appreciation in the US of the fact that Israel is a democratic country. Conversely, if you don’t want to do anything, why should we help you. Especially if you’re the one asking.

“Bibi can’t behave with Washington like the boy who killed his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan. He can’t say, I can’t make compromises because I have Lieberman in my coalition.”

Thus by careful misquotation is a hypothetical scenario presented as something that has already happened. Once upon a time, of course, Andrew railed against Dowdifying.

A small but illustrative addition to the Andrew Sullivan file. Andrew, quoting from what is apparently an MJ Rosenberg translation of an interview Martin Indyk gave to Yedioth Ahronoth, declares:

And Netanyahu is behaving as Indyk noted: “like the boy who killed his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan.” He should know who he’s dealing with.

But Indyk didn’t say that Bibi is behaving that way. He said that in the future, Bibi shouldn’t behave that way. Here is the non-Dowdified quote:

“Of course [Bibi] has political constraints,” [Indyk] said. “There is great appreciation in the US of the fact that Israel is a democratic country. Conversely, if you don’t want to do anything, why should we help you. Especially if you’re the one asking.

“Bibi can’t behave with Washington like the boy who killed his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan. He can’t say, I can’t make compromises because I have Lieberman in my coalition.”

Thus by careful misquotation is a hypothetical scenario presented as something that has already happened. Once upon a time, of course, Andrew railed against Dowdifying.

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Where Will It End?

Much has been and will be written about Frank Ricci and the New Haven firefighter case. Jan Greenburg Crawford and Ariane de Vogue pen one of the more engrossing pieces. One is struck by the lack of attention which Sotomayor displayed toward the firefighters’ claim. The report explains:

What has all of Washington talking is what happened next: Sotomayor and two fellow appellate judges dismissed the white firefighters’ claims — and 2,000 pages of court papers and filings — in a one-paragraph ruling.

“We are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs’ expression of frustration,” but the firefighters who filed the case don’t have a “viable” claim under the law, the opinion said.

Conservatives, like Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network, have decried the ruling.

“Judge Sotomayor and her colleagues didn’t engage in any legal analysis. They didn’t grapple with these issues,” Long charged.

“It leads one to think that Judge Sotomayor and her two colleagues who were involved in the case simply wanted to bury the claims of the New Haven firefighters.”

On the next appeal to the full 13-member court, the judges were more conflicted. Six sharply objected to the short, unsigned opinion, saying it failed to examine any of the law.

“The opinion contains no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case,” wrote Judge Jose Cabranes, a Clinton appointee and long-time mentor to Sotomayor, in a scathing dissent. “This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal.”

Yes, as her defenders point out, per curium opinions are not uncommon. But after all she “missed” — or sought to shove under the rug — a serious constitutional issue which the Supreme Court selected to consider. The Senate will need to know why she didn’t at the very least spot and fully analyze the Constitutional issue.

But even more than Sotomayor’s cavalier handing of the claim, one is taken aback by the reaction of one the African American firefighters:

Black firefighters say that the stakes in their case couldn’t be higher.

“If we lose this,” New Haven firefighter Octavius Dawson said, “the implication is catastrophic. I mean, where does it end? Not just with the fire department. Police department, education, who knows where it could end?”

Yes, where will it end? Soon colorblind evaluations at police departments, next race-based quotas thrown out at public universities and soon the whole darn country filled with citizens all being evaluated on their merits. Well, one can see why the case might have been such a hot potato.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings provide quite an education. We’ll learn a lot about Sotomayor, but also the degree to which the Left is wedded to identity politics and race-based preferences. Does the country really like all this divvying up by race, as Chief Justice John Roberts put it? I think we’ll be reminded this summer that they certainly do not. And they might wonder why the president has appointed someone who did not, at least in this key case, grapple with the tough issue and give the parties a full opinion on the merits.

Much has been and will be written about Frank Ricci and the New Haven firefighter case. Jan Greenburg Crawford and Ariane de Vogue pen one of the more engrossing pieces. One is struck by the lack of attention which Sotomayor displayed toward the firefighters’ claim. The report explains:

What has all of Washington talking is what happened next: Sotomayor and two fellow appellate judges dismissed the white firefighters’ claims — and 2,000 pages of court papers and filings — in a one-paragraph ruling.

“We are not unsympathetic to the plaintiffs’ expression of frustration,” but the firefighters who filed the case don’t have a “viable” claim under the law, the opinion said.

Conservatives, like Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network, have decried the ruling.

“Judge Sotomayor and her colleagues didn’t engage in any legal analysis. They didn’t grapple with these issues,” Long charged.

“It leads one to think that Judge Sotomayor and her two colleagues who were involved in the case simply wanted to bury the claims of the New Haven firefighters.”

On the next appeal to the full 13-member court, the judges were more conflicted. Six sharply objected to the short, unsigned opinion, saying it failed to examine any of the law.

“The opinion contains no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case,” wrote Judge Jose Cabranes, a Clinton appointee and long-time mentor to Sotomayor, in a scathing dissent. “This perfunctory disposition rests uneasily with the weighty issues presented by this appeal.”

Yes, as her defenders point out, per curium opinions are not uncommon. But after all she “missed” — or sought to shove under the rug — a serious constitutional issue which the Supreme Court selected to consider. The Senate will need to know why she didn’t at the very least spot and fully analyze the Constitutional issue.

But even more than Sotomayor’s cavalier handing of the claim, one is taken aback by the reaction of one the African American firefighters:

Black firefighters say that the stakes in their case couldn’t be higher.

“If we lose this,” New Haven firefighter Octavius Dawson said, “the implication is catastrophic. I mean, where does it end? Not just with the fire department. Police department, education, who knows where it could end?”

Yes, where will it end? Soon colorblind evaluations at police departments, next race-based quotas thrown out at public universities and soon the whole darn country filled with citizens all being evaluated on their merits. Well, one can see why the case might have been such a hot potato.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings provide quite an education. We’ll learn a lot about Sotomayor, but also the degree to which the Left is wedded to identity politics and race-based preferences. Does the country really like all this divvying up by race, as Chief Justice John Roberts put it? I think we’ll be reminded this summer that they certainly do not. And they might wonder why the president has appointed someone who did not, at least in this key case, grapple with the tough issue and give the parties a full opinion on the merits.

