Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 21, 2009

Israelis Shift Gears on Obama

The White House is atwitter after a new poll revealed a dramatic shift among Israelis regarding the administration’s policies towards Israel. The poll, conducted by Smith Research and commissioned by the Jerusalem Post, shows that only 6% of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 50% see him as “pro-Palestinian.” Compare this with the same poll from a month earlier, in mid-May, which had 31% responding that the Obama Administration is pro-Israel, and just 14% saying pro-Palestinian. What has changed in the last month? Not much, other than Obama’s dramatic Cairo speech, which described Israel as the product of centuries of Jewish suffering and the Holocaust; and Netanyahu’s no less dramatic response, which described Israel as the product of thousands of years of Jewish attachment to their ancient homeland.

There is a political calculus for the President here: As much as American Jews may have supported Obama without caring too much about his record on Israel, at the end of the day, American Jews tend to care deeply about Israel, and their sense of what’s happening with Israel is highly informed by what Israelis think (or, at least, Israeli elites). In other words, so dramatically lopsided a view of American policy towards Israel will not be lost on American Jewish voters. Midterms are not that far off.

The White House is atwitter after a new poll revealed a dramatic shift among Israelis regarding the administration’s policies towards Israel. The poll, conducted by Smith Research and commissioned by the Jerusalem Post, shows that only 6% of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 50% see him as “pro-Palestinian.” Compare this with the same poll from a month earlier, in mid-May, which had 31% responding that the Obama Administration is pro-Israel, and just 14% saying pro-Palestinian. What has changed in the last month? Not much, other than Obama’s dramatic Cairo speech, which described Israel as the product of centuries of Jewish suffering and the Holocaust; and Netanyahu’s no less dramatic response, which described Israel as the product of thousands of years of Jewish attachment to their ancient homeland.

There is a political calculus for the President here: As much as American Jews may have supported Obama without caring too much about his record on Israel, at the end of the day, American Jews tend to care deeply about Israel, and their sense of what’s happening with Israel is highly informed by what Israelis think (or, at least, Israeli elites). In other words, so dramatically lopsided a view of American policy towards Israel will not be lost on American Jewish voters. Midterms are not that far off.

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One Brave Ship

Our recent relations with China on the high seas have not been pleasant. Two unarmed United States navy ships have been harassed by Chinese boats and ships, leading to protests and the assignment of armed warships to escort the surveillance vessels. And recently a guided missile destroyer had its towed sonar array become entangled with a Chinese submarine.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have led us to ratchet up the pressure on that country, up to and including having one of our warships shadow and prepare to board and search a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying prohibited weapons and weapons technology.

The one ship that has featured prominently in these showdowns? The USS John S. McCain.

It was the McCain that tangled — literally — with a Chinese sub. And it is the McCain that is ready to stop and investigate the North Korean warship.

No, the ship is not named for the Senator, most recent Republican presidential nominee, and the man who lost to President Obama last November. She is named for the Senator’s grandfather and father, John S. McCain Senior and Junior, both of whom rose to the rank of Admiral and served with great distinction through several wars.

Is the destroyer’s prominence in events a gesture of respect from President Obama to his defeated rival? Is it a back-handed slap? Or is it just a rather odd coincidence?

My money’s on the last. But it is certainly an unusual one. The United States has over 50 destroyers of the McCain’s class, assigned all around the world. For this one ship to be so prominent in two separate areas of tension is remarkable.

Our recent relations with China on the high seas have not been pleasant. Two unarmed United States navy ships have been harassed by Chinese boats and ships, leading to protests and the assignment of armed warships to escort the surveillance vessels. And recently a guided missile destroyer had its towed sonar array become entangled with a Chinese submarine.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have led us to ratchet up the pressure on that country, up to and including having one of our warships shadow and prepare to board and search a North Korean freighter suspected of carrying prohibited weapons and weapons technology.

The one ship that has featured prominently in these showdowns? The USS John S. McCain.

It was the McCain that tangled — literally — with a Chinese sub. And it is the McCain that is ready to stop and investigate the North Korean warship.

