Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 29, 2009

Dr. Barrasso: Ask Tough Questions and Call Us in the Fall

In a blogger conference call, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming (who is also a physician) batted down the Washington Post story that appeared this morning suggesting a deal on health care was imminent in the Senate Finance Committee. His Wyoming colleague Mike Enzi, who is one of six senators negotiating a deal, put out a statement to the effect that an agreement is not imminent. According to Barrasso, Enzi was “the most upset person in Washington D.C.” when the article came out. I asked about the notion of a “co-op” plan that Sen. Kent Conrad favored as a way of getting through a public-option concept (without including a two-tiered system actually called a “public option”).

He cautioned that there is no bill and no CBO scoring on whatever is being discussed and that whatever comes out will have to be meshed with the House, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, and eventually put into conference committee. He summed up: “We are a long way away from anything that will address the problems we face in health care.”

I asked him about the deals the administration had supposedly cut with the drug companies promising not to fix prices, a “deal” apparently not incorporated into the House plan. He warned that it is expensive to bring new drugs to market and that “they might not be able to do that in the future” if the government sets prices. He then made an interesting point on the general subject of “these deals that have been set.” The hospital administrators, for example, pledged to knock hundreds of millions out of their budgets. But Barrasso says, “I haven’t spoken to one hospital administrator who says, ‘Oh yeah, you can take that out of our hospital.'” The same is true, he says, of the AMA. He related that the doctors he speaks with are all opposed to the current bills. “So how does that work? I am not sure who they are speaking for,” Barrasso commented.

Well, it will be an interesting summer. Barrasso suggests that interested citizens should go to town halls and start asking tough questions. He suggests two: How are you going to pay for it? How are they going to get $500 billion in savings from Medicare? Both good queries.

In a blogger conference call, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming (who is also a physician) batted down the Washington Post story that appeared this morning suggesting a deal on health care was imminent in the Senate Finance Committee. His Wyoming colleague Mike Enzi, who is one of six senators negotiating a deal, put out a statement to the effect that an agreement is not imminent. According to Barrasso, Enzi was “the most upset person in Washington D.C.” when the article came out. I asked about the notion of a “co-op” plan that Sen. Kent Conrad favored as a way of getting through a public-option concept (without including a two-tiered system actually called a “public option”).

He cautioned that there is no bill and no CBO scoring on whatever is being discussed and that whatever comes out will have to be meshed with the House, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, and eventually put into conference committee. He summed up: “We are a long way away from anything that will address the problems we face in health care.”

I asked him about the deals the administration had supposedly cut with the drug companies promising not to fix prices, a “deal” apparently not incorporated into the House plan. He warned that it is expensive to bring new drugs to market and that “they might not be able to do that in the future” if the government sets prices. He then made an interesting point on the general subject of “these deals that have been set.” The hospital administrators, for example, pledged to knock hundreds of millions out of their budgets. But Barrasso says, “I haven’t spoken to one hospital administrator who says, ‘Oh yeah, you can take that out of our hospital.'” The same is true, he says, of the AMA. He related that the doctors he speaks with are all opposed to the current bills. “So how does that work? I am not sure who they are speaking for,” Barrasso commented.

Well, it will be an interesting summer. Barrasso suggests that interested citizens should go to town halls and start asking tough questions. He suggests two: How are you going to pay for it? How are they going to get $500 billion in savings from Medicare? Both good queries.

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German Rules of Engagement?

Is the following from a “straight” newspaper . . . or from the Onion?

Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.

The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,’ followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna — Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!

The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round NATO mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a satire. This is from the Times of London. The good news is that these insanely restrictive rules of engagement are at long last being relaxed with this week’s release of new rules, “giving their forces more freedom to shoot back and shout warnings later.” According to the Times:

Up until last week it was, for example, forbidden to shoot a fleeing assailant, even though every civilian policeman in Germany has the right to shoot an armed fugitive in the arm or leg after barking a short warning.

The new guidelines say that soldiers can shoot to prevent an attack, allowing them to kill a rebel escaping from the battlefield. Much of the phrasing is nuanced but gives more room for soldiers to defend themselves. One section authorised defensive measures only if soldiers were under imminent threat; now they can open fire if “an assault is in preparation”. Changing a few words gives the Germans a few hundred more metres to react.

That’s an improvement, but the Germans still have a long, long way to go before becoming a halfway-effective counterinsurgency force in Afghanistan. They are still prohibited, after all, from going out in search of the enemy, and their operations are confined to the most peaceful parts of the country — although nowhere is 100 percent safe.

Who would have imagined a century ago that Jews would become known as much-feared (and much-reviled) warriors, while Germans would have a reputation as wimpy pacifists? That may be an improvement over the way Germans acted between 1866 and 1945 — the heyday of German empire — but Germany won’t truly return to “normal” until it can send its troops to fight alongside their allies in what is indubitably a good cause.

Is the following from a “straight” newspaper . . . or from the Onion?

Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.

The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, ‘United Nations — stop, or I will fire,’ followed by a version in Pashtu — Melgaero Mellatuna — Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!

The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.” The joke going round NATO mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a satire. This is from the Times of London. The good news is that these insanely restrictive rules of engagement are at long last being relaxed with this week’s release of new rules, “giving their forces more freedom to shoot back and shout warnings later.” According to the Times:

Up until last week it was, for example, forbidden to shoot a fleeing assailant, even though every civilian policeman in Germany has the right to shoot an armed fugitive in the arm or leg after barking a short warning.

The new guidelines say that soldiers can shoot to prevent an attack, allowing them to kill a rebel escaping from the battlefield. Much of the phrasing is nuanced but gives more room for soldiers to defend themselves. One section authorised defensive measures only if soldiers were under imminent threat; now they can open fire if “an assault is in preparation”. Changing a few words gives the Germans a few hundred more metres to react.

That’s an improvement, but the Germans still have a long, long way to go before becoming a halfway-effective counterinsurgency force in Afghanistan. They are still prohibited, after all, from going out in search of the enemy, and their operations are confined to the most peaceful parts of the country — although nowhere is 100 percent safe.

Who would have imagined a century ago that Jews would become known as much-feared (and much-reviled) warriors, while Germans would have a reputation as wimpy pacifists? That may be an improvement over the way Germans acted between 1866 and 1945 — the heyday of German empire — but Germany won’t truly return to “normal” until it can send its troops to fight alongside their allies in what is indubitably a good cause.

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Re: More Troubling Signs for ObamaCare and Obamaism

Pete, the poll data is compelling. In yet another poll, Time‘s newest survey shows: “By significant margins, survey respondents said they believe the final health-reform legislation is likely to raise health-care costs in the long run (62%), make everything about health care more complicated (65%) and offer less freedom to choose doctors and coverage (56%).” And the latest poll shows Republican Bob McDonnell leading by double digits in the Virginia gubernatorial race. And as you note, politicians are watching — very closely.

It seems that Obama has done a bang-up job of convincing congressmen — prominent ones in his own party — to be very concerned about the dangers of government-run health care. He had some help from the House Democrats, who managed to come up with a bill so extreme that they took two weeks to get to a vote, with only four of seven Blue Dogs expected to roll over. (The four Pelosi poodles are Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon, Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, and Ohio Rep. Zack Space.) It seems that just about everyone in D.C. is looking over their shoulders and wondering why they are rolling the dice on a plan this expensive and complicated that isn’t popular with the voters.

Over the next month as the conversation continues, Americans can continue to make their views known. And next week, when the new national unemployment figures come out, they might ask their representatives why they are working on a giant nationalization and tax scheme while the country is still bleeding jobs. The rest of the year will be an epic battle as Obama tries to stop the bleeding and the center/right coalition in America struggles to regain ground.

Pete, the poll data is compelling. In yet another poll, Time‘s newest survey shows: “By significant margins, survey respondents said they believe the final health-reform legislation is likely to raise health-care costs in the long run (62%), make everything about health care more complicated (65%) and offer less freedom to choose doctors and coverage (56%).” And the latest poll shows Republican Bob McDonnell leading by double digits in the Virginia gubernatorial race. And as you note, politicians are watching — very closely.

It seems that Obama has done a bang-up job of convincing congressmen — prominent ones in his own party — to be very concerned about the dangers of government-run health care. He had some help from the House Democrats, who managed to come up with a bill so extreme that they took two weeks to get to a vote, with only four of seven Blue Dogs expected to roll over. (The four Pelosi poodles are Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon, Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, and Ohio Rep. Zack Space.) It seems that just about everyone in D.C. is looking over their shoulders and wondering why they are rolling the dice on a plan this expensive and complicated that isn’t popular with the voters.

