Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 22, 2009

Obama, Health Care, the Great Society

Barack Obama’s press conference begins with a long and eloquent statement about health-care costs and America’s health-care needs. The promises he is making about his plan verge on the science-fictional. Everybody will get everything, and costs won’t go up, and a few rich people will have to pay more, and doctors and nurses will be empowered, and . . . and . . . and . . .

There’s no telling where this is all going to go, but the overpromising in which Obama is indulging is, in the long run, a dangerous journey into a failed liberal-left past. These promises about the glories of a health-care future are nothing less than a recapitulation of the promises of the Great Society in relation to poverty — that we could, effectively, eliminate poverty through a series of government programs and mandates. The failure of that promise — indeed, the fact that the dysfunctions of poverty were spread rather than alleviated by the Great Society — is the key reason for the catastrophic collapse of big-government liberalism that has only now found its way back into the dominant position in Washington.

This could be its way downward again. The question is how much damage will be done in the meantime.

Barack Obama’s press conference begins with a long and eloquent statement about health-care costs and America’s health-care needs. The promises he is making about his plan verge on the science-fictional. Everybody will get everything, and costs won’t go up, and a few rich people will have to pay more, and doctors and nurses will be empowered, and . . . and . . . and . . .

There’s no telling where this is all going to go, but the overpromising in which Obama is indulging is, in the long run, a dangerous journey into a failed liberal-left past. These promises about the glories of a health-care future are nothing less than a recapitulation of the promises of the Great Society in relation to poverty — that we could, effectively, eliminate poverty through a series of government programs and mandates. The failure of that promise — indeed, the fact that the dysfunctions of poverty were spread rather than alleviated by the Great Society — is the key reason for the catastrophic collapse of big-government liberalism that has only now found its way back into the dominant position in Washington.

This could be its way downward again. The question is how much damage will be done in the meantime.

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Where Are We?

For the umpteenth time, the overexposed president will go before the cameras tonight to attack his plan’s opponents. Well, not his plan — he doesn’t have one. But the Pelosi-Waxman plan. If you’re not on board, you are in favor of special interests and of poor people waiting in emergency rooms. Oh, you say the Democrats en masse are getting cold feet. No, disregard all that. It’s the mean Republicans’ and the special interests’ fault. And CBO’s deficit analysis? Well, we’re not “there” yet, and “there” will have a “fully paid for bill.”

Back in reality, Sen. Dick Durbin says they won’t vote in the Senate before the break. Perhaps there are dim-witted House Democrats willing to walk the plank and get eaten alive during the recess back home by irate voters and business groups while senators garner praise for thoughtful deliberation, but I doubt it.

At times like these, you wonder what was going through Obama’s mind? Did he think the details wouldn’t matter? Did he expect his party to roll over? Whatever he thought, what is happening is quite different from what he imagined.

For the umpteenth time, the overexposed president will go before the cameras tonight to attack his plan’s opponents. Well, not his plan — he doesn’t have one. But the Pelosi-Waxman plan. If you’re not on board, you are in favor of special interests and of poor people waiting in emergency rooms. Oh, you say the Democrats en masse are getting cold feet. No, disregard all that. It’s the mean Republicans’ and the special interests’ fault. And CBO’s deficit analysis? Well, we’re not “there” yet, and “there” will have a “fully paid for bill.”

Back in reality, Sen. Dick Durbin says they won’t vote in the Senate before the break. Perhaps there are dim-witted House Democrats willing to walk the plank and get eaten alive during the recess back home by irate voters and business groups while senators garner praise for thoughtful deliberation, but I doubt it.

At times like these, you wonder what was going through Obama’s mind? Did he think the details wouldn’t matter? Did he expect his party to roll over? Whatever he thought, what is happening is quite different from what he imagined.

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Re: A Meeting with Actual Leaders

I have received some additional information regarding the comments by David Harris at today’s meeting. While I understand they will be published in full, I can share some highlights.

He prefaced his remarks by stating they were meant as a critique from a “friend,” but his disagreement with the president’s Cairo speech was blunt. It began: “First, in his Cairo speech, the President implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation. That is unfortunate – and factually incorrect.” He went on to explain that this is important because Arabs to this day have “long challenged Israel’s legitimacy by arguing that it is a Western implant in the Middle East, created to appease the conscience of a Europe with Jewish blood on its hands.”

Harris also took issue with Obama’s juxtaposition of “the Palestinian condition with that of black Americans and other suffering people ‘from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.’ ” He declared this was a “regrettable equivalence” that ignores that much of the Palestinian suffering is “self-inflicted,” meaning their leaders have not served their own people well.

Finally, Harris criticized the president’s call for action by “only one country” (Israel), citing Obama’s directive that “It is time for these settlements to stop.” While acknowledging that settlements are an issue, Harris was clear in rejecting the notion that they represent the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He explained that now the Palestinians have taken Obama’s comments as a license to do nothing.

Harris was not present at the White House meeting last week, and that is a shame. Had he been there and spoken directly to the president, it might have provoked some self-reflection on Obama’s part. Perhaps the president’s staff will give him a copy of Harris’s remarks. His bold, candid, and historically accurate words should be taken to heart. Moreover, Harris’s example of “speaking truth to power” is one that should be emulated.

I have received some additional information regarding the comments by David Harris at today’s meeting. While I understand they will be published in full, I can share some highlights.

He prefaced his remarks by stating they were meant as a critique from a “friend,” but his disagreement with the president’s Cairo speech was blunt. It began: “First, in his Cairo speech, the President implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation. That is unfortunate – and factually incorrect.” He went on to explain that this is important because Arabs to this day have “long challenged Israel’s legitimacy by arguing that it is a Western implant in the Middle East, created to appease the conscience of a Europe with Jewish blood on its hands.”

Harris also took issue with Obama’s juxtaposition of “the Palestinian condition with that of black Americans and other suffering people ‘from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.’ ” He declared this was a “regrettable equivalence” that ignores that much of the Palestinian suffering is “self-inflicted,” meaning their leaders have not served their own people well.

Finally, Harris criticized the president’s call for action by “only one country” (Israel), citing Obama’s directive that “It is time for these settlements to stop.” While acknowledging that settlements are an issue, Harris was clear in rejecting the notion that they represent the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He explained that now the Palestinians have taken Obama’s comments as a license to do nothing.

Harris was not present at the White House meeting last week, and that is a shame. Had he been there and spoken directly to the president, it might have provoked some self-reflection on Obama’s part. Perhaps the president’s staff will give him a copy of Harris’s remarks. His bold, candid, and historically accurate words should be taken to heart. Moreover, Harris’s example of “speaking truth to power” is one that should be emulated.

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Rethinking Peacekeeping

“Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror.” So writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. He proposes to create just that — a permanent UN force that could deal with problems in places like Somalia. At the risk of throwing off-kilter his perception of American conservatives, I will say that I for one do not regard the idea with horror. (Gideon is right that most on the Right do.)

In fact, I’ve long been drawn to the notion myself because the current setup — ad hoc peacekeeping forces with lousy training and equipment and little capacity to impose their will — has led to one disaster after another in places like Congo and Rwanda, where the big boys (i.e., the U.S. and its allies) have no intention of directly intervening. We are seeing the results now in Somalia, where the Shahab Islamist movement is on the march — and has now started to destabilize neighboring countries like Kenya.

