Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 15, 2009

Re: Bibi’s Speech

Sometimes you cannot understand the greatness of a speech until you hear the spectrum of reactions to it. Netanyahu’s speech was heavy on style and light on new content: He made a shift from refusing to recognize the possibility of a Palestinian state toward allowing for one under very specific conditions: (i) It must be demilitarized; (ii) No refugees will be moved into Israel; (iii) it must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and (iv) Jerusalem will remain unified. Other than that, at first glance the speech provided mostly historical perspective, a few subtle retorts to Obama (as Jennifer pointed out), and an explicit announcement of his intention to stop building new settlements or expanding old ones beyond their current boundaries, but allowing for natural growth.

Yet the impact of the speech on Israel has been stunning. Most of it I’m picking up on radio and television (sorry no links), consisting of almost uniform praise; from settlers in Ofra who were pleased that he not only promised to allow them to live “normal” lives, but also praised their strength and Zionist values, all the way to Yael Tamir, a Labor-party rebel who has refused to participate in the coalition because it is too far right, but who nonetheless declared the speech to be a “very important step in the right direction” because of its recognition of a Palestinian state — a sentiment echoed by the opposition Kadima party as well.

The responses to Netanayahu’s speech reflect a consensus in Israel that is only growing stronger by the day: Nobody wants to rule over the Palestinians, nobody wants to see the West Bank become another Hamastan like Gaza, nobody wants to be told that their country exists at the expense of their suffering, and nobody thinks peace is around the corner. But everybody agrees that if the Palestinians would drop the violence and just try to live — to build an economy and a demilitarized civilian life alongside Israel, then Israelis would have a much easier time talking about statehood.

The greatness of his speech, in other words, was not in its eloquence or its boldness. It was in its unique ability to express the unified thinking of an entire nation.

This is what both the Americans and the Palestinians will now have to contend with. Bibi has made life fairly easy for Obama. By extracting a concession on the idea of a Palestinian state, the administration can declare victory and turn down the fire on the natural-growth issue. American and world attention will now be focused on what it should have been focused all along: The Palestinians. It is they, after all, who have utterly failed to meet any of the preconditions of the “road map” regarding a cessation of both preaching and practicing violence. It is they who harbor Hamas, Fatah-Tanzim, Islamic Jihad, and other armed groups to the point of having no capacity to rule or speak with a single, reliable voice. It is they who will have to radically change in order for peace to have a chance. If there’s no one to talk to, there’s nothing to talk about.

Small wonder, then, that the Palestinian reaction to the speech was so harsh. “A liar and a thief” is what their initial response called Netanyahu. Why indeed? Because he may have just burst their bubble of American coziness? Because he is openly willing to give them everything they should want, and refuses to give them everything they shouldn’t?

Sometimes you cannot understand the greatness of a speech until you hear the spectrum of reactions to it. Netanyahu’s speech was heavy on style and light on new content: He made a shift from refusing to recognize the possibility of a Palestinian state toward allowing for one under very specific conditions: (i) It must be demilitarized; (ii) No refugees will be moved into Israel; (iii) it must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and (iv) Jerusalem will remain unified. Other than that, at first glance the speech provided mostly historical perspective, a few subtle retorts to Obama (as Jennifer pointed out), and an explicit announcement of his intention to stop building new settlements or expanding old ones beyond their current boundaries, but allowing for natural growth.

Yet the impact of the speech on Israel has been stunning. Most of it I’m picking up on radio and television (sorry no links), consisting of almost uniform praise; from settlers in Ofra who were pleased that he not only promised to allow them to live “normal” lives, but also praised their strength and Zionist values, all the way to Yael Tamir, a Labor-party rebel who has refused to participate in the coalition because it is too far right, but who nonetheless declared the speech to be a “very important step in the right direction” because of its recognition of a Palestinian state — a sentiment echoed by the opposition Kadima party as well.

The responses to Netanayahu’s speech reflect a consensus in Israel that is only growing stronger by the day: Nobody wants to rule over the Palestinians, nobody wants to see the West Bank become another Hamastan like Gaza, nobody wants to be told that their country exists at the expense of their suffering, and nobody thinks peace is around the corner. But everybody agrees that if the Palestinians would drop the violence and just try to live — to build an economy and a demilitarized civilian life alongside Israel, then Israelis would have a much easier time talking about statehood.

The greatness of his speech, in other words, was not in its eloquence or its boldness. It was in its unique ability to express the unified thinking of an entire nation.

