Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 5, 2009

Shameful

As Michael Goldfarb reports, House Democrats have decided the MoveOn.org constituency takes precedence over the lives of American troops:

 [House Leadership] is moving to strip the Lieberman-Graham amendment blocking the release of detainee photos from the supplemental appropriations bill now in conference. The Lieberman-Graham amendment, formally named the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act, was passed unanimously in the Senate and provided President Obama “with the ability to block the publication of the photos that would endanger the safety of our men and women in uniform.”

Remember the sequence of events here. The Eric Holder brain trust at the Justice Department told the president he had no chance to prevail in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU. Obama announced he wouldn’t be appealing a ruling ordering the government to release the photos. After a hue and cry went up, Obama recanted, explaining that the U.S. military had convinced him to reconsider. At the time, NPR reported:

Obama, explaining his change of heart on releasing the other photos, said they had already served their purpose in investigations of “a small number of individuals.” Those cases were all concluded by 2004, and the president said “the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.”

The Pentagon conducted 200 investigations into alleged abuse connected with the photos in question. The administration did not provide an immediate accounting of how they turned out.

“This is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action,” Obama said of the photos. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

But that didn’t end the matter because Obama was simply allowing the court to decide, albeit with a different argument to come from the U.S. government. So Sens. Lieberman and Graham introduced their legislation to provide a decisive and final result: no release of the photos. The White House and Senate are enthusiastically in support but not the House Democrats.

What — they don’t believe the president? Or they do and simply can’t stand up to the netroot fringe in their own ranks? Let’s be clear: the Pentagon, the Democratic president, and the entire U.S. Senate want to do all they can to protect the lives of U.S. servicemen. But Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have other priorities.

One wonders if they have been paying any attention to the ongoing debate on Guantanamo. The public overwhelmingly rejects the netroot position when it comes to the war on terror. I can’t help but think that the public will be horrified to learn that when it comes to endangering U.S. troops, Pelosi and company just don’t give a damn. And one final note: Will the president get on the phone from Paris to tell Pelosi to knock it off — or was this the game plan all along?

As Michael Goldfarb reports, House Democrats have decided the MoveOn.org constituency takes precedence over the lives of American troops:

 [House Leadership] is moving to strip the Lieberman-Graham amendment blocking the release of detainee photos from the supplemental appropriations bill now in conference. The Lieberman-Graham amendment, formally named the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act, was passed unanimously in the Senate and provided President Obama “with the ability to block the publication of the photos that would endanger the safety of our men and women in uniform.”

Remember the sequence of events here. The Eric Holder brain trust at the Justice Department told the president he had no chance to prevail in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU. Obama announced he wouldn’t be appealing a ruling ordering the government to release the photos. After a hue and cry went up, Obama recanted, explaining that the U.S. military had convinced him to reconsider. At the time, NPR reported:

Obama, explaining his change of heart on releasing the other photos, said they had already served their purpose in investigations of “a small number of individuals.” Those cases were all concluded by 2004, and the president said “the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.”

The Pentagon conducted 200 investigations into alleged abuse connected with the photos in question. The administration did not provide an immediate accounting of how they turned out.

“This is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action,” Obama said of the photos. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

But that didn’t end the matter because Obama was simply allowing the court to decide, albeit with a different argument to come from the U.S. government. So Sens. Lieberman and Graham introduced their legislation to provide a decisive and final result: no release of the photos. The White House and Senate are enthusiastically in support but not the House Democrats.

What — they don’t believe the president? Or they do and simply can’t stand up to the netroot fringe in their own ranks? Let’s be clear: the Pentagon, the Democratic president, and the entire U.S. Senate want to do all they can to protect the lives of U.S. servicemen. But Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have other priorities.

One wonders if they have been paying any attention to the ongoing debate on Guantanamo. The public overwhelmingly rejects the netroot position when it comes to the war on terror. I can’t help but think that the public will be horrified to learn that when it comes to endangering U.S. troops, Pelosi and company just don’t give a damn. And one final note: Will the president get on the phone from Paris to tell Pelosi to knock it off — or was this the game plan all along?

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Eureka! Writers Get Paid

I confess to never having read Harlan Ellison’s novels but he has just become my hero — and a hero to all professional writers everywhere — since I watched this A-plus rant of his against all those who expect writers to offer their work gratis. This has happened to me a few times in the past few weeks — I have gotten inquiries from websites (both run by massive media corporations!) asking me to write up my thoughts on some subject. I asked how much they were paying and the answer was: nothing. My reply was that if you pay nothing you will get nothing from me; I don’t work for free. But Harlan Ellison has said it much more eloquently than I can. In the future, if anyone asks me to write for free I think I will just share with them a link to his video. Best line: “I sell my soul but at the highest rates.”

(h/t Elizabeth Eaves of Forbes)

I confess to never having read Harlan Ellison’s novels but he has just become my hero — and a hero to all professional writers everywhere — since I watched this A-plus rant of his against all those who expect writers to offer their work gratis. This has happened to me a few times in the past few weeks — I have gotten inquiries from websites (both run by massive media corporations!) asking me to write up my thoughts on some subject. I asked how much they were paying and the answer was: nothing. My reply was that if you pay nothing you will get nothing from me; I don’t work for free. But Harlan Ellison has said it much more eloquently than I can. In the future, if anyone asks me to write for free I think I will just share with them a link to his video. Best line: “I sell my soul but at the highest rates.”

(h/t Elizabeth Eaves of Forbes)

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Commentary of the Day

Richard S., on Abe Greenwald:

Obama belives in a living constitution, and, apparently, a living Road Map.

Richard S., on Abe Greenwald:

Obama belives in a living constitution, and, apparently, a living Road Map.

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Reality Once Again Unmasks the Obama Spin

The big economic news of the day:

The U.S. economy shed 345,000 jobs in May, pushing the unemployment rate near double-digits and bringing the total number of jobs lost in the current recession to 6 million.

But the employment figures, which the Labor Department reported this morning, offer hope that the worst of the economic downturn could be over: The number of lost jobs was the lowest since September, and it was only half of the average monthly job losses in the last half-year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nationwide unemployment rate now stands at 9.4 percent, the worst it has been in more than 25 years. If workers abandoned their job searches or settled for part-time employment were factored in, the rate would have been 16.4 percent.

[. . .]

“This is President Obama’s economy now,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Republican Whip, said in a statement. Later, he added: “As job losses continue to mount, families’ worries about losing their healthcare, paying their mortgage, and sending their children to college continues to intensify.”

Funny how the media spots Republican “pouncing” while Democrats generally “responded” during the Bush years. But it is hard to escape three central points. First, the Stimulus Plan is a bust and only the most committed spinners can, with a straight face, contend that it is saving any jobs. Second, given the “bold” (conservatives would say “radical” or “reckless”) spending and regulatory efforts undertaken by Obama it will be hard for him to lay blame elsewhere, particularly if things don’t turn around within a short time. Third, it is going to get worse for a while, although the rate of worsening may slow. And that can fairly be attributable to the type and timing of the stimulus. Keith Hennessey writes:

Remember that employment is typically a lagging indicator, so the employment picture will still look bad even after the economy has begun to recover. Much of the commentary focuses on the second derivative — things are getting bad, but the badness isn’t getting worse. Since commentary and news cycles rely on new information, it is easy to lose sight of the reality that our economy continues to shrink and lose jobs.

[. . .]

In addition to being inefficient and wasteful, the stimulus was poorly timed. By deferring to congressional desires to shovel taxpayer funds to slow-spending infrastructure projects, the administration got a stimulus law that isn’t helping GDP growth now, and won’t have a quantitatively significant effect until 2010. The administration is in a tough spot — if the economy is not healing, then at some point the president will take the blame. If instead the economy is healing before the stimulus takes effect, then maybe the stimulus was unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The president has remarked that his presidency will turn on economic recovery. He is largely correct. Perhaps he should have taken some of those Republican suggestions — they might have worked or at least given him political cover.

The big economic news of the day:

The U.S. economy shed 345,000 jobs in May, pushing the unemployment rate near double-digits and bringing the total number of jobs lost in the current recession to 6 million.

But the employment figures, which the Labor Department reported this morning, offer hope that the worst of the economic downturn could be over: The number of lost jobs was the lowest since September, and it was only half of the average monthly job losses in the last half-year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nationwide unemployment rate now stands at 9.4 percent, the worst it has been in more than 25 years. If workers abandoned their job searches or settled for part-time employment were factored in, the rate would have been 16.4 percent.

