Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2009

RE: A Win-Win-Win-Win Situation

We get results. The House this afternoon passed a bill transferring $2 billion from the Stimulus Bill money to Cars for Clunkers, 316-109. The Senate will take up the measure next week. The Journal pointed out this morning that there’s still another beneficiary from this program: state and local governments collect considerable tax revenues from sales and registration taxes.

There’s not a lot of evidence that Keynesian stimulus has more than a temporary effect on a national economy. But if we’re going to have stimulus (and given the need of politicians to “do something,” we always will), this is the way to go about it. The effect is immediate, little of the money disappears in bureaucratic red tape, no empires are built that cost money in out years, the public can’t use the money to pay down debt or increase savings (where it does do no good as stimulus), and the multiplier effect is obvious. Neither tax rebates (Bush’s stimulus) nor public spending (Obama’s — not to mention FDR’s) has been nearly as effective in getting people out buying stuff as the Cars for Clunkers program. And that is the whole point of stimulus: to put money in people’s pockets and get them to go put it in someone else’s pocket.

We get results. The House this afternoon passed a bill transferring $2 billion from the Stimulus Bill money to Cars for Clunkers, 316-109. The Senate will take up the measure next week. The Journal pointed out this morning that there’s still another beneficiary from this program: state and local governments collect considerable tax revenues from sales and registration taxes.

There’s not a lot of evidence that Keynesian stimulus has more than a temporary effect on a national economy. But if we’re going to have stimulus (and given the need of politicians to “do something,” we always will), this is the way to go about it. The effect is immediate, little of the money disappears in bureaucratic red tape, no empires are built that cost money in out years, the public can’t use the money to pay down debt or increase savings (where it does do no good as stimulus), and the multiplier effect is obvious. Neither tax rebates (Bush’s stimulus) nor public spending (Obama’s — not to mention FDR’s) has been nearly as effective in getting people out buying stuff as the Cars for Clunkers program. And that is the whole point of stimulus: to put money in people’s pockets and get them to go put it in someone else’s pocket.

Read Less

The White House Responds

I posed a series of questions to the White House about the selection of Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom award, including whether they consulted with Jewish organizations or considered the views of Israel or of their special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who in the past has criticized Robinson for “politicizing the UN.” They will not, at least now, explain their deliberation process. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did have this to say: “Mary Robinson has dedicated her career to human rights and working to improve an imperfect world. As with any public figure, we don’t necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made, but it’s clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good.”

In discussion over the past two days with Jewish organizations, I have yet to find one who was consulted on this matter. I think it is safe to say that had the White House checked, they would have been greeted with a storm of protest.

I posed a series of questions to the White House about the selection of Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom award, including whether they consulted with Jewish organizations or considered the views of Israel or of their special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who in the past has criticized Robinson for “politicizing the UN.” They will not, at least now, explain their deliberation process. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did have this to say: “Mary Robinson has dedicated her career to human rights and working to improve an imperfect world. As with any public figure, we don’t necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made, but it’s clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good.”

In discussion over the past two days with Jewish organizations, I have yet to find one who was consulted on this matter. I think it is safe to say that had the White House checked, they would have been greeted with a storm of protest.

Read Less

Obama’s Iran Policy Crack-Up

Roger Cohen has come a long way about Iran in the past few months. The New York Times columnist started the year off with a junket to Iran, where he used interviews with the remnants of the Jewish community in that unhappy nation as a justification for a series of disgraceful polemics that sought to portray the Islamist regime in a favorable light. The sham presidential election stolen by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, followed by the violent repression of mass protests, has caused Cohen to change his tune about how nice things are in Iran, even though, incredibly, he claims events have vindicated his disastrous reporting from earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, Cohen’s anger about the way things have turned out in Iran has made him more than a little uncomfortable about the sort of “realist” foreign policy approach to the country that he previously endorsed. Though he still dismisses Israelis and their friends who obsess about the prospect of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons, his sympathy for the people who are being beaten, tortured, and killed by the Islamist government makes him ambivalent about the proper American approach to the country.

That ambivalence is on display in a lengthy feature that will be published in this weekend’s Sunday New York Times Magazine, which is already available online. “The Making of an Iran Policy” is an interesting exploration of the Obama administration’s twists and turns on the issue, as well as the personalities driving its approach.

The main point of the piece is that Obama and his foreign policy team are committed to a realpolitik view of the world. In this case, that means engagement with Iran must proceed no matter how beastly the ayatollahs and their minions behave. Appeasing dictators is not for the faint of heart. But as Cohen aptly notes, the most obvious historical analogies to Obama’s plans for Iran — Franklin Roosevelt’s rapprochement with the Soviet Union in 1933 during Stalin’s terror famine and Richard Nixon’s outreach to China in 1972 during the equally bloody Cultural Revolution — have one significant difference from the current situation in Iran: “bloodshed then … was not being YouTubed around the globe.” Obama’s slow, bumbling, stumbling, and halfhearted reactions to the heartbreaking scenes in Tehran, which Cohen himself witnessed, were not only an embarrassing indication of the president’s lack of judgment. They were also a measure of how badly a cynical policy, such as his determination to “engage” Iran, plays in an informed democracy.

Indeed, despite Obama’s claim that the opposition in Iran didn’t want his support, Cohen confesses that “protesters I met on the streets of Tehran pointedly asked me, “Where’s Obama?” The conclusion that this policy has been a disaster both in terms of the administration’s credibility and the forlorn hope of convincing the Iranian government that America means business about stopping their nuclear program is inescapable.

According to Cohen, Obama’s team, in which veteran foreign policy hack and Middle East peace processor Dennis Ross now plays a pivotal role from a perch at the National Security Council, is nonetheless determined to move ahead with engagement even though their plans are in ruins. Even if it were inclined to deal with Obama, the Iranian regime “is in no position to talk right now.” Obama has forced everyone in his administration to read from the same playbook on Iran — even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who supposedly entered into office with a sensible skepticism about appeasing the regime. But they must now contend with the fact that “Iran has morphed in the global consciousness, to the point that U2 and Madonna have adopted the cause of Iranian democracy.”

Cohen’s report makes it impossible for anyone to believe the promises of administration officials, such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that the U.S. will give the Iranians only until after the United Nations General Assembly meeting in October before switching from engagement to action. Their goal is not containment or reform of Iran but “normalization” with the regime as it stands now. The one thing that Obama does seem serious about when it comes to Iran is stopping Israel from acting on its own to spike a nuclear program that threatens the Jewish state with extinction. “Obama has staked a lot — arguably his whole “smart power” doctrine — on preventing that,” Cohen concludes.

So that’s what it comes down to after so much talk from the president on Iran, both before and after his election. The one thing this administration is determined to do is not to fulfill Obama’s promises to prevent Iran from obtaining nukes or to isolate this despotic regime or to work for its overthrow by the millions of Iranians whom we now know want change. The only point they will stake everything on is stopping Israel from defending itself, even though the last thing Israelis want is to be forced into a position of having to act on their own.

But this is, more or less, how Cohen himself saw the issue this past winter, when his focus was on counteracting the campaign by friends of Israel to raise awareness about the Iranian threat. Though much has changed since then, Cohen’s goal of isolating Israel, not Iran, appears to be the policy that has won out in Washington.

Roger Cohen has come a long way about Iran in the past few months. The New York Times columnist started the year off with a junket to Iran, where he used interviews with the remnants of the Jewish community in that unhappy nation as a justification for a series of disgraceful polemics that sought to portray the Islamist regime in a favorable light. The sham presidential election stolen by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, followed by the violent repression of mass protests, has caused Cohen to change his tune about how nice things are in Iran, even though, incredibly, he claims events have vindicated his disastrous reporting from earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, Cohen’s anger about the way things have turned out in Iran has made him more than a little uncomfortable about the sort of “realist” foreign policy approach to the country that he previously endorsed. Though he still dismisses Israelis and their friends who obsess about the prospect of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons, his sympathy for the people who are being beaten, tortured, and killed by the Islamist government makes him ambivalent about the proper American approach to the country.

That ambivalence is on display in a lengthy feature that will be published in this weekend’s Sunday New York Times Magazine, which is already available online. “The Making of an Iran Policy” is an interesting exploration of the Obama administration’s twists and turns on the issue, as well as the personalities driving its approach.

The main point of the piece is that Obama and his foreign policy team are committed to a realpolitik view of the world. In this case, that means engagement with Iran must proceed no matter how beastly the ayatollahs and their minions behave. Appeasing dictators is not for the faint of heart. But as Cohen aptly notes, the most obvious historical analogies to Obama’s plans for Iran — Franklin Roosevelt’s rapprochement with the Soviet Union in 1933 during Stalin’s terror famine and Richard Nixon’s outreach to China in 1972 during the equally bloody Cultural Revolution — have one significant difference from the current situation in Iran: “bloodshed then … was not being YouTubed around the globe.” Obama’s slow, bumbling, stumbling, and halfhearted reactions to the heartbreaking scenes in Tehran, which Cohen himself witnessed, were not only an embarrassing indication of the president’s lack of judgment. They were also a measure of how badly a cynical policy, such as his determination to “engage” Iran, plays in an informed democracy.

Indeed, despite Obama’s claim that the opposition in Iran didn’t want his support, Cohen confesses that “protesters I met on the streets of Tehran pointedly asked me, “Where’s Obama?” The conclusion that this policy has been a disaster both in terms of the administration’s credibility and the forlorn hope of convincing the Iranian government that America means business about stopping their nuclear program is inescapable.

According to Cohen, Obama’s team, in which veteran foreign policy hack and Middle East peace processor Dennis Ross now plays a pivotal role from a perch at the National Security Council, is nonetheless determined to move ahead with engagement even though their plans are in ruins. Even if it were inclined to deal with Obama, the Iranian regime “is in no position to talk right now.” Obama has forced everyone in his administration to read from the same playbook on Iran — even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who supposedly entered into office with a sensible skepticism about appeasing the regime. But they must now contend with the fact that “Iran has morphed in the global consciousness, to the point that U2 and Madonna have adopted the cause of Iranian democracy.”

Cohen’s report makes it impossible for anyone to believe the promises of administration officials, such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that the U.S. will give the Iranians only until after the United Nations General Assembly meeting in October before switching from engagement to action. Their goal is not containment or reform of Iran but “normalization” with the regime as it stands now. The one thing that Obama does seem serious about when it comes to Iran is stopping Israel from acting on its own to spike a nuclear program that threatens the Jewish state with extinction. “Obama has staked a lot — arguably his whole “smart power” doctrine — on preventing that,” Cohen concludes.

So that’s what it comes down to after so much talk from the president on Iran, both before and after his election. The one thing this administration is determined to do is not to fulfill Obama’s promises to prevent Iran from obtaining nukes or to isolate this despotic regime or to work for its overthrow by the millions of Iranians whom we now know want change. The only point they will stake everything on is stopping Israel from defending itself, even though the last thing Israelis want is to be forced into a position of having to act on their own.

