Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 4, 2009

Jack Kemp, In Dissent

At the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston, I had the unpleasant responsibility of telling Jack Kemp that he could not sit beside Jude Wanniski in the special area reserved for President George H. W. Bush’s cabinet. Wanniski, mentor to all supply-siders, had already begun his long descent into crackpottery; his efforts to oppose the  the first Gulf War with his buddy Louis Farrakhan made him persona-non-grata in Republican loyalist circles. While I understood the Kemp-Wanniski friendship, as the special assistant to the president for cabinet affairs in the White House, I had to enforce the party line in Houston.

As I now recall, much of my time in the first Bush White House was spent saying “no” to Kemp. But I did so with little enthusiasm.  Kemp was a troublemaker, yet it was hard not admire the effort. Ever since Bush had broken his no-new-taxes pledge, Kemp enjoyed grumbling about budget director Dick Darman and everyone else inside the White House whom he assumed was his enemy.

Like Wanniski, Kemp grew crankier and less politically reliable with age. Understandably, most of his obituaries focus on his glory days, linking his leadership in football to his eventual leadership in Congress. But the truth is, Kemp’s real contribution to Republican politics was his ability to create factions within his own party. That made him more exciting and interesting than most pols.

Look at his career. Kemp was more often a lone wolf, a dissenter, and a constant source of internecine warfare.  The Kemp-Roth tax cuts, the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, were really intended as a Molotov cocktail thrown toward the Nixon-era GOP establishment. By the time Reagan came to town, Kemp was bad mouthing his former friend David Stockman. His entire “empowerment” agenda in the early 1990s was a burr beneath Bush White House chief of staff John Sununu’s saddle. When he was forced to be a team player as VP nominee to his former enemy Bob Dole, the charm, the clever arguments, and odd-ball alliance-building disappeared.

I think that today’s GOP doldrums are due to the fact that it doesn’t have enough renegades like Kemp who buck the party line. The Republican Party has always been at its most exciting when the establishment powers are thrown off their game (think Goldwater, Reagan, the early Gingrich, McCain in 2000). Today I see a handful of earnest opposition leaders who all agree with one another. No wonder no one is listening. Until Republicans start fighting with one another again, the party will have trouble finding the road back to popularity.

At the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston, I had the unpleasant responsibility of telling Jack Kemp that he could not sit beside Jude Wanniski in the special area reserved for President George H. W. Bush’s cabinet. Wanniski, mentor to all supply-siders, had already begun his long descent into crackpottery; his efforts to oppose the  the first Gulf War with his buddy Louis Farrakhan made him persona-non-grata in Republican loyalist circles. While I understood the Kemp-Wanniski friendship, as the special assistant to the president for cabinet affairs in the White House, I had to enforce the party line in Houston.

As I now recall, much of my time in the first Bush White House was spent saying “no” to Kemp. But I did so with little enthusiasm.  Kemp was a troublemaker, yet it was hard not admire the effort. Ever since Bush had broken his no-new-taxes pledge, Kemp enjoyed grumbling about budget director Dick Darman and everyone else inside the White House whom he assumed was his enemy.

Like Wanniski, Kemp grew crankier and less politically reliable with age. Understandably, most of his obituaries focus on his glory days, linking his leadership in football to his eventual leadership in Congress. But the truth is, Kemp’s real contribution to Republican politics was his ability to create factions within his own party. That made him more exciting and interesting than most pols.

Look at his career. Kemp was more often a lone wolf, a dissenter, and a constant source of internecine warfare.  The Kemp-Roth tax cuts, the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, were really intended as a Molotov cocktail thrown toward the Nixon-era GOP establishment. By the time Reagan came to town, Kemp was bad mouthing his former friend David Stockman. His entire “empowerment” agenda in the early 1990s was a burr beneath Bush White House chief of staff John Sununu’s saddle. When he was forced to be a team player as VP nominee to his former enemy Bob Dole, the charm, the clever arguments, and odd-ball alliance-building disappeared.

I think that today’s GOP doldrums are due to the fact that it doesn’t have enough renegades like Kemp who buck the party line. The Republican Party has always been at its most exciting when the establishment powers are thrown off their game (think Goldwater, Reagan, the early Gingrich, McCain in 2000). Today I see a handful of earnest opposition leaders who all agree with one another. No wonder no one is listening. Until Republicans start fighting with one another again, the party will have trouble finding the road back to popularity.

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Oops!

If you want a belly laugh, read this Times of London article about the latest pirate attack off Somalia:

From a distance the large ship on the horizon looked like the perfect target, ripe for a successful spot of piracy.

But as the Somali pirates sped toward the vessel sailing near the Seychelles, they were horrified to see two boats and a helicopter set off from their target and launch their own counter-attack.

They had failed to spot, in the dazzling sun, that the ‘merchant ship’ they thought they were intercepting was, in fact, a French naval ship bristling with cannons, radar technology and armed commandos.

The result: 11 captured pirates.

This is a good news story but, alas, pirates aren’t usually stupid enough to attack warships. And Western warships aren’t usually empowered to attack pirate ships unless they are caught in the act, as they were in this instance. There is a desperate need for more robust rules of engagement — the words “search and destroy” come to mind — for naval forces battling piracy, if the threat is ever to recede.

If you want a belly laugh, read this Times of London article about the latest pirate attack off Somalia:

From a distance the large ship on the horizon looked like the perfect target, ripe for a successful spot of piracy.

But as the Somali pirates sped toward the vessel sailing near the Seychelles, they were horrified to see two boats and a helicopter set off from their target and launch their own counter-attack.

They had failed to spot, in the dazzling sun, that the ‘merchant ship’ they thought they were intercepting was, in fact, a French naval ship bristling with cannons, radar technology and armed commandos.

The result: 11 captured pirates.

This is a good news story but, alas, pirates aren’t usually stupid enough to attack warships. And Western warships aren’t usually empowered to attack pirate ships unless they are caught in the act, as they were in this instance. There is a desperate need for more robust rules of engagement — the words “search and destroy” come to mind — for naval forces battling piracy, if the threat is ever to recede.

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Basking in the Glow

Since his switcheroo, Sen. Arlen Specter has been on Meet the Press and his name is all over the headlines. That’s catnip for most politicians. But for Specter it has been a mixed blessing.

First, he suggested Jack Kemp would have been saved had we pursued Nixon’s “war on cancer” more aggressively. As unseemly comments go, this ranks high. (It reminds one of the cringe-inducing “If not for Bush, Christopher Reeves would have been walking thanks to stem-cell research.”) It is the worst sort of factless demagoguery.

Second, he’s in the soup for trying to wriggle out of his pledge to the president that he would be a loyal Democrat. Two reporters now say: oh yes, he did say that and he didn’t object until it stirred up a hornet’s nest. Greg Sargent comments:

So, again, we’re being asked to believe Specter’s claim that he never said this, even though neither he nor his office raised a peep of protest about it to two different news outlets when they reported it, and said nothing in the five days since. If Specter privately fibbed to Obama about his loyalty to Dems, and is now publicly fibbing about having said it, perhaps it tells Democrats a thing or two about their new Senator.

And that’s what a Democrat is saying about him.

Finally, Big Labor has been clued in that Specter isn’t supporting its number one priority:

Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, warned that union leaders may drop their longstanding support for Specter, D-Pa., if — as he has promised to do — he votes against them on their legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act.

One can sense the gears clicking in Specter’s mind: just how is he going to keep Labor’s support without blowing what’s left of his credibility?

On balance then, Specter’s had a less than stellar week. And there is plenty of buzz about a new poll, which has him leading Pat Toomey by a substantial margin but closely ahead of Tom Ridge. It is way too early to surmise how voters might feel about any of these candidates eighteen months from now, especially with high numbers saying they don’t know much about them. But one thing is certain: Specter better hope this doesn’t become a character race.

Since his switcheroo, Sen. Arlen Specter has been on Meet the Press and his name is all over the headlines. That’s catnip for most politicians. But for Specter it has been a mixed blessing.