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Accepting the Unacceptable

Here’s Mark Steyn on the collective non-response to North Korea’s nuke test:

It is remarkable in just five years how the world has adjusted to the inevitability of a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear Iran. Nudge it on another half-decade: Whose nuclear ambitions will be unstoppable by 2015? Syria’s? Sudan’s? Selected fiefdoms in Somalia?

Meanwhile, speaking in Singapore on Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region — or on us . . . Our goal is complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.”

I remember George W. Bush saying the same thing about Iran.

The meanings of the words “acceptable” and “unacceptable” have taken a funny turn. There used to be a preventative connotation in refusing to accept a certain possible outcome. Now it’s more to do with registering an official complaint when faced with that outcome. Later in Gates’s speech he was a bit more accurate about where things stand: “At the end of the day, the choice to continue as a destitute international pariah or chart a new course is North Korea’s alone to make.” He’s got that right. Kim will be left alone to do as he pleases.  Declaring the unacceptable has become a statement of impotence, not power. At least Barack Obama’s preferred “game changer” keeps expectations accurately low.

Here’s Mark Steyn on the collective non-response to North Korea’s nuke test:

It is remarkable in just five years how the world has adjusted to the inevitability of a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear Iran. Nudge it on another half-decade: Whose nuclear ambitions will be unstoppable by 2015? Syria’s? Sudan’s? Selected fiefdoms in Somalia?

Meanwhile, speaking in Singapore on Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region — or on us . . . Our goal is complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.”

I remember George W. Bush saying the same thing about Iran.

The meanings of the words “acceptable” and “unacceptable” have taken a funny turn. There used to be a preventative connotation in refusing to accept a certain possible outcome. Now it’s more to do with registering an official complaint when faced with that outcome. Later in Gates’s speech he was a bit more accurate about where things stand: “At the end of the day, the choice to continue as a destitute international pariah or chart a new course is North Korea’s alone to make.” He’s got that right. Kim will be left alone to do as he pleases.  Declaring the unacceptable has become a statement of impotence, not power. At least Barack Obama’s preferred “game changer” keeps expectations accurately low.

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Self-Promotion Isn’t Leadership

Fred Barnes observes:

Let’s stipulate that President Obama is a wonderful speaker, vigorous in promoting his policies and even eloquent at times. But there’s a problem: He’s not persuasive. Obama is effective at marketing himself. His 64 percent job approval (Gallup poll) is a reflection of this. But in building public support for his policies, Obama has been largely unsuccessful.

As Barnes and others have noted, there is a significant gap between Obama’s personal popularity and the popularity of his policies. On Guantanamo, spending, bailouts and even his Supreme Court nominee the public doesn’t “take Obama’s word for it.” They are making independent judgments and don’t like a significant portion of the agenda. Or they like it a lot less than they like him ( and largely along party lines).

It is also worthy noting that Obama hasn’t been any more successful in Congress. Really, how hard is it for the president to first defer draftsmanship to his Democratic colleagues and then sign it? He hasn’t persuaded Republicans of much of anything. And Democrats simply were allowed to do what they wanted on the stimulus and budget. There really wasn’t a “sale.” Indeed he ran from fights, on the 9000-earmark omnibus spending plan for example. And aside from a dog-and-pony show and a speech or two he’s done nothing on entitlement reform.

So what’s the “problem”? Well, for starters the country hasn’t really moved to the left. The split of  voters on ideology ( i.e. conservatives/moderates/liberals) on election day didn’t register much of a shift. And while the Republican Party is in a rough patch there’s plenty of evidence on everything from abortion to guns to spending that we remain a center-right country. And Obama is not — center-right, that is. So whatever Obama is selling — voters aren’t really inclined to buy.

But I think there is something more here. Obama doesn’t make much of an effort to engage on the merits. The Republicans, he kept saying during the stimulus debate, had “no ideas.” ( They did but he rejected them out of hand.) He is famous for the strawman argument but not so much for marshaling the facts and making a tightly argued case for his position. The Guantanamo debate was a case in point. He declared — without proof — that Guantanamo had served as a recruiting tool. Contrast that to Dick Cheney’s detailed argument based on a litany of facts on Guantanamo and our interrogation policies. Obama might reassure those who already agreed with him, but absent factual data he was unlikely — and didn’t — sway those not already convinced of his position.

In short, if you are selling what voters aren’t predisposed to accept, and you don’t give them well-argued reasons to change their minds, they likely will remain wary of your policies. Up until now, with large Democratic majorities and a fawning media, that hasn’t been a problem. But does Obama have the ability or even the interest to persuade Congress and the country on healthcare and cap-and-trade ( two bitterly contested issues with no pre-made consensus) or on the remainder of his agenda? It isn’t clear that he does.

And should Obama’s Congressional majorities shrink in 2010 — as they are wont to do in the first mid-term election — what then? Unless the president shifts on policy or learns to make the case and not just a speech, his agenda faces tough sledding.

Fred Barnes observes:

Let’s stipulate that President Obama is a wonderful speaker, vigorous in promoting his policies and even eloquent at times. But there’s a problem: He’s not persuasive. Obama is effective at marketing himself. His 64 percent job approval (Gallup poll) is a reflection of this. But in building public support for his policies, Obama has been largely unsuccessful.

As Barnes and others have noted, there is a significant gap between Obama’s personal popularity and the popularity of his policies. On Guantanamo, spending, bailouts and even his Supreme Court nominee the public doesn’t “take Obama’s word for it.” They are making independent judgments and don’t like a significant portion of the agenda. Or they like it a lot less than they like him ( and largely along party lines).

It is also worthy noting that Obama hasn’t been any more successful in Congress. Really, how hard is it for the president to first defer draftsmanship to his Democratic colleagues and then sign it? He hasn’t persuaded Republicans of much of anything. And Democrats simply were allowed to do what they wanted on the stimulus and budget. There really wasn’t a “sale.” Indeed he ran from fights, on the 9000-earmark omnibus spending plan for example. And aside from a dog-and-pony show and a speech or two he’s done nothing on entitlement reform.