But this is, more or less, how Cohen himself saw the issue this past winter, when his focus was on counteracting the campaign by friends of Israel to raise awareness about the Iranian threat. Though much has changed since then, Cohen’s goal of isolating Israel, not Iran, appears to be the policy that has won out in Washington.

Read Less

How Bad Is She?

Some might seek to minimize Mary Robinson’s role in the Durban debacle. The late Tom Lantos was intimately involved in the negotiations and attended the ill-fated conference. In the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs in the spring of 2002, he wrote:

To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.

Indeed, she obstructed efforts to prevent the conference from devolving into an Israel-bashing event. Lantos explains:

Mrs. Robinson’s intervention with the assembled delegates later in the . . . day left our delegation deeply shocked and saddened. In her remarks, she advocated precisely the opposite course to the one Secretary Powell and I had urged her to take. Namely, she refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East.

Instead, she discussed “the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and … the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.” Thus, instead of condemning the attempt to usurp the conference, she legitimized it. Instead of insisting that it was inappropriate to discuss a specific political conflict in the context of a World Conference on Racism, she spoke of the “need to resolve protracted conflict and occupation, claims of inequality, violence and terrorism, and a deteriorating situation on the ground.” Robinson was prepared to delve into the arcana of a single territorial conflict at the exclusion of all others and at the expense of the conference’s greater goals.

(My, doesn’t that view sound eerily similar to Obama’s Cairo remarks.) Again and again, as Lantos documented, Robinson intervened to thwart efforts to curb the Palestinian propaganda show (“Robinson’s intervention broke all momentum that the U.S. had developed.”) He concludes: “It was clear to me that Mrs. Robinson’s intervention during the Geneva talks represented the coup d’ grace on efforts to save the conference from disaster.”

Well, that’s the woman the president chose to honor. Apparently, she is a model for us all. It is, to say the least, a disturbing insight into the priorities and sympathies of our president.

Some might seek to minimize Mary Robinson’s role in the Durban debacle. The late Tom Lantos was intimately involved in the negotiations and attended the ill-fated conference. In the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs in the spring of 2002, he wrote:

To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.

Indeed, she obstructed efforts to prevent the conference from devolving into an Israel-bashing event. Lantos explains:

Mrs. Robinson’s intervention with the assembled delegates later in the . . . day left our delegation deeply shocked and saddened. In her remarks, she advocated precisely the opposite course to the one Secretary Powell and I had urged her to take. Namely, she refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East.

Instead, she discussed “the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and … the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.” Thus, instead of condemning the attempt to usurp the conference, she legitimized it. Instead of insisting that it was inappropriate to discuss a specific political conflict in the context of a World Conference on Racism, she spoke of the “need to resolve protracted conflict and occupation, claims of inequality, violence and terrorism, and a deteriorating situation on the ground.” Robinson was prepared to delve into the arcana of a single territorial conflict at the exclusion of all others and at the expense of the conference’s greater goals.

(My, doesn’t that view sound eerily similar to Obama’s Cairo remarks.) Again and again, as Lantos documented, Robinson intervened to thwart efforts to curb the Palestinian propaganda show (“Robinson’s intervention broke all momentum that the U.S. had developed.”) He concludes: “It was clear to me that Mrs. Robinson’s intervention during the Geneva talks represented the coup d’ grace on efforts to save the conference from disaster.”

Well, that’s the woman the president chose to honor. Apparently, she is a model for us all. It is, to say the least, a disturbing insight into the priorities and sympathies of our president.

Read Less

Cairo Joins the Battle Against Tehran

In June 2009, an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine sailed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via Egypt’s Suez Canal. Given the 30-year peace between the states, Israeli vessels in the canal — even submarines — wouldn’t ordinarily make headlines. But the submarines and the Israeli SAAR V class warships that passed through Egypt a few weeks later were big news in the region, a stark reminder that as Iranian centrifuges continue to spin, the deadline for Israeli military action is fast approaching. The movement of the sub — a ship believed to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles — was an unmistakable Israeli warning to Tehran.

These latest naval deployments also suggest that the warning to Iran extends beyond the Israelis. By granting canal access to the warships now, Cairo too is signaling its concern. In fact, lately Egypt’s Mubarak regime has been demonstrating an increasingly public identification with the nascent coalition against Iran. For years Egypt was silent as a militant and emboldened Tehran usurped Cairo’s traditional regional leadership role. But recent developments — including unprecedented public strategic cooperation with Israel — suggest that Cairo has finally joined the campaign against Tehran.

Egypt’s awakening should be a welcome development in Washington and is sure to be on the agenda when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets President Obama in the White House on August 17.

Relations between Cairo and Tehran have been tense for decades. In the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Egypt provided asylum to the deposed shah, and when he succumbed to cancer in 1980, he was feted with a state funeral by President Sadat. Tehran severed ties with Cairo in 1979 when it made peace with Israel, and when Sadat — who signed the treaty — was assassinated in 1981 by Khalid Islambouli, Iran returned the favor, naming a street after the killer. A giant mural of Islambouli remains on display in Tehran to this day.

In January 2008, a flurry of senior-level contacts between the states — including a phone call between Mubarak and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — seemed to portend a warming of relations. But this effort fizzled quickly.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

In June 2009, an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine sailed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via Egypt’s Suez Canal. Given the 30-year peace between the states, Israeli vessels in the canal — even submarines — wouldn’t ordinarily make headlines. But the submarines and the Israeli SAAR V class warships that passed through Egypt a few weeks later were big news in the region, a stark reminder that as Iranian centrifuges continue to spin, the deadline for Israeli military action is fast approaching. The movement of the sub — a ship believed to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles — was an unmistakable Israeli warning to Tehran.

These latest naval deployments also suggest that the warning to Iran extends beyond the Israelis. By granting canal access to the warships now, Cairo too is signaling its concern. In fact, lately Egypt’s Mubarak regime has been demonstrating an increasingly public identification with the nascent coalition against Iran. For years Egypt was silent as a militant and emboldened Tehran usurped Cairo’s traditional regional leadership role. But recent developments — including unprecedented public strategic cooperation with Israel — suggest that Cairo has finally joined the campaign against Tehran.

Egypt’s awakening should be a welcome development in Washington and is sure to be on the agenda when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meets President Obama in the White House on August 17.

Relations between Cairo and Tehran have been tense for decades. In the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Egypt provided asylum to the deposed shah, and when he succumbed to cancer in 1980, he was feted with a state funeral by President Sadat. Tehran severed ties with Cairo in 1979 when it made peace with Israel, and when Sadat — who signed the treaty — was assassinated in 1981 by Khalid Islambouli, Iran returned the favor, naming a street after the killer. A giant mural of Islambouli remains on display in Tehran to this day.

In January 2008, a flurry of senior-level contacts between the states — including a phone call between Mubarak and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — seemed to portend a warming of relations. But this effort fizzled quickly.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Read Less

Editorials Skewer the Truth About Obama’s Pressure on Israel

Yesterday the Washington Post stated the obvious when it noted that under President Obama, America’s relations with the state of Israel had deteriorated. In contrast to the administration’s desperate efforts to curry favor with Venezuela, Russia, and Iran, the focus of American foreign policy in the past seven months has been to heighten tensions with the Middle East’s sole democracy.

A day later, as if on cue, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times responded with their own editorials in support of Obama’s blundering.

The L.A. Times’s stance, titled “Obama’s evenhanded Mideast policy,” is a straightforward defense of an abrupt change toward Israel while disingenuously claiming that Obama’s friendship with it ought not to be questioned. The editorial endorses the downgrading of the U.S.-Israel alliance from one of close cooperation and support to a more equivocal relationship, in which Israel would be subjected to pressure to conform to specific ideas about achieving peace. Considering “evenhanded” a good approach means ignoring the isolation that would ensue if the United States abandons Israel: the Jewish state would be effectively left without an ally in the region and surrounded by a hostile Islamic culture that still rejects its legitimacy even in those few states that have officially come to terms with it.

But the claim of evenhandedness is itself a falsehood since it is very clear that Obama’s public pressure on Israel far outweighs Washington’s gentle urgings that the Palestinians should cease their support for the infrastructure of terror and to halt the official incitement of hatred toward Jews and Israel that is the hallmark of Palestinian political culture. Nor has the administration’s call for Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to tone down their hostility toward Israel been either energetic or successful.

The L.A. Times goes as far as to say that Obama is right to scrap George W. Bush’s commitments to Israel, which recognized that a complete withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines would be unrealistic in any peace agreement. Israel paid for this promise in hard currency through a complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and was rewarded for this concession with the creation of a sovereign terrorist Hamasistan that remains free to bombard southern Israel with rockets. If Obama repudiates this promise, why should Israelis trust him when he makes his own guarantees about their country’s safety once a Palestinian state is put in place?

But even more to the point, the notion that as a prerequisite for peace, the U.S.’s demand for an absolute freeze to all building over the green line in both the West Bank and Jerusalem is as absurd as it is unfair. Israel has proved time and again that it will uproot settlements in exchange for peace or even for the false hope of quiet, as was the case with Gaza. The demand for a freeze does not advance negotiations; it is a substitute for talks, since squeezing Israel in this manner predetermines the outcome in favor of the Palestinians. That is not a negotiation but rather a dictate.

But the L.A. Times’s editorial almost makes the New York Times pronouncement on the issue seem reasonable. The New York paper recognizes that Obama has been less than assertive in trying to pressure the Arabs to make peace. Though it shares the false assumption that American pressure on Israel is a form of friendship, it is at least honest enough to note that the Israeli people aren’t buying it. Though it has long been accepted as a fact that for an Israeli prime minister to butt heads with an American president is to court political suicide, polls consistently show that Israelis don’t trust Obama and support Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to stand up against American pressure.

In response, the N.Y. Times endorses the Israeli Left’s appeal for Obama to speak directly to the Israeli people by going over the head of their democratically elected government to convince them that he is in a better position to know what is good for Israel.

Ironically, this call for an Obama rhetorical special to win over skeptical Israelis speaks to the fatal flaw in the reasoning of both the administration and its cheering section among daily editorial writers. The reason Israelis reject Obama’s pressure to make concessions is that they know — even if the president doesn’t — that there is currently no Palestinian peace partner with whom one can make peace.

The reason the Israeli Left has been so discredited is that Palestinians have consistently shattered its lofty plans. Neither Fatah nor Hamas has any desire to sign a peace deal with Israel, as the last decade has proved over and over again. Moreover, Israelis know all too well that land given up may well be converted into a terrorist launching pad in the same manner, as was the case in Gaza. While the majority of Israelis would not just freeze settlements but even destroy most of them in exchange for real peace, making more concessions in exchange for more terror and insecurity makes no sense. And that is a fact that no amount of U.S. pressure or Obama rhetoric can obscure.

