Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 25, 2009

Is He Losing His Charm?

Despite ABC’s best efforts, Americans stayed away in droves from the primetime healthcare infomercial (h/t Glenn Reynolds):

President Obama’s town hall meeting on health care delivered a sickly rating Wednesday evening.
The one-hour ABC News special “Primetime: Questions for the President: Prescription for America” (4.7 million viewers, 1.1 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the fewest viewers in the 10 p.m. hour (against NBC’s “The Philanthropist” debut and a repeat of “CSI: NY” on CBS). The special tied some 8 p.m. comedy repeats as the lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.
The special was shot at the White House and featured the president answering questions about his health care plan. The president’s primary message was that those who like their current insurance will be able to keep it and that taking no action will result in higher health care costs.
The special drew fire from Republican leadership after refusing to allow an official opposition response, or even a paid ad. ABC also interviewed Obama on “Good Morning America” to help promote the special.

Getting people to listen to an hour of healthcare talk during the dog days of summer was probably an uphill climb but I’m sure this doesn’t begin to meet the expectations of the White House and its partner, ABC. The mainstream media has at times excused its Obama-mania on the grounds that it is “good business” and the public simply can’t get enough of the president. Apparently, they have. Or maybe they have heard enough of what he is selling and aren’t much interested in hearing how the government can do for healthcare what the post office did for mail service.

Despite ABC’s best efforts, Americans stayed away in droves from the primetime healthcare infomercial (h/t Glenn Reynolds):

President Obama’s town hall meeting on health care delivered a sickly rating Wednesday evening.
The one-hour ABC News special “Primetime: Questions for the President: Prescription for America” (4.7 million viewers, 1.1 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the fewest viewers in the 10 p.m. hour (against NBC’s “The Philanthropist” debut and a repeat of “CSI: NY” on CBS). The special tied some 8 p.m. comedy repeats as the lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.
The special was shot at the White House and featured the president answering questions about his health care plan. The president’s primary message was that those who like their current insurance will be able to keep it and that taking no action will result in higher health care costs.
The special drew fire from Republican leadership after refusing to allow an official opposition response, or even a paid ad. ABC also interviewed Obama on “Good Morning America” to help promote the special.

Getting people to listen to an hour of healthcare talk during the dog days of summer was probably an uphill climb but I’m sure this doesn’t begin to meet the expectations of the White House and its partner, ABC. The mainstream media has at times excused its Obama-mania on the grounds that it is “good business” and the public simply can’t get enough of the president. Apparently, they have. Or maybe they have heard enough of what he is selling and aren’t much interested in hearing how the government can do for healthcare what the post office did for mail service.

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Commentary of the Day

Tom Gregg, on Jennifer Rubin:

A couple of points:

1) The Iranian regime is totalitarian in character. Thus it requires enemies in the same way that a democratic state needs civil liberties: as a condition of its survival. The regime’s chosen enemies are Israel and the U.S., a.k.a. the Little Satan and the Great Satan. That Obama expected the ayatollahs to tear up their enemies list in exchange for the good opinion of the “world community” shows that where foreign policy is concerned, he is out of touch with reality.

2) Though of course no one can predict the future, it would be dangerous in the extreme to discount the regime’s bloodthirsty rhetoric and assume that having obtained nuclear weapons, it would never use them. I suppose that Obama, who seems to have the backbone of a chocolate éclair, will nevertheless embrace this assumption. But Israel can’t afford to take a chance.

Tom Gregg, on Jennifer Rubin:

A couple of points:

1) The Iranian regime is totalitarian in character. Thus it requires enemies in the same way that a democratic state needs civil liberties: as a condition of its survival. The regime’s chosen enemies are Israel and the U.S., a.k.a. the Little Satan and the Great Satan. That Obama expected the ayatollahs to tear up their enemies list in exchange for the good opinion of the “world community” shows that where foreign policy is concerned, he is out of touch with reality.

2) Though of course no one can predict the future, it would be dangerous in the extreme to discount the regime’s bloodthirsty rhetoric and assume that having obtained nuclear weapons, it would never use them. I suppose that Obama, who seems to have the backbone of a chocolate éclair, will nevertheless embrace this assumption. But Israel can’t afford to take a chance.

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Do They Have the Votes?

Nancy Pelosi is bent on bringing cap-and-trade to a vote in the House tomorrow. But conflicting reports suggest uncertainty as to whether the Democrats in fact have the votes. Roll Call reports:

With her flagship project and the strength of her leadership muscle on the line, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday launched a buzzer-beater: trying to sell skeptical members of her Caucus on sweeping climate change legislation before they break for the July Fourth recess.

But then she’d rather not have Al Gore coming to the Hill, she says, because she has this in the bag. Hmmm. Perhaps Gore isn’t helpful in convincing Blue Dogs that this is a good idea. There are, after all, reasons to be nervous about signing onto a gigantic tax and regulatory measure.  While a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows support for cap-and-trade, that support has dropped and less than half would support it if it meant they would have to spend as little as $25 per month on higher electricity bills. And  joining Warren Buffett, the Michigan Congressman John Dingell reminds us that cap-and-trade is a “big tax.”

Well, perhaps Pelosi has convinced her fellow Democrats this is a good idea. As one House aide says, she may well get over the top by browbeating enough of her members. Besides, she wouldn’t announce a vote without a firm whip count in hand, right? Actually, it wouldn’t be the first time she did that.

Nancy Pelosi is bent on bringing cap-and-trade to a vote in the House tomorrow. But conflicting reports suggest uncertainty as to whether the Democrats in fact have the votes. Roll Call reports:

With her flagship project and the strength of her leadership muscle on the line, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday launched a buzzer-beater: trying to sell skeptical members of her Caucus on sweeping climate change legislation before they break for the July Fourth recess.

But then she’d rather not have Al Gore coming to the Hill, she says, because she has this in the bag. Hmmm. Perhaps Gore isn’t helpful in convincing Blue Dogs that this is a good idea. There are, after all, reasons to be nervous about signing onto a gigantic tax and regulatory measure.  While a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows support for cap-and-trade, that support has dropped and less than half would support it if it meant they would have to spend as little as $25 per month on higher electricity bills. And  joining Warren Buffett, the Michigan Congressman John Dingell reminds us that cap-and-trade is a “big tax.”

Well, perhaps Pelosi has convinced her fellow Democrats this is a good idea. As one House aide says, she may well get over the top by browbeating enough of her members. Besides, she wouldn’t announce a vote without a firm whip count in hand, right? Actually, it wouldn’t be the first time she did that.

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Unenforceable Agreements

At her June 17 press conference, Hillary Clinton was asked whether there were understandings or agreements between Israel and the Bush administration about settlement growth and whether she felt bound by them. Clinton responded as follows:

[I]n looking at the history of the Bush Administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the Administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility. Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written an op-ed that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that.

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Elliott Abrams — who was in a position of direct responsibility at the time — noted the strange qualifier Clinton used:

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no “enforceable” agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

In the op-ed to which Clinton referred, Daniel Kurtzer employed a similar linguistic evasion. Kurtzer argued there was no “formal” understanding.

Was there an informal understanding? Was there an oral agreement? Was there a tacit understanding or a tacit agreement? Were there notes, memoranda, and other documents reflecting what was communicated and understood? Was there a course of action indicating agreement? Was there detrimental reliance? As Jennifer noted, even a first-year law student knows the definition of a deal.

But this is not simply a question about the past, because it raises questions about the ability of other nations to rely on future commitments that may be made by the U.S. government — or at least this one.  How are other nations to determine whether the Obama administration’s commitments will be “enforceable?” How formal will be formal enough for the administration to enforce them against itself, much less a successor administration?

And when the U.S. government later reneges on its commitments, understandings, and agreements, where should the other governments go to get their concessions back?

At her June 17 press conference, Hillary Clinton was asked whether there were understandings or agreements between Israel and the Bush administration about settlement growth and whether she felt bound by them. Clinton responded as follows:

[I]n looking at the history of the Bush Administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the Administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility. Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written an op-ed that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that.

