Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2, 2009

The Wrong Policy at the Worst Possible Time

The NRO editors remind us of the strange rhetoric Obama employed upon hearing North Korea would be shooting a missile at Hawaii:

“Well, first of all, let’s be clear. This administration — and our military — is fully prepared for any contingencies,” he assured Harry Smith of CBS News. “The t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted in terms of what might happen.”

Yes, I’m sure the ruthless efficiency of a proofreader is just what sends a shiver up the spines in Pyongyang. But the actions that the editors catalogue speak louder than the mousy verbiage. He has proposed $1.2B cuts in missile defense while North Korea embarks on an ICBM program and the mullahs in Iran bare their teeth. And as the president heads for Russia, we are reminded:

Also in jeopardy is a missile-defense system currently planned for Eastern Europe. The NATO-endorsed program, which would include about ten interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, aims to protect Europe and the United States from the emerging menace of Iran. In February, rocket scientists in the service of the ayatollahs demonstrated their sophistication when they put a satellite into orbit, using the same ballistic technology that can launch warheads. Yet Russia has objected to this proposed defensive system on the preposterous grounds that it would create a deterrent to its own massive arsenal. Moscow’s real concern is the expansion of Western influence in former Soviet satellite states. Unfortunately, Obama has given every indication that he’s ready to abandon the program.

If there were ever a policy — cutting back on missile defense — more inappropriate to the moment I’d be hard pressed to come up with it. (Er, well, there is neutrality on regime change in Iran and bullying of Israel, but this is a close third at least.)

The president seems ideologically wedded to recreating the nuclear freeze movement of the 1970′s and 80′s. But the times call for a far different approach. Now is not the time for unilateral cuts or timidity. Unfortunately, that is what we have.

The NRO editors remind us of the strange rhetoric Obama employed upon hearing North Korea would be shooting a missile at Hawaii:

“Well, first of all, let’s be clear. This administration — and our military — is fully prepared for any contingencies,” he assured Harry Smith of CBS News. “The t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted in terms of what might happen.”

Yes, I’m sure the ruthless efficiency of a proofreader is just what sends a shiver up the spines in Pyongyang. But the actions that the editors catalogue speak louder than the mousy verbiage. He has proposed $1.2B cuts in missile defense while North Korea embarks on an ICBM program and the mullahs in Iran bare their teeth. And as the president heads for Russia, we are reminded:

Also in jeopardy is a missile-defense system currently planned for Eastern Europe. The NATO-endorsed program, which would include about ten interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, aims to protect Europe and the United States from the emerging menace of Iran. In February, rocket scientists in the service of the ayatollahs demonstrated their sophistication when they put a satellite into orbit, using the same ballistic technology that can launch warheads. Yet Russia has objected to this proposed defensive system on the preposterous grounds that it would create a deterrent to its own massive arsenal. Moscow’s real concern is the expansion of Western influence in former Soviet satellite states. Unfortunately, Obama has given every indication that he’s ready to abandon the program.

If there were ever a policy — cutting back on missile defense — more inappropriate to the moment I’d be hard pressed to come up with it. (Er, well, there is neutrality on regime change in Iran and bullying of Israel, but this is a close third at least.)

The president seems ideologically wedded to recreating the nuclear freeze movement of the 1970′s and 80′s. But the times call for a far different approach. Now is not the time for unilateral cuts or timidity. Unfortunately, that is what we have.

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Martians & Venusians

Remember the days when Americans came from Mars and Europeans came from Venus? That was the gist of Robert Kagan’s book by the catchy title, Of Paradise and Power. It might be too early to tell, but it looks as though these days they are playing role reversal. Here’s Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Iran:

“I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten,” Merkel told parliament.

“Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about,” she said.

So, what used to be referred to as “surrender monkeys” from Europe dare compare Iran to Communist-era East Germany — one of the vilest regimes beyond the Iron Curtain. I promise you, it is not a compliment. So much for staying out of Iran’s internal affairs and not “meddling.”

And the martial, battle prone Martians? Well, you know… they are not meddling. Their hand is stretched. And unclenched. And all the rest of it.

It’s a puzzling moment in history, when the leader of the free world cannot call a spade a spade, and needs the usually shy Europeans to stand up and remind us of the moral imperative to call tyranny for what it is. We live in that moment now.

Remember the days when Americans came from Mars and Europeans came from Venus? That was the gist of Robert Kagan’s book by the catchy title, Of Paradise and Power. It might be too early to tell, but it looks as though these days they are playing role reversal. Here’s Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Iran:

“I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten,” Merkel told parliament.

“Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about,” she said.

So, what used to be referred to as “surrender monkeys” from Europe dare compare Iran to Communist-era East Germany — one of the vilest regimes beyond the Iron Curtain. I promise you, it is not a compliment. So much for staying out of Iran’s internal affairs and not “meddling.”

And the martial, battle prone Martians? Well, you know… they are not meddling. Their hand is stretched. And unclenched. And all the rest of it.

It’s a puzzling moment in history, when the leader of the free world cannot call a spade a spade, and needs the usually shy Europeans to stand up and remind us of the moral imperative to call tyranny for what it is. We live in that moment now.

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Israel’s Options on Iran

John Bolton has a compelling and courageous analysis in the Washington Post today, making the case that Israel should bomb Iran’s nuclear installations and do so quickly. He argues that diplomacy has no chance of working, leaving only one serious option on the table if Iran is to be prevented from going nuclear. He adds a new and important point:

Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that such an attack is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people. This was always true, but it has become even more important to make this case emphatically, when the gulf between the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the citizens of Iran has never been clearer or wider. Military action against Iran’s nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently.

The only variable he doesn’t mention is whether Israel has the intelligence necessary to inflict significant, long-term damage on Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli aircraft surely have the capacity to reach Iranian installations (though it would be interesting to speculate on what route the Israeli Air Force would take: Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Turkey?). But does Israel know where the key Iranian facilities are located and does it have munitions that can put deeply-buried Iranian bunkers out of action? Those seem like the most important factors to me — more important than the possibility of Iranian retaliation or of deteriorating relations with the Obama administration — for prime minister Netanyahu and Israel’s Security Cabinet to consider as they contemplate the possibility of action.

If Israel’s intelligence agencies can provide reasonable assurance that the Israeli Air Force can derail the Iranian program for, say, six years, then the case for action becomes inescapable. But if they can only delay Iran for six months, is it really worthwhile to risk all the consequences that would come from an air strike? Perhaps so; perhaps the loss of Israeli prestige and deterrence advantage from Iran going nuclear would be so great that even a symbolic strike is worthwhile. But obviously, the case for action becomes much stronger if the Israeli Air Force can cripple the Iranian program rather than simply delay it for a very short time.

Of course, no intelligence agency can answer such questions with any precision. Certainly America’s intelligence agencies, with their terrible track record regarding WMD in Iraq and other countries, cannot be counted upon to give an answer that will provide much assurance to policymakers. We can only hope the Israelis have better information to allow them to reasonably assess the situation and act accordingly. Bolton is certainly right that counting on negotiations under the present circumstances is to admit defeat and allow Iran to go nuclear — a scenario far more terrifying than the threat of Israeli military action.