I actually think it is in our own interest to create a more robust UN peacekeeping capacity — assuming that some accountability can be imposed on blue helmets who have a disturbing propensity to commit sex crimes and other offenses for which they are currently not punished. That is why I think Gideon’s approach is not the right one. He writes:

All of this points to the need to create a proper UN force on permanent stand-by. Such a force need not be a conventional army, with its own barracks and personnel. It would be better to get countries to give the UN first call on a certain number of their troops, for a specific period of time. National sovereignty could still be respected by allowing countries to opt out of missions, if they inflame national sensitivities.

But under his proposal, the countries contributing troops would be the same ones as today — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. In other words, the bottom of the barrel in terms of military capacity. And as long as UN forces are made up of national contingents, the idea of imposing unity of action or accountability on them will remain a distant dream.

I think there is a better way: Approach the problem the way DynCorp or Xe (nee Blackwater) do, by hiring veterans of Western militaries. If they are willing to work for military contractors, surely they would be willing to work for the UN. Procure for them vital assets such as aircraft and helicopters and set them loose with a mandate to recruit local forces to help them. It would not take many British SAS or U.S. Special Forces veterans to impose order in chaotic situations in Africa, as long as they have plentiful firepower on call as well as the ability to train and lead indigenous forces. Military contractors like the now-defunct Sandline have proven that. To help them, create a robust command-and-control capacity within the UN. Oh, and make them sign contracts that would make them accountable for their actions before the International Criminal Court or some other body.

All this would probably cost a lot less than the current peacekeeping setup and achieve better results. To those who are congenitally suspicious of the UN (and I don’t blame you — the UN has done much to earn such suspicion): Keep in mind that the U.S. will still retain a veto over how these forces are used. So there is no serious prospect of a UN army being sent to drive the Israelis out of East Jerusalem.

“Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror.” So writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. He proposes to create just that — a permanent UN force that could deal with problems in places like Somalia. At the risk of throwing off-kilter his perception of American conservatives, I will say that I for one do not regard the idea with horror. (Gideon is right that most on the Right do.)

In fact, I’ve long been drawn to the notion myself because the current setup — ad hoc peacekeeping forces with lousy training and equipment and little capacity to impose their will — has led to one disaster after another in places like Congo and Rwanda, where the big boys (i.e., the U.S. and its allies) have no intention of directly intervening. We are seeing the results now in Somalia, where the Shahab Islamist movement is on the march — and has now started to destabilize neighboring countries like Kenya.

I actually think it is in our own interest to create a more robust UN peacekeeping capacity — assuming that some accountability can be imposed on blue helmets who have a disturbing propensity to commit sex crimes and other offenses for which they are currently not punished. That is why I think Gideon’s approach is not the right one. He writes:

All of this points to the need to create a proper UN force on permanent stand-by. Such a force need not be a conventional army, with its own barracks and personnel. It would be better to get countries to give the UN first call on a certain number of their troops, for a specific period of time. National sovereignty could still be respected by allowing countries to opt out of missions, if they inflame national sensitivities.

But under his proposal, the countries contributing troops would be the same ones as today — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. In other words, the bottom of the barrel in terms of military capacity. And as long as UN forces are made up of national contingents, the idea of imposing unity of action or accountability on them will remain a distant dream.

I think there is a better way: Approach the problem the way DynCorp or Xe (nee Blackwater) do, by hiring veterans of Western militaries. If they are willing to work for military contractors, surely they would be willing to work for the UN. Procure for them vital assets such as aircraft and helicopters and set them loose with a mandate to recruit local forces to help them. It would not take many British SAS or U.S. Special Forces veterans to impose order in chaotic situations in Africa, as long as they have plentiful firepower on call as well as the ability to train and lead indigenous forces. Military contractors like the now-defunct Sandline have proven that. To help them, create a robust command-and-control capacity within the UN. Oh, and make them sign contracts that would make them accountable for their actions before the International Criminal Court or some other body.

All this would probably cost a lot less than the current peacekeeping setup and achieve better results. To those who are congenitally suspicious of the UN (and I don’t blame you — the UN has done much to earn such suspicion): Keep in mind that the U.S. will still retain a veto over how these forces are used. So there is no serious prospect of a UN army being sent to drive the Israelis out of East Jerusalem.

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The Bear at Sea

For anyone with Cold War–era naval experience, it’s déjà-vu all over again. Russia has announced its intention, long suspected by Western observers, to improve its forward naval base at Tartus, Syria, and increase its support capacity for warships. During the Soviet era, the base at Tartus was in constant use, but only a handful of brief warship visits have been made there since 1991. Soviet reconnaissance aircraft also used to fly regularly from a nearby airbase and coastal- and air-defense missiles were installed to protect the Soviet-navy assets. Now Russia’s remaining aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, has visited twice in the past year: in September after the invasion of Georgia and in January during Operation Cast Lead.

The pretext for upgrading Tartus is Russia’s involvement in anti-piracy operations off Somalia and the need for better regional support. Russian sources confirmed pursuing options in Yemen and Libya as well, where the Soviet navy also once maintained facilities. Muammar Qaddafi reportedly announced his willingness to resume duties as host during an October visit to Moscow, his first in 23 years. A Russian delegation discussed naval facilities with Yemen the same month. Further west, in May 2009 Russia concluded its largest ever post-Soviet arms deal with Algeria — which also used to serve as a Cold War base for the Soviet navy.

Moscow is not neglecting the port that once served as the Soviet navy’s most substantial forward base:  Tivat, on the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close associate of Vladimir Putin (and famous for his alleged presence at a yacht party for John McCain’s 70th birthday), is investing millions to refurbish Tivat’s port, with the announced purpose of turning Tivat into “Monaco on the Adriatic.” Deripaska’s growing ownership of major Montenegrin industries is at least as important. Russia is positioning itself — quietly, given the continuing NATO/IFOR presence in the Balkans — to use Montenegro for both investment and force basing.

The Russians are making the most of the anti-piracy pretext to reestablish bases on the seas around the Middle East (including at least one location, Libya, that is inconvenient for forces operating off Somalia). In conjunction with Syria’s proximity to the Suez Canal, the old Soviet facility on Yemen’s Socotra Island, at the eastern entrance to the Gulf of Aden, brackets the entire choke point between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Where Russian bases go, coastal- and air-defense missiles — as well as arms deals — follow. With Iran also establishing a base on the Red Sea, it is not only Israel that should be concerned about these strategic movements — and not only Israel that should be ensuring a higher naval profile in the region or pursuing a policy designed to keep the coastlines of this key global choke point neutral or friendly.

For anyone with Cold War–era naval experience, it’s déjà-vu all over again. Russia has announced its intention, long suspected by Western observers, to improve its forward naval base at Tartus, Syria, and increase its support capacity for warships. During the Soviet era, the base at Tartus was in constant use, but only a handful of brief warship visits have been made there since 1991. Soviet reconnaissance aircraft also used to fly regularly from a nearby airbase and coastal- and air-defense missiles were installed to protect the Soviet-navy assets. Now Russia’s remaining aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, has visited twice in the past year: in September after the invasion of Georgia and in January during Operation Cast Lead.