First, he suggested Jack Kemp would have been saved had we pursued Nixon’s “war on cancer” more aggressively. As unseemly comments go, this ranks high. (It reminds one of the cringe-inducing “If not for Bush, Christopher Reeves would have been walking thanks to stem-cell research.”) It is the worst sort of factless demagoguery.

Second, he’s in the soup for trying to wriggle out of his pledge to the president that he would be a loyal Democrat. Two reporters now say: oh yes, he did say that and he didn’t object until it stirred up a hornet’s nest. Greg Sargent comments:

So, again, we’re being asked to believe Specter’s claim that he never said this, even though neither he nor his office raised a peep of protest about it to two different news outlets when they reported it, and said nothing in the five days since. If Specter privately fibbed to Obama about his loyalty to Dems, and is now publicly fibbing about having said it, perhaps it tells Democrats a thing or two about their new Senator.

And that’s what a Democrat is saying about him.

Finally, Big Labor has been clued in that Specter isn’t supporting its number one priority:

Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, warned that union leaders may drop their longstanding support for Specter, D-Pa., if — as he has promised to do — he votes against them on their legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act.

One can sense the gears clicking in Specter’s mind: just how is he going to keep Labor’s support without blowing what’s left of his credibility?

On balance then, Specter’s had a less than stellar week. And there is plenty of buzz about a new poll, which has him leading Pat Toomey by a substantial margin but closely ahead of Tom Ridge. It is way too early to surmise how voters might feel about any of these candidates eighteen months from now, especially with high numbers saying they don’t know much about them. But one thing is certain: Specter better hope this doesn’t become a character race.

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Commentary of the Day

Stuart Koehl, on Jennifer Rubin:

Faced with the impossibility of trying Guantanomo terrorists in U.S. civilian courts, finding allied countries unwilling or unable to take them into custody, and with the U.S. Congress balking at the idea of incarcerating them on U.S. territory, the Obama Administration is now considering reconvening the Special Military Tribunals–which were, after all, the only practical alternative, and one sanctioned by historical precedent. There may be minor tweaks to rules of evidence and trial procedures, but that’s just a fig leaf to protect Obama from his friends on the left.

What a curious mix of Bush Term Three and Carter Term Two this presidency is turning out to be!

Stuart Koehl, on Jennifer Rubin:

Faced with the impossibility of trying Guantanomo terrorists in U.S. civilian courts, finding allied countries unwilling or unable to take them into custody, and with the U.S. Congress balking at the idea of incarcerating them on U.S. territory, the Obama Administration is now considering reconvening the Special Military Tribunals–which were, after all, the only practical alternative, and one sanctioned by historical precedent. There may be minor tweaks to rules of evidence and trial procedures, but that’s just a fig leaf to protect Obama from his friends on the left.

What a curious mix of Bush Term Three and Carter Term Two this presidency is turning out to be!

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Two Encounters

Two incidents at AIPAC illustrate the range of human experience that politics brings out.

Sitting in the press area awaiting the afternoon speeches yesterday I said hello to the woman seated next to me. She was there reporting — or rather “experiencing” — AIPAC for a left-leaning web outlet. She explained she was a psychologist and student of “conflict transformation.” She told me, “You see the problem is that Israel and the U.S. are confronting Iran instead of transforming the relationship.” Okay, this was going to be good so I played along. I asked, “What if they don’t want to be transformed?” She grimaced: “Oh, well right there — ‘they’ is the problem.” She then proceeded to tell me that “we” never got anywhere with threats or sanctions and you only make the other side angry. I thought of bringing up South Africa (a whole lot of transformation there brought about by international isolation) and the downfall of the Soviet Union, but the program began. And I fretted whether she was channeling what passes for sophisticated thinking in the current administration.

But all was not grim. Two young African American men, Darius Jones and Jarrod Jordan, spoke to the gathering in the afternoon program that followed. They explained that they had come to last year’s conference and heard Barack Obama speak about the inseparable relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Inspired by this they started thinking of Jewish Americans’ contribution to the civil rights movement and what they could do to strengthen the ties between Israel and the U.S. So through their organization they began to lobby for divestment in Iran. In December, “just in time for Chanukah,” they said, the Atlanta City council agreed to divest all city funds from firms that do business in Iran. This was followed by a similar action by another Georgia county. They are now setting their sites on historic black colleges. The reaction of the crowd was jubilant. The desire for reconciliation between the Jewish and African American communities, which to some extent maintain a still-strained relationship, was clearly on display.

Well, it was an interesting afternoon, to say the least.

Two incidents at AIPAC illustrate the range of human experience that politics brings out.

Sitting in the press area awaiting the afternoon speeches yesterday I said hello to the woman seated next to me. She was there reporting — or rather “experiencing” — AIPAC for a left-leaning web outlet. She explained she was a psychologist and student of “conflict transformation.” She told me, “You see the problem is that Israel and the U.S. are confronting Iran instead of transforming the relationship.” Okay, this was going to be good so I played along. I asked, “What if they don’t want to be transformed?” She grimaced: “Oh, well right there — ‘they’ is the problem.” She then proceeded to tell me that “we” never got anywhere with threats or sanctions and you only make the other side angry. I thought of bringing up South Africa (a whole lot of transformation there brought about by international isolation) and the downfall of the Soviet Union, but the program began. And I fretted whether she was channeling what passes for sophisticated thinking in the current administration.

But all was not grim. Two young African American men, Darius Jones and Jarrod Jordan, spoke to the gathering in the afternoon program that followed. They explained that they had come to last year’s conference and heard Barack Obama speak about the inseparable relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Inspired by this they started thinking of Jewish Americans’ contribution to the civil rights movement and what they could do to strengthen the ties between Israel and the U.S. So through their organization they began to lobby for divestment in Iran. In December, “just in time for Chanukah,” they said, the Atlanta City council agreed to divest all city funds from firms that do business in Iran. This was followed by a similar action by another Georgia county. They are now setting their sites on historic black colleges. The reaction of the crowd was jubilant. The desire for reconciliation between the Jewish and African American communities, which to some extent maintain a still-strained relationship, was clearly on display.

Well, it was an interesting afternoon, to say the least.

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They Got Their Wish

All those who complain that America needs to stop policing the world should take a look at what happens when other countries try on the badge.

Last summer, after Russia rolled into and occupied Georgia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead in drafting a six-point ceasefire between the neighboring countries. With the best of intentions, Sarkozy ended up composing a sort of lease extension for occupying forces. The agreement barely addressed the future of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Now, eight months later, Russia digs in solidly:

Russia signed a deal with Georgia’s two breakaway regions Thursday giving Moscow the power to guard their borders – a move sharply criticized in Tbilisi.

President Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signed the agreements at a Kremlin ceremony nearly nine months after the brief war between Russia and Georgia.

The deal is an apparent attempt to legitimize the presence of thousands of Russian troops in the separatist regions, which were at the center of the war.

This is a violation of the ceasefire, but with no “world police” to say boo, the Kremlin isn’t exactly shaking. Today, Bloomberg reports, “Russia has deployed more than 10,000 soldiers in two breakaway Georgian regions, thousands more than previously announced, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.”

It’s been a slow and silent annexation. And it is sure to last. U.S.-Russia relations have been “reset,” remember? Barack Obama is Dmitry Medvedev’s “comrade,” and it’s bad form to criticize annexation between comrades. Besides, the American president has already begged Moscow for help in a couple of areas and Medvedev has turned the requests into very public American humiliations.

Obama is in the habit of apologizing to the rest of the world, so maybe he can add this little P.S. next time he’s doing global penance: “Sorry, Georgia. We’re too busy with toy buttons and smart power to worry about your little Russia problem. We’ve stopped policing.”

All those who complain that America needs to stop policing the world should take a look at what happens when other countries try on the badge.

Last summer, after Russia rolled into and occupied Georgia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead in drafting a six-point ceasefire between the neighboring countries. With the best of intentions, Sarkozy ended up composing a sort of lease extension for occupying forces. The agreement barely addressed the future of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Now, eight months later, Russia digs in solidly:

Russia signed a deal with Georgia’s two breakaway regions Thursday giving Moscow the power to guard their borders – a move sharply criticized in Tbilisi.

President Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signed the agreements at a Kremlin ceremony nearly nine months after the brief war between Russia and Georgia.

The deal is an apparent attempt to legitimize the presence of thousands of Russian troops in the separatist regions, which were at the center of the war.

This is a violation of the ceasefire, but with no “world police” to say boo, the Kremlin isn’t exactly shaking. Today, Bloomberg reports, “Russia has deployed more than 10,000 soldiers in two breakaway Georgian regions, thousands more than previously announced, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.”

It’s been a slow and silent annexation. And it is sure to last. U.S.-Russia relations have been “reset,” remember? Barack Obama is Dmitry Medvedev’s “comrade,” and it’s bad form to criticize annexation between comrades. Besides, the American president has already begged Moscow for help in a couple of areas and Medvedev has turned the requests into very public American humiliations.

Obama is in the habit of apologizing to the rest of the world, so maybe he can add this little P.S. next time he’s doing global penance: “Sorry, Georgia. We’re too busy with toy buttons and smart power to worry about your little Russia problem. We’ve stopped policing.”

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Israelis Size up Obama

While a vast majority of American Jews feel comfortable with President Obama and hold his policies in high regard, a majority of Israelis don’t yet know what to make of his plans regarding Israel. A newly released survey commissioned by Bar-Ilan University’s BESA center and the Anti Defamation League found that:

While 60 percent of the respondents in the survey said they had either a “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of Obama, and 14% said their attitude toward him was unfavorable, only 32% of the respondents said they approved of Obama’s policies toward Israel, and 21% said they disapproved. Fully 47%, however, had no answer regarding those policies, an indication that people were still forming an opinion.

The poll was taken in advance of a conference on U.S.-Israel relations to be held at Bar-Ilan later this week (I’ll be speaking at this event on the question: Does the Democratic Majority have a problem with Israel?). And while it clearly shows that Israelis were not immune to American and international enthusiasm for Obama’s electoral victory, they do make a distinction between admiring his achievements and worrying about his future policies.

While in a similar poll taken last year, 73% of Israelis said “that President Bush’s attitude towards Israel is friendly,” the number willing to say the same of President Obama is much-much smaller (38%). So — “Is there a threat to Israel from the United States under Barack Obama?” Israelis aren’t exactly screaming “no.” They do hold fairly strong and negative opinions of Obama’s prospective policies:

51% do not believe that the U.S. should hold direct talks with Iran (32% support such talks).

63% believe that American “reconciliation with the Muslim and Arab world” will come at “Israel’s expense.”

Only 5% have a “great deal of confidence” in Obama’s ability “to make the right decisions” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (32% have “some” confidence, 37% “little” or “very little” confidence).

Israel’s president Shimon Peres is supposed to relay these concerns — toned down, of course — to Obama in a conversation today. But at least on Iran, Peres’s message is predictable: if you must talk, talk. But Israelis are getting restless. As Eric noted, nearly 66% said in the poll that they’ll support an Israeli attack on Iran, and 75%of those who support a strike will not flinch even if the Obama administration were to oppose such a move.

While a vast majority of American Jews feel comfortable with President Obama and hold his policies in high regard, a majority of Israelis don’t yet know what to make of his plans regarding Israel. A newly released survey commissioned by Bar-Ilan University’s BESA center and the Anti Defamation League found that:

While 60 percent of the respondents in the survey said they had either a “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of Obama, and 14% said their attitude toward him was unfavorable, only 32% of the respondents said they approved of Obama’s policies toward Israel, and 21% said they disapproved. Fully 47%, however, had no answer regarding those policies, an indication that people were still forming an opinion.

The poll was taken in advance of a conference on U.S.-Israel relations to be held at Bar-Ilan later this week (I’ll be speaking at this event on the question: Does the Democratic Majority have a problem with Israel?). And while it clearly shows that Israelis were not immune to American and international enthusiasm for Obama’s electoral victory, they do make a distinction between admiring his achievements and worrying about his future policies.

While in a similar poll taken last year, 73% of Israelis said “that President Bush’s attitude towards Israel is friendly,” the number willing to say the same of President Obama is much-much smaller (38%). So — “Is there a threat to Israel from the United States under Barack Obama?” Israelis aren’t exactly screaming “no.” They do hold fairly strong and negative opinions of Obama’s prospective policies:

51% do not believe that the U.S. should hold direct talks with Iran (32% support such talks).

63% believe that American “reconciliation with the Muslim and Arab world” will come at “Israel’s expense.”

Only 5% have a “great deal of confidence” in Obama’s ability “to make the right decisions” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (32% have “some” confidence, 37% “little” or “very little” confidence).

Israel’s president Shimon Peres is supposed to relay these concerns — toned down, of course — to Obama in a conversation today. But at least on Iran, Peres’s message is predictable: if you must talk, talk. But Israelis are getting restless. As Eric noted, nearly 66% said in the poll that they’ll support an Israeli attack on Iran, and 75%of those who support a strike will not flinch even if the Obama administration were to oppose such a move.

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Sessions Strikes a Deal

As I had suspected, Sen. Jeff Sessions struck a deal with Chuck Grassley: Sessions will take Ranking Minority Chair on Judiciary for the remainder of the 111th Congress while Grassley will take over when his term as Ranking Chair on Finance runs out at the start of the 112th. This should please the conservative base, which is looking for a smart and stalwart figure to lead them in the upcoming confirmation fight. But in some sense this was a logical outcome that satisfies the GOP conference, the only group whose opinion on this issue matters.

The importance of the person in the Ranking Minority spot should not be overestimated. Republicans have fewer votes on the committee and they are operating in an atmosphere in which Obama’s picks will be treated deferentially by the media and political establishment. That said, Sessions is a skilled lawyer and former judge and knows how to construct an argument. Just as critical, he has taken a keen interest in the Obama administration’s Guantanamo planning and can be expected to turn up the heat should the president move ahead with plans to release detainees.

As I had suspected, Sen. Jeff Sessions struck a deal with Chuck Grassley: Sessions will take Ranking Minority Chair on Judiciary for the remainder of the 111th Congress while Grassley will take over when his term as Ranking Chair on Finance runs out at the start of the 112th. This should please the conservative base, which is looking for a smart and stalwart figure to lead them in the upcoming confirmation fight. But in some sense this was a logical outcome that satisfies the GOP conference, the only group whose opinion on this issue matters.

The importance of the person in the Ranking Minority spot should not be overestimated. Republicans have fewer votes on the committee and they are operating in an atmosphere in which Obama’s picks will be treated deferentially by the media and political establishment. That said, Sessions is a skilled lawyer and former judge and knows how to construct an argument. Just as critical, he has taken a keen interest in the Obama administration’s Guantanamo planning and can be expected to turn up the heat should the president move ahead with plans to release detainees.

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Helpful Cover

As President Obama considers who he will nominate to succeed Justice Souter on the Supreme Court, expect a lot of his supporters to demand that Republicans vote purely on the qualifications of the nominee and to set aside ideology. They will be told that there should be no litmus tests for the candidates.

Place your bets now on who will be the first Republican Senator to quote the following, from a relevant source:

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law. He couldn’t have achieved his excellent record as an advocate before the Supreme Court without that passion for the law, and it became apparent to me in our conversation that he does, in fact, deeply respect the basic precepts that go into deciding 95 percent of the cases that come before the Federal court — adherence to precedence, a certain modesty in reading statutes and constitutional text, a respect for procedural regularity, and an impartiality in presiding over the adversarial system. All of these characteristics make me want to vote for Judge Roberts.

The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy. . . in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.

Or, perhaps this, from the same:

I have no doubt that Judge Alito has the training and qualifications necessary to serve. He’s an intelligent man and an accomplished jurist. And there’s no indication he’s not a man of great character.

But when you look at his record – when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding Americans’ individual rights.

Perhaps then-Senator Obama should have simply tried to vote “present” when Justices Roberts and Alito came before him for confirmation. Instead, he has given his opponents all the justification they need to oppose his nominees if they don’t meet the Senators’ ideological criteria. It might not be enough to trigger an attempted filibuster, but it certainly ought to keep Obama from claiming “bipartisan support” for his nominations.