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Elliott Abrams — who was in a position of direct responsibility at the time — noted the strange qualifier Clinton used:

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no “enforceable” agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

In the op-ed to which Clinton referred, Daniel Kurtzer employed a similar linguistic evasion. Kurtzer argued there was no “formal” understanding.

Was there an informal understanding? Was there an oral agreement? Was there a tacit understanding or a tacit agreement? Were there notes, memoranda, and other documents reflecting what was communicated and understood? Was there a course of action indicating agreement? Was there detrimental reliance? As Jennifer noted, even a first-year law student knows the definition of a deal.

But this is not simply a question about the past, because it raises questions about the ability of other nations to rely on future commitments that may be made by the U.S. government — or at least this one.  How are other nations to determine whether the Obama administration’s commitments will be “enforceable?” How formal will be formal enough for the administration to enforce them against itself, much less a successor administration?

And when the U.S. government later reneges on its commitments, understandings, and agreements, where should the other governments go to get their concessions back?

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Tougher Than They Thought

The Hill reports that maybe the president and Democrats really did bite off too much to chew:

Concerns over the cost of overhauling the nation’s healthcare system have served as a wake-up call to lawmakers.

They had planned for a busy summer of healthcare and climate change debate, a dozen spending bills, a defense authorization and hearings on President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) even promised to add a sweeping overhaul of immigration to that list.

But the revelation that revamping the nation’s healthcare model could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 10 years, along with an intra-party debate in the House on climate change legislation, has lawmakers feeling the weight of the packed agenda and sensing the need to narrow the list.

“There is a risk of not doing anything by trying to do too much,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. “I think there is going to be a narrowing-down as time goes on.”

And even the Sotomayor confirmation process may not sail through:

Senate Republicans said Wednesday they would press for a thorough examination and discussion of her record, a process that will consume precious floor time.

“We’re not getting all the documentation that we asked for,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), a senior Republican on the Judiciary panel. “Some of it is voluminous.”

One has the sense that the administration and Democrats took a calculated risk. With a popular president in a time of economic crisis they assumed that a huge, enormously expensive agenda could be rushed through, the faster the better so that voters would not develop sticker shock. But they have — before the agenda could be rammed through. The combination of the stimulus plan (which has proven to be a bust) and the car company takeovers has sent a shudder through the electorate and stirred up Independents. As Charles Krauthammer observed of Obama, “the absurdity meets reality in Congress, and that’s why he’s in trouble.”

The question remains whether the Democrats will jettison parts of the agenda, modify its component parts (e.g. drop a public option) or simply ram through their whole liberal agenda on straight party-line votes. And as for the latter option it is not even clear there are sufficient Democratic votes to pass the more extreme versions of items on the Democrats’ agenda.

It seems that the crisis has not provided cover to enact a sweeping re-working of the American economy and the role of the federal government. But stay tuned — the battles are only beginning.

The Hill reports that maybe the president and Democrats really did bite off too much to chew:

Concerns over the cost of overhauling the nation’s healthcare system have served as a wake-up call to lawmakers.

They had planned for a busy summer of healthcare and climate change debate, a dozen spending bills, a defense authorization and hearings on President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) even promised to add a sweeping overhaul of immigration to that list.

But the revelation that revamping the nation’s healthcare model could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 10 years, along with an intra-party debate in the House on climate change legislation, has lawmakers feeling the weight of the packed agenda and sensing the need to narrow the list.

“There is a risk of not doing anything by trying to do too much,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. “I think there is going to be a narrowing-down as time goes on.”

And even the Sotomayor confirmation process may not sail through:

Senate Republicans said Wednesday they would press for a thorough examination and discussion of her record, a process that will consume precious floor time.

“We’re not getting all the documentation that we asked for,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), a senior Republican on the Judiciary panel. “Some of it is voluminous.”

One has the sense that the administration and Democrats took a calculated risk. With a popular president in a time of economic crisis they assumed that a huge, enormously expensive agenda could be rushed through, the faster the better so that voters would not develop sticker shock. But they have — before the agenda could be rammed through. The combination of the stimulus plan (which has proven to be a bust) and the car company takeovers has sent a shudder through the electorate and stirred up Independents. As Charles Krauthammer observed of Obama, “the absurdity meets reality in Congress, and that’s why he’s in trouble.”

The question remains whether the Democrats will jettison parts of the agenda, modify its component parts (e.g. drop a public option) or simply ram through their whole liberal agenda on straight party-line votes. And as for the latter option it is not even clear there are sufficient Democratic votes to pass the more extreme versions of items on the Democrats’ agenda.

It seems that the crisis has not provided cover to enact a sweeping re-working of the American economy and the role of the federal government. But stay tuned — the battles are only beginning.

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Rescinding a Snubbed Invite

Yesterday, Jennifer Rubin noted that “The president has rescinded his invitation for hot dogs with Iranian diplomats after days of criticism from the blogosphere, members of Congress, and conservatives. Once again the Left has been marched up the hill to defend the inexcusable (How rude to disinvite someone with whom we may have to “engage”! How petty!) only to abandon the position when commonsense or political necessity intervene.”

I have the feeling it is even worse than that. Consider the following: A few hours before news reports announced the decision to rescind the invitation, it was being reported that State was conceding that no Iranian diplomat had confirmed attendance. As AFP reports, “U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday he does not believe that one single Iranian diplomat has accepted invitations to July 4 events at US embassies worldwide.”

The Reuters alert linked to above refers to this detail as well. It’s a bit like Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who, rather than uninviting his Iranian counterpart at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, set a deadline for Tuesday and then took note of a lack of reply by the Iranians to conclude they are not coming. Ditto for the U.S. — the invitation was rescinded — but only after the Iranians had said they weren’t coming anyway.

Yesterday, Jennifer Rubin noted that “The president has rescinded his invitation for hot dogs with Iranian diplomats after days of criticism from the blogosphere, members of Congress, and conservatives. Once again the Left has been marched up the hill to defend the inexcusable (How rude to disinvite someone with whom we may have to “engage”! How petty!) only to abandon the position when commonsense or political necessity intervene.”

I have the feeling it is even worse than that. Consider the following: A few hours before news reports announced the decision to rescind the invitation, it was being reported that State was conceding that no Iranian diplomat had confirmed attendance. As AFP reports, “U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday he does not believe that one single Iranian diplomat has accepted invitations to July 4 events at US embassies worldwide.”

The Reuters alert linked to above refers to this detail as well. It’s a bit like Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who, rather than uninviting his Iranian counterpart at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, set a deadline for Tuesday and then took note of a lack of reply by the Iranians to conclude they are not coming. Ditto for the U.S. — the invitation was rescinded — but only after the Iranians had said they weren’t coming anyway.

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Will Americans Go for It?

Karl Rove doesn’t think Obamacare is inevitable. Indeed, opposition is building against a government-run, hugely expensive health care system — as indicated both by polling data and the zeitgeist on Capitol Hill. Rove concludes:

Transforming health care into a government-run system would be difficult to do under any circumstances. Americans are still wary about big government. Health-care reform also always sounds better in the abstract. Public resistance rises once liberals are forced to release the details of their plans.

Meanwhile, the $787 billion stimulus package has not provided the economic kick Mr. Obama promised. The $410 billion Omnibus spending bill the president signed in March and his $3.5 trillion budget plan for next year are also adding to the river of red ink.

Health-care reform was said to be “inevitable” a few months ago. Today, its prospects are less certain, even to Democrats. The issue may even turn out to be a millstone for the party.

Americans are increasingly concerned about the cost — in money and personal freedom — of Mr. Obama’s nanny-state initiatives. To strengthen the emerging coalition of independents and Republicans, the GOP must fight Mr. Obama’s agenda with reasoned arguments and attractive alternatives. Health care may actually be an issue that helps resurrect the GOP.