Yesterday the Washington Post stated the obvious when it noted that under President Obama, America’s relations with the state of Israel had deteriorated. In contrast to the administration’s desperate efforts to curry favor with Venezuela, Russia, and Iran, the focus of American foreign policy in the past seven months has been to heighten tensions with the Middle East’s sole democracy.

A day later, as if on cue, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times responded with their own editorials in support of Obama’s blundering.

The L.A. Times’s stance, titled “Obama’s evenhanded Mideast policy,” is a straightforward defense of an abrupt change toward Israel while disingenuously claiming that Obama’s friendship with it ought not to be questioned. The editorial endorses the downgrading of the U.S.-Israel alliance from one of close cooperation and support to a more equivocal relationship, in which Israel would be subjected to pressure to conform to specific ideas about achieving peace. Considering “evenhanded” a good approach means ignoring the isolation that would ensue if the United States abandons Israel: the Jewish state would be effectively left without an ally in the region and surrounded by a hostile Islamic culture that still rejects its legitimacy even in those few states that have officially come to terms with it.

But the claim of evenhandedness is itself a falsehood since it is very clear that Obama’s public pressure on Israel far outweighs Washington’s gentle urgings that the Palestinians should cease their support for the infrastructure of terror and to halt the official incitement of hatred toward Jews and Israel that is the hallmark of Palestinian political culture. Nor has the administration’s call for Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to tone down their hostility toward Israel been either energetic or successful.

The L.A. Times goes as far as to say that Obama is right to scrap George W. Bush’s commitments to Israel, which recognized that a complete withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines would be unrealistic in any peace agreement. Israel paid for this promise in hard currency through a complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and was rewarded for this concession with the creation of a sovereign terrorist Hamasistan that remains free to bombard southern Israel with rockets. If Obama repudiates this promise, why should Israelis trust him when he makes his own guarantees about their country’s safety once a Palestinian state is put in place?

But even more to the point, the notion that as a prerequisite for peace, the U.S.’s demand for an absolute freeze to all building over the green line in both the West Bank and Jerusalem is as absurd as it is unfair. Israel has proved time and again that it will uproot settlements in exchange for peace or even for the false hope of quiet, as was the case with Gaza. The demand for a freeze does not advance negotiations; it is a substitute for talks, since squeezing Israel in this manner predetermines the outcome in favor of the Palestinians. That is not a negotiation but rather a dictate.

But the L.A. Times’s editorial almost makes the New York Times pronouncement on the issue seem reasonable. The New York paper recognizes that Obama has been less than assertive in trying to pressure the Arabs to make peace. Though it shares the false assumption that American pressure on Israel is a form of friendship, it is at least honest enough to note that the Israeli people aren’t buying it. Though it has long been accepted as a fact that for an Israeli prime minister to butt heads with an American president is to court political suicide, polls consistently show that Israelis don’t trust Obama and support Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to stand up against American pressure.

In response, the N.Y. Times endorses the Israeli Left’s appeal for Obama to speak directly to the Israeli people by going over the head of their democratically elected government to convince them that he is in a better position to know what is good for Israel.

Ironically, this call for an Obama rhetorical special to win over skeptical Israelis speaks to the fatal flaw in the reasoning of both the administration and its cheering section among daily editorial writers. The reason Israelis reject Obama’s pressure to make concessions is that they know — even if the president doesn’t — that there is currently no Palestinian peace partner with whom one can make peace.

The reason the Israeli Left has been so discredited is that Palestinians have consistently shattered its lofty plans. Neither Fatah nor Hamas has any desire to sign a peace deal with Israel, as the last decade has proved over and over again. Moreover, Israelis know all too well that land given up may well be converted into a terrorist launching pad in the same manner, as was the case in Gaza. While the majority of Israelis would not just freeze settlements but even destroy most of them in exchange for real peace, making more concessions in exchange for more terror and insecurity makes no sense. And that is a fact that no amount of U.S. pressure or Obama rhetoric can obscure.

Read Less

How Will It Turn Out?

Charles Krauthammer, in essence, divides health-care reform into two acts. On Act I of health-care reform:

Reforming the health-care system is dead. Cause of death? Blunt trauma administered not by Republicans, not even by Blue Dog Democrats, but by the green eyeshades at the Congressional Budget Office.

But then there is Act II. He surmises:

To win back the vast constituency that has insurance, is happy with it, and is mightily resisting the fatal lures of Obamacare, the president will in the end simply impose heavy regulations on the insurance companies that will make what you already have secure, portable and imperishable: no policy cancellations, no preexisting condition requirements, perhaps even a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

And there will be an individual mandate, he predicts – so the insurance companies won’t be driven out of business quite yet.

Well, it could turn out that way. Or the Democrats could continue to rip one another apart and wait for 2010 as a “mandate” election on health care. Or the coalition of Blue Dogs and Republicans might get together to try passing targeted reforms (e.g., tax credits, some litigation reform, health-spending accounts) and dare the president and congressional leadership to block them.

But what is clear, as Krauthammer points out, is that barring some leftward lurch of the electorate that can be induced in 2010, there simply isn’t a constituency outside secure liberal congressional districts for a government takeover of health care. That reality will have to be digested and accepted by the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. Obama will need to realize that his presidency will crumble if he insists on the unattainable. And then we can better assess what type of “reform” (if any) we might get.

Charles Krauthammer, in essence, divides health-care reform into two acts. On Act I of health-care reform:

Reforming the health-care system is dead. Cause of death? Blunt trauma administered not by Republicans, not even by Blue Dog Democrats, but by the green eyeshades at the Congressional Budget Office.

But then there is Act II. He surmises:

To win back the vast constituency that has insurance, is happy with it, and is mightily resisting the fatal lures of Obamacare, the president will in the end simply impose heavy regulations on the insurance companies that will make what you already have secure, portable and imperishable: no policy cancellations, no preexisting condition requirements, perhaps even a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

And there will be an individual mandate, he predicts – so the insurance companies won’t be driven out of business quite yet.

Well, it could turn out that way. Or the Democrats could continue to rip one another apart and wait for 2010 as a “mandate” election on health care. Or the coalition of Blue Dogs and Republicans might get together to try passing targeted reforms (e.g., tax credits, some litigation reform, health-spending accounts) and dare the president and congressional leadership to block them.

But what is clear, as Krauthammer points out, is that barring some leftward lurch of the electorate that can be induced in 2010, there simply isn’t a constituency outside secure liberal congressional districts for a government takeover of health care. That reality will have to be digested and accepted by the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. Obama will need to realize that his presidency will crumble if he insists on the unattainable. And then we can better assess what type of “reform” (if any) we might get.

Read Less

A Win-Win-Win-Win Governmental Program

The Cars for Clunkers program has been a surprising success. It was supposed to run through November but ran out of cash in less than four weeks, as consumers rushed to take advantage of a program that gave them $3,500-$4,500 rebates on new, fuel-efficient cars in return for junking their old gas guzzlers. (The consumer is supposed to also get the scrap value of the old car, which must, under the terms of the deal, be junked.)

This was a stimulus measure that, mirabile dictu, actually stimulated the economy. It moved 250,000 cars out of the nation’s showrooms in little more than three weeks. In the words of one auto dealer, “Wow.” By increasing the fuel efficiency of the cars on the nation’s highways, it also modestly lowered fuel demand. That cuts air pollution from automobile exhaust. That also puts downward pressure on oil prices, which in turn improves the balance of trade.

So here’s a congressional program that stimulates the economy right now while we are still in recession, cuts pollution, cuts oil prices, and cuts the trade deficit. And it does all that without requiring a vast bureaucracy to administer — and none of John Murtha’s friends had to be cut in on the action.

What are the chances of Congress moving money from other, far less effective programs to continue funding this win-win-win-win program?

The Cars for Clunkers program has been a surprising success. It was supposed to run through November but ran out of cash in less than four weeks, as consumers rushed to take advantage of a program that gave them $3,500-$4,500 rebates on new, fuel-efficient cars in return for junking their old gas guzzlers. (The consumer is supposed to also get the scrap value of the old car, which must, under the terms of the deal, be junked.)

This was a stimulus measure that, mirabile dictu, actually stimulated the economy. It moved 250,000 cars out of the nation’s showrooms in little more than three weeks. In the words of one auto dealer, “Wow.” By increasing the fuel efficiency of the cars on the nation’s highways, it also modestly lowered fuel demand. That cuts air pollution from automobile exhaust. That also puts downward pressure on oil prices, which in turn improves the balance of trade.

So here’s a congressional program that stimulates the economy right now while we are still in recession, cuts pollution, cuts oil prices, and cuts the trade deficit. And it does all that without requiring a vast bureaucracy to administer — and none of John Murtha’s friends had to be cut in on the action.

What are the chances of Congress moving money from other, far less effective programs to continue funding this win-win-win-win program?

Read Less

Re: Robinson: Did Anyone Vet This One?

Tevi Troy is wondering the same thing. Based on some experience working in the White House, he tells us:

Robinson’s record is well known to most Jews with even a passing familiarity with the Jewish media. It cannot be a surprise that honoring Robinson in this way would be anathema to the Jewish community.

In addition, I know from having worked in the White House that these selections go through extremely careful vetting of public and non-public databases to make sure that they would not embarrass the president in any way. The staff secretary’s office, which clears all paperwork that goes to the president, would also make sure that all of the relevant offices sign off on important selections before they happen. The two most important sign offs on something like the Medal of Freedom would be the chief of staff’s office, now headed by Rahm Emanuel, and the senior advisor’s office, now run by David Axelrod. For the Obama White House to have made this selection could mean one of only two possibilities: that they did not vet and clear the candidates, which suggests a level of incompetence beyond even missing tax evasions by cabinet nominees. Uncaught tax evasion does not come up on Google; Robinson’s record does. The other, more likely, possibility is that they knew and did not care.

One should keep in mind that the usual excuses that apply to problematic nominees (e.g., the trouble spots aren’t relevant to the nomination, the candidate’s overall record dwarfs the negatives) simply don’t apply here. The Obama administration is honoring her not in spite of her U.N. work but because of it. She is being awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor — recognition as someone who has made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

The administration is commending her for having “changed the world for the better.” One supposes that funding the PLO, presiding over the Durban hate-fest, and championing the Jenin propaganda effort in Obama’s eyes made for a better world. But if one is interested in putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, symbolic acts like this certainly go a long way.

We will see how lawmakers and Jewish groups react. Rep. Peter King, responding to my inquiry, was quick to respond and characteristically blunt: “Mary Robinson was an effective President of Ireland. I met with her a number of times when she was President. Her views on Israel and the Middle East, and on foreign policy generally, are misguided. She is definitely from the school of moral equivalency which somehow invariably comes down on the side against vibrant democracies such as Israel and the United States.” His spokesman confirms “he was not consulted” on the award.

