Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 20, 2009

A Telling Poll

A friend sent on an interesting poll by McLaughlin & Associates on a number of key foreign policy issues. It can be viewed in its entirety here. Several items on terrorism, Iran, and Israel stand out.

First, while “terrorism” is identified as the greatest threat to the U.S. only 15% give that answer. The next highest (excluding “don’t know”) is 7% as “ourselves.” Sigh. (But perhaps 7% of those polled thinking we’re the biggest threat is indeed a threat.) On Iran, overwhelming percentages of respondents across both parties think “Iran supplying a nuclear umbrella for terrorists” is a very serious or somewhat serious threat while a high (but smaller) percentage thinks the U.S. would not be safe with a nuclear-armed Iran. 79% think Iran would give nuclear weapons to terrorists to attack an American city.

On Israel, Bibi Netanyahu’s approval ratings are not stellar but still more positive than not, regardless of the respondent’s political party. And  87% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats think the U.S. should be concerned with Israel’s security. Perhaps the most interesting response comes to this question: “Given that Iran has publicly threatened to annihilate Israel, would Israel be justified in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities?” 67% of Republicans, 47% of Democrats and 57% of Independents answer “yes.” That’s a rather startling and wide gap according to party identification, far wider than the gap regarding the generic “should we care about Israel’s security” query.

But Americans are a skeptical lot, it seems. Asked “Do you think that if the Palestinians were given their own state in the West Bank and Gaza they would live peacefully with Israel or continue their campaign of terror to destroy Israel?” only 18% choose “live peacefully” (with only 7% of Republicans choosing “live peacefully” over “destroy Israel” while the Democrats’ split was far closer, 25-47%).

The bottom line: Americans are “not naive,” as the president likes to say, about Iran and are very supportive of Israel. As to the former, given the level of concern about an attack on a U.S. city, a policy that seemed to tolerate Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would be very unpopular. Finally, the difference along party lines with regard to Israel is noteworthy and troubling (at least to those who believe a robust relationship between the two countries is in their mutual interests), especially at a time when Democrats dominate both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

A friend sent on an interesting poll by McLaughlin & Associates on a number of key foreign policy issues. It can be viewed in its entirety here. Several items on terrorism, Iran, and Israel stand out.

First, while “terrorism” is identified as the greatest threat to the U.S. only 15% give that answer. The next highest (excluding “don’t know”) is 7% as “ourselves.” Sigh. (But perhaps 7% of those polled thinking we’re the biggest threat is indeed a threat.) On Iran, overwhelming percentages of respondents across both parties think “Iran supplying a nuclear umbrella for terrorists” is a very serious or somewhat serious threat while a high (but smaller) percentage thinks the U.S. would not be safe with a nuclear-armed Iran. 79% think Iran would give nuclear weapons to terrorists to attack an American city.

On Israel, Bibi Netanyahu’s approval ratings are not stellar but still more positive than not, regardless of the respondent’s political party. And  87% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats think the U.S. should be concerned with Israel’s security. Perhaps the most interesting response comes to this question: “Given that Iran has publicly threatened to annihilate Israel, would Israel be justified in attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities?” 67% of Republicans, 47% of Democrats and 57% of Independents answer “yes.” That’s a rather startling and wide gap according to party identification, far wider than the gap regarding the generic “should we care about Israel’s security” query.

But Americans are a skeptical lot, it seems. Asked “Do you think that if the Palestinians were given their own state in the West Bank and Gaza they would live peacefully with Israel or continue their campaign of terror to destroy Israel?” only 18% choose “live peacefully” (with only 7% of Republicans choosing “live peacefully” over “destroy Israel” while the Democrats’ split was far closer, 25-47%).

The bottom line: Americans are “not naive,” as the president likes to say, about Iran and are very supportive of Israel. As to the former, given the level of concern about an attack on a U.S. city, a policy that seemed to tolerate Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would be very unpopular. Finally, the difference along party lines with regard to Israel is noteworthy and troubling (at least to those who believe a robust relationship between the two countries is in their mutual interests), especially at a time when Democrats dominate both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Commentary of the Day

John, on John Podhoretz:

A year ago, I wrote a letter to Charles Krauthammer. The essence of the letter was that while sometimes I find myself in disagreement with his commentary, unlike the case with many other writers, I have to work very hard to defend my disagreement. His writing has not only a clarity that is unusual compared to the veritable swamp of poorly-explicated ideas among his peers, there is an intellectual depth that challenges thoughtless retort. Finally, at some point, I was driven to read this man’s biographical details. I was less impressed by his rigorous efforts at overcoming physical handicap, as difficult as this may have been for him ( and I think well beyond my own abilities), than I was absolutely awed by his intellectual achievements. I no longer felt so bad about not rising to his challenge. As the saying goes, his intelligence is “off the charts.”

John, on John Podhoretz:

A year ago, I wrote a letter to Charles Krauthammer. The essence of the letter was that while sometimes I find myself in disagreement with his commentary, unlike the case with many other writers, I have to work very hard to defend my disagreement. His writing has not only a clarity that is unusual compared to the veritable swamp of poorly-explicated ideas among his peers, there is an intellectual depth that challenges thoughtless retort. Finally, at some point, I was driven to read this man’s biographical details. I was less impressed by his rigorous efforts at overcoming physical handicap, as difficult as this may have been for him ( and I think well beyond my own abilities), than I was absolutely awed by his intellectual achievements. I no longer felt so bad about not rising to his challenge. As the saying goes, his intelligence is “off the charts.”

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Cold Peace with Egypt Gets a Little Colder

In the thirty years since Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, the nature of the relationship between the two countries has often been characterized as a “cold peace.” Though the treaty more or less eliminated the threat of a “southern front” in time of war, the overwhelming majority of Egyptians have rejected any notion of normalization with the Jewish state. More evidence of this comes today in a report from the Jerusalem Post informing us that an Egyptian judge has ordered the country’s minister of the interior to “set in motion legislation which would revoke the citizenship of Egyptian nationals married to Israeli citizens.”

According to Al Masry el Youm, a local newspaper, the Administrative Judicial Court ordered the minister of the interior to submit to the cabinet proposals for legislating the initiative.

Chancellor Dr. Mohamed Attia, the head of the administrative courts, said that the phenomenon of marrying Israelis with the intention of moving to Israel had spread among Egyptians looking for a job there … Attia said the phenomenon seriously threatened Egyptian national security and therefore must be curbed.

While I don’t know how seriously the government of Hosni Mubarak will take this order, it does speak volumes about the nature of hostility to Israel that exists in Egypt, the leading Arab “moderate” nation. The pervasive demonization of Jews, Israelis and Zionism in the Arab and Muslim world helps drive a culture of hatred that has sustained the siege of Israel.

For all of the talk about the need for America to reach out to Muslims, a stance exemplified by President Obama’s decision to make a major speech from Cairo next month, it is the Muslim world that is in desperate need of reform and introspection, not the West. A call from Obama for Muslims to re-evaluate their culture of hate against Jews, Israel and America would not be welcomed by its listeners. However it would be not only an act of intellectual honesty but a step toward the honest dialogue that is desperately needed.

In the thirty years since Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, the nature of the relationship between the two countries has often been characterized as a “cold peace.” Though the treaty more or less eliminated the threat of a “southern front” in time of war, the overwhelming majority of Egyptians have rejected any notion of normalization with the Jewish state. More evidence of this comes today in a report from the Jerusalem Post informing us that an Egyptian judge has ordered the country’s minister of the interior to “set in motion legislation which would revoke the citizenship of Egyptian nationals married to Israeli citizens.”

According to Al Masry el Youm, a local newspaper, the Administrative Judicial Court ordered the minister of the interior to submit to the cabinet proposals for legislating the initiative.