So what’s the “problem”? Well, for starters the country hasn’t really moved to the left. The split of  voters on ideology ( i.e. conservatives/moderates/liberals) on election day didn’t register much of a shift. And while the Republican Party is in a rough patch there’s plenty of evidence on everything from abortion to guns to spending that we remain a center-right country. And Obama is not — center-right, that is. So whatever Obama is selling — voters aren’t really inclined to buy.

But I think there is something more here. Obama doesn’t make much of an effort to engage on the merits. The Republicans, he kept saying during the stimulus debate, had “no ideas.” ( They did but he rejected them out of hand.) He is famous for the strawman argument but not so much for marshaling the facts and making a tightly argued case for his position. The Guantanamo debate was a case in point. He declared — without proof — that Guantanamo had served as a recruiting tool. Contrast that to Dick Cheney’s detailed argument based on a litany of facts on Guantanamo and our interrogation policies. Obama might reassure those who already agreed with him, but absent factual data he was unlikely — and didn’t — sway those not already convinced of his position.

In short, if you are selling what voters aren’t predisposed to accept, and you don’t give them well-argued reasons to change their minds, they likely will remain wary of your policies. Up until now, with large Democratic majorities and a fawning media, that hasn’t been a problem. But does Obama have the ability or even the interest to persuade Congress and the country on healthcare and cap-and-trade ( two bitterly contested issues with no pre-made consensus) or on the remainder of his agenda? It isn’t clear that he does.

And should Obama’s Congressional majorities shrink in 2010 — as they are wont to do in the first mid-term election — what then? Unless the president shifts on policy or learns to make the case and not just a speech, his agenda faces tough sledding.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

John McCormick observes that Obama’s high personal popularity hasn’t carried over to his Supreme Court nominee. It didn’t carry over to his Guantanamo policy either. Could it be that when the whole country pays close attention to a controversial issue, the issue itself and common-sense concerns (e.g. Are the Uighurs dangerous people? Is Sotomayor a proponent on impartial justice?) matter more than Obama’s personal magnetism? Nah!

Speaking of Guantanamo, the Obama administration adopts the Bush administration’s position that the Uighurs have no right to be released in the U.S. Andy McCarthy points out that “the President tends to do the right thing only after knuckle-dragging right-wingers push back against his (and his Justice Department’s) reliable inclination to do the wrong thing.” Sounds like the lesson for the Right is: keep it up!

Ms. Pelosi, your swamp needs draining: “Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury looking into the PMA Group, a once-high flying lobbying firm that collapsed after a federal raid in November.” (Helpful background can be found here.)

David Broder sees another part of the swamp: “When the Illinois Democrat was elevated to the White House, Reid inherited Roland Burris as the Senate successor to Obama. Reid almost certainly would have preferred someone else. But now all three — Obama, Reid and Burris — are linked in a way that poses a challenge for the Democrats in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. . . The Burris case is before the Senate ethics committee, which has set no deadline for action. The question is what Reid and Obama will say and do about Burris’s intention to brush all this off and act as if he were entitled to retain his Senate seat. Republicans — and everybody else — will be watching.”

Joe Lieberman calls for a bipartisan approach on Iran. However:  “A realistic response requires that we first recognize that the danger posed by the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities cannot be divorced from its broader foreign policy ambitions and patterns of behavior — in particular, its longstanding use of terrorist proxies to destabilize and weaken its Arab neighbors and Israel, to carve out spheres of Iranian influence in the Mideast, and to tilt the region toward extremism.” I don’t sense that we’re there yet — even (especially?) in the administration.

Apparently not all the Hispanic jurists in attendance agreed with Sotomayor’s wise Latina perspective at that Berkeley symposium in 2001. Well, that means it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, right? Otherwise she could have, at the very least, used language as clear as her colleagues in affirming that her ethnicity “does not mean that I apply a different standard of justice, because that is wrong.” I think it’s crystal clear that Sotomayor was saying the opposite.

Bill Kristol points out that Robert Gibbs might not be the best person to parse Sotomayor’s word choice. Well, there’s always Joe Biden. ( You gotta’ wonder what’s going to slip out of his mouth on some of the more controversial aspects of the nomination. Perhaps he’ll spend the summer on the funeral circuit.)

Liz Cheney weighs in on Sotomayor’s “troubling” comments. (It seems that Liz Cheney is becoming a go-to Republican on even non-national security issues.)

It never ends: “Human rights activists at odds with President Obama over his recent national security decisions are indicating that they might legally challenge the U.S. military’s use of Predator drones, a weapon that intelligence officials say is their single most effective tool in combating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” And when the “activists” start throwing around terms like “war crimes” the Obama lawyers might consider whether it’s such a good idea to punish another administration’s lawyers for their legal advice.

John McCormick observes that Obama’s high personal popularity hasn’t carried over to his Supreme Court nominee. It didn’t carry over to his Guantanamo policy either. Could it be that when the whole country pays close attention to a controversial issue, the issue itself and common-sense concerns (e.g. Are the Uighurs dangerous people? Is Sotomayor a proponent on impartial justice?) matter more than Obama’s personal magnetism? Nah!

Speaking of Guantanamo, the Obama administration adopts the Bush administration’s position that the Uighurs have no right to be released in the U.S. Andy McCarthy points out that “the President tends to do the right thing only after knuckle-dragging right-wingers push back against his (and his Justice Department’s) reliable inclination to do the wrong thing.” Sounds like the lesson for the Right is: keep it up!

Ms. Pelosi, your swamp needs draining: “Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury looking into the PMA Group, a once-high flying lobbying firm that collapsed after a federal raid in November.” (Helpful background can be found here.)