The pretext for upgrading Tartus is Russia’s involvement in anti-piracy operations off Somalia and the need for better regional support. Russian sources confirmed pursuing options in Yemen and Libya as well, where the Soviet navy also once maintained facilities. Muammar Qaddafi reportedly announced his willingness to resume duties as host during an October visit to Moscow, his first in 23 years. A Russian delegation discussed naval facilities with Yemen the same month. Further west, in May 2009 Russia concluded its largest ever post-Soviet arms deal with Algeria — which also used to serve as a Cold War base for the Soviet navy.

Moscow is not neglecting the port that once served as the Soviet navy’s most substantial forward base:  Tivat, on the Adriatic coast of the former Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close associate of Vladimir Putin (and famous for his alleged presence at a yacht party for John McCain’s 70th birthday), is investing millions to refurbish Tivat’s port, with the announced purpose of turning Tivat into “Monaco on the Adriatic.” Deripaska’s growing ownership of major Montenegrin industries is at least as important. Russia is positioning itself — quietly, given the continuing NATO/IFOR presence in the Balkans — to use Montenegro for both investment and force basing.

The Russians are making the most of the anti-piracy pretext to reestablish bases on the seas around the Middle East (including at least one location, Libya, that is inconvenient for forces operating off Somalia). In conjunction with Syria’s proximity to the Suez Canal, the old Soviet facility on Yemen’s Socotra Island, at the eastern entrance to the Gulf of Aden, brackets the entire choke point between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Where Russian bases go, coastal- and air-defense missiles — as well as arms deals — follow. With Iran also establishing a base on the Red Sea, it is not only Israel that should be concerned about these strategic movements — and not only Israel that should be ensuring a higher naval profile in the region or pursuing a policy designed to keep the coastlines of this key global choke point neutral or friendly.

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No Garden Party

Even before the 2010 congressional races, voters will get a chance to weigh in on the performance of their states in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey, one of the bluest states, looks extremely problematic for Democrats.

The bad news keeps pouring in for Jon Corzine:

Governor Jon Corzine gets an average grade of C- from New Jersey residents, most of whom think that the incumbent has no major accomplishments to point to from his three years in office, according to a Monmouth University/Gannett poll released today. The Governor’s approval rating is upside down, with 37% of likely voters approving and 49% disapproving.  The rating is net positive only among Democrats, 53% of whom approve and 30% of whom disapprove, while it’s upside down for both independents (57% disapprove) and Republicans (74% disapprove).

Even worse for Corzine, the latest poll from Strategic Vision has him trailing 53-38 percent. With Obama polling at only 50 percent in New Jersey (wow!), the president may not be able to help much.

What does this mean? Well, in one sense New Jersey is simply a referendum on a poorly performing incumbent. But to the extent that voters extrapolate from the lesson of one-party liberal rule, the result may reverberate nationally. And of course, should a Republican win a statewide race where Obama carried by a 57-42 percent margin, the pundits and public will take notice.

Given all this, one wonders just how much time and political capital Obama will spend in New Jersey. It’s bad enough when your candidate loses; it’s even worse if he loses after campaigning up and down the state with you.

Even before the 2010 congressional races, voters will get a chance to weigh in on the performance of their states in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. New Jersey, one of the bluest states, looks extremely problematic for Democrats.

The bad news keeps pouring in for Jon Corzine:

Governor Jon Corzine gets an average grade of C- from New Jersey residents, most of whom think that the incumbent has no major accomplishments to point to from his three years in office, according to a Monmouth University/Gannett poll released today. The Governor’s approval rating is upside down, with 37% of likely voters approving and 49% disapproving.  The rating is net positive only among Democrats, 53% of whom approve and 30% of whom disapprove, while it’s upside down for both independents (57% disapprove) and Republicans (74% disapprove).

Even worse for Corzine, the latest poll from Strategic Vision has him trailing 53-38 percent. With Obama polling at only 50 percent in New Jersey (wow!), the president may not be able to help much.

What does this mean? Well, in one sense New Jersey is simply a referendum on a poorly performing incumbent. But to the extent that voters extrapolate from the lesson of one-party liberal rule, the result may reverberate nationally. And of course, should a Republican win a statewide race where Obama carried by a 57-42 percent margin, the pundits and public will take notice.

Given all this, one wonders just how much time and political capital Obama will spend in New Jersey. It’s bad enough when your candidate loses; it’s even worse if he loses after campaigning up and down the state with you.

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Re: Nuclear Scenarios for Iran

As Emanuele Ottolenghi already reported, Hillary Clinton said today in Thailand that in response to the Iranian nuclear program, the U.S. might extend a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East:

We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf,” she said, “it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.

For such an umbrella to have any impact on a nuclear-armed Iran, it would have to be nuclear — i.e., the U.S. would have to pledge to use its own nuclear arsenal against Iran if Iran were to nuke any neighboring state. This is the counsel of despair because it implicitly admits the likelihood that Iran will go nuclear. And, while sounding tough-minded, this provision actually would be unlikely to provide the security we need.

This isn’t the first time that Hillary has raised the idea. She talked about it during the campaign too, apparently picking up on a notion floated by the estimable Charles Krauthammer. Earlier this year, in a Financial Times op-ed, I explained why it’s a bad idea. It may be worth rereading now.

As Emanuele Ottolenghi already reported, Hillary Clinton said today in Thailand that in response to the Iranian nuclear program, the U.S. might extend a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East:

We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf,” she said, “it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.

For such an umbrella to have any impact on a nuclear-armed Iran, it would have to be nuclear — i.e., the U.S. would have to pledge to use its own nuclear arsenal against Iran if Iran were to nuke any neighboring state. This is the counsel of despair because it implicitly admits the likelihood that Iran will go nuclear. And, while sounding tough-minded, this provision actually would be unlikely to provide the security we need.

This isn’t the first time that Hillary has raised the idea. She talked about it during the campaign too, apparently picking up on a notion floated by the estimable Charles Krauthammer. Earlier this year, in a Financial Times op-ed, I explained why it’s a bad idea. It may be worth rereading now.

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It Wasn’t Supposed to Be This Hard

When Barack Obama assumed office, his supporters viewed him as a man of preternatural talents: highly intelligent and unusually reasonable, disciplined and competent, open to different points of view, committed to bipartisanship and to achieving common ground, an agent of reform and comity, cool and graceful, trans-ideological and groundbreaking. Governing is never easy, especially when facing an economic crisis — but Obama was extraordinary, we were told, a once-in-a-lifetime figure, wise beyond his years, compared to Lincoln and to God, destined for greatness, The One. Or so the story went.

Suddenly, six months into his presidency, Obama is beginning to look overmatched by events, on almost every front. More than 2.5 million Americans have lost their jobs since Obama took office. Unemployment is significantly worse than Obama told us it would be, and it’s going to get worse still. The deficit and debt are bursting like exploding stars, with no end in sight. The stimulus package was a three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollar bust. The cap-and-trade legislation, ill-conceived and unpopular, will probably never become law — though House Democrats who voted for it may well pay a high political price for having done so. And Obama’s bailout and management of the auto industry looks increasingly unwise.

The signature initiative of his first year, his health-care plan, gets more and more unpopular with every passing day, as even Democrats are voicing concerns and beginning to rebel. The central claims made by Obama about his plan, from containing costs to people not being forced to give up their current coverage, are being shredded.