This is what both the Americans and the Palestinians will now have to contend with. Bibi has made life fairly easy for Obama. By extracting a concession on the idea of a Palestinian state, the administration can declare victory and turn down the fire on the natural-growth issue. American and world attention will now be focused on what it should have been focused all along: The Palestinians. It is they, after all, who have utterly failed to meet any of the preconditions of the “road map” regarding a cessation of both preaching and practicing violence. It is they who harbor Hamas, Fatah-Tanzim, Islamic Jihad, and other armed groups to the point of having no capacity to rule or speak with a single, reliable voice. It is they who will have to radically change in order for peace to have a chance. If there’s no one to talk to, there’s nothing to talk about.

Small wonder, then, that the Palestinian reaction to the speech was so harsh. “A liar and a thief” is what their initial response called Netanyahu. Why indeed? Because he may have just burst their bubble of American coziness? Because he is openly willing to give them everything they should want, and refuses to give them everything they shouldn’t?

Read Less

Learning the Truth

A filmmaker named James Longley, who was nominated for an Oscar for a despairing (natch) documentary called Iraq in Fragments, is making a film in Iran and sent an email to a friend’s blog:

About three hours ago I was interviewing people on the street in downtown Tehran with my translator, not far from the Ministry of Interior building.

There were some riot police about 100 meters away at the other end of the street.

A couple people spoke to the camera – one young woman was saying that “The riot police are beating people like animals. The situation here is very bad; we need the UN to come and help with a recount of the votes!”

At about that time a plain-clothes security guy started grabbing my arm, and together with several uniformed police they dragged me and my translator off to the Ministry of Interior building.

I fared much better than my translator, whom they punched and kicked in the groin. They ripped off his ID and snatched away both our cameras. A passing police officer sprayed my translator in the face with pepper spray, although he was already being marched along the pavement by three policemen.

Unfortunately my camera was still recording and the battery was dislodged in the hubbub, destroying the video file of the interview.

As we reached the Ministry of Interior building they separated us and dragged my translator by his arms across the floor and down a flight of stairs; he eventually regained his footing on the second two flights of stairs leading downward to the holding cell, where about twenty people who had already been grabbed off the streets were kneeling on the floor in the darkened room with their hands tied behind their backs.

All during this process my translator was being kicked and sworn at. The police told him how they “would put their d—s in his a–” and how “your mother/sister is a whore” and so on. At one point he was beaten with a belt buckle. At another moment, they beat him with a police truncheon across his back, leaving a nasty welt.

My translator kept on insisting that he was an officially authorized translator working with an American journalist – which is perfectly true.

At this time I was above ground, in the entrance to the ministry, yelling over and over at the police to “Bring me my translator!” It was clear that they didn’t intend to beat me – although they may have wanted to – because I was a foreigner.

After a few minutes they relented and sent someone off to retrieve my translator from their holding cell, three floors down in the Ministry of Interior building.

They came into the holding cell and shouted “Where is the translator?!” and then, when he identified himself, they beat him again for “not telling them he was a translator.”

An English-speaking riot policeman tried to sweet-talk me, saying that in a riot situation anything can happen. I might have taken him more seriously had a riot actually been taking place when we were arrested. He also asked my translator to convince me not to report what had happened.

Eyewitnesses are reporting that fully-credentialed foreign journalists are similarly being detained all over Tehran today. The deputy head of the Ministry of Guidance just told me on the phone that other journalists have also been beaten, and that the official permissions no longer work. Also, foreign journalist visas are not being extended, so all of those people who were allowed in to cover the elections are now being forced out in the messy aftermath.

All in all, it made me really question what I am doing in this country. It has become impossible to work as a journalist without the risk of physical violence from the government.

Welcome to a theocratic would-be totalitarian country, Mr. Longley. American innocents abroad, volume 312.

A filmmaker named James Longley, who was nominated for an Oscar for a despairing (natch) documentary called Iraq in Fragments, is making a film in Iran and sent an email to a friend’s blog:

About three hours ago I was interviewing people on the street in downtown Tehran with my translator, not far from the Ministry of Interior building.

There were some riot police about 100 meters away at the other end of the street.

A couple people spoke to the camera – one young woman was saying that “The riot police are beating people like animals. The situation here is very bad; we need the UN to come and help with a recount of the votes!”

At about that time a plain-clothes security guy started grabbing my arm, and together with several uniformed police they dragged me and my translator off to the Ministry of Interior building.

I fared much better than my translator, whom they punched and kicked in the groin. They ripped off his ID and snatched away both our cameras. A passing police officer sprayed my translator in the face with pepper spray, although he was already being marched along the pavement by three policemen.

Unfortunately my camera was still recording and the battery was dislodged in the hubbub, destroying the video file of the interview.

As we reached the Ministry of Interior building they separated us and dragged my translator by his arms across the floor and down a flight of stairs; he eventually regained his footing on the second two flights of stairs leading downward to the holding cell, where about twenty people who had already been grabbed off the streets were kneeling on the floor in the darkened room with their hands tied behind their backs.