[. . .]

“This is President Obama’s economy now,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Republican Whip, said in a statement. Later, he added: “As job losses continue to mount, families’ worries about losing their healthcare, paying their mortgage, and sending their children to college continues to intensify.”

Funny how the media spots Republican “pouncing” while Democrats generally “responded” during the Bush years. But it is hard to escape three central points. First, the Stimulus Plan is a bust and only the most committed spinners can, with a straight face, contend that it is saving any jobs. Second, given the “bold” (conservatives would say “radical” or “reckless”) spending and regulatory efforts undertaken by Obama it will be hard for him to lay blame elsewhere, particularly if things don’t turn around within a short time. Third, it is going to get worse for a while, although the rate of worsening may slow. And that can fairly be attributable to the type and timing of the stimulus. Keith Hennessey writes:

Remember that employment is typically a lagging indicator, so the employment picture will still look bad even after the economy has begun to recover. Much of the commentary focuses on the second derivative — things are getting bad, but the badness isn’t getting worse. Since commentary and news cycles rely on new information, it is easy to lose sight of the reality that our economy continues to shrink and lose jobs.

[. . .]

In addition to being inefficient and wasteful, the stimulus was poorly timed. By deferring to congressional desires to shovel taxpayer funds to slow-spending infrastructure projects, the administration got a stimulus law that isn’t helping GDP growth now, and won’t have a quantitatively significant effect until 2010. The administration is in a tough spot — if the economy is not healing, then at some point the president will take the blame. If instead the economy is healing before the stimulus takes effect, then maybe the stimulus was unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The president has remarked that his presidency will turn on economic recovery. He is largely correct. Perhaps he should have taken some of those Republican suggestions — they might have worked or at least given him political cover.

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Not Over Until It’s Over

The heathcare debate chugs on. As Obama flits from Cairo to Europe, as the Supreme Court nominee explains or doesn’t explain why she said such silly things, and as the deficit and unemployment rate soar there is still healthcare. Some conservatives despair — Obama has come out in favor of mandatory coverage (a flip-flop), possibly taxing employer benefits to pay for it (another flip-flop, big time) and for a public “option,” which means the government will squeeze private insurers out of business. Is this a done deal? Michael Gerson sounds an optimistic note:

The administration, it turns out, has no serious plan to control health-care costs. Government health programs of the type Obama seeks to create are not good at cost control (as Medicare has proved) — unless they aggressively ration expensive care to the seriously ill and elderly (as more muscular European models have done). In the choice between competition and rationing, the Republican argument for competition looks less hopeless.

The political fight on health care remains lopsided in Obama’s favor, but the policy argument is growing more balanced. On the Republican side, Americans will see scary changes and more individual costs; on the Democratic side, government control and possible rationing, at a price we can’t afford. As the debate becomes more complex, the outcome becomes less certain.

This presupposes that when the chips are down Congress won’t have found a politically viable way to pay for this and that Democrats will balk at nationalizing 17% of the economy on a straight party line vote. Perhaps. But if opponents of a nationalized scheme are to prevail they had better get cracking and explain just what Obama has proposed and why it is such a horrid idea. (“He changed his mind!” won’t cut it.) And then if they are really smart they will come up with a reasonable and doable back up that helps begin the transition from employer to individual health coverage and increases rather than eradicates competition. Then we’ll see just how good a salesman Obama can be. (Do we think he can be talked into debating Dick Cheney on healthcare?)

The heathcare debate chugs on. As Obama flits from Cairo to Europe, as the Supreme Court nominee explains or doesn’t explain why she said such silly things, and as the deficit and unemployment rate soar there is still healthcare. Some conservatives despair — Obama has come out in favor of mandatory coverage (a flip-flop), possibly taxing employer benefits to pay for it (another flip-flop, big time) and for a public “option,” which means the government will squeeze private insurers out of business. Is this a done deal? Michael Gerson sounds an optimistic note:

The administration, it turns out, has no serious plan to control health-care costs. Government health programs of the type Obama seeks to create are not good at cost control (as Medicare has proved) — unless they aggressively ration expensive care to the seriously ill and elderly (as more muscular European models have done). In the choice between competition and rationing, the Republican argument for competition looks less hopeless.

The political fight on health care remains lopsided in Obama’s favor, but the policy argument is growing more balanced. On the Republican side, Americans will see scary changes and more individual costs; on the Democratic side, government control and possible rationing, at a price we can’t afford. As the debate becomes more complex, the outcome becomes less certain.

This presupposes that when the chips are down Congress won’t have found a politically viable way to pay for this and that Democrats will balk at nationalizing 17% of the economy on a straight party line vote. Perhaps. But if opponents of a nationalized scheme are to prevail they had better get cracking and explain just what Obama has proposed and why it is such a horrid idea. (“He changed his mind!” won’t cut it.) And then if they are really smart they will come up with a reasonable and doable back up that helps begin the transition from employer to individual health coverage and increases rather than eradicates competition. Then we’ll see just how good a salesman Obama can be. (Do we think he can be talked into debating Dick Cheney on healthcare?)

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J Street and the Mullahs, in Agreement

Here’s a telling quote from a story in today’s Financial Times, quoting J Street co-founder and intellectual leading light Daniel Levy:

And Mr Obama dropped a hint that he understood the Arab world’s concerns at Israel’s nuclear weapons status. “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not,” Mr Obama said. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli government official, who is now at the New America Foundation, said: “Might this be a kind of: ‘Yes – we acknowledge there is a double standard here regarding the Israeli nuclear issue, and eventually we will get to that too’?”

So Levy agrees with the Mullahs in that there is a “double standard” between Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and Iran’s pursuit of them. Remind me again how J Street is either “pro-Israel” or “pro-peace?”

Here’s a telling quote from a story in today’s Financial Times, quoting J Street co-founder and intellectual leading light Daniel Levy:

And Mr Obama dropped a hint that he understood the Arab world’s concerns at Israel’s nuclear weapons status. “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not,” Mr Obama said. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli government official, who is now at the New America Foundation, said: “Might this be a kind of: ‘Yes – we acknowledge there is a double standard here regarding the Israeli nuclear issue, and eventually we will get to that too’?”

So Levy agrees with the Mullahs in that there is a “double standard” between Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and Iran’s pursuit of them. Remind me again how J Street is either “pro-Israel” or “pro-peace?”

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Re: It Worked for Daschle

Nancy Pelosi is digging in her heels, refusing to agree to a House investigation of ethics violations of those ensnared in the PMA Group scandal. As Kimberley Strassel put it:

Picture a freight train roaring down the tracks. Picture House Speaker Nancy Pelosi positioning her party on the rails. Picture a growing stream of nervous souls diving for the weeds. Picture all this, and you’ve got a sense of the Democrats’ earmark-corruption problem.

This particular choo-choo has the name John Murtha emblazoned on the side, and with each chug is proving that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Republicans got tossed in 2006 in part for failing to police the earmarks at the center of the Jack Abramoff and other corruption scandals. Mrs. Pelosi is today leaving her members exposed to an earmark mess that might make Abramoff look junior varsity.

But the Democrat’s No. 2 man in the House, Steny Hoyer, is no fool:

“On Thursday, Hoyer argued that a vague resolution the House passed Wednesday was a clear call for the ethics committee to investigate ties between a once powerful lobbying firm and a handful of his fellow Democrats, including Murtha, the man who challenged him for the majority leader’s post in late 2006. ‘This is a serious matter and ought to be looked at,” Hoyer said Thursday morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.'”

Well, it was rather vague and not much is going to be looked into, I’d wager. But Hoyer is hoping that Democrats won’t be able to blame him if things go wrong on the ethics front. He might be there to scoop up the pieces if the Democrats take a beating in 2010 just as the Republicans did in 2006. But that’s of little consolation to those who might be swept out of office because once again a party’s leadership was paralyzed in the face of one of those oncoming trains.

Nancy Pelosi is digging in her heels, refusing to agree to a House investigation of ethics violations of those ensnared in the PMA Group scandal. As Kimberley Strassel put it:

Picture a freight train roaring down the tracks. Picture House Speaker Nancy Pelosi positioning her party on the rails. Picture a growing stream of nervous souls diving for the weeds. Picture all this, and you’ve got a sense of the Democrats’ earmark-corruption problem.