Upon closer examination, the early spending binge by the Obama team seems to have been the undoing of healthcare reform. It shifted the responsibility for the economic recovery onto Obama’s shoulders — we were told, after all, its passage would keep unemployment at 8%. But its failure to deliver on this promise and the ongoing economic malaise have made more Americans wary of Obama’s grandiose schemes. There is no track record of competent economic management he can point to in order to assure Americans that his team knows what its doing. But most of all, the resulting fiscal train wreck has made voters and lawmakers in both parties nervous about spending even more money (which we don’t have).

Democrats are now talking about a massive tax scheme to raise the necessary funds for healthcare reform. We certainly have come a long way from the days when healthcare reform was going to save money. But unlike the plan John McCain put forth during the campaign — there is no trade off here and no tax credit that would shift Americans to a system of individually purchased insurance. This is nothing more than a huge government entitlement program financed by a round of new taxes on Americans. All this during a recession coupled with rising unemployment.

Maybe the Democrats can jam this through. But if the polls are correct, and Americans object to more government, more debt, and more spending, those who vote for it will do so at their political peril.

Karl Rove doesn’t think Obamacare is inevitable. Indeed, opposition is building against a government-run, hugely expensive health care system — as indicated both by polling data and the zeitgeist on Capitol Hill. Rove concludes:

Transforming health care into a government-run system would be difficult to do under any circumstances. Americans are still wary about big government. Health-care reform also always sounds better in the abstract. Public resistance rises once liberals are forced to release the details of their plans.

Meanwhile, the $787 billion stimulus package has not provided the economic kick Mr. Obama promised. The $410 billion Omnibus spending bill the president signed in March and his $3.5 trillion budget plan for next year are also adding to the river of red ink.

Health-care reform was said to be “inevitable” a few months ago. Today, its prospects are less certain, even to Democrats. The issue may even turn out to be a millstone for the party.

Americans are increasingly concerned about the cost — in money and personal freedom — of Mr. Obama’s nanny-state initiatives. To strengthen the emerging coalition of independents and Republicans, the GOP must fight Mr. Obama’s agenda with reasoned arguments and attractive alternatives. Health care may actually be an issue that helps resurrect the GOP.

Upon closer examination, the early spending binge by the Obama team seems to have been the undoing of healthcare reform. It shifted the responsibility for the economic recovery onto Obama’s shoulders — we were told, after all, its passage would keep unemployment at 8%. But its failure to deliver on this promise and the ongoing economic malaise have made more Americans wary of Obama’s grandiose schemes. There is no track record of competent economic management he can point to in order to assure Americans that his team knows what its doing. But most of all, the resulting fiscal train wreck has made voters and lawmakers in both parties nervous about spending even more money (which we don’t have).

Democrats are now talking about a massive tax scheme to raise the necessary funds for healthcare reform. We certainly have come a long way from the days when healthcare reform was going to save money. But unlike the plan John McCain put forth during the campaign — there is no trade off here and no tax credit that would shift Americans to a system of individually purchased insurance. This is nothing more than a huge government entitlement program financed by a round of new taxes on Americans. All this during a recession coupled with rising unemployment.

Maybe the Democrats can jam this through. But if the polls are correct, and Americans object to more government, more debt, and more spending, those who vote for it will do so at their political peril.

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The Importance of Gilad Shalit

Three years ago today, Hamas terrorists crossed the international border between Gaza and Israel to attack an Israeli army post. They killed two Israelis and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit. He remains their prisoner to this day, held somewhere inside the Gaza territory ruled by the Hamas movement. Unlike Hamas killers held by Israel, Shalit has received no Red Cross visits. He is held incommunicado while his kidnappers hold off-and-on indirect negotiations to ransom him by forcing Israel to release hundreds or more terrorists including those convicted of perpetrating massacres onIsraeli civilians.

Some will say that Shalit was a solider in a war against Hamas and therefore, unlike a civilian, had to take his chances. If his fate is hard, we are told, that’s too bad but the Palestinians in Israeli hands aren’t at a beach resort either. And, as we are constantly reminded by celebrity tourists like Jimmy Carter as well as by the press, Palestinian civilians in Gaza are living in terrible conditions.

But it is curious that Shalit’s captivity is dismissed by most of the same people who are quick to attack Israel for behaving as if it is fighting a war against the Hamas rulers of Gaza. If Shalit’s fate is merely a caprice of war rather than a human rights issue, then how can anyone fault Israel for treating those who attacked its sovereign territory — and continue to do so by every means they can — as an enemy in a state of war against the Jewish state? How can it be okay for Hamas to hold an Israeli soldier hostage but not okay for Israel to attack Hamas terror bases and infrastructure as it did last December and January? Why is it an imperative for Israel to lift the limited blockade on Gaza (which attempts to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its military infrastructure while letting in food and medicine) so long as it is illegally holding an Israeli prisoner? What does it say about world opinion that it condemns Israel for cruelty toward the Palestinians while Iran’s ally Hamas is given impunity to commit terror and even to profit from kidnapping.

The anniversary of Shalit’s captivity also comes at a time when the Obama administration is attempting to restart peace talks in which Israel is being asked to make concessions on security and territory as a precondition of discussing peace. This insistence on pressuring Israel takes no account of the realities of Palestinian politics and society that render the entire project a fool’s errand. Hamas remains in power in Gaza, and might well be in charge of the West Bank too if Palestinians there were offered a free choice. Those in Washington and elsewhere who blithely talk of the need for Israel to freeze settlements or to lift roadblocks ignore the nature of Hamas — a military/political entity that continues to support the eradication of Israel and the massacre of its Jewish population. They forget that a total withdrawal of Israeli settlements and soldiers from Gaza four years ago didn’t bring peace or even an attempt by the Palestinians to build their economy. Instead it brought Hamas into power, first by elections and then by an armed coup, and the conversion of the strip into a vast terror base sheltered amid a civilian population.

While we must pray that Gilad Shalit is either ransomed or rescued soon, the lack of interest in his fate or the nature of his kidnappers on the part of the same people who are so quick to lecture Israel is a reminder of the absurd double standard by which that country is judged .

Three years ago today, Hamas terrorists crossed the international border between Gaza and Israel to attack an Israeli army post. They killed two Israelis and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit. He remains their prisoner to this day, held somewhere inside the Gaza territory ruled by the Hamas movement. Unlike Hamas killers held by Israel, Shalit has received no Red Cross visits. He is held incommunicado while his kidnappers hold off-and-on indirect negotiations to ransom him by forcing Israel to release hundreds or more terrorists including those convicted of perpetrating massacres onIsraeli civilians.

Some will say that Shalit was a solider in a war against Hamas and therefore, unlike a civilian, had to take his chances. If his fate is hard, we are told, that’s too bad but the Palestinians in Israeli hands aren’t at a beach resort either. And, as we are constantly reminded by celebrity tourists like Jimmy Carter as well as by the press, Palestinian civilians in Gaza are living in terrible conditions.

But it is curious that Shalit’s captivity is dismissed by most of the same people who are quick to attack Israel for behaving as if it is fighting a war against the Hamas rulers of Gaza. If Shalit’s fate is merely a caprice of war rather than a human rights issue, then how can anyone fault Israel for treating those who attacked its sovereign territory — and continue to do so by every means they can — as an enemy in a state of war against the Jewish state? How can it be okay for Hamas to hold an Israeli soldier hostage but not okay for Israel to attack Hamas terror bases and infrastructure as it did last December and January? Why is it an imperative for Israel to lift the limited blockade on Gaza (which attempts to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its military infrastructure while letting in food and medicine) so long as it is illegally holding an Israeli prisoner? What does it say about world opinion that it condemns Israel for cruelty toward the Palestinians while Iran’s ally Hamas is given impunity to commit terror and even to profit from kidnapping.