John Bolton has a compelling and courageous analysis in the Washington Post today, making the case that Israel should bomb Iran’s nuclear installations and do so quickly. He argues that diplomacy has no chance of working, leaving only one serious option on the table if Iran is to be prevented from going nuclear. He adds a new and important point:

Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that such an attack is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people. This was always true, but it has become even more important to make this case emphatically, when the gulf between the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the citizens of Iran has never been clearer or wider. Military action against Iran’s nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently.

The only variable he doesn’t mention is whether Israel has the intelligence necessary to inflict significant, long-term damage on Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli aircraft surely have the capacity to reach Iranian installations (though it would be interesting to speculate on what route the Israeli Air Force would take: Saudi Arabia? Iraq? Turkey?). But does Israel know where the key Iranian facilities are located and does it have munitions that can put deeply-buried Iranian bunkers out of action? Those seem like the most important factors to me — more important than the possibility of Iranian retaliation or of deteriorating relations with the Obama administration — for prime minister Netanyahu and Israel’s Security Cabinet to consider as they contemplate the possibility of action.

If Israel’s intelligence agencies can provide reasonable assurance that the Israeli Air Force can derail the Iranian program for, say, six years, then the case for action becomes inescapable. But if they can only delay Iran for six months, is it really worthwhile to risk all the consequences that would come from an air strike? Perhaps so; perhaps the loss of Israeli prestige and deterrence advantage from Iran going nuclear would be so great that even a symbolic strike is worthwhile. But obviously, the case for action becomes much stronger if the Israeli Air Force can cripple the Iranian program rather than simply delay it for a very short time.

Of course, no intelligence agency can answer such questions with any precision. Certainly America’s intelligence agencies, with their terrible track record regarding WMD in Iraq and other countries, cannot be counted upon to give an answer that will provide much assurance to policymakers. We can only hope the Israelis have better information to allow them to reasonably assess the situation and act accordingly. Bolton is certainly right that counting on negotiations under the present circumstances is to admit defeat and allow Iran to go nuclear — a scenario far more terrifying than the threat of Israeli military action.

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Not Fast Enough

Politico has a shocker:

The Washington Post has offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, non-confrontational access to “those powerful few”: Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and — at first — even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

With the newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said in a staffwide e-mail that the newsroom would not participate in the first of the planned events — a dinner scheduled July 21 at the home of Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Katharine Weymouth.The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — was a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

It is hard to conceive of anything more inappropriate and rife with conflicts of interest than such a stunt. It is made all the worse by the rank hypocrisy.

It was in January 2001 that the Post excoriated politicians for selling access:

Money always has twined itself through politics, but in Washington there used to be some sense of restraint about it. The speaker of the House, for instance, might have thought twice before openly selling access to himself to the highest bidders. Today, shamelessness has taken the place of restraint, as a report by The Post’s Juliet Eilperin yesterday made clear. Want to attend an inaugural reception with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert? You can, for $ 10,000. Maybe you would rather watch the Super Bowl with him in Tampa? That will be $ 10,000 also — though for that price you can enjoy the company of Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis too.

There is simply no explanation for the appalling judgment that led the newspaper to leap from journalism to pimping access, like some low-rent lobbyist that lacks even the proper disclosure for its actions. In a perfect world, those responsible should resign.

For those who decry the downfall of mainstream journalism, this suggests that the response is: “Not fast enough.”

Politico has a shocker:

The Washington Post has offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, non-confrontational access to “those powerful few”: Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and — at first — even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

With the newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said in a staffwide e-mail that the newsroom would not participate in the first of the planned events — a dinner scheduled July 21 at the home of Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Katharine Weymouth.The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — was a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

It is hard to conceive of anything more inappropriate and rife with conflicts of interest than such a stunt. It is made all the worse by the rank hypocrisy.

It was in January 2001 that the Post excoriated politicians for selling access:

Money always has twined itself through politics, but in Washington there used to be some sense of restraint about it. The speaker of the House, for instance, might have thought twice before openly selling access to himself to the highest bidders. Today, shamelessness has taken the place of restraint, as a report by The Post’s Juliet Eilperin yesterday made clear. Want to attend an inaugural reception with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert? You can, for $ 10,000. Maybe you would rather watch the Super Bowl with him in Tampa? That will be $ 10,000 also — though for that price you can enjoy the company of Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis too.

There is simply no explanation for the appalling judgment that led the newspaper to leap from journalism to pimping access, like some low-rent lobbyist that lacks even the proper disclosure for its actions. In a perfect world, those responsible should resign.

For those who decry the downfall of mainstream journalism, this suggests that the response is: “Not fast enough.”

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Are the Mullahs Even Worth Engaging?

It looks as though Ahmadinejad’s grip on power is not that strong. As Amir Taheri writes in today’s New York Post,

Four years ago, he won as a populist candidate who owed no debt of gratitude to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei (who had tacitly endorsed another candidate). His prestige was further enhanced when, in a second round of voting, he crushed former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a grandee of the Khomeinist nomenklatura. Ahmadinejad could claim that he was his own man, relying on no establishment cabals.

The June 12 election changed all that. Whatever the truth of allegations about massive fraud, the fact is that many Iranians, perhaps a majority, believe that Ahmadinejad didn’t win. To many, his re-election seems merely the result of plotting by a power clique centered on Khamenei.

He and his protector may still come up on top. But their failure to have quashed the opposition, three weeks after the elections, suggests that they now stand on shaky ground.

Supporting the opposition has been depicted as “meddling” and that may well be accurate. But keeping our hands stretched to the regime is also starting to look the same — given that the “business as usual” posture adopted by engagers ends up strengthening the tyrants. Perhaps this is a time to stand aloof then — and simply say, how can we engage someone who has no power to deliver anything?

If the opposition comes out on top, how embarrassing would it be for the West to be found engaging the losing tyrants? Holding off talks indefinitely seems the least the West can do at this time.

It looks as though Ahmadinejad’s grip on power is not that strong. As Amir Taheri writes in today’s New York Post,

Four years ago, he won as a populist candidate who owed no debt of gratitude to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei (who had tacitly endorsed another candidate). His prestige was further enhanced when, in a second round of voting, he crushed former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a grandee of the Khomeinist nomenklatura. Ahmadinejad could claim that he was his own man, relying on no establishment cabals.

The June 12 election changed all that. Whatever the truth of allegations about massive fraud, the fact is that many Iranians, perhaps a majority, believe that Ahmadinejad didn’t win. To many, his re-election seems merely the result of plotting by a power clique centered on Khamenei.

He and his protector may still come up on top. But their failure to have quashed the opposition, three weeks after the elections, suggests that they now stand on shaky ground.

Supporting the opposition has been depicted as “meddling” and that may well be accurate. But keeping our hands stretched to the regime is also starting to look the same — given that the “business as usual” posture adopted by engagers ends up strengthening the tyrants. Perhaps this is a time to stand aloof then — and simply say, how can we engage someone who has no power to deliver anything?

If the opposition comes out on top, how embarrassing would it be for the West to be found engaging the losing tyrants? Holding off talks indefinitely seems the least the West can do at this time.