David Broder sees another part of the swamp: “When the Illinois Democrat was elevated to the White House, Reid inherited Roland Burris as the Senate successor to Obama. Reid almost certainly would have preferred someone else. But now all three — Obama, Reid and Burris — are linked in a way that poses a challenge for the Democrats in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. . . The Burris case is before the Senate ethics committee, which has set no deadline for action. The question is what Reid and Obama will say and do about Burris’s intention to brush all this off and act as if he were entitled to retain his Senate seat. Republicans — and everybody else — will be watching.”

Joe Lieberman calls for a bipartisan approach on Iran. However:  “A realistic response requires that we first recognize that the danger posed by the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities cannot be divorced from its broader foreign policy ambitions and patterns of behavior — in particular, its longstanding use of terrorist proxies to destabilize and weaken its Arab neighbors and Israel, to carve out spheres of Iranian influence in the Mideast, and to tilt the region toward extremism.” I don’t sense that we’re there yet — even (especially?) in the administration.

Apparently not all the Hispanic jurists in attendance agreed with Sotomayor’s wise Latina perspective at that Berkeley symposium in 2001. Well, that means it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, right? Otherwise she could have, at the very least, used language as clear as her colleagues in affirming that her ethnicity “does not mean that I apply a different standard of justice, because that is wrong.” I think it’s crystal clear that Sotomayor was saying the opposite.

Bill Kristol points out that Robert Gibbs might not be the best person to parse Sotomayor’s word choice. Well, there’s always Joe Biden. ( You gotta’ wonder what’s going to slip out of his mouth on some of the more controversial aspects of the nomination. Perhaps he’ll spend the summer on the funeral circuit.)

Liz Cheney weighs in on Sotomayor’s “troubling” comments. (It seems that Liz Cheney is becoming a go-to Republican on even non-national security issues.)

It never ends: “Human rights activists at odds with President Obama over his recent national security decisions are indicating that they might legally challenge the U.S. military’s use of Predator drones, a weapon that intelligence officials say is their single most effective tool in combating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” And when the “activists” start throwing around terms like “war crimes” the Obama lawyers might consider whether it’s such a good idea to punish another administration’s lawyers for their legal advice.

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Commentary of the Day

El Gordo, on Ted R. Bromund:

Germans are in the process of redefining themselves as “victims of war.” Claiming that all war is always horrible for everyone involved, they remove all questions of who and why. Pacifist Germans have conveniently drawn the wrong conclusion from WW2 – that freedom and democracy must not be defended militarily.

You hear this all the time in Germany: that Germans know the price of war and have learned their lesson – unlike those naive, stupid Americans. In this self-serving myth, having started a war that killed 50 million ended up cleansing and purifying them, enabling them to reach a higher moral plane. Thus the perpetrators gain the moral high ground over the victors. Or so they think. (The irony is that most Germans have no memory of any war, while millions of Americans were affected by the effort to win the cold war and subsequent conflicts)

Dresden is of course a big part of that argument.

Making apologies for Dresden is inappropriate for several reasons. It is an insult to those who fought the war and had to make tough decisions. This was a war for the very survival of civilization. Contrary to the German view, the war wasn´t over when Dresden was bombed. Americans had suffered great casualties in the battle of the bulge just a few weeks earlier. Allied soldiers were dying in large numbers every day all over the world. Democratic leaders had a duty to win the war as soon as possible and not to sacrifice their own men by being concerned about the enemy. Only the leaders of Germany, Japan and Soviet Union could afford to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of their own, which they did to buy a little more time for themselves.

It´s cheap for a politician to make apologies for things earlier generations did. It´s cheap for an ignorant liberal dunderhead to call their effort terrorism. It is also meaningless. So far Obama never let slip a chance to aggrandize himself at America´s expense. We will see.

El Gordo, on Ted R. Bromund:

Germans are in the process of redefining themselves as “victims of war.” Claiming that all war is always horrible for everyone involved, they remove all questions of who and why. Pacifist Germans have conveniently drawn the wrong conclusion from WW2 – that freedom and democracy must not be defended militarily.

You hear this all the time in Germany: that Germans know the price of war and have learned their lesson – unlike those naive, stupid Americans. In this self-serving myth, having started a war that killed 50 million ended up cleansing and purifying them, enabling them to reach a higher moral plane. Thus the perpetrators gain the moral high ground over the victors. Or so they think. (The irony is that most Germans have no memory of any war, while millions of Americans were affected by the effort to win the cold war and subsequent conflicts)

Dresden is of course a big part of that argument.

Making apologies for Dresden is inappropriate for several reasons. It is an insult to those who fought the war and had to make tough decisions. This was a war for the very survival of civilization. Contrary to the German view, the war wasn´t over when Dresden was bombed. Americans had suffered great casualties in the battle of the bulge just a few weeks earlier. Allied soldiers were dying in large numbers every day all over the world. Democratic leaders had a duty to win the war as soon as possible and not to sacrifice their own men by being concerned about the enemy. Only the leaders of Germany, Japan and Soviet Union could afford to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of their own, which they did to buy a little more time for themselves.

It´s cheap for a politician to make apologies for things earlier generations did. It´s cheap for an ignorant liberal dunderhead to call their effort terrorism. It is also meaningless. So far Obama never let slip a chance to aggrandize himself at America´s expense. We will see.

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Walking Back

It took several days for the White House to come out with an explanation for the 32 words: “her word choice in 2001 was poor.” Got it?

ABC News reports: “About her use of the word ‘better,’ Gibbs said ‘I think if she had the speech to do all over again I think she’d change that word.'” Well, yeah. Now.

But this was part of a speech and it was duplicated for a law review article. Was it sloppy draftsmanship? Or does she now she realize that it was impolitic? Moreover, isn’t her view of personalized jurisprudence the gravamen of the speech? I think it’s hard to escape the conclusion that those words were entirely consistent with the overall theme of the speech, which also included this passage:

While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address. I accept the thesis of a law school classmate, Professor Steven Carter of Yale Law School, in his affirmative action book that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought. Thus, as noted by another Yale Law School Professor — I did graduate from there and I am not really biased except that they seem to be doing a lot of writing in that area – Professor Judith Resnik says that there is not a single voice of feminism, not a feminist approach but many who are exploring the possible ways of being that are distinct from those structured in a world dominated by the power and words of men. Thus, feminist theories of judging are in the midst of creation and are not and perhaps will never aspire to be as solidified as the established legal doctrines of judging can sometimes appear to be.