Chancellor Dr. Mohamed Attia, the head of the administrative courts, said that the phenomenon of marrying Israelis with the intention of moving to Israel had spread among Egyptians looking for a job there … Attia said the phenomenon seriously threatened Egyptian national security and therefore must be curbed.

While I don’t know how seriously the government of Hosni Mubarak will take this order, it does speak volumes about the nature of hostility to Israel that exists in Egypt, the leading Arab “moderate” nation. The pervasive demonization of Jews, Israelis and Zionism in the Arab and Muslim world helps drive a culture of hatred that has sustained the siege of Israel.

For all of the talk about the need for America to reach out to Muslims, a stance exemplified by President Obama’s decision to make a major speech from Cairo next month, it is the Muslim world that is in desperate need of reform and introspection, not the West. A call from Obama for Muslims to re-evaluate their culture of hate against Jews, Israel and America would not be welcomed by its listeners. However it would be not only an act of intellectual honesty but a step toward the honest dialogue that is desperately needed.

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Guantanamo Two-Step

If you are a fan of consistency and coherence today’s a good day to stay in bed. On the one hand, we had FBI Director Robert Mueller agreeing that concerns about transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. are real and that sticking them in U.S. prisons isn’t a foolproof solution. But then you had the Undersecretary of Defense exercising the power of positive thinking: “I am optimistic that all of us will take more than we have agreed [upon] so far. . . This is a challenge that will require all of us to step up and make a hard choice.”

But the Senate isn’t so optimistic and voted 90-6 to bar the use of funds put toward moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Harry Reid voted “yes.” Diane Feinstein voted “yes.” But Feinstein thinks moving them to prisons would be fine. And Reid is now backtracking on his “no way, no how” comments from yesterday.

And the kicker comes from Robert Gibbs:

I don’t doubt that the President–and I think he’ll say this tomorrow–that we’ve made some hasty decisions that are now going to take some time to unwind. And closing Guantanamo Bay obviously is one of those decisions.

But we’re not done. The New York Times reports on the most transparent administration in history:

An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

[. . .]

Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings over Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo.

(Yeah we wouldn’t want to upset the White House with facts.)

Let’s see if we can figure this out. Before he knew much of anything about Guantanamo or had a plan for how to treat the detainees, Obama announced Guantanamo’s closing, hoping to impress his friends on the Left and overseas. But it’s hugely unpopular — so unpopular you have 90 senators (more than you usually get for tributes to National Girl Scout Day and the like) scrambling to get out of the way of the voters who would descend on their offices en masse if this ever resulted in terrorists coming to the U.S. The administration wants to strong-arm and pressure lawmakers into staying on board and, left to their own devices, liberal lawmakers would happily oblige. But they can’t — because, after all, the majority of voters in this country think this is nuts. But they still haven’t a clue what to do with these people. So you have a meandering, equivocating performance today as Democrats try to balance their loyalty to the president and their sense of self-preservation. In that fight, it’s easy to predict the winner.

If you are a fan of consistency and coherence today’s a good day to stay in bed. On the one hand, we had FBI Director Robert Mueller agreeing that concerns about transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. are real and that sticking them in U.S. prisons isn’t a foolproof solution. But then you had the Undersecretary of Defense exercising the power of positive thinking: “I am optimistic that all of us will take more than we have agreed [upon] so far. . . This is a challenge that will require all of us to step up and make a hard choice.”

But the Senate isn’t so optimistic and voted 90-6 to bar the use of funds put toward moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Harry Reid voted “yes.” Diane Feinstein voted “yes.” But Feinstein thinks moving them to prisons would be fine. And Reid is now backtracking on his “no way, no how” comments from yesterday.

And the kicker comes from Robert Gibbs:

I don’t doubt that the President–and I think he’ll say this tomorrow–that we’ve made some hasty decisions that are now going to take some time to unwind. And closing Guantanamo Bay obviously is one of those decisions.

But we’re not done. The New York Times reports on the most transparent administration in history:

An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.

[. . .]

Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the report was being held up by Defense Department employees fearful of upsetting the White House, at a time when even Congressional Democrats have begun to show misgivings over Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo.

(Yeah we wouldn’t want to upset the White House with facts.)

Let’s see if we can figure this out. Before he knew much of anything about Guantanamo or had a plan for how to treat the detainees, Obama announced Guantanamo’s closing, hoping to impress his friends on the Left and overseas. But it’s hugely unpopular — so unpopular you have 90 senators (more than you usually get for tributes to National Girl Scout Day and the like) scrambling to get out of the way of the voters who would descend on their offices en masse if this ever resulted in terrorists coming to the U.S. The administration wants to strong-arm and pressure lawmakers into staying on board and, left to their own devices, liberal lawmakers would happily oblige. But they can’t — because, after all, the majority of voters in this country think this is nuts. But they still haven’t a clue what to do with these people. So you have a meandering, equivocating performance today as Democrats try to balance their loyalty to the president and their sense of self-preservation. In that fight, it’s easy to predict the winner.

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Re: Joe Klein’s Idea of An Apology…

Apropos John’s posting, people reveal a lot not only in the mistakes they make but in the apologies they offer.  Joe Klein’s effort at the latter, in reaction to criticisms of his comments about Charles Krauthammer, reinforces what a small, bitter man Klein has become.

First, what Klein writes is a classic non-apology apology (“it seems clear that my remark could be construed by some as insensitive…”). He then essentially reasserts the argument he originally made. A mature and admirable person would, in Klein’s situation, simply admit to having said something stupid and offensive. But Klein is incapable of such a thing. And in typical fashion, he compounds his problems by writing ridiculous things.

In this instance, he attempts to lecture Charles Krauthammer on the wisdom of Iraq policy. According to Klein:

So it is possible to write brilliant, nuanced commentary-on the war in Iraq, for example — without visiting there. But it sure does help to understand a complicated situation in an unfamiliar culture if you can see it for yourself. Indeed, I believe the leavening effects of direct experience are especially valuable for those who are blinkered by ideology and debilitated by extreme views.

But of course Joe Klein is Exhibit A against his own argument. He has visited Iraq — and he was ludicrously wrong in his opposition to the surge. On January 8, 2007, for example, Klein wrote:

I’m afraid I’m going to get cranky about this: The Democrats who oppose the so-called “surge” are right. But they have to be careful not to sound like ill-informed dilettantes when talking about it.

And on April 5, 2007 Klein wrote:

Never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. “There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue,” a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Here I have documented Klein’s full record.

I will add only two other observations: The first is that Klein is using words that are beyond his mastery again (he uses of the word “malingerers” when, as John McCormick points out, he probably means “maligners”). The other observation is that to be instructed by Joe Klein on “nuance” and the dangers of being “blinkered by ideology” is like being lectured on the importance of marital fidelity by Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Joe Klein is among the least nuanced, most blinkered, and, increasingly, the most unstable journalist around. He continues to do great damage to himself and to the magazine he represents.

Apropos John’s posting, people reveal a lot not only in the mistakes they make but in the apologies they offer.  Joe Klein’s effort at the latter, in reaction to criticisms of his comments about Charles Krauthammer, reinforces what a small, bitter man Klein has become.

First, what Klein writes is a classic non-apology apology (“it seems clear that my remark could be construed by some as insensitive…”). He then essentially reasserts the argument he originally made. A mature and admirable person would, in Klein’s situation, simply admit to having said something stupid and offensive. But Klein is incapable of such a thing. And in typical fashion, he compounds his problems by writing ridiculous things.

In this instance, he attempts to lecture Charles Krauthammer on the wisdom of Iraq policy. According to Klein:

So it is possible to write brilliant, nuanced commentary-on the war in Iraq, for example — without visiting there. But it sure does help to understand a complicated situation in an unfamiliar culture if you can see it for yourself. Indeed, I believe the leavening effects of direct experience are especially valuable for those who are blinkered by ideology and debilitated by extreme views.