Over the next month as the conversation continues, Americans can continue to make their views known. And next week, when the new national unemployment figures come out, they might ask their representatives why they are working on a giant nationalization and tax scheme while the country is still bleeding jobs. The rest of the year will be an epic battle as Obama tries to stop the bleeding and the center/right coalition in America struggles to regain ground.

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Never Mind Two Wars

Are proponents of a robust American military seeing their worst nightmares come true?

The military will need to come up with $60 billion in savings over the next five years to pay for new priorities to be set by the Defense secretary, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The order from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is based on an assumption that there will be no real growth in defense budgets over the next five years, a radical departure for a department whose budgets have increased more than 80 percent since 2001.

[…]

One of the driving factors so far in the evaluation is the prospect that defense budgets largely will be static in fiscal 2011 through fiscal 2015, said David Ochmanek, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force transformation and resources.

The military has to cut $60 billion because the money is needed to fill gaps in Iraq and Afghanistan such as “lack of rotary wing lift; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; civil affairs personnel; and intratheater airlift.”

In plain language, our wars require additional funds that our military is being denied. This has the recognizable whiff of an Obamaesque “false choice” to it. “No longer are we faced with the false choice of paying for a capable military or losing our ability to win wars.” Like all Obama’s false choices, this is actually a real one. And once again, the administration is choosing wrong.

Ochmanek said there is “no low-hanging fruit” to get rid of to reallocate our way out of current shortfalls. The military is down to the essentials as it is.

Back in April, when Gates first announced his defense-restructuring plan, Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmidt wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop.” We’re now past the opening bid.

This news comes at a time when suspect regimes are raising their military budgets to unprecedented heights. In 2008, China increased military spending by 17.6 percent, a $59 billion outlay — almost exactly the figure we just asked our military to get rid of. This year, China’s military budget is expected to go to $70 billion. Russia’s defense budget rose by a whopping 34 percent in 2009. Our allies, despite endless discussion of a multipolar world, still depend on the U.S. to do the heavy lifting. The New York Times reports today, “Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no ‘multi’ in the Multi-National Force.” A poll in yesterday’s edition of the Independent “suggests most people now believe British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan.”

Ochmanek spoke of the “level of pain” that cuts would inflict. Well, as problematic countries approach American levels of military spending and America in turn follows Europe down the path of least resistance, the stage is set for a dangerous power shift that the free world will be unable to right. Pretty painful.

Are proponents of a robust American military seeing their worst nightmares come true?

The military will need to come up with $60 billion in savings over the next five years to pay for new priorities to be set by the Defense secretary, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The order from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is based on an assumption that there will be no real growth in defense budgets over the next five years, a radical departure for a department whose budgets have increased more than 80 percent since 2001.

[…]

One of the driving factors so far in the evaluation is the prospect that defense budgets largely will be static in fiscal 2011 through fiscal 2015, said David Ochmanek, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force transformation and resources.

The military has to cut $60 billion because the money is needed to fill gaps in Iraq and Afghanistan such as “lack of rotary wing lift; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; civil affairs personnel; and intratheater airlift.”

In plain language, our wars require additional funds that our military is being denied. This has the recognizable whiff of an Obamaesque “false choice” to it. “No longer are we faced with the false choice of paying for a capable military or losing our ability to win wars.” Like all Obama’s false choices, this is actually a real one. And once again, the administration is choosing wrong.

Ochmanek said there is “no low-hanging fruit” to get rid of to reallocate our way out of current shortfalls. The military is down to the essentials as it is.

Back in April, when Gates first announced his defense-restructuring plan, Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmidt wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop.” We’re now past the opening bid.

This news comes at a time when suspect regimes are raising their military budgets to unprecedented heights. In 2008, China increased military spending by 17.6 percent, a $59 billion outlay — almost exactly the figure we just asked our military to get rid of. This year, China’s military budget is expected to go to $70 billion. Russia’s defense budget rose by a whopping 34 percent in 2009. Our allies, despite endless discussion of a multipolar world, still depend on the U.S. to do the heavy lifting. The New York Times reports today, “Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no ‘multi’ in the Multi-National Force.” A poll in yesterday’s edition of the Independent “suggests most people now believe British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan.”

Ochmanek spoke of the “level of pain” that cuts would inflict. Well, as problematic countries approach American levels of military spending and America in turn follows Europe down the path of least resistance, the stage is set for a dangerous power shift that the free world will be unable to right. Pretty painful.

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It’s About More Than Money

The Blue Dogs have the Democrats chasing their tails. What started out as an objection to a budget-busting bill has now morphed into a full-blown and highly informative discussion on the perils of government-run health care. The Blue Dogs, the CBO, and the president have put the spotlight on cost and then, more importantly, on the mechanisms by which governments control those costs once they take over health care.

Megan McArdle writes on why she opposes nationalized health care:

Basically, for me, it all boils down to public choice theory. Once we’ve got a comprehensive national health care plan, what are the government’s incentives? I think they’re bad, for the same reason the TSA is bad. I’m afraid that instead of Security Theater, we’ll get Health Care Theater, where the government goes to elaborate lengths to convince us that we’re getting the best possible health care, without actually providing it. That’s not just verbal theatrics. Agencies like Britain’s NICE are a case in point. As long as people don’t know that there are cancer treatments they’re not getting, they’re happy.

And then they figure out what is being denied or realize the waiting times to see a doctor. Finally they come to the conclusion that they are being deprived the care they had become accustomed to.

It is not just smart libertarians and conservatives who have figured this out. The doctors’ groups who were sweet-talked by the president now realize their practices would be micromanaged by new government bureaucracies under ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Proposals from the White House and Congress to give an independent commission significant power over Medicare payments are drawing opposition from the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons. Both groups have thus far supported significant pieces of the Democrats’ health-care agenda. . . . But doctors are objecting to proposals that would allow a federal commission to set the size of Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers.

And with the power to set rates will come the power — based on the finest “comparative effectiveness” research, of course — to determine which treatment options will be reimbursed at all and which are simply “unnecessary.”

This is the debate the administration and Congress tried to avoid. But now they will have it. And they better have an answer to those who want to know why we are spending all this money to give them worse care than they had before “reform.”

The Blue Dogs have the Democrats chasing their tails. What started out as an objection to a budget-busting bill has now morphed into a full-blown and highly informative discussion on the perils of government-run health care. The Blue Dogs, the CBO, and the president have put the spotlight on cost and then, more importantly, on the mechanisms by which governments control those costs once they take over health care.

Megan McArdle writes on why she opposes nationalized health care:

Basically, for me, it all boils down to public choice theory. Once we’ve got a comprehensive national health care plan, what are the government’s incentives? I think they’re bad, for the same reason the TSA is bad. I’m afraid that instead of Security Theater, we’ll get Health Care Theater, where the government goes to elaborate lengths to convince us that we’re getting the best possible health care, without actually providing it. That’s not just verbal theatrics. Agencies like Britain’s NICE are a case in point. As long as people don’t know that there are cancer treatments they’re not getting, they’re happy.

And then they figure out what is being denied or realize the waiting times to see a doctor. Finally they come to the conclusion that they are being deprived the care they had become accustomed to.

It is not just smart libertarians and conservatives who have figured this out. The doctors’ groups who were sweet-talked by the president now realize their practices would be micromanaged by new government bureaucracies under ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Proposals from the White House and Congress to give an independent commission significant power over Medicare payments are drawing opposition from the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons. Both groups have thus far supported significant pieces of the Democrats’ health-care agenda. . . . But doctors are objecting to proposals that would allow a federal commission to set the size of Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers.

And with the power to set rates will come the power — based on the finest “comparative effectiveness” research, of course — to determine which treatment options will be reimbursed at all and which are simply “unnecessary.”

This is the debate the administration and Congress tried to avoid. But now they will have it. And they better have an answer to those who want to know why we are spending all this money to give them worse care than they had before “reform.”

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More Troubling Signs for ObamaCare and Obamaism

Several polls and news stories today are worth noting. The first, apropos Jen’s post, is the most recent National Public Radio (NPR) poll. The health-care numbers — 39 percent strongly oppose ObamaCare, while only 25 percent strongly support it — must be particularly alarming to the White House. Obama’s overall approval ratings, 53 percent, are surely a concern for them as well, given the downward trajectory Obama is on. And the generic congressional vote showing the GOP up one is certain to garner some attention.