Again, one has to wonder: should we be honoring this person?

Tevi Troy is wondering the same thing. Based on some experience working in the White House, he tells us:

Robinson’s record is well known to most Jews with even a passing familiarity with the Jewish media. It cannot be a surprise that honoring Robinson in this way would be anathema to the Jewish community.

In addition, I know from having worked in the White House that these selections go through extremely careful vetting of public and non-public databases to make sure that they would not embarrass the president in any way. The staff secretary’s office, which clears all paperwork that goes to the president, would also make sure that all of the relevant offices sign off on important selections before they happen. The two most important sign offs on something like the Medal of Freedom would be the chief of staff’s office, now headed by Rahm Emanuel, and the senior advisor’s office, now run by David Axelrod. For the Obama White House to have made this selection could mean one of only two possibilities: that they did not vet and clear the candidates, which suggests a level of incompetence beyond even missing tax evasions by cabinet nominees. Uncaught tax evasion does not come up on Google; Robinson’s record does. The other, more likely, possibility is that they knew and did not care.

One should keep in mind that the usual excuses that apply to problematic nominees (e.g., the trouble spots aren’t relevant to the nomination, the candidate’s overall record dwarfs the negatives) simply don’t apply here. The Obama administration is honoring her not in spite of her U.N. work but because of it. She is being awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor — recognition as someone who has made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

The administration is commending her for having “changed the world for the better.” One supposes that funding the PLO, presiding over the Durban hate-fest, and championing the Jenin propaganda effort in Obama’s eyes made for a better world. But if one is interested in putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, symbolic acts like this certainly go a long way.

We will see how lawmakers and Jewish groups react. Rep. Peter King, responding to my inquiry, was quick to respond and characteristically blunt: “Mary Robinson was an effective President of Ireland. I met with her a number of times when she was President. Her views on Israel and the Middle East, and on foreign policy generally, are misguided. She is definitely from the school of moral equivalency which somehow invariably comes down on the side against vibrant democracies such as Israel and the United States.” His spokesman confirms “he was not consulted” on the award.

Again, one has to wonder: should we be honoring this person?

Read Less

Re: Assigned — Not Sidelined?

J.E. Dyer makes an excellent point about Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s very real efforts to develop ties with countries outside the immediate American sphere. It should be pointed out that Israel enjoys deep and extensive relations with governments around the globe — from Latin America to Africa to southern Asia — mostly but not exclusively of a military nature. According to recent reports, Israel surpasses the U.K. as the fourth-largest military exporter in the world (after the U.S., Russia, and France).

But in most cases, these relations have remained under the radar, with one or both sides preferring it that way. The change under Lieberman, it seems, is an effort to gradually move these relationships out of the closet. There are two reasons this might be happening now.

1. The Obama administration is making every effort to convince the world not only that U.S. relations with Israel are changing for the worse but also that it may be steering the United States toward a more limited role in the world. There has been lots of talk online about Obama’s being seen (we may assume deliberately) reading Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World. Although most of what is said about this is silly, at a minimum it does suggest that Obama wants to be thought of as understanding which way the global winds are blowing in terms of American reach and influence. Against that backdrop, it is natural for Israelis to consider the worst-case scenario of a friendship with the U.S. that is not only diminishing but also of diminishing value in a post-American world. Israel’s survival instincts naturally kick in, and an effort to raise the profile of its ties elsewhere makes a lot of sense.

2. The very feature that makes Lieberman distasteful to many Westerners — his power-affirming nationalism — may make him more respected and, frankly, understandable in other parts of the world, especially in places like Russia and Latin America, where strongmen are respected rather than reviled. There is something ingenious about Netanyahu’s deployment of his foreign policy assets, from his assignment of Lieberman to places where he is most likely to be respected and his positioning of Michael Oren (disclosure: friend, former Shalem Center colleague, and fellow Commentary contributor) as ambassador to the U.S., to his own rallying of Israeli public support against Obama’s firm stance on settlements.

It is indeed way too simplistic to look at Lieberman as having been swept under the rug for inner political reasons. That this narrative has carried the day is itself one of Netanyahu’s most impressive diplomatic achievements.

J.E. Dyer makes an excellent point about Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s very real efforts to develop ties with countries outside the immediate American sphere. It should be pointed out that Israel enjoys deep and extensive relations with governments around the globe — from Latin America to Africa to southern Asia — mostly but not exclusively of a military nature. According to recent reports, Israel surpasses the U.K. as the fourth-largest military exporter in the world (after the U.S., Russia, and France).

But in most cases, these relations have remained under the radar, with one or both sides preferring it that way. The change under Lieberman, it seems, is an effort to gradually move these relationships out of the closet. There are two reasons this might be happening now.

1. The Obama administration is making every effort to convince the world not only that U.S. relations with Israel are changing for the worse but also that it may be steering the United States toward a more limited role in the world. There has been lots of talk online about Obama’s being seen (we may assume deliberately) reading Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World. Although most of what is said about this is silly, at a minimum it does suggest that Obama wants to be thought of as understanding which way the global winds are blowing in terms of American reach and influence. Against that backdrop, it is natural for Israelis to consider the worst-case scenario of a friendship with the U.S. that is not only diminishing but also of diminishing value in a post-American world. Israel’s survival instincts naturally kick in, and an effort to raise the profile of its ties elsewhere makes a lot of sense.

2. The very feature that makes Lieberman distasteful to many Westerners — his power-affirming nationalism — may make him more respected and, frankly, understandable in other parts of the world, especially in places like Russia and Latin America, where strongmen are respected rather than reviled. There is something ingenious about Netanyahu’s deployment of his foreign policy assets, from his assignment of Lieberman to places where he is most likely to be respected and his positioning of Michael Oren (disclosure: friend, former Shalem Center colleague, and fellow Commentary contributor) as ambassador to the U.S., to his own rallying of Israeli public support against Obama’s firm stance on settlements.

It is indeed way too simplistic to look at Lieberman as having been swept under the rug for inner political reasons. That this narrative has carried the day is itself one of Netanyahu’s most impressive diplomatic achievements.

Read Less

The Judge and the Professor’s Aversion to Facts

Stuart Taylor bluntly writes of the soon-to-be-newest Supreme Court justice and the Harvard professor: “What Sotomayor and Gates share is a habit of drawing dubious lessons about race from their own experiences.” Sotomayor, Taylor points out, plays fast and loose with statistics to claim that Hispanics on the federal bench are “grossly below our proportion of the population.” He explains:

Sotomayor ignored the fact that the talent pool for judicial appointments is not the general population but rather the population of lawyers with the experience and accomplishment to qualify. By that measure, Latinos were overrepresented in the federal judiciary, as Ed Whelan, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has documented. “According to the ABA,” he wrote, “in 2000 the percentage of lawyers who were ‘Hispanic’ was only 3.4 percent [and] the very numbers that Sotomayor complained about equate to 6.8 percent of federal Appellate judges . . . and 5.1 percent of District judges.”

Sotomayor similarly focused on raw racial numbers instead of applicants’ job qualifications in her cryptic rejection last year of a reverse discrimination lawsuit by 18 white firefighters (including one Hispanic) who were denied promotions because blacks had not done well on a qualifying test.

She wasn’t much interested in the facts of Ricci — declining to set forth and analyze them in her per curium opinion and to explain them fully in her confirmation hearing (falsely insisting, for example, that the plaintiffs filed for en banc review when in fact her colleague Judge Cabranes fished the case out sua sponte).

Likewise, Gates has no need for the facts, since his conclusions are already predetermined by his attachment to a narrative that assumes and exaggerates racism. Taylor writes:

[H]e was quite wrong to stereotype and smear as racist Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer — who, as Gates himself admitted in an interview with his daughter for the Daily Beast, “obviously . . . didn’t know it was my home” and “was terrified that I could be dangerous to him.” Crowley also turns out to have an impeccable record on race.

Gates was even more wrong to suggest in subsequent interviews that America — in which systematic oppression of blacks was once pervasive — has not fundamentally changed, as he told The Root, of which he is editor in chief.

[. . .]

Indeed, Gates himself seems to understand this in his more lucid moments. “America is the greatest nation ever founded,” he told the Daily Beast.

But in much of his rhetoric, Gates has emulated the countless other academics and politicians who encourage black people to blame whites for problems that no white person alive today did much to cause or has much power to fix.

It is interesting that both Sotomayor and Gates must ignore or distort so much contrary information to perpetuate their vision of America as a society still mired in racism. The professor and the judge must evade quite a bit of contrary data if they are to make the case for America’s debased status — and insist that the racial-spoils system of quotas and preferences be extended. When reality intrudes, we see just how afactual their worldview and how intellectually suspect their reasoning are. They are revealed to be propagandists for an ideology that cannot withstand scrutiny.

Aside from his students, the American public can ignore Gates’s views. Unfortunately, once elevated to the Court, Sotomayor’s platform and influence will only grow, and she will, she has warned us, bring her background and ideology to bear on the law for decades to come.

Stuart Taylor bluntly writes of the soon-to-be-newest Supreme Court justice and the Harvard professor: “What Sotomayor and Gates share is a habit of drawing dubious lessons about race from their own experiences.” Sotomayor, Taylor points out, plays fast and loose with statistics to claim that Hispanics on the federal bench are “grossly below our proportion of the population.” He explains:

Sotomayor ignored the fact that the talent pool for judicial appointments is not the general population but rather the population of lawyers with the experience and accomplishment to qualify. By that measure, Latinos were overrepresented in the federal judiciary, as Ed Whelan, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has documented. “According to the ABA,” he wrote, “in 2000 the percentage of lawyers who were ‘Hispanic’ was only 3.4 percent [and] the very numbers that Sotomayor complained about equate to 6.8 percent of federal Appellate judges . . . and 5.1 percent of District judges.”

Sotomayor similarly focused on raw racial numbers instead of applicants’ job qualifications in her cryptic rejection last year of a reverse discrimination lawsuit by 18 white firefighters (including one Hispanic) who were denied promotions because blacks had not done well on a qualifying test.

She wasn’t much interested in the facts of Ricci — declining to set forth and analyze them in her per curium opinion and to explain them fully in her confirmation hearing (falsely insisting, for example, that the plaintiffs filed for en banc review when in fact her colleague Judge Cabranes fished the case out sua sponte).

Likewise, Gates has no need for the facts, since his conclusions are already predetermined by his attachment to a narrative that assumes and exaggerates racism. Taylor writes:

[H]e was quite wrong to stereotype and smear as racist Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer — who, as Gates himself admitted in an interview with his daughter for the Daily Beast, “obviously . . . didn’t know it was my home” and “was terrified that I could be dangerous to him.” Crowley also turns out to have an impeccable record on race.

Gates was even more wrong to suggest in subsequent interviews that America — in which systematic oppression of blacks was once pervasive — has not fundamentally changed, as he told The Root, of which he is editor in chief.