But of course Joe Klein is Exhibit A against his own argument. He has visited Iraq — and he was ludicrously wrong in his opposition to the surge. On January 8, 2007, for example, Klein wrote:

I’m afraid I’m going to get cranky about this: The Democrats who oppose the so-called “surge” are right. But they have to be careful not to sound like ill-informed dilettantes when talking about it.

And on April 5, 2007 Klein wrote:

Never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. “There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue,” a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Here I have documented Klein’s full record.

I will add only two other observations: The first is that Klein is using words that are beyond his mastery again (he uses of the word “malingerers” when, as John McCormick points out, he probably means “maligners”). The other observation is that to be instructed by Joe Klein on “nuance” and the dangers of being “blinkered by ideology” is like being lectured on the importance of marital fidelity by Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Joe Klein is among the least nuanced, most blinkered, and, increasingly, the most unstable journalist around. He continues to do great damage to himself and to the magazine he represents.

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Two States of Mind

In case you were wondering where the two-state solution is holding on the scale of fruitful-to-fallacy, the Palestinians have now weighed in. In response to the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, Hamas issued a press release declaring the American President’s optimism to be “intended to deceive the world community, regarding everything connected to the… existence of the racist and radical Zionist entity.” That would be Israel.

Okay, scratch Hamas. Maybe the Palestinian Authority will solve the Hamas problem by incorporating the terror group that today rules the Gaza strip into a unified Palestinian government, and then we can talk about a two-state solution again? Not so fast. The same day, PA President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Hamas-free government, effectively slamming the door on reconciliation talks. He has worked so hard to permanently divide the West Bank from Gaza that he has even infuriated his own Fatah faction, which boycotted the swearing-in ceremony.

According to Haaretz, one Palestinian commentator spoke directly to the point, when he raised the question of whether Obama’s optimism was justified. “Obama still doesn’t know what the Middle East is and what the Palestinian issue is,” he said. “With time, he will learn.”

In case you were wondering where the two-state solution is holding on the scale of fruitful-to-fallacy, the Palestinians have now weighed in. In response to the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, Hamas issued a press release declaring the American President’s optimism to be “intended to deceive the world community, regarding everything connected to the… existence of the racist and radical Zionist entity.” That would be Israel.

Okay, scratch Hamas. Maybe the Palestinian Authority will solve the Hamas problem by incorporating the terror group that today rules the Gaza strip into a unified Palestinian government, and then we can talk about a two-state solution again? Not so fast. The same day, PA President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Hamas-free government, effectively slamming the door on reconciliation talks. He has worked so hard to permanently divide the West Bank from Gaza that he has even infuriated his own Fatah faction, which boycotted the swearing-in ceremony.

According to Haaretz, one Palestinian commentator spoke directly to the point, when he raised the question of whether Obama’s optimism was justified. “Obama still doesn’t know what the Middle East is and what the Palestinian issue is,” he said. “With time, he will learn.”

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Want Help Understanding Islam? Iran Stands Ready

According to the British government, centers of Islamic studies in Britain are an important part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Launched in March, the “Contest 2″ strategy repeats its predecessor in setting forth a predictably alliterative “Pursue-Prevent-Protect-Prepare” approach to defeating violent extremism.

The strategy is, undeniably, an improvement over the original, in that it acknowledges the broader need to challenge the Islamist narrative, even when that narrative is not explicitly violent. That is where the academic centers come in: their role, claims the government, is to “challenge the ideology that supports violent extremism and support those who develop positive alternatives” by “address[ing] the gaps in Islamic studies, teaching, and research.”

Unfortunately, Iran is a step, if not two or three, ahead of this strategy. There are some obvious problems inherent to relying on universities, including the biases of the Middle Eastern Studies field and, as the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain has revealed, the reliance of many British universities on Middle Eastern sources of funding.

But Iran is taking a more direct approach. The Tehran Times reports that the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology “feels the necessity to help establish and strengthen departments of Islamic studies. . . .  The departments will be set up to train and educate experts on Islam so as to assist in the introduction of Islam and its realities to the world in a proper academic setting.” I very much doubt that many British universities will look askance at this assistance, especially if it’s lubricated with Iranian funding. That the Iranian regime has survived, in part, by brutally oppressing student-led reform movements will not matter in the slightest.

On the other hand, Americans should not be looking down their noses at Britain. We’re targets too. The Ministry says that it is “currently studying proposals by numerous world academic centers and universities including several universities from Britain, the United States, and Germany.” The close trade ties between Germany and Iran are well-attested, so the mention of Germany comes as no surprise. But it would be very interesting to know which U.S. universities took the initiative to seek out the Iranians. It’s precisely that kind of accommodating attitude, here and in Britain, that leaves me skeptical
about the utility of relying on higher education to defeat Islamism.

According to the British government, centers of Islamic studies in Britain are an important part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Launched in March, the “Contest 2″ strategy repeats its predecessor in setting forth a predictably alliterative “Pursue-Prevent-Protect-Prepare” approach to defeating violent extremism.

The strategy is, undeniably, an improvement over the original, in that it acknowledges the broader need to challenge the Islamist narrative, even when that narrative is not explicitly violent. That is where the academic centers come in: their role, claims the government, is to “challenge the ideology that supports violent extremism and support those who develop positive alternatives” by “address[ing] the gaps in Islamic studies, teaching, and research.”

Unfortunately, Iran is a step, if not two or three, ahead of this strategy. There are some obvious problems inherent to relying on universities, including the biases of the Middle Eastern Studies field and, as the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain has revealed, the reliance of many British universities on Middle Eastern sources of funding.

But Iran is taking a more direct approach. The Tehran Times reports that the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology “feels the necessity to help establish and strengthen departments of Islamic studies. . . .  The departments will be set up to train and educate experts on Islam so as to assist in the introduction of Islam and its realities to the world in a proper academic setting.” I very much doubt that many British universities will look askance at this assistance, especially if it’s lubricated with Iranian funding. That the Iranian regime has survived, in part, by brutally oppressing student-led reform movements will not matter in the slightest.

On the other hand, Americans should not be looking down their noses at Britain. We’re targets too. The Ministry says that it is “currently studying proposals by numerous world academic centers and universities including several universities from Britain, the United States, and Germany.” The close trade ties between Germany and Iran are well-attested, so the mention of Germany comes as no surprise. But it would be very interesting to know which U.S. universities took the initiative to seek out the Iranians. It’s precisely that kind of accommodating attitude, here and in Britain, that leaves me skeptical
about the utility of relying on higher education to defeat Islamism.

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The Real Winner of the Week

You didn’t think the Iranians were going to let this week pass without sending a message of their own to Obama, did you? The Associated Press reported today that Tehran tested a missile on Wednesday “with a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East.”

The report went on to state that:

A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued Tuesday that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that.

The study published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.

Even accepting this timeline, the above means that should President Obama realize by the end of the year that his strategy of talking about talking to Tehran is a failure, it may well be too late.

Many pundits have been trying to figure out whether it was Obama who got the best of Netanyahu (David Ignatius says “yes”) or if Bibi bested Barack (Martin Indyk frets that Obama lost) at their meeting earlier this week. But if America and Israel remain divided about the threat from Iran, with Washington lacking any interest in taking action, the real winners would be the ayatollahs and their current front-man Ahmadinejad. With America focused on trying to do something impossible — convince the Palestinians to make peace with Israel — rather than on rallying the world to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, the Islamists in Tehran gain precious time to advance their nuclear program and build their influence via their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon.

My sense is that, contrary to the hopes of the Left, Obama is prevaricating on the Middle East, talking a good game and promising change (as he will, no doubt, in his address to the Arab world from Cairo next month), but shying away from a real confrontation with Israel since the chances of getting the Palestinians to agree to any deal, no matter how generous, are virtually zero. This will, he may hope, give him time and space to concentrate on his radical domestic agenda of transforming American society.