A second poll comes from Gallup and shows that only 1 in 4 Americans believes a new health-care-reform law would improve their personal medical care. According to Gallup: “The wariness with which the public approaches the possible effects of healthcare reform on their personal situations is evident from results showing that more Americans say healthcare would worsen their medical care and reduce their access to healthcare, than say it would have the contrasting, positive effects. . . . These results do not coalesce into a terribly optimistic picture of Americans’ views of the perceived impact of healthcare reform.” (h/t: William Kristol)

A third notable story can be found in Politico, where we read:

Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama’s political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats. The issue advantage has shifted as well, with Democrats facing the brunt of criticism about the pace of stimulus package spending, anxiety over rising unemployment rates and widespread uneasiness over the twin pillars of Obama’s legislative agenda: his cap-and-trade approach to climate change and the emerging health care bill.

In arguing that Republicans find themselves on the offensive for the first time since 2004, the Politico story cites the reconfigured political landscape, with Republican candidates leading in the polls in two key gubernatorial elections scheduled for later this year, in New Jersey and Virginia. The story also points out that national Republicans have recently met with success in “persuading a number of top recruits to commit to 2010 races that not so long ago looked considerably less attractive — the surest signal that potential GOP candidates view the playing field as less tilted against them than just a few months earlier.”

Fourth is a story in National Journal, which reports that a mini-resurgence of the moderate GOP brand is quietly taking place in the Northeast.

It’s still too early to say Obama and Democrats are in free fall — but it’s not too early to say they’re in some real trouble. All these developments are taking place within a certain context. President Obama is completing what for him has been quite a bad month: his signature initiative is becoming increasingly toxic, and Obama himself is beginning to bleed politically. His loss of support among independents and the rising opposition to his health-care proposals are the two most alarming developments for the president. In addition, restlessness and wariness among Democrats have quickly given way to deep concern; their angst is increasing with every passing day. That may well be amplified during the August recess, when members of Congress hear directly from their constituents about the exploding deficit and debt, their frustration with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, and their opposition to nationalizing our health-care system.

A revealing couple of straws in the wind can be found in my home state of Virginia, where Republican Bob McDonnell turned the first debate into a referendum on Obama’s national agenda, forcing Democrat Creigh Deeds on the defensive. And Deeds has now missed two Obama health-care events in Virginia — including a town-hall meeting in Bristol today — since he won his party’s nomination on June 9.

Here’s a fairly safe prediction: if the GOP ends up carrying the New Jersey and Virginia governor races in November — and the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Republican Chris Christie up by a dozen points against sitting governor Jon Corzine, and McDonnell is now up several points against Deeds — you’ll see near panic among Democrats. The reason is that while politicians watch poll numbers closely, they watch election returns most closely of all. And if Democrats lose statewide elections in places like Virginia and New Jersey, and Obama is seen to be a contributing factor in those losses, then you may well see a stampede away from ObamaCare and Obamaism.

The political winds have shifted in fairly dramatic ways. Republicans are far from in the clear; they still have significant problems they need to repair. But they do have an opening most pundits didn’t think they’d be presented with, and far sooner than anyone could have imagined.

All of this can, of course, change. The president is a skillful man, and it’s possible for events to break his way. But for now, we can say that Barack Obama — the darling of the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books; Time and Newsweek; MSNBC and CNN; the greatest president since Roosevelt; a person who belongs in the same breath as Lincoln; Evan Thomas’s “sort of God” — is pumping new life into the GOP and may be turning America into a more conservative nation. What a strange and endlessly fascinating world politics can be.

Several polls and news stories today are worth noting. The first, apropos Jen’s post, is the most recent National Public Radio (NPR) poll. The health-care numbers — 39 percent strongly oppose ObamaCare, while only 25 percent strongly support it — must be particularly alarming to the White House. Obama’s overall approval ratings, 53 percent, are surely a concern for them as well, given the downward trajectory Obama is on. And the generic congressional vote showing the GOP up one is certain to garner some attention.

A second poll comes from Gallup and shows that only 1 in 4 Americans believes a new health-care-reform law would improve their personal medical care. According to Gallup: “The wariness with which the public approaches the possible effects of healthcare reform on their personal situations is evident from results showing that more Americans say healthcare would worsen their medical care and reduce their access to healthcare, than say it would have the contrasting, positive effects. . . . These results do not coalesce into a terribly optimistic picture of Americans’ views of the perceived impact of healthcare reform.” (h/t: William Kristol)

A third notable story can be found in Politico, where we read:

Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama’s political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats. The issue advantage has shifted as well, with Democrats facing the brunt of criticism about the pace of stimulus package spending, anxiety over rising unemployment rates and widespread uneasiness over the twin pillars of Obama’s legislative agenda: his cap-and-trade approach to climate change and the emerging health care bill.

In arguing that Republicans find themselves on the offensive for the first time since 2004, the Politico story cites the reconfigured political landscape, with Republican candidates leading in the polls in two key gubernatorial elections scheduled for later this year, in New Jersey and Virginia. The story also points out that national Republicans have recently met with success in “persuading a number of top recruits to commit to 2010 races that not so long ago looked considerably less attractive — the surest signal that potential GOP candidates view the playing field as less tilted against them than just a few months earlier.”

Fourth is a story in National Journal, which reports that a mini-resurgence of the moderate GOP brand is quietly taking place in the Northeast.

It’s still too early to say Obama and Democrats are in free fall — but it’s not too early to say they’re in some real trouble. All these developments are taking place within a certain context. President Obama is completing what for him has been quite a bad month: his signature initiative is becoming increasingly toxic, and Obama himself is beginning to bleed politically. His loss of support among independents and the rising opposition to his health-care proposals are the two most alarming developments for the president. In addition, restlessness and wariness among Democrats have quickly given way to deep concern; their angst is increasing with every passing day. That may well be amplified during the August recess, when members of Congress hear directly from their constituents about the exploding deficit and debt, their frustration with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, and their opposition to nationalizing our health-care system.

A revealing couple of straws in the wind can be found in my home state of Virginia, where Republican Bob McDonnell turned the first debate into a referendum on Obama’s national agenda, forcing Democrat Creigh Deeds on the defensive. And Deeds has now missed two Obama health-care events in Virginia — including a town-hall meeting in Bristol today — since he won his party’s nomination on June 9.

Here’s a fairly safe prediction: if the GOP ends up carrying the New Jersey and Virginia governor races in November — and the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Republican Chris Christie up by a dozen points against sitting governor Jon Corzine, and McDonnell is now up several points against Deeds — you’ll see near panic among Democrats. The reason is that while politicians watch poll numbers closely, they watch election returns most closely of all. And if Democrats lose statewide elections in places like Virginia and New Jersey, and Obama is seen to be a contributing factor in those losses, then you may well see a stampede away from ObamaCare and Obamaism.

The political winds have shifted in fairly dramatic ways. Republicans are far from in the clear; they still have significant problems they need to repair. But they do have an opening most pundits didn’t think they’d be presented with, and far sooner than anyone could have imagined.

All of this can, of course, change. The president is a skillful man, and it’s possible for events to break his way. But for now, we can say that Barack Obama — the darling of the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books; Time and Newsweek; MSNBC and CNN; the greatest president since Roosevelt; a person who belongs in the same breath as Lincoln; Evan Thomas’s “sort of God” — is pumping new life into the GOP and may be turning America into a more conservative nation. What a strange and endlessly fascinating world politics can be.

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“Dear Skip”

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse pens a charming and devastating letter to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (“Skip”). It should be read in full, but two points are especially noteworthy.

As a linguistic scholar, Wisse catches Gates adopting the false tone and language of stereotypical blacks:

What puzzles me most in the report of your actions — or reactions — on July 16 is why you would have chosen, as I’ve heard you put it elsewhere, to “talk Black” to officer Crowley instead of “talking White” as you so eloquently and regularly do? These are distinctions I’ve heard you expound — how educated African Americans switch their register of speech depending on what part of themselves they want to get across. Many of us do something similar inside and outside our particular communities, but you make it sound like a sport that is also for African Americans a tool of survival. So why didn’t you address the policemen as fellow Cambridgians? What was that “yo’ mama” talk instead of saying simply, in the same register your interlocutor was using, “Look, officer, I’m sorry for your trouble. Thanks for checking on my house when you thought I was being burgled, but this is my home, and if you give me a minute, I’ll find the piece of mail or license that proves it to you.” It seems it wasn’t the policeman doing the profiling, it was you. You played him for a racist cop and treated him disrespectfully. Had you truly feared bias, you would surely have behaved in a more controlled, rather than a less controlled, way.