No, the ship is not named for the Senator, most recent Republican presidential nominee, and the man who lost to President Obama last November. She is named for the Senator’s grandfather and father, John S. McCain Senior and Junior, both of whom rose to the rank of Admiral and served with great distinction through several wars.

Is the destroyer’s prominence in events a gesture of respect from President Obama to his defeated rival? Is it a back-handed slap? Or is it just a rather odd coincidence?

My money’s on the last. But it is certainly an unusual one. The United States has over 50 destroyers of the McCain’s class, assigned all around the world. For this one ship to be so prominent in two separate areas of tension is remarkable.

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ObamaCare Is in a Ditch

The Sunday talk shows were not kind to ObamaCare:

“So we’re in the position of dialing down some of our expectations to get the costs down so that it’s affordable and, most importantly, so that it’s paid for because we can’t go to the point where we are now of not paying for something when we have trillions of dollars of debt,” said [Sen. Chuck] Grassley, R-Iowa.

“And we anticipate paying for it through some savings and Medicare, and from some increases in revenue,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she wasn’t certain there are enough votes in the president’s own party to support the proposal.

“I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus,” she said.

The overhaul’s chief proponent in the Senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, urged patience as lawmakers continued working on the bill. However, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the bill’s cost was problematic.

“You do the math,” McCain said. “It comes up to $3 trillion. And so far, we have no proposal for having to pay for it.”

The CBO estimates “were a death blow to a government-run health care plan,” Graham said. “The Finance Committee has abandoned that. We do need to deal with inflation in health care, private and public inflation, but we’re not going to go down to the government-owning-health-care road in America and I think that’s the story of this week. There’s been a bipartisan rejection of that.”

At some point the White House will have to get into the game rather than allow Congress to thrash about endlessly. The president will have to make clear what his bottom line is and how he’s going to pay for it. Until now Obama has largely relied on Congress to come up with the details of his agenda (e.g. on the stimulus, climate control, and healthcare) but when the liberal leadership in the House and Senate can’t find a majority for their proposals then the president will need to try to round up the votes that Pelosi and Reid haven’t been able to find, craft a compromise that will disappoint his base, or let his top priorities founder.

Obama during his brief tenure in the Senate was never a deal-maker or legisltive craftsman. Now he — or his aides — will need to do the hard work of governing. It’s obviously not their favorite activity nor one which Obama is comfortable doing, but the time for dog-and-pony shows has come and gone.

The Sunday talk shows were not kind to ObamaCare:

“So we’re in the position of dialing down some of our expectations to get the costs down so that it’s affordable and, most importantly, so that it’s paid for because we can’t go to the point where we are now of not paying for something when we have trillions of dollars of debt,” said [Sen. Chuck] Grassley, R-Iowa.

“And we anticipate paying for it through some savings and Medicare, and from some increases in revenue,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she wasn’t certain there are enough votes in the president’s own party to support the proposal.

“I think there’s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus,” she said.

The overhaul’s chief proponent in the Senate, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, urged patience as lawmakers continued working on the bill. However, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the bill’s cost was problematic.

“You do the math,” McCain said. “It comes up to $3 trillion. And so far, we have no proposal for having to pay for it.”

The CBO estimates “were a death blow to a government-run health care plan,” Graham said. “The Finance Committee has abandoned that. We do need to deal with inflation in health care, private and public inflation, but we’re not going to go down to the government-owning-health-care road in America and I think that’s the story of this week. There’s been a bipartisan rejection of that.”

At some point the White House will have to get into the game rather than allow Congress to thrash about endlessly. The president will have to make clear what his bottom line is and how he’s going to pay for it. Until now Obama has largely relied on Congress to come up with the details of his agenda (e.g. on the stimulus, climate control, and healthcare) but when the liberal leadership in the House and Senate can’t find a majority for their proposals then the president will need to try to round up the votes that Pelosi and Reid haven’t been able to find, craft a compromise that will disappoint his base, or let his top priorities founder.

Obama during his brief tenure in the Senate was never a deal-maker or legisltive craftsman. Now he — or his aides — will need to do the hard work of governing. It’s obviously not their favorite activity nor one which Obama is comfortable doing, but the time for dog-and-pony shows has come and gone.