As President Obama considers who he will nominate to succeed Justice Souter on the Supreme Court, expect a lot of his supporters to demand that Republicans vote purely on the qualifications of the nominee and to set aside ideology. They will be told that there should be no litmus tests for the candidates.

Place your bets now on who will be the first Republican Senator to quote the following, from a relevant source:

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind Judge Roberts is qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Moreover, he seems to have the comportment and the temperament that makes for a good judge. He is humble, he is personally decent, and he appears to be respectful of different points of view. It is absolutely clear to me that Judge Roberts truly loves the law. He couldn’t have achieved his excellent record as an advocate before the Supreme Court without that passion for the law, and it became apparent to me in our conversation that he does, in fact, deeply respect the basic precepts that go into deciding 95 percent of the cases that come before the Federal court — adherence to precedence, a certain modesty in reading statutes and constitutional text, a respect for procedural regularity, and an impartiality in presiding over the adversarial system. All of these characteristics make me want to vote for Judge Roberts.

The problem I face — a problem that has been voiced by some of my other colleagues, both those who are voting for Mr. Roberts and those who are voting against Mr. Roberts — is that while adherence to legal precedent and rules of statutory or constitutional construction will dispose of 95 percent of the cases that come before a court, so that both a Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time on those 95 percent of the cases — what matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy. . . in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.

Or, perhaps this, from the same:

I have no doubt that Judge Alito has the training and qualifications necessary to serve. He’s an intelligent man and an accomplished jurist. And there’s no indication he’s not a man of great character.

But when you look at his record – when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding Americans’ individual rights.

Perhaps then-Senator Obama should have simply tried to vote “present” when Justices Roberts and Alito came before him for confirmation. Instead, he has given his opponents all the justification they need to oppose his nominees if they don’t meet the Senators’ ideological criteria. It might not be enough to trigger an attempted filibuster, but it certainly ought to keep Obama from claiming “bipartisan support” for his nominations.

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Who Knew?

The New York Times has figured out there is a little glitch in Obama’s economic scheme:

As the Obama administration racks up an unprecedented spending bill for bank bailouts, Detroit rescues, health care overhauls and stimulus plans, the bond market is starting to push up the cost of trillions of dollars in borrowing for the government.

Last week, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to its highest level since November, briefly touching 3.17 percent, a sign that investors are demanding larger returns on the masses of United States debt being issued to finance an economic recovery.

That sounds like a retread of the 1970s — high interest rates and high unemployment. And, yes, this is what the Tea Party protesters (the unwashed masses the New York Times tried to ignore) were complaining about. You cannot borrow and borrow with no end:

The trouble is that government borrowing risks crowding out private investment, driving up interest rates and potentially slowing a recovery still trying to take hold. That is why the Federal Reserve announced an extraordinary policy this year to buy back existing long-term debt — $300 billion over six months — to drive down yields. The strategy worked for a while, but now the impact of that decision appears to be wearing off as long-term interest rates tick up again.

Then there is the concern that the interest the government must pay on its debt obligations may become unsustainable or weigh on future generations. The Congressional Budget Office expects interest payments to more than quadruple in the next decade as Washington borrows and spends, to $806 billion by 2019 from $172 billion next year.

It seems there is an inescapable reality, despite the government’s efforts to get “creative”: our ability to borrow is not infinite and the fiscal irresponsibility many (including some in the president’s own party) railed against has its price. In the end, no amount of political spin can convince bond purchasers to soak up all the red ink gushing from the U.S. budget.

The New York Times has figured out there is a little glitch in Obama’s economic scheme:

As the Obama administration racks up an unprecedented spending bill for bank bailouts, Detroit rescues, health care overhauls and stimulus plans, the bond market is starting to push up the cost of trillions of dollars in borrowing for the government.

Last week, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to its highest level since November, briefly touching 3.17 percent, a sign that investors are demanding larger returns on the masses of United States debt being issued to finance an economic recovery.

That sounds like a retread of the 1970s — high interest rates and high unemployment. And, yes, this is what the Tea Party protesters (the unwashed masses the New York Times tried to ignore) were complaining about. You cannot borrow and borrow with no end:

The trouble is that government borrowing risks crowding out private investment, driving up interest rates and potentially slowing a recovery still trying to take hold. That is why the Federal Reserve announced an extraordinary policy this year to buy back existing long-term debt — $300 billion over six months — to drive down yields. The strategy worked for a while, but now the impact of that decision appears to be wearing off as long-term interest rates tick up again.

Then there is the concern that the interest the government must pay on its debt obligations may become unsustainable or weigh on future generations. The Congressional Budget Office expects interest payments to more than quadruple in the next decade as Washington borrows and spends, to $806 billion by 2019 from $172 billion next year.

It seems there is an inescapable reality, despite the government’s efforts to get “creative”: our ability to borrow is not infinite and the fiscal irresponsibility many (including some in the president’s own party) railed against has its price. In the end, no amount of political spin can convince bond purchasers to soak up all the red ink gushing from the U.S. budget.

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Israeli Public Support Against Iran: Strategic Considerations

A recent poll found that sixty-six percent of Israeli Jews support military action against Iran. Moreover, among those supporting military action, seventy-five percent said that they would not change their minds if the United States opposed an Israeli strike. Strategically, this could have a number of important implications.

First, broad popular support within Israel for a strike on Iran reaffirms Israel’s credibility, as Jerusalem has the public mandate for following through on any threat it might make regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Remember: public opinion is a major constraint on democratic governments’ foreign policies, and achieving broad public support is particularly important when democracies go to war. This is especially true in Israel, where virtually every citizen serves in the army and will therefore bear the burden — directly or indirectly — of any military action.

With this bolstered credibility, however, comes responsibility. Indeed, if Israeli leaders speak too liberally of possible Israeli action against Iran and then fail to deliver, the credibility of Israel’s threat will be significantly undermined. For this reason, Israeli leaders should speak in broad terms regarding military “options” of indefinite time frames, which would preserve the threat for as long as necessary.  Moreover, they should avoid statements regarding military “action,” since failure to act after a certain time would falsify the threat.

Second, a critical mass of Israelis (49.5% of those polled) supporting military action against Iran even without U.S. permission suggests that the Obama administration might not be able to prevent Israel from striking. Here, the “might” is strategically crucial: this unpredictability gives Israel the upper hand vis-à-vis Iran, as Tehran loses its ability to manipulate risks in an uncertain environment (h/t Thomas Schelling). This strengthens Obama’s bargaining position in his engagement with Iran: if negotiations fail, Obama can say — with good reason — that he can’t fully control what Israel might do. This means that the pressure will be squarely on Iran to deal in good faith and, most importantly, expediently.

Of course, one key question remains open: does Obama know how to leverage Israeli hawkishness — now backed by strong popular support within Israel — to his strategic advantage vis-à-vis Iran?

A recent poll found that sixty-six percent of Israeli Jews support military action against Iran. Moreover, among those supporting military action, seventy-five percent said that they would not change their minds if the United States opposed an Israeli strike. Strategically, this could have a number of important implications.

First, broad popular support within Israel for a strike on Iran reaffirms Israel’s credibility, as Jerusalem has the public mandate for following through on any threat it might make regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Remember: public opinion is a major constraint on democratic governments’ foreign policies, and achieving broad public support is particularly important when democracies go to war. This is especially true in Israel, where virtually every citizen serves in the army and will therefore bear the burden — directly or indirectly — of any military action.

With this bolstered credibility, however, comes responsibility. Indeed, if Israeli leaders speak too liberally of possible Israeli action against Iran and then fail to deliver, the credibility of Israel’s threat will be significantly undermined. For this reason, Israeli leaders should speak in broad terms regarding military “options” of indefinite time frames, which would preserve the threat for as long as necessary.  Moreover, they should avoid statements regarding military “action,” since failure to act after a certain time would falsify the threat.