And the 32 words, remember, are part of this paragraph:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

It is a speech quite obviously devoted to identity politics, extolling a message of legal realism which declares the ideal of impartial judging to be bunk. I find it hard to believe the White House thinks this will suffice.

Senators should take Sotomayor through that speech carefully, and take her through other examples of her work as well, to determine what she believed then and what she believes now. Well are all entitled to change our minds, but claiming “poor word choice” for a Supreme Court nominee isn’t going to fly, I suspect. Besides, it’s a rather odd defense for a Supreme Court nominee, isn’t it?

It took several days for the White House to come out with an explanation for the 32 words: “her word choice in 2001 was poor.” Got it?

ABC News reports: “About her use of the word ‘better,’ Gibbs said ‘I think if she had the speech to do all over again I think she’d change that word.'” Well, yeah. Now.

But this was part of a speech and it was duplicated for a law review article. Was it sloppy draftsmanship? Or does she now she realize that it was impolitic? Moreover, isn’t her view of personalized jurisprudence the gravamen of the speech? I think it’s hard to escape the conclusion that those words were entirely consistent with the overall theme of the speech, which also included this passage:

While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address. I accept the thesis of a law school classmate, Professor Steven Carter of Yale Law School, in his affirmative action book that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought. Thus, as noted by another Yale Law School Professor — I did graduate from there and I am not really biased except that they seem to be doing a lot of writing in that area – Professor Judith Resnik says that there is not a single voice of feminism, not a feminist approach but many who are exploring the possible ways of being that are distinct from those structured in a world dominated by the power and words of men. Thus, feminist theories of judging are in the midst of creation and are not and perhaps will never aspire to be as solidified as the established legal doctrines of judging can sometimes appear to be.

And the 32 words, remember, are part of this paragraph:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

It is a speech quite obviously devoted to identity politics, extolling a message of legal realism which declares the ideal of impartial judging to be bunk. I find it hard to believe the White House thinks this will suffice.

Senators should take Sotomayor through that speech carefully, and take her through other examples of her work as well, to determine what she believed then and what she believes now. Well are all entitled to change our minds, but claiming “poor word choice” for a Supreme Court nominee isn’t going to fly, I suspect. Besides, it’s a rather odd defense for a Supreme Court nominee, isn’t it?

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Another Take on Europe and the Detainees

Abe has taken a crack at explaining the meaning of the U.S.’s negotiations with Europe over the Guantanamo detainees. My take is slightly different. Last week, Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as arguing that:

When we are asking allies to do their fair share in dealing with this challenge we need to do our fair share.

I am of two minds about this argument, but I lean toward considering it nonsense. Though part of me just blames the administration for being naïve, for actually believing that Gitmo has ever been a serious issue for Europe, as opposed to something it could beat George W. Bush over the head with.

That part of me is willing to give the administration some credit for trying, albeit gullibly, to encourage the Europeans to live up to their responsibilities. It blames the administration only for committing the fundamental liberal error of believing that the misbehavior of others is merely a reflection of our own supposed faults.

The other part of me thinks this is far too generous. Abe quotes the update on the negotiations, and argues that the administration is doing the bidding of the Europeans. As our partners in Europe put it:

We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

But the way I read both that sentence and Flournoy’s comments, both sides are actually advancing the same position: the detainees are going to be housed in the U.S. What the administration wants is a vague agreement with Europe to provide them with the necessary domestic cover. The Europeans will naturally extract a price for this agreement, since they hold all the cards: they do not, after all, have to take a single detainee, while the administration is desperate to close Guantanamo.

My prediction: when all is said and done, the overwhelming majority of the detainees will be housed in the U.S., and the Europeans non-cooperation will yet again be excused.

Abe has taken a crack at explaining the meaning of the U.S.’s negotiations with Europe over the Guantanamo detainees. My take is slightly different. Last week, Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as arguing that:

When we are asking allies to do their fair share in dealing with this challenge we need to do our fair share.

I am of two minds about this argument, but I lean toward considering it nonsense. Though part of me just blames the administration for being naïve, for actually believing that Gitmo has ever been a serious issue for Europe, as opposed to something it could beat George W. Bush over the head with.

That part of me is willing to give the administration some credit for trying, albeit gullibly, to encourage the Europeans to live up to their responsibilities. It blames the administration only for committing the fundamental liberal error of believing that the misbehavior of others is merely a reflection of our own supposed faults.

The other part of me thinks this is far too generous. Abe quotes the update on the negotiations, and argues that the administration is doing the bidding of the Europeans. As our partners in Europe put it:

We reaffirm that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for the former detainees rests with the United States.

But the way I read both that sentence and Flournoy’s comments, both sides are actually advancing the same position: the detainees are going to be housed in the U.S. What the administration wants is a vague agreement with Europe to provide them with the necessary domestic cover. The Europeans will naturally extract a price for this agreement, since they hold all the cards: they do not, after all, have to take a single detainee, while the administration is desperate to close Guantanamo.

My prediction: when all is said and done, the overwhelming majority of the detainees will be housed in the U.S., and the Europeans non-cooperation will yet again be excused.

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Don’t Define the Era Just Yet

Peter Baker has a fascinating profile of Bill Clinton in the New York Times magazine (Baker also appeared on The Charlie Rose Show; that interview is worth watching as well). One of the arguments made by Clinton supporters is that he governed in a Republican era, which limited his ability to be a transformative figure. President Obama, on the other hand, is governing at the beginning of a “progressive” era. Or so the argument goes.

President Obama certainly seems to buy into this critique; he is, after all, governing as if the country were fundamentally different, and more liberal, than it is. It’s a big bet, and I’m doubtful that it’s a wise one.