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The One’s at Minus Two

For the first time since he took office, President Obama’s approval rating in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll has gone negative. Thirty-two percent of those polled strongly approved of his performance and thirty-four percent strongly disapproved. While it’s impossible to know for sure, the president’s lackluster response to tens of thousands of Iranians putting their lives at risk for freedom is likely a major part of the reason for his falling numbers. Ten days ago, the day before the Iranian “election,” he was at plus seven.

After all, it was this country that began the world’s long, often bloody march to freedom and democracy. Two hundred and twenty-three years ago,  America first enunciated the ideas that the people are endowed by their Creator individually with life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness and collectively with the sovereign power to choose their government and their leaders.

Today, those ideas have spread around the world, leaving ever fewer remnants of tyranny. And today the people of Iran are at the forefront of that march to freedom. It is too soon to know if this will be a repeat of Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989 or Republic Square, Bucharest, a few months later. But the vast majority of the American people are hoping it’s the latter, with similar results for the tyrants. I suspect they are disappointed in a president who doesn’t seem to know which side he is on.

For the first time since he took office, President Obama’s approval rating in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll has gone negative. Thirty-two percent of those polled strongly approved of his performance and thirty-four percent strongly disapproved. While it’s impossible to know for sure, the president’s lackluster response to tens of thousands of Iranians putting their lives at risk for freedom is likely a major part of the reason for his falling numbers. Ten days ago, the day before the Iranian “election,” he was at plus seven.

After all, it was this country that began the world’s long, often bloody march to freedom and democracy. Two hundred and twenty-three years ago,  America first enunciated the ideas that the people are endowed by their Creator individually with life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness and collectively with the sovereign power to choose their government and their leaders.

Today, those ideas have spread around the world, leaving ever fewer remnants of tyranny. And today the people of Iran are at the forefront of that march to freedom. It is too soon to know if this will be a repeat of Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989 or Republic Square, Bucharest, a few months later. But the vast majority of the American people are hoping it’s the latter, with similar results for the tyrants. I suspect they are disappointed in a president who doesn’t seem to know which side he is on.

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An Inconvenient Opinion

After posting my views the other day as to why we should be rooting for the Green Revolution in Iran (“A Neocon Breaks Ranks” was Andrew Sullivan’s baffling headline), I was finally asked, for the first time, what I thought about (a) the Obama Administration’s response to the situation in Iran, and (b) whether I thought the Bush Administration would have handled it differently. The examples of Georgia and the Ukraine were raised. I discovered my opinions to be somewhat heretical in certain circles, so I might as well share them.

People in positions of responsibility inevitably behave differently than they would have when they were on the outside, criticizing. The knowledge that what you say really can have an impact on the outcome of events makes you behave very carefully. Iran is not the Ukraine or Georgia, for the simple reason that the revolutionary movement is not only being accused of acting under the influence of the U.S. and the “Zionists,” but that accusation still carries a great deal of traction in Iranian society. I really do believe that if the Mousavi supporters succeed, there’s a decent chance the new Iranian government will shift its attitude to the West, at least by a notch or two, if not more. But it’s not something the revolutionary movement is willing to say publicly at this stage.

It is far from clear that overt and flamboyant cheer-leading from the U.S. government will not do more harm than good. And not only is this probably one of the big concerns guiding the current administration, but I will go out on a very long limb and suggest that perhaps President Bush, too, would have understood how carefully this needs to be played. (Of course, Bush would likely have been accused of secretly supporting Ahmadinejad.)

Call me crazy. Political leaders are just like that sometimes. Their sense of responsibility trumps our vivid sense of justice.

This is, of course, Obama’s call to make, and he will be judged far more harshly for it if the revolution fails than if it succeeds. But those of us who are absolutely sure that he is going about this the wrong way should be given pause by the surprising support he has received from a certain Mr. Netanyahu. Bibi has often been cast as the neocon’s neocon, a supporter of democratic freedom and intervention everywhere, especially in the Muslim world — one who, by the way, has no problem going loggerheads with the current president on other issues. And yet, he has chosen not to second-guess Obama. He has wisely let Shimon Peres do the talking instead.