The anniversary of Shalit’s captivity also comes at a time when the Obama administration is attempting to restart peace talks in which Israel is being asked to make concessions on security and territory as a precondition of discussing peace. This insistence on pressuring Israel takes no account of the realities of Palestinian politics and society that render the entire project a fool’s errand. Hamas remains in power in Gaza, and might well be in charge of the West Bank too if Palestinians there were offered a free choice. Those in Washington and elsewhere who blithely talk of the need for Israel to freeze settlements or to lift roadblocks ignore the nature of Hamas — a military/political entity that continues to support the eradication of Israel and the massacre of its Jewish population. They forget that a total withdrawal of Israeli settlements and soldiers from Gaza four years ago didn’t bring peace or even an attempt by the Palestinians to build their economy. Instead it brought Hamas into power, first by elections and then by an armed coup, and the conversion of the strip into a vast terror base sheltered amid a civilian population.

While we must pray that Gilad Shalit is either ransomed or rescued soon, the lack of interest in his fate or the nature of his kidnappers on the part of the same people who are so quick to lecture Israel is a reminder of the absurd double standard by which that country is judged .

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They Just Don’t Care

Five Cuban pro-democracy dissidents — winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s annual Democracy Award — were snubbed by the White House: no meeting for their representatives (the five dissidents were not themselves allowed to travel here) and only a belated written statement was issued. The Washington Post editors are disgusted:

Mr. Obama’s hastily drafted statement — issued after The Post inquired about his silence — said he wished ‘to acknowledge and commend’ the five dissidents ‘and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country’s future.’  . . .They, like the beleaguered pro-democracy movements of Venezuela and Nicaragua, are hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.”

Obama, the editors explain, is perhaps too heavily invested in “heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba’s readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez.” Let’s be clear: this administration does not care about human rights or democracy; it cares about ingratiating itself with foes of both.

It is odd that when it comes to shutting Guantanamo or limiting interrogation tools to combat terrorism the president is brimming with rhetoric about “enlist[ing] the power of our fundamental values.” As he said in  May at the National Archives:

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government.

It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

It is the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

So how exactly does that mesh with excising human rights and support for democracies from his foreign policy agenda? It doesn’t. In Obama’s book, talk of “values” is reserved as a stick with which to beat America and George W. Bush, not a guide for how we interact on the world stage and what expectations we set for other nations.

Five Cuban pro-democracy dissidents — winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s annual Democracy Award — were snubbed by the White House: no meeting for their representatives (the five dissidents were not themselves allowed to travel here) and only a belated written statement was issued. The Washington Post editors are disgusted:

Mr. Obama’s hastily drafted statement — issued after The Post inquired about his silence — said he wished ‘to acknowledge and commend’ the five dissidents ‘and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country’s future.’  . . .They, like the beleaguered pro-democracy movements of Venezuela and Nicaragua, are hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama’s diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.”

Obama, the editors explain, is perhaps too heavily invested in “heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba’s readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez.” Let’s be clear: this administration does not care about human rights or democracy; it cares about ingratiating itself with foes of both.

It is odd that when it comes to shutting Guantanamo or limiting interrogation tools to combat terrorism the president is brimming with rhetoric about “enlist[ing] the power of our fundamental values.” As he said in  May at the National Archives:

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government.

It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

It is the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

So how exactly does that mesh with excising human rights and support for democracies from his foreign policy agenda? It doesn’t. In Obama’s book, talk of “values” is reserved as a stick with which to beat America and George W. Bush, not a guide for how we interact on the world stage and what expectations we set for other nations.

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Some Thoughts on the Sanford Revelation

Watching Governor Sanford’s press conference and reading his wife’s statement were painful reminders that infidelity, far from being a victimless act, can do great damage — to spouses and to children, to friends and colleagues, and (in the case of Sanford) to a community of believers. The collateral human damage is enormous, and the wounds never fully heal.

Most people without a political axe to grind will have sympathy for Sanford’s family above all, and even some sympathy for him. By most accounts Sanford is an otherwise decent man whose public and private worlds are now crashing down all around him. What is hard to know, both for those close to him and for the millions of people who don’t know him but, because of television, have become spectators in this drama, is what the appropriate attitude toward Sanford should be. How do we balance an attitude of forgiveness with accountability? And in this case, when a political figure is involved, how important of an issue should adultery be?

Some people argue it should matter hardly at all. FDR and JFK had affairs, they say, and it did not impede their ability to fulfill their public duties. Private lives should be just that, private; and only when there is an obvious effect on how people do their jobs should they matter. “I don’t feel that a wrong step along the way should automatically result in exile,” one person wrote me after news of the affair broke. Human beings are cracked vessels, he argued; we need to take that into account. Others say in response that if a person breaks a marital vow, it is undeniably a sign of one’s character and trustworthiness — and character and trustworthiness matter in public officials. It’s not all that matters, but it should be taken into account. America is not as latitudinarian as Europe on such matters, and that’s a good thing.

In the end, there is no single template that applies. It depends so much on facts and circumstances. Is the affair on-going or did it end long ago? Was it a one-time thing or part of a pattern? Is the contrition genuine or an appeal for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”? Did the affair involve someone over whom the person had power and authority? Was there other wrongdoing as well (for example, was public money spent on matters related to the liaison)? Did the relationship infringe on the person’s public duties? Was the affair particularly reckless (for example, was it on-going while running for high public office, as was the case with John Edwards)? Is what we are talking about an aberration, a blot on an otherwise impressive person’s life — or part of a pattern of irresponsible actions by a self-indulgent cad?

All of these things, and more, need to be taken into account in order to render a fair-minded judgment on such a matter. So often in these cases, much of this kind of information is impossible for most of us to obtain, especially when it comes to the human heart (often we cannot accurately discern our own motivations, let alone the motivations of another). And even if we did have that information, our political culture — which seems to relish watching public people’s lives crash and burn — is not one that would take them into account. Most of us can come up with scenarios in which we think an affair by a public official should disqualify him from high public office; and most of us can come up with a scenario where the indiscretion, while wrong, should not necessarily bar that person from future public life (the discovery of an affair committed years before and ended, the marriage has been repaired, and the person has clearly changed his ways). Like most issues in life, what we are talking about lies on a continuum, and what it requires of us is prudence and practical wisdom.

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Watching Governor Sanford’s press conference and reading his wife’s statement were painful reminders that infidelity, far from being a victimless act, can do great damage — to spouses and to children, to friends and colleagues, and (in the case of Sanford) to a community of believers. The collateral human damage is enormous, and the wounds never fully heal.

Most people without a political axe to grind will have sympathy for Sanford’s family above all, and even some sympathy for him. By most accounts Sanford is an otherwise decent man whose public and private worlds are now crashing down all around him. What is hard to know, both for those close to him and for the millions of people who don’t know him but, because of television, have become spectators in this drama, is what the appropriate attitude toward Sanford should be. How do we balance an attitude of forgiveness with accountability? And in this case, when a political figure is involved, how important of an issue should adultery be?

Some people argue it should matter hardly at all. FDR and JFK had affairs, they say, and it did not impede their ability to fulfill their public duties. Private lives should be just that, private; and only when there is an obvious effect on how people do their jobs should they matter. “I don’t feel that a wrong step along the way should automatically result in exile,” one person wrote me after news of the affair broke. Human beings are cracked vessels, he argued; we need to take that into account. Others say in response that if a person breaks a marital vow, it is undeniably a sign of one’s character and trustworthiness — and character and trustworthiness matter in public officials. It’s not all that matters, but it should be taken into account. America is not as latitudinarian as Europe on such matters, and that’s a good thing.

In the end, there is no single template that applies. It depends so much on facts and circumstances. Is the affair on-going or did it end long ago? Was it a one-time thing or part of a pattern? Is the contrition genuine or an appeal for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”? Did the affair involve someone over whom the person had power and authority? Was there other wrongdoing as well (for example, was public money spent on matters related to the liaison)? Did the relationship infringe on the person’s public duties? Was the affair particularly reckless (for example, was it on-going while running for high public office, as was the case with John Edwards)? Is what we are talking about an aberration, a blot on an otherwise impressive person’s life — or part of a pattern of irresponsible actions by a self-indulgent cad?