This particular choo-choo has the name John Murtha emblazoned on the side, and with each chug is proving that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Republicans got tossed in 2006 in part for failing to police the earmarks at the center of the Jack Abramoff and other corruption scandals. Mrs. Pelosi is today leaving her members exposed to an earmark mess that might make Abramoff look junior varsity.

But the Democrat’s No. 2 man in the House, Steny Hoyer, is no fool:

“On Thursday, Hoyer argued that a vague resolution the House passed Wednesday was a clear call for the ethics committee to investigate ties between a once powerful lobbying firm and a handful of his fellow Democrats, including Murtha, the man who challenged him for the majority leader’s post in late 2006. ‘This is a serious matter and ought to be looked at,” Hoyer said Thursday morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.'”

Well, it was rather vague and not much is going to be looked into, I’d wager. But Hoyer is hoping that Democrats won’t be able to blame him if things go wrong on the ethics front. He might be there to scoop up the pieces if the Democrats take a beating in 2010 just as the Republicans did in 2006. But that’s of little consolation to those who might be swept out of office because once again a party’s leadership was paralyzed in the face of one of those oncoming trains.

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The Enduring Effect of Cairo

On the same day President Obama made his pitch in Cairo, seeking a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the U.S. remained “deeply hated” in the region and “beautiful and sweet” words would not change that. Khamenei told a huge crowd at the mausoleum of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomenei, that action was needed, not words. It appears as though the Iranian leadership is immunized to the charms of Obama in a way that our commentators and reporters are not.

So let me venture a guess: over time — and not much time — the beautiful and sweet words by Obama will be forgotten, and the only enduring thing to emerge will be what Obama said about Israel and the settlements. That will be what the Arab and Muslim world focuses on, and they will — along with the United Nations and European countries — insist that stopping settlements is the pre-requisite for peace in the Middle East. Obama made a good start, they will say, but what matters are the consequences following his address. And so all the pressure will be brought to bear on Israel.

This is farcical, given the history of the conflict between the Arab world and Israel. Israel has shown time and again that it is willing to give up land for peace. The problem has been that the Palestinian leadership has, for decades, not reconciled itself with the existence of Israel or shown a capacity, or even an interest, to contain terrorism. And other Arab nations use the Palestinians as pawns to stoke up resentment and focus attention away from their own failures. If Israel bowed to Obama’s demands tomorrow, does any serious observer believe that there would be a fundamental, or even a marginal, change in the views of Khamenei and others in the Iranian leadership; or Hamas; or Hezbollah; or Saudi Arabia?

But why not find out, Obama’s supporters and Israel’s critics might say. And how can Obama’s words, which were clearly well received by the Arab world, be harmful? Even if Obama’s speech leads to good feelings and nothing more, isn’t it still a good thing to diminish hostility toward America?

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On the same day President Obama made his pitch in Cairo, seeking a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the U.S. remained “deeply hated” in the region and “beautiful and sweet” words would not change that. Khamenei told a huge crowd at the mausoleum of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomenei, that action was needed, not words. It appears as though the Iranian leadership is immunized to the charms of Obama in a way that our commentators and reporters are not.

So let me venture a guess: over time — and not much time — the beautiful and sweet words by Obama will be forgotten, and the only enduring thing to emerge will be what Obama said about Israel and the settlements. That will be what the Arab and Muslim world focuses on, and they will — along with the United Nations and European countries — insist that stopping settlements is the pre-requisite for peace in the Middle East. Obama made a good start, they will say, but what matters are the consequences following his address. And so all the pressure will be brought to bear on Israel.

This is farcical, given the history of the conflict between the Arab world and Israel. Israel has shown time and again that it is willing to give up land for peace. The problem has been that the Palestinian leadership has, for decades, not reconciled itself with the existence of Israel or shown a capacity, or even an interest, to contain terrorism. And other Arab nations use the Palestinians as pawns to stoke up resentment and focus attention away from their own failures. If Israel bowed to Obama’s demands tomorrow, does any serious observer believe that there would be a fundamental, or even a marginal, change in the views of Khamenei and others in the Iranian leadership; or Hamas; or Hezbollah; or Saudi Arabia?

But why not find out, Obama’s supporters and Israel’s critics might say. And how can Obama’s words, which were clearly well received by the Arab world, be harmful? Even if Obama’s speech leads to good feelings and nothing more, isn’t it still a good thing to diminish hostility toward America?

The response, I think, is four-fold. First, the issue of the settlements — and particularly what Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have in mind — is not well understood. Charles Krauthammer provides an excellent analysis of the matter here.

Second, Obama’s portrayal of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and his effort to establish moral equivalence between the two distorts reality. Perpetrating false narratives is itself a problem and usually creates other problems down the road. The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold, Aristotle wrote. The results may not be quite that bad, but they will be bad enough.

Third, to insist that Israel do what Obama wants even before negotiations begin will have unintended consequences. It will reinforce Arab intransigence. Arab nations will (understandably, from their perspective) wait for America to force concessions from Israel on a range of issues rather than give up anything to win them. Good feelings mean very little unless they can be translated into tangible, concrete progress. In this case, the results of Obama’s speech will, in my estimation, take us further down the wrong path.

Fourth, if the diagnosis of a problem is wrong, the solution is bound to be so as well. In this instance, the supposition that the problem largely lies with Israel rather than the nature of various Arab nations and the failures of the Palestinian leadership means that our focus will be diverted from where it needs to be to issues that are wholly beside the point. Those who insist that Obama is applying pressure to both sides will discover soon enough that the pressure on the Palestinians will ease up and soon be forgotten; all the demands will be on Israel.

Watching the reaction to Obama’s speech, one can see again how comforting it is for American and Western commentators to embrace the myth that Israel is primarily responsible for the failure and suffering of the Palestinian people. It means that a large part of the solution to the problem lies with Israel, a nation over which we have some sway. But these people overlook the entire history of the conflict, the history of the Palestinians (to take just one example, the effort by the Palestinians to overthrow King Hussein and their subsequent expulsion from Jordan in the 1970s), and even the history of the last 15 years, where we have repeatedly seen the malevolence of Hamas and Fatah play itself out in pizzerias, shopping malls, bus stations, and places of worship; at nightclubs, ice cream parlors, school yards, and weddings. We need only look at what has happened in Gaza over the last few years to be reminded of how this story goes.

Reality doesn’t seem to matter, though; there is a “peace process” to be pursued and a template to be followed. But to embrace this approach is worse than mistaken; it is a prescription for more failure, more suffering, and more setbacks. Obama’s words yesterday set many hearts aflutter. But they will set in motion a series of events that will, I fear, lead to disappointment and, ultimately, to more violence and more despair.

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The Moral Equivalency Tour Stop at Dresden

President Obama’s world moral equivalency tour continued today in Germany with a stop at the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp and then on to the city of Dresden. While pleasing to his German hosts, who have been rightly upset by Obama’s attempt to foist his stimulus approach to economics, the stop at Dresden does a bit more than, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said, symbolize the progress Germany has made since unification. To Germans, it is a symbol of their suffering at the hands of the victorious allies in World War Two and balances out Obama’s reminder of the crimes of the Third Reich.

The firebombing of Dresden in 1945 caused horrific casualties and some have always argued that it had little military value. As such, the Dresden raid has always served as an opportunity for revisionists to try to prove that the “good war” that America fought wasn’t as pure as we have been told. But though the debate over the utility of much of the allied strategic bombing campaign in the war is fair, the idea we should consider Dresden a war crime — something indicated by Obama’s decision to go there on the same day he visits an outlet of the Nazi machine of oppression and death — is dead wrong.

Historical evidence about German war production indicates that once the Allies were able to deploy sufficient numbers of bombers with fighter escorts and to concentrate them on targets that couldn’t be missed (i.e. large cities) in 1944 and 1945, the results were devastating and clearly impacted the Nazis’ ability to go on fighting and murdering. Dresden, a major rail hub, was not free of war-related manufacturing. And the chaos that resulted from rendering large numbers of German workers homeless (at a time when their industry was completely devoted to war work), had to harm Germany’s already faltering war effort.

Although the human cost of attacks on German cities was horrible, it was a direct result of Germany’s decision to keep fighting to the bitter end. That was a decision that was largely supported by the German people, the vast majority of whom loyally continued to do their criminal government’s bidding until Hitler’s suicide. Allied attacks, including bombing raids on centers of military industrial activity and rail sites that facilitated the movement of German war activity, were fully justified and, indeed, necessary, for the defeat of the Nazi terror regime. German civilians in places like Dresden died because their nation had launched a genocidal war, not because of American or British beastliness.