In international affairs, Obama has changed the mood music but achieved very little else. He seems eager to pressure friends and look the other way when it comes to our enemies. He still has no plan to close Guantanamo Bay. His vaunted charm hasn’t convinced other nations to house GITMO detainees. His worldwide apology tour for America has gotten almost nothing in return — from our European allies committing any more troops to Afghanistan, to India or China not limiting their carbon emissions, to North Korea or Iran giving ground either on matters of nuclear weapons or internal repression.

Obama himself looks like a surprisingly weak leader, deferring to the most liberal members of Congress to write and guide his most important pieces of legislation. The president routinely uses straw men to advance his agenda and makes claims that are very nearly the opposite of the truth. He has the habit of trying to ram through enormously complicated pieces of legislation, a sign he fears scrutiny and rigorous intellectual debate. His approach seems to be that it’s better for members of Congress to pass legislation neither they nor Obama have ever read or begun to fully understand.

Obama and his administration have essentially given up on pursuing bipartisanship — once a cornerstone of his campaign. His effort to portray himself as America’s philosopher-king is growing tiresome. The most transparent administration in history isn’t turning out to be that transparent after all. Lobbyists are working in posts from which they were supposed to be barred. And according to the latest Gallup Poll, Obama’s public support now places him 10th out of 12 post–World War II presidents. While we are not seeing a collapse in personal support for Obama, we are seeing a significant drop in the public’s confidence in Obama on the issues. And the hemorrhage of support for Obama among independents over the last two months has been nothing short of startling. All in only six months.

There are, I think, several conclusions to draw from this. The first is a cautionary note. Every presidency has ebbs and flows; leaders who are low at one moment can rise the next. In addition, things never go as easily in real life as they go in strategy memoranda and PowerPoint presentations. Often the world intrudes in ways you did not expect and do not welcome. A presidency is determined in large measure by how it adjusts to the unexpected and the inconvenient, to the potholes it didn’t see, to the problems it didn’t anticipate.

Still, Obama and his supporters are the ones who created a cult of personality around him. They are the ones who set the expectations and fed the myth. Now a picture is emerging of a young president with obvious talents but also clear limitations, arrogant and ambitious but not necessarily wise — and with seemingly no sense of self-limitation. So far, Obama has not only failed to tackle the problems he was handed; he has made things worse in many respects.

He is also a completely conventional liberal, intellectually predictable and uninteresting, unable to suspend the laws of economics or make false things true. What the imprint of the Obama administration will be is impossible to know at this juncture. But we do know Barack Obama is flawed, perhaps seriously so, and he is mortal. For a time, that is something his courtiers in the press and elsewhere seemed unable to accept. Perhaps now they do.

When Barack Obama assumed office, his supporters viewed him as a man of preternatural talents: highly intelligent and unusually reasonable, disciplined and competent, open to different points of view, committed to bipartisanship and to achieving common ground, an agent of reform and comity, cool and graceful, trans-ideological and groundbreaking. Governing is never easy, especially when facing an economic crisis — but Obama was extraordinary, we were told, a once-in-a-lifetime figure, wise beyond his years, compared to Lincoln and to God, destined for greatness, The One. Or so the story went.

Suddenly, six months into his presidency, Obama is beginning to look overmatched by events, on almost every front. More than 2.5 million Americans have lost their jobs since Obama took office. Unemployment is significantly worse than Obama told us it would be, and it’s going to get worse still. The deficit and debt are bursting like exploding stars, with no end in sight. The stimulus package was a three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollar bust. The cap-and-trade legislation, ill-conceived and unpopular, will probably never become law — though House Democrats who voted for it may well pay a high political price for having done so. And Obama’s bailout and management of the auto industry looks increasingly unwise.

The signature initiative of his first year, his health-care plan, gets more and more unpopular with every passing day, as even Democrats are voicing concerns and beginning to rebel. The central claims made by Obama about his plan, from containing costs to people not being forced to give up their current coverage, are being shredded.

In international affairs, Obama has changed the mood music but achieved very little else. He seems eager to pressure friends and look the other way when it comes to our enemies. He still has no plan to close Guantanamo Bay. His vaunted charm hasn’t convinced other nations to house GITMO detainees. His worldwide apology tour for America has gotten almost nothing in return — from our European allies committing any more troops to Afghanistan, to India or China not limiting their carbon emissions, to North Korea or Iran giving ground either on matters of nuclear weapons or internal repression.

Obama himself looks like a surprisingly weak leader, deferring to the most liberal members of Congress to write and guide his most important pieces of legislation. The president routinely uses straw men to advance his agenda and makes claims that are very nearly the opposite of the truth. He has the habit of trying to ram through enormously complicated pieces of legislation, a sign he fears scrutiny and rigorous intellectual debate. His approach seems to be that it’s better for members of Congress to pass legislation neither they nor Obama have ever read or begun to fully understand.

Obama and his administration have essentially given up on pursuing bipartisanship — once a cornerstone of his campaign. His effort to portray himself as America’s philosopher-king is growing tiresome. The most transparent administration in history isn’t turning out to be that transparent after all. Lobbyists are working in posts from which they were supposed to be barred. And according to the latest Gallup Poll, Obama’s public support now places him 10th out of 12 post–World War II presidents. While we are not seeing a collapse in personal support for Obama, we are seeing a significant drop in the public’s confidence in Obama on the issues. And the hemorrhage of support for Obama among independents over the last two months has been nothing short of startling. All in only six months.

There are, I think, several conclusions to draw from this. The first is a cautionary note. Every presidency has ebbs and flows; leaders who are low at one moment can rise the next. In addition, things never go as easily in real life as they go in strategy memoranda and PowerPoint presentations. Often the world intrudes in ways you did not expect and do not welcome. A presidency is determined in large measure by how it adjusts to the unexpected and the inconvenient, to the potholes it didn’t see, to the problems it didn’t anticipate.

Still, Obama and his supporters are the ones who created a cult of personality around him. They are the ones who set the expectations and fed the myth. Now a picture is emerging of a young president with obvious talents but also clear limitations, arrogant and ambitious but not necessarily wise — and with seemingly no sense of self-limitation. So far, Obama has not only failed to tackle the problems he was handed; he has made things worse in many respects.

He is also a completely conventional liberal, intellectually predictable and uninteresting, unable to suspend the laws of economics or make false things true. What the imprint of the Obama administration will be is impossible to know at this juncture. But we do know Barack Obama is flawed, perhaps seriously so, and he is mortal. For a time, that is something his courtiers in the press and elsewhere seemed unable to accept. Perhaps now they do.

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A Meeting with Actual Leaders

An “outreach” meeting was held today by Democratic Senate leadership with a number of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the Conservative Union, the UJC, AIPAC, J Street, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, Bet Tzedek, the American Jewish World Service, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Jewish Labor Committee, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Orthodox Union and Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Chabad. Senators in attendance included Stabenow, Levin, Whitehouse, Feingold, Reid, Burris, Cardin, Kaufman, Dodd, Brown, Menendez, Udall, Bennet (of Colorado), Specter, Franken, Kerry, and Klobuchar.

I am informed that many of the Jewish representatives took this valuable opportunity to make pitches on domestic issues having nothing specific to do with Israel or Iran. Their affiliation with Jewish groups gives them the chance to make their pitch on the liberal wish list of concerns on everything from abortion to cap-and-trade. Nevertheless, those with knowledge of the meeting said each group that was called up began by saying that Iran was the Number One issue for the community.