After posting my views the other day as to why we should be rooting for the Green Revolution in Iran (“A Neocon Breaks Ranks” was Andrew Sullivan’s baffling headline), I was finally asked, for the first time, what I thought about (a) the Obama Administration’s response to the situation in Iran, and (b) whether I thought the Bush Administration would have handled it differently. The examples of Georgia and the Ukraine were raised. I discovered my opinions to be somewhat heretical in certain circles, so I might as well share them.

People in positions of responsibility inevitably behave differently than they would have when they were on the outside, criticizing. The knowledge that what you say really can have an impact on the outcome of events makes you behave very carefully. Iran is not the Ukraine or Georgia, for the simple reason that the revolutionary movement is not only being accused of acting under the influence of the U.S. and the “Zionists,” but that accusation still carries a great deal of traction in Iranian society. I really do believe that if the Mousavi supporters succeed, there’s a decent chance the new Iranian government will shift its attitude to the West, at least by a notch or two, if not more. But it’s not something the revolutionary movement is willing to say publicly at this stage.

It is far from clear that overt and flamboyant cheer-leading from the U.S. government will not do more harm than good. And not only is this probably one of the big concerns guiding the current administration, but I will go out on a very long limb and suggest that perhaps President Bush, too, would have understood how carefully this needs to be played. (Of course, Bush would likely have been accused of secretly supporting Ahmadinejad.)

Call me crazy. Political leaders are just like that sometimes. Their sense of responsibility trumps our vivid sense of justice.

This is, of course, Obama’s call to make, and he will be judged far more harshly for it if the revolution fails than if it succeeds. But those of us who are absolutely sure that he is going about this the wrong way should be given pause by the surprising support he has received from a certain Mr. Netanyahu. Bibi has often been cast as the neocon’s neocon, a supporter of democratic freedom and intervention everywhere, especially in the Muslim world — one who, by the way, has no problem going loggerheads with the current president on other issues. And yet, he has chosen not to second-guess Obama. He has wisely let Shimon Peres do the talking instead.

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Who Is He Again?

The mainstream media seem fixated on the notion that John Ensign’s sex scandal has deprived the GOP of a 2012 contender and rising star. They have whole conversations about how the GOP can get over the loss. Listen, if before this week you stopped one hundred Republicans on the street and asked for the names of the future stars of their party I guarantee not one of them would have mentioned Ensign. (I suspect at least twenty wouldn’t know who he was.) But it makes for a good storyline — another episode in the endless series of  “Republicans in disarray!” columns.

This is poppycock squared, of course. There isn’t supposed to be a leader of the opposition party in the first six months of a new administration. In 2005, Barack Obama was freshman senator. In 1989, Bill Clinton was a governor who had bombed in his keynote speech at the Democratic convention. And, in 2009, we have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in 2012. Not exactly startling, nor indicative of much of anything.

It is, in some sense, the flip side of the other media obsession: Obama’s popularity. His fans in the press (I repeat myself) have used this as a shield to disarm or rebut the president’s opponents. Their views don’t matter and the president’s lack of support for his positions doesn’t matter, you see, because he’s popular. Now that he’s not so popular — and his policies aren’t at all – all of those anxious media Obamaphiles have to come up with new ways of discounting his critics.

Both of these storylines — “Republicans don’t have a single leader!” and “Obama’s so darned popular!” — betray a fixation with temporary and utterly mundane political phenomena (e.g. the losing party doesn’t chose it’s nominee three years in advance, new presidents enjoy a honeymoon). And for reporters indifferent to the details of  complicated policy issues, stories which feature either or both of these themes offer a respite and require little thought or effort. But at bottom they expose the media’s now all-too familiar desire to keep their guy on top and denigrate or dismiss his opponents.

So don’t feel bad if you didn’t know who Ensign was before this week; few did. He is simply a convenient prop in the never-ending mainstream media production “Obama Still Without A Rival.”

