I love how Obama and Co. gave George Bush no credit for the work he was doing to protect the country, slandering and hindering him whenever possible. Now they see that he was making truly difficult decisions, not because they might be popular, but because they were the only reasonable compromise among the diverse and complicated interests. Turns out Guantanamo wasn’t such a bad place after all (according to Eric Holder, but too late to stop the closing announcement), and was located outside the US for very good reasons. I wish that serious people were in charge of our country’s national security.
Posts For: May 11, 2009
One senses there is growing anxiety among Democratic ranks in Virgina. This year’s gubernatorial race will be viewed as an indicator as to whether Obama has really shifted the politics in this and other key swing states. Less than a month away from the primary, former Clinton moneyman and DNC chief Terry McAuliffe is pulling ahead. But some Democratic bloggers are nervous about this sort of polling data, which looked at Democrats not committed to voting for the nominee:
Among that group 42% said they had a favorable opinion of Brian Moran and 30% said they had a positive one of Creigh Deeds. But only 18% looked on Terry McAuliffe favorably.
On the other side only 14% had an unfavorable opinion of Deeds and just 16% hold a negative one of Moran. But 51% view McAuliffe unfavorably.
It’s pretty clear which potential nominee most of those folks aren’t committed to supporting.
It largely goes back to McAuliffe’s problems with independent voters. While only 18% of overall likely primary voters are independents, 45% of the ones who say they aren’t totally sure they’ll support the Democratic nominee this fall are. And while McAuliffe has taken a double digit lead overall in this race he’s still in last place among independents, polling at just 13% with them to 26% for Moran and 23% for Deeds.
The angst in liberal quarters has intensified as Moran has started pulling out all the stops. The Washington Post reports that his campaign manager actually “wrote federal regulators, asking that they release documents from their examination of the Federal City National Bank, of which McAuliffe became chairman at age 30 in 1988. In 1991, federal regulators found the bank had engaged in ‘unsafe, unsound banking practices.’” The Washington Examiner also pipes up with an odd story: “A former Democratic Party official who a decade ago described in a federal criminal trial an illicit fundraising swap he said Terry McAuliffe tried to arrange with the Teamsters Union is now raising money for McAuliffe’s campaign.”
Democrats have a dilemma: select the tremendously well-funded candidate with 100% name i.d. – or avoid the baggage which his opponents will continue to turn up and go with one of the lesser known, less risky figures. McAuliffe is nothing if not controversial and he certainly has made this year’s Democratic primary one of the most memorable in recent times.
Toby Harnden of the London Telegraph has quite a good column in which he takes to task Wanda Sykes, the comedienne who went after Rush Limbaugh in a pretty vicious manner at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
According to Ms. Sykes,
Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails, so you’re saying, ‘I hope America fails ‘, you’re, like, ‘I don’t care about people losing their homes, their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq’. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that’s treason. He’s not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker. But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight… Rush Limbaugh, I hope the country fails, I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a good waterboarding, that’s what he needs.”
All of this was said in the presence of, and apparently to the approval of, President Obama, who managed to chuckle his way through Sykes’s remarks.
There are, I think, several things to make of this incident. The first is that for some of those with a liberal cast of mind, to oppose the policies of President Obama is treasonous and akin to bin Ladenism. This is stupidity on stilts. Rush Limbaugh hopes Obama will fail because he wants America to succeed; by his lights, Obama’s policies will hurt America. Even if you disagree with that view, it is beyond absurd to claim it is treason and bin Laden-like.
Second, one cannot help but note the extraordinary double standard when it comes to the rhetoric of conservatives and liberals. If a conservative had said something similar about a liberal at the Correspondents’ Dinner, the press would be outraged and in high dudgeon. But because the target was Rush Limbaugh, most in the media appear quietly, or less-than-quietly, satisfied. As Harnden puts well:
Imagine if a comedian ”joked” that Obama was a terrorist who was guilty of treason and should be tortured and allowed to die. There would justifiably be an outcry. But when the “joke” comes from a liberal, Obama-supporting comedienne and the target is a right-winger then the likes of Hilary Rosen and Donna Brazile are on CNN saying it ‘ s just comedy and Limbaugh is “fair game”.