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Obama Turned on Israel but Dershowitz Won’t Turn on Obama

The Obama administration’s decision to pick a quarrel with the Jewish state over settlements, Jerusalem, and how to deal with a nuclear Iran, are all light years away from the down-the-line support for Israel that candidate Obama and his Jewish surrogates articulated throughout the campaign. This leaves those Democrats who spent 2008 vouching for Barack Obama’s bona fides as a supporter of Israel, with, as they used to say on “I Love Lucy,” a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

And none of them have as much to answer for as Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz who used his status as a celebrity author and personality to good effect on Obama’s behalf. It should be stipulated that while Dershowitz is, and always has been, a proud and loud liberal and though his sympathies have always similarly been with the Left of the Israeli political spectrum, there can be no questioning his long and honorable record of backing Israel. Few have been as articulate in making a principled stand on behalf of its right to self-defense against terrorism. Indeed, last year he argued that George W. Bush had earned the right to be considered a great friend of Israel (something most liberals would never admit to). But he nevertheless considered an Obama victory as a victory for Zionism, specifically because having a popular liberal president who cared about the Jewish state would be an improvement over a situation in which its greatest American champion was a deeply unpopular conservative Republican.

All of this makes Obama’s flipping on Israel issues during the last six months an acute embarrassment for Dershowitz, who tries to argue his way out of a corner in an unpersuasive op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Dershowtiz’s thesis is that the spat over settlements is a perennial issue and that Obama’s stand is no worse than that of previous administrations. On Iran, he claims there is no real change from Obama’s campaign stand that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the prominent appeals specialist’s brief for Obama would be laughed out of any court in the land.

First, as even Dershowitz concedes, “Rhetorically, the Obama team has definitely taken a harsher approach toward Israel compared to its tone during the campaign.” For a president to adopt such a tone while at the same time going into overdrive in an effort to make nice with Israel’s Arab and Islamic foes, speaks volumes about his sympathies. Obama’s snub of Israel during his recent Mideast tour coupled with his profligate use of moral equivalencies between Israel and its would-be destroyers (i.e., the Holocaust equals the flight of Palestinians during the War of Independence) was the sort of thing that would have had Dershowitz on his hind legs screaming “bloody murder” had it been done by a president he didn’t campaign for.

Dershowitz is also wrong about the settlements spat, not only because it is significant that this administration made it their top foreign-policy priority early on but also because they have sought to escalate the dispute rather than resolve it. The calls by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an absolute freeze on any settlement building, including those the Bush administration conceded would stay with Israel in any peace settlement, was a blow to the alliance between the two countries. While Dershowitz is right that most American Jews are not fans of the settlements, the State Department’s statement that such a freeze applies even to the city of Jerusalem is something that only left-wing extremists within the Jewish community would countenance. It was also an effort to raise the stakes in a showdown between the Obama team and that of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that no friend of Israel could regard with anything but trepidation.

On Iran, the situation is also far worse than Dershowitz lets on. Though he rightly acknowledges that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s statements attempting to link a settlements freeze with U.S. action on Iran is ill considered and must be repudiated by the administration, he fails to note how Obama’s much ballyhooed attempt to “engage” Iran undermined efforts to rally the nation to more awareness of the existential threat that Tehran’s nuclear program poses to Israel. Up until the last week when the election fiasco and crackdown on dissents forced Obama to toughen his stand on the regime, the administration gave every indication that it was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, a position switch that Dershowitz admits would justify Jewish supporters’ repudiation of the president. The best he can offer us is a hope that Iran’s behavior will strengthen Obama’s will to resist. However, the talk in Washington about resuming engagement after a “decent interval” makes this nothing but a wish upon a Democratic star. His faith in veteran peace processor Dennis Ross as a bulwark against appeasement of Iran is a weak reed upon which to base a defense of Obama.

Dershowitz understands that the fears about Obama’s betrayal of his pro-Israel supporters are real. He even goes so far as to say that “there may be coming changes in the Obama administration’s policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state … with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear threat, it’s important to be vigilant for any signs of weakening support for Israel’s security — and to criticize forcefully any such change.” He’s right about that. But he’s wrong when he tries in vain to pretend that such a moment didn’t arrive months ago.

The Obama administration’s decision to pick a quarrel with the Jewish state over settlements, Jerusalem, and how to deal with a nuclear Iran, are all light years away from the down-the-line support for Israel that candidate Obama and his Jewish surrogates articulated throughout the campaign. This leaves those Democrats who spent 2008 vouching for Barack Obama’s bona fides as a supporter of Israel, with, as they used to say on “I Love Lucy,” a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

And none of them have as much to answer for as Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz who used his status as a celebrity author and personality to good effect on Obama’s behalf. It should be stipulated that while Dershowitz is, and always has been, a proud and loud liberal and though his sympathies have always similarly been with the Left of the Israeli political spectrum, there can be no questioning his long and honorable record of backing Israel. Few have been as articulate in making a principled stand on behalf of its right to self-defense against terrorism. Indeed, last year he argued that George W. Bush had earned the right to be considered a great friend of Israel (something most liberals would never admit to). But he nevertheless considered an Obama victory as a victory for Zionism, specifically because having a popular liberal president who cared about the Jewish state would be an improvement over a situation in which its greatest American champion was a deeply unpopular conservative Republican.

All of this makes Obama’s flipping on Israel issues during the last six months an acute embarrassment for Dershowitz, who tries to argue his way out of a corner in an unpersuasive op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Dershowtiz’s thesis is that the spat over settlements is a perennial issue and that Obama’s stand is no worse than that of previous administrations. On Iran, he claims there is no real change from Obama’s campaign stand that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the prominent appeals specialist’s brief for Obama would be laughed out of any court in the land.

First, as even Dershowitz concedes, “Rhetorically, the Obama team has definitely taken a harsher approach toward Israel compared to its tone during the campaign.” For a president to adopt such a tone while at the same time going into overdrive in an effort to make nice with Israel’s Arab and Islamic foes, speaks volumes about his sympathies. Obama’s snub of Israel during his recent Mideast tour coupled with his profligate use of moral equivalencies between Israel and its would-be destroyers (i.e., the Holocaust equals the flight of Palestinians during the War of Independence) was the sort of thing that would have had Dershowitz on his hind legs screaming “bloody murder” had it been done by a president he didn’t campaign for.

Dershowitz is also wrong about the settlements spat, not only because it is significant that this administration made it their top foreign-policy priority early on but also because they have sought to escalate the dispute rather than resolve it. The calls by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an absolute freeze on any settlement building, including those the Bush administration conceded would stay with Israel in any peace settlement, was a blow to the alliance between the two countries. While Dershowitz is right that most American Jews are not fans of the settlements, the State Department’s statement that such a freeze applies even to the city of Jerusalem is something that only left-wing extremists within the Jewish community would countenance. It was also an effort to raise the stakes in a showdown between the Obama team and that of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that no friend of Israel could regard with anything but trepidation.