All during this process my translator was being kicked and sworn at. The police told him how they “would put their d—s in his a–” and how “your mother/sister is a whore” and so on. At one point he was beaten with a belt buckle. At another moment, they beat him with a police truncheon across his back, leaving a nasty welt.

My translator kept on insisting that he was an officially authorized translator working with an American journalist – which is perfectly true.

At this time I was above ground, in the entrance to the ministry, yelling over and over at the police to “Bring me my translator!” It was clear that they didn’t intend to beat me – although they may have wanted to – because I was a foreigner.

After a few minutes they relented and sent someone off to retrieve my translator from their holding cell, three floors down in the Ministry of Interior building.

They came into the holding cell and shouted “Where is the translator?!” and then, when he identified himself, they beat him again for “not telling them he was a translator.”

An English-speaking riot policeman tried to sweet-talk me, saying that in a riot situation anything can happen. I might have taken him more seriously had a riot actually been taking place when we were arrested. He also asked my translator to convince me not to report what had happened.

Eyewitnesses are reporting that fully-credentialed foreign journalists are similarly being detained all over Tehran today. The deputy head of the Ministry of Guidance just told me on the phone that other journalists have also been beaten, and that the official permissions no longer work. Also, foreign journalist visas are not being extended, so all of those people who were allowed in to cover the elections are now being forced out in the messy aftermath.

All in all, it made me really question what I am doing in this country. It has become impossible to work as a journalist without the risk of physical violence from the government.

Welcome to a theocratic would-be totalitarian country, Mr. Longley. American innocents abroad, volume 312.

Read Less

What Does Healthcare Reform Have to do With Cost Savings?

Robert J. Samuelson minces no words on healthcare reform:

It’s hard to know whether President Obama’s health-care “reform” is naive, hypocritical or simply dishonest. Probably all three. The president keeps saying it’s imperative to control runaway health spending. He’s right. The trouble is that what’s being promoted as health-care “reform” almost certainly won’t suppress spending and, quite probably, will do the opposite.

This has been the dilemma all along: this ( if “this” is universal healthcare managed by the government) is going to be very, very expensive and, unless we are talking about rationing, it doesn’t do much (anything, really) about escalating healthcare costs. As Samuleson points out, when more people have insurance paid for or subsidized by the government, it is going to get extremely expensive. The urge to use more and more services only increases.

He and others would like instead to start working on the cost end — with Medicare reform. What could that look like? Well, all of Peter Orszag’s ideas to “bend the cost-curve” could be put to the test. That means “investing in health-information technology, comparative-effectiveness research, and prevention and wellness, and by changing financial incentives for providers to deliver care more efficiently.” Many doubt there are gigantic savings there, at least immediately. But give it a try. And better yet, they might look at Medicare Part D — a popular, less expensive-than-expected program which works with private competition and no government price-fixing. Now that would be reform.

Robert J. Samuelson minces no words on healthcare reform:

It’s hard to know whether President Obama’s health-care “reform” is naive, hypocritical or simply dishonest. Probably all three. The president keeps saying it’s imperative to control runaway health spending. He’s right. The trouble is that what’s being promoted as health-care “reform” almost certainly won’t suppress spending and, quite probably, will do the opposite.

This has been the dilemma all along: this ( if “this” is universal healthcare managed by the government) is going to be very, very expensive and, unless we are talking about rationing, it doesn’t do much (anything, really) about escalating healthcare costs. As Samuleson points out, when more people have insurance paid for or subsidized by the government, it is going to get extremely expensive. The urge to use more and more services only increases.

He and others would like instead to start working on the cost end — with Medicare reform. What could that look like? Well, all of Peter Orszag’s ideas to “bend the cost-curve” could be put to the test. That means “investing in health-information technology, comparative-effectiveness research, and prevention and wellness, and by changing financial incentives for providers to deliver care more efficiently.” Many doubt there are gigantic savings there, at least immediately. But give it a try. And better yet, they might look at Medicare Part D — a popular, less expensive-than-expected program which works with private competition and no government price-fixing. Now that would be reform.

Read Less

An Enemy of the World

The Islamic Republic regime in Iran is vividly revealing itself as an enemy of the entire world.

“Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s police and the Basij militia are using violence and terror to suppress the Iranian people at home. His terrorist proxies fire missiles at Israel while torturing, maiming, and murdering Palestinians. He sponsored a violent coup d’etat against the elected government in Beirut last year with his Hezbollah militia. He sponsors a terrorist insurgency against the elected government of Iraq, while his fanatical proxies shoot and kill American soldiers. A car bomb cell belonging to the regime’s Lebanese franchise was recently arrested in Azerbaijan, and more cells were rolled up in Egypt. Terrorists sponsored and encouraged by him and his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, have murdered civilians from Argentina to Japan.