We have seen this kind of thing happen over and over again. For example, leading Democrats routinely accused President Bush of deeply dishonoring America, of being a “moral coward,” of having built a “durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon,” and of “flat-out lying” in an effort to bring America to war — yet these slanders were largely ignored or passed over as routine political discourse. But when the tables are turned — indeed, when Republicans who most people have never heard of make incendiary comments about this liberal figure or that liberal cause — we hear howls of protest and moral outrage from the press.
The third thing to say is that Obama is the man who promised to cast aside what he has called the “partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” He was going to be the voice of civility and for high-minded public discourse. Is this what Obama had in mind? Granted, Sykes’s words were not Obama’s. Still, his reaction to the ugly things said about Limbaugh tells us something about him. It may also help explain why Obama was so comfortable in the pew of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church for almost 20 years. Perhaps Obama, upon reflection, is willing to condemn the Sykes’s remarks. It would be the appropriate thing to do, especially for a man who wants to usher in a new age of civility.
Sykes’s comments were ugly and unnecessary. And while they revealed things that are not terribly surprising, they was still discouraging. And they deserve repudiation by the President.
Anywhere else but Jerusalem, the idea of cleaning up blighted urban areas and replacing them with parks and other green spaces that highlight the heritage of a historical site would not be controversial. But the mere act of clearing space for such a park — even in instances where individuals and property owners are not dispossessed — is considered not merely debatable in Israel’s capital city but an instance of cultural imperialism.
That was the message conveyed in a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times. A generation ago, following the re-unification of the city after 1967, philanthropists and the Jerusalem Foundation led by then-mayor Teddy Kollek built promenades and parks that served to beautify Jerusalem. But back then, even though Israel’s hold on Jerusalem wasn’t formally recognized by most of the world, there was an understanding that the Jews were unlikely to ever again allow the place to be partitioned and that this sort of activity was benign.
Yet today, the creation of an archeological park and visitor center on the site of the ancient City of David is spoken of and written about as if the Disney Corporation were paving Paradise and putting up a parking lot for the sacred Mouse.
Some of the critics of the current development plans in Jerusalem pretend that it is being driven by politically inspired scholarship. But the truth is just the opposite. Scholars such as Eilat Mazar — who led the dig at the City of David and discovered what may well be the foundation of the Israelite king’s palace — are merely uncovering the historical truth about the area that some would like to cover up. As Mazar told me when I interviewed her in 2005, “Once I started to excavate, it was as if I had written nothing. Now, the stones will speak, not me.” And speak they do. Her work undermined those who would like to pretend that Jerusalem was not an important ancient city or that King David was not a historical figure.
The real scandal in Jerusalem is not the entirely legitimate activities of Israelis to properly recognize the history of the place, but those of the Palestinians and their cheerleaders who wish to deny the historical connections between this city and the Jewish people. The widespread vandalism on the Temple Mount carried out by the Muslim Wakf, in which antiquities have been discarded into garbage dumps is something that the world ought to be screaming about. But, in the name of peace, even the Israeli government is loath to speak up about it. It appears that the only history and heritage that is not worthy of preservation is that belonging to the Jews.
A top congressional Democrat says the White House may have oversold the roads-and-bridges component of the historic stimulus law.
An Associated Press analysis of the first $19 billion in transportation spending showed that communities most in need of jobs are least likely to benefit from the program.
A spokesman for Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar, who leads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says the White House shouldn’t have billed road money as the signature component of the stimulus, or as a surefire boost to needy communities.
So we didn’t get the jobs and we didn’t get much of what we could have used — roads, bridges, etc. And now we are penny pinching on defense because we have spent all this money on something other than jobs and infrastructure.
To top it off we learn today that Obama’s fuzzy math is already breaking down. The administration has released new and improved figures which raised “its estimate of the deficit this year to a record $1.84 trillion, up 5 percent from the February estimate, and to $1.26 trillion next year, up 7.4 percent. The administration also projected Obama’s budget will end up at $3.59 trillion, compared with the $3.55 trillion it estimated previously.” And wait until they start spending on healthcare.