As RAF Bomber Command chief Arthur “Bomber” Harris memorably said as the Allied air offensive started up earlier in the war, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

Just as one cannot compare the cold-blooded murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust to the fact that the Palestinians have suffered from their ongoing refusal to live in peace with Israel — as Barack Obama did in his Cairo speech — one should not compare, even implicitly, the suffering of the victims of the Nazis at Buchenwald with that of those German civilians who died as the result of efforts to extinguish the Hitler regime. And anyone who does so lacks the moral seriousness to be a leader in the search for peace, no matter how eloquent his rhetoric.

President Obama’s world moral equivalency tour continued today in Germany with a stop at the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp and then on to the city of Dresden. While pleasing to his German hosts, who have been rightly upset by Obama’s attempt to foist his stimulus approach to economics, the stop at Dresden does a bit more than, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said, symbolize the progress Germany has made since unification. To Germans, it is a symbol of their suffering at the hands of the victorious allies in World War Two and balances out Obama’s reminder of the crimes of the Third Reich.

The firebombing of Dresden in 1945 caused horrific casualties and some have always argued that it had little military value. As such, the Dresden raid has always served as an opportunity for revisionists to try to prove that the “good war” that America fought wasn’t as pure as we have been told. But though the debate over the utility of much of the allied strategic bombing campaign in the war is fair, the idea we should consider Dresden a war crime — something indicated by Obama’s decision to go there on the same day he visits an outlet of the Nazi machine of oppression and death — is dead wrong.

Historical evidence about German war production indicates that once the Allies were able to deploy sufficient numbers of bombers with fighter escorts and to concentrate them on targets that couldn’t be missed (i.e. large cities) in 1944 and 1945, the results were devastating and clearly impacted the Nazis’ ability to go on fighting and murdering. Dresden, a major rail hub, was not free of war-related manufacturing. And the chaos that resulted from rendering large numbers of German workers homeless (at a time when their industry was completely devoted to war work), had to harm Germany’s already faltering war effort.

Although the human cost of attacks on German cities was horrible, it was a direct result of Germany’s decision to keep fighting to the bitter end. That was a decision that was largely supported by the German people, the vast majority of whom loyally continued to do their criminal government’s bidding until Hitler’s suicide. Allied attacks, including bombing raids on centers of military industrial activity and rail sites that facilitated the movement of German war activity, were fully justified and, indeed, necessary, for the defeat of the Nazi terror regime. German civilians in places like Dresden died because their nation had launched a genocidal war, not because of American or British beastliness.

As RAF Bomber Command chief Arthur “Bomber” Harris memorably said as the Allied air offensive started up earlier in the war, “The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

Just as one cannot compare the cold-blooded murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust to the fact that the Palestinians have suffered from their ongoing refusal to live in peace with Israel — as Barack Obama did in his Cairo speech — one should not compare, even implicitly, the suffering of the victims of the Nazis at Buchenwald with that of those German civilians who died as the result of efforts to extinguish the Hitler regime. And anyone who does so lacks the moral seriousness to be a leader in the search for peace, no matter how eloquent his rhetoric.

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The 50 State Problem

In today’s column, Paul Krugman effectively lays the blame for all that is wrong with the country’s healthcare system at the feet of the health insurance companies. This, of course, is the party line of the American left. What Krugman, with characteristic disingenuity, fails to mention are such matters as insurance in this country being regulated by the fifty states, not the federal government. So insurance companies have to jump through fifty sets of regulatory hoops, not just one. That doesn’t make for efficiency. And states, at the behest of special interests, love to pile on mandates that most people would be happy to forgo in exchange for lower premiums. (New York, for instance, requires health insurance policies to cover chiropractic treatments and in vitro fertilization procedures among much else, greatly driving up the cost of health insurance in that state.)

And he calls for “a simplified, uniform insurance form,” which he notes that even conservative Bill Kristol called for sixteen years ago. He implicitly blames the insurance companies for not achieving it. But he doesn’t bother to note that getting such a thing through fifty state insurance commissions (not to mention the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, which might regard such an effort as a combination in restraint of trade) is nearly impossible. We have long had national insurance markets and Congress has the power to take over regulation of them under the interstate commerce clause. It has not done so for purely political reasons. But let’s blame the insurance companies anyway.

Krugman also thinks that the “public option” would force insurance companies to clean up their acts thanks to competition. He writes that, “The ‘public option,’ if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans ‘a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.'”

Competition certainly forces noses to grindstones — it’s exactly why capitalism works and socialism doesn’t. Of course, there has never been a case in the history of the world — that I know of at least — in which a government competed with private companies on a level playing field. And the playing field would most certainly not be level here.

The public option would not have to answer to fifty state insurance commissions, a huge competitive advantage. And, being a federal entity, it would be exempt from federal, state, and local taxes. So competition between this “public option” and private insurance companies would be like a foot race in which every runner but one had to carry a couple of bowling balls around the track as he ran.

And, of course, Krugman fails to note that the federal government already runs a vast health insurance company called Medicare with truly stunning inefficiency, waste, and fraud. Even the Council of Economic Advisors — a White House group — writes in a report that Medicare could cut costs by thirty percent without adversely impacting healthcare.

As Virginia Postrel suggests, why not use Medicare as a laboratory for reforming the health insurance system? Once they see what works in Medicare, the private health insurance companies would be only too glad to emulate its success, assuming they are allowed to by their fifty separate sets of regulators, of course.

In today’s column, Paul Krugman effectively lays the blame for all that is wrong with the country’s healthcare system at the feet of the health insurance companies. This, of course, is the party line of the American left. What Krugman, with characteristic disingenuity, fails to mention are such matters as insurance in this country being regulated by the fifty states, not the federal government. So insurance companies have to jump through fifty sets of regulatory hoops, not just one. That doesn’t make for efficiency. And states, at the behest of special interests, love to pile on mandates that most people would be happy to forgo in exchange for lower premiums. (New York, for instance, requires health insurance policies to cover chiropractic treatments and in vitro fertilization procedures among much else, greatly driving up the cost of health insurance in that state.)

And he calls for “a simplified, uniform insurance form,” which he notes that even conservative Bill Kristol called for sixteen years ago. He implicitly blames the insurance companies for not achieving it. But he doesn’t bother to note that getting such a thing through fifty state insurance commissions (not to mention the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, which might regard such an effort as a combination in restraint of trade) is nearly impossible. We have long had national insurance markets and Congress has the power to take over regulation of them under the interstate commerce clause. It has not done so for purely political reasons. But let’s blame the insurance companies anyway.

Krugman also thinks that the “public option” would force insurance companies to clean up their acts thanks to competition. He writes that, “The ‘public option,’ if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans ‘a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.'”

Competition certainly forces noses to grindstones — it’s exactly why capitalism works and socialism doesn’t. Of course, there has never been a case in the history of the world — that I know of at least — in which a government competed with private companies on a level playing field. And the playing field would most certainly not be level here.

The public option would not have to answer to fifty state insurance commissions, a huge competitive advantage. And, being a federal entity, it would be exempt from federal, state, and local taxes. So competition between this “public option” and private insurance companies would be like a foot race in which every runner but one had to carry a couple of bowling balls around the track as he ran.

And, of course, Krugman fails to note that the federal government already runs a vast health insurance company called Medicare with truly stunning inefficiency, waste, and fraud. Even the Council of Economic Advisors — a White House group — writes in a report that Medicare could cut costs by thirty percent without adversely impacting healthcare.

As Virginia Postrel suggests, why not use Medicare as a laboratory for reforming the health insurance system? Once they see what works in Medicare, the private health insurance companies would be only too glad to emulate its success, assuming they are allowed to by their fifty separate sets of regulators, of course.

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Cheney Is More Popular Than Pelosi

Really, he is! The new Gallup poll shows 37% of voters view him favorably (up from 30% and rising from 21 to 37% among Independents). Pelosi has been tanking, going from a 42-41% favorable/unfavorable split to 34-50%. It seems to have something to do with all that news coverage:

That coverage appears to have helped Cheney — at least modestly — in the image department. Given Americans’ concern about closing Guantanamo Bay, his improved ratings since March are arguably related to his ongoing outspokenness on waterboarding, tying it in with U.S. national security.