The regime’s only allies in the world are terrorist armies and Bashar Assad’s Baath Party state in Syria. Assad himself, like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, is a pariah among the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Azeris, and Israelis who make up the region.

Iranian civilians risk violent beatings and worse by the thousands for standing up to the regime in the streets and treating it as the enemy it clearly is. There is no better time for the rest of us to do so, as well, especially since such gestures carry far less risk for us. The Pasdaran have no divisions in Washington, Paris, or London.

Obama Administration officials still hope they can talk Khamenei out of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. This is delusion on stilts. Khamenei can’t even compromise with his own regime or his hand-picked presidential candidates. He placed them under house arrest, along with a Grand Ayatollah, and deployed thousands of violent enforcers into the streets. Not only does he confront the world, he is at war with his very own country.

Understand the mind of a totalitarian. “Probe with a bayonet,” Vladimir Lenin famously said. “If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

The Khomeinists in Iran likewise only stop when they meet steel. In his book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, Amir Taheri describes how since 1979 the regime has always continued to push until, as he put it, it hits something hard. It’s hitting something hard right now within its borders. This is no time for mush from everyone else. The regime today is weaker than it has ever been. If the insurrection continues, a fast hard shove might well push it over. If the regime survives, it may well feel invincible.

Military action against Iran should be the very last option and used only if everything short of it fails. Dialogue, though, is only the first option, one that has been failing for three decades. And there is a vast range of options between war and discussion.

If President Barack Obama simply must get this out of his system, at least his patience may be partly sapped by the brutal suppression of hope and change in Iran. He will learn soon enough, if he hasn’t already, that Khamenei, if he survives after defeating Iranians who bravely stood up and said “death to dictatorship” to his face, will be in no mood to compromise with diplomats who are afraid to speak up from thousands of miles away.

The Islamic Republic regime in Iran is vividly revealing itself as an enemy of the entire world.

“Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s police and the Basij militia are using violence and terror to suppress the Iranian people at home. His terrorist proxies fire missiles at Israel while torturing, maiming, and murdering Palestinians. He sponsored a violent coup d’etat against the elected government in Beirut last year with his Hezbollah militia. He sponsors a terrorist insurgency against the elected government of Iraq, while his fanatical proxies shoot and kill American soldiers. A car bomb cell belonging to the regime’s Lebanese franchise was recently arrested in Azerbaijan, and more cells were rolled up in Egypt. Terrorists sponsored and encouraged by him and his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, have murdered civilians from Argentina to Japan.

The regime’s only allies in the world are terrorist armies and Bashar Assad’s Baath Party state in Syria. Assad himself, like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, is a pariah among the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Azeris, and Israelis who make up the region.

Iranian civilians risk violent beatings and worse by the thousands for standing up to the regime in the streets and treating it as the enemy it clearly is. There is no better time for the rest of us to do so, as well, especially since such gestures carry far less risk for us. The Pasdaran have no divisions in Washington, Paris, or London.

Obama Administration officials still hope they can talk Khamenei out of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. This is delusion on stilts. Khamenei can’t even compromise with his own regime or his hand-picked presidential candidates. He placed them under house arrest, along with a Grand Ayatollah, and deployed thousands of violent enforcers into the streets. Not only does he confront the world, he is at war with his very own country.

Understand the mind of a totalitarian. “Probe with a bayonet,” Vladimir Lenin famously said. “If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

The Khomeinists in Iran likewise only stop when they meet steel. In his book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, Amir Taheri describes how since 1979 the regime has always continued to push until, as he put it, it hits something hard. It’s hitting something hard right now within its borders. This is no time for mush from everyone else. The regime today is weaker than it has ever been. If the insurrection continues, a fast hard shove might well push it over. If the regime survives, it may well feel invincible.

Military action against Iran should be the very last option and used only if everything short of it fails. Dialogue, though, is only the first option, one that has been failing for three decades. And there is a vast range of options between war and discussion.

If President Barack Obama simply must get this out of his system, at least his patience may be partly sapped by the brutal suppression of hope and change in Iran. He will learn soon enough, if he hasn’t already, that Khamenei, if he survives after defeating Iranians who bravely stood up and said “death to dictatorship” to his face, will be in no mood to compromise with diplomats who are afraid to speak up from thousands of miles away.