All of these things, and more, need to be taken into account in order to render a fair-minded judgment on such a matter. So often in these cases, much of this kind of information is impossible for most of us to obtain, especially when it comes to the human heart (often we cannot accurately discern our own motivations, let alone the motivations of another). And even if we did have that information, our political culture — which seems to relish watching public people’s lives crash and burn — is not one that would take them into account. Most of us can come up with scenarios in which we think an affair by a public official should disqualify him from high public office; and most of us can come up with a scenario where the indiscretion, while wrong, should not necessarily bar that person from future public life (the discovery of an affair committed years before and ended, the marriage has been repaired, and the person has clearly changed his ways). Like most issues in life, what we are talking about lies on a continuum, and what it requires of us is prudence and practical wisdom.

What also complicates this whole picture are our own partisan leanings. In a case like this, involving a public figure, we tend to judge those holding political views similar to ours more leniently than those whose political views are different from ours.

In the case of Mark Sanford, I suspect he will be an ex-governor before long. His indiscretion bled into his public life. For a governor to disappear for days at a time without being in contact with his office compounds the recklessness of the affair itself. This breach, while not massive, was real. In addition, lies were told to the public and the media in order to cover up his actions. South Carolinians are not New Yorkers.

The whole thing is sad and discouraging, and it will deepen the public’s cynicism about politicians. For a person like Sanford, it involves not just breaking a marital vow. He is also a person with a title, Governor; and when you run for public office, certain responsibilities accrue, whether you want them or not. No one assumes that if an affair of a high public official is discovered, a “zone of privacy” will protect him. One may think it unfair and unreasonable, but it is understood to be part of the rules of the game, the price for the power. Professional sports leagues and athletes understand this concept as well; the NFL has a personal conduct code that allows the Commissioner to suspend players for off-field behavior in order to preserve the league’s public image. They accept that they are invested with a public trust and their actions have public consequences.

Whatever happens to Sanford, the revelation of this incident confirms Chesteron’s aphorism that original sin is the one empirically provable Christian doctrine. There is another one, less provable but no less important, and it has to do with grace and forgiveness. We are all in need of them. That is probably worth our keeping in mind not only when it comes to this issue but to others as well. As a rule, we are pretty quick to take delight in the failures of others, to jump on those who have stumbled and fallen. There should be a price for failure, and there should be a chance for redemption.

I do hope the Sanford family finds some measure of grace and forgiveness as it undergoes an excruciating personal journey. We’ll forget about this episode soon enough. They unfortunately can’t, and they unfortunately won’t.

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Obama’s Mythical “International Norms”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Barack Obama said, “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms. . . It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path.”

Take a quick glance at the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, and you’ll find that Iran is already toeing the international line like a real team player. Security Council permanent member Russia has, for a decade, been disappearing journalists, poisoning the opposition, assisting bad actors, and saber rattling throughout Eurasia. Permanent member China provided the very palette for the kind of brutal state crackdown on dissent we now see in the streets of Tehran. Needless to say, both countries will obstruct any effort at international condemnation of Iran should the “global community” attempt something of the sort. For the “international norms” with which Tehran is fully compliant have been reified and defended by the Security Council for decades.

So too with the Human Rights Council. The 47-seat body is the very cradle of the kind of anti-Semitism that is the lifeblood of the Iranian regime. The group UN Watch found that over 80% of the Council’s country resolutions are devoted to condemning Israel. This is the ayatollahs’ psycho-theater in global form. Or, you could say, in Iran we see the “international community” in microcosm.

Pre-press conference ingestion of truth serum would have compelled Obama to say: “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out, engage, and become a part of American norms.” However, one need not self-identify as a realist to see the inadvisability of that line.

But Obama’s call for the Iranians to allow assembly and dissent in the name of international norms is undermined by his twin hope: that the U.S. embrace the international bodies that embolden regimes like the one in Tehran. The week before the Obama administration announced its intention to have the U.S. sit on the UN Human Rights Council, the group passed five nonsensical resolutions against Israel and one limiting free speech. For Obama, the poles of protected freedom and accepted tyranny are really just another false choice.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Barack Obama said, “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms. . . It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path.”

Take a quick glance at the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, and you’ll find that Iran is already toeing the international line like a real team player. Security Council permanent member Russia has, for a decade, been disappearing journalists, poisoning the opposition, assisting bad actors, and saber rattling throughout Eurasia. Permanent member China provided the very palette for the kind of brutal state crackdown on dissent we now see in the streets of Tehran. Needless to say, both countries will obstruct any effort at international condemnation of Iran should the “global community” attempt something of the sort. For the “international norms” with which Tehran is fully compliant have been reified and defended by the Security Council for decades.

So too with the Human Rights Council. The 47-seat body is the very cradle of the kind of anti-Semitism that is the lifeblood of the Iranian regime. The group UN Watch found that over 80% of the Council’s country resolutions are devoted to condemning Israel. This is the ayatollahs’ psycho-theater in global form. Or, you could say, in Iran we see the “international community” in microcosm.

Pre-press conference ingestion of truth serum would have compelled Obama to say: “We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out, engage, and become a part of American norms.” However, one need not self-identify as a realist to see the inadvisability of that line.

But Obama’s call for the Iranians to allow assembly and dissent in the name of international norms is undermined by his twin hope: that the U.S. embrace the international bodies that embolden regimes like the one in Tehran. The week before the Obama administration announced its intention to have the U.S. sit on the UN Human Rights Council, the group passed five nonsensical resolutions against Israel and one limiting free speech. For Obama, the poles of protected freedom and accepted tyranny are really just another false choice.

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Fawn-a-thon

In case you thought you’d seen and heard it all when it came to fawning Obama coverage, get a load of this from Politico:

Let’s be honest: Barack Obama is better than you are. He’s a better father — taking breaks from running the world to cheer on his daughters at soccer and basketball games. He’s a better husband — zipping his wife off for dinner in New York and Paris. He’s got a better diet — nibbling on vegetables from his homegrown garden to keep his love handles in check. And he’s got a terrific jump shot. You? Not so much. Call it the politics of personal perfection. The Barack Obama brand is as much about being a personal example to the nation as it is about being a political figure. But the danger of that frothy mix of glamour and domesticity is that President Obama could become in the public mind something he never sought to be: the Martha Stewart of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Only in the world of sycophantic Beltway coverage can taking your kids to soccer and being nice to your wife grant you super-human status. Politico then goes on to discuss, in all seriousness, whether Obama can be “too perfect.” Nah, he’s perfect in his level of perfection!

This is simply embarrassing — all the more so because it runs as the lead story during a week with plenty of real news and with new questions about the vulnerability of the president’s agenda (oh, that). You do have to hand it to the folks at Politico (which recently got into a spat with the New York Times) — they certainly came up with a story that even the Gray Lady wouldn’t have the gall to print.

In case you thought you’d seen and heard it all when it came to fawning Obama coverage, get a load of this from Politico:

Let’s be honest: Barack Obama is better than you are. He’s a better father — taking breaks from running the world to cheer on his daughters at soccer and basketball games. He’s a better husband — zipping his wife off for dinner in New York and Paris. He’s got a better diet — nibbling on vegetables from his homegrown garden to keep his love handles in check. And he’s got a terrific jump shot. You? Not so much. Call it the politics of personal perfection. The Barack Obama brand is as much about being a personal example to the nation as it is about being a political figure. But the danger of that frothy mix of glamour and domesticity is that President Obama could become in the public mind something he never sought to be: the Martha Stewart of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Only in the world of sycophantic Beltway coverage can taking your kids to soccer and being nice to your wife grant you super-human status. Politico then goes on to discuss, in all seriousness, whether Obama can be “too perfect.” Nah, he’s perfect in his level of perfection!

This is simply embarrassing — all the more so because it runs as the lead story during a week with plenty of real news and with new questions about the vulnerability of the president’s agenda (oh, that). You do have to hand it to the folks at Politico (which recently got into a spat with the New York Times) — they certainly came up with a story that even the Gray Lady wouldn’t have the gall to print.