Second, a critical mass of Israelis (49.5% of those polled) supporting military action against Iran even without U.S. permission suggests that the Obama administration might not be able to prevent Israel from striking. Here, the “might” is strategically crucial: this unpredictability gives Israel the upper hand vis-à-vis Iran, as Tehran loses its ability to manipulate risks in an uncertain environment (h/t Thomas Schelling). This strengthens Obama’s bargaining position in his engagement with Iran: if negotiations fail, Obama can say — with good reason — that he can’t fully control what Israel might do. This means that the pressure will be squarely on Iran to deal in good faith and, most importantly, expediently.

Of course, one key question remains open: does Obama know how to leverage Israeli hawkishness — now backed by strong popular support within Israel — to his strategic advantage vis-à-vis Iran?

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Selective Outrage

Over the weekend, Andrew Sullivan thought it important to remind his readers that John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, was “the first victim of torture.” He quoted Tom Junod, from Esquire:

John Walker Lindh was blindfolded and duct-taped naked to a stretcher in Afghanistan. He was being held in a shipping container, and he had a bullet in his thigh, and by the time an FBI agent interrogated him, the bullet had been in his thigh for nearly two weeks and the wound was starting to stink. “Of course, there are no lawyers here,” the agent told him, and two days after he gave his statement, he was moved to a ship in the Arabian Sea and the bullet was finally extracted.

Last I checked the Navy doctor treating Lindh slept “on a concrete floor in a sleeping bag in a room with a hole in the wall and a hole in the ceiling,” and gave his patient the container to protect him from the elements.

In any case, what I find interesting is how context-dependent the Left’s outrage is. An American who denounced his country and took up arms alongside a barbaric group of misogynist extremists went a week in a stretcher before a doctor properly treated him, and that’s called torture. Subject the entire tax-paying American population to the same circumstance and it’s called the healthcare we owe one-another as human beings.

Over the weekend, Andrew Sullivan thought it important to remind his readers that John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, was “the first victim of torture.” He quoted Tom Junod, from Esquire:

John Walker Lindh was blindfolded and duct-taped naked to a stretcher in Afghanistan. He was being held in a shipping container, and he had a bullet in his thigh, and by the time an FBI agent interrogated him, the bullet had been in his thigh for nearly two weeks and the wound was starting to stink. “Of course, there are no lawyers here,” the agent told him, and two days after he gave his statement, he was moved to a ship in the Arabian Sea and the bullet was finally extracted.

Last I checked the Navy doctor treating Lindh slept “on a concrete floor in a sleeping bag in a room with a hole in the wall and a hole in the ceiling,” and gave his patient the container to protect him from the elements.

In any case, what I find interesting is how context-dependent the Left’s outrage is. An American who denounced his country and took up arms alongside a barbaric group of misogynist extremists went a week in a stretcher before a doctor properly treated him, and that’s called torture. Subject the entire tax-paying American population to the same circumstance and it’s called the healthcare we owe one-another as human beings.

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Remembering Jack Kemp

A number of lovely tributes have been made on behalf of Jack Kemp, who died of cancer last Saturday. Most of them have rightly touched on Jack’s intellectual contribution and his passionate belief in the power of ideas to shape history. In that respect, he was one of the most important political figures in the last half-century. Jack was an evangelist when it came to his ideas, and Reagan was his most important convert.  By 1976, Reagan had not yet embraced supply-side economics. By 1980 he had — and Kemp was the main reason.

Jack — with whom I worked closely in the 1990s, when I was policy director at Empower America — certainly had a healthy ego. But everyone knew, without question, that he was involved in politics not because he sought power for its own sake or in order to fulfill some deep personal ambition. He was involved in it because he believed in a set of ideas he thought would change the world. The best evidence of that worldview is that Jack never trimmed his message to fit his audience. He made his case when his ideas were in and out of fashion, when they won the applause as well as the jeers of the crowd. It just didn’t matter to him.

But with substance came style — a very valuable commodity in politics — and Jack was certainly blessed with it. Part of it was that he carried himself like we think a star quarterback ought to. He had good looks, charisma, and could dominate any room he was in. But there was more to it than just that. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Kemp helped make the GOP an exciting and appealing party, bursting with ideas, hopeful and future-oriented, gracious and without a trace of bitterness. The spirit of a party, like the spirit of a person, is at once intangible and terribly important. And Jack Kemp was a man who possessed a capacious and indomitable spirit. As far as I can tell, Jack was a man who had no known enemies, which is a fairly extraordinary achievement in politics. He seemed incapable of personalizing policy differences. There was a certain guilelessness in Jack; he approached people as if everyone in politics cared as much about ideas and possessed as much good will as he did. He was wrong about that, but he, and we, were better for it.

Jack was also the head of one of the finest families I have ever seen, in or out of politics. His wife Joanne is a woman of strength, deep faith, and grace; and his children Jeff, Jennifer, Judith, and Jimmy are people of integrity and character. I spoke to one of them on Friday — just hours before Jack was to pass away, as it turned out — and when our conversation was done, I was struck again by what an impressive, well-grounded family Jack helped raise.

I have long believed — a conviction that has only deepened over time — that cynicism is a terrible human quality. Politics, like every profession, has more than its fair share of cynics. But it has also been blessed with idealists, by men and women who conduct themselves in a way that encourages us about life and its possibilities.

Jack was an idealist rather than a cynic. He possessed a first-rate mind and a first-class heart, which explains why he inspired several generations, including mine. And even in his last years, Jack seemed forever young, as if he had magically escaped age and mortality. Of course he had not; none of us do. And now he is gone, though it still doesn’t quite seem real to me. Neither do the deaths of his friends Bill Buckley, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Richard John Neuhaus, all of whom have passed away in the last 30 months. The four of them reshaped American conservatism and American politics in profound and lasting ways. They loved their country, and they served her well and with honor. And now they are united again, in a city incorruptible and everlasting — and, I assume, where marginal tax rates are low and, knowing Jack Kemp, they are about to go lower still.

Jack Kemp was an imperfect man and a great man, a joy to be with and to work for. I miss him a lot. So should you. And so will America.

A number of lovely tributes have been made on behalf of Jack Kemp, who died of cancer last Saturday. Most of them have rightly touched on Jack’s intellectual contribution and his passionate belief in the power of ideas to shape history. In that respect, he was one of the most important political figures in the last half-century. Jack was an evangelist when it came to his ideas, and Reagan was his most important convert.  By 1976, Reagan had not yet embraced supply-side economics. By 1980 he had — and Kemp was the main reason.

Jack — with whom I worked closely in the 1990s, when I was policy director at Empower America — certainly had a healthy ego. But everyone knew, without question, that he was involved in politics not because he sought power for its own sake or in order to fulfill some deep personal ambition. He was involved in it because he believed in a set of ideas he thought would change the world. The best evidence of that worldview is that Jack never trimmed his message to fit his audience. He made his case when his ideas were in and out of fashion, when they won the applause as well as the jeers of the crowd. It just didn’t matter to him.

But with substance came style — a very valuable commodity in politics — and Jack was certainly blessed with it. Part of it was that he carried himself like we think a star quarterback ought to. He had good looks, charisma, and could dominate any room he was in. But there was more to it than just that. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Kemp helped make the GOP an exciting and appealing party, bursting with ideas, hopeful and future-oriented, gracious and without a trace of bitterness. The spirit of a party, like the spirit of a person, is at once intangible and terribly important. And Jack Kemp was a man who possessed a capacious and indomitable spirit. As far as I can tell, Jack was a man who had no known enemies, which is a fairly extraordinary achievement in politics. He seemed incapable of personalizing policy differences. There was a certain guilelessness in Jack; he approached people as if everyone in politics cared as much about ideas and possessed as much good will as he did. He was wrong about that, but he, and we, were better for it.

Jack was also the head of one of the finest families I have ever seen, in or out of politics. His wife Joanne is a woman of strength, deep faith, and grace; and his children Jeff, Jennifer, Judith, and Jimmy are people of integrity and character. I spoke to one of them on Friday — just hours before Jack was to pass away, as it turned out — and when our conversation was done, I was struck again by what an impressive, well-grounded family Jack helped raise.