But the problem with being president is that foreign policy has a way of dominating your time in office. Unexpected factors and events always crop up to deter even the most domestic-minded of chief executives. The irony here is that because of his unwillingness to treat the problem of Iran seriously in his first year in the White House, it will loom much larger later on. Indeed, because of his current feckless devotion to appeasement of Tehran, the consequences of a nuclear Iran may well define Obama’s presidential legacy in ways he never dreamed were possible.

You didn’t think the Iranians were going to let this week pass without sending a message of their own to Obama, did you? The Associated Press reported today that Tehran tested a missile on Wednesday “with a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East.”

The report went on to state that:

A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued Tuesday that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that.

The study published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.

Even accepting this timeline, the above means that should President Obama realize by the end of the year that his strategy of talking about talking to Tehran is a failure, it may well be too late.

Many pundits have been trying to figure out whether it was Obama who got the best of Netanyahu (David Ignatius says “yes”) or if Bibi bested Barack (Martin Indyk frets that Obama lost) at their meeting earlier this week. But if America and Israel remain divided about the threat from Iran, with Washington lacking any interest in taking action, the real winners would be the ayatollahs and their current front-man Ahmadinejad. With America focused on trying to do something impossible — convince the Palestinians to make peace with Israel — rather than on rallying the world to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, the Islamists in Tehran gain precious time to advance their nuclear program and build their influence via their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon.

My sense is that, contrary to the hopes of the Left, Obama is prevaricating on the Middle East, talking a good game and promising change (as he will, no doubt, in his address to the Arab world from Cairo next month), but shying away from a real confrontation with Israel since the chances of getting the Palestinians to agree to any deal, no matter how generous, are virtually zero. This will, he may hope, give him time and space to concentrate on his radical domestic agenda of transforming American society.

But the problem with being president is that foreign policy has a way of dominating your time in office. Unexpected factors and events always crop up to deter even the most domestic-minded of chief executives. The irony here is that because of his unwillingness to treat the problem of Iran seriously in his first year in the White House, it will loom much larger later on. Indeed, because of his current feckless devotion to appeasement of Tehran, the consequences of a nuclear Iran may well define Obama’s presidential legacy in ways he never dreamed were possible.

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Joe Klein’s Idea of An Apology…

…is to make one, albeit with malapropisms, while simultaneously accusing the person to whom he is apologizing of responsibility for thousands of deaths and injuries. Did I call him a “small man”? Perhaps “man” was too generous.

…is to make one, albeit with malapropisms, while simultaneously accusing the person to whom he is apologizing of responsibility for thousands of deaths and injuries. Did I call him a “small man”? Perhaps “man” was too generous.

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What the Senate Should Do

Some have suggested that Republicans are locked into voting for virtually any Obama Supreme Court nominee because they argued in the 1990′s that so long as the nominee was qualified, of good character, and possessed the required intellect and temperament, Senators were obliged to vote for confirmation. Ed Gillespie who assisted in the confirmation process of Justices Roberts and Alito takes a different view:

Republicans cannot accept the premise that it’s okay for liberals to vote against Supreme Court nominees who believe in a strict constructionist judicial philosophy but not okay for conservatives to vote against those who embrace empathetic activism on the bench.

The encroachment on executive prerogative is unfortunate, and its polarizing effect is unhealthy. But the shift in the balance of power from the presidency to Congress inherent in this approach is less troublesome than the inevitable leftward shift of our highest court if Republicans maintain the traditional standard while Democrats deploy an ideological one.

I don’t find that explanation entirely satisfying,  but he is right that the task for the Senate is not merely to check the judge’s transcripts or to get character references, although that sort of mundane legwork is necessary. It is rather to confirm that the nominee is able and committed to perform the role of Supreme Court justice. So what does that mean?

For those who contend the role of judging is distinct from legislating, the task for senators is to satisfy themselves on a number of key topics. These, I would suggest, are not substantive “positions” on matters of Constitutional law (e.g., What sort of gun control does Heller permit? What is the appropriate analysis for religious establishment cases?), although they may be helpful in teasing out the underlying issues. The heart of the matter is whether the justice comes with a political agenda or, alternatively, with  a commitment to judging.

For example, does the nominee harbor political or personal biases that will interfere with her role as a justice? Senators should do their best to determine if the nominee is wedded to political positions on affirmative action or guns or other topics that have, in the past, or will in the future prevent her from deciding cases according to the meaning of the Constitution and federal statutes and with an appropriate appreciation for stare decisis. Has the nominee in a lower court stubbornly ignored precedent in order to follow a certain political agenda? Has the nominee advocated legal interpretations  of controversial matters obviously at odds with a good faith reading of the case law? If so, that’s highly problematic.

Another key line of inquiry: does the nominee in fact understand the role of judges within our Constitutional system? If the justice is unmoored to text and inclined to impose her own ethical norms in the guise of “judging,” that suggests she’s better suited to another branch of government.

And likewise, senators should satisfy themselves that the nominee fully appreciates and embraces the meaning of the judicial oath (“I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. . .”) If she truly believes she should be there to look after the poorer and the less fortunate, then senators may doubt she’s cut out for the job.

Well, you say, nominees are “clever” enough to give the right answers and get through. Perhaps so. But their body of work, if they have one, is often revealing. Moreover, one would hope that over the course of a probing confirmation hearing, the senators can satisfy themselves that the answers are heartfelt and not given with fingers crossed. There is no recourse, certainly, if the nominee prevaricates and extols her devotion to judicial humility and textual scholarship, only to chuck the mask of impartiality once she gets the final Senate vote tally. But the exercise is itself important both to educate the public about the role of the courts and to impress upon the future justice what, in the estimation of the senators, is the proper role she is to undertake.

And Gillespie, I think, misses a key point. We haven’t had a justice who overtly expressed his or her devotion to untrammeled judicial activism. And a justice who would now do so would mark a departure from past nominees and present ample grounds for opposing her confirmation. The president may have tossed the “empathy” card around either intentionally or not, but a nominee who seems comfortable playing that hand is one the senate should reject. That’s not what judging is about and that’s not the basis on which prior nominees have been confirmed.

Some have suggested that Republicans are locked into voting for virtually any Obama Supreme Court nominee because they argued in the 1990′s that so long as the nominee was qualified, of good character, and possessed the required intellect and temperament, Senators were obliged to vote for confirmation. Ed Gillespie who assisted in the confirmation process of Justices Roberts and Alito takes a different view:

Republicans cannot accept the premise that it’s okay for liberals to vote against Supreme Court nominees who believe in a strict constructionist judicial philosophy but not okay for conservatives to vote against those who embrace empathetic activism on the bench.

The encroachment on executive prerogative is unfortunate, and its polarizing effect is unhealthy. But the shift in the balance of power from the presidency to Congress inherent in this approach is less troublesome than the inevitable leftward shift of our highest court if Republicans maintain the traditional standard while Democrats deploy an ideological one.

I don’t find that explanation entirely satisfying,  but he is right that the task for the Senate is not merely to check the judge’s transcripts or to get character references, although that sort of mundane legwork is necessary. It is rather to confirm that the nominee is able and committed to perform the role of Supreme Court justice. So what does that mean?

For those who contend the role of judging is distinct from legislating, the task for senators is to satisfy themselves on a number of key topics. These, I would suggest, are not substantive “positions” on matters of Constitutional law (e.g., What sort of gun control does Heller permit? What is the appropriate analysis for religious establishment cases?), although they may be helpful in teasing out the underlying issues. The heart of the matter is whether the justice comes with a political agenda or, alternatively, with  a commitment to judging.

For example, does the nominee harbor political or personal biases that will interfere with her role as a justice? Senators should do their best to determine if the nominee is wedded to political positions on affirmative action or guns or other topics that have, in the past, or will in the future prevent her from deciding cases according to the meaning of the Constitution and federal statutes and with an appropriate appreciation for stare decisis. Has the nominee in a lower court stubbornly ignored precedent in order to follow a certain political agenda? Has the nominee advocated legal interpretations  of controversial matters obviously at odds with a good faith reading of the case law? If so, that’s highly problematic.