Her point is well taken: this is not a case of racism but of playacting racism. Gates is an actor in this skit, and Crowley is the assigned villain. We are in the world of fiction. The president made the mistake of thinking this was something other than a staged event.

And second, Wisse firmly calls Gates out for behavior more typical of a Hollywood celebrity — the anger induced by failure of the little people to recognize him and show sufficient deference:

Rather than taking offense at being racially profiled, weren’t you instead insulted that someone as prominent as you was being subjected to a regular police routine? A Harvard professor and public figure — should you have to be treated like an ordinary citizen? But that’s the greatness of this country: enforcers of the law are expected to treat all alike, to protect the house of a black man no less carefully than that of white neighbors. You and I entrust our protection to these police, and we also entrust to them the protection of Harvard students. These are the police who were called in on May 18 to deal with the shooting of Justin Cosby, 21, inside one of the Harvard dorms by suspects who, like him, were African Americans. Has any case ever been dealt with more discreetly — likely at least in part because it involved African Americans? Should we not be encouraging all students to live within the law and to consider ourselves on the side of the law unless clearly and manifestly demonstrated otherwise? Is it not for faculty to set an example of politeness, civility, responsibility, and cool temper?

This is the unseemly side of liberalism — the elevation of victimology, extreme condescension, and the use of race as a weapon to with which to browbeat others. The president did his friend no favors by focusing our attention on this incident. Perhaps next time the president and the media chorus will think twice before trying to convert a snooty Harvard professor’s rudeness into an iconographic episode of racism.

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse pens a charming and devastating letter to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (“Skip”). It should be read in full, but two points are especially noteworthy.

As a linguistic scholar, Wisse catches Gates adopting the false tone and language of stereotypical blacks:

What puzzles me most in the report of your actions — or reactions — on July 16 is why you would have chosen, as I’ve heard you put it elsewhere, to “talk Black” to officer Crowley instead of “talking White” as you so eloquently and regularly do? These are distinctions I’ve heard you expound — how educated African Americans switch their register of speech depending on what part of themselves they want to get across. Many of us do something similar inside and outside our particular communities, but you make it sound like a sport that is also for African Americans a tool of survival. So why didn’t you address the policemen as fellow Cambridgians? What was that “yo’ mama” talk instead of saying simply, in the same register your interlocutor was using, “Look, officer, I’m sorry for your trouble. Thanks for checking on my house when you thought I was being burgled, but this is my home, and if you give me a minute, I’ll find the piece of mail or license that proves it to you.” It seems it wasn’t the policeman doing the profiling, it was you. You played him for a racist cop and treated him disrespectfully. Had you truly feared bias, you would surely have behaved in a more controlled, rather than a less controlled, way.

Her point is well taken: this is not a case of racism but of playacting racism. Gates is an actor in this skit, and Crowley is the assigned villain. We are in the world of fiction. The president made the mistake of thinking this was something other than a staged event.

And second, Wisse firmly calls Gates out for behavior more typical of a Hollywood celebrity — the anger induced by failure of the little people to recognize him and show sufficient deference:

Rather than taking offense at being racially profiled, weren’t you instead insulted that someone as prominent as you was being subjected to a regular police routine? A Harvard professor and public figure — should you have to be treated like an ordinary citizen? But that’s the greatness of this country: enforcers of the law are expected to treat all alike, to protect the house of a black man no less carefully than that of white neighbors. You and I entrust our protection to these police, and we also entrust to them the protection of Harvard students. These are the police who were called in on May 18 to deal with the shooting of Justin Cosby, 21, inside one of the Harvard dorms by suspects who, like him, were African Americans. Has any case ever been dealt with more discreetly — likely at least in part because it involved African Americans? Should we not be encouraging all students to live within the law and to consider ourselves on the side of the law unless clearly and manifestly demonstrated otherwise? Is it not for faculty to set an example of politeness, civility, responsibility, and cool temper?

This is the unseemly side of liberalism — the elevation of victimology, extreme condescension, and the use of race as a weapon to with which to browbeat others. The president did his friend no favors by focusing our attention on this incident. Perhaps next time the president and the media chorus will think twice before trying to convert a snooty Harvard professor’s rudeness into an iconographic episode of racism.

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Pinching Pennies in a Spending Spree

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that Robert Gibbs press conferences are not the only source of comedy gold. In a piece entitled “In a Savings Shocker, the Government Discovers That Paper Has Two Sides,” Jonathan Weisman writes:

With the budget deficit soaring toward $2 trillion, the Department of Justice has figured out how to play its part: double-sided photocopying. There are other acts of national sacrifice. The Forest Service will no longer repaint its new, white vehicles green immediately upon purchase. The Army will start packing more soldiers onto R&R flights. The Navy will delete unused email accounts. Three months ago, President Barack Obama ordered his cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year to emphasize the point that he, too, was serious about belt-tightening. They responded with $102 million. That is 0.006% of the estimated federal deficit. The list of 77 spending cuts, which the White House is calling “the $100 million savings challenge,” reflects the vastness of government — and its vast inefficiency. Hundreds of millions of dollars in savings were found simply by casting around for areas to trim. Still, the reductions barely scratch the surface. “Some of these cuts are so small they would be a rounding error of a rounding error in the federal budget,” said Brian Riedl, a federal budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. They also show how “unbelievably outdated” the government is, he said.

“I mean, emailing around the daily press clips instead of printing them out and distributing them? That should not have been necessitated by a presidential order.”

What is pathetic is not simply how many years behind the private sector the government is in a variety of ways (and these are the people who want to run your health care and make it “cheaper” by a public option) but also the contempt those in office must have for the intelligence of voters. All this scrimping (maybe to be followed by fishing pennies out of the fountains) is meant to show some sense of fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile, the president and Congress spend trillions on top of trillions on stimulus, budget, and health-care plans. This is the proverbial Diet Coke with the ice cream sundae.

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that Robert Gibbs press conferences are not the only source of comedy gold. In a piece entitled “In a Savings Shocker, the Government Discovers That Paper Has Two Sides,” Jonathan Weisman writes:

With the budget deficit soaring toward $2 trillion, the Department of Justice has figured out how to play its part: double-sided photocopying. There are other acts of national sacrifice. The Forest Service will no longer repaint its new, white vehicles green immediately upon purchase. The Army will start packing more soldiers onto R&R flights. The Navy will delete unused email accounts. Three months ago, President Barack Obama ordered his cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in budget cuts for the current fiscal year to emphasize the point that he, too, was serious about belt-tightening. They responded with $102 million. That is 0.006% of the estimated federal deficit. The list of 77 spending cuts, which the White House is calling “the $100 million savings challenge,” reflects the vastness of government — and its vast inefficiency. Hundreds of millions of dollars in savings were found simply by casting around for areas to trim. Still, the reductions barely scratch the surface. “Some of these cuts are so small they would be a rounding error of a rounding error in the federal budget,” said Brian Riedl, a federal budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. They also show how “unbelievably outdated” the government is, he said.

“I mean, emailing around the daily press clips instead of printing them out and distributing them? That should not have been necessitated by a presidential order.”

What is pathetic is not simply how many years behind the private sector the government is in a variety of ways (and these are the people who want to run your health care and make it “cheaper” by a public option) but also the contempt those in office must have for the intelligence of voters. All this scrimping (maybe to be followed by fishing pennies out of the fountains) is meant to show some sense of fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile, the president and Congress spend trillions on top of trillions on stimulus, budget, and health-care plans. This is the proverbial Diet Coke with the ice cream sundae.

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Is Engagement a Strategy or an Ideology for Obama?

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Obama administration gave Middle East envoy George Mitchell a treat to bring to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad when Mitchell stopped off in Damascus on Sunday: a presidential fiat will ease sanctions on Syria. According to the Journal, “the U.S. decision targets spare aircraft parts, information-technology products and telecommunications equipment, sales of which have been restricted by U.S. sanctions on Syria enacted in 2004.”

All of which is very nice for the Assad family and Alawite-minority business that runs that country, while it helps their ally Iran export terrorism via Hamas and Hezbollah and keep its neighbor Lebanon under its thumb.