For one thing, Americans — by roughly a two-to-one margin — consider themselves to be conservative rather than liberal. In addition, polling data shows the public hasn’t embraced big government, certainly not a permanent expansion of it. Obama’s victory in 2008 was an impressive political victory; it was not, based on the available evidence, an ideologically decisive one. There is, in fact, a fair amount of public wariness about Obama’s policies. Many Americans like Obama and they seem impressed with his activism, but they are a bit unnerved, I think, by the direction in which he’s taking the country. They are willing to give him a chance at this early stage, but the support is hardly enthusiastic or unqualified.

The danger for Obama, is that he is overreaching; he is using the economic crisis to push through policies that are enlarging, to a staggering degree, the size and scope of government. The debt and deficit are like exploding stars; their radiating effects may well reconfigure our politics. They may also make tax increases inevitable on Obama’s watch. More dangerous for Obama would be if his policies turned out to be defective at their root and acted as an anchor on the economy over time. Deflation may give way to a significant spike in inflation, which in turn may necessitate a large increase in interest rates.

If that happens — and the occurrence of such a scenario is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely — it may turn out that we are not only not at the beginning of a progressive era; Obamaism may trigger a new conservative one. We’ll find out in due course.

Peter Baker has a fascinating profile of Bill Clinton in the New York Times magazine (Baker also appeared on The Charlie Rose Show; that interview is worth watching as well). One of the arguments made by Clinton supporters is that he governed in a Republican era, which limited his ability to be a transformative figure. President Obama, on the other hand, is governing at the beginning of a “progressive” era. Or so the argument goes.

President Obama certainly seems to buy into this critique; he is, after all, governing as if the country were fundamentally different, and more liberal, than it is. It’s a big bet, and I’m doubtful that it’s a wise one.

For one thing, Americans — by roughly a two-to-one margin — consider themselves to be conservative rather than liberal. In addition, polling data shows the public hasn’t embraced big government, certainly not a permanent expansion of it. Obama’s victory in 2008 was an impressive political victory; it was not, based on the available evidence, an ideologically decisive one. There is, in fact, a fair amount of public wariness about Obama’s policies. Many Americans like Obama and they seem impressed with his activism, but they are a bit unnerved, I think, by the direction in which he’s taking the country. They are willing to give him a chance at this early stage, but the support is hardly enthusiastic or unqualified.

The danger for Obama, is that he is overreaching; he is using the economic crisis to push through policies that are enlarging, to a staggering degree, the size and scope of government. The debt and deficit are like exploding stars; their radiating effects may well reconfigure our politics. They may also make tax increases inevitable on Obama’s watch. More dangerous for Obama would be if his policies turned out to be defective at their root and acted as an anchor on the economy over time. Deflation may give way to a significant spike in inflation, which in turn may necessitate a large increase in interest rates.

If that happens — and the occurrence of such a scenario is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely — it may turn out that we are not only not at the beginning of a progressive era; Obamaism may trigger a new conservative one. We’ll find out in due course.

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What Does She Believe?

As the White House ponders what to do about Sotomayor’s 32 words, others are trying to puzzle what to do about the confirmation hearing. Michael Gerson explains what is at the heart of conservatives’ deep concerns about the nominee:

In elite academic settings, it is commonly asserted that impartiality is not only a myth but also a fraud perpetuated by the privileged. Since all legal standards, in this view, are subjective and culturally determined, the defenders of objectivity are merely disguising their exercise of power. And so the scales of justice — really the scales of power — need to be weighted by judges to favor the “weak” and the “powerless.”

Sotomayor’s decision in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano is disturbing because it seems to affirm this judicial philosophy. The New Haven, Conn., firefighters who studied for and passed a promotion examination (including a Hispanic) were denied a benefit they had earned, entirely because of their skin color. Because they were not part of a group deemed “powerless,” they were rendered powerless as individuals. Empathy turns out to be selective empathy — not for human beings but for social groups. Just imagine the frustration and anger of standing before a federal judge who is predisposed against your claims for racial reasons of any sort. A federal court should be one place where every individual — black or white, pauper or Rockefeller — is exactly equal in rights and dignity.

This, it seems, must be the focus of the inquiry. Now Gerson and others urge “caution” and warn Republicans to tred carefully because of fear of the political backlash (which of course was entirely ignored in the confirmation battles over Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada). Well, conservatives needn’t be rude or crass but they do need to be serious and exacting.

We after all are talking about a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and are to a large degree setting the ground rules for confirmation hearings for the foreseeable future. If a nominee is not devoted to the impartial administration of justice or thinks the law is simply a reflection of one’s personal preferences and biography, there is every reason to oppose her confirmation.

It is not enough, I think, to simply as Charles Krauthammer suggests “make the case for individual vs. group rights, for justice vs. empathy” but then meekly accept the nomination. If, in fact, we have a nominee who disclaims impartiality, who rejects the principal of equal justice before the law and who has (in the case of Frank Ricci) finagled to deprive litigants of a fair hearing, on what basis would any senator vote to confirm her? (I agree entirely with Matthew Franck’s analysis here.)

These are the issues to be explored in the confirmation hearing — robustly and with intellectual rigor. There is plenty to learn before determining whether the nominee meets the minimal standards for the highest court in the land.

As the White House ponders what to do about Sotomayor’s 32 words, others are trying to puzzle what to do about the confirmation hearing. Michael Gerson explains what is at the heart of conservatives’ deep concerns about the nominee:

In elite academic settings, it is commonly asserted that impartiality is not only a myth but also a fraud perpetuated by the privileged. Since all legal standards, in this view, are subjective and culturally determined, the defenders of objectivity are merely disguising their exercise of power. And so the scales of justice — really the scales of power — need to be weighted by judges to favor the “weak” and the “powerless.”

Sotomayor’s decision in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano is disturbing because it seems to affirm this judicial philosophy. The New Haven, Conn., firefighters who studied for and passed a promotion examination (including a Hispanic) were denied a benefit they had earned, entirely because of their skin color. Because they were not part of a group deemed “powerless,” they were rendered powerless as individuals. Empathy turns out to be selective empathy — not for human beings but for social groups. Just imagine the frustration and anger of standing before a federal judge who is predisposed against your claims for racial reasons of any sort. A federal court should be one place where every individual — black or white, pauper or Rockefeller — is exactly equal in rights and dignity.