Another key line of inquiry: does the nominee in fact understand the role of judges within our Constitutional system? If the justice is unmoored to text and inclined to impose her own ethical norms in the guise of “judging,” that suggests she’s better suited to another branch of government.

And likewise, senators should satisfy themselves that the nominee fully appreciates and embraces the meaning of the judicial oath (“I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. . .”) If she truly believes she should be there to look after the poorer and the less fortunate, then senators may doubt she’s cut out for the job.

Well, you say, nominees are “clever” enough to give the right answers and get through. Perhaps so. But their body of work, if they have one, is often revealing. Moreover, one would hope that over the course of a probing confirmation hearing, the senators can satisfy themselves that the answers are heartfelt and not given with fingers crossed. There is no recourse, certainly, if the nominee prevaricates and extols her devotion to judicial humility and textual scholarship, only to chuck the mask of impartiality once she gets the final Senate vote tally. But the exercise is itself important both to educate the public about the role of the courts and to impress upon the future justice what, in the estimation of the senators, is the proper role she is to undertake.

And Gillespie, I think, misses a key point. We haven’t had a justice who overtly expressed his or her devotion to untrammeled judicial activism. And a justice who would now do so would mark a departure from past nominees and present ample grounds for opposing her confirmation. The president may have tossed the “empathy” card around either intentionally or not, but a nominee who seems comfortable playing that hand is one the senate should reject. That’s not what judging is about and that’s not the basis on which prior nominees have been confirmed.

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From “Yearning” to Spurning

Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance is complaining that Barack Obama’s cuts and holds in funds for international AIDS-relief amount to a $3.3 billion shortfall in U.S. support. According to the AP’s Tom Odula, Zeitz “singled out a reduced rate of funding for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR), a pet project of President George W. Bush that is credited with saving millions of lives.”

During the campaign Obama pledged to expand PEPFAR by $1 billion annually, but his submitted budget contains no such increase in funds. Zeitz isn’t alone in his concern:

Rolake Odetoyimbo, from the Pan African Treatment Movement in Nigeria, said Obama’s failure to live up to his commitment meant other countries were likely to spend less on the fight against AIDS.

“We are concerned that he is setting a bad example,” she said.

This isn’t a political football. Obama should live up to his pledges and build on the humanitarian work of Bush. Odula writes, “a shortfall in promised U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS projects would affect over 30 million people and means President Barack Obama risks reversing the gains made by his predecessor.”

In trying to highlight his deep commitment to the international community, Obama said during the campaign: “I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.’” It’s hard to imagine faces yearning more urgently than those of the 30 million men, women, and children in need of life-saving drugs.

Am I crazy or did the Associated Press just credit George W. Bush with saving millions of lives? It’s amazing how fast perspective brings clarity.

Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance is complaining that Barack Obama’s cuts and holds in funds for international AIDS-relief amount to a $3.3 billion shortfall in U.S. support. According to the AP’s Tom Odula, Zeitz “singled out a reduced rate of funding for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR), a pet project of President George W. Bush that is credited with saving millions of lives.”

During the campaign Obama pledged to expand PEPFAR by $1 billion annually, but his submitted budget contains no such increase in funds. Zeitz isn’t alone in his concern:

Rolake Odetoyimbo, from the Pan African Treatment Movement in Nigeria, said Obama’s failure to live up to his commitment meant other countries were likely to spend less on the fight against AIDS.

“We are concerned that he is setting a bad example,” she said.

This isn’t a political football. Obama should live up to his pledges and build on the humanitarian work of Bush. Odula writes, “a shortfall in promised U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS projects would affect over 30 million people and means President Barack Obama risks reversing the gains made by his predecessor.”

In trying to highlight his deep commitment to the international community, Obama said during the campaign: “I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.’” It’s hard to imagine faces yearning more urgently than those of the 30 million men, women, and children in need of life-saving drugs.

Am I crazy or did the Associated Press just credit George W. Bush with saving millions of lives? It’s amazing how fast perspective brings clarity.

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Setting Up the Next Excuse

Eli Lake reports today that the Obama and Netanyahu governments are creating a “working group” to “assess the progress of President Obama’s outreach to Iran.” Sounds like one of those things that could be either completely irrelevant, or a useful channel of communication. Time will tell.

But the working group appears set to serve another purpose. It could become an excuse for Iranian recalcitrance.

Flynt Leverett, a former Mideast specialist on the National Security Council and advocate of a “grand bargain” between the U.S. and Iran, said the new working group could undermine the credibility of any U.S. offers to Iran. So far, the Obama administration has not offered new proposals, but has lifted the Bush administration’s precondition that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before U.S. diplomats would talk directly with Tehran.

“It is an idea that unfortunately is in keeping with a number of other statements and decisions by the Obama administration that will completely undercut the credibility of any U.S. overtures in the eyes of Iranian leaders – assuming the U.S. will make such overtures,” he said. “The Iranians are going to see this as Israel setting policy toward them.”

Keep this quote in mind when Obama’s engagement fails. Leverett and his cohorts are skilled purveyors of the claim that diplomatic failure arises because our side didn’t get it quite right — “it” being (take your pick) our choice of words, our timing, our level of representation, the incentives and payoffs we offered, what kind of coffee we served at a meeting, what tie someone wore during negotiations, etc.

Of course, Leverett’s objection to the working group cannot be reconciled with the failure over the past eight years of the EU-3, the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and the P5+1 to get anywhere with Iran, and none of those negotiations were adulterated by sinister Zionist meddling. In Leverett’s world, the Iranians, practitioners of an ancient and sophisticated culture of negotiation and brinkmanship, are little more than emotionally unstable children whose sensibilities must be delicately appeased. This is diplomacy as pop-psychology, and it serves the vital task of fabricating a narrative in which our side is to blame for Iran’s belligerence. Now Leverett has his excuse.

Eli Lake reports today that the Obama and Netanyahu governments are creating a “working group” to “assess the progress of President Obama’s outreach to Iran.” Sounds like one of those things that could be either completely irrelevant, or a useful channel of communication. Time will tell.

But the working group appears set to serve another purpose. It could become an excuse for Iranian recalcitrance.

Flynt Leverett, a former Mideast specialist on the National Security Council and advocate of a “grand bargain” between the U.S. and Iran, said the new working group could undermine the credibility of any U.S. offers to Iran. So far, the Obama administration has not offered new proposals, but has lifted the Bush administration’s precondition that Iran suspend uranium enrichment before U.S. diplomats would talk directly with Tehran.

“It is an idea that unfortunately is in keeping with a number of other statements and decisions by the Obama administration that will completely undercut the credibility of any U.S. overtures in the eyes of Iranian leaders – assuming the U.S. will make such overtures,” he said. “The Iranians are going to see this as Israel setting policy toward them.”

Keep this quote in mind when Obama’s engagement fails. Leverett and his cohorts are skilled purveyors of the claim that diplomatic failure arises because our side didn’t get it quite right — “it” being (take your pick) our choice of words, our timing, our level of representation, the incentives and payoffs we offered, what kind of coffee we served at a meeting, what tie someone wore during negotiations, etc.

Of course, Leverett’s objection to the working group cannot be reconciled with the failure over the past eight years of the EU-3, the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and the P5+1 to get anywhere with Iran, and none of those negotiations were adulterated by sinister Zionist meddling. In Leverett’s world, the Iranians, practitioners of an ancient and sophisticated culture of negotiation and brinkmanship, are little more than emotionally unstable children whose sensibilities must be delicately appeased. This is diplomacy as pop-psychology, and it serves the vital task of fabricating a narrative in which our side is to blame for Iran’s belligerence. Now Leverett has his excuse.