The mainstream media seem fixated on the notion that John Ensign’s sex scandal has deprived the GOP of a 2012 contender and rising star. They have whole conversations about how the GOP can get over the loss. Listen, if before this week you stopped one hundred Republicans on the street and asked for the names of the future stars of their party I guarantee not one of them would have mentioned Ensign. (I suspect at least twenty wouldn’t know who he was.) But it makes for a good storyline — another episode in the endless series of  “Republicans in disarray!” columns.

This is poppycock squared, of course. There isn’t supposed to be a leader of the opposition party in the first six months of a new administration. In 2005, Barack Obama was freshman senator. In 1989, Bill Clinton was a governor who had bombed in his keynote speech at the Democratic convention. And, in 2009, we have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in 2012. Not exactly startling, nor indicative of much of anything.

It is, in some sense, the flip side of the other media obsession: Obama’s popularity. His fans in the press (I repeat myself) have used this as a shield to disarm or rebut the president’s opponents. Their views don’t matter and the president’s lack of support for his positions doesn’t matter, you see, because he’s popular. Now that he’s not so popular — and his policies aren’t at all – all of those anxious media Obamaphiles have to come up with new ways of discounting his critics.

Both of these storylines — “Republicans don’t have a single leader!” and “Obama’s so darned popular!” — betray a fixation with temporary and utterly mundane political phenomena (e.g. the losing party doesn’t chose it’s nominee three years in advance, new presidents enjoy a honeymoon). And for reporters indifferent to the details of  complicated policy issues, stories which feature either or both of these themes offer a respite and require little thought or effort. But at bottom they expose the media’s now all-too familiar desire to keep their guy on top and denigrate or dismiss his opponents.

So don’t feel bad if you didn’t know who Ensign was before this week; few did. He is simply a convenient prop in the never-ending mainstream media production “Obama Still Without A Rival.”

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Elected, Not Redeemed

In the story about President Obama’s firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General overseeing potential misuses of Americorps funds, there is a sidelight that isn’t drawing much attention. And that’s the issue brought up by the subject of Walpin’s last investigation, the one into Kevin Johnson.

Johnson, a former NBA superstar, headed up St. HOPE Academy, an educational nonprofit that received nearly a million dollars in federal grants. Walpin’s investigation showed that Johnson had diverted a great deal of that money for his personal use. In an agreement with the federal government, St. HOPE repaid over $400,000 in funds.

That agreement wasn’t enough for Walpin, who sought a ban on St. HOPE — and its principals who had abused the Americorps funding — from receiving future federal grants. That would have proven quite troublesome in the case of Johnson, who was in the middle of an ultimately successful campaign for mayor of Sacramento. Had Walpin succeeded, it would have prevented Sacramento from getting any federal funding whatsoever.

This hardship was cited as a reason for not imposing what is often a standard penalty for those who admit to misusing federal grants.

The argument here is not a new one, and it is flawed. A person’s winning an election, does not confer upon them some kind of forgiveness for past offenses.

Kevin Johnson grossly misused federal funds. The standard penalty is a common sense one — he shouldn’t be entrusted with federal funds for at least some time. That he is now mayor of the capital of California doesn’t change that.

Winning an election does not have some sort of sanctifying effect. A man who misuses funds and is then elected mayor is now a mayor who has misused funds. And those who voted him into office should expect to have to live with the consequences of their decision.

In the story about President Obama’s firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General overseeing potential misuses of Americorps funds, there is a sidelight that isn’t drawing much attention. And that’s the issue brought up by the subject of Walpin’s last investigation, the one into Kevin Johnson.

Johnson, a former NBA superstar, headed up St. HOPE Academy, an educational nonprofit that received nearly a million dollars in federal grants. Walpin’s investigation showed that Johnson had diverted a great deal of that money for his personal use. In an agreement with the federal government, St. HOPE repaid over $400,000 in funds.

That agreement wasn’t enough for Walpin, who sought a ban on St. HOPE — and its principals who had abused the Americorps funding — from receiving future federal grants. That would have proven quite troublesome in the case of Johnson, who was in the middle of an ultimately successful campaign for mayor of Sacramento. Had Walpin succeeded, it would have prevented Sacramento from getting any federal funding whatsoever.