Read Less

Re: The Bright Side

Max, I am somewhat doubtful that the Obama administration will be inclined to drop its fixation on “engagement” — at least not without some serious pressure from those who would rather not legitimize the mullah’s handiwork. You write: “Even the Obama administration will be hard put to enter into serious negotiations with Ahmadinejad, especially when his scant credibility has been undermined by these utterly fraudulent elections and the resulting street protests.” Perhaps, but the initial signals from the Obama administration over the weekend suggest that they aren’t persuaded to alter their approach (which would entail carrying on with business as “normal.”)

The initial indication from an unnamed official, via the  New York Times, was that the administration isn’t inclined to let brutality, fraud, violence and illegitimacy stand in the way of negotiating with the Iranian regime. Joe Biden confirmed on Sunday that there is nothing Iran could do which would dissuade the U.S. from conferring the mantle of legitimacy on Ahmadinejad:

The Obama administration is determined to press on with efforts to engage the Iranian government, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other officials said over the weekend, despite misgivings about irregularities in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.“The decision has been made to talk” regardless of the election outcome, Mr. Biden said Sunday.

Sen. Joe Lieberman has other ideas and put out a statement which reads:

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

And there are plenty of actions the administration might take, as Bill Kristol pointed out:

For example: Statements of support for fair elections and peaceful protest; personal outreach to endangered opposition leaders (if not by us, then by Europeans–though how dramatic would it be if Sec. Clinton placed a phone call to Mousavi to make sure he’s not under arrest and is free to talk?); an immediate infusion of funds to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda service, which provides invaluable information from and within Iran; technical assistance against the regime’s attempts to block websites, shut down cell phone networks, etc.; suspension (by the Europeans) of various cultural and commercial contacts; pressure through international organizations on behalf of the Iranian people.

At the very least, some are urging the administration to resist the urge to put its stamp of approval on Ahmadinejad by continuing to plunge ahead with “engagement,” as if nothing has changed. Mitt Romney on This Week suggests some more forthright talk:

Well, first of all, the comments by the president last week that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was obviously entirely wrong-headed. What has occurred is that the election is a fraud, the results are inaccurate, and you’re seeing a brutal repression of the people as they protest. The president ought to come out and state exactly those words, indicate that this has been a terribly managed decision by the autocratic regime in Iran.

Rep. Mike Pence had similar thoughts. And the Washington Post editors implore the administration to at least “make clear that a government wanting to be taken seriously by the international community should not use violence against peaceful protests, arrest opposition leaders and their followers, jam radio broadcasts, or block Internet use.”

All of these are valuable suggestions and realistic responses which the administration could offer. For now the administration is trying to lay low. (As the Washington Post dryly notes,  “The administration has remained as quiet as possible during the Iranian election season and, more recently, in the days of street protests since Friday’s vote.”) It is in quite a quandary. The president has been falling over himself to convey respect for the Iranian regime and shy from any harsh words that might give offense. It is critical to his game plan of ingratiating himself and searching for some new relationship with a regime that has given no sign of willingness to change. How can the charade continue any longer? It seems inconceivable — so perhaps the Obama administration can be convinced to stop trying.

Those looking for any excuse to defend Obama’s muteness argue that it’s better that we “stay out of it.” But there is no staying out of it. We either carry on with business as usual, throwing the protesters under the Obama hope-n-change bus, or we employ an array of diplomatic and rhetorical tools to make clear our unwillingness to countenance thuggery. (The protestors seem quite anxious about Obama’s willingness to recognize the legitimacy of the election.) Resisting the urge to confer legitimacy on Ahmadinejad obviously won’t further the aim of “rapproachment” with the current regime, but that was a pipe dream all along. Perhaps it’s time for hope and change.

Max, I am somewhat doubtful that the Obama administration will be inclined to drop its fixation on “engagement” — at least not without some serious pressure from those who would rather not legitimize the mullah’s handiwork. You write: “Even the Obama administration will be hard put to enter into serious negotiations with Ahmadinejad, especially when his scant credibility has been undermined by these utterly fraudulent elections and the resulting street protests.” Perhaps, but the initial signals from the Obama administration over the weekend suggest that they aren’t persuaded to alter their approach (which would entail carrying on with business as “normal.”)

The initial indication from an unnamed official, via the  New York Times, was that the administration isn’t inclined to let brutality, fraud, violence and illegitimacy stand in the way of negotiating with the Iranian regime. Joe Biden confirmed on Sunday that there is nothing Iran could do which would dissuade the U.S. from conferring the mantle of legitimacy on Ahmadinejad:

The Obama administration is determined to press on with efforts to engage the Iranian government, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other officials said over the weekend, despite misgivings about irregularities in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.“The decision has been made to talk” regardless of the election outcome, Mr. Biden said Sunday.