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Defining Deviancy Up

This is not the Athenian age for U.S. governors. Just in the past five years we’ve seen Jim McGreevey of New Jersey resign because he put his Israeli boyfriend on the state payroll as a homeland security adviser; Eliot Spitzer of New York resign because he had hired a prostitute, had her travel across state lines to entertain him, and attempted to contravene banking regulations; and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois bounced from office on charges that he had sought to sell a Senate seat. What all these cases have in common is that there were real acts of criminality and abuse of office against which there was and is no real defense.

The case of Mark Sanford is different. It’s ludicrous and sad, and it’s always a simultaneously horrifying and riveting spectacle to watch as someone makes a hash of his or her life on television (which is why we watch reality shows). But Sanford’s offense was entirely private. His marital troubles are properly nobody’s business. What made the proceedings a public matter was his incommunicado status for a few days and his staff telling reporters he’d been hiking. But, really, so what? The governor of South Carolina does not possess the nuclear football; surely the world and his state can get along without him for a few days without exploding, as South Carolina, in fact, did.

(Any comparison of Sanford’s affair with Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky hijinks is sillier still. The initial impeachable issue with Clinton was not whether he’d had sex with an intern; it was whether he had sought to buy her silence in front of a grand jury by getting her a job at Revlon. That quid pro quo could not be proved, and the inability to prove it was the reason his impeachment ended up a farce. The idea that the entire Lewinsky matter was “about sex” was the view of his supporters, not his opponents, who argued without success that he had attempted to suborn perjury)

Calls for Sanford’s resignation on the part of serious people like William J. Bennett are a little dumbfounding. Spitzer committed felonies, even though he was not prosecuted for them. McGreevey used public money to give his boyfriend a job for which he was so clearly unqualified that even the boyfriend joked about it–a clear misuse of elected office. Blagojevich…we don’t even need to discuss. Sanford cheated on his wife; someone seems to have hacked into his private email account and gotten hold of his pathetic and embarrassing love missives to Maria in Argentina; his mystery trip became the means whereby a political opponent of his was able to surface the question of Sanford’s private conduct; and his press conference yesterday was the melodramatic climax, every bit as compelling as The Thorn Birds, the gooey potboiler about forbidden love to which Sanford refers in his emails to Maria.

If every public servant with a messy private life must resign his office when the mess is made public, we have created an impossible standard. Remember that Sanford is an elected official. The people of South Carolina voted him in, and absent a serious crime, he should stay in office, otherwise we are moving toward emotional mob rule when officials are to be rousted from their elected posts by a change in feeling toward them.

From McGreevey to Sanford, we are seeing a progression we see nowhere else in America: We are defining deviancy up.

This is not the Athenian age for U.S. governors. Just in the past five years we’ve seen Jim McGreevey of New Jersey resign because he put his Israeli boyfriend on the state payroll as a homeland security adviser; Eliot Spitzer of New York resign because he had hired a prostitute, had her travel across state lines to entertain him, and attempted to contravene banking regulations; and Rod Blagojevich of Illinois bounced from office on charges that he had sought to sell a Senate seat. What all these cases have in common is that there were real acts of criminality and abuse of office against which there was and is no real defense.

The case of Mark Sanford is different. It’s ludicrous and sad, and it’s always a simultaneously horrifying and riveting spectacle to watch as someone makes a hash of his or her life on television (which is why we watch reality shows). But Sanford’s offense was entirely private. His marital troubles are properly nobody’s business. What made the proceedings a public matter was his incommunicado status for a few days and his staff telling reporters he’d been hiking. But, really, so what? The governor of South Carolina does not possess the nuclear football; surely the world and his state can get along without him for a few days without exploding, as South Carolina, in fact, did.

(Any comparison of Sanford’s affair with Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky hijinks is sillier still. The initial impeachable issue with Clinton was not whether he’d had sex with an intern; it was whether he had sought to buy her silence in front of a grand jury by getting her a job at Revlon. That quid pro quo could not be proved, and the inability to prove it was the reason his impeachment ended up a farce. The idea that the entire Lewinsky matter was “about sex” was the view of his supporters, not his opponents, who argued without success that he had attempted to suborn perjury)

Calls for Sanford’s resignation on the part of serious people like William J. Bennett are a little dumbfounding. Spitzer committed felonies, even though he was not prosecuted for them. McGreevey used public money to give his boyfriend a job for which he was so clearly unqualified that even the boyfriend joked about it–a clear misuse of elected office. Blagojevich…we don’t even need to discuss. Sanford cheated on his wife; someone seems to have hacked into his private email account and gotten hold of his pathetic and embarrassing love missives to Maria in Argentina; his mystery trip became the means whereby a political opponent of his was able to surface the question of Sanford’s private conduct; and his press conference yesterday was the melodramatic climax, every bit as compelling as The Thorn Birds, the gooey potboiler about forbidden love to which Sanford refers in his emails to Maria.

If every public servant with a messy private life must resign his office when the mess is made public, we have created an impossible standard. Remember that Sanford is an elected official. The people of South Carolina voted him in, and absent a serious crime, he should stay in office, otherwise we are moving toward emotional mob rule when officials are to be rousted from their elected posts by a change in feeling toward them.

From McGreevey to Sanford, we are seeing a progression we see nowhere else in America: We are defining deviancy up.

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The Jig Is Up

Those pushing for “engagement” with Iran have relied on the same faulty analysis that has kept the State Department and liberal think tanks buzzing for years. There were always “good” Iranians and “moderates” who really wanted a deal. The fact that these figures never emerged or that Iranian behavior (e.g killing Americans in Iraq, supporting terror, pursuing nuclear weapons) never provided the slightest evidence that such figures wielded influence did not deter those bent on engagement. But now, even the most ardent engagement proponents, have to realize the jig is up.

Matthew Yglesias writes that a regime “win” would make him, gosh, “less confident that engagement will work.” You think? After all, as he points out:

The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system—guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hardline figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries.

Under the circumstances, the whole subject of American engagement may well wind up being moot.

Well, yes, and if we’re keeping track, Mousavi wasn’t about to give up Iran’s nuclear program either. But the fact that engagement is now so patently absurd even to the left blogosphere should give the Obama team pause. What are they going to do now?

We learn that Obama’s restraint (an effort to preserve the chance to engage the regime if it prevails) in addressing the events in Iran has not gotten him anywhere. The New York Times reports:

Rejecting American criticism of what was officially depicted as a landslide victory in Iran’s disputed presidential elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assailed President Obama on Thursday, telling him to stop interfering in Iran’s affairs and accusing him of striking the same hostile tone as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The sharp words from the Iranian leader offered no prospect of eased tensions between Washington and Tehran at a time of continued confrontation over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza which the United States call terrorist organizations

So perhaps it was not George Bush’s “fault” that we couldn’t “get along” with Iran. Any American president who declines to countenance the regime’s thuggish behavior becomes the object of their scorn. There is no “engagement” without forfeiting our conscience. And the notion that Ahmadinejad and his mullah patrons would give up their nuclear program in response to some charm offensive from the president is now revealed to be utter drivel.

Perhaps it’s time for Plan B. A serious effort to pursue sanctions and international condemnation and isolation of the despotic regime might be in order. If Obama can’t rally world opinion now — when the nature and intentions of the regime are so clear — it is hard to see when he will ever be able to do so. After all, who now thinks we can do “business” with the mullahs and/or learn to live with a nuclear-armed despotic regime?

Those pushing for “engagement” with Iran have relied on the same faulty analysis that has kept the State Department and liberal think tanks buzzing for years. There were always “good” Iranians and “moderates” who really wanted a deal. The fact that these figures never emerged or that Iranian behavior (e.g killing Americans in Iraq, supporting terror, pursuing nuclear weapons) never provided the slightest evidence that such figures wielded influence did not deter those bent on engagement. But now, even the most ardent engagement proponents, have to realize the jig is up.

Matthew Yglesias writes that a regime “win” would make him, gosh, “less confident that engagement will work.” You think? After all, as he points out:

The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system—guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hardline figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries.

Under the circumstances, the whole subject of American engagement may well wind up being moot.

Well, yes, and if we’re keeping track, Mousavi wasn’t about to give up Iran’s nuclear program either. But the fact that engagement is now so patently absurd even to the left blogosphere should give the Obama team pause. What are they going to do now?