This hardship was cited as a reason for not imposing what is often a standard penalty for those who admit to misusing federal grants.

The argument here is not a new one, and it is flawed. A person’s winning an election, does not confer upon them some kind of forgiveness for past offenses.

Kevin Johnson grossly misused federal funds. The standard penalty is a common sense one — he shouldn’t be entrusted with federal funds for at least some time. That he is now mayor of the capital of California doesn’t change that.

Winning an election does not have some sort of sanctifying effect. A man who misuses funds and is then elected mayor is now a mayor who has misused funds. And those who voted him into office should expect to have to live with the consequences of their decision.

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The New Realism

Even the most sympathetic spinners and Obama fans can no longer keep a straight face. Successful engagement with the despotic Iranian regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons to further its hegemonic interests was always a long shot. Now — and especially since the events of June 12 — it has become laughable. Ben Smith reports:

But even analysts sympathetic with Obama’s careful approach to Iran have begun to doubt whether any engagement with Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be sustained, regardless of what the White House says now.

“The incremental rhetoric, the trying to position America to be in a place to have options regardless of the outcome may not work,” said Aaron David Miller, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center “If the regime is left in place more nasty, besieged and insecure than ever, do you think it’s going to matter that Barack Obama tried to cultivate a middle road through it?”

“The time may have come and gone when he needs to put America’s views on the record. He’s about to miss a moment here,” he said.

Well, it’s nice to have corroboration from our friends on the Left. The real challenge now for Obama is to rethink not only his Iran policy but his entire approach to our adversaries. Until now his foreign policy was premised on the mistaken notion that fundamental differences with despotic regimes were going to melt once he arrived on the scene and engaged in “smart” diplomacy — which consisted primarily of trying not to antagonize them. In North Korea and Iran that has proven a failure. He will need to regroup and figure out Plan B.

Step one would be to do everything within our power to help the Iranian protesters prevail. Democracy and regime change can be the most realistic way forward in dealing with a totalitarian state bent on defying international norms, brutalizing its own people, developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism.

Even the most sympathetic spinners and Obama fans can no longer keep a straight face. Successful engagement with the despotic Iranian regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons to further its hegemonic interests was always a long shot. Now — and especially since the events of June 12 — it has become laughable. Ben Smith reports:

But even analysts sympathetic with Obama’s careful approach to Iran have begun to doubt whether any engagement with Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be sustained, regardless of what the White House says now.

“The incremental rhetoric, the trying to position America to be in a place to have options regardless of the outcome may not work,” said Aaron David Miller, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center “If the regime is left in place more nasty, besieged and insecure than ever, do you think it’s going to matter that Barack Obama tried to cultivate a middle road through it?”

“The time may have come and gone when he needs to put America’s views on the record. He’s about to miss a moment here,” he said.

Well, it’s nice to have corroboration from our friends on the Left. The real challenge now for Obama is to rethink not only his Iran policy but his entire approach to our adversaries. Until now his foreign policy was premised on the mistaken notion that fundamental differences with despotic regimes were going to melt once he arrived on the scene and engaged in “smart” diplomacy — which consisted primarily of trying not to antagonize them. In North Korea and Iran that has proven a failure. He will need to regroup and figure out Plan B.

Step one would be to do everything within our power to help the Iranian protesters prevail. Democracy and regime change can be the most realistic way forward in dealing with a totalitarian state bent on defying international norms, brutalizing its own people, developing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism.

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So They Can Keep a Secret

I am very relieved that daredevil New York Times reporter David Rohde has managed to escape his Taliban kidnappers. I am also very impressed that the Times managed to keep news of his kidnapping a secret for seven months. I had actually heard of his kidnapping months ago, but it was scrupulously kept out of print not only by the Times but also by competing news organizations that also had heard of it. The logic behind this policy is explained in the Times today:

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “The kidnappers initially said as much. We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

I don’t have any quibble with the Times’s decision to keep the lid on the kidnapping. It was clearly the right thing to do.