Sen. Joe Lieberman has other ideas and put out a statement which reads:

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

And there are plenty of actions the administration might take, as Bill Kristol pointed out:

For example: Statements of support for fair elections and peaceful protest; personal outreach to endangered opposition leaders (if not by us, then by Europeans–though how dramatic would it be if Sec. Clinton placed a phone call to Mousavi to make sure he’s not under arrest and is free to talk?); an immediate infusion of funds to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda service, which provides invaluable information from and within Iran; technical assistance against the regime’s attempts to block websites, shut down cell phone networks, etc.; suspension (by the Europeans) of various cultural and commercial contacts; pressure through international organizations on behalf of the Iranian people.

At the very least, some are urging the administration to resist the urge to put its stamp of approval on Ahmadinejad by continuing to plunge ahead with “engagement,” as if nothing has changed. Mitt Romney on This Week suggests some more forthright talk:

Well, first of all, the comments by the president last week that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was obviously entirely wrong-headed. What has occurred is that the election is a fraud, the results are inaccurate, and you’re seeing a brutal repression of the people as they protest. The president ought to come out and state exactly those words, indicate that this has been a terribly managed decision by the autocratic regime in Iran.

Rep. Mike Pence had similar thoughts. And the Washington Post editors implore the administration to at least “make clear that a government wanting to be taken seriously by the international community should not use violence against peaceful protests, arrest opposition leaders and their followers, jam radio broadcasts, or block Internet use.”

All of these are valuable suggestions and realistic responses which the administration could offer. For now the administration is trying to lay low. (As the Washington Post dryly notes,  “The administration has remained as quiet as possible during the Iranian election season and, more recently, in the days of street protests since Friday’s vote.”) It is in quite a quandary. The president has been falling over himself to convey respect for the Iranian regime and shy from any harsh words that might give offense. It is critical to his game plan of ingratiating himself and searching for some new relationship with a regime that has given no sign of willingness to change. How can the charade continue any longer? It seems inconceivable — so perhaps the Obama administration can be convinced to stop trying.

Those looking for any excuse to defend Obama’s muteness argue that it’s better that we “stay out of it.” But there is no staying out of it. We either carry on with business as usual, throwing the protesters under the Obama hope-n-change bus, or we employ an array of diplomatic and rhetorical tools to make clear our unwillingness to countenance thuggery. (The protestors seem quite anxious about Obama’s willingness to recognize the legitimacy of the election.) Resisting the urge to confer legitimacy on Ahmadinejad obviously won’t further the aim of “rapproachment” with the current regime, but that was a pipe dream all along. Perhaps it’s time for hope and change.

Read Less

An Uptick in American Conservatism

According to a new Gallup Poll, “Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004.”

These results correspond to others we have seen. It demonstrates, I think, several things. The first is that America remains a center-right nation. The second is that President Obama’s victory in 2008 was an impressive personal achievement; it was not an ideological turning point for America. Third, the Republican Party remains in significantly worse shape than the conservative movement (Gallup found an average of 37 percent of Americans consider themselves independent, 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democratic, and 28 percent Republican). And fourth, many of those who now claim to be independent are “getable” for the GOP. For example, 22 percent of Democrats consider themselves conservative (v. 3 percent of Republicans identifying as liberal) and among independents, 45 percent describe their political views as moderate, 34 percent as conservative, and 20 percent as liberal. Many of them could find their way back to the Republican Party, if it is seen as principled, revitalized, and modern.

President Obama is extremely popular personally, and one should not underestimate the value of that. He is both liked and trusted by much of the public, which gives him latitude to act in ways that others could not.  And Obama is exceptionally good at making his policies sound different than they are. Still, the danger for President Obama is that he is governing to the left of where he ran, in a nation that is significantly more conservative than it is liberal. Americans are growing increasingly wary of his policies, particularly his economic policies. And while much of the public has been willing to defer to him so far, its patience is nowhere close to endless. And if Obama’s policies are seen as contributing to our problems rather than solving them – and the staggering deficit and debt we are seeing are going to trigger some unpleasant outcomes and choices – the political climate can change rapidly and dramatically. President Obama remains in a strong position, but he is far from invincible.

According to a new Gallup Poll, “Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004.”

These results correspond to others we have seen. It demonstrates, I think, several things. The first is that America remains a center-right nation. The second is that President Obama’s victory in 2008 was an impressive personal achievement; it was not an ideological turning point for America. Third, the Republican Party remains in significantly worse shape than the conservative movement (Gallup found an average of 37 percent of Americans consider themselves independent, 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democratic, and 28 percent Republican). And fourth, many of those who now claim to be independent are “getable” for the GOP. For example, 22 percent of Democrats consider themselves conservative (v. 3 percent of Republicans identifying as liberal) and among independents, 45 percent describe their political views as moderate, 34 percent as conservative, and 20 percent as liberal. Many of them could find their way back to the Republican Party, if it is seen as principled, revitalized, and modern.