We learn that Obama’s restraint (an effort to preserve the chance to engage the regime if it prevails) in addressing the events in Iran has not gotten him anywhere. The New York Times reports:

Rejecting American criticism of what was officially depicted as a landslide victory in Iran’s disputed presidential elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assailed President Obama on Thursday, telling him to stop interfering in Iran’s affairs and accusing him of striking the same hostile tone as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The sharp words from the Iranian leader offered no prospect of eased tensions between Washington and Tehran at a time of continued confrontation over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza which the United States call terrorist organizations

So perhaps it was not George Bush’s “fault” that we couldn’t “get along” with Iran. Any American president who declines to countenance the regime’s thuggish behavior becomes the object of their scorn. There is no “engagement” without forfeiting our conscience. And the notion that Ahmadinejad and his mullah patrons would give up their nuclear program in response to some charm offensive from the president is now revealed to be utter drivel.

Perhaps it’s time for Plan B. A serious effort to pursue sanctions and international condemnation and isolation of the despotic regime might be in order. If Obama can’t rally world opinion now — when the nature and intentions of the regime are so clear — it is hard to see when he will ever be able to do so. After all, who now thinks we can do “business” with the mullahs and/or learn to live with a nuclear-armed despotic regime?

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Rewriting History

Elliott Abrams calls foul on Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration concerning Israeli settlements. He reviews the events of 2003 and 2004 and explains:

On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, “a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”

On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the “1967 borders” to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders — correctly — as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.

On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: “Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.”

Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.

As Abrams makes clear, the Obama administration’s denial that there was any real agreement between the U.S. and Israel is especially egregious in light of the basic historical context in which all of this occurred: Sharon was being asked to withdraw from Gaza, take on domestic critics, dismantle settlements. He was simply asking “for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.” If Clinton is hunting around for an “agreement” she might want to look up “detrimental reliance” from her Yale law school notes. We gave assurances, and Sharon acted upon them. That’s a “deal” in any sense of the word.

The Obama administration is now hounding Israel to make further concessions. But denying past agreements, in effect telling Israel it has no right to rely on the word of the U.S. government, is a peculiar way indeed to further a “peace process” which must rely on trust that all parties will keep their side of the bargain. Aside from the audacious effort to rewrite history, the Obama administration is conveying a singularly disturbing message: for the sake of currying favor with the “Muslim world,” as he described the multi-facted  players in the region, the United States is willing to renege on promises, publicly pressure Israel and try to extract unilateral concessions from Israel in the hope that the Palestinians will reciprocate in kind. But if the U.S. won’t keep it’s word, why should Israel expect any better from those who have continued to press for destruction of the Jewish state?

Perhaps Abrams’s candor on the subject will shame Clinton and her colleagues into a more accurate recollection of recent history. At the very least, Clinton should be required to address the factual record to which Abrams — and no doubt others — will attest.

Elliott Abrams calls foul on Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration concerning Israeli settlements. He reviews the events of 2003 and 2004 and explains:

On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, “a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”

On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the “1967 borders” to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders — correctly — as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.

On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: “Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.”

Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.

As Abrams makes clear, the Obama administration’s denial that there was any real agreement between the U.S. and Israel is especially egregious in light of the basic historical context in which all of this occurred: Sharon was being asked to withdraw from Gaza, take on domestic critics, dismantle settlements. He was simply asking “for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.” If Clinton is hunting around for an “agreement” she might want to look up “detrimental reliance” from her Yale law school notes. We gave assurances, and Sharon acted upon them. That’s a “deal” in any sense of the word.

The Obama administration is now hounding Israel to make further concessions. But denying past agreements, in effect telling Israel it has no right to rely on the word of the U.S. government, is a peculiar way indeed to further a “peace process” which must rely on trust that all parties will keep their side of the bargain. Aside from the audacious effort to rewrite history, the Obama administration is conveying a singularly disturbing message: for the sake of currying favor with the “Muslim world,” as he described the multi-facted  players in the region, the United States is willing to renege on promises, publicly pressure Israel and try to extract unilateral concessions from Israel in the hope that the Palestinians will reciprocate in kind. But if the U.S. won’t keep it’s word, why should Israel expect any better from those who have continued to press for destruction of the Jewish state?

Perhaps Abrams’s candor on the subject will shame Clinton and her colleagues into a more accurate recollection of recent history. At the very least, Clinton should be required to address the factual record to which Abrams — and no doubt others — will attest.

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At the President’s Suggestion — and Now, at His Command

Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday on the then-pending cloture vote on the nomination of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser to the State Department, and on the anxiety that Republicans have expressed about his legal transnationalism, which seeks to “bring international law home” by subsuming it into the U.S. legal system without Congressional action. Koh, realizing that being tagged with that would hurt his nomination, was at pains to deny that this is what he wants, and CQ notes his denial – with a quotation directly from Koh that makes the case for the opposition:

They are only binding in our court, international and foreign law, when judges make them so, the president suggests that they should be so, or Congress embodies them into an act of Congress that’s signed by the president . . . . International and foreign law don’t become our law unless they are brought into our law by an act of American legal institutions.

I have been reading Koh’s writings for months.  At times, it’s Alice in Wonderland, six impossible things before breakfast stuff.  But this one made my jaw drop.  Forget about the argument that judges have the power to make international and foreign law binding in U.S. courts, even though that’s legal transnationalism in a nutshell.  What really shocked me is Koh’s contention that international and foreign law are binding when “the president suggests that they should be so.”  So not only is the president an “American legal institution,” he also has the power to bind U.S. courts to follow foreign law with a simple suggestion.

True, Koh’s said this kind of thing before.  In 2002, he described “informal state-to-state gatherings” as a “legal process” that constituted “a law-declaring forum that can operate at the global level” and “declare an international norm.”  A few months ago, on the Heritage Foundation’s blog, I pointed out that this “implies that the informal, international word of the President or his representatives is law, and therefore incumbent upon the State Department’s Legal Adviser to enforce.  This is a radical claim.”

But even I didn’t think that Koh would put it quite as plainly as he did in the CQ piece.  As long as Koh likes what he says – because he certainly didn’t extend that kind of deference to George W. Bush – Koh believes the President’s word is law.  With thousands of pages of legal writing behind him, it was always going to be tricky for Koh to escape from his record.  But quotations like this one make me wonder why he even bothered to try, or how anyone can claim with a straight face that his repeatedly-expressed beliefs are not, in fact, his.  Perhaps the answer is simple: it works.  Koh won his cloture vote today, by a pretty comfortable 65-31 margin.

Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday on the then-pending cloture vote on the nomination of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser to the State Department, and on the anxiety that Republicans have expressed about his legal transnationalism, which seeks to “bring international law home” by subsuming it into the U.S. legal system without Congressional action. Koh, realizing that being tagged with that would hurt his nomination, was at pains to deny that this is what he wants, and CQ notes his denial – with a quotation directly from Koh that makes the case for the opposition:

They are only binding in our court, international and foreign law, when judges make them so, the president suggests that they should be so, or Congress embodies them into an act of Congress that’s signed by the president . . . . International and foreign law don’t become our law unless they are brought into our law by an act of American legal institutions.

I have been reading Koh’s writings for months.  At times, it’s Alice in Wonderland, six impossible things before breakfast stuff.  But this one made my jaw drop.  Forget about the argument that judges have the power to make international and foreign law binding in U.S. courts, even though that’s legal transnationalism in a nutshell.  What really shocked me is Koh’s contention that international and foreign law are binding when “the president suggests that they should be so.”  So not only is the president an “American legal institution,” he also has the power to bind U.S. courts to follow foreign law with a simple suggestion.

True, Koh’s said this kind of thing before.  In 2002, he described “informal state-to-state gatherings” as a “legal process” that constituted “a law-declaring forum that can operate at the global level” and “declare an international norm.”  A few months ago, on the Heritage Foundation’s blog, I pointed out that this “implies that the informal, international word of the President or his representatives is law, and therefore incumbent upon the State Department’s Legal Adviser to enforce.  This is a radical claim.”