On Iran, the situation is also far worse than Dershowitz lets on. Though he rightly acknowledges that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s statements attempting to link a settlements freeze with U.S. action on Iran is ill considered and must be repudiated by the administration, he fails to note how Obama’s much ballyhooed attempt to “engage” Iran undermined efforts to rally the nation to more awareness of the existential threat that Tehran’s nuclear program poses to Israel. Up until the last week when the election fiasco and crackdown on dissents forced Obama to toughen his stand on the regime, the administration gave every indication that it was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, a position switch that Dershowitz admits would justify Jewish supporters’ repudiation of the president. The best he can offer us is a hope that Iran’s behavior will strengthen Obama’s will to resist. However, the talk in Washington about resuming engagement after a “decent interval” makes this nothing but a wish upon a Democratic star. His faith in veteran peace processor Dennis Ross as a bulwark against appeasement of Iran is a weak reed upon which to base a defense of Obama.

Dershowitz understands that the fears about Obama’s betrayal of his pro-Israel supporters are real. He even goes so far as to say that “there may be coming changes in the Obama administration’s policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state … with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear threat, it’s important to be vigilant for any signs of weakening support for Israel’s security — and to criticize forcefully any such change.” He’s right about that. But he’s wrong when he tries in vain to pretend that such a moment didn’t arrive months ago.

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Jobs Plummet

There is no way even for the spin-obsessed White House to sugar-coat this:

The pace of job losses quickened in June after slowing just a month earlier, casting a shadow over the Obama administration’s attempts to stanch months of declines in the labor market.
The American economy shed 467,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent from 9.4 percent, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Job losses were widespread among the construction, manufacturing and business and professional services sectors.
The losses were sharply higher than economists’ expectations of 365,000 lost jobs.
Economists said a decline of 322,000 jobs in May had raised expectations that the market was bottoming out as the economy struggled to right itself, but the numbers on Friday dashed some of those hopes.

The New York Times helpfully suggests “The figures also raised questions about whether the Obama administration, which has already passed a $787 billion stimulus plan, needed to step in again to shore up the American worker.” Well, you have to give them credit. There is no failure too great, no government boondoggle too ineffective for which the answer is not “More of the same!”

As this report noted:

An elevated unemployment rate could become a political liability for President Barack Obama when congressional elections are held next year. The last time the unemployment rate topped 10 percent, the party of the president — then Ronald Reagan’s GOP — lost 26 House seats in midterm elections in 1982.

So far, many people are saving — rather than spending — the extra money in their paychecks from Obama’s tax cut, blunting its help in bracing the economy. Much of the economic benefit of Obama’s increased government spending on big public works projects won’t kick in until 2010, analysts say.

The White House last week said federal money was being shoveled out of Washington quickly, but states aren’t steering the cash to counties that need jobs the most.

The public, not to mention the president’s political opponents, will likely reach different conclusions from the Gray Lady’s: the stimulus is a bust, the economy is not improving, and the president isn’t doing anything likely to lead to job growth. And no, a jumbo energy tax and a government take-over of health care are not going to increase jobs.

As one might expect, the markets dived at the opening. With 70% of the economy related to consumption, it isn’t likely we’ll see a significant rebound with more and more people either out of work or fearful of being out of work in the future. Perhaps it is time to focus on job growth, not government expansion.

There is no way even for the spin-obsessed White House to sugar-coat this:

The pace of job losses quickened in June after slowing just a month earlier, casting a shadow over the Obama administration’s attempts to stanch months of declines in the labor market.
The American economy shed 467,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent from 9.4 percent, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Job losses were widespread among the construction, manufacturing and business and professional services sectors.
The losses were sharply higher than economists’ expectations of 365,000 lost jobs.
Economists said a decline of 322,000 jobs in May had raised expectations that the market was bottoming out as the economy struggled to right itself, but the numbers on Friday dashed some of those hopes.

The New York Times helpfully suggests “The figures also raised questions about whether the Obama administration, which has already passed a $787 billion stimulus plan, needed to step in again to shore up the American worker.” Well, you have to give them credit. There is no failure too great, no government boondoggle too ineffective for which the answer is not “More of the same!”

As this report noted:

An elevated unemployment rate could become a political liability for President Barack Obama when congressional elections are held next year. The last time the unemployment rate topped 10 percent, the party of the president — then Ronald Reagan’s GOP — lost 26 House seats in midterm elections in 1982.

So far, many people are saving — rather than spending — the extra money in their paychecks from Obama’s tax cut, blunting its help in bracing the economy. Much of the economic benefit of Obama’s increased government spending on big public works projects won’t kick in until 2010, analysts say.

The White House last week said federal money was being shoveled out of Washington quickly, but states aren’t steering the cash to counties that need jobs the most.

The public, not to mention the president’s political opponents, will likely reach different conclusions from the Gray Lady’s: the stimulus is a bust, the economy is not improving, and the president isn’t doing anything likely to lead to job growth. And no, a jumbo energy tax and a government take-over of health care are not going to increase jobs.

As one might expect, the markets dived at the opening. With 70% of the economy related to consumption, it isn’t likely we’ll see a significant rebound with more and more people either out of work or fearful of being out of work in the future. Perhaps it is time to focus on job growth, not government expansion.

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The ACORN Doesn’t Fall Far

Below the surface of the daily news coverage, Senate Republicans have been struggling to get documents from PRLDEF, the liberal civil rights group in which Sotomayor held a variety of leadership positions for a dozen years. It seems odd, at first blush, that there should be a tussle over a group whose public positions on a variety of issues are well known and in which Sotomayor played such a central leadership role. Why fight over boxes of old letters and legal briefs? At first, many speculated that this might have been problematic because it would feed the racial preference storyline and breathe new life into the “wise Latina” remakrs. But maybe it is far more explosive.

Roll Call buries the lede on this one:

The PRLDEF on Tuesday turned over a number of documents that could become political flash points, including papers on the organization’s work with the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now during Sotomayor’s time with the PRLDEF. ACORN has become a major rallying cry for conservatives after allegations that its organizers falsified voter registration forms in the 2008 election. The mere mention of ACORN in association with Sotomayor — regardless of how significant her involvement with the group was — will almost certainly intensify opposition to her high court installment from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill.

Ya think? Well that would be problematic.

And as for any suggestion that Sotomayor wasn’t all that connected to the group? Hogwash. Her questionnaire lists her various posts: “Member and Vice President, Board of Directors Chairperson, Litigation and Education Committees.” The New York Daily News describes her as taking on “an increasing amount of leadership on the Board” in the 1980s. The New York Times reported:

“She just believed in the mission,” Luis Alvarez, a former chairman of its board, said of Ms. Sotomayor. “This was a highly refined group of individuals who came from the premier academic institutions. It was almost like Camelot. It was a wonderful growth period.”

But Ms. Sotomayor stood out, frequently meeting with the legal staff to review the status of cases, several former members said. And so across her 12 years on the board — she left when she was appointed a federal judge in 1992 — she played an active role as the defense fund staked out aggressive stances on issues like police brutality, the death penalty and voting rights.

The board monitored all litigation undertaken by the fund’s lawyers, and a number of those lawyers said Ms. Sotomayor was an involved and ardent supporter of their various legal efforts during her time with the group.