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The Pakistani Missile Crisis

Steven R. David weighs in with the cheery thought that “the prospect of a nuclear weapon from Pakistan exploding on American soil is much higher than a Soviet attack from Cuba ever was.”

How high? David is already trying to convince cooler heads to prevail in the aftermath:

Lashing out at Pakistan, especially if the regime was not behind the attack, makes little sense. Learning from the Pakistanis just how many weapons went missing, how it happened, and whether it could happen again might not be as emotionally satisfying as a counterstrike, but makes more sense.

David, I think, leaves out an important detail in his article. Pakistan most likely stores its nuclear weapons disassembled. A post-coup Taliban or al Qaeda would face a significant challenge in getting nuclear weapons parts assembled, operational, and into the U.S. safely. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, but I think it’s a bit premature to speak of us not getting carried away with countermeasures.

Steven R. David weighs in with the cheery thought that “the prospect of a nuclear weapon from Pakistan exploding on American soil is much higher than a Soviet attack from Cuba ever was.”

How high? David is already trying to convince cooler heads to prevail in the aftermath:

Lashing out at Pakistan, especially if the regime was not behind the attack, makes little sense. Learning from the Pakistanis just how many weapons went missing, how it happened, and whether it could happen again might not be as emotionally satisfying as a counterstrike, but makes more sense.

David, I think, leaves out an important detail in his article. Pakistan most likely stores its nuclear weapons disassembled. A post-coup Taliban or al Qaeda would face a significant challenge in getting nuclear weapons parts assembled, operational, and into the U.S. safely. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, but I think it’s a bit premature to speak of us not getting carried away with countermeasures.

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“Peace Isn’t Arab goal”

Jeff Jacoby’s sober analysis in today’s Boston Globe:

The consensus, it would seem, is overwhelming. As Henri Guaino, a senior adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, put it on Sunday: “Everyone wants peace. The whole world wants a Palestinian state.”

It isn’t going to happen.

International consensus or no, the two-state solution is a chimera. Peace will not be achieved by granting sovereignty to the Palestinians, because Palestinian sovereignty has never been the Arabs’ goal. Time and time again, a two-state solution has been proposed. Time and time again, the Arabs have turned it down.

The entire piece can be read here.

Jeff Jacoby’s sober analysis in today’s Boston Globe:

The consensus, it would seem, is overwhelming. As Henri Guaino, a senior adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, put it on Sunday: “Everyone wants peace. The whole world wants a Palestinian state.”

It isn’t going to happen.

International consensus or no, the two-state solution is a chimera. Peace will not be achieved by granting sovereignty to the Palestinians, because Palestinian sovereignty has never been the Arabs’ goal. Time and time again, a two-state solution has been proposed. Time and time again, the Arabs have turned it down.

The entire piece can be read here.

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Principles and Preconditions

Peace processors never fade away — they just ask Israel to take more risks for peace. Martin Indyk suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu used the “not unreasonable” concerns about the security dangers presented by a Palestinian state to avoid taking the all-important risks for peace:

Whatever else happened in the private Netanyahu-Obama meeting, [Netanyahu] certainly didn’t sound like he was willing to take any risks for peace. Reflecting his fear of antagonizing his right-wing supporters, Netanyahu avoided publicly committing himself to accepting an independent Palestinian state as the outcome of peace negotiations. Instead, he spoke of “self-government” for the Palestinians and laid down what sounded like a new precondition: The Palestinians would have to “allow Israel the means to defend itself.”

According to Indyk, Netanyahu’s “new precondition” would mean “a Palestinian state minus the means to defend itself, or to control its airspace, or its international passageways” — a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic” to “raise the bar as high as possible.”

Even the Clinton Parameters, the high-water mark of the “peace process,” envisioned a “non-militarized” Palestinian state whose airspace would be subject to “special arrangements for Israeli training and operational needs,” with borders subject to an international force for “security and deterrent purposes.” If Palestinians want a state with an army or airspace that could threaten Tel Aviv or Ben-Gurion airport, or unencumbered ability to import weapons through its borders, they seek a state that would violate not a “new precondition” but a necessary first principle: that any such state “allow Israel the means to defend itself.”

Perhaps when Mahmoud Abbas visits Washington later this month, Indyk will suggest he publicly commit himself to accepting a Jewish state as the outcome of peace negotiations. It would take one of the basic tools of peace processors — the “confidence-building gesture” — and require it for the first time from Palestinians, rather than from Israelis who have seen the risks they have taken for peace result in too many wars.

Peace processors never fade away — they just ask Israel to take more risks for peace. Martin Indyk suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu used the “not unreasonable” concerns about the security dangers presented by a Palestinian state to avoid taking the all-important risks for peace:

Whatever else happened in the private Netanyahu-Obama meeting, [Netanyahu] certainly didn’t sound like he was willing to take any risks for peace. Reflecting his fear of antagonizing his right-wing supporters, Netanyahu avoided publicly committing himself to accepting an independent Palestinian state as the outcome of peace negotiations. Instead, he spoke of “self-government” for the Palestinians and laid down what sounded like a new precondition: The Palestinians would have to “allow Israel the means to defend itself.”

According to Indyk, Netanyahu’s “new precondition” would mean “a Palestinian state minus the means to defend itself, or to control its airspace, or its international passageways” — a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic” to “raise the bar as high as possible.”

Even the Clinton Parameters, the high-water mark of the “peace process,” envisioned a “non-militarized” Palestinian state whose airspace would be subject to “special arrangements for Israeli training and operational needs,” with borders subject to an international force for “security and deterrent purposes.” If Palestinians want a state with an army or airspace that could threaten Tel Aviv or Ben-Gurion airport, or unencumbered ability to import weapons through its borders, they seek a state that would violate not a “new precondition” but a necessary first principle: that any such state “allow Israel the means to defend itself.”

Perhaps when Mahmoud Abbas visits Washington later this month, Indyk will suggest he publicly commit himself to accepting a Jewish state as the outcome of peace negotiations. It would take one of the basic tools of peace processors — the “confidence-building gesture” — and require it for the first time from Palestinians, rather than from Israelis who have seen the risks they have taken for peace result in too many wars.

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Lieberman and Graham to the Rescue

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are introducing legislation to “codify” the president’s decision not to release the detainee abuse photos. In a statement released Tuesday, they explained:

This legislation would authorize the Secretary of Defense, after consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to certify to the President that the disclosure of photographs like the ones at issue in the ACLU lawsuit would endanger the lives of our citizens or members of the Armed Forces or civilian employees of the United States government deployed abroad.

The certification would last five years and could be renewed by the Secretary of Defense if the threat to American personnel continues.  Also, the language in the bill is clear that it would apply to the current ACLU lawsuit.

“The President made a bold decision as Commander in Chief that will protect our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere and make it easier for them to carry out the missions that we have asked them to do,” said Lieberman.  “This measure would codify the President’s decision to block release of these photos and thereby help protect our troops who are defending our country and our liberty.”

This, of course, aims to take the matter out of the courts and end the squabbling once and for all. And it removes the need for an executive order that would end the matter but put the president back in the hot seat with his left-wing supporters (who are now reeling after a few “bold decisions” to adopt Bush-era policies.)

One might see this as calling the president’s bluff, foreclosing the potential that he might escape the wrath of the netroot base by letting the courts order what they seek (release of the inflammatory photos). Or one might see this as a less Machiavellian move, a good faith attempt to come to the aid of the president to prevent once and for all what he says he fears — endangering the troops by releasing the photos.

However you view it, it is hard to see how the White House could refuse the help. After all, the president has decided that national security trumps the political agenda of his left-wing supporters, right? We’ll see if Lieberman and Graham can garner the support of their colleagues who seem slowly to be coming around to the view (on Guantanamo, for example) that feeding the netroot beast can be injurious to their political health.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham are introducing legislation to “codify” the president’s decision not to release the detainee abuse photos. In a statement released Tuesday, they explained:

This legislation would authorize the Secretary of Defense, after consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to certify to the President that the disclosure of photographs like the ones at issue in the ACLU lawsuit would endanger the lives of our citizens or members of the Armed Forces or civilian employees of the United States government deployed abroad.