At some point the voters will catch on to the fiscal train wreck and the mounds of money we have wasted. Then they might get really upset — even organize themselves in the hundreds of thousands demanding change. Oh wait, they did that.
Ever since the November 2007 Annapolis conference, proponents of the Middle East peace process have been divided into two camps. One camp — bolstered by Annapolis — advocated immediate negotiations between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, hoping that a peace deal would strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas and — by extension — undercut Iran. Alternatively, the other camp believed that undercutting Iran’s regional ascendancy required prying Syria away from Tehran’s sphere of influence; in turn, the “Syria first” camp — bolstered by Turkish intermediaries — supported immediate negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus. (I straddled this divide.)
Over the weekend, however, the “Syria first” camp was dealt three fatal blows. First, the Obama administration declared the renewal of sanctions against Syria, arguing that the Assad regime was supporting terrorism, pursuing WMD, and undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq. These charges busted one of the key myths that motivated the “Syria first” camp — namely, that Syria would make peace with Israel because it desired better relations with Washington. Indeed, despite all the prominent Hill Democrats that have made their way to Damascus, Bashar al-Assad remains quite comfortable in Iran’s pocket.
Second, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his refusal to surrender the Golan Heights, thereby taking the physical centerpiece of previous Syrian-Israeli negotiations off the table. And, third, Netanyahu told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that negotiations with the Palestinians would be resumed “as soon as possible,” with nary a mention of negotiations with Damascus. Indeed, expect the “Palestinian first” approach to get top billing during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week, with the Obama administration linking progress on Palestinian statehood to stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
Of course, the “Palestinians first” approach — and its linkage to Iran’s nuclear program — to Middle East peacemaking remains just as hopeless as it was during the Annapolis conference. After all, Hamas is still the most popular Palestinian party; Abbas is actually weaker politically, because his presidential term technically expired in January; and Abbas has refused to accept Israeli administration over parts of Jerusalem’s Old City, which represents Israel’s minimum demand as far as the future status of its capital is concerned.
Still, Obama’s quick dismissal of Syria suggests he might be a quick learner — and that, in due time, the “Palestinian first” option will join its Syrian brother in peace-process purgatory. Then, perhaps a more realistic strategy against Iran will unfold — namely, one that focuses squarely on Iran.
Google “Israel white phosphorus” and you’ll get 260,000 hits on the Zionists’ criminal use of the chemical in explosive munitions against residents of Gaza. Google “Afghanistan white phosphorus” and you’ll get 90,000, almost all which allege the prohibited American or NATO use of the stuff on the Afghan population. The difference in numbers is a fair indicator of the relative “international” distaste for Israel and the U.S. The fact that the charges against both are nonsense is testament to the blind hysteria behind the self-righteous hatred of those two democracies.
But the damage is done when the story first breaks. That’s when the articles and YouTube videos circulate among the brave defenders of Muslim innocents. The boring follow-up about the use of white phosphorus being legal doesn’t make headlines, and all that’s left is a vague memory of some Israeli or American atrocity.
However, if the folks at the UN and the Nation are itching to pick up their placards and megaphones, here’s their chance:
The U.S. military accused militants in Afghanistan on Monday of using white phosphorus munitions in attacks on American forces and in civilian areas, saying it has documented at least 44 incidents of insurgents using or storing the weapons. A spokeswoman labeled the attacks “reprehensible.”
Will this yield 260,000 articles on the war crimes of Afghan militants? Ninety-thousand? New York Times front page coverage? Prime-time network condemnations? Nah, the Taliban’s use of chemical weapons can’t compete with the outrage inspired by American drone attacks.