But even I didn’t think that Koh would put it quite as plainly as he did in the CQ piece.  As long as Koh likes what he says – because he certainly didn’t extend that kind of deference to George W. Bush – Koh believes the President’s word is law.  With thousands of pages of legal writing behind him, it was always going to be tricky for Koh to escape from his record.  But quotations like this one make me wonder why he even bothered to try, or how anyone can claim with a straight face that his repeatedly-expressed beliefs are not, in fact, his.  Perhaps the answer is simple: it works.  Koh won his cloture vote today, by a pretty comfortable 65-31 margin.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A harrowing tale of “Abduction,” from Iran. This author is eventually released and allowed to leave. Thousands taken in the terrifying crackdown will not be so fortunate.

Meanwhile: “The government has banned foreign news media members from leaving their offices, suspended all press credentials for the foreign press, arrested a freelance writer for The Washington Times, continued to hold a reporter for Newsweek and forced other foreign journalists to leave the country. That made it difficult to ascertain exactly what happened when several hundred protesters tried to gather outside the Parliament building Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses said they were met by a huge force of riot police officers and Basij vigilantes, some on motorcycles and some in pickup trucks, armed with sticks and chains. Witnesses said people were trapped and beaten as they tried to flee down side streets. ”

Mark Sanford gets dumped as chairman of the Republican Governors Association; Haley Barbour takes his place.

Buzz is starting for Sanford to resign.

Rudy Giuliani pens a campaign-sounding column for the New York Times on cleaning up New York state government. “New York state government is not working. This has been true for some time. But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it once and for all. That’s why I’m calling on Albany to convene a state constitutional convention. This is not a partisan criticism. There is enough blame for all to share. Recently, though, the situation in our state has gone from bad to worse.” Echoes of Mayor Dinkins in 1993?

The Washington Post hassles Virginia Governor Tim Kaine about his travels on behalf of the DNC.

ABC is getting lots of flak for its wall-to-wall ObamaCare coverage. At the very least it is hard to understand why they did not have slots with appropriate spokesman and/or Republican officials to explain their alternative plans. If memory serves me correctly, Newt Gingrich got nearly equal time when the networks covered the First Lady’s HillaryCare discussions.

Still it wasn’t completely smooth sailing: “President Obama struggled to explain today whether his health care reform proposals would force normal Americans to make sacrifices that wealthier, more powerful people — like the president himself — wouldn’t face. Obama on how to drive down health care costs while providing adequate coverage. The probing questions came from two skeptical neurologists during ABC News’ special on health care reform. . .”

Robert Reich explains why health care is stalled: “Mainly because Congress can’t decide how to pay for it. The hardest blow came last week when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the trial-balloon bill emerging from the Senate Health Committee would cost a whopping $1 trillion over 10 years and would cover only a fraction of Americans currently without health care.”

This likely won’t help: Obama has flip-flopped on mandating insurance and taxing benefits (something he creamed John McCain for suggesting in the campaign).

Michael Rubin thinks Obama’s holding out hope for engagement with the current Iranian regime is not the “realism” it is cracked up to be: “Realism is about maximizing U.S. interests. Preserving an enemy regime is not realism. It is simply stupid. We should not be throwing a lifeline to the Islamic Republic, the fall of which would enable Iran to emerge as a force for moderation in the region, and allow the Iranian people to take their rightful place among nations.”

The Democrats have played fast and loose with the cost impact of cap-and-trade in order to jam it through. The reality, as explained in a Heritage study, is that “Waxman-Markey would cost the economy $161 billion in 2020, which is $1,870 for a family of four. As the bill’s restrictions kick in, that number rises to $6,800 for a family of four by 2035.” What does this mean for the economy as a whole? “The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. Some companies will instead move their operations overseas, with the same result.” No wonder Warren Buffett hates the idea.

But Republicans think it’s political gold: “The climate-change bill headed for a House vote Friday is likely to be a defining issue of the 2010 midterm election. Republican leaders see the measure, one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities, as a perfect illustration of their broader case that Democrats are the party of high taxes and intrusive big government. In a memo circulated to House Republicans, Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said the pending climate vote would have significant electoral consequences. ‘Democrats who vote for it do so at their own peril,’ Mr. Boehner wrote. ‘The American people will remember this debate and will remember who stands up for them.’”

A harrowing tale of “Abduction,” from Iran. This author is eventually released and allowed to leave. Thousands taken in the terrifying crackdown will not be so fortunate.

Meanwhile: “The government has banned foreign news media members from leaving their offices, suspended all press credentials for the foreign press, arrested a freelance writer for The Washington Times, continued to hold a reporter for Newsweek and forced other foreign journalists to leave the country. That made it difficult to ascertain exactly what happened when several hundred protesters tried to gather outside the Parliament building Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses said they were met by a huge force of riot police officers and Basij vigilantes, some on motorcycles and some in pickup trucks, armed with sticks and chains. Witnesses said people were trapped and beaten as they tried to flee down side streets. ”

Mark Sanford gets dumped as chairman of the Republican Governors Association; Haley Barbour takes his place.

Buzz is starting for Sanford to resign.

Rudy Giuliani pens a campaign-sounding column for the New York Times on cleaning up New York state government. “New York state government is not working. This has been true for some time. But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it once and for all. That’s why I’m calling on Albany to convene a state constitutional convention. This is not a partisan criticism. There is enough blame for all to share. Recently, though, the situation in our state has gone from bad to worse.” Echoes of Mayor Dinkins in 1993?

The Washington Post hassles Virginia Governor Tim Kaine about his travels on behalf of the DNC.

ABC is getting lots of flak for its wall-to-wall ObamaCare coverage. At the very least it is hard to understand why they did not have slots with appropriate spokesman and/or Republican officials to explain their alternative plans. If memory serves me correctly, Newt Gingrich got nearly equal time when the networks covered the First Lady’s HillaryCare discussions.

Still it wasn’t completely smooth sailing: “President Obama struggled to explain today whether his health care reform proposals would force normal Americans to make sacrifices that wealthier, more powerful people — like the president himself — wouldn’t face. Obama on how to drive down health care costs while providing adequate coverage. The probing questions came from two skeptical neurologists during ABC News’ special on health care reform. . .”

Robert Reich explains why health care is stalled: “Mainly because Congress can’t decide how to pay for it. The hardest blow came last week when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the trial-balloon bill emerging from the Senate Health Committee would cost a whopping $1 trillion over 10 years and would cover only a fraction of Americans currently without health care.”

This likely won’t help: Obama has flip-flopped on mandating insurance and taxing benefits (something he creamed John McCain for suggesting in the campaign).

Michael Rubin thinks Obama’s holding out hope for engagement with the current Iranian regime is not the “realism” it is cracked up to be: “Realism is about maximizing U.S. interests. Preserving an enemy regime is not realism. It is simply stupid. We should not be throwing a lifeline to the Islamic Republic, the fall of which would enable Iran to emerge as a force for moderation in the region, and allow the Iranian people to take their rightful place among nations.”

The Democrats have played fast and loose with the cost impact of cap-and-trade in order to jam it through. The reality, as explained in a Heritage study, is that “Waxman-Markey would cost the economy $161 billion in 2020, which is $1,870 for a family of four. As the bill’s restrictions kick in, that number rises to $6,800 for a family of four by 2035.” What does this mean for the economy as a whole? “The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. Some companies will instead move their operations overseas, with the same result.” No wonder Warren Buffett hates the idea.

But Republicans think it’s political gold: “The climate-change bill headed for a House vote Friday is likely to be a defining issue of the 2010 midterm election. Republican leaders see the measure, one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities, as a perfect illustration of their broader case that Democrats are the party of high taxes and intrusive big government. In a memo circulated to House Republicans, Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said the pending climate vote would have significant electoral consequences. ‘Democrats who vote for it do so at their own peril,’ Mr. Boehner wrote. ‘The American people will remember this debate and will remember who stands up for them.’”

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