Pelosi has had a major, high profile role in the legislative agenda of Congress all year, most notably with passage of Obama’s economic stimulus package in January; however the recent controversy over her possible knowledge of waterboarding — and her claim that the CIA misled Congress about briefing her — may have more to do with her depressed favorable ratings, which are down eight points since November.

Perhaps the Democrats should rethink the strategy of making Pelosi the poster gal for the 2010 races.

Aside from electoral politics, maybe conservatives should learn not to avoid confronting the president’s policies when they are misguided or founded on misstatements of fact. Perhaps popularity follows a successful argument on the merits. Cheney has helped move public opinion on the merits of the argument he is making, and as a byproduct has gotten some kudos. But popularity was not a requirement to succeed on the substantive policy debate.

It is a lesson worth learning: matching the president’s glitz may be impossible; combating his misguided policies is not. It might even earn the protagonist some brownie points with the public. Healthcare anyone? Bailouts? The field is wide open.

Really, he is! The new Gallup poll shows 37% of voters view him favorably (up from 30% and rising from 21 to 37% among Independents). Pelosi has been tanking, going from a 42-41% favorable/unfavorable split to 34-50%. It seems to have something to do with all that news coverage:

That coverage appears to have helped Cheney — at least modestly — in the image department. Given Americans’ concern about closing Guantanamo Bay, his improved ratings since March are arguably related to his ongoing outspokenness on waterboarding, tying it in with U.S. national security.

Pelosi has had a major, high profile role in the legislative agenda of Congress all year, most notably with passage of Obama’s economic stimulus package in January; however the recent controversy over her possible knowledge of waterboarding — and her claim that the CIA misled Congress about briefing her — may have more to do with her depressed favorable ratings, which are down eight points since November.

Perhaps the Democrats should rethink the strategy of making Pelosi the poster gal for the 2010 races.

Aside from electoral politics, maybe conservatives should learn not to avoid confronting the president’s policies when they are misguided or founded on misstatements of fact. Perhaps popularity follows a successful argument on the merits. Cheney has helped move public opinion on the merits of the argument he is making, and as a byproduct has gotten some kudos. But popularity was not a requirement to succeed on the substantive policy debate.

It is a lesson worth learning: matching the president’s glitz may be impossible; combating his misguided policies is not. It might even earn the protagonist some brownie points with the public. Healthcare anyone? Bailouts? The field is wide open.

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Two Surprises in Britain’s Elections

Yesterday, Methodist Central Hall hosted a polling place for Britain’s European elections. When I arrived at the Hall, just after noon, the camera crews outnumbered the voters by four to zero. I asked the biggest crew who they were for: Al Jazeera English, come to see how democracy works, it turned out. How were things going? “Eh,” the interviewer grunted. After half an hour only five voters had come and gone — as, by then, had the flacks from Al Jazeera — so I did likewise. And that was par for the course: turnout in 2004 was just 38 percent — in spite of much of Britain voting at the same time in local council elections.  Apart from the blanket newspaper and media coverage, there was almost no sign of any actual campaigning: in many hours of walking around London over the past three days, I’ve seen only two political posters — one for an independent, and the other for the Socialist Party.

The voting system in the European elections gives complexity a bad name: the entire U.K. is divided into twelve regions, and each party puts up a maximum of ten candidates in each region to fill Britain’s 78 seats in the European Parliament. When votes are counted, seats are allocated between parties in proportion to their total, and to candidates in proportion to their place on the party list. The net result is that not a single voter in Britain will actually be voting for the representative they prefer: they will be voting for a party and for the hierarchy of candidates as arranged by the parties. No wonder the excellent Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, has described his selection at the top of the list in South-East England as a victory for himself and a defeat for democracy.

Hannan is right, and not just about the European electoral system. With local government now responsible for raising only about a quarter of its own revenue, there’s not much incentive for voters to take it seriously. And few in Britain have much time for the European Parliament, which has little power and exercises even less responsibility. The result is that local and European elections have turned into an enormous opportunity to send a message to the government of the day (and, increasingly, the opposition). And that is what is likely to happen today. The message for the main parties is simple: an overwhelming majority of the British public is not excited enough about them to bother voting, and a near-majority of those who do bother will vote for one of the minor parties — either the nationalist parties in Wales or Scotland, the Greens, the British National Party (BNP), or the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

If this election has a surprise it will be how well UKIP does.  Every journalist, politician, and think-tanker I’ve talked with has said the Tories will take a lead over the other parties. But every one of them has also followed that by saying, identically, that UKIP will cut into the Tory margin of victory and come a clear second, pushing the Liberal Democrats and Labour into a bitter struggle for the irrelevancy of fourth place. Together, that means that the Tories — a moderately Eurosceptic party — and UKIP — a very Eurosceptic one — are likely to poll almost 50 percent of the vote. That is an enormous warning to the other parties that there are no votes to be had by sidling closer to Brussels, and to David Cameron and the Conservative Party that any straying toward Europe will be noticed and punished come the general election.

There is real anger here about the role the EU is assuming in British life, and the seeming lack of interest the main parties have displayed in putting an end to it. Traditionally, Europe is a shouting issue but not a voting one in British politics: these elections suggest that the anger is coming out in the fragmentation of the political system and the rise of the minor parties.

The other thing that has surprised me in the past week here is the division between some in the political class and the public as a whole about the parliamentary expenses scandal that has hit all the major parties in Britain over the past month. One veteran newspaperman confessed that he simply didn’t understand what the fuss was about. And it seems that quite a few politicians shared that incomprehension: Brown’s stumbling handling of the scandal, which has hit the Tories just about as badly as Labour, has done him tremendous damage and led to the surprise resignation of another minister, Hazel Blears, on Wednesday.

To my mind, the answer is simple. The British political elite have forgotten what the British public still  partly remembers: that Britain invented the concern of disinterested public political service, that it defined high standards of financial honesty in politics, and that both of these justified the British faith in parliamentary sovereignty, and in the Commons as a body that genuinely sought the public good, not its own enrichment. The expenses scandal symbolizes the obvious failure of the political class to live up to ideals that have been thoroughly abused, but which still command public respect; the degradation of the Commons by Europe is another assault from a different direction on the same faith. And that is what the results of today’s elections are likely to show: that the British public is tired of it. It may not know what it wants — and some of the disillusionment will come out in ways, such as support from alienated Labour voters for the BNP, that are distinctly undesirable — but it is quite fed up with what it had got.

Yesterday, Methodist Central Hall hosted a polling place for Britain’s European elections. When I arrived at the Hall, just after noon, the camera crews outnumbered the voters by four to zero. I asked the biggest crew who they were for: Al Jazeera English, come to see how democracy works, it turned out. How were things going? “Eh,” the interviewer grunted. After half an hour only five voters had come and gone — as, by then, had the flacks from Al Jazeera — so I did likewise. And that was par for the course: turnout in 2004 was just 38 percent — in spite of much of Britain voting at the same time in local council elections.  Apart from the blanket newspaper and media coverage, there was almost no sign of any actual campaigning: in many hours of walking around London over the past three days, I’ve seen only two political posters — one for an independent, and the other for the Socialist Party.

The voting system in the European elections gives complexity a bad name: the entire U.K. is divided into twelve regions, and each party puts up a maximum of ten candidates in each region to fill Britain’s 78 seats in the European Parliament. When votes are counted, seats are allocated between parties in proportion to their total, and to candidates in proportion to their place on the party list. The net result is that not a single voter in Britain will actually be voting for the representative they prefer: they will be voting for a party and for the hierarchy of candidates as arranged by the parties. No wonder the excellent Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, has described his selection at the top of the list in South-East England as a victory for himself and a defeat for democracy.

Hannan is right, and not just about the European electoral system. With local government now responsible for raising only about a quarter of its own revenue, there’s not much incentive for voters to take it seriously. And few in Britain have much time for the European Parliament, which has little power and exercises even less responsibility. The result is that local and European elections have turned into an enormous opportunity to send a message to the government of the day (and, increasingly, the opposition). And that is what is likely to happen today. The message for the main parties is simple: an overwhelming majority of the British public is not excited enough about them to bother voting, and a near-majority of those who do bother will vote for one of the minor parties — either the nationalist parties in Wales or Scotland, the Greens, the British National Party (BNP), or the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

If this election has a surprise it will be how well UKIP does.  Every journalist, politician, and think-tanker I’ve talked with has said the Tories will take a lead over the other parties. But every one of them has also followed that by saying, identically, that UKIP will cut into the Tory margin of victory and come a clear second, pushing the Liberal Democrats and Labour into a bitter struggle for the irrelevancy of fourth place. Together, that means that the Tories — a moderately Eurosceptic party — and UKIP — a very Eurosceptic one — are likely to poll almost 50 percent of the vote. That is an enormous warning to the other parties that there are no votes to be had by sidling closer to Brussels, and to David Cameron and the Conservative Party that any straying toward Europe will be noticed and punished come the general election.