The point of making nice with Assad is to tempt him to break up his country’s 30-year-old alliance with Tehran and to make peace with Israel. These are laudable goals, but the problem is that the Syrians have been listening to such overtures and then cheerfully rebuffing them since Jimmy Carter was president. Though the younger Assad seems like the sort of fellow who would want to align himself with the West rather than with the nasty Shiite clerics in Iran, his regime’s legitimacy rests on the same principles as those of his father, Hafez: war against Israel and hegemony over Lebanon. Take away these foundations and what possible justification can there be for a dictatorship run by a family from a religious minority?

The Assads may say they will make peace if they get the Golan Heights from Israel, but they have proved over and over again that they much prefer to rule a Golan-less Syria than to have Syria, with the Golan, run by somebody else.

All of which means the Obama administration’s optimism about flipping Syria from being an ally of Iran to joining the club of moderate Arabs headed by Egypt and Jordan is, at best, unrealistic and, at worst, seriously deluded, especially since efforts to appease Syria inevitably come at the expense of Israel.

But even as we watch the latest attempt to bribe the Assads lead to inevitable disappointment, it is also interesting to note the incongruity of an administration that is trying to simultaneously engage both Iran and its ally. If Obama’s Middle East strategy is to throw enough baksheesh at Damascus to abandon Tehran, doesn’t anybody in Washington realize that the Syrians are aware that U.S. talks without preconditions with Iran will mean similar attempts to bribe the ayatollahs into behaving regarding nuclear development?

If the goal were to isolate Iran by stripping it of its allies, we’d probably have a better chance of achieving it if the Syrians actually believed that the West meant business about stopping the Iranians’ nuclear program. But given Washington’s signals about engagement with Iran and about defense umbrellas for those it threatens — a not-so-subtle hint that nobody here thinks they can stop Iran from getting nukes — why should Assad abandon Iran when it is obviously winning the game? An alliance with a nuclear Iran that is itself being appeased by the Americans is a much better bet for the longevity of Assad’s regime than is peace with Israel and the West.

That’s the problem with Obama’s promiscuous engagement policy. Engaging with all the bad guys ensures that none of them will think you mean business about achieving your policy objectives, which in this case are no nukes for Iran, an end to funding Syria and Iran’s terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah, and independence for Lebanon. For this administration, engagement isn’t a coherent strategy; it’s an ideology. And like any policy based on blind faith, it is doomed to fail.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Obama administration gave Middle East envoy George Mitchell a treat to bring to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad when Mitchell stopped off in Damascus on Sunday: a presidential fiat will ease sanctions on Syria. According to the Journal, “the U.S. decision targets spare aircraft parts, information-technology products and telecommunications equipment, sales of which have been restricted by U.S. sanctions on Syria enacted in 2004.”

All of which is very nice for the Assad family and Alawite-minority business that runs that country, while it helps their ally Iran export terrorism via Hamas and Hezbollah and keep its neighbor Lebanon under its thumb.

The point of making nice with Assad is to tempt him to break up his country’s 30-year-old alliance with Tehran and to make peace with Israel. These are laudable goals, but the problem is that the Syrians have been listening to such overtures and then cheerfully rebuffing them since Jimmy Carter was president. Though the younger Assad seems like the sort of fellow who would want to align himself with the West rather than with the nasty Shiite clerics in Iran, his regime’s legitimacy rests on the same principles as those of his father, Hafez: war against Israel and hegemony over Lebanon. Take away these foundations and what possible justification can there be for a dictatorship run by a family from a religious minority?

The Assads may say they will make peace if they get the Golan Heights from Israel, but they have proved over and over again that they much prefer to rule a Golan-less Syria than to have Syria, with the Golan, run by somebody else.

All of which means the Obama administration’s optimism about flipping Syria from being an ally of Iran to joining the club of moderate Arabs headed by Egypt and Jordan is, at best, unrealistic and, at worst, seriously deluded, especially since efforts to appease Syria inevitably come at the expense of Israel.

But even as we watch the latest attempt to bribe the Assads lead to inevitable disappointment, it is also interesting to note the incongruity of an administration that is trying to simultaneously engage both Iran and its ally. If Obama’s Middle East strategy is to throw enough baksheesh at Damascus to abandon Tehran, doesn’t anybody in Washington realize that the Syrians are aware that U.S. talks without preconditions with Iran will mean similar attempts to bribe the ayatollahs into behaving regarding nuclear development?

If the goal were to isolate Iran by stripping it of its allies, we’d probably have a better chance of achieving it if the Syrians actually believed that the West meant business about stopping the Iranians’ nuclear program. But given Washington’s signals about engagement with Iran and about defense umbrellas for those it threatens — a not-so-subtle hint that nobody here thinks they can stop Iran from getting nukes — why should Assad abandon Iran when it is obviously winning the game? An alliance with a nuclear Iran that is itself being appeased by the Americans is a much better bet for the longevity of Assad’s regime than is peace with Israel and the West.

That’s the problem with Obama’s promiscuous engagement policy. Engaging with all the bad guys ensures that none of them will think you mean business about achieving your policy objectives, which in this case are no nukes for Iran, an end to funding Syria and Iran’s terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah, and independence for Lebanon. For this administration, engagement isn’t a coherent strategy; it’s an ideology. And like any policy based on blind faith, it is doomed to fail.

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Way More than a $239B Problem

Chuck Blahous of the Hudson Institute writing in Politico makes a key point about CBO’s devastating report: it is worse than you thought. The media seized on the $239 billion that would be added to the deficit if ObamaCare passed. But the real number is $820 billion — the estimated (and likely lowball) calculation over 10 years. He concludes:

The representation has been made that health care reform is the key to repairing the long-term budget outlook — more important than Social Security reform, more important than all other entitlement reforms, more important than all other spending reforms combined. If health care reform fails to fix any of these fiscal problems — instead adding enormously to projected deficits — then the government will have created an irreparable fiscal problem. In this nightmare scenario, health care reforms far worsen the outlook, both in the near term and the long term, and large tax increases are needed simply to offset this further damage, even before beginning the serious work of repairing our dire current-law fiscal outlook.

[. . .]

Whatever happened to health care reform being the key to fixing our long-term finances? We all agree that the status quo in health care financing is unsustainable. Exactly what is the economic argument for making this dreadful situation worse by $800 billion in the near term and by trillions over the long term? The president’s words are very clear: He has promised not to sign health care reforms that add one dime to the deficit. He most definitely did not say, “I will sign health care reforms that add enormously to the deficit and impose large tax increases to offset that.”

The public and the press need to demand that Congress meet the president’s explicitly stated standard. This means repairing not a $239 billion hole but an $820 billion one in the current legislation.

No wonder the Blue Dogs are howling about the House Democratic leadership’s bill. It plainly takes us in the opposite direction from fiscal sobriety, which leads to another question: Why is the president supporting something that undermines his stated objections? Two possibilities come to mind. He might be as uninformed about the bill as he is about tonsil surgery and the Cambridge police. Alternatively, all the talk of budget control might be disingenuous, a sop to moderates but ultimately nonserious (this theory explains why he would sign on to a $787 billion stimulus and a $3.5 trillion budget).

Whatever the explanation for his embrace of a bill more fiscally irresponsible than anything yet attempted in his presidency (no small feat), the fact remains that if one cares about the “unsustainable” debt (another Obama phrase), then ObamaCare is a nonstarter.

Chuck Blahous of the Hudson Institute writing in Politico makes a key point about CBO’s devastating report: it is worse than you thought. The media seized on the $239 billion that would be added to the deficit if ObamaCare passed. But the real number is $820 billion — the estimated (and likely lowball) calculation over 10 years. He concludes:

The representation has been made that health care reform is the key to repairing the long-term budget outlook — more important than Social Security reform, more important than all other entitlement reforms, more important than all other spending reforms combined. If health care reform fails to fix any of these fiscal problems — instead adding enormously to projected deficits — then the government will have created an irreparable fiscal problem. In this nightmare scenario, health care reforms far worsen the outlook, both in the near term and the long term, and large tax increases are needed simply to offset this further damage, even before beginning the serious work of repairing our dire current-law fiscal outlook.

[. . .]