Rabbi Shemtov gave a pointed address, declaring that they are all for peace. He said: “Show me a Jew who is against peace and I will ask what is his biblical source. Show me a Jew who is for Palestinian suffering and I will ask his source. Just as there are many ways to be pro-Israel, there are many ways to be pro-peace.” (A dig at the left-wing groups that posit themselves as the ones in favor of a peaceful solution to the conflict.)

Both the ADL and the JCPA raised the issue of Iran. The most vocal on foreign policy, according to those with direct knowledge of the meeting, were Howard Kohr of AIPAC and David Harris of the AJC. Kohr spoke on Iran and “issues on the ground” in Israel. He pointed out the progress made by Israel in the West Bank, including the removal of over 150 roadblocks, and the economic progress that has achieved working with the Palestinians despite a worldwide recession. He explained that this is what is possible when Israel and the Palestinians work together. He took to task the Arab states that have not stepped up to help the PA. On Iran, he spoke in support of sanctions to aid the Obama administration engage Iran on more favorable terms and increase the pressure on Iran, to which Sen. Levin and Sen. Dodd responded favorably.

Two sources not associated with his organization singled out Harris, who spoke passionately about Obama’s one-sided Cairo speech, the lack of recognition of Israel’s historical narrative, and the apparent double standard that the Obama administration is now employing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sen. Lautenberg assured everyone that Obama was a staunch friend of Israel. J Street’s representative, despite his eager requests for recognition, was not called on by the senators.

Perhaps the tide has now turned and at least some American Jewish leaders are stepping to the forefront on Israel and Iran. If so, it would be a welcome development.

An “outreach” meeting was held today by Democratic Senate leadership with a number of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the Conservative Union, the UJC, AIPAC, J Street, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, Bet Tzedek, the American Jewish World Service, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Jewish Labor Committee, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Orthodox Union and Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Chabad. Senators in attendance included Stabenow, Levin, Whitehouse, Feingold, Reid, Burris, Cardin, Kaufman, Dodd, Brown, Menendez, Udall, Bennet (of Colorado), Specter, Franken, Kerry, and Klobuchar.

I am informed that many of the Jewish representatives took this valuable opportunity to make pitches on domestic issues having nothing specific to do with Israel or Iran. Their affiliation with Jewish groups gives them the chance to make their pitch on the liberal wish list of concerns on everything from abortion to cap-and-trade. Nevertheless, those with knowledge of the meeting said each group that was called up began by saying that Iran was the Number One issue for the community.

Rabbi Shemtov gave a pointed address, declaring that they are all for peace. He said: “Show me a Jew who is against peace and I will ask what is his biblical source. Show me a Jew who is for Palestinian suffering and I will ask his source. Just as there are many ways to be pro-Israel, there are many ways to be pro-peace.” (A dig at the left-wing groups that posit themselves as the ones in favor of a peaceful solution to the conflict.)

Both the ADL and the JCPA raised the issue of Iran. The most vocal on foreign policy, according to those with direct knowledge of the meeting, were Howard Kohr of AIPAC and David Harris of the AJC. Kohr spoke on Iran and “issues on the ground” in Israel. He pointed out the progress made by Israel in the West Bank, including the removal of over 150 roadblocks, and the economic progress that has achieved working with the Palestinians despite a worldwide recession. He explained that this is what is possible when Israel and the Palestinians work together. He took to task the Arab states that have not stepped up to help the PA. On Iran, he spoke in support of sanctions to aid the Obama administration engage Iran on more favorable terms and increase the pressure on Iran, to which Sen. Levin and Sen. Dodd responded favorably.

Two sources not associated with his organization singled out Harris, who spoke passionately about Obama’s one-sided Cairo speech, the lack of recognition of Israel’s historical narrative, and the apparent double standard that the Obama administration is now employing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sen. Lautenberg assured everyone that Obama was a staunch friend of Israel. J Street’s representative, despite his eager requests for recognition, was not called on by the senators.

Perhaps the tide has now turned and at least some American Jewish leaders are stepping to the forefront on Israel and Iran. If so, it would be a welcome development.

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The Blame Game

Obama would like nothing better than to blame the Republicans for his troubles in getting health care passed. But with Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, that line doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. For once, the mainstream media is calling foul.

The A.P., for example, is not buying Obama’s straw-man argument that this is all the Republicans’ fault:

House Democrats put their divisions on display over the details and timing of health care legislation Tuesday despite fresh attempts by President Barack Obama to hasten a compromise on the issue that looms increasingly as a major test of his clout.

The report also points out just how testy House Democrats are getting over being strong-armed by the White House.

“I think that we always need to be reminded that members of Congress don’t serve under presidents, they serve with presidents,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

But of course it is the Democratic majority that does not have its act together, forcing House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer to confess that they “may leave town this month without voting on health-care legislation, saying lawmakers still need to reach a consensus.” Hoyer also let on that opposition within Democratic ranks is not limited just to the 50-something Blue Dogs. Indeed, Democrats are now openly sniping not just at their congressional colleagues but also at the president himself:

As the prospects for passing health reform by the time Congress leaves for its August recess look bleaker, Democratic grumbling about President Obama is growing louder. One Democratic senator tells CNN congressional Democrats are “baffled,” and another senior Democratic source tells CNN members of the president’s own party are still “frustrated” that they’re not getting more specific direction from him on health care. “We appreciate the rhetoric and his willingness to ratchet up the pressure but what most Democrats on the Hill are looking for is for the president to weigh in and make decisions on outstanding issues. Instead of sending out his people and saying the president isn’t ruling anything out, members would like a little bit of clarity on what he would support – especially on how to pay for his health reform bill,” a senior Democratic congressional source tells CNN. The Democratic leadership had hoped the work going on behind closed doors for months could bear fruit in time for the president’s news conference Wednesday night. But multiple Democratic sources tell CNN that’s looking very unlikely, and one senior Democratic source tells CNN there is some frustration among Democratic leaders that Senate negotiators have, “repeatedly missed deadlines.”

One can’t help but think the Washington press corps are getting fed up with the White House spin that the problem rests with the Republicans. The first sentence of this Sam Youngman report reads: “Blue Dog Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed their concerns about the cost of health-care reform during a White House meeting with President Obama.” And the last: “In a statement before the meeting, Obama largely blamed Republicans for holding up legislation in the House.” Got that?

The president would love to blame Republicans. But this is a problem of the Democrats’ own making and of his own inability to make good on his ludicrous promise to bring health care to the masses without running up the debt or socking it to the non-rich. If Obama fails, it won’t be because the minority party said no; it will be because his own party decided the risks of a horrible bill outweighed the risks of doing nothing.

Obama would like nothing better than to blame the Republicans for his troubles in getting health care passed. But with Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, that line doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. For once, the mainstream media is calling foul.

The A.P., for example, is not buying Obama’s straw-man argument that this is all the Republicans’ fault:

House Democrats put their divisions on display over the details and timing of health care legislation Tuesday despite fresh attempts by President Barack Obama to hasten a compromise on the issue that looms increasingly as a major test of his clout.

The report also points out just how testy House Democrats are getting over being strong-armed by the White House.

“I think that we always need to be reminded that members of Congress don’t serve under presidents, they serve with presidents,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.