I have long believed — a conviction that has only deepened over time — that cynicism is a terrible human quality. Politics, like every profession, has more than its fair share of cynics. But it has also been blessed with idealists, by men and women who conduct themselves in a way that encourages us about life and its possibilities.

Jack was an idealist rather than a cynic. He possessed a first-rate mind and a first-class heart, which explains why he inspired several generations, including mine. And even in his last years, Jack seemed forever young, as if he had magically escaped age and mortality. Of course he had not; none of us do. And now he is gone, though it still doesn’t quite seem real to me. Neither do the deaths of his friends Bill Buckley, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Richard John Neuhaus, all of whom have passed away in the last 30 months. The four of them reshaped American conservatism and American politics in profound and lasting ways. They loved their country, and they served her well and with honor. And now they are united again, in a city incorruptible and everlasting — and, I assume, where marginal tax rates are low and, knowing Jack Kemp, they are about to go lower still.

Jack Kemp was an imperfect man and a great man, a joy to be with and to work for. I miss him a lot. So should you. And so will America.

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What Does Bashar al-Assad Want?

AIPAC’s annual gathering in Washington D.C. started up Sunday at a critical moment for American-Israeli relations. It is fair to say that the predominant mood of the gathering was “anxiety” — what is this administration’s approach to Israel and to Iran, and are we headed for a chilling in the U.S.- Israeli relationship? In other years, the attendees were depressed or euphoric, depending on recent events; this year they are nervous.

Sunday afternoon several hundred of the attendees listened to a panel on Syria, asking what is it that Bashar al-Assad really wants. Elliott Abrams, former deputy National Security Advisor, Andrew Tabler from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Dr. Eyal Zisser from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies put on quite a mesmerizing show — providing the sort of context and detail never seen in mainstream reporting. The outlook is not good if you fancy Bashar as the next Sadat waiting to transform his relationship with the U.S. and with Israel.

As Taber notes, Assad is under severe fiscal pressure (and has even become a net importer of oil), but has shown little sign (after much anticipation when he assumed power) that he intends to separate from Iran or to improve relations with the U.S., by, for example, slowing the flow of jihadists traveling into Iraq to kill Americans. Yes, the Syrians are expert at manipulating international media (with the help of their British PR firm) and had even lured former prime minister Olmert into negotiations, but so far there is little sign they are interested in modulating their maximalist demands.

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AIPAC’s annual gathering in Washington D.C. started up Sunday at a critical moment for American-Israeli relations. It is fair to say that the predominant mood of the gathering was “anxiety” — what is this administration’s approach to Israel and to Iran, and are we headed for a chilling in the U.S.- Israeli relationship? In other years, the attendees were depressed or euphoric, depending on recent events; this year they are nervous.

Sunday afternoon several hundred of the attendees listened to a panel on Syria, asking what is it that Bashar al-Assad really wants. Elliott Abrams, former deputy National Security Advisor, Andrew Tabler from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Dr. Eyal Zisser from the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies put on quite a mesmerizing show — providing the sort of context and detail never seen in mainstream reporting. The outlook is not good if you fancy Bashar as the next Sadat waiting to transform his relationship with the U.S. and with Israel.

As Taber notes, Assad is under severe fiscal pressure (and has even become a net importer of oil), but has shown little sign (after much anticipation when he assumed power) that he intends to separate from Iran or to improve relations with the U.S., by, for example, slowing the flow of jihadists traveling into Iraq to kill Americans. Yes, the Syrians are expert at manipulating international media (with the help of their British PR firm) and had even lured former prime minister Olmert into negotiations, but so far there is little sign they are interested in modulating their maximalist demands.

Abrams was characteristically blunt, “Assad wants whatever he can get.” The North Korean nuclear reactor, the series of assassination attempts, and the flow of jihadists into Iraq suggest to Abrams that he feels he “is on the winning side with Iran.” There isn’t any sign of Assad wanting to do the things needed to promote reconcilliation with the U.S., like stop assassinating political opponents — a necessary step for normalizing relations with the West. And from Israel’s perspective following the experience in Lebanaon and Gaza there is little inclination to give up land (the Golan) for hope that such concession might bring peace. He contends it would be “a huge mistake to give any freebies” to Assad in the form of lifting sanctions, for example, given Assad’s present behavior.

Zisser, with dry wit, made clear Assad’s mode of operation. In essence, Assad declares that of course they want peace. . .  but not if Israel exists. He directly took on the notion that Assad wants to liberalize and transform his country as Sadat did (which required a re-orientation of Eygpt away from the Soviet orbit). Assad, he says, is not Sadat, but Nasser. And as far as Olmert’s negotiation gambit, that was no problem because Olmert’s approval rating was already 0%.

So there was consensus: Assad shows little willingness to divorce himself from Iran and even less to do the things required to substantively alter relations with Israel and the U.S. A heavy dose of realism, is perhaps in order.

Two interesting items in the Q & A from Abrams. First, he was queried on why the Bush administration did not do more to respond to Syria’s facilitating deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq. Well, the Bush administration did of course push for sanctions, he pointed out. But, Abrams, candidly said that CENTCOM simply would not do more cross-border raids. Although there was understandable concern about expanding the war and overtaxing our forces, Abrams was blunt: this was a mistake. Second, in response to a long and rambling question on the carrots and sticks available to us and whether too much pushing for democracy was counterproductive, Abrams said that he didn’t doubt the Syrian people would like some democracy. And he wondered what the Syrians think of the Iraqis who now enjoy democratic elections and have been transformed from a Sunni dictatorship into a majority-run Shiite democracy. Might not the Sunni majority in Syria want the same? (Well, that’s a bit of Bush legacy yet to be determined, I think).

At any rate, one hopes the Obama administration is as informed and realistic as the panelists. One suspects, however, that they are indeed itching to give away “some freebies.” And for a president for whom engagement in and of itself is a sign of “success,” it is doubtful that his administration will refrain very long from passing out the carrots.

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A Different Path to Peace

Ron Dermer — Senior Advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and co-author with Natan Sharansky of The Case for Democracy — made a masterful presentation yesterday at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, on a panel entitled “Prospects for Peace:  Israel’s Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.”

Also on the panel were Aaron David Miller and David Makovsky, both of whom provided articulate and insightful comments, but Dermer’s presentation is of most interest, since it probably reflects the approach Netanyahu plans to bring to Washington on May 18.  The presentation also serves as a useful response to the news analysis in the New York Times this morning entitled “Israel Faces a Hard Sell in Bid to Shift Policy.”

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Dermer’s 20 minute-presentation, followed by links to the video of it (in two parts):

Everyone wants to know – at least I get asked all the time — who is Benjamin Netanyahu?  Is he going to be the guy who makes peace?  Did he learn anything from past mistakes?  Is he ready to lead Israel?  . . .

What has changed is not necessarily Netanyahu. . . . What has changed is the environment in which he operates today.  In 1996, when Netanyahu was elected, half of the Israeli public thought he was the obstacle to peace.  The entire international community thought he was the obstacle to peace.  And the Clinton administration, who sincerely – sincerely – believed peace was around the corner, thought that he was the obstacle to peace.  If we can just get a few more concessions out of Israel, we can get peace.

That is no longer the case today.  Today Israelis do not believe that the problem is a lack of willingness to make concessions on their part.  They no longer believe that  . . .

. . . So I’m going to surprise you all today and I’m going to tell you that the Prime Minister of Israel, far from being a prophet of doom, actually believes that peace is possible.

Part I of the Dermer presentation is here; Part II is here.

Ron Dermer — Senior Advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and co-author with Natan Sharansky of The Case for Democracy — made a masterful presentation yesterday at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, on a panel entitled “Prospects for Peace:  Israel’s Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.”

Also on the panel were Aaron David Miller and David Makovsky, both of whom provided articulate and insightful comments, but Dermer’s presentation is of most interest, since it probably reflects the approach Netanyahu plans to bring to Washington on May 18.  The presentation also serves as a useful response to the news analysis in the New York Times this morning entitled “Israel Faces a Hard Sell in Bid to Shift Policy.”