There is real anger here about the role the EU is assuming in British life, and the seeming lack of interest the main parties have displayed in putting an end to it. Traditionally, Europe is a shouting issue but not a voting one in British politics: these elections suggest that the anger is coming out in the fragmentation of the political system and the rise of the minor parties.

The other thing that has surprised me in the past week here is the division between some in the political class and the public as a whole about the parliamentary expenses scandal that has hit all the major parties in Britain over the past month. One veteran newspaperman confessed that he simply didn’t understand what the fuss was about. And it seems that quite a few politicians shared that incomprehension: Brown’s stumbling handling of the scandal, which has hit the Tories just about as badly as Labour, has done him tremendous damage and led to the surprise resignation of another minister, Hazel Blears, on Wednesday.

To my mind, the answer is simple. The British political elite have forgotten what the British public still  partly remembers: that Britain invented the concern of disinterested public political service, that it defined high standards of financial honesty in politics, and that both of these justified the British faith in parliamentary sovereignty, and in the Commons as a body that genuinely sought the public good, not its own enrichment. The expenses scandal symbolizes the obvious failure of the political class to live up to ideals that have been thoroughly abused, but which still command public respect; the degradation of the Commons by Europe is another assault from a different direction on the same faith. And that is what the results of today’s elections are likely to show: that the British public is tired of it. It may not know what it wants — and some of the disillusionment will come out in ways, such as support from alienated Labour voters for the BNP, that are distinctly undesirable — but it is quite fed up with what it had got.

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Re: The Not So Golden Mean

Pete, your cogent take on the Cairo speech gets to one of its central problems and to Obama’s foreign policy more generally. You write that “it was, in some important respects, a misleading address, and therefore a regrettable one. The things Obama will win from the speech will be, I think, ephemeral; the distortions of history and reality, more enduring.”

One has to ask: why all the lies and mistelling of history? Why leave out such critical facts as the sixty year refusal by Palestinians to accept Israel’s existence and their rejection of multiple offers of statehood? The president is an educated man so it is not out of ignorance that he gets so many facts wrong or fails to tell the complete picture.

I would suggest that he is forced to distort for a simple reason: if he laid out all the facts, his policy prescriptions would be readily seen as absurd.

Let’s take Iran. If he spelled out directly its role as a primary sponsor of terror and identified its leaders as calling for the extermination of Jews then it would seem odd, bizarre I think, to suggest:

That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

Why that’s daft, you’d say, if you heard the litany of Iran’s misdeeds and the details of its ongoing relationship with those seeking Israel’s destruction. You can’t give them nuclear capability. Moreover, you’d be wondering why the president is pestering Israel about settlements while madmen in Tehran edge closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. So he needs to leave out the “bad stuff” about Iran.

Likewise, it wouldn’t really do to trace each of the Arab wars against Israel, the Israelis’ withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza and ensuing violence, and the efforts of his secretary of state’s husband to broker a Palestinian state less than ten years ago. You’d begin to get the idea that the problem is not so mutual. You’d see that the Palestinians don’t have clean hands in all this. And you might wonder what a few settlements have to do with anything if withdrawing from whole territories only brought more violence. So again, he needs to leave out the “bad stuff.”

This is a dangerous tactic. And ironically, for a president who promised to be “honest,” it is nothing short of deceptive. Try as he might, the president can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation in the Middle East and the intentions of Israel’s foes. It is critical to get those out on the table, for by failing to account for them we are also failing to address the barriers to the “peace process” — or frankly, explain why it doesn’t exist. He has constructed an artifice that bears little resemblance to facts, to history, and to real and immediate dangers for the U.S. and our allies. This is not a mere rhetorical flaw; it is a flaw in his national security vision, as naive and dangerous as Jimmy Carter and as sure to fail.

Moreover, it leaves our allies shaking their heads and with every reason to attend to military defenses. After all, does he sound like a president who’d come rushing to their aid? The president may not be operating in the real world, but they are. And now they know they will need to fend for themselves.

Pete, your cogent take on the Cairo speech gets to one of its central problems and to Obama’s foreign policy more generally. You write that “it was, in some important respects, a misleading address, and therefore a regrettable one. The things Obama will win from the speech will be, I think, ephemeral; the distortions of history and reality, more enduring.”

One has to ask: why all the lies and mistelling of history? Why leave out such critical facts as the sixty year refusal by Palestinians to accept Israel’s existence and their rejection of multiple offers of statehood? The president is an educated man so it is not out of ignorance that he gets so many facts wrong or fails to tell the complete picture.

I would suggest that he is forced to distort for a simple reason: if he laid out all the facts, his policy prescriptions would be readily seen as absurd.

Let’s take Iran. If he spelled out directly its role as a primary sponsor of terror and identified its leaders as calling for the extermination of Jews then it would seem odd, bizarre I think, to suggest:

That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

Why that’s daft, you’d say, if you heard the litany of Iran’s misdeeds and the details of its ongoing relationship with those seeking Israel’s destruction. You can’t give them nuclear capability. Moreover, you’d be wondering why the president is pestering Israel about settlements while madmen in Tehran edge closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. So he needs to leave out the “bad stuff” about Iran.

Likewise, it wouldn’t really do to trace each of the Arab wars against Israel, the Israelis’ withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza and ensuing violence, and the efforts of his secretary of state’s husband to broker a Palestinian state less than ten years ago. You’d begin to get the idea that the problem is not so mutual. You’d see that the Palestinians don’t have clean hands in all this. And you might wonder what a few settlements have to do with anything if withdrawing from whole territories only brought more violence. So again, he needs to leave out the “bad stuff.”

This is a dangerous tactic. And ironically, for a president who promised to be “honest,” it is nothing short of deceptive. Try as he might, the president can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation in the Middle East and the intentions of Israel’s foes. It is critical to get those out on the table, for by failing to account for them we are also failing to address the barriers to the “peace process” — or frankly, explain why it doesn’t exist. He has constructed an artifice that bears little resemblance to facts, to history, and to real and immediate dangers for the U.S. and our allies. This is not a mere rhetorical flaw; it is a flaw in his national security vision, as naive and dangerous as Jimmy Carter and as sure to fail.

Moreover, it leaves our allies shaking their heads and with every reason to attend to military defenses. After all, does he sound like a president who’d come rushing to their aid? The president may not be operating in the real world, but they are. And now they know they will need to fend for themselves.

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No Compass, No Key, No Direction

The AP reports on Barack Obama’s speech in Dresden:

He said Israel must live up to commitments it made under the so-called “Road Map” peace outline to stop constructing settlements, adding: “I recognize the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that done.”

Forget questions of Israel’s current obligations toward the Road Map. The plan’s Phase I puts the onus first on the Palestinians to call off their campaign of destruction: “In Phase I, the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below; such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel.”

If we’re back in Road Map-land, Israel is only obligated to freeze settlement activity as an accompanying measure to an immediate Palestinian cessation of violence. This means, according to the document: “Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.”

Is Obama picking the parts of the Road Map he finds suitably demanding of Israel and leaving the rest? Has he looked at the Road Map? The president himself seems in desperate need of a map if he is ever to find his way back to a decipherable and considered Middle East policy.

The AP reports on Barack Obama’s speech in Dresden:

He said Israel must live up to commitments it made under the so-called “Road Map” peace outline to stop constructing settlements, adding: “I recognize the very difficult politics in Israel of getting that done.”

Forget questions of Israel’s current obligations toward the Road Map. The plan’s Phase I puts the onus first on the Palestinians to call off their campaign of destruction: “In Phase I, the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below; such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel.”

If we’re back in Road Map-land, Israel is only obligated to freeze settlement activity as an accompanying measure to an immediate Palestinian cessation of violence. This means, according to the document: “Palestinians declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.”