But of course it is the Democratic majority that does not have its act together, forcing House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer to confess that they “may leave town this month without voting on health-care legislation, saying lawmakers still need to reach a consensus.” Hoyer also let on that opposition within Democratic ranks is not limited just to the 50-something Blue Dogs. Indeed, Democrats are now openly sniping not just at their congressional colleagues but also at the president himself:

As the prospects for passing health reform by the time Congress leaves for its August recess look bleaker, Democratic grumbling about President Obama is growing louder. One Democratic senator tells CNN congressional Democrats are “baffled,” and another senior Democratic source tells CNN members of the president’s own party are still “frustrated” that they’re not getting more specific direction from him on health care. “We appreciate the rhetoric and his willingness to ratchet up the pressure but what most Democrats on the Hill are looking for is for the president to weigh in and make decisions on outstanding issues. Instead of sending out his people and saying the president isn’t ruling anything out, members would like a little bit of clarity on what he would support – especially on how to pay for his health reform bill,” a senior Democratic congressional source tells CNN. The Democratic leadership had hoped the work going on behind closed doors for months could bear fruit in time for the president’s news conference Wednesday night. But multiple Democratic sources tell CNN that’s looking very unlikely, and one senior Democratic source tells CNN there is some frustration among Democratic leaders that Senate negotiators have, “repeatedly missed deadlines.”

One can’t help but think the Washington press corps are getting fed up with the White House spin that the problem rests with the Republicans. The first sentence of this Sam Youngman report reads: “Blue Dog Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed their concerns about the cost of health-care reform during a White House meeting with President Obama.” And the last: “In a statement before the meeting, Obama largely blamed Republicans for holding up legislation in the House.” Got that?

The president would love to blame Republicans. But this is a problem of the Democrats’ own making and of his own inability to make good on his ludicrous promise to bring health care to the masses without running up the debt or socking it to the non-rich. If Obama fails, it won’t be because the minority party said no; it will be because his own party decided the risks of a horrible bill outweighed the risks of doing nothing.

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Who’s in Charge?

The objections to the Pelosi-Obama health-care bill are numerous. It costs too much. It is monumentally stupid to raise taxes on investors and small businesses in the midst of a recession. It will lead to rationed care. But before we get too deeply into the weeds, trying to address this or that problem and come up with an appropriate fix, it would be best to take a step back and ask a more fundamental question: Should we be doing this at all?

What we are contemplating is placing enormous power in the government to make health-care decisions. Whether through a public option that will force private insurers out of the market or some government board making “cuts” (i.e., limiting care) for Medicare and other plans, the current discussion assumes that the government in the end will make millions of decisions (hundreds of millions, really) about treatment, reimbursement, cost, and coverage. And that seems, when one thinks about it for a moment, rather scary.

John Stossel observes:

A handful of people who probably never even ran a small business actually think they can reinvent the health care system.

Politicians and bureaucrats clearly have no idea how complicated markets are. Every day people make countless tradeoffs, in all areas of life, based on subjective value judgments and personal information as they delicately balance their interests, needs and wants. Who is in a better position than they to tailor those choices to best serve their purposes? Yet the politicians believe they can plan the medical market the way you plan a birthday party.

Leave aside how much power the state would have to exercise over us to run the medical system. Suffice it say that if government attempts to control our total medical spending, sooner or later, it will have to control us.

Indeed, only people with no knowledge of the health-care system would presume to take on this much authority. Ignorance is bliss in this situation.

So what is the alternative? Create markets, enhance competition, and promote personal choice and responsibility. So long as someone else is paying the bill (e.g., the government or employers) patients have little reason to apply the same reasoning and control as when purchasing everything from iPods to car insurance. We know that in functioning markets, for both iPods and car insurance, there is price competition.

Although he doesn’t put much meat on the bones, that is what Gov. Bobby Jindal is driving at when he writes in support of a plan in which “individuals choose an integrated plan that adopts the best disease-management practices, as opposed to fragmented care” and consumers are encouraged to “be financially invested in better health decisions through health-savings accounts, lower premiums, and reduced cost sharing.” In plain English, that means giving individuals a tax credit to buy their own insurance, reduce insurance mandates and prohibitions on interstate insurance sales, and reduce extraneous costs through litigation reform. All of this means delegating power to individuals, not centralizing it in the government’s hands.

This is the heart of what is wrong with what the president and the Democrats are pushing. They want to run the show. Given their antipathy to markets and their fixation on government solutions, it is almost inconceivable that they could readjust their entire thinking to adopt the approach suggested by Jindal and other conservative reformers.

So what to do? In the words of Bill Kristol, just “kill it.” A great debate has begun and can continue up to the 2010 election. Then we can have a grand referendum on which alternative voters prefer: individual or government-run health care.

The objections to the Pelosi-Obama health-care bill are numerous. It costs too much. It is monumentally stupid to raise taxes on investors and small businesses in the midst of a recession. It will lead to rationed care. But before we get too deeply into the weeds, trying to address this or that problem and come up with an appropriate fix, it would be best to take a step back and ask a more fundamental question: Should we be doing this at all?

What we are contemplating is placing enormous power in the government to make health-care decisions. Whether through a public option that will force private insurers out of the market or some government board making “cuts” (i.e., limiting care) for Medicare and other plans, the current discussion assumes that the government in the end will make millions of decisions (hundreds of millions, really) about treatment, reimbursement, cost, and coverage. And that seems, when one thinks about it for a moment, rather scary.

John Stossel observes:

A handful of people who probably never even ran a small business actually think they can reinvent the health care system.

Politicians and bureaucrats clearly have no idea how complicated markets are. Every day people make countless tradeoffs, in all areas of life, based on subjective value judgments and personal information as they delicately balance their interests, needs and wants. Who is in a better position than they to tailor those choices to best serve their purposes? Yet the politicians believe they can plan the medical market the way you plan a birthday party.

Leave aside how much power the state would have to exercise over us to run the medical system. Suffice it say that if government attempts to control our total medical spending, sooner or later, it will have to control us.

Indeed, only people with no knowledge of the health-care system would presume to take on this much authority. Ignorance is bliss in this situation.

So what is the alternative? Create markets, enhance competition, and promote personal choice and responsibility. So long as someone else is paying the bill (e.g., the government or employers) patients have little reason to apply the same reasoning and control as when purchasing everything from iPods to car insurance. We know that in functioning markets, for both iPods and car insurance, there is price competition.

Although he doesn’t put much meat on the bones, that is what Gov. Bobby Jindal is driving at when he writes in support of a plan in which “individuals choose an integrated plan that adopts the best disease-management practices, as opposed to fragmented care” and consumers are encouraged to “be financially invested in better health decisions through health-savings accounts, lower premiums, and reduced cost sharing.” In plain English, that means giving individuals a tax credit to buy their own insurance, reduce insurance mandates and prohibitions on interstate insurance sales, and reduce extraneous costs through litigation reform. All of this means delegating power to individuals, not centralizing it in the government’s hands.

This is the heart of what is wrong with what the president and the Democrats are pushing. They want to run the show. Given their antipathy to markets and their fixation on government solutions, it is almost inconceivable that they could readjust their entire thinking to adopt the approach suggested by Jindal and other conservative reformers.

So what to do? In the words of Bill Kristol, just “kill it.” A great debate has begun and can continue up to the 2010 election. Then we can have a grand referendum on which alternative voters prefer: individual or government-run health care.