Whatever happened to health care reform being the key to fixing our long-term finances? We all agree that the status quo in health care financing is unsustainable. Exactly what is the economic argument for making this dreadful situation worse by $800 billion in the near term and by trillions over the long term? The president’s words are very clear: He has promised not to sign health care reforms that add one dime to the deficit. He most definitely did not say, “I will sign health care reforms that add enormously to the deficit and impose large tax increases to offset that.”

The public and the press need to demand that Congress meet the president’s explicitly stated standard. This means repairing not a $239 billion hole but an $820 billion one in the current legislation.

No wonder the Blue Dogs are howling about the House Democratic leadership’s bill. It plainly takes us in the opposite direction from fiscal sobriety, which leads to another question: Why is the president supporting something that undermines his stated objections? Two possibilities come to mind. He might be as uninformed about the bill as he is about tonsil surgery and the Cambridge police. Alternatively, all the talk of budget control might be disingenuous, a sop to moderates but ultimately nonserious (this theory explains why he would sign on to a $787 billion stimulus and a $3.5 trillion budget).

Whatever the explanation for his embrace of a bill more fiscally irresponsible than anything yet attempted in his presidency (no small feat), the fact remains that if one cares about the “unsustainable” debt (another Obama phrase), then ObamaCare is a nonstarter.

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At Least They‘re Not Confused

According to excerpts from Tehran’s state-run Kayhan newspaper quoted by Amir Taheri on July 28 in the New York Post, the Iranian regime views the mixed signals from the Obama administration as unambiguous. Hillary Clinton’s statements last week about the U.S. nuclear umbrella apparently did not generate a sense of confusion in Tehran:

“America’s strategic needs in the region are so intense that the Obama administration is prepared to accept the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran,” [Kayhan] said in an editorial Sunday. It claimed that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already informed allies in the region of that “acceptance.”

The paper said: “In her speech last week, Clinton accepted the assumption of a nuclear-armed Iran. She only tried to show that the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran has been exaggerated and that the classical doctrine of deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction could work with Iran as it did with other nuclear powers.”

Taheri goes on to note that the Kayhan editorial “is of special interest because it implicitly admits that the Islamic Republic is at least planning to develop a nuclear arsenal. It contains none of the usual denials and claims that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that the uranium it is enriching is for producing electricity.” In Taheri’s view, the editorial outlines Iran’s perception of an emerging U.S. bargaining position — the hope for Iranian endorsement of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in exchange for de facto recognition of Iran as a nuclear power.

The Iranians can be pardoned for the clarity of their deductions. In addition to Clinton’s history of speaking in the terms of nuclear deterrence, Obama and Secretary Gates have been consistent in suggesting a deadline of “this fall” for Iran to avoid being targeted by fresh sanctions, with the UN General Assembly meeting in late September posited as a key marker on the time line. As the latest IAEA report from June 5 makes clear, however, by then Iran expects to start fueling the reactor at Bushehr. The Bushehr reactor is not the highest-priority facility for a weapons program, but once it is fueled, targeting it with air strikes would likely release radioactive contaminants into the Persian Gulf. Israel timed the Osirak strike in 1981 before the reactor was to be fueled, to avoid that concern.

The technological significance to a weapons program of getting the reactor in operation would not be as great as the political significance of bringing it online before any effective U.S. deadline — and without intervention by Israel. Iran could achieve no greater political triumph in 2009 than putting the Bushehr reactor in operation. If Amir Taheri is right, we should have a pretty good idea how the regime hopes to bring that off.

According to excerpts from Tehran’s state-run Kayhan newspaper quoted by Amir Taheri on July 28 in the New York Post, the Iranian regime views the mixed signals from the Obama administration as unambiguous. Hillary Clinton’s statements last week about the U.S. nuclear umbrella apparently did not generate a sense of confusion in Tehran:

“America’s strategic needs in the region are so intense that the Obama administration is prepared to accept the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran,” [Kayhan] said in an editorial Sunday. It claimed that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already informed allies in the region of that “acceptance.”

The paper said: “In her speech last week, Clinton accepted the assumption of a nuclear-armed Iran. She only tried to show that the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran has been exaggerated and that the classical doctrine of deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction could work with Iran as it did with other nuclear powers.”

Taheri goes on to note that the Kayhan editorial “is of special interest because it implicitly admits that the Islamic Republic is at least planning to develop a nuclear arsenal. It contains none of the usual denials and claims that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that the uranium it is enriching is for producing electricity.” In Taheri’s view, the editorial outlines Iran’s perception of an emerging U.S. bargaining position — the hope for Iranian endorsement of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in exchange for de facto recognition of Iran as a nuclear power.

The Iranians can be pardoned for the clarity of their deductions. In addition to Clinton’s history of speaking in the terms of nuclear deterrence, Obama and Secretary Gates have been consistent in suggesting a deadline of “this fall” for Iran to avoid being targeted by fresh sanctions, with the UN General Assembly meeting in late September posited as a key marker on the time line. As the latest IAEA report from June 5 makes clear, however, by then Iran expects to start fueling the reactor at Bushehr. The Bushehr reactor is not the highest-priority facility for a weapons program, but once it is fueled, targeting it with air strikes would likely release radioactive contaminants into the Persian Gulf. Israel timed the Osirak strike in 1981 before the reactor was to be fueled, to avoid that concern.

The technological significance to a weapons program of getting the reactor in operation would not be as great as the political significance of bringing it online before any effective U.S. deadline — and without intervention by Israel. Iran could achieve no greater political triumph in 2009 than putting the Bushehr reactor in operation. If Amir Taheri is right, we should have a pretty good idea how the regime hopes to bring that off.

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Not Even NPR Delivers Obama Good News

A new NPR poll delivers some interesting tidbits. Obama’s approval ratings are down to 53 percent, and Republicans lead by one point in the generic congressional polls. Forty-eight percent of voters agree with this statement: “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses,” while only 45 percent agree with this: “President Obama’s economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis, and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” Thirty-nine percent strongly oppose his health-care plan; 25 percent strongly favor it. Overall, voters oppose ObamaCare by a 47-42 percent margin.

The White House team, of course, thinks the president is the administration’s most effective weapon. But right now, on who should control Congress, on the stimulus plan, and on the health-care plan, the public sides with Republicans — that hapless, supposedly brand-damaged group that couldn’t shoot straight. Simply by saying no and pointing to some powerful economic evidence and to their opponents’ overreach, Republicans are making the case against Obamaism.

The cumulative evidence suggests that Obama — despite a cushy media environment, a congressional majority to amplify his message, and a reservoir of goodwill from voters — is faltering. It is a mistake to conclude that this is not repairable or that he has “lost” the public. After all, 53 percent of the public still approve of his job performance. But only the most obsessive Obama-spinners can deny that he and his key initiatives are increasingly being met with skepticism. He can rail at the “24-hour news cycle” or he can adjust his policies and his message. The former comes easily to a team convinced of their own virtue and political skills; the latter requires some self-awareness, humility, and willingness to depart from rigid ideology. Which will he choose? I have my suspicions, but let’s see how savvy the Obama team is when confronted with growing resistance to their ultraliberal agenda.

A new NPR poll delivers some interesting tidbits. Obama’s approval ratings are down to 53 percent, and Republicans lead by one point in the generic congressional polls. Forty-eight percent of voters agree with this statement: “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses,” while only 45 percent agree with this: “President Obama’s economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis, and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” Thirty-nine percent strongly oppose his health-care plan; 25 percent strongly favor it. Overall, voters oppose ObamaCare by a 47-42 percent margin.

The White House team, of course, thinks the president is the administration’s most effective weapon. But right now, on who should control Congress, on the stimulus plan, and on the health-care plan, the public sides with Republicans — that hapless, supposedly brand-damaged group that couldn’t shoot straight. Simply by saying no and pointing to some powerful economic evidence and to their opponents’ overreach, Republicans are making the case against Obamaism.

The cumulative evidence suggests that Obama — despite a cushy media environment, a congressional majority to amplify his message, and a reservoir of goodwill from voters — is faltering. It is a mistake to conclude that this is not repairable or that he has “lost” the public. After all, 53 percent of the public still approve of his job performance. But only the most obsessive Obama-spinners can deny that he and his key initiatives are increasingly being met with skepticism. He can rail at the “24-hour news cycle” or he can adjust his policies and his message. The former comes easily to a team convinced of their own virtue and political skills; the latter requires some self-awareness, humility, and willingness to depart from rigid ideology. Which will he choose? I have my suspicions, but let’s see how savvy the Obama team is when confronted with growing resistance to their ultraliberal agenda.