E. J. Dionne is fretting that Obama’s Supreme Court pick won’t be treated fairly. I can assure him that whoever is selected will be treated more fairly than, say, Justice Sam Alito, who was raked over the coals by Ted Kennedy for alleged racial insensitivity or than, say, the numerous appellate court nominees over the last few years who were never given a vote by the Democratic controlled Senate. And he or she, “God bless, ya judge,” won’t have to answer the likes of Joe Biden. But then Dionne writes something particularly inane:
Opponents of [Section 5] say that while it may have been necessary when the Voting Rights Act first passed in 1965, a time when many Southern states openly discriminated against African-Americans, it is no longer needed.
But would it not be a form of judicial activism for the court to strike down an act of Congress that is 44 years old? Is it not a form of legislating from the bench for the court and not Congress to decide whether a law is outdated?
Thunk. In a word: No. If the court strikes down the Voting Rights Act it will be because it is enforcing the U.S. Constitution and the framework of federalism. It will be because the extreme intervention by the federal government in state and local elections under the Constitution is only justified to remedy actual voting discrimination, and if none exists (or does not exist in proportion to the degree of extraordinary Congressional intervention) there is no basis for micromanaging Section 5-covered jurisdictions. It will be because the factual predicate that existed in 1965, which justified this extraordinary intervention, is virtually absent in a nation where Barack Obama is President, Eric Holder is Attorney General, and hundreds of African Americans hold office at federal, state, and local levels. It will be because the job of the court is to strike down laws which conflict not with their roving sense of empathy, but with the text and meaning of the Constitution. (Let me assure Dionne that the Court does not decide when a law is “outdated,” but whether it is Constitutional.)
Really, liberals understand all this, don’t they? They understand the difference between, on one hand, transforming a policy preference into a “right” and, on the other, applying the language and meaning of the Constitution to strike down a law inconsistent with the same, right? The former is “judicial activism,” the latter is not. (Dionne might take a gander at Heller, in which Justice Scalia demonstrated what judges are supposed to do — strike down a statute if it is inconsistent with the meaning of the Constitution.)
Well, if Dionne and his fellow liberals really are this muddled, there is much to be learned by a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. It seems as if a refresher course on the role of the judiciary might be timely.
A hallmark of the ongoing campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel is to claim that the Jews aren’t really the Jews. Thus, to treat Israel’s right of self-defense against terrorists and states that seek to destroy it as inherently immoral — a standard no one would seek to impose on any other country — you have to impose a new identity on the Jews.
The most popular way of doing this is to claim that the Jews have become Nazis. Such claims have become popular now in Europe as well as throughout the Muslim world. Such a juxtaposition is both offensive — not so very long ago the Nazis murdered approximately one out of every three Jews alive — and an absolute falsehood since Israel doesn’t seek to exterminate the Palestinians as the Nazis did the Jews, but merely to stop them from committing mayhem.
Such libels are not limited to the op-ed pages. As the New York Times arts section informed us last week, stealing the identity of the Jews can also take place in the opera house. In a new production of Camille Saint-Saens’s biblical set piece “Samson et Dalila” at the Flanders Opera in Antwerp, Belgium, the Philistines oppressing the Hebrews were portrayed as Israelis and the Hebrews as the Palestinians. This requires the audience (which, unlike an audience in say, New York, probably understands the language in which the piece is sung) to believe that when Samson rallies the Jews to overthrow their Philistine oppressors, “Israel romps ta chaine” — Israel break your chains — he doesn’t really mean “Israel” but Palestine. This is interesting because in this largely static oratorio-like opera, the Jews are the good guys but don’t get very much compelling music to sing. By contrast, the Philistines get all the good numbers including a really stomping Bacchanale just before the Temple of Dagon comes crashing down on their heads.
This atrocity aroused the ire of the local Jewish community but when, according to the Times, one Jew expressed his outrage and fear to the general director of the opera that the production would stir up anti-Semitism, he was told “that if the situation for Jews were really so precarious here, they should leave.”
As for Michael Kimmelman, the author of the article in question, he reacted to this invitation for the Jews to leave Europe with a one-word paragraph: “Oy.” By doing so, he registers his dismay, but his angst is more about the bad taste of the comment than the slandering of the State of Israel and its Jewish supporters. An Israeli and a Palestinian two-man artistic team created this production. The presence of the Israeli, Omri Nitzan, is meant to make it all kosher since we are supposed to think that if one of those smearing the Jews is a Jew himself, it is somehow okay.