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Dermer’s 20 minute-presentation, followed by links to the video of it (in two parts):

Everyone wants to know – at least I get asked all the time — who is Benjamin Netanyahu?  Is he going to be the guy who makes peace?  Did he learn anything from past mistakes?  Is he ready to lead Israel?  . . .

What has changed is not necessarily Netanyahu. . . . What has changed is the environment in which he operates today.  In 1996, when Netanyahu was elected, half of the Israeli public thought he was the obstacle to peace.  The entire international community thought he was the obstacle to peace.  And the Clinton administration, who sincerely – sincerely – believed peace was around the corner, thought that he was the obstacle to peace.  If we can just get a few more concessions out of Israel, we can get peace.

That is no longer the case today.  Today Israelis do not believe that the problem is a lack of willingness to make concessions on their part.  They no longer believe that  . . .

. . . So I’m going to surprise you all today and I’m going to tell you that the Prime Minister of Israel, far from being a prophet of doom, actually believes that peace is possible.

Part I of the Dermer presentation is here; Part II is here.

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Gingrich at AIPAC

When Newt Gingrich appears before a large, politically-active crowd the question always arises: “What is he up to?” Is he laying the ground work for something — perhaps starting a campaign? It is not clear, nor is it clear Gingrich knows. But Sunday evening before thousands of AIPAC attendees he was doing what he does best — weaving a portrait of current events in the context of historic experience with exacting moral clarity.

He started with a premise that is now under attack from the Left in America: America’s fate is intertwined with Israel’s. Or as he put it, “A world which destroys Israel will surely destroy the United States.” And without mentioning the president (except in passing reference to his eloquence) he went directly at the premise which now animates this administration, namely that we can engage rather than confront Iran. For Gingrich it is a choice, he explains, between 1939 and 1979. We can ignore the growing menace or we can, as Ronald Reagan did, “tell the truth and develop a worldwide coalition” to block Iranian aggression and nuclear ambitions. He listed a series of  steps to go about “confronting evil head on” — condemning and “defunding” of Durban, a systematic campaign to publicize subjugation of women in Iran and other Islamic fundamentalist societies, a motion to remove Iran’s UN vote (for advocating genocide) and restricting Iran’s distribution of oil “until the Iranian economy broke, the ayatollahs were ousted and a new regime was in place without a single shot fired.”  Whether they believe that any or all of these are achievable, those in attendance raucously approved. But his biggest ovation came when he declared in discussing our relationship with Saudi Arabia, “Rather than bow to the king, we need a national energy policy to liberate the United States” from dependence on Mideast oil. Ouch.

The essence of his address was a refutation of the engagement approach to Iran. He bluntly stated, “We need to recognize that there are some regimes we will never be able to cut a deal with because they are in fact evil.”And as if that was not clear enough he explained, “Ahmadinejad if he gets the weapons will be every bit as evil as Hilter.” There is, he says, “civilization and anti-civilization” and both the Bush and Obama administrations, he contends, do a disservice by minimizing the dangers we face from an “anti-civilization” regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, he didn’t mince words. The crowd was hugely enthusiastic but departed, I sensed, a bit exhausted and stunned. There is little happy-talk in a Gingrich speech.

In some sense Gingrich set the table for Joe Biden’s speech on Tuesday. This is not a “pro-engagement” gathering and it will be interesting to hear the degree to which Biden tries to sell Obama’s approach. A crowd that roars in approval when Gingrich warns that negotiating with “evil” is a losing proposition may realize it has some fundamental disagreements with an administration itching to enter dialogue with Iran. And it remains unclear whether the Obama administration is willing in the end to tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons. For Gingrich and those at the gathering, that is simply unimaginable.

When Newt Gingrich appears before a large, politically-active crowd the question always arises: “What is he up to?” Is he laying the ground work for something — perhaps starting a campaign? It is not clear, nor is it clear Gingrich knows. But Sunday evening before thousands of AIPAC attendees he was doing what he does best — weaving a portrait of current events in the context of historic experience with exacting moral clarity.

He started with a premise that is now under attack from the Left in America: America’s fate is intertwined with Israel’s. Or as he put it, “A world which destroys Israel will surely destroy the United States.” And without mentioning the president (except in passing reference to his eloquence) he went directly at the premise which now animates this administration, namely that we can engage rather than confront Iran. For Gingrich it is a choice, he explains, between 1939 and 1979. We can ignore the growing menace or we can, as Ronald Reagan did, “tell the truth and develop a worldwide coalition” to block Iranian aggression and nuclear ambitions. He listed a series of  steps to go about “confronting evil head on” — condemning and “defunding” of Durban, a systematic campaign to publicize subjugation of women in Iran and other Islamic fundamentalist societies, a motion to remove Iran’s UN vote (for advocating genocide) and restricting Iran’s distribution of oil “until the Iranian economy broke, the ayatollahs were ousted and a new regime was in place without a single shot fired.”  Whether they believe that any or all of these are achievable, those in attendance raucously approved. But his biggest ovation came when he declared in discussing our relationship with Saudi Arabia, “Rather than bow to the king, we need a national energy policy to liberate the United States” from dependence on Mideast oil. Ouch.

The essence of his address was a refutation of the engagement approach to Iran. He bluntly stated, “We need to recognize that there are some regimes we will never be able to cut a deal with because they are in fact evil.”And as if that was not clear enough he explained, “Ahmadinejad if he gets the weapons will be every bit as evil as Hilter.” There is, he says, “civilization and anti-civilization” and both the Bush and Obama administrations, he contends, do a disservice by minimizing the dangers we face from an “anti-civilization” regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, he didn’t mince words. The crowd was hugely enthusiastic but departed, I sensed, a bit exhausted and stunned. There is little happy-talk in a Gingrich speech.

In some sense Gingrich set the table for Joe Biden’s speech on Tuesday. This is not a “pro-engagement” gathering and it will be interesting to hear the degree to which Biden tries to sell Obama’s approach. A crowd that roars in approval when Gingrich warns that negotiating with “evil” is a losing proposition may realize it has some fundamental disagreements with an administration itching to enter dialogue with Iran. And it remains unclear whether the Obama administration is willing in the end to tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons. For Gingrich and those at the gathering, that is simply unimaginable.

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Obama, Stealth Libertarian

As the Obama administration starts its second hundred days, the warnings of its early critics seem ever more prescient: this administration is devoted to expanding the power, scope, and role of the federal government, extending into nearly every aspect of people’s lives. The examples are countless.

But there’s an alternative explanation for all this, and it’s a bit radical.

Consider this: one of the basic tenets of libertarianism is distrust of government. And that distrust is proportional — the bigger the government, the greater the distrust. Hence the emphasis among libertarians on the primacy of state and local governments, and especially individuals, on matters not specifically reserved for the federal government. Perhaps Obama is trying to convince us all of the dangers of an overpowering federal government by demonstrating — as quickly and forcefully as possible — just how bad things can be.

— Banking. With the TARP bailout program, many banks found themselves indebted to the federal government. Some genuinely needed the assistance; others were pressured into accepting the funds to provide “cover” and help conceal which banks were in serious trouble. Shortly thereafter, those banks started feeling the pressure that came with those dollars. Bank of America was forced into buying up  Merrill Lynch. It has now come out that Bank of America tried to back out of the arrangement when they got a good look at Merrill’s books, but were pressured by the federal government to complete the deal. It was the carrot of federal money with the big stick of federal power that pushed that deal through — but it ended up costing Ken Lewis his position as the Bank’s Board Chairmanship.

— The auto industry. Last fall, two of the Big Three automakers found themselves in such dire straits that they sought federal bailouts. General Motors and Chrysler are now feeling the heat. GM was told it needed to fire its CEO and Chrysler was pushed into accepting a new ownership — a partnership between the United Auto Workers union and Italian carmaker Fiat. And to speed things along, the government leaned on some of Chrysler’s biggest creditors — banks that had accepted TARP bailout money — to accept pennies on the dollar as part of the restructuring. That particular plan was shot down by a rebellion of some creditors.

— Health care. President Obama has made it clear that he intends to “reform” the health care business, and some of his  more vocal and powerful supporters have openly stated that a part of the plan is to destroy the private health care industry.