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Re: Culture War Replaces Missile War

Michael Totten draws attention to the apparent decision by Hamas to take a brief hiatus from active terror attacks in order to engage themselves in a “culture war,” which includes the production of at least one movie. Now it seems that over in the West Bank, the terrorists have started a culture war of their own. Their prime target: Bruno, aka the Jew and occasional Hebrew-speaker Sacha Baron Cohen. A few days ago, we learned that one of Bruno’s interviewees, a former operative for the Al-Aksa Martyr’s Brigade who spent seven years in an Israeli prison, was suing Baron Cohen for playing a “dirty trick” to get the interview and for implicitly portraying the ex-con as a “homo.” (“If someone here calls you a homo, it’s a very serious insult,” his lawyer said.)

And so, for just a few days, we all got to enjoy the splendid irony of an organization dedicated to killing innocent people trying to claim its right to preserve its pristine reputation as being straight — that is, of a convicted terrorist suing somebody for defamation.

But then, reason set in. “Wait a minute,” the folks at Al-Aksa apparently said to themselves. “We’re terrorists. We don’t accept Western institutions of law. ‘Doh!”

Alas, all ironies must end, either by correction or by dissolution into cliché. And so we learn that Al-Aksa has chosen the former route, issuing an apparent death threat to Baron Cohen. The supreme satirist has been forced to add bodyguards to his list of liabilities. The rest of us, however, can breathe easier knowing that terrorists can only pretend civil legitimacy for brief spurts before revealing their nefarious nature. So much for the culture war.

And whatever you do, don’t call them gay. It really makes them mad.

Michael Totten draws attention to the apparent decision by Hamas to take a brief hiatus from active terror attacks in order to engage themselves in a “culture war,” which includes the production of at least one movie. Now it seems that over in the West Bank, the terrorists have started a culture war of their own. Their prime target: Bruno, aka the Jew and occasional Hebrew-speaker Sacha Baron Cohen. A few days ago, we learned that one of Bruno’s interviewees, a former operative for the Al-Aksa Martyr’s Brigade who spent seven years in an Israeli prison, was suing Baron Cohen for playing a “dirty trick” to get the interview and for implicitly portraying the ex-con as a “homo.” (“If someone here calls you a homo, it’s a very serious insult,” his lawyer said.)

And so, for just a few days, we all got to enjoy the splendid irony of an organization dedicated to killing innocent people trying to claim its right to preserve its pristine reputation as being straight — that is, of a convicted terrorist suing somebody for defamation.

But then, reason set in. “Wait a minute,” the folks at Al-Aksa apparently said to themselves. “We’re terrorists. We don’t accept Western institutions of law. ‘Doh!”

Alas, all ironies must end, either by correction or by dissolution into cliché. And so we learn that Al-Aksa has chosen the former route, issuing an apparent death threat to Baron Cohen. The supreme satirist has been forced to add bodyguards to his list of liabilities. The rest of us, however, can breathe easier knowing that terrorists can only pretend civil legitimacy for brief spurts before revealing their nefarious nature. So much for the culture war.

And whatever you do, don’t call them gay. It really makes them mad.

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Red Lines for Obama?

Many thanks to Jeffrey Goldberg, both for taking a reader’s question “paraphrasing” me as to whether there is “any red line for [him] vis-a-vis Obama and Israel?” and for again demonstrating that there is apparently nothing Obama can do that would offend a certain segment of American Jewry. Parroting the Obama line, he declares:

What matters in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. Everything else is commentary, and not Jennifer Rubin’s commentary, btw. I’m hoping that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem become the capital of the independent state of Palestine. I would expect that Jews will be allowed to visit these places (I’m sure there’s some rock or stone in one of these places that matters to some Jew or other) and even live in them. But Israel’s future depends on disengaging from Arab population centers acquired in 1967.

How nice for him to decide where Israel’s Jews can live and how foolish of him not to recognize that Israel’s future actually depends on things such as Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and the persistent rejectionism of the Palestinians and many of the Arab states.

But as to his reader’s query, the liberal domestic agenda is too precious and the loss of face too great in having supported the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever) for many (but certainly not all) liberal Jews to take issue with Obama’s fractured history, effort to renege on agreements on settlements, condescending advice (go “self-reflect”), and intention to “put daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. What would never be acceptable from a Bush or a Reagan gets no more than a bat of the eye from Obama. Sadly, the need to demonstrate independence from the dreaded “neo-cons” is greater than the need to demonstrate independence from a president hostile to Israel.

The good news is that for some prominent Jewish leaders, there are in fact red lines. And they are increasingly willing to talk about them.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Goldberg, both for taking a reader’s question “paraphrasing” me as to whether there is “any red line for [him] vis-a-vis Obama and Israel?” and for again demonstrating that there is apparently nothing Obama can do that would offend a certain segment of American Jewry. Parroting the Obama line, he declares:

What matters in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. Everything else is commentary, and not Jennifer Rubin’s commentary, btw. I’m hoping that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem become the capital of the independent state of Palestine. I would expect that Jews will be allowed to visit these places (I’m sure there’s some rock or stone in one of these places that matters to some Jew or other) and even live in them. But Israel’s future depends on disengaging from Arab population centers acquired in 1967.

How nice for him to decide where Israel’s Jews can live and how foolish of him not to recognize that Israel’s future actually depends on things such as Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and the persistent rejectionism of the Palestinians and many of the Arab states.

But as to his reader’s query, the liberal domestic agenda is too precious and the loss of face too great in having supported the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever) for many (but certainly not all) liberal Jews to take issue with Obama’s fractured history, effort to renege on agreements on settlements, condescending advice (go “self-reflect”), and intention to “put daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. What would never be acceptable from a Bush or a Reagan gets no more than a bat of the eye from Obama. Sadly, the need to demonstrate independence from the dreaded “neo-cons” is greater than the need to demonstrate independence from a president hostile to Israel.

The good news is that for some prominent Jewish leaders, there are in fact red lines. And they are increasingly willing to talk about them.

Read Less

Conflict Avoidance Is Not a Foreign Policy

As Abe Greenwald has noted, Obama lacks a foreign policy ideology. Michael Gerson makes the case that it’s worse than that:

But even lacking an ideology, the administration does have a doctrine. The defining principle of President Obama’s foreign policy is engagement with America’s adversaries. Much of the president’s public diplomacy has been designed to clear a path for such talks — expressing respect for legitimate grievances, apologizing for past wrongs and offering dialogue without preconditions.

Six months on, how fares the Obama doctrine? Concerning North Korea and Iran, the doctrine is on its deathbed.

Let us start by pointing out that “engagement” is neither an ideology nor a doctrine; at best, it is a means to an end. But what end? Well, to make conflicts go away, liberals might tell us. To ease America’s alleged isolation in the world. These, we were told, were the by-products of American belligerence and unilateralism. (Let’s put aside that the formerly warm relations with countries like Israel, Britain, and India are decidedly less warm now.) But George W. Bush is gone. And Obama’s hand is being slapped again and again. Hugo Chavez is in a snit that we aren’t pushing harder to reinstate Zelaya. Iran is murdering its own people. (Well, at least more than usual.) North Korea is setting off missiles, has grabbed two journalists, and claims it’s after ICBMs. No one really wants to talk.

Gerson finds the silver lining:

The Obama administration’s public campaign of engaging enemies is headed toward an entirely unintended consequence. Eventually it will raise expectations for action. As the extended hand is slapped again and again, the goals of North Korea and Iran will be fully revealed and the cost to American credibility will rise. Already the administration has given Iran a September deadline to respond to the offer of talks and has threatened “crippling action” if Iran achieves nuclear capabilities. Congress is preparing sanctions on Iranian refined petroleum, which would escalate tensions significantly.

This is the paradox of the Obama doctrine. By attempting to engage North Korea and Iran so visibly, Obama is dramatically exposing the limits of engagement — and building the case for confrontation.

Perhaps. But it is equally possible that the administration will be strung along by rogue states clever enough to show up at the “engagement” table and talk and talk, all the while pursuing their original goals.

Obama’s foreign policy is hobbled by a fundamental misunderstanding of our adversaries and their goals and by the willingness to subsume American interests in order to avoid conflict. It is a formula destined to fail as it slowly dawns on the administration that our adversaries are not simply misunderstood but have interests antithetical to ours. And then, having discarded many instruments to manage conflicts (e.g., regime change, robust funding for national defense) and denigrated his country, Obama may find it all the more difficult to rally allies and address the real conflicts that cannot be wished — or talked — away.