Moreover, Kimmelman insists: “Rage is a perfectly sane response to the Israeli occupation. And all art is political in the end.” One can rebut that the “occupation” was a perfectly sane response to several invasions, the purpose of which was to eradicate the State of Israel and to slaughter its inhabitants. We could also point out that had the Palestinians been even marginally interested in sharing the country and living in peace with the Jews, they might have accepted any number of peace offers over the course of the past two decades, if not the last half-century. Even more to the point, Gaza, the setting of the final scene of the opera, is currently occupied by Hamas, not Israel.
For those who would like to experience this particular opera in a saner context, you could do worse than to watch the DVD version of the piece as it has been performed at the Metropolitan Opera since 1998. That production, created by Elijah Moshinsky, has the effrontery to portray the Jews in “Samson” as, well, Jews, and makes the point that the contrast in the story is between a people of faith and a people who have succumbed to the false gods of lust and idolatry.
One of the few things the Islamic world clearly has over the United States is its sense of patience. While our democratic leaders scurry for “solutions” that fit inside of four- and eight-year timeframes, the leaders of Islamic groups know that they face no elections and need not demonstrate the short-term success of their strategies in order to remain in power. Which is what is happening right now with Hamas.
Peter Beinart provides a classic of the pro-engagement genre in which he recommends that the U.S. acquiesce to, and then engage with, a Hamas-Fatah unity government, in order to give Hamas an incentive for good behavior.
But the thing that’s been preventing a Fatah-Hamas unity government is not the absence of U.S. or Israeli recognition. It’s Hamas’ demand that such a government not participate in any permanent-status peace talks with Israel. How would it work in practice to incorporate a group into the PA that is an enemy of the very thing the PA was created to accomplish? The problem with Hamas isn’t engagement at all, as Beinart would like it to be. The problem is what happens after engagement, when Hamas has a “stake in governing.”
It was precisely Hamas’ “stake in governing” — its victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections — that set the group up to violently evict the PA from Gaza the next year. And once Hamas was completely in control of Gaza, it did not moderate in the slightest — it became even more aggressive toward Israel and indifferent to the welfare of Palestinians. Hamas’ track record refutes every bit of Beinart’s hypothesizing. And so does the track record of Hamas’ terrorist colleague, Hezbollah, whose incorporation into the Lebanese government was followed by a war with Israel in 2006 and the group’s violent revolt against its Lebanese political rivals in 2008. The idea that terror groups are “moderated” by their inclusion in governments has to be at or near the top of the list of western fantasies about Islamic supremacism.
But back to the question of patience. Beinart, articulating what is becoming establishment wisdom, writes that “our policy of shooting and stonewalling wasn’t succeeding in either eradicating terrorist movements and their patrons or moderating them.” What he means to say is that stonewalling hasn’t been successful in quickly moderating terrorist movements. The PLO was founded in 1964, and only earned U.S. recognition in 1993 when it decided, however inauthentically, to publicly rescind its call for the destruction of Israel. The U.S. stonewalled Yasser Arafat for 30 years; Beinart wants to relent on Hamas after two.
Terrorist attacks in Iraq are still at their lowest level since 2003 but there has been a worrisome uptick recently in mass-casualty bombings, many of them undertaken by suicide bombers — a favorite tactic of al Qaeda in Iraq. This Wall Street Journal article suggests that part of the explanation is due to the pullout of American troops from most Iraqi cities, the continuing deficiencies of Iraqi security forces, the long-term tensions between the Shiite government and the largely Sunni Sons of Iraq, and the new problems created by a drop in oil prices which have forced the Iraqi government to slash spending on employment programs designed to keep young men from making money by planting bombs.
Those are all valid reasons, but the Washington Post today offers another partial explanation: “After a long hiatus, the Syrian pipeline operated by the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq is back in business.”
This news comes at an awkward time for the Obama administration, which is set on wooing Syria away from its connections to Iran and various terrorist networks. In fact the Post notes, “On Wednesday,
acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.”