President Obama is extremely popular personally, and one should not underestimate the value of that. He is both liked and trusted by much of the public, which gives him latitude to act in ways that others could not.  And Obama is exceptionally good at making his policies sound different than they are. Still, the danger for President Obama is that he is governing to the left of where he ran, in a nation that is significantly more conservative than it is liberal. Americans are growing increasingly wary of his policies, particularly his economic policies. And while much of the public has been willing to defer to him so far, its patience is nowhere close to endless. And if Obama’s policies are seen as contributing to our problems rather than solving them – and the staggering deficit and debt we are seeing are going to trigger some unpleasant outcomes and choices – the political climate can change rapidly and dramatically. President Obama remains in a strong position, but he is far from invincible.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Whoops — we got that whole stimulus thing wrong, says Joe Biden. So can we get the trillion dollars back if it’s not working? No.

He says “everyone guessed wrong” on the unemployment numbers. Uh. No. One political party (unanimously in House and nearly so in the Senate) said it was nonsense that wouldn’t work.

78% of Jewish voters supported Obama for president but now they are “concerned,” says Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Apparently President Obama doesn’t sound anything like candidate Obama on Iran, on Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, on settlements, etc. Hmm. It seems lots of people have noticed the differences.

Tyler Cowen: “Medicare expenditures threaten to crush the federal budget, yet the Obama administration is proposing that we start by spending more now so we can spend less later. This runs the risk of becoming the new voodoo economics. If we can’t realize significant savings in health care costs now, don’t expect savings in the future, either.”

Roger Cohen is of course stunned, just stunned to find brutality going on in Iran: “Overnight, a whole movement and mood were vaporized, to the point that they appeared a hallucination.” Wait until he finds out they’re not nice to Jews.

A smart move if you are offering yourself up as an education reformer: “In keeping with his tough campaign rhetoric on public employees’ unions, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has declined to seek the endorsement of the New Jersey Education Association’s  (NJEA) political action committee.”

Amir Taheri: “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory has the merit of clarifying the situation within the Islamic Republic. The choice is now between a repressive regime based on a bizarre and obscurantist ideology and the prospect of real change and democratization. There is no halfway house.The same clarity may apply to Tehran’s foreign policy. Believing that he has already defeated the United States, Mr. Ahmadinejad will be in no mood for compromise. Moments after his victory he described the U.S. as a ‘crippled creature’ and invited President Obama to a debate at the United Nations General Assembly, ostensibly to examine ‘the injustice done by world arrogance to Muslim nations.'” The Obama administration remains undeterred.

The Washington Post editors muster up a mild warning about conferring legitimacy on highly suspect election results: “So, as a first step, the Obama administration should take care not to signal more respect for those results than they merit.” (That would be none.)

Tom Friedman throws in the towel. With the mandatory snipe at “George Bush’s costly and wrenching wars” ( Friedman didn’t like Afghanistan either?), he acknowledges: “But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. ‘Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,’ said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. ‘It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.'” Yes, it’s hard to see how it can be “disingenuous” if it was also real and worked, but Friedman has essentially conceded Bush was right about democracy in Iraq and his critics were wrong.

The Wall Stret Journal editors get it exactly right: “In Iran today, a sham election has been met with an open revolt. This takes great courage. The world’s free nations need the courage to do better than respond with the sham policy of making nice with an illegitimate regime.”

I am not the only one pointing out Obama’s about face on Israel. Mitt Romney has noticed the Obama flip-floppery too: “During the campaign, when he spoke to AIPAC, he said he would do everything in his power to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And then he went to Cairo and said that no single nation should have the ability to deny another nation the right to have a nuclear weapon. That is an 180-degree flip of a dangerous nature. . .But that’s not right for America. That’s not right for world security.”

Sen. Kent Conrad says the votes aren’t there for the “public option.” So what next –and does Obama try to change anyone’s mind?

Sen. Mitch McConnell says the filibuster is on the table for Sotomayor. After all, the Democrats legitimized the tactic, he reminds us: “I have consistently opposed filibustering judges – did it during the Clinton years – but I lost that fight. .  .The Senate will filibuster judges. That precedent was established – ironically enough – on a Hispanic-American nominee in Miguel Estrada. . . The Democrats have firmly established that as a precedent, but that doesn’t mean you are going to use it.”