Is Obama picking the parts of the Road Map he finds suitably demanding of Israel and leaving the rest? Has he looked at the Road Map? The president himself seems in desperate need of a map if he is ever to find his way back to a decipherable and considered Middle East policy.

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Sotomayor’s Excuse Collapses

Sotomayor and her supporters have been explaining away her 32 words as some sort of slip of the tongue. That isn’t going to fly now that the questionnaire with all her past speeches has been released. Turns out that she said the same phrase and similar versions of it again and again and again.

So the president and lots of other people, including the nominee perhaps, were being less than accurate in portraying this as a “poor choice of words.” In fact, it makes you wonder if the administration spinners, like Harry Reid, had avoided reading the speeches. If so, how could they have sent out the president, the nominee and the senators to spin the “Whoops, slip of the tongue!” explanation?

Now we have two issues: what she meant in these speeches  and whether Sotomayor herself was misleading Senators in her visits on Capitol Hill. Well, her helpful supporters might argue that she didn’t say, “it was a poor choice of words that I only said once.” But the implication was clear. She was attempting to pass it off as a singular goof. Plainly, however, this was a sentiment very close to her heart. And one which is now very problematic. Really, what a bafflingly maladroit move. It is bad enough she doesn’t believe in impartiality. Doesn’t she believe in the part about telling the truth, the whole truth?

Sotomayor and her supporters have been explaining away her 32 words as some sort of slip of the tongue. That isn’t going to fly now that the questionnaire with all her past speeches has been released. Turns out that she said the same phrase and similar versions of it again and again and again.

So the president and lots of other people, including the nominee perhaps, were being less than accurate in portraying this as a “poor choice of words.” In fact, it makes you wonder if the administration spinners, like Harry Reid, had avoided reading the speeches. If so, how could they have sent out the president, the nominee and the senators to spin the “Whoops, slip of the tongue!” explanation?

Now we have two issues: what she meant in these speeches  and whether Sotomayor herself was misleading Senators in her visits on Capitol Hill. Well, her helpful supporters might argue that she didn’t say, “it was a poor choice of words that I only said once.” But the implication was clear. She was attempting to pass it off as a singular goof. Plainly, however, this was a sentiment very close to her heart. And one which is now very problematic. Really, what a bafflingly maladroit move. It is bad enough she doesn’t believe in impartiality. Doesn’t she believe in the part about telling the truth, the whole truth?

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Obama and the Holocaust

President Obama is to be commended for his eloquent repudiation of Holocaust denial, and his commemoration of its memory. However, Obama’s focus on the Holocaust carries more, and different, weight than we may realize. While it may sound like a nod in Israel’s favor to balance his other words, in truth it is both wider and narrower than that, and will largely fail to speak to the very Israelis he hopes to reach.

Wider: The Holocaust is not just a foundational memory for many Jews, but for Europeans as well. In the European context, it sits at the core of a narrative that goes like this: Half a century ago, Europeans got swept up in a fever of intolerant, racist nationalism, which resulted in the greatest catastrophe ever. Because of that, we are forever suspicious of particularist national ideologies, the abuse of power, and intolerance. In this narrative, the present-day villain is none other than Zionism, which is seen as precisely the ethnic-nationalist militarism that should have long been left behind. Letting the Jews have a state turned out to be a mistake, for it enabled them to switch from being the oppressed to the oppressor.

Narrower: For a great many American and Western Jews, the Holocaust is taught as a personal tragedy whose implications are universal: Not unlike the European reading, the Holocaust carries a message for all humanity, and that message is tolerance and peace. Small wonder that Holocaust Museums have morphed into Museums of Tolerance in the last generation.

Alongside this reading, however, most Israelis and Zionists abroad carry a second narrative with them: The Holocaust teaches us that centuries of collective powerlessness lead to collective catastrophe. That no matter how alien this may feel after so long an exile, Jews can and must defend themselves, through a state and an army, as a precondition for survival, and as the basis of a national renaissance. In Israel, a tour through the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum ends with a celebration of Israel.

This is the side of the Holocaust you will not hear about from Barack Obama. The closest he can come to it is to suggest that the Jews deserved a homeland after so many centuries of anti-Semitism. Sort of an international act of grace that the Arabs will just have to come to terms with. This is not how the Jews view their own tragedy, however, nor is it the aim of their state, the foundations of which were already in place before the Holocaust happened. A state, not for mercy and respite, but for revival, empowerment, and the tools needed to chart our own course. What’s that word again? Freedom?

President Obama is to be commended for his eloquent repudiation of Holocaust denial, and his commemoration of its memory. However, Obama’s focus on the Holocaust carries more, and different, weight than we may realize. While it may sound like a nod in Israel’s favor to balance his other words, in truth it is both wider and narrower than that, and will largely fail to speak to the very Israelis he hopes to reach.

Wider: The Holocaust is not just a foundational memory for many Jews, but for Europeans as well. In the European context, it sits at the core of a narrative that goes like this: Half a century ago, Europeans got swept up in a fever of intolerant, racist nationalism, which resulted in the greatest catastrophe ever. Because of that, we are forever suspicious of particularist national ideologies, the abuse of power, and intolerance. In this narrative, the present-day villain is none other than Zionism, which is seen as precisely the ethnic-nationalist militarism that should have long been left behind. Letting the Jews have a state turned out to be a mistake, for it enabled them to switch from being the oppressed to the oppressor.

Narrower: For a great many American and Western Jews, the Holocaust is taught as a personal tragedy whose implications are universal: Not unlike the European reading, the Holocaust carries a message for all humanity, and that message is tolerance and peace. Small wonder that Holocaust Museums have morphed into Museums of Tolerance in the last generation.

Alongside this reading, however, most Israelis and Zionists abroad carry a second narrative with them: The Holocaust teaches us that centuries of collective powerlessness lead to collective catastrophe. That no matter how alien this may feel after so long an exile, Jews can and must defend themselves, through a state and an army, as a precondition for survival, and as the basis of a national renaissance. In Israel, a tour through the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum ends with a celebration of Israel.

This is the side of the Holocaust you will not hear about from Barack Obama. The closest he can come to it is to suggest that the Jews deserved a homeland after so many centuries of anti-Semitism. Sort of an international act of grace that the Arabs will just have to come to terms with. This is not how the Jews view their own tragedy, however, nor is it the aim of their state, the foundations of which were already in place before the Holocaust happened. A state, not for mercy and respite, but for revival, empowerment, and the tools needed to chart our own course. What’s that word again? Freedom?

Read Less

Why Is He Fixated on Bubbe’s House Addition?

Charles Krauthammer, like many slack-jawed observers, notes that Obama’s “don’t dictate” rule applies to every country on the planet and every issue except Israel and its West Bank and Jerusalem settlements. And to compound the double standard, the administration refuses to announce whether it will abide by the 2004 U.S. letter of understanding confirming this would be a final status issue. (I think we can assume the U.S. is not keeping its end of that bargain; hence the haranguing.) Krauthammer writes:

The entire “natural growth” issue is a concoction. Is the peace process moribund because a teacher in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is making an addition to her house to accommodate new grandchildren? It is perverse to make this the center point of the peace process at a time when Gaza is run by Hamas terrorists dedicated to permanent war with Israel and when Mahmoud Abbas, having turned down every one of Ehud Olmert’s peace offers, brazenly declares that he is in a waiting mode — waiting for Hamas to become moderate and for Israel to cave — before he’ll do anything to advance peace.

This of course is not helpful in the least if one fantasizes about a peace process. But neither is Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward Iran’s nuclear ambitions helpful if one wants to pursue nonproliferation and encourage risk-taking for peace. Forget Israel for a moment; aren’t the Arab states now rushing to figure out how to match Iran in a new, lethal arms race?

Rather than build confidence in the region Obama has spread anxiety and emboldened Israel’s foes to do what they have perfected over 60 years — just wait it out, foment the grievances of the Palestinian people and console themselves that furnished basements in Jerusalem are the moral equivalent of exploding buses.

Obama is all about honesty, he says. Well, he either honestly believes his distorted retelling of history or he’s doing this because he’s out of options. An honest explanation would have been that he hasn’t a clue how to stop the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons and he can’t begin to solve the Hamas-Fatah problem — so beat up on Israel. And when that doesn’t work (because the notion of stopping natural growth of neighborhoods in a democratic society is hooey) at least he can argue it was through no fault of his that we don’t have peace in our time. There is that problem of the nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror. . . Ah well, other continents must be apologized to so we’ll think about that another time.