No doubt many in the U.S. government will tell themselves that Syrian complicity in al Qaeda infiltration of Iraq is all the more reason we need to reach out to Bashar Assad. Some will even suggest the
Syrian president is unaware of activities undertaken by his own underlings. The Washington Post contains this quote:
“What we think right now is that we just don’t know how much their senior leaders know about the foreign fighter network,” said the senior U.S. military official, who discussed intelligence matters last week on the condition of anonymity. “As you can imagine . . . if they knew, it’s not something they would be talking about.”
“But we do think that the knowledge of these networks exists at least within the Syrian intelligence community,” he said. “What level, if it’s low or high up, we just don’t have a good gauge on.”
I’ve never understood these kinds of “the emperor doesn’t know” explanations. If it’s true that Assad doesn’t know what’s going on in his own government, then he is a hapless figurehead and there is no point in reaching out to him. If he does know (which is much more likely), then he is sending a signal that he is not really interested in peace and co-existence — or else that his price for doing a deal will be prohibitively high. In either case, this is bad news not only for the future of Iraq but also for one of the Obama administration’s most prized initiatives.
Roxana Saberi’s sentence was suspended and she is free to leave the country, according to her lawyer. This is wonderful news for her and her family. And now we can expect Iran to claim “credit” for this act of beneficence, for the swift and professional operation of their “justice” system. I suspect the Obama administration will oblige with some statement of “gratitude” but this is all bunk, of course. The Iranians deserve no credit for grabbing an American citizen, imprisoning her in the hell hole of Evin prison and then springing her before the Iranian election to gain brownie points for “getting along” with the U.S. The administration is foolish indeed if it perceives this as a positive sign.
But if we are looking for a “sign,” the capture of two Americans by the North Koreans (along with Pyongyang’s heightened confrontational behavior) should put to rest any notion that there is potential for meaningful discussion with that regime. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. officials have said less about Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling than they have about an American reporter, Roxana Saberi, who was recently convicted of espionage in Iran. The strategy is partly a gamble that not provoking the North Koreans may lead to a speedy resolution, analysts say, but it’s also a sign of the increased uncertainty in dealing with Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have said little about the journalists’ situation, but have indicated they aren’t making progress with Pyongyang. A person not in government who is familiar with the situation said that North Korea isn’t talking to the U.S. at all.
[. . .]
In another sign of his growing alienation from the international community, Mr. Kim didn’t meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Pyongyang two weeks ago, though Russia is an ally.
So much for offering up “nonproliferation” and “setting an example” for others to follow. It will be interesting to see what the the White House’s reaction is to a regime so unwilling to profess any admiration or affection for Obama. How does one deal with a regime that can’t be charmed out of its totalitarian impulses? I’m sure the administration is stumped.
The cat is out of the bag: the Obama team really doesn’t have a clue how to shut down Guantanamo and what to do with the detainees. As John McCormack notes, National Security Advisor Jim Jones made clear on This Week that there really isn’t a game plan.
John McCain on Sunday did not mince words in assessing the administration’s non-plan for Guantanamo:
What should have taken place, in my view, was the announcement of the closing and an announcement of exactly how we’re going to put these people on trial, (and) where you’re going to put people that are enemy combatants. . .I would say, I’m not going to close Guantanamo until I have a comprehensive approach to every aspect of this problem.
The realization that there is no plan to back up the grandstanding decision has spawned bipartisan concern and criticism. As Kimberly Srassel observed:
I mean, before the Republicans introduced this, you already had Democrats on the Hill who were saying, ‘We’re not going to fund this closing of Guantanamo Bay until we actually know what you’re doing,’ because they’re already hearing back from their constituents. . . So he’s first going to have to get through his own party to get money and funding and support on this, and then — and then deal with questions of Republican legislation.
Well this is what comes from confusing campaign rhetoric with national security policy. The administration has a choice now (I know they don’t like admitting there are such choices but this one is inescapable): beat a hasty retreat on the “Close Guantanamo!” hooey –or start a scattershot effort to distribute detainees in the U.S. and around the world. The former may be an embarrassment, the latter will be a catastrophe.