[. . .]

Indeed, Gates himself seems to understand this in his more lucid moments. “America is the greatest nation ever founded,” he told the Daily Beast.

But in much of his rhetoric, Gates has emulated the countless other academics and politicians who encourage black people to blame whites for problems that no white person alive today did much to cause or has much power to fix.

It is interesting that both Sotomayor and Gates must ignore or distort so much contrary information to perpetuate their vision of America as a society still mired in racism. The professor and the judge must evade quite a bit of contrary data if they are to make the case for America’s debased status — and insist that the racial-spoils system of quotas and preferences be extended. When reality intrudes, we see just how afactual their worldview and how intellectually suspect their reasoning are. They are revealed to be propagandists for an ideology that cannot withstand scrutiny.

Aside from his students, the American public can ignore Gates’s views. Unfortunately, once elevated to the Court, Sotomayor’s platform and influence will only grow, and she will, she has warned us, bring her background and ideology to bear on the law for decades to come.

Read Less

The Palestinian Donor State

On the afternoon of July 24, Hillary Clinton arrived back in Washington on a flight from Asia, got off the plane, and headed straight to the State Department, where reporters were assembled to join her in a teleconference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was in Ramallah. It was late Friday evening Ramallah time.

The teleconference was called to commemorate the transfer of $200 million to the Palestinian Authority — the largest single transfer in the P.A.’s history, a part of the $900 million pledge the Obama administration has made for 2009 (more than 62 percent higher than the $555 million the Bush administration pledged for 2008).

Clinton thanked Fayyad for agreeing to hold the teleconference late so she could announce the transfer personally. She urged other “donors” to meet their commitments (made in the latest of the “donor conferences” the U.S. now arranges with roughly the same frequency as public-TV pledge drives) because “the PA needs financial help, and they need it now.” A State Department press release issued after the teleconference noted that no country donates more than the United States.

A teleconference, a press release, and a personal announcement by the secretary of state — the administration was obviously proud of its record effort. But a somewhat different perspective on this landmark in U.S. funding can be found in George Gilder’s important new book, The Israel Test.

Gilder’s book recounts his experience with the Israeli economy over the past two decades and provides an illuminating summary of the economic development in the disputed territories over the 20 years after 1967, and the 20 years after that:

During these twenty years [after 1967] under Israeli management until the First Intifada of 1987, the West Bank and Gaza comprised one of the most dynamic economies on earth, with a decade of growth at a rate of roughly 30 percent per year from 1969 to 1979. Annual investment in constant dollars soared from under $10 million in 1969 to some $600 million in 1991 . . . . The Arab population rose from roughly 1 million in 1967 to almost 3 million in some 261 new towns. Despite the nearly triple growth in population, per-capita income tripled . . .

The economic boom in that first 20-year period and the dramatic rise in the Palestinian standard of living were accompanied by little foreign aid. But the Oslo process featured a massive influx of foreign aid, and the declines in real private investment averaged 10 percent per year in 1993-97. Yasser Arafat slowly transformed the Palestinian economy from one in which entrepreneurial effort flourished to one involving commitments to reduce terror in exchange for ever increasing foreign aid:

Under PLO control, the Palestinian Arabs received more foreign aid per capital than any other people on the face of the earth and became arguably the world’s most twisted welfare culture of violence and demoralization. . . . The increase in foreign aid after 1993 was associated with a 40 percent decline in per-capita income in the first half of this decade together with mounting terrorism and anti-Semitic animus. . . . [T]he Palestinian economy shrank, and dependence on foreign aid increased along with constant complaints about its inadequacy.

At the teleconference, Clinton said she hoped the U.S. money would “further conditions in which a Palestinian state can be realized.” But if Gilder’s analysis is correct, the money will not likely advance the cause but merely continue the dominance of the Palestinian political class over the private economy. The teleconference was a dramatic demonstration of a propped-up entity’s dependence on the increasing amounts of foreign aid needed to support it, as the economic model pioneered by Yasser Arafat reached another new height.

On the afternoon of July 24, Hillary Clinton arrived back in Washington on a flight from Asia, got off the plane, and headed straight to the State Department, where reporters were assembled to join her in a teleconference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was in Ramallah. It was late Friday evening Ramallah time.

The teleconference was called to commemorate the transfer of $200 million to the Palestinian Authority — the largest single transfer in the P.A.’s history, a part of the $900 million pledge the Obama administration has made for 2009 (more than 62 percent higher than the $555 million the Bush administration pledged for 2008).

Clinton thanked Fayyad for agreeing to hold the teleconference late so she could announce the transfer personally. She urged other “donors” to meet their commitments (made in the latest of the “donor conferences” the U.S. now arranges with roughly the same frequency as public-TV pledge drives) because “the PA needs financial help, and they need it now.” A State Department press release issued after the teleconference noted that no country donates more than the United States.

A teleconference, a press release, and a personal announcement by the secretary of state — the administration was obviously proud of its record effort. But a somewhat different perspective on this landmark in U.S. funding can be found in George Gilder’s important new book, The Israel Test.

Gilder’s book recounts his experience with the Israeli economy over the past two decades and provides an illuminating summary of the economic development in the disputed territories over the 20 years after 1967, and the 20 years after that:

During these twenty years [after 1967] under Israeli management until the First Intifada of 1987, the West Bank and Gaza comprised one of the most dynamic economies on earth, with a decade of growth at a rate of roughly 30 percent per year from 1969 to 1979. Annual investment in constant dollars soared from under $10 million in 1969 to some $600 million in 1991 . . . . The Arab population rose from roughly 1 million in 1967 to almost 3 million in some 261 new towns. Despite the nearly triple growth in population, per-capita income tripled . . .

The economic boom in that first 20-year period and the dramatic rise in the Palestinian standard of living were accompanied by little foreign aid. But the Oslo process featured a massive influx of foreign aid, and the declines in real private investment averaged 10 percent per year in 1993-97. Yasser Arafat slowly transformed the Palestinian economy from one in which entrepreneurial effort flourished to one involving commitments to reduce terror in exchange for ever increasing foreign aid:

Under PLO control, the Palestinian Arabs received more foreign aid per capital than any other people on the face of the earth and became arguably the world’s most twisted welfare culture of violence and demoralization. . . . The increase in foreign aid after 1993 was associated with a 40 percent decline in per-capita income in the first half of this decade together with mounting terrorism and anti-Semitic animus. . . . [T]he Palestinian economy shrank, and dependence on foreign aid increased along with constant complaints about its inadequacy.

At the teleconference, Clinton said she hoped the U.S. money would “further conditions in which a Palestinian state can be realized.” But if Gilder’s analysis is correct, the money will not likely advance the cause but merely continue the dominance of the Palestinian political class over the private economy. The teleconference was a dramatic demonstration of a propped-up entity’s dependence on the increasing amounts of foreign aid needed to support it, as the economic model pioneered by Yasser Arafat reached another new height.

Read Less

“He Provided the Beer”

In the much-anticipated get-together over beer at the White House with the trio of Gates-gate, Obama had little to say, according to Sergeant James Crowley. “He provided the beer.” Perhaps everyone has heard enough from Obama on the topic. In what was supposed to be his strong suit — racial healing — he proved to be his own worst enemy. Another opportunity for the president to pontificate on race became a public relations and polling nightmare. The press discovered to their utter amazement that calling a cop stupid and jumping to the conclusion that he was a racist might not sit well with white voters:

The intriguing possibility comes from a Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday: The poll finds that Obama’s overall approval rating among whites tumbled seven percentage points from just after his July 22 news conference through last weekend, as the focus turned increasingly to his handling of the situation. The percentage of whites who “like” the kind of person he is fell by six points.

Well, Obama has more problems than just Gates-gate, so this incident might not have been all that determinative. Indeed, given how badly the health-care debate has been going, it seems that the Thursday beer break was almost a welcome distraction (like hitting your thumb with a hammer to get rid of a headache).

But perhaps the starry-eyed media learned a lesson: Obama may sound smart, but he doesn’t necessarily know what he is talking about. Whether it is about Crowley’s motives, the blue-red-pill dilemma, the 4 million “saved or created” jobs, or the history of the Middle East, Obama hasn’t seemed grounded in the real world — and it shows. It’s a good lesson that “smooth” doesn’t mean “right.”

In the much-anticipated get-together over beer at the White House with the trio of Gates-gate, Obama had little to say, according to Sergeant James Crowley. “He provided the beer.” Perhaps everyone has heard enough from Obama on the topic. In what was supposed to be his strong suit — racial healing — he proved to be his own worst enemy. Another opportunity for the president to pontificate on race became a public relations and polling nightmare. The press discovered to their utter amazement that calling a cop stupid and jumping to the conclusion that he was a racist might not sit well with white voters:

The intriguing possibility comes from a Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday: The poll finds that Obama’s overall approval rating among whites tumbled seven percentage points from just after his July 22 news conference through last weekend, as the focus turned increasingly to his handling of the situation. The percentage of whites who “like” the kind of person he is fell by six points.

Well, Obama has more problems than just Gates-gate, so this incident might not have been all that determinative. Indeed, given how badly the health-care debate has been going, it seems that the Thursday beer break was almost a welcome distraction (like hitting your thumb with a hammer to get rid of a headache).

But perhaps the starry-eyed media learned a lesson: Obama may sound smart, but he doesn’t necessarily know what he is talking about. Whether it is about Crowley’s motives, the blue-red-pill dilemma, the 4 million “saved or created” jobs, or the history of the Middle East, Obama hasn’t seemed grounded in the real world — and it shows. It’s a good lesson that “smooth” doesn’t mean “right.”

Read Less

The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem

Over at the Corner, Clifford May offers a telling glimpse of the website of this country’s consulate in Jerusalem. Among the items, Cliff reports, are these:

U.S. Government Supports the Palestinian Authority
U.S. Provides $200 Million in Budget Support to Palestinian AuthorityMEPI Local Grants
MEPI awards 8 new local grants in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Secretary Clinton:
Arab states have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority

“A Day at the Movies” for Palestinian Youth
The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is supporting the new “Cinema City” movie theater in Nablus by purchasing tickets for over 300 Palestinian youth involved in the U.S. Government-sponsored English Access Microscholarship program and Camp Discovery summer program.

Secretary Clinton Via Teleconference:
“. . . the Palestinian Authority now has systems in place to ensure that donor funds are handled transparently and in an accountable manner. We will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership to bolster these safeguards to make sure that the funding ends up exactly where – and for whom – it is intended.

Summer Fun and Learning at “Camp Discovery”
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is sponsoring Camp Discovery for youth in the West Bank and Gaza. More than 450 Palestinians ages 8-14 from refugee camps and disadvantaged communities are participating in Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron and Gaza City.