This is all the more reason to insist on a complete and thorough review of the PRLDEF documents. What did Sotomayor do for PRLDEF, what is the “mission” she believed in, and why is the organization now playing interference for her? Good questions for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Below the surface of the daily news coverage, Senate Republicans have been struggling to get documents from PRLDEF, the liberal civil rights group in which Sotomayor held a variety of leadership positions for a dozen years. It seems odd, at first blush, that there should be a tussle over a group whose public positions on a variety of issues are well known and in which Sotomayor played such a central leadership role. Why fight over boxes of old letters and legal briefs? At first, many speculated that this might have been problematic because it would feed the racial preference storyline and breathe new life into the “wise Latina” remakrs. But maybe it is far more explosive.

Roll Call buries the lede on this one:

The PRLDEF on Tuesday turned over a number of documents that could become political flash points, including papers on the organization’s work with the nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now during Sotomayor’s time with the PRLDEF. ACORN has become a major rallying cry for conservatives after allegations that its organizers falsified voter registration forms in the 2008 election. The mere mention of ACORN in association with Sotomayor — regardless of how significant her involvement with the group was — will almost certainly intensify opposition to her high court installment from conservatives on and off Capitol Hill.

Ya think? Well that would be problematic.

And as for any suggestion that Sotomayor wasn’t all that connected to the group? Hogwash. Her questionnaire lists her various posts: “Member and Vice President, Board of Directors Chairperson, Litigation and Education Committees.” The New York Daily News describes her as taking on “an increasing amount of leadership on the Board” in the 1980s. The New York Times reported:

“She just believed in the mission,” Luis Alvarez, a former chairman of its board, said of Ms. Sotomayor. “This was a highly refined group of individuals who came from the premier academic institutions. It was almost like Camelot. It was a wonderful growth period.”

But Ms. Sotomayor stood out, frequently meeting with the legal staff to review the status of cases, several former members said. And so across her 12 years on the board — she left when she was appointed a federal judge in 1992 — she played an active role as the defense fund staked out aggressive stances on issues like police brutality, the death penalty and voting rights.

The board monitored all litigation undertaken by the fund’s lawyers, and a number of those lawyers said Ms. Sotomayor was an involved and ardent supporter of their various legal efforts during her time with the group.

This is all the more reason to insist on a complete and thorough review of the PRLDEF documents. What did Sotomayor do for PRLDEF, what is the “mission” she believed in, and why is the organization now playing interference for her? Good questions for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Pocket Boroughs — American Style

The New York Times this morning has a long lead editorial on reforming what is laughingly referred to as the New York State Legislature. As the state has relentlessly declined over the last few decades both economically and politically, the Legislature has become something straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan, populated by pompous time-servers and buffoons who do as they’re told by party leaders:

. . . I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party’s call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!

And as the Times makes clear the American version of the “pocket borough”– gerrymandering — is a big part of the problem:

HONEST MAPMAKING The first item on the reform list should be drawing districts honestly. A New York State legislative seat is so secure that no scandal, not even a recent conviction, can reliably defeat an incumbent. The prime reason is that legislators create their own districts. Every 10 years, each legislator with any power tells the mapmakers: Put my pal’s house in my district and my enemy’s house out. A few of these districts look like something wiggling under a microscope, but they keep their hosts in office until death, retirement or, with increasing frequency these days, time spent in jail.

The Legislature and Gov. David Paterson should immediately agree to create a nonpartisan commission like the one in Iowa that draws districts fairly and presents the map for a yes or no vote. (A no vote means the commission, not the legislators, re-draws the maps.)

Gerrymandering dates back to the earliest days of the country (Patrick Henry and his allies who dominated the Virginia legislature, tried to use gerrymandering to keep James Madison out of the House of Representatives in 1789). In 1811, the Massachusetts legislature drew up weirdly-shaped districts that favored — surprise! — incumbents. A famous cartoon in the Boston Gazette made one of these districts into a monster with wings and beak. Gilbert Stuart — a better painter than biologist — said it looked like a salamander. The editor said “Better say gerrymander” after Governor Elbridge Gerry and the word stuck.

Computers have turned gerrymandering into a fine art and the effect has been deeply pernicious. Gerrymandering effectively disenfranchises millions of Americans. It makes primary elections more important than general elections. That, in turn, empties out the center from which this country has always been governed, as primary electorates tend to be dominated by the left and the right. That makes politics ever more partisan, bitter, and vindictive. Legislators entrenched by gerrymandering easily become both corrupt and indifferent to public opinion, and thus much more willing to do the bidding of special interests. Gerrymandering is also one of the main reasons the public favors so strongly what politicians hate so much: term limits.

It has taken the Times a long time to editorialize against gerrymandering, but better late than  never. Congress has the power (Article I, Section 4) to require fair districting and, indeed, did require it until the 1920′s. It will take tremendous political pressure to get it to do so again, however.

I hope that the Times’ call to end gerrymandering in New York State (and thus, by implication, everywhere) marks a shift in political sentiment on the issue among liberals. Gerrymandering is a clear and present danger to American democracy and its end would do more to restore political health to this country than any other single reform. And it wouldn’t even cost any money.

The New York Times this morning has a long lead editorial on reforming what is laughingly referred to as the New York State Legislature. As the state has relentlessly declined over the last few decades both economically and politically, the Legislature has become something straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan, populated by pompous time-servers and buffoons who do as they’re told by party leaders:

. . . I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party’s call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!

And as the Times makes clear the American version of the “pocket borough”– gerrymandering — is a big part of the problem:

HONEST MAPMAKING The first item on the reform list should be drawing districts honestly. A New York State legislative seat is so secure that no scandal, not even a recent conviction, can reliably defeat an incumbent. The prime reason is that legislators create their own districts. Every 10 years, each legislator with any power tells the mapmakers: Put my pal’s house in my district and my enemy’s house out. A few of these districts look like something wiggling under a microscope, but they keep their hosts in office until death, retirement or, with increasing frequency these days, time spent in jail.

The Legislature and Gov. David Paterson should immediately agree to create a nonpartisan commission like the one in Iowa that draws districts fairly and presents the map for a yes or no vote. (A no vote means the commission, not the legislators, re-draws the maps.)

Gerrymandering dates back to the earliest days of the country (Patrick Henry and his allies who dominated the Virginia legislature, tried to use gerrymandering to keep James Madison out of the House of Representatives in 1789). In 1811, the Massachusetts legislature drew up weirdly-shaped districts that favored — surprise! — incumbents. A famous cartoon in the Boston Gazette made one of these districts into a monster with wings and beak. Gilbert Stuart — a better painter than biologist — said it looked like a salamander. The editor said “Better say gerrymander” after Governor Elbridge Gerry and the word stuck.

Computers have turned gerrymandering into a fine art and the effect has been deeply pernicious. Gerrymandering effectively disenfranchises millions of Americans. It makes primary elections more important than general elections. That, in turn, empties out the center from which this country has always been governed, as primary electorates tend to be dominated by the left and the right. That makes politics ever more partisan, bitter, and vindictive. Legislators entrenched by gerrymandering easily become both corrupt and indifferent to public opinion, and thus much more willing to do the bidding of special interests. Gerrymandering is also one of the main reasons the public favors so strongly what politicians hate so much: term limits.

It has taken the Times a long time to editorialize against gerrymandering, but better late than  never. Congress has the power (Article I, Section 4) to require fair districting and, indeed, did require it until the 1920′s. It will take tremendous political pressure to get it to do so again, however.