This, it seems, must be the focus of the inquiry. Now Gerson and others urge “caution” and warn Republicans to tred carefully because of fear of the political backlash (which of course was entirely ignored in the confirmation battles over Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada). Well, conservatives needn’t be rude or crass but they do need to be serious and exacting.

We after all are talking about a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and are to a large degree setting the ground rules for confirmation hearings for the foreseeable future. If a nominee is not devoted to the impartial administration of justice or thinks the law is simply a reflection of one’s personal preferences and biography, there is every reason to oppose her confirmation.

It is not enough, I think, to simply as Charles Krauthammer suggests “make the case for individual vs. group rights, for justice vs. empathy” but then meekly accept the nomination. If, in fact, we have a nominee who disclaims impartiality, who rejects the principal of equal justice before the law and who has (in the case of Frank Ricci) finagled to deprive litigants of a fair hearing, on what basis would any senator vote to confirm her? (I agree entirely with Matthew Franck’s analysis here.)

These are the issues to be explored in the confirmation hearing — robustly and with intellectual rigor. There is plenty to learn before determining whether the nominee meets the minimal standards for the highest court in the land.

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When Obama Meets Mubarak

President Barack Obama’s forthcoming address to the Muslim world in Cairo will be next week’s headline-hogging foreign policy event. Yet as far as long-term U.S. strategy in the Middle East is concerned, Obama’s address will be second fiddle to a far more consequential — even if less publicized — event: his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. For the administration, this will be a critical opportunity for assessing Mubarak’s physical health and, in turn, the probability of political upheaval in Egypt in the near future.

Since the sudden death of his 12-year-old grandson on May 18th, Mubarak has made only one televised appearance, with reports indicating that he looked ill. (The cause of the boy’s death is unknown, with reports claiming that he fell off a horse, suffered from food poisoning, or died of a heart attack.) Neither Mubarak nor his wife attended the funeral, nor have any new photographs of the Egyptian leader been printed in the state-run press. Mubarak further canceled his trip to Washington, which had been scheduled for earlier this week, and hasn’t met with any foreign leaders in nearly two weeks.  To say the least, it is a rare period of public absence for the Egyptian strongman.

This has fueled speculation within the always-active Cairo rumor mill. One theory claims that Mubarak suffered a heart attack upon hearing of the death of his grandson. Meanwhile, a source has claimed to have “insider information” through a chain of doctors that Mubarak and his wife are both hospitalized.

Confirming or refuting these rumors will be the most important outcome of Obama’s short stopover in Egypt. If Mubarak is healthy — and his current absence is merely the consequence of understandable grieving — Obama will probably partner with the regime (human rights be damned) in pushing some variant of the Saudi peace plan as his major Middle Eastern foreign policy project (stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities be damned).

But if Obama finds an unhealthy Mubarak, all bets are off. The administration will have to confront the real possibility of imminent instability within the most populous Arab state — particularly the likelihood of a power struggle among factions within the regime and security forces. It will have to find the right balance between pleasing these regime-based factions and promoting liberal reforms; between promoting liberal reforms and constraining Islamists; and between short-term stability and a long-term push for democratization. Make no mistake: pushing for a smooth, post-Mubarak transition in Egypt could easily become the Obama administration’s top challenge in the Middle East.

For the moment, of course, this is all speculation. This is why Obama’s meeting with Mubarak — and the insight that this encounter will give the administration regarding Mubarak’s physical health — is so crucial.

President Barack Obama’s forthcoming address to the Muslim world in Cairo will be next week’s headline-hogging foreign policy event. Yet as far as long-term U.S. strategy in the Middle East is concerned, Obama’s address will be second fiddle to a far more consequential — even if less publicized — event: his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. For the administration, this will be a critical opportunity for assessing Mubarak’s physical health and, in turn, the probability of political upheaval in Egypt in the near future.

Since the sudden death of his 12-year-old grandson on May 18th, Mubarak has made only one televised appearance, with reports indicating that he looked ill. (The cause of the boy’s death is unknown, with reports claiming that he fell off a horse, suffered from food poisoning, or died of a heart attack.) Neither Mubarak nor his wife attended the funeral, nor have any new photographs of the Egyptian leader been printed in the state-run press. Mubarak further canceled his trip to Washington, which had been scheduled for earlier this week, and hasn’t met with any foreign leaders in nearly two weeks.  To say the least, it is a rare period of public absence for the Egyptian strongman.

This has fueled speculation within the always-active Cairo rumor mill. One theory claims that Mubarak suffered a heart attack upon hearing of the death of his grandson. Meanwhile, a source has claimed to have “insider information” through a chain of doctors that Mubarak and his wife are both hospitalized.

Confirming or refuting these rumors will be the most important outcome of Obama’s short stopover in Egypt. If Mubarak is healthy — and his current absence is merely the consequence of understandable grieving — Obama will probably partner with the regime (human rights be damned) in pushing some variant of the Saudi peace plan as his major Middle Eastern foreign policy project (stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities be damned).

But if Obama finds an unhealthy Mubarak, all bets are off. The administration will have to confront the real possibility of imminent instability within the most populous Arab state — particularly the likelihood of a power struggle among factions within the regime and security forces. It will have to find the right balance between pleasing these regime-based factions and promoting liberal reforms; between promoting liberal reforms and constraining Islamists; and between short-term stability and a long-term push for democratization. Make no mistake: pushing for a smooth, post-Mubarak transition in Egypt could easily become the Obama administration’s top challenge in the Middle East.

For the moment, of course, this is all speculation. This is why Obama’s meeting with Mubarak — and the insight that this encounter will give the administration regarding Mubarak’s physical health — is so crucial.

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Quite a Finish

The Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary is getting increasingly dicey — and interesting — down the stretch to the election on June 9. This report explains that Terry McAuliffe is facing new scrutiny about his investment in Global Crossing. If your memory is hazy, that was the deal in which McAuliffe plunked down $100,000, made $8.1M, and got out before the firm went bankrupt (which resulted in 10,000 lost jobs and decimated shareholders). Given the economic climate today it’s not surprising one of his rivals is beating him over the head with this:

State House Democratic Caucus leader Brian J. Moran’s only television ad, which debuted last week, accuses McAuliffe of “working insider deals for himself.”