Consulate General Announces Grant to Preserve Palestinian Cultural Heritage
Consulate General staff and Dr. Adel Yahya, Director of the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE), met to commemorate the first grant given to Palestinians under the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

Summer Camp Stimulates Critical Thinking in Palestinian Youth
The “Extracurricular Enrichment Day Camp” opened its doors to 110 gifted Palestinian youth from West Bank public middle schools, ages 12-16 on June 13, 2009. The U.S. government funded camp seeks to stimulate critical-thinking, build self-confidence, and prepare participants for a future in higher education.

Cliff writes: “Here’s what you don’t find — at least not at this moment as I’m viewing the site: A word about Israel. Not a single one. No hint that Jerusalem is in Israel or that Israelis live there — much less that it’s Israel’s capital.”

Over at the Corner, Clifford May offers a telling glimpse of the website of this country’s consulate in Jerusalem. Among the items, Cliff reports, are these:

U.S. Government Supports the Palestinian Authority
U.S. Provides $200 Million in Budget Support to Palestinian AuthorityMEPI Local Grants
MEPI awards 8 new local grants in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Secretary Clinton:
Arab states have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority

“A Day at the Movies” for Palestinian Youth
The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is supporting the new “Cinema City” movie theater in Nablus by purchasing tickets for over 300 Palestinian youth involved in the U.S. Government-sponsored English Access Microscholarship program and Camp Discovery summer program.

Secretary Clinton Via Teleconference:
“. . . the Palestinian Authority now has systems in place to ensure that donor funds are handled transparently and in an accountable manner. We will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership to bolster these safeguards to make sure that the funding ends up exactly where – and for whom – it is intended.

Summer Fun and Learning at “Camp Discovery”
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is sponsoring Camp Discovery for youth in the West Bank and Gaza. More than 450 Palestinians ages 8-14 from refugee camps and disadvantaged communities are participating in Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron and Gaza City.

Consulate General Announces Grant to Preserve Palestinian Cultural Heritage
Consulate General staff and Dr. Adel Yahya, Director of the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE), met to commemorate the first grant given to Palestinians under the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

Summer Camp Stimulates Critical Thinking in Palestinian Youth
The “Extracurricular Enrichment Day Camp” opened its doors to 110 gifted Palestinian youth from West Bank public middle schools, ages 12-16 on June 13, 2009. The U.S. government funded camp seeks to stimulate critical-thinking, build self-confidence, and prepare participants for a future in higher education.

Cliff writes: “Here’s what you don’t find — at least not at this moment as I’m viewing the site: A word about Israel. Not a single one. No hint that Jerusalem is in Israel or that Israelis live there — much less that it’s Israel’s capital.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The Senate moves ahead to do what the administration has failed to do: come up with a viable game plan for pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Cliff May is puzzled: why is Obama so much more solicitous of our enemies than our friends? “President Obama was quick to denounce Zelaya’s ouster and — echoing Chávez, Castro, and Ortega — demand that he be reinstated. Senior White House officials threatened sanctions if Honduras’s legislature, courts, and military refuse to do as told. More than $18 million in military and development assistance already has been suspended. Contrast that with the White House response to the massive election fraud that recently took place in Iran: President Obama said he did not want to be seen as ‘meddling.’” The Poles and the Czechs are wary the same will hold true of Obama’s Russia policy. And all that’s before we even get to Israel.

Meanwhile, in another “what is wrong with this picture” story, Claudia Rosett reports on our State Department’s efforts to welcome 1,300 Palestinians, former guests of Saddam, into the U.S. with only the most perfunctory concern for Americans’ security. The Arab states want nothing to do with these people, of course.

Our esteemed Speaker of the House: “Insurance companies are out there in full force carpet bombing, shock and awe, against a public option.” Actually, I think it’s 50 or so members of her own caucus and every Republican who oppose it.

Meanwhile, 50 House liberals won’t accept the Blue Dog deal.

Kimberley Strassel on the deposed chairman John Dingell’s right to feel a bit of “health-care schadenfreude” given the hash his successor Henry Waxman has made of things. “The Waxman-Pelosi strategy has also reverberated beyond the House. The hammering that House Democrats received on cap-and-trade has only further discouraged senators from tackling that legislation. Mr. Obama has felt compelled to say nice things about this early House product, tying the White House to reckless legislation, and further raising the left’s hopes. Mr. Waxman and Mrs. Pelosi head into recess with one comatose climate bill and one wounded health-care project. Now comes the long hot summer month where the nation gets to think about this some more. If the speaker wants to make use of her vacation, she could always get on the phone to Michigan. Mr. Dingell might have some advice.”

Sen. Max Baucus professes to be undecided on Sotomayor. Hmm. Perhaps the NRA scoring and her evasions on the Second Amendment really have him in a quandary. Or maybe he is just stalling.

The unspinnable Mickey Kaus listens to Obama recapping his White House discussions on health care and thinks: “Sounds like a man in a bubble to me, listening to McKinsey guys tell him how right he is.”

The Senate moves ahead to do what the administration has failed to do: come up with a viable game plan for pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Cliff May is puzzled: why is Obama so much more solicitous of our enemies than our friends? “President Obama was quick to denounce Zelaya’s ouster and — echoing Chávez, Castro, and Ortega — demand that he be reinstated. Senior White House officials threatened sanctions if Honduras’s legislature, courts, and military refuse to do as told. More than $18 million in military and development assistance already has been suspended. Contrast that with the White House response to the massive election fraud that recently took place in Iran: President Obama said he did not want to be seen as ‘meddling.’” The Poles and the Czechs are wary the same will hold true of Obama’s Russia policy. And all that’s before we even get to Israel.

Meanwhile, in another “what is wrong with this picture” story, Claudia Rosett reports on our State Department’s efforts to welcome 1,300 Palestinians, former guests of Saddam, into the U.S. with only the most perfunctory concern for Americans’ security. The Arab states want nothing to do with these people, of course.

Our esteemed Speaker of the House: “Insurance companies are out there in full force carpet bombing, shock and awe, against a public option.” Actually, I think it’s 50 or so members of her own caucus and every Republican who oppose it.

Meanwhile, 50 House liberals won’t accept the Blue Dog deal.

Kimberley Strassel on the deposed chairman John Dingell’s right to feel a bit of “health-care schadenfreude” given the hash his successor Henry Waxman has made of things. “The Waxman-Pelosi strategy has also reverberated beyond the House. The hammering that House Democrats received on cap-and-trade has only further discouraged senators from tackling that legislation. Mr. Obama has felt compelled to say nice things about this early House product, tying the White House to reckless legislation, and further raising the left’s hopes. Mr. Waxman and Mrs. Pelosi head into recess with one comatose climate bill and one wounded health-care project. Now comes the long hot summer month where the nation gets to think about this some more. If the speaker wants to make use of her vacation, she could always get on the phone to Michigan. Mr. Dingell might have some advice.”

Sen. Max Baucus professes to be undecided on Sotomayor. Hmm. Perhaps the NRA scoring and her evasions on the Second Amendment really have him in a quandary. Or maybe he is just stalling.

The unspinnable Mickey Kaus listens to Obama recapping his White House discussions on health care and thinks: “Sounds like a man in a bubble to me, listening to McKinsey guys tell him how right he is.”

Read Less

Robinson: Did Anyone Vet this One?

Eric Fingerhut of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency describes Mary Robinson’s selection as a Medal of Freedom winner as follows:

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, served as United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees during the 2001 Durban conference against racism, and was seen by Jewish leaders as not taking enough action to deter the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions at the conference. She was also seen as a tough critic of Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians during her term in office.

Hmm. Is that really an accurate representation of Robinson’s career and the Jewish community’s reaction to her?

Fingerhut suggests she just didn’t do enough to “deter” anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli actions. Let’s recall the circumstances that caused Israel and the U.S. to pull out of Durban I:

In announcing Israel’s decision to pull out of the conference in Durban, Israeli ambassador Mordechai Yedid delivered a statement on behalf of Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior. The Israeli delegation said that the continuing efforts to use the U.N. conference as a forum to unfairly criticize Israel made its participation impossible. “Can there be a greater irony than the fact that a conference convened to combat the scourge of racism should give rise to the most racist declaration in a major international organization since the Second World War?” said the statement.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also walked out, citing the “hateful language” and condemning the event as a “throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism.’” And what was Robinson’s reaction?

Robinson said today “there was a good deal of sadness and dismay” at the departure of U.S. and Israeli representatives from the event, but she urged the 161 other countries and observers participating in negotiations to persist in their work.

Robinson, who has been poised and positive throughout the last few days, appeared visibly weary of the barrage of questions about the Zionism issue from the media, telling a press conference at noon today, “you’re the ones who keep the focus on this contentious issue.”

After presiding over this abomination, at the conclusion of the proceedings, Robinson discovered that the final documents, lo and behold, contained “unacceptable, hurtful language.” But as Michael Goldfarb points out, her disdain for Durban didn’t last long. She declared, “In the end, the text that came out of South Africa was remarkably good including on the issues of the Middle East.”

It was therefore not surprising that upon her appointment to Columbia University, Jewish groups objected so strenuously:

Columbia has “become a hotbed of anti-Israel haters,” said the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. “It’s especially astonishing that a school with such a large Jewish population would insult Jewish people by hiring these haters of the Jewish state of Israel.”

The groups also blame Ms. Robinson for allowing the Durban conference to become a global platform for anti-Israel venting. Ms. Robinson, as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, rejected many American demands to remove anti-Israel language from final conference documents.

“Under Mary Robinson’s leadership the Human Rights Commission was one-sided and extremist. In her tenure at the HRC, she lacked fairness in her approach to the Israeli/Palestinian issue,” said the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, James Tisch. “I am hopeful — for the sake of her students and the reputation of Columbia — that as she enters the world of academia she will demonstrate more balance in her views.”

One would think Fingerhut would acknowledge the seriousness of those concerns or at least cite the views of some prominent Democrats:

Ms. Robinson served as the U.N.’s human rights commissioner from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, Sergio Vieria de Mello replaced Ms. Robinson as U.N. human rights commissioner, a transition that was applauded by Richard Holbrooke, an American ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.”I think Sergio is much better than Mary Robinson. I think she overly politicized the job,” he told the Washington Post.

Fingerhut does his readers no service by sugarcoating any of this. Robinson is an abominable selection whose behavior and performance have been criticized over the years with near uniformity by Jewish groups and by members of both parties in the U.S. Rather than minimize or conceal the depth of antipathy toward her, the JTA might want to start asking what in the world Obama was thinking when he came up with this one.

Eric Fingerhut of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency describes Mary Robinson’s selection as a Medal of Freedom winner as follows:

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, served as United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees during the 2001 Durban conference against racism, and was seen by Jewish leaders as not taking enough action to deter the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions at the conference. She was also seen as a tough critic of Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians during her term in office.

Hmm. Is that really an accurate representation of Robinson’s career and the Jewish community’s reaction to her?