I hope that the Times’ call to end gerrymandering in New York State (and thus, by implication, everywhere) marks a shift in political sentiment on the issue among liberals. Gerrymandering is a clear and present danger to American democracy and its end would do more to restore political health to this country than any other single reform. And it wouldn’t even cost any money.

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Fatah bites Hamas bites Hatah

Fatah accuses Hamas of plotting to kill Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen. Hamas retorts that Fatah is perpetrating a massacre in the West Bank (of its supporters, presumably) and threatens to round up Fatah people in Gaza (evidently, they have not rounded up everyone yet).

This bickering between the two Palestinian entities is not news. What would be news is for world leaders to stop presuming it will stop or become irrelevant if Israel were to freeze settlements. Again and again, Western leaders raise the settlement issue as an impediment to peace — see German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s latest.

In effect, this insistence is only going to hinder, not favor peace. With Israel’s best friends intent on ganging up against prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu over settlements, Israel’s adversaries are not going to do Israel any favors. Why should the Palestinians make any concession, fulfill any obligation, or take any step forward on the road to reality, given that U.S. and European leaders are busy doing their bidding against Israel?

Fatah accuses Hamas of plotting to kill Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen. Hamas retorts that Fatah is perpetrating a massacre in the West Bank (of its supporters, presumably) and threatens to round up Fatah people in Gaza (evidently, they have not rounded up everyone yet).

This bickering between the two Palestinian entities is not news. What would be news is for world leaders to stop presuming it will stop or become irrelevant if Israel were to freeze settlements. Again and again, Western leaders raise the settlement issue as an impediment to peace — see German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s latest.

In effect, this insistence is only going to hinder, not favor peace. With Israel’s best friends intent on ganging up against prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu over settlements, Israel’s adversaries are not going to do Israel any favors. Why should the Palestinians make any concession, fulfill any obligation, or take any step forward on the road to reality, given that U.S. and European leaders are busy doing their bidding against Israel?

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Our Sophist-in-Chief

While I realize my efforts to decode Barack Obama may turn into a never-ending task, I want to focus on another of his rhetorical habits: his ceaseless attempts to portray himself as America’s philosopher-king, the person standing not only above country but above politics itself. Obama is, he would have us believe, uniquely able to transcend old, tired, and rutted debates, to think anew, and to bring a fresh, creative approach to the problems of our time. He alone inhabits the upper world.

On the stimulus package, Obama accused the bill’s critics of employing “phony arguments and petty politics.” Speaking to House Democrats at a retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia earlier this year, he criticized Republicans for having “come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas” that helped cause the current economic crisis. And in a radio address, Obama continued to criticize Republicans for pushing what he called “tired old theories.”

This charge echoed another one Obama made during the campaign, when he said, “At a moment like this, the last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old theory that says we should give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.” And this, in turn, echoes what Obama said on another occasion, when he declared that “It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it. For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”

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

While I realize my efforts to decode Barack Obama may turn into a never-ending task, I want to focus on another of his rhetorical habits: his ceaseless attempts to portray himself as America’s philosopher-king, the person standing not only above country but above politics itself. Obama is, he would have us believe, uniquely able to transcend old, tired, and rutted debates, to think anew, and to bring a fresh, creative approach to the problems of our time. He alone inhabits the upper world.

On the stimulus package, Obama accused the bill’s critics of employing “phony arguments and petty politics.” Speaking to House Democrats at a retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia earlier this year, he criticized Republicans for having “come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas” that helped cause the current economic crisis. And in a radio address, Obama continued to criticize Republicans for pushing what he called “tired old theories.”

This charge echoed another one Obama made during the campaign, when he said, “At a moment like this, the last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old theory that says we should give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.” And this, in turn, echoes what Obama said on another occasion, when he declared that “It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it. For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Lieberman doubts “in substance and in the politics,” the merits of a public-option plan for health care.

Joe Sestak makes it official: he’s challenging Arlen Specter. And Kirsten Gillibrand has her challenger too.

Mark Hemingway unmasks the weasels who did not simply lose a presidential campaign but attacked their own ticket and displayed uncommon disloyalty, even for political operatives. The only consolation is that they are unlikely to have the chance for a repeat performance.

Back in the grown-up world: “Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called on Republicans to ‘stand up’ to President Obama and his policies on the economy, health care and energy, in a wide-ranging interview with Fox News.” Next thing you know he’ll be coming out against adultery. A sample: “When the stimulus bill is wrong, when it wastes money and threatens the viability of our currency long-term, you have to stand up and say ‘no.’ When a health care plan says we’re going to have the government take over health care which is roughly a fifth of our economy, Republicans are going to have to say ‘no’ to that.”

Via Realclearpolitics.com: MSNBC and CNN sink further into cable news obscurity. Maybe it isn’t good business to shameless kiss up to the White House?

Foreign policy reporter David Cloud, who came and went in six months at Politico, reveals the not-so secret formula to all its coverage: “I’m used  to covering those things straight, by straight I didn’t mean they were pressuring me to inject some point of view into a story. It’s all done through the lens, ‘what does this mean for Obama?’” And this from a guy who used to write for the New York Times.

James Pethokoukis on “what happened to the 8% unemployment Obama promised us?”: “Did Team Obama purposely give a bad forecast, or did its old fashioned Keynesian approach merely lead it astray? Good question. Either way, it’s the Obamacrats’ economy now.” (h/t HotAir)

Alan Reynolds of CATO: “General Motors can survive bankruptcy far more easily than it can survive President Barack Obama’s ambitious fuel economy standards, which mandate that all new new vehicles average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. . . CAFE standards might just be another foolhardy regulatory nuisance — were it not for the fact that they could easily prove fatally dangerous for any auto maker overly dependent on the uniquely overregulated U.S. market.”

Joe Lieberman doubts “in substance and in the politics,” the merits of a public-option plan for health care.

Joe Sestak makes it official: he’s challenging Arlen Specter. And Kirsten Gillibrand has her challenger too.

Mark Hemingway unmasks the weasels who did not simply lose a presidential campaign but attacked their own ticket and displayed uncommon disloyalty, even for political operatives. The only consolation is that they are unlikely to have the chance for a repeat performance.

Back in the grown-up world: “Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called on Republicans to ‘stand up’ to President Obama and his policies on the economy, health care and energy, in a wide-ranging interview with Fox News.” Next thing you know he’ll be coming out against adultery. A sample: “When the stimulus bill is wrong, when it wastes money and threatens the viability of our currency long-term, you have to stand up and say ‘no.’ When a health care plan says we’re going to have the government take over health care which is roughly a fifth of our economy, Republicans are going to have to say ‘no’ to that.”

Via Realclearpolitics.com: MSNBC and CNN sink further into cable news obscurity. Maybe it isn’t good business to shameless kiss up to the White House?

Foreign policy reporter David Cloud, who came and went in six months at Politico, reveals the not-so secret formula to all its coverage: “I’m used  to covering those things straight, by straight I didn’t mean they were pressuring me to inject some point of view into a story. It’s all done through the lens, ‘what does this mean for Obama?’” And this from a guy who used to write for the New York Times.