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Nuclear Scenarios for Iran

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appeared to talk tough in the wake of Iran’s foot-dragging on American overtures:

We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment … that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Tough as it may sound, this statement is the clearest statement to date, as much as I can tell, from a senior administration official, that if engagement fails, America will not switch to other preventative measures but will instead resort to establishing a credible deterrence posture.

From the safe distance of America’s eastern seaboard, deterrence may appear safe. If you happen to be a monarch ruling over a small statelet in the Persian Gulf, and every morning when you open your palace windows (well, when your servants open them for you), you see Iran across the Gulf, deterrence may not be as reliable. After all, if Iran chooses to, say, instigate a Shiite uprising or a coup in Bahrein and thus manages to topple the monarchy there, will America’s public support U.S. direct intervention? Before Secretary Clinton can get to a TV studio to make the case for sovereignty, stability, legitimacy, and all the rest of it, before CENTCOM can deploy, an army of pundits will be on CNN and al-Jazeera reminding us that the Sunni monarchy there is not exactly the expression of the will of the people; that the newly installed regime should be recognized as the authentic expression of the Bahreini nation; and that a small island-state and its not-so-democratic monarch do not deserve the shedding of American blood or the risks of a nuclear showdown with Iran. Before you know it, someone will be asking for America’s Fifth Fleet at Juffair base in Bahrein to pack up their bags and relocate.

Of course, this will be done politely, and over time. But the bottom line should be clear: Containment comes with a price, which during the Cold War — when our nemesis was a nuclear-armed Soviet Union — meant recognizing clearly delimited spheres of influence in Europe and clashing occasionally in areas where the fragile balance between the two blocs was constantly under challenge.

Far-fetched?

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appeared to talk tough in the wake of Iran’s foot-dragging on American overtures:

We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment … that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Tough as it may sound, this statement is the clearest statement to date, as much as I can tell, from a senior administration official, that if engagement fails, America will not switch to other preventative measures but will instead resort to establishing a credible deterrence posture.

From the safe distance of America’s eastern seaboard, deterrence may appear safe. If you happen to be a monarch ruling over a small statelet in the Persian Gulf, and every morning when you open your palace windows (well, when your servants open them for you), you see Iran across the Gulf, deterrence may not be as reliable. After all, if Iran chooses to, say, instigate a Shiite uprising or a coup in Bahrein and thus manages to topple the monarchy there, will America’s public support U.S. direct intervention? Before Secretary Clinton can get to a TV studio to make the case for sovereignty, stability, legitimacy, and all the rest of it, before CENTCOM can deploy, an army of pundits will be on CNN and al-Jazeera reminding us that the Sunni monarchy there is not exactly the expression of the will of the people; that the newly installed regime should be recognized as the authentic expression of the Bahreini nation; and that a small island-state and its not-so-democratic monarch do not deserve the shedding of American blood or the risks of a nuclear showdown with Iran. Before you know it, someone will be asking for America’s Fifth Fleet at Juffair base in Bahrein to pack up their bags and relocate.

Of course, this will be done politely, and over time. But the bottom line should be clear: Containment comes with a price, which during the Cold War — when our nemesis was a nuclear-armed Soviet Union — meant recognizing clearly delimited spheres of influence in Europe and clashing occasionally in areas where the fragile balance between the two blocs was constantly under challenge.

Far-fetched?

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Re: Settlement Mania

Perhaps American Jewish leaders are waking up. Following a similar statement by the Orthodox Union, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations releases a tough statement objecting to the Obama administration’s fixation on the settlements:

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has long advocated and supported the unity of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel. As such, we believe that legal construction by residents of the city should be allowed as long as it is in keeping with the standards and requirements of the municipality and the national government.  We find disturbing the objections raised to the proposed construction of residential units on property that was legally purchased and approved by the appropriate authorities. The area in question houses major Israeli governmental agencies, including the national police headquarters. The United States has in the past and recently raised objections to the removal of illegal structures built by Arabs in eastern Jerusalem even though they were built in violation of zoning and other requirements often on usurped land. In addition to the Jewish housing, the project called for apartment units for Arabs as well.

It is particularly significant that the structure in question formerly was the house of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini who spent the war years in Berlin as a close ally of Hitler, aiding and abetting the Nazi extermination of Jews.  He was also linked to the 1929 massacre in Hebron and other acts of incitement that resulted in deaths and destruction in what was then Palestine. There has been an expressed desire by some Palestinians to preserve the building as a tribute to Husseini.

As a united city, Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab residents should be permitted to reside wherever legal and security requirements allow.  Hundreds of Arab families have moved into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the same right should be accorded to Jewish residents in live where they choose in Jerusalem. To do otherwise would undermine and prejudge the status of the city.

No government of Israel has or can pursue a discriminatory policy that would prevent the legitimate presence of Jews in any area of its capital.

That’s a solid start. (You can tell because Americans for Peace Now is bent out of shape.) Perhaps the Conference of Presidents engaged in that “self-reflection” Obama recommended and came back with a renewed sense of perspective and an appreciation of their responsibility to speak up in defense of a sane and realistic U.S. policy toward Israel. Next time, they should say it directly to the president. But don’t get me wrong: better late than never.

Perhaps American Jewish leaders are waking up. Following a similar statement by the Orthodox Union, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations releases a tough statement objecting to the Obama administration’s fixation on the settlements:

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has long advocated and supported the unity of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel. As such, we believe that legal construction by residents of the city should be allowed as long as it is in keeping with the standards and requirements of the municipality and the national government.  We find disturbing the objections raised to the proposed construction of residential units on property that was legally purchased and approved by the appropriate authorities. The area in question houses major Israeli governmental agencies, including the national police headquarters. The United States has in the past and recently raised objections to the removal of illegal structures built by Arabs in eastern Jerusalem even though they were built in violation of zoning and other requirements often on usurped land. In addition to the Jewish housing, the project called for apartment units for Arabs as well.

It is particularly significant that the structure in question formerly was the house of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini who spent the war years in Berlin as a close ally of Hitler, aiding and abetting the Nazi extermination of Jews.  He was also linked to the 1929 massacre in Hebron and other acts of incitement that resulted in deaths and destruction in what was then Palestine. There has been an expressed desire by some Palestinians to preserve the building as a tribute to Husseini.

As a united city, Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab residents should be permitted to reside wherever legal and security requirements allow.  Hundreds of Arab families have moved into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the same right should be accorded to Jewish residents in live where they choose in Jerusalem. To do otherwise would undermine and prejudge the status of the city.

No government of Israel has or can pursue a discriminatory policy that would prevent the legitimate presence of Jews in any area of its capital.

That’s a solid start. (You can tell because Americans for Peace Now is bent out of shape.) Perhaps the Conference of Presidents engaged in that “self-reflection” Obama recommended and came back with a renewed sense of perspective and an appreciation of their responsibility to speak up in defense of a sane and realistic U.S. policy toward Israel. Next time, they should say it directly to the president. But don’t get me wrong: better late than never.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Did the AMA forget its constituents? “Just on the heels of the AMA’s decision to endorse the House Democrats’ health package comes this new analysis from the Lewin Group showing that doctors stand to lose $18,900 per physician in the third year of the proposed law. The losses come mainly as a result of reduced revenues stemming from the bill’s Medicare cuts, and increased expenses stemming from serving the newly insured. This analysis does not, of course, count the increased taxes doctors would disproportionately have to pay based on their higher-than-average incomes.”