Fingerhut suggests she just didn’t do enough to “deter” anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli actions. Let’s recall the circumstances that caused Israel and the U.S. to pull out of Durban I:

In announcing Israel’s decision to pull out of the conference in Durban, Israeli ambassador Mordechai Yedid delivered a statement on behalf of Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior. The Israeli delegation said that the continuing efforts to use the U.N. conference as a forum to unfairly criticize Israel made its participation impossible. “Can there be a greater irony than the fact that a conference convened to combat the scourge of racism should give rise to the most racist declaration in a major international organization since the Second World War?” said the statement.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also walked out, citing the “hateful language” and condemning the event as a “throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism.’” And what was Robinson’s reaction?

Robinson said today “there was a good deal of sadness and dismay” at the departure of U.S. and Israeli representatives from the event, but she urged the 161 other countries and observers participating in negotiations to persist in their work.

Robinson, who has been poised and positive throughout the last few days, appeared visibly weary of the barrage of questions about the Zionism issue from the media, telling a press conference at noon today, “you’re the ones who keep the focus on this contentious issue.”

After presiding over this abomination, at the conclusion of the proceedings, Robinson discovered that the final documents, lo and behold, contained “unacceptable, hurtful language.” But as Michael Goldfarb points out, her disdain for Durban didn’t last long. She declared, “In the end, the text that came out of South Africa was remarkably good including on the issues of the Middle East.”

It was therefore not surprising that upon her appointment to Columbia University, Jewish groups objected so strenuously:

Columbia has “become a hotbed of anti-Israel haters,” said the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein. “It’s especially astonishing that a school with such a large Jewish population would insult Jewish people by hiring these haters of the Jewish state of Israel.”

The groups also blame Ms. Robinson for allowing the Durban conference to become a global platform for anti-Israel venting. Ms. Robinson, as the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, rejected many American demands to remove anti-Israel language from final conference documents.

“Under Mary Robinson’s leadership the Human Rights Commission was one-sided and extremist. In her tenure at the HRC, she lacked fairness in her approach to the Israeli/Palestinian issue,” said the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, James Tisch. “I am hopeful — for the sake of her students and the reputation of Columbia — that as she enters the world of academia she will demonstrate more balance in her views.”

One would think Fingerhut would acknowledge the seriousness of those concerns or at least cite the views of some prominent Democrats:

Ms. Robinson served as the U.N.’s human rights commissioner from 1997 to 2002. In 2002, Sergio Vieria de Mello replaced Ms. Robinson as U.N. human rights commissioner, a transition that was applauded by Richard Holbrooke, an American ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.”I think Sergio is much better than Mary Robinson. I think she overly politicized the job,” he told the Washington Post.

Fingerhut does his readers no service by sugarcoating any of this. Robinson is an abominable selection whose behavior and performance have been criticized over the years with near uniformity by Jewish groups and by members of both parties in the U.S. Rather than minimize or conceal the depth of antipathy toward her, the JTA might want to start asking what in the world Obama was thinking when he came up with this one.

Read Less

How Can We Have a “Teachable” Moment if He Won’t Talk?

In yet another moment of comedy gold, Jake Tapper fenced with Robert Gibbs when he was informed we wouldn’t get a blow-by-blow on the beer summit:

TAPPER: — the president said he wants this to be a teachable moment. How do you envision this being a teachable moment?

GIBBS: Well, I think the — I think many people would have hardly imagined something like this happening this time last week. I think having them get together to talk — the president talked to both of these men last week. They’re decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what’s going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you’re not able to hear each and every word of it. I think — I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of — every level of our society if we’re going to make progress on issues that have — we’ve been dealing with for quite some time.

TAPPER: I guess I could just request, I’m sure on everybody’s behalf, that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible, so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.

GIBBS: I will try to — I’m not — I won’t be there, but I will endeavor to see what I can get.

TAPPER: You’re close with one of the guys who will.

Later the president professed amazement that everyone could be so interested in a meeting about what he had previously described as an incident brought on by a “stupidly” behaving cop, which he then converted into a “teachable moment.” He lectured the media and public:

“It’s an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect.”

Said the president, “hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that everybody has different points of view.”

I think it was he who suggested it was symbolic. But once again — like American Jewish leaders — we’re told to go self-reflect.

What a perfectly disingenuous and arrogant performance. Far from healing racial tensions, Obama inflamed them and then fled the scene of his own making. The weekend comes just in a nick of time — the president certainly needs to get out of the spotlight and regroup.

In yet another moment of comedy gold, Jake Tapper fenced with Robert Gibbs when he was informed we wouldn’t get a blow-by-blow on the beer summit:

TAPPER: — the president said he wants this to be a teachable moment. How do you envision this being a teachable moment?

GIBBS: Well, I think the — I think many people would have hardly imagined something like this happening this time last week. I think having them get together to talk — the president talked to both of these men last week. They’re decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what’s going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you’re not able to hear each and every word of it. I think — I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of — every level of our society if we’re going to make progress on issues that have — we’ve been dealing with for quite some time.

TAPPER: I guess I could just request, I’m sure on everybody’s behalf, that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible, so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.

GIBBS: I will try to — I’m not — I won’t be there, but I will endeavor to see what I can get.

TAPPER: You’re close with one of the guys who will.

Later the president professed amazement that everyone could be so interested in a meeting about what he had previously described as an incident brought on by a “stupidly” behaving cop, which he then converted into a “teachable moment.” He lectured the media and public:

“It’s an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect.”

Said the president, “hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that everybody has different points of view.”

I think it was he who suggested it was symbolic. But once again — like American Jewish leaders — we’re told to go self-reflect.

What a perfectly disingenuous and arrogant performance. Far from healing racial tensions, Obama inflamed them and then fled the scene of his own making. The weekend comes just in a nick of time — the president certainly needs to get out of the spotlight and regroup.

Read Less

Assigned — Not Sidelined?

Mainstream press coverage of Avigdor Lieberman’s 10-day trip to Latin America, which concludes today with his departure from Colombia, has focused on his absence from Israel during the visits of senior U.S. officials. From Newsweek to the Jerusalem Post, journalists report that Lieberman is being sidelined because of his controversial ultranationalism — a quality Netanyahu must live with in order to keep Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party in his governing coalition.

As Newsweek‘s Kevin Peraino puts it: “The Israeli foreign minister is enjoying a 10-day tour of Latin America, including stops in Rio, Lima, and Bogotá. Officially, his mission is said to be a long-scheduled effort to strengthen ties with South America. Unofficially, Israeli wags suspect, his mission is to stay out of the way.”

The perspective here may be somewhat ossified, however. Lieberman is, of course, a controversial figure who has offended Hosni Mubarak and had Nicolas Sarkozy call for his removal. He recused himself from discussions with American officials about the West Bank settlements because he lives in one of them outside Jerusalem. As long as the main focus of U.S. policy is to obtain an outside veto over Israeli activity in the settlements, Lieberman is likely to be absent from discussions on that head. But what Lieberman has been doing since assuming office is working on one of Israel’s greatest security concerns: isolation. Lieberman has been the principal actor in Israel’s charm offensive with Russia, China, Europe, and now Latin America, with the agenda of strengthening relations and obtaining broad cooperation in discouraging Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Lieberman’s native Russian ties give him, it has been postulated, an edge in discussions with Moscow — an analysis that highlights the growing importance to Israel of leverage and goodwill beyond the relationship with the U.S. The trip to Latin America this month represents even more clearly a new policy direction, being the first such visit by an Israeli foreign minister in more than two decades. Netanyahu is scheduled for a visit of his own in November, an even rarer event. Israel’s hope is not only to strengthen ties with regional governments and get cooperation against Iran but also to counter Iran’s own extensive inroads into Latin America.

The latter initiative is emblematic of a U.S.-independent tone emerging in Israel’s foreign policy. Lieberman’s visit to Russia carried such hints as well, producing an emphasis on a common view with Sergei Lavrov regarding the regional dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to bring the Saudis and other regional nations into any peace plan.

Analysts who draw their conclusions from a “weak Bibi” perspective — one that assumes Netanyahu must live with Lieberman and not let him do too much — could be missing a more important trend. Lieberman may not be the go-to man for relations with the United States while those relations center on demands regarding the settlements. But Israel cannot allow the settlements issue to bog down its own broader security policy. And Israel’s spearheading of efforts outside the U.S. relationship appears to be accomplished via Lieberman.

We should expect Israel to seek support and leverage elsewhere if the Obama administration’s posture seems likely to both encourage intransigence from the Palestinian Arabs and allow Iran to test a nuclear weapon. It remains to be seen what fruit this “diversification initiative” might bear. But it would be shortsighted to dismiss the “strong Bibi” proposition that Netanyahu is making the best use of all his assets: deploying one set of officials to tend the U.S. relationship, and Lieberman to cultivate the more diverse ones Israeli leaders recognize a need for.

Mainstream press coverage of Avigdor Lieberman’s 10-day trip to Latin America, which concludes today with his departure from Colombia, has focused on his absence from Israel during the visits of senior U.S. officials. From Newsweek to the Jerusalem Post, journalists report that Lieberman is being sidelined because of his controversial ultranationalism — a quality Netanyahu must live with in order to keep Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party in his governing coalition.

As Newsweek‘s Kevin Peraino puts it: “The Israeli foreign minister is enjoying a 10-day tour of Latin America, including stops in Rio, Lima, and Bogotá. Officially, his mission is said to be a long-scheduled effort to strengthen ties with South America. Unofficially, Israeli wags suspect, his mission is to stay out of the way.”

The perspective here may be somewhat ossified, however. Lieberman is, of course, a controversial figure who has offended Hosni Mubarak and had Nicolas Sarkozy call for his removal. He recused himself from discussions with American officials about the West Bank settlements because he lives in one of them outside Jerusalem. As long as the main focus of U.S. policy is to obtain an outside veto over Israeli activity in the settlements, Lieberman is likely to be absent from discussions on that head. But what Lieberman has been doing since assuming office is working on one of Israel’s greatest security concerns: isolation. Lieberman has been the principal actor in Israel’s charm offensive with Russia, China, Europe, and now Latin America, with the agenda of strengthening relations and obtaining broad cooperation in discouraging Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Lieberman’s native Russian ties give him, it has been postulated, an edge in discussions with Moscow — an analysis that highlights the growing importance to Israel of leverage and goodwill beyond the relationship with the U.S. The trip to Latin America this month represents even more clearly a new policy direction, being the first such visit by an Israeli foreign minister in more than two decades. Netanyahu is scheduled for a visit of his own in November, an even rarer event. Israel’s hope is not only to strengthen ties with regional governments and get cooperation against Iran but also to counter Iran’s own extensive inroads into Latin America.

The latter initiative is emblematic of a U.S.-independent tone emerging in Israel’s foreign policy. Lieberman’s visit to Russia carried such hints as well, producing an emphasis on a common view with Sergei Lavrov regarding the regional dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to bring the Saudis and other regional nations into any peace plan.