Moran maintains the jobs lost at Global Crossing counter McAuliffe’s claims that he can generate jobs for Virginia.

“It undermines his reason for running for governor,” Moran said in an interview.

But here’s the latest kicker:

Consumer activist Ralph Nader accused Terry McAuliffe Thursday of orchestrating an effort to remove him from the presidential ballot in 2004 when McAuliffe was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Nader said that McAuliffe offered him an unspecified amount of money to campaign in 31 states if Nader would agree to pull his campaign in 19 battleground states.

What’s more, McAuliffe isn’t denying the claim (at least not yet). Now Democratic primary voters still smarting over the 2000 presidential loss might think this was a good thing but it sounds, well, not exactly kosher. Are you allowed to pay off opponents to leave the race?

Virginia voters are getting quite an education about McAuliffe in a short period of time. Whether it makes a difference remains to be seen.

The Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary is getting increasingly dicey — and interesting — down the stretch to the election on June 9. This report explains that Terry McAuliffe is facing new scrutiny about his investment in Global Crossing. If your memory is hazy, that was the deal in which McAuliffe plunked down $100,000, made $8.1M, and got out before the firm went bankrupt (which resulted in 10,000 lost jobs and decimated shareholders). Given the economic climate today it’s not surprising one of his rivals is beating him over the head with this:

State House Democratic Caucus leader Brian J. Moran’s only television ad, which debuted last week, accuses McAuliffe of “working insider deals for himself.”

Moran maintains the jobs lost at Global Crossing counter McAuliffe’s claims that he can generate jobs for Virginia.

“It undermines his reason for running for governor,” Moran said in an interview.

But here’s the latest kicker:

Consumer activist Ralph Nader accused Terry McAuliffe Thursday of orchestrating an effort to remove him from the presidential ballot in 2004 when McAuliffe was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Nader said that McAuliffe offered him an unspecified amount of money to campaign in 31 states if Nader would agree to pull his campaign in 19 battleground states.

What’s more, McAuliffe isn’t denying the claim (at least not yet). Now Democratic primary voters still smarting over the 2000 presidential loss might think this was a good thing but it sounds, well, not exactly kosher. Are you allowed to pay off opponents to leave the race?

Virginia voters are getting quite an education about McAuliffe in a short period of time. Whether it makes a difference remains to be seen.

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Brown-onomics?

Jennifer Rubin writes on the confrontation between reality and Obamanomics, namely that the president’s economic strategy consists of piling up mountains of debt, printing money, acknowledging this is unsustainable, and hoping that the rising interest rates borrowers are demanding don’t impinge too heavily on the recovery.

Still, it’s nothing compared to Britain’s mess. A pity there’s no catchy name for Gordon Brown’s policies. But “failure” sounds about right. The markets noticed when Standard & Poor’s downgraded Britain’s credit assessment last week, from stable to negative and implied it might lose its AAA credit rating if it did not mend its ways. This is something I’ve been onto for months. Even the official figures on public debt are alarming. According to the Office of National Statistics:

Public sector net debt, expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was 53.2 per cent at the end of April 2009, compared with 42.9 per cent at end of April 2008. Net debt was £754.0 billion at the end of April [2009].

And that reckons without the liabilities the state has assumed from the financial sector, which the ONS estimated in February would be between one and 1.5 trillion pounds: even the lower range of that estimate would more than double Britain’s debt. When you add in the growth rate of the money supply — between 17 and 19 percent on an annual basis every month this year — you can see why Standard & Poor’s was pessimistic.

Britain is almost uniquely poorly placed to weather the storm: it’s heavily reliant on trade and the financial sector, it has massively expanded the state sectors and their debt burden since 1999, and it has responded to the crisis by spending and printing money at a rate that is only marginally less excessive than that of the Obama Administration.

The curious thing is that none of this is terribly popular. A recent poll in Britain found that 52% of voters agreed with the statement “The government spends too much and therefore taxes us too much.” All economists agree that a simple analogy between an individual budget and a national one is wrong. But when the markets and the people agree that it’s time to cut back, the government and the parties could do worse than listen.

Jennifer Rubin writes on the confrontation between reality and Obamanomics, namely that the president’s economic strategy consists of piling up mountains of debt, printing money, acknowledging this is unsustainable, and hoping that the rising interest rates borrowers are demanding don’t impinge too heavily on the recovery.

Still, it’s nothing compared to Britain’s mess. A pity there’s no catchy name for Gordon Brown’s policies. But “failure” sounds about right. The markets noticed when Standard & Poor’s downgraded Britain’s credit assessment last week, from stable to negative and implied it might lose its AAA credit rating if it did not mend its ways. This is something I’ve been onto for months. Even the official figures on public debt are alarming. According to the Office of National Statistics:

Public sector net debt, expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was 53.2 per cent at the end of April 2009, compared with 42.9 per cent at end of April 2008. Net debt was £754.0 billion at the end of April [2009].

And that reckons without the liabilities the state has assumed from the financial sector, which the ONS estimated in February would be between one and 1.5 trillion pounds: even the lower range of that estimate would more than double Britain’s debt. When you add in the growth rate of the money supply — between 17 and 19 percent on an annual basis every month this year — you can see why Standard & Poor’s was pessimistic.

Britain is almost uniquely poorly placed to weather the storm: it’s heavily reliant on trade and the financial sector, it has massively expanded the state sectors and their debt burden since 1999, and it has responded to the crisis by spending and printing money at a rate that is only marginally less excessive than that of the Obama Administration.

The curious thing is that none of this is terribly popular. A recent poll in Britain found that 52% of voters agreed with the statement “The government spends too much and therefore taxes us too much.” All economists agree that a simple analogy between an individual budget and a national one is wrong. But when the markets and the people agree that it’s time to cut back, the government and the parties could do worse than listen.

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