Once again, Venezuela’s strong man Hugo Chavez has acted to bolster his nation’s economy by nationalizing more foreign companies. This weekend, 60 oil-service companies were “merged” with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA — by armed troops. Several of those companies were American.
This is hardly an aberration. Back in March, Venezuela seized the assets of Texas-based Cargill.
Chavez’s argument is that the people of Venezuela demand it, and they must be served. In fact, over the last round of confiscations, Chavez reached for his bible — “To God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he proclaimed as he took over a dozen oil rigs, over 30 terminals, and about 300 boats.
This action has repercussions far beyond the value and use of those assets.
For one, it shows to those who might want to invest in Venezuela that going into business there is very risky — if the government should decide that they want the whole pie, then they’re just going to take it.
This also makes clear broader concerns about business-government partnerships in an increasingly socialist West.
Most important, however, is how the Obama administration will react to this. Those assets belonged to American companies. In some sense, corporations are legal facsimiles of “persons,” and these persons have just been robbed by a foreign government.
How will the Obama Administration react to this provocation? The cynic in me expects them to watch it very carefully, taking note of precisely how it was done — with eyes on how far they themselves can go in their takeovers of the auto and banking industries, and in preparation for their “reform” of the health care and health insurance fields.
One clue will be revealed in how the Obama administration responds to those companies that lost their assets in Venezuela. If the administration issues a perfunctory complaint and lets the matter slide, as they did in the Cargill case, then the writing is on the wall.
The president, according to a new poll, is viewed more favorably than the U.S. in a number of Arab countries:
Saudi Arabians have a 53 percent favorable opinion of Obama, followed by 52 percent in the United Arab Emirates. From there, Obama’s popularity dips with a 47 percent favorability rating in Kuwait, 43 percent in Lebanon and 35 percent in Egypt. In none of these countries, however, was Obama’s unfavorable rating higher than his favorable one.
In contrast, only 38 percent of Saudis have a favorable view of the United States, followed by 36 percent of Jordanians, 34 percent of UAE residents, 31 percent of Lebanese and 22 percent of Egyptians.
But this is the natural result of Obama’s apologetic rhetoric and his fetish for denigrating the U.S. In essence, these Arab poll respondents may perceive that Obama agrees with them. Yes! America is too arrogant and dictates to others; and caused the world’s economic problems; and bears special responsibility for dropping the atomic bomb. Really, why wouldn’t they adore him? He never tells them anything they don’t want to hear.
But alas it isn’t — or shouldn’t be – about him. The president’s job is to project a favorable image of the country he represents, not himself. What has been happening the last few months, as Pete and others have observed, is that Obama has been increasing his international popularity while (and perhaps by) taking potshots at America. He is in essence winking to the rest of the world, “Yes, America has been pretty awful, hasn’t it?”
So where do we go from here? Well, Obama could use that popularity to deliver some hard truths to the Arab world — on democratization, support for terrorism, women’s rights and the like. But that might lower his “Q” rating in these countries. Or, he can continue to bask in the glow of his “blame America first” policy and save the stern dictates for Israel. But one thing is clear: Obama’s job is to bolster America’s image in the world, not his own. By that standard, he has yet to deliver.
Sometimes, the forces pushing on Israel to compromise on the Palestinian front are so desperate to make their case that they accidentally reveal the flimsiness of their reasoning. Today’s example comes from James Jones, the National Security Adviser, who has asserted that if Israel were to make progress on a two-state solution with the Palestinians, this would somehow lessen the threat from Iran. His words echoed those of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, according to Ynet and the Jerusalem Post.
The intuition behind such a statement is fairly common: If only Israel were less hated its enemies would be less likely to try and destroy it. In case you feel tempted to buy this, think again:
1. The assumption that Israel will be less hated by its enemies if it advocates two states is simply wrong. The second intifada began as a response to Ehud Barak’s real efforts to effect the two-state solution. Ariel Sharon was the first Israeli leader to make the approach explicit, and it was held fast by Ehud Olmert. Was Israel any less hated, even in the slightest degree, by its enemies during that period? On the contrary, in addition to the intifada, Israel got the rise of Hamas, missiles to the south, the war with Hezbollah, and Iran’s full-speed-ahead nuclear program. (Not to mention niceties like Durban II and the atrocious war-crimes inquiries.)