As Abe Greenwald has noted, Obama lacks a foreign policy ideology. Michael Gerson makes the case that it’s worse than that:

But even lacking an ideology, the administration does have a doctrine. The defining principle of President Obama’s foreign policy is engagement with America’s adversaries. Much of the president’s public diplomacy has been designed to clear a path for such talks — expressing respect for legitimate grievances, apologizing for past wrongs and offering dialogue without preconditions.

Six months on, how fares the Obama doctrine? Concerning North Korea and Iran, the doctrine is on its deathbed.

Let us start by pointing out that “engagement” is neither an ideology nor a doctrine; at best, it is a means to an end. But what end? Well, to make conflicts go away, liberals might tell us. To ease America’s alleged isolation in the world. These, we were told, were the by-products of American belligerence and unilateralism. (Let’s put aside that the formerly warm relations with countries like Israel, Britain, and India are decidedly less warm now.) But George W. Bush is gone. And Obama’s hand is being slapped again and again. Hugo Chavez is in a snit that we aren’t pushing harder to reinstate Zelaya. Iran is murdering its own people. (Well, at least more than usual.) North Korea is setting off missiles, has grabbed two journalists, and claims it’s after ICBMs. No one really wants to talk.

Gerson finds the silver lining:

The Obama administration’s public campaign of engaging enemies is headed toward an entirely unintended consequence. Eventually it will raise expectations for action. As the extended hand is slapped again and again, the goals of North Korea and Iran will be fully revealed and the cost to American credibility will rise. Already the administration has given Iran a September deadline to respond to the offer of talks and has threatened “crippling action” if Iran achieves nuclear capabilities. Congress is preparing sanctions on Iranian refined petroleum, which would escalate tensions significantly.

This is the paradox of the Obama doctrine. By attempting to engage North Korea and Iran so visibly, Obama is dramatically exposing the limits of engagement — and building the case for confrontation.

Perhaps. But it is equally possible that the administration will be strung along by rogue states clever enough to show up at the “engagement” table and talk and talk, all the while pursuing their original goals.

Obama’s foreign policy is hobbled by a fundamental misunderstanding of our adversaries and their goals and by the willingness to subsume American interests in order to avoid conflict. It is a formula destined to fail as it slowly dawns on the administration that our adversaries are not simply misunderstood but have interests antithetical to ours. And then, having discarded many instruments to manage conflicts (e.g., regime change, robust funding for national defense) and denigrated his country, Obama may find it all the more difficult to rally allies and address the real conflicts that cannot be wished — or talked — away.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Clever: “House GOP leaders are ramping up the pressure on centrist Democrats Tuesday by busing to the Hill and meeting with business owners from several Blue Dog districts who are opposed to the president’s health-care reform bill. The meeting with small-business owners is part of the ongoing effort by Republicans to attack what they consider to be a ‘government takeover’ of the country’s health-care system.”

And it all seemed to work: “Democratic leaders have apparently thrown in the towel — telling their Republican counterparts that there will be no health care vote on the House floor before the August recess starts this Friday, according to a Republican memo obtained by POLITICO.”

Not true, says Nancy Pelosi! They may vote after all. (Who gets the dirty work of finally holding the “no vote before the recess” press conference? Maybe they just leave town in the middle of the night like Bob Irsay.) Well, the hitch is that “the list of open issues grew longer rather than shorter.”

And sure enough, Roll Call says there’s no deal.

Clearly the left hand does not know what the far-left hand is doing: “President Obama defended his push for a new public health insurance plan Tuesday, just as key senators were considering leaving it out of their health reform bill.”

Marc Ambinder and TNR think Obama’s game plan is to lie to the Arab Street — get them “convinced that America is truly more neutral than it has seemed.” A foreign policy based on alienating our ally and lying to both sides. Simply brilliant, no? Well, no, actually.

Mickey Kaus: “Here’s a safe political prediction: Despite all the innovative e-mobilization and ad campaigns and town halls, the August recess will not produce any effective groundswell of popular support for Obama’s health care reform. Why? The ‘security’ message — which might appeal to the vast middle — is not getting through.” Well, that and the fact that the normal middle-class people they have to reach aren’t going to health-care town halls in August — they are going to the beach and to grandma’s house.

Gov. Jon Corzine in a heap of trouble: “The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling’s new survey shows Republican Chris Christie leading the embattled Democratic governor 50 to 36 percent with 14 percent undecided. That’s a larger deficit for Corzine than the last time PPP polled the race in June. . . . Corzine’s approval rating is at 33 percent, down a smidge from June’s 36 percent tally.” Will Obama try to throw him a lifeline or steer clear of the race? Unless Corzine gets to single digits, I suspect the latter.

Colin Powell has this wacky idea we should be polite to police officers.

A must-read take on Israel and Iran from John Bolton. “Relations between the U.S. and Israel are more strained now than at any time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Gates’s message for Israel not to act on Iran, and the U.S. pressure he brought to bear, highlight the weight of Israel’s lonely burden. Striking Iran’s nuclear program will not be precipitous or poorly thought out. Israel’s attack, if it happens, will have followed enormously difficult deliberation over terrible imponderables, and years of patiently waiting on innumerable failed diplomatic efforts. Absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.”

Could be: “The Democratic agenda in Washington has gone off the rails just as markets are enjoying their best run of the Obama presidency, and there’s a school of thought on Wall Street that it’s no coincidence.”

Clever: “House GOP leaders are ramping up the pressure on centrist Democrats Tuesday by busing to the Hill and meeting with business owners from several Blue Dog districts who are opposed to the president’s health-care reform bill. The meeting with small-business owners is part of the ongoing effort by Republicans to attack what they consider to be a ‘government takeover’ of the country’s health-care system.”

And it all seemed to work: “Democratic leaders have apparently thrown in the towel — telling their Republican counterparts that there will be no health care vote on the House floor before the August recess starts this Friday, according to a Republican memo obtained by POLITICO.”

Not true, says Nancy Pelosi! They may vote after all. (Who gets the dirty work of finally holding the “no vote before the recess” press conference? Maybe they just leave town in the middle of the night like Bob Irsay.) Well, the hitch is that “the list of open issues grew longer rather than shorter.”

And sure enough, Roll Call says there’s no deal.

Clearly the left hand does not know what the far-left hand is doing: “President Obama defended his push for a new public health insurance plan Tuesday, just as key senators were considering leaving it out of their health reform bill.”

Marc Ambinder and TNR think Obama’s game plan is to lie to the Arab Street — get them “convinced that America is truly more neutral than it has seemed.” A foreign policy based on alienating our ally and lying to both sides. Simply brilliant, no? Well, no, actually.

Mickey Kaus: “Here’s a safe political prediction: Despite all the innovative e-mobilization and ad campaigns and town halls, the August recess will not produce any effective groundswell of popular support for Obama’s health care reform. Why? The ‘security’ message — which might appeal to the vast middle — is not getting through.” Well, that and the fact that the normal middle-class people they have to reach aren’t going to health-care town halls in August — they are going to the beach and to grandma’s house.

Gov. Jon Corzine in a heap of trouble: “The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling’s new survey shows Republican Chris Christie leading the embattled Democratic governor 50 to 36 percent with 14 percent undecided. That’s a larger deficit for Corzine than the last time PPP polled the race in June. . . . Corzine’s approval rating is at 33 percent, down a smidge from June’s 36 percent tally.” Will Obama try to throw him a lifeline or steer clear of the race? Unless Corzine gets to single digits, I suspect the latter.

Colin Powell has this wacky idea we should be polite to police officers.

A must-read take on Israel and Iran from John Bolton. “Relations between the U.S. and Israel are more strained now than at any time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Gates’s message for Israel not to act on Iran, and the U.S. pressure he brought to bear, highlight the weight of Israel’s lonely burden. Striking Iran’s nuclear program will not be precipitous or poorly thought out. Israel’s attack, if it happens, will have followed enormously difficult deliberation over terrible imponderables, and years of patiently waiting on innumerable failed diplomatic efforts. Absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.”

Could be: “The Democratic agenda in Washington has gone off the rails just as markets are enjoying their best run of the Obama presidency, and there’s a school of thought on Wall Street that it’s no coincidence.”

Read Less




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