The certification would last five years and could be renewed by the Secretary of Defense if the threat to American personnel continues.  Also, the language in the bill is clear that it would apply to the current ACLU lawsuit.

“The President made a bold decision as Commander in Chief that will protect our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere and make it easier for them to carry out the missions that we have asked them to do,” said Lieberman.  “This measure would codify the President’s decision to block release of these photos and thereby help protect our troops who are defending our country and our liberty.”

This, of course, aims to take the matter out of the courts and end the squabbling once and for all. And it removes the need for an executive order that would end the matter but put the president back in the hot seat with his left-wing supporters (who are now reeling after a few “bold decisions” to adopt Bush-era policies.)

One might see this as calling the president’s bluff, foreclosing the potential that he might escape the wrath of the netroot base by letting the courts order what they seek (release of the inflammatory photos). Or one might see this as a less Machiavellian move, a good faith attempt to come to the aid of the president to prevent once and for all what he says he fears — endangering the troops by releasing the photos.

However you view it, it is hard to see how the White House could refuse the help. After all, the president has decided that national security trumps the political agenda of his left-wing supporters, right? We’ll see if Lieberman and Graham can garner the support of their colleagues who seem slowly to be coming around to the view (on Guantanamo, for example) that feeding the netroot beast can be injurious to their political health.

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California Dreamin’

Mainstream media coverage of the California tax propositions’ crushing defeat is predictable. You see, this is a rebuke of Arnold Schwarzenegger personally (who in defeat now has “Republican” affixed to every mention of his name). Or it’s the fault of the “fickle” voters somehow, who are too dense to see that the way out of an enormous deficit pit in a recession is to raise taxes — lots and lots.

They are loath to see what the votes really mean, which is an overwhelming rejection of five tax-hike measures. First, the turnout was pitifully low suggesting that all those shiny new pro-Obama, liberal voters aren’t easily lured back to the polls for such mundane matters as the fiscal health of their state. New Jersey and Virginia Democrats with statewide elections this year should take note.

Second, this is the largest outpouring of popular opinion since the November 2008 election. And it follows the April Tea Party protests. The message from California and around the country is remarkably consistent: the voters have no patience for tax hikes and are angry at politicians for spending ad infinitum. If politicians in states less liberal than California (most anywhere) are contemplating running on tax-and-spend politics and think voters are indifferent to their antics, they should reconsider.

Third, California really is a mess. Double digit unemployment and near bankruptcy are awful for the state, but also for the country at large. Megan McArdle thinks not even this administration can bail the state out:

If Uncle Sugar bails out California, California will not fix its problems.  Perhaps you want Obama to make it fix the problems, using the same competence, power, and can-do spirit with which he has repaired all the holes in the banking and auto manufacturing sectors.  But Obma is not in a good position to do this.  California Democrats are a huge part of his governing coalition.  All Obama can do is shovel money into the bottomless pit of California’s political system.

[. . .]

California will go bankrupt, muni and state debt will spike, the federal government will backstop humanitarian programs and very possibly all state and local debt, and eventually, California will figure out whether it wants higher taxes or lower spending.  But we will not actually make the world a better place by enabling the lunatics in Sacramento to pretend they can have both.

We’ll see if California is too big to fail. But it would be a mistake to ignore this as a personal rejection of one governor or a spasm of misdirected anger. It is, above all else, a preview of what happens when government is unable to control its spending or limit the power of public employee unions — the inevitable reaction when voters have finally had enough. Those inside the Beltway should perk up.

Mainstream media coverage of the California tax propositions’ crushing defeat is predictable. You see, this is a rebuke of Arnold Schwarzenegger personally (who in defeat now has “Republican” affixed to every mention of his name). Or it’s the fault of the “fickle” voters somehow, who are too dense to see that the way out of an enormous deficit pit in a recession is to raise taxes — lots and lots.

They are loath to see what the votes really mean, which is an overwhelming rejection of five tax-hike measures. First, the turnout was pitifully low suggesting that all those shiny new pro-Obama, liberal voters aren’t easily lured back to the polls for such mundane matters as the fiscal health of their state. New Jersey and Virginia Democrats with statewide elections this year should take note.

Second, this is the largest outpouring of popular opinion since the November 2008 election. And it follows the April Tea Party protests. The message from California and around the country is remarkably consistent: the voters have no patience for tax hikes and are angry at politicians for spending ad infinitum. If politicians in states less liberal than California (most anywhere) are contemplating running on tax-and-spend politics and think voters are indifferent to their antics, they should reconsider.

Third, California really is a mess. Double digit unemployment and near bankruptcy are awful for the state, but also for the country at large. Megan McArdle thinks not even this administration can bail the state out:

If Uncle Sugar bails out California, California will not fix its problems.  Perhaps you want Obama to make it fix the problems, using the same competence, power, and can-do spirit with which he has repaired all the holes in the banking and auto manufacturing sectors.  But Obma is not in a good position to do this.  California Democrats are a huge part of his governing coalition.  All Obama can do is shovel money into the bottomless pit of California’s political system.

[. . .]

California will go bankrupt, muni and state debt will spike, the federal government will backstop humanitarian programs and very possibly all state and local debt, and eventually, California will figure out whether it wants higher taxes or lower spending.  But we will not actually make the world a better place by enabling the lunatics in Sacramento to pretend they can have both.

We’ll see if California is too big to fail. But it would be a mistake to ignore this as a personal rejection of one governor or a spasm of misdirected anger. It is, above all else, a preview of what happens when government is unable to control its spending or limit the power of public employee unions — the inevitable reaction when voters have finally had enough. Those inside the Beltway should perk up.

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A Small Man

This blog has had many differences with Joe Klein of Time magazine, whom I once considered a very friendly acquaintance before he accused me and those who argued for an aggressive policy in Iraq and with Iran of being war criminals and began spouting anti-Semitic conspiracy nonsense that, were his name Christiansen instead of Klein, would have seen him booted from the payroll of Time magazine faster than you could say Rickstengel. Now he has done something low and indefensible even for him. In an interview with Politico, Klein ascribes what he views as the deficiencies in Charles Krauthammer’s worldview to the fact that Krauthammer is a quadraplegic:

“He became Ground Zero among the neo-cons, but he’s vastly smarter than most of them,” said Time’s Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer’s “writing skills and polemical skills” as “so far above almost anybody writing columns today.”

“There’s something tragic about him too,” Klein said, referring to Krauthammer’s confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. “His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.”

Is it conceivable that Joe Klein is saying a man in a wheelchair is incapable of understanding the nuances of Iraq and the war on terror because he can’t get on a plane and go there like Joe Klein can? Is it possible, in this day and age, for someone seriously to argue such a thing? We cannot go back in time and visit the battlefields of the Civil War, or Agincourt, or the Peloponnese—are we therefore incapable of seeing their nuances? FDR was in a wheelchair and did not visit the battlefields of World War II-—were its nuances beyond him as well?

The self-infatuation this quote reveals about Klein’s own celebration of his own passport stamps—the words of a lesser author and thinker about one who so surpasses him in clarity and insight that a wiser Klein would have been better off  just admitting that he can’t hold a candle to Krauthammer and let it go at that—is striking enough. But let’s face it. This is simply disgusting, no matter how you slice it. Perhaps men and women in wheelchairs, or who are blind, or deaf, or have other infirmities that make their ability to get on a plane and go to Iraq should simply forbear any sort of opinion about such things. They should, instead, be left to Joe Klein.