James Pethokoukis on “what happened to the 8% unemployment Obama promised us?”: “Did Team Obama purposely give a bad forecast, or did its old fashioned Keynesian approach merely lead it astray? Good question. Either way, it’s the Obamacrats’ economy now.” (h/t HotAir)

Alan Reynolds of CATO: “General Motors can survive bankruptcy far more easily than it can survive President Barack Obama’s ambitious fuel economy standards, which mandate that all new new vehicles average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. . . CAFE standards might just be another foolhardy regulatory nuisance — were it not for the fact that they could easily prove fatally dangerous for any auto maker overly dependent on the uniquely overregulated U.S. market.”

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Zelaya, Honduras, and Obama

Yesterday morning, John R. Thomson wrote at National Review Online that Roberto Micheletti — the president of the Honduran Congress, a member of ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s party, and the person unanimously chosen to complete Zelaya’s term after the Supreme Court ordered the army to remove him from office—described the ouster as “a democratic act,” and that it will not affect the elections scheduled for November 29 to choose a successor to the term-limited Zelaya.

As retired career diplomat George Landau—the former U.S. ambassador to Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela—observes, “This was not a military coup. The military blocked an attempted civilian coup by Manuel Zelaya, as he defied Honduras’s Supreme Court, its Congress, and his own political party. Instead of calling for his reinstatement in office, we should congratulate the Honduran government on removing the president peacefully.

According to Thomson, “not one informed Honduran—including members of the media—has opposed Manuel Zelaya’s removal from office.”

While many regretted the need to do so, all said the move was both legal and necessary, a position supported by Honduran attorney general Luis Alberto Rubí, who had threatened to prosecute Zelaya if he actually held some form of referendum.

Late yesterday afternoon, two unidentified “senior [Obama] Administration officials” held a background briefing for reporters.  They responded as follows to a question about the characterization of Zelaya’s removal as a “coup:”

QUESTION: . . . earlier this week, Secretary Clinton gave us to understand that you were holding off on a determination on whether it was indeed a military coup. . . . Is that still your stance, even though I know that . . . the Legal Adviser’s Office has begun the process of determining whether it was a military coup and, therefore, whether the aid cutoff is triggered? . . .

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  . . . [B]oth the President and the Secretary have described events in Honduras as a coup, which they certainly were once the current claimant to the presidency swore – was sworn in before the congress after the forcible removal of the legal and constitutional president, Mel Zelaya. . . .

In regard to the illegal detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, this was an act which was unconstitutional and illegal and cannot be tolerated. . . .

Unconstitutional, illegal and cannot be tolerated:  a harsh position, harshly expressed, delivered in as harsh a manner as possible—by press conference.  The New York Times reports this morning that American officials were “giving Honduras a cold shoulder” and that they “said that they had not had any official or unofficial contact with the interim government.”

It’s almost as if Honduras were an adversary of the United States rather than an ally—although if it were an adversary the “no-meddling” principle might kick in.

If it could make contact, Honduras might protest that it interprets its own constitution differently from the Obama administration, and that there is no difference of opinion on the issue between its Congress, Supreme Court, civilian attorney general and military lawyers.

But Honduras would undoubtedly find that its interpretation is, as Secretary Clinton might explain, unenforceable.

Yesterday morning, John R. Thomson wrote at National Review Online that Roberto Micheletti — the president of the Honduran Congress, a member of ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s party, and the person unanimously chosen to complete Zelaya’s term after the Supreme Court ordered the army to remove him from office—described the ouster as “a democratic act,” and that it will not affect the elections scheduled for November 29 to choose a successor to the term-limited Zelaya.

As retired career diplomat George Landau—the former U.S. ambassador to Chile, Paraguay, and Venezuela—observes, “This was not a military coup. The military blocked an attempted civilian coup by Manuel Zelaya, as he defied Honduras’s Supreme Court, its Congress, and his own political party. Instead of calling for his reinstatement in office, we should congratulate the Honduran government on removing the president peacefully.

According to Thomson, “not one informed Honduran—including members of the media—has opposed Manuel Zelaya’s removal from office.”

While many regretted the need to do so, all said the move was both legal and necessary, a position supported by Honduran attorney general Luis Alberto Rubí, who had threatened to prosecute Zelaya if he actually held some form of referendum.

Late yesterday afternoon, two unidentified “senior [Obama] Administration officials” held a background briefing for reporters.  They responded as follows to a question about the characterization of Zelaya’s removal as a “coup:”

QUESTION: . . . earlier this week, Secretary Clinton gave us to understand that you were holding off on a determination on whether it was indeed a military coup. . . . Is that still your stance, even though I know that . . . the Legal Adviser’s Office has begun the process of determining whether it was a military coup and, therefore, whether the aid cutoff is triggered? . . .

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  . . . [B]oth the President and the Secretary have described events in Honduras as a coup, which they certainly were once the current claimant to the presidency swore – was sworn in before the congress after the forcible removal of the legal and constitutional president, Mel Zelaya. . . .

In regard to the illegal detention and expulsion of President Zelaya, this was an act which was unconstitutional and illegal and cannot be tolerated. . . .

Unconstitutional, illegal and cannot be tolerated:  a harsh position, harshly expressed, delivered in as harsh a manner as possible—by press conference.  The New York Times reports this morning that American officials were “giving Honduras a cold shoulder” and that they “said that they had not had any official or unofficial contact with the interim government.”

It’s almost as if Honduras were an adversary of the United States rather than an ally—although if it were an adversary the “no-meddling” principle might kick in.

If it could make contact, Honduras might protest that it interprets its own constitution differently from the Obama administration, and that there is no difference of opinion on the issue between its Congress, Supreme Court, civilian attorney general and military lawyers.

But Honduras would undoubtedly find that its interpretation is, as Secretary Clinton might explain, unenforceable.

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Challenging Obama’s Health Care Spin

You have to hand it to the Associated Press: the wire service doesn’t think its responsibility is to run the PR operation for ObamaCare. Indeed, the reporter covering a town hall in Virginia is downright snarky about the lastest sob story festival, which didn’t address any of the raging substantive policy controversies:

The health care changes that Obama called for Wednesday would reshape the nation’s medical landscape. He says he wants to cover nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, to persuade doctors to stress quality over quantity of care, to squeeze billions of dollars from spending.

But details on exactly how to do those things were generally lacking in his hour-long town hall forum before a friendly, hand-picked audience in a Washington suburb. The lingering questions underscore the tough negotiations awaiting Congress, the administration and dozens of special interest groups in the coming months. Lawmakers will return to debating the issue when they return from a one-week recess on Monday.

Some of Obama’s questioners Wednesday were from friendly sources, including a member of the Service Employees International Union and a member of Health Care for America Now, which organized a Capitol Hill rally last week calling for an overhaul. White House aides selected other questions submitted by people on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter….

Obama made no new proposals at the sometimes emotional event. But he vigorously defended his plans while fielding seven questions from the live audience at the forum and on the Internet.

After months of these sorts of vapid, feel-good displays, isn’t it time for the president to take firm positions on his plan and explain what it means? Really, we are supposed to adopt Obamacare because he allows some teary woman (a pre-selected teary woman at that) cry on his shoulder? This is entirely unhelpful if we are trying to come up with a legislative scheme that might pass and work.