Analysts who draw their conclusions from a “weak Bibi” perspective — one that assumes Netanyahu must live with Lieberman and not let him do too much — could be missing a more important trend. Lieberman may not be the go-to man for relations with the United States while those relations center on demands regarding the settlements. But Israel cannot allow the settlements issue to bog down its own broader security policy. And Israel’s spearheading of efforts outside the U.S. relationship appears to be accomplished via Lieberman.

We should expect Israel to seek support and leverage elsewhere if the Obama administration’s posture seems likely to both encourage intransigence from the Palestinian Arabs and allow Iran to test a nuclear weapon. It remains to be seen what fruit this “diversification initiative” might bear. But it would be shortsighted to dismiss the “strong Bibi” proposition that Netanyahu is making the best use of all his assets: deploying one set of officials to tend the U.S. relationship, and Lieberman to cultivate the more diverse ones Israeli leaders recognize a need for.

Read Less

Withdrawal from Iraq — Contemplating the Consequences

The New York Times is making a big deal on their website about a leaked memo written by Colonel Timothy Reese, a U.S. military adviser in Baghdad. In the memo, Reese argues that we should accelerate our withdrawal from Iraq:

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home.

This is in some ways reminiscent of the advice I used to hear from some officers when visiting Baghdad prior to 2008. Although this was not the majority sentiment by any stretch, some iconoclasts in uniform would claim that the task was hopeless, that the Iraqis could never be good partners, and that therefore we should pull out. In other words, they thought we should pull out because we couldn’t win. Now Colonel Reese suggests we should pull out because we’ve already won and can’t achieve anything more. His rationale — the allegedly hopeless state of Iraqi political and military culture — is identical to that once cited by those who wanted to pull out even when the war was still raging against us.

Iraq is certainly a lot more peaceful than it was a few years ago, and the Iraqi Security Forces are certainly a lot more capable. But they still depend on the U.S. for vital services like logistics, fire support, and intelligence, and they won’t be able to run things entirely on their own for years to come. General Odierno just mentioned what has been obvious for a long time: Iraq won’t be ready to defend its own airspace by 2012, when all U.S. troops are supposed to be gone.

Pulling out U.S. troops now would risk major setbacks to the progress the Iraqi Security Forces have been making. Just as important, it would endanger the Iraqi political process. Various factions that are suspicious of one another have been able to hash out their differences in the political arena because of the implicit guarantee provided by the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops. Take out those troops and there is much greater risk that deep-seated divides, such as those between Kurds and Arabs or between Sunnis and Shiites, will once again flare into violence.

In essence, U.S. troops provide an insurance policy that Iraq will continue in the right direction. Colonel Reese may be right that Iraq is strong enough to stand on its own. But given the sacrifices that so many American personnel — including Colonel Reese — have made to get Iraq to this point, why would we want to take a chance on a premature pullout? Most of our troops will be gone by this time next year anyway. Even that withdrawal carries some risks, but pulling out now would be unacceptably dangerous.

The New York Times is making a big deal on their website about a leaked memo written by Colonel Timothy Reese, a U.S. military adviser in Baghdad. In the memo, Reese argues that we should accelerate our withdrawal from Iraq:

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home.

This is in some ways reminiscent of the advice I used to hear from some officers when visiting Baghdad prior to 2008. Although this was not the majority sentiment by any stretch, some iconoclasts in uniform would claim that the task was hopeless, that the Iraqis could never be good partners, and that therefore we should pull out. In other words, they thought we should pull out because we couldn’t win. Now Colonel Reese suggests we should pull out because we’ve already won and can’t achieve anything more. His rationale — the allegedly hopeless state of Iraqi political and military culture — is identical to that once cited by those who wanted to pull out even when the war was still raging against us.

Iraq is certainly a lot more peaceful than it was a few years ago, and the Iraqi Security Forces are certainly a lot more capable. But they still depend on the U.S. for vital services like logistics, fire support, and intelligence, and they won’t be able to run things entirely on their own for years to come. General Odierno just mentioned what has been obvious for a long time: Iraq won’t be ready to defend its own airspace by 2012, when all U.S. troops are supposed to be gone.

Pulling out U.S. troops now would risk major setbacks to the progress the Iraqi Security Forces have been making. Just as important, it would endanger the Iraqi political process. Various factions that are suspicious of one another have been able to hash out their differences in the political arena because of the implicit guarantee provided by the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops. Take out those troops and there is much greater risk that deep-seated divides, such as those between Kurds and Arabs or between Sunnis and Shiites, will once again flare into violence.

In essence, U.S. troops provide an insurance policy that Iraq will continue in the right direction. Colonel Reese may be right that Iraq is strong enough to stand on its own. But given the sacrifices that so many American personnel — including Colonel Reese — have made to get Iraq to this point, why would we want to take a chance on a premature pullout? Most of our troops will be gone by this time next year anyway. Even that withdrawal carries some risks, but pulling out now would be unacceptably dangerous.

Read Less

And John Bolton for Envoy to Iran!

Of all the nonsensical thoughts published on the pages of Newsweek (the old or new one), none is more inane than the suggestion that George W. Bush become the Obama administration’s envoy to Israel. The idea seems to be that Israelis trusted and adored Bush and, bolstered by the security and friendship extended by the U.S., were emboldened to make daring concessions in pursuit of peace. The Israelis mistrust and disdain Obama and have been frightened and bullied by the U.S., and therefore they are wary about making any concessions now. The solution — don’t you see it? — get Bush to work for Obama.

Amid the silliness and the disregard for the obvious clash between the two men’s approach to Israel (Obama wants to “put daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, whereas Bush wanted to avoid the appearance of any), Gregory Levey recounts some important history:

In the history of U.S.-Israel relations, probably no president has earned adoration and unequivocal trust from Israel like Bush. (An Israeli diplomat once told me that the former president gave a speech at the U.N. during his second term that attracted so many adoring Israeli diplomats that even the deputy U.N. ambassador couldn’t score a seat.)

During the Bush years, Israelis were consistently among the few foreign populations that gave the American president high approval marks — often in far greater proportion than Americans themselves. Senior officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, where I worked, spoke on their cell phones daily with their White House counterparts — circumventing the State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry entirely.

That closeness paid off. It’s no coincidence that, during the Bush years, Ariel Sharon had political cover to suggest “painful concessions” for peace — a euphemism for withdrawal from territory. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip — followed by preparations to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank that were interrupted only by the Hizbullah war of 2006 — almost certainly would not have happened with anyone else in the White House less trusted to ensure Israel’s safety.

The short version: providing Israel with support and access to the White House promoted peace. And Obama? Well, he takes the opposite approach with entirely predictable results:

Neither Obama nor his proxies enjoy anywhere near the same level of faith. In a recent Pew Research survey of global attitudes, Israel was the only country where the population’s confidence in Obama’s foreign-policy judgment was lower now than it was in Bush’s judgment at the end of his presidency. (It was only 1 percent lower, but the rise in confidence elsewhere ranged from 6 percent in Pakistan to 79 percent in Germany, with most countries toward the upper half of that spectrum.) Even more striking: a recent poll found that only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama a “friend.”

Then, in a sort of “Other than that how’d you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” conclusion, Levey assures us that there really isn’t that much difference between the Bush and Obama approaches. Except that the Israelis liked and trusted Bush and dislike and distrust Obama.

Let’s be honest: if you want better relations between the U.S. and Israel, you either have to change Obama’s policy or wait for a new administration. The problem isn’t with the envoy – it’s with the assumption that creating “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel will get us some “street cred” with the Arabs. The fault lies not in personnel but in the fallacious argument that there is a viable Palestinian interlocutor who stands ready to deal with Israel if only Israel would get rid of those darn settlements. Unless those ill-conceived and counterproductive notions are discarded, Israel will go right on distrusting Obama and sit tight, hoping that eventually Obama will come to his senses. It may be a very long wait.

Of all the nonsensical thoughts published on the pages of Newsweek (the old or new one), none is more inane than the suggestion that George W. Bush become the Obama administration’s envoy to Israel. The idea seems to be that Israelis trusted and adored Bush and, bolstered by the security and friendship extended by the U.S., were emboldened to make daring concessions in pursuit of peace. The Israelis mistrust and disdain Obama and have been frightened and bullied by the U.S., and therefore they are wary about making any concessions now. The solution — don’t you see it? — get Bush to work for Obama.

Amid the silliness and the disregard for the obvious clash between the two men’s approach to Israel (Obama wants to “put daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, whereas Bush wanted to avoid the appearance of any), Gregory Levey recounts some important history:

In the history of U.S.-Israel relations, probably no president has earned adoration and unequivocal trust from Israel like Bush. (An Israeli diplomat once told me that the former president gave a speech at the U.N. during his second term that attracted so many adoring Israeli diplomats that even the deputy U.N. ambassador couldn’t score a seat.)

During the Bush years, Israelis were consistently among the few foreign populations that gave the American president high approval marks — often in far greater proportion than Americans themselves. Senior officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, where I worked, spoke on their cell phones daily with their White House counterparts — circumventing the State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry entirely.

That closeness paid off. It’s no coincidence that, during the Bush years, Ariel Sharon had political cover to suggest “painful concessions” for peace — a euphemism for withdrawal from territory. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip — followed by preparations to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank that were interrupted only by the Hizbullah war of 2006 — almost certainly would not have happened with anyone else in the White House less trusted to ensure Israel’s safety.

The short version: providing Israel with support and access to the White House promoted peace. And Obama? Well, he takes the opposite approach with entirely predictable results:

Neither Obama nor his proxies enjoy anywhere near the same level of faith. In a recent Pew Research survey of global attitudes, Israel was the only country where the population’s confidence in Obama’s foreign-policy judgment was lower now than it was in Bush’s judgment at the end of his presidency. (It was only 1 percent lower, but the rise in confidence elsewhere ranged from 6 percent in Pakistan to 79 percent in Germany, with most countries toward the upper half of that spectrum.) Even more striking: a recent poll found that only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama a “friend.”

Then, in a sort of “Other than that how’d you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” conclusion, Levey assures us that there really isn’t that much difference between the Bush and Obama approaches. Except that the Israelis liked and trusted Bush and dislike and distrust Obama.

Let’s be honest: if you want better relations between the U.S. and Israel, you either have to change Obama’s policy or wait for a new administration. The problem isn’t with the envoy – it’s with the assumption that creating “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel will get us some “street cred” with the Arabs. The fault lies not in personnel but in the fallacious argument that there is a viable Palestinian interlocutor who stands ready to deal with Israel if only Israel would get rid of those darn settlements. Unless those ill-conceived and counterproductive notions are discarded, Israel will go right on distrusting Obama and sit tight, hoping that eventually Obama will come to his senses. It may be a very long wait.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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