I only wish the Times and other news organizations displayed as much regard for the nation’s secrets as they do for their own. The Times has no problem disclosing secret wiretapping of terrorists notwithstanding arguments from senior government officials that this would compromise vital programs. So the secrecy pleas which the Times took so seriously in the case of David Rohde were completely disregarded in the case of al Qaeda surveillance even though experts warned that the Times’s disclosure could increase the danger not just to one person but to millions. Perhaps in the future when deciding whether or not to publish details of covert government programs, the Times and other media organizations should keep in mind that among the millions of Americans whose safety could be compromised by their disclosures are thousands of their own employees.

I am very relieved that daredevil New York Times reporter David Rohde has managed to escape his Taliban kidnappers. I am also very impressed that the Times managed to keep news of his kidnapping a secret for seven months. I had actually heard of his kidnapping months ago, but it was scrupulously kept out of print not only by the Times but also by competing news organizations that also had heard of it. The logic behind this policy is explained in the Times today:

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “The kidnappers initially said as much. We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

I don’t have any quibble with the Times’s decision to keep the lid on the kidnapping. It was clearly the right thing to do.

I only wish the Times and other news organizations displayed as much regard for the nation’s secrets as they do for their own. The Times has no problem disclosing secret wiretapping of terrorists notwithstanding arguments from senior government officials that this would compromise vital programs. So the secrecy pleas which the Times took so seriously in the case of David Rohde were completely disregarded in the case of al Qaeda surveillance even though experts warned that the Times’s disclosure could increase the danger not just to one person but to millions. Perhaps in the future when deciding whether or not to publish details of covert government programs, the Times and other media organizations should keep in mind that among the millions of Americans whose safety could be compromised by their disclosures are thousands of their own employees.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

On a day of brutal repression in Iran, following a week in which Obama’s domestic policies imploded and his poll numbers tumbled, the Saturday morning headline from Politico blared “Obama’s Top Ten Quips From Last Night.” If politics is nothing but gossip and celebrity worship, what’s the point?

Speaking of which, all Maureen Dowd can write about is the fly incident: “The moment may have resonated so much because some Americans fear that President Obama is too prone to negotiation, comity and splitting the difference, that he could have been tougher on avaricious banks and vicious Iranian dictators.” Maybe it resonated with his media sycophants who have the queasy feeling they have over-sold and over-hyped a Jimmy Carter re-tred.

The Claire McCaskill-Pat Buchanan-Ron Paul alliance on Iran policy. Will they now be upset with the president’s tougher rhetoric?

On Obama’s newly-stiffened spine, Rich Lowry writes: “Obama’s prior stance had become so supine and embarrassing that even Nick Burns had changed his tune, telling the WSJ today: ‘I think it is important that Iranian government should hear that they are rapidly losing credibility. This speech [Khamenei's yesterday] may give President Obama more of a pretext to speak out on this.’ Anyway, good for Obama for beginning to step up. And bless those breathtakingly brave men and women out in the streets of Iran.”

Don’t get your hopes up: “Despite increasingly intense Republican criticism, and the passage of resolutions in the House and Senate on Friday that were tougher than the president’s words, U.S. officials say they will stick to their current course. They say there is not much the United States can do to influence the situation — except make it worse for the opposition — but they have begun planning for the administration’s response if the crackdown turns very violent.” They seem not to think much of the United States or its president, do they? Perhaps if they did not assume everyone thinks as poorly of America as they do these officials would have more confidence and adopt some of the suggested steps for aiding the protesters.

Not pleased with the president: “Hundreds of people protested in front of the White House Saturday calling on President Obama to denounce Iran’s presidential elections. Demonstrators say they want President Obama to seek help from the United Nations and ask for a re-election or recount in the country. They say the White House’s inaction over what’s happening in Iran does not look good because the rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership.”

James Kirchick explains that “it is becoming increasingly clear that those who harbored suspicions about Obama’s approach to the Middle East had good reason to be worried. A confluence of factors — including his administration’s undue pressure on Israel, a conciliatory approach to authoritarian Muslim regimes, and the baseless linkage of the failed ‘peace process’ to the curtailment of the Iranian nuclear program — point to what could become ‘the greatest disagreement between the two countries in the history of their relationship,’ as Middle East expert Robert Satloff recently told Newsweek.” In the immortal words of James Baker. . . well . . . know you. But this time they did vote for the president, which makes the betrayal all the more appalling.