Perhaps if the rest of the media demonstrated the same skepticism as the A.P. and left the infomercials to those pitchmen hawking diet miracles, the health-care debate might be more informed and the public might grasp what is at issue here.

You have to hand it to the Associated Press: the wire service doesn’t think its responsibility is to run the PR operation for ObamaCare. Indeed, the reporter covering a town hall in Virginia is downright snarky about the lastest sob story festival, which didn’t address any of the raging substantive policy controversies:

The health care changes that Obama called for Wednesday would reshape the nation’s medical landscape. He says he wants to cover nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, to persuade doctors to stress quality over quantity of care, to squeeze billions of dollars from spending.

But details on exactly how to do those things were generally lacking in his hour-long town hall forum before a friendly, hand-picked audience in a Washington suburb. The lingering questions underscore the tough negotiations awaiting Congress, the administration and dozens of special interest groups in the coming months. Lawmakers will return to debating the issue when they return from a one-week recess on Monday.

Some of Obama’s questioners Wednesday were from friendly sources, including a member of the Service Employees International Union and a member of Health Care for America Now, which organized a Capitol Hill rally last week calling for an overhaul. White House aides selected other questions submitted by people on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter….

Obama made no new proposals at the sometimes emotional event. But he vigorously defended his plans while fielding seven questions from the live audience at the forum and on the Internet.

After months of these sorts of vapid, feel-good displays, isn’t it time for the president to take firm positions on his plan and explain what it means? Really, we are supposed to adopt Obamacare because he allows some teary woman (a pre-selected teary woman at that) cry on his shoulder? This is entirely unhelpful if we are trying to come up with a legislative scheme that might pass and work.

Perhaps if the rest of the media demonstrated the same skepticism as the A.P. and left the infomercials to those pitchmen hawking diet miracles, the health-care debate might be more informed and the public might grasp what is at issue here.

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Chavez, Honduras, and Obama

James Taranto points to a strange story in yesterday’s New York Times by Simon Romero praising President Obama for getting the better of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in his deft handling of the situation in Honduras:

From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said Washington’s hands may have been all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya’s opponents and insinuating that the C.I.A. may have led a campaign to bolster the putschists.

But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Mr. Chávez’s charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Mr. Obama calmly described the coup as “illegal” and called for Mr. Zelaya’s return to office. While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

If your goal in crafting American foreign policy is to become more popular among the world’s bad actors, (believing that by doing so they will behave less badly), then, yes, Obama has been thus far successful in his policy on the Honduran crisis. Such pusillanimity has been characteristic of this administration, from the President’s Cairo speech that flattered the Arab narrative of 1948, to its very public attacks on Israeli “natural growth,” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pushing the “reset” button with Putin’s Russia. As for Honduras? Congratulations America, you are now on the same side as Chavez, the Castro brothers and other anti-American regional thugs. Meanwhile, we’re undermining the forces of democracy in that tiny country, particularly its courts and Congress, which both moved against President Manuel Zelaya’s attempts to subvert the constitution.

But while administration policy made Chavez’s predictable claims of U.S. subversion more difficult — if not impossible — to mount, the Venezuelan autocrat has quickly changed his tune to adapt to the new situation. He is, after all, a wily man, quick and able to respond to ever-changing situations; it’s one of the reasons he has stayed in power for so long. Though his public opposition to the “coup” might have thrown Chavez off for a day or so, it didn’t take long for the caudillo of Caracas to reorient himself, and now Obama is playing directly into Chavez’s hands. Ranting about American imperialism just a few days ago, Chavez — evidently delighted by his newfound friend in the White House — now says that Zelaya should score a meeting with Obama when he’s in Washington as such a photo-op would “deliver a major blow” to the interim government in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital. Indeed, it would.

So let’s concede Romero’s point that Obama has “outmaneuvered” Chavez by escaping the traditional role of the president serving as a pinata for an anti-American leader. That’s very good for Obama’s self-esteem (recall the president’s relief, expressed in a speech at the April Summit of the Americas following an hours-long tirade from Daniel Ortega, that the Nicaraguan strongman “did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old”) but what have we gotten in return? U.S. interests in the region are not being served by continued international isolation of Honduras’s interim government, nor would they be served by restoring to power an anti-American authoritarian like Zelaya, who has approval ratings of less than 30%. Yet that’s what American policy supports. Instead of leading on this issue, we’re following, and following the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez at that. But, hey, it’s nice to have these guys saying nice things about us for once, no?

James Taranto points to a strange story in yesterday’s New York Times by Simon Romero praising President Obama for getting the better of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in his deft handling of the situation in Honduras:

From the moment the coup in Honduras unfolded over the weekend, President Hugo Chávez had his playbook ready. He said Washington’s hands may have been all over the ouster, claiming that it financed President Manuel Zelaya’s opponents and insinuating that the C.I.A. may have led a campaign to bolster the putschists.

But President Obama firmly condemned the coup, defusing Mr. Chávez’s charges. Instead of engaging in tit-for-tat accusations, Mr. Obama calmly described the coup as “illegal” and called for Mr. Zelaya’s return to office. While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

If your goal in crafting American foreign policy is to become more popular among the world’s bad actors, (believing that by doing so they will behave less badly), then, yes, Obama has been thus far successful in his policy on the Honduran crisis. Such pusillanimity has been characteristic of this administration, from the President’s Cairo speech that flattered the Arab narrative of 1948, to its very public attacks on Israeli “natural growth,” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pushing the “reset” button with Putin’s Russia. As for Honduras? Congratulations America, you are now on the same side as Chavez, the Castro brothers and other anti-American regional thugs. Meanwhile, we’re undermining the forces of democracy in that tiny country, particularly its courts and Congress, which both moved against President Manuel Zelaya’s attempts to subvert the constitution.

But while administration policy made Chavez’s predictable claims of U.S. subversion more difficult — if not impossible — to mount, the Venezuelan autocrat has quickly changed his tune to adapt to the new situation. He is, after all, a wily man, quick and able to respond to ever-changing situations; it’s one of the reasons he has stayed in power for so long. Though his public opposition to the “coup” might have thrown Chavez off for a day or so, it didn’t take long for the caudillo of Caracas to reorient himself, and now Obama is playing directly into Chavez’s hands. Ranting about American imperialism just a few days ago, Chavez — evidently delighted by his newfound friend in the White House — now says that Zelaya should score a meeting with Obama when he’s in Washington as such a photo-op would “deliver a major blow” to the interim government in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital. Indeed, it would.

So let’s concede Romero’s point that Obama has “outmaneuvered” Chavez by escaping the traditional role of the president serving as a pinata for an anti-American leader. That’s very good for Obama’s self-esteem (recall the president’s relief, expressed in a speech at the April Summit of the Americas following an hours-long tirade from Daniel Ortega, that the Nicaraguan strongman “did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old”) but what have we gotten in return? U.S. interests in the region are not being served by continued international isolation of Honduras’s interim government, nor would they be served by restoring to power an anti-American authoritarian like Zelaya, who has approval ratings of less than 30%. Yet that’s what American policy supports. Instead of leading on this issue, we’re following, and following the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez at that. But, hey, it’s nice to have these guys saying nice things about us for once, no?

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