2. The assumption that Iran will be so deeply moved by Israel’s gesture as to slow down its nuclear program is also wrong. Iran is enormously invested in its effort to build itself up as a mini-superpower and shift the balance of power in the region towards itself and away from Israel and the West. The Arab world is in many ways caught in the middle, and mostly prefers a strong West and a weak Iran — hence Egypt and Jordan’s tacit support of Israel’s military efforts against Iranian proxies in Gaza and Lebanon. The worst thing the West and Israel can do vis-a-vis Iran is to show its weakness by offering concessions without getting anything in return.
3. The only way for a two-state solution to emerge today is if Hamas becomes a full partner with Fatah in building a Palestinian state. In other words, a scenario where Iran’s proxy gets veto power over critical decisions in the Palestinian state, just as another one of its proxies has in Lebanon. By offering concessions here, Israel is saying exactly one thing to Iran: You are winning. Keep on going.
The Arabs understand this. The Israelis understand this. Iran certainly understand this. Will the Obama Administration get it?
Dick Cheney says he does not know a congressional district in which people will say, “Great, they’re sending us 20 al-Qaeda terrorists.” Mr. Cheney, meet Rep. Jim Moran. He is enthusiastic about offering his. Still, I’m betting that people who actually live in Moran’s Alexandria district would side with Cheney.
Mara Liasson on the Democrats’ feigned ignorance about enhanced interrogation: “I think that in the — if in the context of Democrats going after Bush administration Justice Department officials in hearings or calling for prosecutions, this becomes a big problem, because it looks like the Democrats are being hypocrites.” Not just “looks like.”
Alex Conant points to all the “whither journalism” columns and discussion in the MSM. It seems the fastest way to lose viewers and readers is to continually whine about the careers of handsomely-paid pundits. Maybe the MSM outlets should marshal resources on real news reporting which would make their outlet standout in the sea of info-tainment and talking-head punditry. (How many more metropolitan or international reporters could the New York Times hire with the salary from one of its whimpering op-ed columnists?)
Good for Bob Schieffer. He took to task Justice Souter, one of the least gracious men to don a Supreme Court robe: “Schieffer took issue with Souter’s oft-quoted description of his job as the ‘best job’ in the ‘worst city.’ ‘Really?’ asked Schieffer. ‘Our nation’s capital? One of the most beautiful cities in the world?’ He also questioned Souter’s recent speech in which he talked about how he is unable to enjoy other interests and hobbies from October until June because his job requires a sort of ‘intellectual lobotomy.’ . . .’And now he is leaving,’ Schieffer said. ‘I take it he won’t miss Washington, but my guess is Washington will hardly miss him.’” Bravo!
Well, this should complicate the “Bibi’s intransigence is an impediment to piece” meme: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet ministers on Sunday that Israel must ease the restrictions on the Palestinian public living in the West Bank. At the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister said ‘I think we need to make a big effort, within the given security constraints, to make things easier for the Palestinians.’ Netanyahu added that Israel will try to minimize what he termed ‘bureaucratic red tape’ in order to boost the Palestinian economy.”
Even the New York Times can figure out that Obama was a down-the-line liberal ideologue in the Senate when it came to judges. Funny how these sorts of articles never ran during the campaign.
From the “yeah, right” file: “Volunteering to ‘do our part’ to tackle runaway health costs, leading groups in the health-care industry have offered to squeeze $2 trillion in savings from projected increases over the next decade, White House officials said yesterday.” The only missing ingredient: a plausible explanation for how they are going to accomplish this. (And if they could eliminate $2 trillion in cost why haven’t they already?) Apparently this is a desperate attempt not to get run over by the Democratic healthcare “reform” bulldozer and the “public option” plan. Good luck with that.