Michael Gerson smartly observes: “The White House and congressional leaders are increasingly conveying a desperate message: Pass health reform quickly, before the congressional recess, before the great moment is lost. In other words, before details of the plan are examined too closely, before concerns about spending and the deficit take even broader hold.”

Obama cheers the end of the F-22. Isn’t anyone in favor of “saving or creating” jobs anymore?

Is the FBI getting closer to Rep. John Murtha? TPM thinks so, with the plea of another Murtha-connected figure, this one a former Air Force employee who received kickbacks from a Murtha-approved defense contract.

Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings incorrectly suggested that state law might determine whether a 38-week unborn child could be aborted because of a birth defect. Matthew Franck takes us through the case law, concluding: “Judging from her record on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, she is every inch a pro-choice advocate, and she has been a federal judge for 17 years. She has no excuse not to know what Sen. Coburn was getting at. She has no excuse not knowing that abortion on demand has been the law of the land since January 22, 1973. She has even less excuse covering that up in a nationally broadcast congressional hearing, if she does know it.”

Joseph Abrams reports: “President Obama’s ‘science czar,’ Paul Holdren, once floated the idea of forced abortions, ‘compulsory sterilization,’ and the creation of a ‘Planetary Regime’ that would oversee human population levels and control all natural resources as a means of protecting the planet — controversial ideas his critics say should have been brought up in his Senate confirmation hearings.” Why didn’t this come up at his confirmation hearings? Well, it seems, “The people who are concerned about Holdren, quite frankly we didn’t do enough homework.”

All those afraid during the election of being embarrassed by our VP were right to be worried: See the latest Bidenism.

What Obama’s pro-Chavez policy in Honduras has wrought: “The increasingly defiant de facto leaders in Honduras Tuesday gave 72 hours to staff from Venezuela’s embassy to leave, accusing them of threatening to use force and meddling in internal affairs. Venezuelan diplomats swiftly rejected the expulsion order, saying it was issued by leaders of an illegitimate government that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a coup late last month. The toughened stance came after negotiations with Zelaya hit deadlock and amid international pressure for his reinstatement.”

The Washington Post editors are stumped: How is the Iran regime going to “engage” Obama when battling to save itself? “While the administration should remain open to constructive proposals by Iran, it should avoid any action that would lend strength to Mr. Khamenei’s regime. And Mr. Obama should continue to make clear that the United States stands with those seeking peaceful and democratic reform. If they do not succeed, neither will any meeting in Geneva.”

The very popular left-leaning Virginia blog Not Larry Sabato is wigged out that Gov. Tim Kaine’s primary donor and prominent businessman isn’t endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds: “That’s not just Kaine’s #1 donor — it is also Creigh’s #1 individual donor from the 2005 AG race. What is going on here?” I think what’s going on is that the Democratic Party is reverting to its antibusiness reputation.

In Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s 2010 reelection lead over Republican challenger Pat Toomey has shrunk to a tie with 45 percent for Specter and 44 percent for Toomey, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. And voters say 49-40 percent that Sen. Specter does not deserve reelection. President Barack Obama gets a 56-37 percent job approval, compared to 62-31 percent in a May 28 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. By a bare 50-43 percent majority, voters approve of the President’s handling of the economy.” Maybe switching parties wasn’t such a great move for Specter. Well, if the wind keeps blowing the other way, he could always flip back, right?

Did the AMA forget its constituents? “Just on the heels of the AMA’s decision to endorse the House Democrats’ health package comes this new analysis from the Lewin Group showing that doctors stand to lose $18,900 per physician in the third year of the proposed law. The losses come mainly as a result of reduced revenues stemming from the bill’s Medicare cuts, and increased expenses stemming from serving the newly insured. This analysis does not, of course, count the increased taxes doctors would disproportionately have to pay based on their higher-than-average incomes.”

Michael Gerson smartly observes: “The White House and congressional leaders are increasingly conveying a desperate message: Pass health reform quickly, before the congressional recess, before the great moment is lost. In other words, before details of the plan are examined too closely, before concerns about spending and the deficit take even broader hold.”

Obama cheers the end of the F-22. Isn’t anyone in favor of “saving or creating” jobs anymore?

Is the FBI getting closer to Rep. John Murtha? TPM thinks so, with the plea of another Murtha-connected figure, this one a former Air Force employee who received kickbacks from a Murtha-approved defense contract.

Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings incorrectly suggested that state law might determine whether a 38-week unborn child could be aborted because of a birth defect. Matthew Franck takes us through the case law, concluding: “Judging from her record on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, she is every inch a pro-choice advocate, and she has been a federal judge for 17 years. She has no excuse not to know what Sen. Coburn was getting at. She has no excuse not knowing that abortion on demand has been the law of the land since January 22, 1973. She has even less excuse covering that up in a nationally broadcast congressional hearing, if she does know it.”

Joseph Abrams reports: “President Obama’s ‘science czar,’ Paul Holdren, once floated the idea of forced abortions, ‘compulsory sterilization,’ and the creation of a ‘Planetary Regime’ that would oversee human population levels and control all natural resources as a means of protecting the planet — controversial ideas his critics say should have been brought up in his Senate confirmation hearings.” Why didn’t this come up at his confirmation hearings? Well, it seems, “The people who are concerned about Holdren, quite frankly we didn’t do enough homework.”

All those afraid during the election of being embarrassed by our VP were right to be worried: See the latest Bidenism.

What Obama’s pro-Chavez policy in Honduras has wrought: “The increasingly defiant de facto leaders in Honduras Tuesday gave 72 hours to staff from Venezuela’s embassy to leave, accusing them of threatening to use force and meddling in internal affairs. Venezuelan diplomats swiftly rejected the expulsion order, saying it was issued by leaders of an illegitimate government that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a coup late last month. The toughened stance came after negotiations with Zelaya hit deadlock and amid international pressure for his reinstatement.”

The Washington Post editors are stumped: How is the Iran regime going to “engage” Obama when battling to save itself? “While the administration should remain open to constructive proposals by Iran, it should avoid any action that would lend strength to Mr. Khamenei’s regime. And Mr. Obama should continue to make clear that the United States stands with those seeking peaceful and democratic reform. If they do not succeed, neither will any meeting in Geneva.”

The very popular left-leaning Virginia blog Not Larry Sabato is wigged out that Gov. Tim Kaine’s primary donor and prominent businessman isn’t endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds: “That’s not just Kaine’s #1 donor — it is also Creigh’s #1 individual donor from the 2005 AG race. What is going on here?” I think what’s going on is that the Democratic Party is reverting to its antibusiness reputation.

In Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s 2010 reelection lead over Republican challenger Pat Toomey has shrunk to a tie with 45 percent for Specter and 44 percent for Toomey, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. And voters say 49-40 percent that Sen. Specter does not deserve reelection. President Barack Obama gets a 56-37 percent job approval, compared to 62-31 percent in a May 28 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. By a bare 50-43 percent majority, voters approve of the President’s handling of the economy.” Maybe switching parties wasn’t such a great move for Specter. Well, if the wind keeps blowing the other way, he could always flip back, right?

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