Most recently, Andrew  McCarthy — a 20-year veteran of the Department of Justice was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion at the White House as an expert on how to proceed in handling terrorism detainees. Mr. McCarthy declined the invitation in a scorching public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The key paragraph:

Moreover, in light of public statements by both you and the President,
it is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice
Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers
legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers
who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to
investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in
addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical
misconduct.  Given that stance, any prudent lawyer would have to
hesitate before offering advice to the government.

Mr. McCarthy’s point: if you agree to work with the federal government, you will soon find yourself working for the federal government — and if they choose to change the circumstances of that “partnership,” you better learn to live with it.

So, is Obama trying to present a comprehensive picture of the travesty of big government? No, that’s so improbable as to be essentially impossible. But it’s slightly more comforting than the thought that the President of the United States is doing what he is doing while sincerely believing that it is actually going to make America better.

As the Obama administration starts its second hundred days, the warnings of its early critics seem ever more prescient: this administration is devoted to expanding the power, scope, and role of the federal government, extending into nearly every aspect of people’s lives. The examples are countless.

But there’s an alternative explanation for all this, and it’s a bit radical.

Consider this: one of the basic tenets of libertarianism is distrust of government. And that distrust is proportional — the bigger the government, the greater the distrust. Hence the emphasis among libertarians on the primacy of state and local governments, and especially individuals, on matters not specifically reserved for the federal government. Perhaps Obama is trying to convince us all of the dangers of an overpowering federal government by demonstrating — as quickly and forcefully as possible — just how bad things can be.

— Banking. With the TARP bailout program, many banks found themselves indebted to the federal government. Some genuinely needed the assistance; others were pressured into accepting the funds to provide “cover” and help conceal which banks were in serious trouble. Shortly thereafter, those banks started feeling the pressure that came with those dollars. Bank of America was forced into buying up  Merrill Lynch. It has now come out that Bank of America tried to back out of the arrangement when they got a good look at Merrill’s books, but were pressured by the federal government to complete the deal. It was the carrot of federal money with the big stick of federal power that pushed that deal through — but it ended up costing Ken Lewis his position as the Bank’s Board Chairmanship.

— The auto industry. Last fall, two of the Big Three automakers found themselves in such dire straits that they sought federal bailouts. General Motors and Chrysler are now feeling the heat. GM was told it needed to fire its CEO and Chrysler was pushed into accepting a new ownership — a partnership between the United Auto Workers union and Italian carmaker Fiat. And to speed things along, the government leaned on some of Chrysler’s biggest creditors — banks that had accepted TARP bailout money — to accept pennies on the dollar as part of the restructuring. That particular plan was shot down by a rebellion of some creditors.

— Health care. President Obama has made it clear that he intends to “reform” the health care business, and some of his  more vocal and powerful supporters have openly stated that a part of the plan is to destroy the private health care industry.

Most recently, Andrew  McCarthy — a 20-year veteran of the Department of Justice was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion at the White House as an expert on how to proceed in handling terrorism detainees. Mr. McCarthy declined the invitation in a scorching public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The key paragraph:

Moreover, in light of public statements by both you and the President,
it is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice
Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers
legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers
who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to
investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in
addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical
misconduct.  Given that stance, any prudent lawyer would have to
hesitate before offering advice to the government.

Mr. McCarthy’s point: if you agree to work with the federal government, you will soon find yourself working for the federal government — and if they choose to change the circumstances of that “partnership,” you better learn to live with it.

So, is Obama trying to present a comprehensive picture of the travesty of big government? No, that’s so improbable as to be essentially impossible. But it’s slightly more comforting than the thought that the President of the United States is doing what he is doing while sincerely believing that it is actually going to make America better.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Who is the man who will be Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.? Read this extraordinary story.

The Chrysler deal sounds fine — until you realize the company will have to make money to survive. “Obama has said he hopes to get out of the car business soon, and he has urged private investors to replace the government as the source of ongoing funds. But no executive in her right mind would take that gamble when it is clear that, in dealing with the government, private capital will always take a back seat to politically powerful entities.”

Befitting his descent into crack-pottering James Baker now says he favors the draft.

Robert J. Samuelson says Obama is hostile to oil and gas jobs. Actually he’s hostile to capital and investors more generally, although Samuelson’s point is well taken.

Wise advice about avoiding affirmative action and political litmus tests for Supreme Court justices: “But this nation — now perhaps more today than ever before — needs this particular branch of government to be full of scholars who are able to step out of the day to day execution of laws, not people whose careers have trained them in the art of compromise and catering to the electorate.”

Orrin Hatch confirms we won’t seek a waiver for another turn as Ranking Minority Chair on Senate Judiciary. It now boils down to Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions.

An interesting point: if there are no Republican votes in the Judiciary for the nominee there is at least a glitch in the confirmation process. But only a hiccup I think. Barring a Harriet Miers-like error Obama’s pick will be confirmed.

Howard Kurtz wants to know why mainstream reporters aren’t talking about Arlen Specter’s disloyalty. (Maybe because it wouldn’t dawn on them to think betraying the GOP is a bad thing?)

And meanwhile Specter categorically denies saying he’d be a “loyal Democrat.” We’ll see if Democratic primary voters are impressed.

A lovely tribute to Jack Kemp concludes: “The Kemp-Reagan message was rooted in ideas but it also appealed broadly across ages and incomes because of its buoyant temperament. Jack Kemp’s admirable life shows that it is possible to be a populist intellectual and a capitalist for the common man.”

And E.J. Dionne gets it right, too: “Kemp was the opposite of a hater. He was all positive energy. If there was one thing he did hate, it was racism. Over and over, he tried to get his party to reach out to African Americans — not simply the more affluent in their ranks, but the very poor whom he really did believe would benefit from policies geared toward enterprise, including supply side tax cuts, enterprise zones and tenant ownership of public housing.”

Who is the man who will be Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.? Read this extraordinary story.

The Chrysler deal sounds fine — until you realize the company will have to make money to survive. “Obama has said he hopes to get out of the car business soon, and he has urged private investors to replace the government as the source of ongoing funds. But no executive in her right mind would take that gamble when it is clear that, in dealing with the government, private capital will always take a back seat to politically powerful entities.”

Befitting his descent into crack-pottering James Baker now says he favors the draft.

Robert J. Samuelson says Obama is hostile to oil and gas jobs. Actually he’s hostile to capital and investors more generally, although Samuelson’s point is well taken.

Wise advice about avoiding affirmative action and political litmus tests for Supreme Court justices: “But this nation — now perhaps more today than ever before — needs this particular branch of government to be full of scholars who are able to step out of the day to day execution of laws, not people whose careers have trained them in the art of compromise and catering to the electorate.”

Orrin Hatch confirms we won’t seek a waiver for another turn as Ranking Minority Chair on Senate Judiciary. It now boils down to Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions.

An interesting point: if there are no Republican votes in the Judiciary for the nominee there is at least a glitch in the confirmation process. But only a hiccup I think. Barring a Harriet Miers-like error Obama’s pick will be confirmed.

Howard Kurtz wants to know why mainstream reporters aren’t talking about Arlen Specter’s disloyalty. (Maybe because it wouldn’t dawn on them to think betraying the GOP is a bad thing?)

And meanwhile Specter categorically denies saying he’d be a “loyal Democrat.” We’ll see if Democratic primary voters are impressed.

A lovely tribute to Jack Kemp concludes: “The Kemp-Reagan message was rooted in ideas but it also appealed broadly across ages and incomes because of its buoyant temperament. Jack Kemp’s admirable life shows that it is possible to be a populist intellectual and a capitalist for the common man.”

And E.J. Dionne gets it right, too: “Kemp was the opposite of a hater. He was all positive energy. If there was one thing he did hate, it was racism. Over and over, he tried to get his party to reach out to African Americans — not simply the more affluent in their ranks, but the very poor whom he really did believe would benefit from policies geared toward enterprise, including supply side tax cuts, enterprise zones and tenant ownership of public housing.”

Read Less




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