Once again France takes the lead: “Thousands of people gathered north of Paris on Saturday to support Iranian opposition protesters and an Iranian exile group pushing to be rid of a terrorist label. Crowds spilled out of buses and filled the fairground in Villepinte under drizzly skies. Organizers said 1,000 buses were hired to bring protesters from around France and Europe, including legislators from several countries.The rally was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Organizers said 90,000 people turned out.”

Andrew Malcolm makes a good point: is Obama’s quoting of Martin Luther King, Jr. meant for domestic consumption or does he finally care about what Iranian people hear?

Marco Rubio is on a roll.

On a day of brutal repression in Iran, following a week in which Obama’s domestic policies imploded and his poll numbers tumbled, the Saturday morning headline from Politico blared “Obama’s Top Ten Quips From Last Night.” If politics is nothing but gossip and celebrity worship, what’s the point?

Speaking of which, all Maureen Dowd can write about is the fly incident: “The moment may have resonated so much because some Americans fear that President Obama is too prone to negotiation, comity and splitting the difference, that he could have been tougher on avaricious banks and vicious Iranian dictators.” Maybe it resonated with his media sycophants who have the queasy feeling they have over-sold and over-hyped a Jimmy Carter re-tred.

The Claire McCaskill-Pat Buchanan-Ron Paul alliance on Iran policy. Will they now be upset with the president’s tougher rhetoric?

On Obama’s newly-stiffened spine, Rich Lowry writes: “Obama’s prior stance had become so supine and embarrassing that even Nick Burns had changed his tune, telling the WSJ today: ‘I think it is important that Iranian government should hear that they are rapidly losing credibility. This speech [Khamenei's yesterday] may give President Obama more of a pretext to speak out on this.’ Anyway, good for Obama for beginning to step up. And bless those breathtakingly brave men and women out in the streets of Iran.”

Don’t get your hopes up: “Despite increasingly intense Republican criticism, and the passage of resolutions in the House and Senate on Friday that were tougher than the president’s words, U.S. officials say they will stick to their current course. They say there is not much the United States can do to influence the situation — except make it worse for the opposition — but they have begun planning for the administration’s response if the crackdown turns very violent.” They seem not to think much of the United States or its president, do they? Perhaps if they did not assume everyone thinks as poorly of America as they do these officials would have more confidence and adopt some of the suggested steps for aiding the protesters.

Not pleased with the president: “Hundreds of people protested in front of the White House Saturday calling on President Obama to denounce Iran’s presidential elections. Demonstrators say they want President Obama to seek help from the United Nations and ask for a re-election or recount in the country. They say the White House’s inaction over what’s happening in Iran does not look good because the rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership.”

James Kirchick explains that “it is becoming increasingly clear that those who harbored suspicions about Obama’s approach to the Middle East had good reason to be worried. A confluence of factors — including his administration’s undue pressure on Israel, a conciliatory approach to authoritarian Muslim regimes, and the baseless linkage of the failed ‘peace process’ to the curtailment of the Iranian nuclear program — point to what could become ‘the greatest disagreement between the two countries in the history of their relationship,’ as Middle East expert Robert Satloff recently told Newsweek.” In the immortal words of James Baker. . . well . . . know you. But this time they did vote for the president, which makes the betrayal all the more appalling.

Once again France takes the lead: “Thousands of people gathered north of Paris on Saturday to support Iranian opposition protesters and an Iranian exile group pushing to be rid of a terrorist label. Crowds spilled out of buses and filled the fairground in Villepinte under drizzly skies. Organizers said 1,000 buses were hired to bring protesters from around France and Europe, including legislators from several countries.The rally was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Organizers said 90,000 people turned out.”

Andrew Malcolm makes a good point: is Obama’s quoting of Martin Luther King, Jr. meant for domestic consumption or does he finally care about what Iranian people hear?

Marco Rubio is on a roll.

Read Less




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