Michael Rubin (no relation) thinks the Obama Effect isn’t working out so well: “Look carefully at how things unfolded in Tehran. Outreach to the Islamic Republic is Obama’s signature foreign policy issue. A week into his presidency, Obama extended an olive branch to Tehran, asking the regime to unclench its fist. Two months later, Obama broadcast a message to Iran, for the first time recognizing the ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people. Last month, Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic’s right to enrich uranium and, in Cairo, the he acknowledged CIA involvement in the overthrow of an Iranian government more than a half-century ago. Rhetoric, concession and apology, however, are not enough to alter reality. On Friday, millions of Iranians cast votes in hotly contested presidential elections, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying president who defies nuclear safeguards and mocks U.S. weakness, won a second term.”

Whoops — we got that whole stimulus thing wrong, says Joe Biden. So can we get the trillion dollars back if it’s not working? No.

He says “everyone guessed wrong” on the unemployment numbers. Uh. No. One political party (unanimously in House and nearly so in the Senate) said it was nonsense that wouldn’t work.

78% of Jewish voters supported Obama for president but now they are “concerned,” says Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Apparently President Obama doesn’t sound anything like candidate Obama on Iran, on Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, on settlements, etc. Hmm. It seems lots of people have noticed the differences.

Tyler Cowen: “Medicare expenditures threaten to crush the federal budget, yet the Obama administration is proposing that we start by spending more now so we can spend less later. This runs the risk of becoming the new voodoo economics. If we can’t realize significant savings in health care costs now, don’t expect savings in the future, either.”

Roger Cohen is of course stunned, just stunned to find brutality going on in Iran: “Overnight, a whole movement and mood were vaporized, to the point that they appeared a hallucination.” Wait until he finds out they’re not nice to Jews.

A smart move if you are offering yourself up as an education reformer: “In keeping with his tough campaign rhetoric on public employees’ unions, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has declined to seek the endorsement of the New Jersey Education Association’s  (NJEA) political action committee.”

Amir Taheri: “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory has the merit of clarifying the situation within the Islamic Republic. The choice is now between a repressive regime based on a bizarre and obscurantist ideology and the prospect of real change and democratization. There is no halfway house.The same clarity may apply to Tehran’s foreign policy. Believing that he has already defeated the United States, Mr. Ahmadinejad will be in no mood for compromise. Moments after his victory he described the U.S. as a ‘crippled creature’ and invited President Obama to a debate at the United Nations General Assembly, ostensibly to examine ‘the injustice done by world arrogance to Muslim nations.'” The Obama administration remains undeterred.

The Washington Post editors muster up a mild warning about conferring legitimacy on highly suspect election results: “So, as a first step, the Obama administration should take care not to signal more respect for those results than they merit.” (That would be none.)

Tom Friedman throws in the towel. With the mandatory snipe at “George Bush’s costly and wrenching wars” ( Friedman didn’t like Afghanistan either?), he acknowledges: “But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. ‘Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,’ said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. ‘It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.'” Yes, it’s hard to see how it can be “disingenuous” if it was also real and worked, but Friedman has essentially conceded Bush was right about democracy in Iraq and his critics were wrong.

The Wall Stret Journal editors get it exactly right: “In Iran today, a sham election has been met with an open revolt. This takes great courage. The world’s free nations need the courage to do better than respond with the sham policy of making nice with an illegitimate regime.”

I am not the only one pointing out Obama’s about face on Israel. Mitt Romney has noticed the Obama flip-floppery too: “During the campaign, when he spoke to AIPAC, he said he would do everything in his power to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And then he went to Cairo and said that no single nation should have the ability to deny another nation the right to have a nuclear weapon. That is an 180-degree flip of a dangerous nature. . .But that’s not right for America. That’s not right for world security.”

Sen. Kent Conrad says the votes aren’t there for the “public option.” So what next –and does Obama try to change anyone’s mind?

Sen. Mitch McConnell says the filibuster is on the table for Sotomayor. After all, the Democrats legitimized the tactic, he reminds us: “I have consistently opposed filibustering judges – did it during the Clinton years – but I lost that fight. .  .The Senate will filibuster judges. That precedent was established – ironically enough – on a Hispanic-American nominee in Miguel Estrada. . . The Democrats have firmly established that as a precedent, but that doesn’t mean you are going to use it.”

Michael Rubin (no relation) thinks the Obama Effect isn’t working out so well: “Look carefully at how things unfolded in Tehran. Outreach to the Islamic Republic is Obama’s signature foreign policy issue. A week into his presidency, Obama extended an olive branch to Tehran, asking the regime to unclench its fist. Two months later, Obama broadcast a message to Iran, for the first time recognizing the ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people. Last month, Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic’s right to enrich uranium and, in Cairo, the he acknowledged CIA involvement in the overthrow of an Iranian government more than a half-century ago. Rhetoric, concession and apology, however, are not enough to alter reality. On Friday, millions of Iranians cast votes in hotly contested presidential elections, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying president who defies nuclear safeguards and mocks U.S. weakness, won a second term.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.