He won’t like me saying it, but Charles Krauthammer, who is more than a friendly acquaintance, is far from a tragic figure. He is a miraculous figure. He has, through a combination of raw will and a sagacious mind and a rigorous temperament that, were it possible, he should leave to science so that it can be studied and bottled and sold, lived a life both triumphantly important and triumphantly ordinary. (Although his wife, Robbie, is far from ordinary. For one thing, she is from Tasmania. For another, she is an artist of great skill. For a third, she has the dirtiest and liveliest mouth in either her forsaken hemisphere or her present one.)  If you are his friend, in a fashion that I can’t quite explain, you come to have no sense whatever that he is in that chair.  He may be right about what he argues (obviously, I think so, most of the time). He may be wrong. But whatever he is or is not, to argue that Charles’s views are restricted by the restrictions on his physical form is do violence to the most basic notions of civil discussion.

“Klein” means small in German. Trollope could not have come up with a more apt name for a character.

This blog has had many differences with Joe Klein of Time magazine, whom I once considered a very friendly acquaintance before he accused me and those who argued for an aggressive policy in Iraq and with Iran of being war criminals and began spouting anti-Semitic conspiracy nonsense that, were his name Christiansen instead of Klein, would have seen him booted from the payroll of Time magazine faster than you could say Rickstengel. Now he has done something low and indefensible even for him. In an interview with Politico, Klein ascribes what he views as the deficiencies in Charles Krauthammer’s worldview to the fact that Krauthammer is a quadraplegic:

“He became Ground Zero among the neo-cons, but he’s vastly smarter than most of them,” said Time’s Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer’s “writing skills and polemical skills” as “so far above almost anybody writing columns today.”

“There’s something tragic about him too,” Klein said, referring to Krauthammer’s confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. “His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.”

Is it conceivable that Joe Klein is saying a man in a wheelchair is incapable of understanding the nuances of Iraq and the war on terror because he can’t get on a plane and go there like Joe Klein can? Is it possible, in this day and age, for someone seriously to argue such a thing? We cannot go back in time and visit the battlefields of the Civil War, or Agincourt, or the Peloponnese—are we therefore incapable of seeing their nuances? FDR was in a wheelchair and did not visit the battlefields of World War II-—were its nuances beyond him as well?

The self-infatuation this quote reveals about Klein’s own celebration of his own passport stamps—the words of a lesser author and thinker about one who so surpasses him in clarity and insight that a wiser Klein would have been better off  just admitting that he can’t hold a candle to Krauthammer and let it go at that—is striking enough. But let’s face it. This is simply disgusting, no matter how you slice it. Perhaps men and women in wheelchairs, or who are blind, or deaf, or have other infirmities that make their ability to get on a plane and go to Iraq should simply forbear any sort of opinion about such things. They should, instead, be left to Joe Klein.

He won’t like me saying it, but Charles Krauthammer, who is more than a friendly acquaintance, is far from a tragic figure. He is a miraculous figure. He has, through a combination of raw will and a sagacious mind and a rigorous temperament that, were it possible, he should leave to science so that it can be studied and bottled and sold, lived a life both triumphantly important and triumphantly ordinary. (Although his wife, Robbie, is far from ordinary. For one thing, she is from Tasmania. For another, she is an artist of great skill. For a third, she has the dirtiest and liveliest mouth in either her forsaken hemisphere or her present one.)  If you are his friend, in a fashion that I can’t quite explain, you come to have no sense whatever that he is in that chair.  He may be right about what he argues (obviously, I think so, most of the time). He may be wrong. But whatever he is or is not, to argue that Charles’s views are restricted by the restrictions on his physical form is do violence to the most basic notions of civil discussion.

“Klein” means small in German. Trollope could not have come up with a more apt name for a character.

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Is the Triumph of Hope Always a Triumph?

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu did their thing, and even the fearsome elite punditry isn’t sure if Obama ended up “being the sucker” (Martin Indyk), or if Netanyahu was “outmaneuvered” by the President (David Ignatius).

To me, Obama’s attempt at a new and ambitious peace plan seems demonstrative of the validity of Jacob Weisberg’s judgment the other day: Obama “shows signs of suffering from the arrogance that often accompanies brilliance. It’s unlikely, for instance, that Obama can function as his own grand strategy guru on foreign policy. But he doesn’t seem inclined to give that job to anyone else.”

Yesterday, John Hannah pointedly criticized Obama’s Iran strategy, by saying that “given the history of tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes seeking nuclear arms, we must also acknowledge that the Obama strategy reflects the triumph of hope over experience.” Today we can say a similar thing about his rumored plan for Middle East quick fixes.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu did their thing, and even the fearsome elite punditry isn’t sure if Obama ended up “being the sucker” (Martin Indyk), or if Netanyahu was “outmaneuvered” by the President (David Ignatius).

To me, Obama’s attempt at a new and ambitious peace plan seems demonstrative of the validity of Jacob Weisberg’s judgment the other day: Obama “shows signs of suffering from the arrogance that often accompanies brilliance. It’s unlikely, for instance, that Obama can function as his own grand strategy guru on foreign policy. But he doesn’t seem inclined to give that job to anyone else.”

Yesterday, John Hannah pointedly criticized Obama’s Iran strategy, by saying that “given the history of tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes seeking nuclear arms, we must also acknowledge that the Obama strategy reflects the triumph of hope over experience.” Today we can say a similar thing about his rumored plan for Middle East quick fixes.

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Re: Re: What’s the Hang Up?

It seems the Democrats in Congress aren’t going to take the fall for the Guantanamo setback:

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says the administration’s failure to produce an actual plan made Democrats loathe [sic] to take a vote that would almost certainly launch dozens of GOP 30-second ads.

“We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘What are the amendments we are likely to face from the Republican side?’ And they’re pretty obvious,” Durbin said at the Capitol on Tuesday.

“How can we go to our membership and ask them to take a position on any amendment without knowing the administration’s plan. … Why would they want to cast an unpopular vote for a theory as opposed to a plan?”

Durbin was then asked: “Did the White House put you in an awkward position by asking you for this money?”

“Yes,” said Durbin, who predicted the funding would be restored when the details of next year’s budget were finalized.

Given the Panetta v. Pelosi face-off last week and the Guantanamo flap this week, it seems national security has become a nettlesome issue for Democrats. And naturally when things go wrong the temptation is great to blame someone else. For now, however, Republicans aren’t in power and can’t be readily blamed. So the long knives come out for those in their own party. The first goal of any politician is survival, and if that means attacking others in one’s party, well that’s a small price to pay when the chips are down.

In the meantime, it seems we have stumbled toward consensus. As Sen. Mitch McConnell said in an interview yesterday, “Guantanamo is a perfect place for these terrorists.”

It seems the Democrats in Congress aren’t going to take the fall for the Guantanamo setback:

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says the administration’s failure to produce an actual plan made Democrats loathe [sic] to take a vote that would almost certainly launch dozens of GOP 30-second ads.

“We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘What are the amendments we are likely to face from the Republican side?’ And they’re pretty obvious,” Durbin said at the Capitol on Tuesday.

“How can we go to our membership and ask them to take a position on any amendment without knowing the administration’s plan. … Why would they want to cast an unpopular vote for a theory as opposed to a plan?”

Durbin was then asked: “Did the White House put you in an awkward position by asking you for this money?”

“Yes,” said Durbin, who predicted the funding would be restored when the details of next year’s budget were finalized.

Given the Panetta v. Pelosi face-off last week and the Guantanamo flap this week, it seems national security has become a nettlesome issue for Democrats. And naturally when things go wrong the temptation is great to blame someone else. For now, however, Republicans aren’t in power and can’t be readily blamed. So the long knives come out for those in their own party. The first goal of any politician is survival, and if that means attacking others in one’s party, well that’s a small price to pay when the chips are down.

In the meantime, it seems we have stumbled toward consensus. As Sen. Mitch McConnell said in an interview yesterday, “Guantanamo is a perfect place for these terrorists.”

Read Less




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