Charles Krauthammer, like many slack-jawed observers, notes that Obama’s “don’t dictate” rule applies to every country on the planet and every issue except Israel and its West Bank and Jerusalem settlements. And to compound the double standard, the administration refuses to announce whether it will abide by the 2004 U.S. letter of understanding confirming this would be a final status issue. (I think we can assume the U.S. is not keeping its end of that bargain; hence the haranguing.) Krauthammer writes:

The entire “natural growth” issue is a concoction. Is the peace process moribund because a teacher in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is making an addition to her house to accommodate new grandchildren? It is perverse to make this the center point of the peace process at a time when Gaza is run by Hamas terrorists dedicated to permanent war with Israel and when Mahmoud Abbas, having turned down every one of Ehud Olmert’s peace offers, brazenly declares that he is in a waiting mode — waiting for Hamas to become moderate and for Israel to cave — before he’ll do anything to advance peace.

This of course is not helpful in the least if one fantasizes about a peace process. But neither is Obama’s lackadaisical attitude toward Iran’s nuclear ambitions helpful if one wants to pursue nonproliferation and encourage risk-taking for peace. Forget Israel for a moment; aren’t the Arab states now rushing to figure out how to match Iran in a new, lethal arms race?

Rather than build confidence in the region Obama has spread anxiety and emboldened Israel’s foes to do what they have perfected over 60 years — just wait it out, foment the grievances of the Palestinian people and console themselves that furnished basements in Jerusalem are the moral equivalent of exploding buses.

Obama is all about honesty, he says. Well, he either honestly believes his distorted retelling of history or he’s doing this because he’s out of options. An honest explanation would have been that he hasn’t a clue how to stop the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons and he can’t begin to solve the Hamas-Fatah problem — so beat up on Israel. And when that doesn’t work (because the notion of stopping natural growth of neighborhoods in a democratic society is hooey) at least he can argue it was through no fault of his that we don’t have peace in our time. There is that problem of the nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror. . . Ah well, other continents must be apologized to so we’ll think about that another time.

Read Less

Guarding Liberty

President Obama is on his way to Normandy’s beaches. Writing about the meaning of D-Day in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Herbert London wisely notes that,

The world offers challenges each year since freedom is tested in each generation by new pharaohs. We need the guardians of liberty to remind us how precarious that freedom is. We need to rise to the occasion the way young American soldiers did on June 6, 1944. They are a constant reminder that liberty requires vigilance and courage if it is to survive.

President Obama’s speech in Cairo – the seat of Pharaohs of old and not so old – falls well short of that moral clarity, much like previous speeches he’s delivered. Let’s just hope tomorrow at Omaha beach he remembers what his chief job is – to lead the free world against tyrants, not lecture it in front of an audience of tyrants.

President Obama is on his way to Normandy’s beaches. Writing about the meaning of D-Day in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Herbert London wisely notes that,

The world offers challenges each year since freedom is tested in each generation by new pharaohs. We need the guardians of liberty to remind us how precarious that freedom is. We need to rise to the occasion the way young American soldiers did on June 6, 1944. They are a constant reminder that liberty requires vigilance and courage if it is to survive.

President Obama’s speech in Cairo – the seat of Pharaohs of old and not so old – falls well short of that moral clarity, much like previous speeches he’s delivered. Let’s just hope tomorrow at Omaha beach he remembers what his chief job is – to lead the free world against tyrants, not lecture it in front of an audience of tyrants.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Democrats think it’s a fine idea to make Nancy Pelosi the face of the 2010 congressional races. Well, she’s a grandma and all. Rep. Pete Sessions, Chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee, thinks it’s a swell idea. I bet.

The car dealers strike back. Why did the government force the car companies to axe them? After all, these are independent businesses that can succeed or fail in the marketplace based on their own sales. Now, because of a government mandate (which violates state laws protecting franchisees), we will have tens of thousands more unemployed people and hundreds of boarded up dealerships in many towns and cities around the country. How do you like the new car companies so far?

James Capretta says the president’s healthcare letter made clear what he is up to: complete government control of healthcare. And how to pay for it? “Instead of making tough budgetary choices themselves, they are now hoping they can simply require some unelected, unaccountable advisory group — the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac) — to find the savings for them.  This is the worst of all possible worlds. Call it the black box of government-driven rationing of care.  MedPac — or any other federal agency for that matter — would be working from the same laundry list of price-controls and fee cuts that Congress has always used to try to control costs in governmental health programs.”

Stuart Taylor takes the time to show, once again, what a liar Keith Olbermann is.

Chris Christie starts out with a double-digit lead in New Jersey. A long way to go.

Not so long to go in Virginia and Terry McAuliffe is struggling.

Ed Whelan makes a convincing case that Senators who voted for Sotomayor are not to be stopped from opposing her Supreme Court nomination. Goodness knows that Democrats who voted for Roberts and Thomas for their appellate court spots didn’t feel any qualms about opposing them for the Supreme Court. Thomas’s circuit court confirmation hearing was described as “uneventful.”

And he then catches Sotomayor cheerleading for the president, which judges aren’t supposed to do.

Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is troubled by the “wise Latina” remark. Wait until he reads the rest of the speech.

Bringing people together: Marty Peretz and David Frum are in sync on the Cairo speech. And Charles Krauthammer, too.

Rep. Robert Wexler was spinning so hard for Obama he tied himself up in knots and had to backtrack. It seems not even he is comfortable with the new Obama policy. Well, for one thing, it makes him look foolish with his constituents.

Charles Hurt: “Obama really buttered them up in Cairo. He thanked them for everything from algebra to the pen, though he curiously failed to mention that they often throw people in prison for using it. He even went so far as to tell the audience that he considers ‘it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.’ .  . And anyway, where exactly is that in the oath of office he took?”

The Obama Justice Department let’s it slip out — the Bush administration got it right on voter i.d. laws. There is no discriminatory effect.

Democrats think it’s a fine idea to make Nancy Pelosi the face of the 2010 congressional races. Well, she’s a grandma and all. Rep. Pete Sessions, Chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee, thinks it’s a swell idea. I bet.

The car dealers strike back. Why did the government force the car companies to axe them? After all, these are independent businesses that can succeed or fail in the marketplace based on their own sales. Now, because of a government mandate (which violates state laws protecting franchisees), we will have tens of thousands more unemployed people and hundreds of boarded up dealerships in many towns and cities around the country. How do you like the new car companies so far?

James Capretta says the president’s healthcare letter made clear what he is up to: complete government control of healthcare. And how to pay for it? “Instead of making tough budgetary choices themselves, they are now hoping they can simply require some unelected, unaccountable advisory group — the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac) — to find the savings for them.  This is the worst of all possible worlds. Call it the black box of government-driven rationing of care.  MedPac — or any other federal agency for that matter — would be working from the same laundry list of price-controls and fee cuts that Congress has always used to try to control costs in governmental health programs.”

Stuart Taylor takes the time to show, once again, what a liar Keith Olbermann is.

Chris Christie starts out with a double-digit lead in New Jersey. A long way to go.

Not so long to go in Virginia and Terry McAuliffe is struggling.

Ed Whelan makes a convincing case that Senators who voted for Sotomayor are not to be stopped from opposing her Supreme Court nomination. Goodness knows that Democrats who voted for Roberts and Thomas for their appellate court spots didn’t feel any qualms about opposing them for the Supreme Court. Thomas’s circuit court confirmation hearing was described as “uneventful.”

And he then catches Sotomayor cheerleading for the president, which judges aren’t supposed to do.

Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is troubled by the “wise Latina” remark. Wait until he reads the rest of the speech.

Bringing people together: Marty Peretz and David Frum are in sync on the Cairo speech. And Charles Krauthammer, too.

Rep. Robert Wexler was spinning so hard for Obama he tied himself up in knots and had to backtrack. It seems not even he is comfortable with the new Obama policy. Well, for one thing, it makes him look foolish with his constituents.

Charles Hurt: “Obama really buttered them up in Cairo. He thanked them for everything from algebra to the pen, though he curiously failed to mention that they often throw people in prison for using it. He even went so far as to tell the audience that he considers ‘it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.’ .  . And anyway, where exactly is that in the oath of office he took?”

The Obama Justice Department let’s it slip out — the Bush administration got it right on voter i.d. laws. There is no discriminatory effect.

Read Less




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