Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assigned — Not Sidelined?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Withdrawal from Iraq — Contemplating the Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

And John Bolton for Envoy to Iran!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Washington Post Notices the Obvious That Most Jews Strive to Ignore

Jennifer is right about the significance of today’s Washington Post editorial, which points out that “one of the more striking results of the Obama administration’s first six months is that only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel.”

But isn’t it curious that the Post would, today of all days, choose to note what a great many American Jews have been working overtime trying to ignore: the hostility of the Obama administration toward the State of Israel. In the Hebrew calendar, today is the ninth of Av, or Tisha b’Av, the date on which Jews commemorate some of the worst disasters in their history. The First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date. The expulsion of Jews from Spain was made official on Tisha b’Av, and subsequent persecutors of Jews, including the Nazis, also delighted in inaugurating new horrors on this day.

Many American Jews and other partisan Democrats have adopted a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to the president’s signals, which indicate that he views the Jewish state as an obstacle to his ambition of improving relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Indeed, as the Post explains, Obama hoped that making public his disagreements with Israel would buy him credibility with Arab governments.

While not enthralled with the Israelis’ electing a right-of-center government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu a few months after Americans chose Mr. Obama, the Post observes something Jewish Democrats have been in denial about: Obama’s one-sided pressure has only increased the appetite of Palestinian and Arab leaders for more Israeli concessions and made them less likely to reciprocate. This is a familiar pattern. So long as the Arabs can rely on Americans to pressure Israel, they feel no need to make concessions themselves or take any proactive steps (such as halting terrorism and stopping anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement in their official media) to advance the cause of peace.

As Mahmoud Abbas, the supposedly moderate head of the Palestinian Authority, recently told the Washington Post, he has no intention of dealing with Israel. Instead, he will sit back and wait for Obama to keep applying the screws to America’s only democratic ally in the region.

By putting all the public pressure on Israel and none on the Palestinians, Obama has ensured that there will be no progress toward a two-state solution — a solution the Israelis desire more fervently than the Palestinians. Polls show that Israelis understand that the president is not to be trusted. His equivocal stance on the existential threat Israel faces from Iran further undermines their faith in Washington’s goodwill and reliability. As for the Palestinians, who are ruled by a feckless Fatah in the West Bank and an Islamist Hamas in Gaza, Obama’s distancing himself from Israel has only decreased their willingness to accept an independent state, which Israel has been offering them for a decade. Why should they give up their dreams of destroying Israel and accept half a loaf when Obama’s attitude toward Israel makes them think they can do better by standing pat?

Obama’s poorly conceived diplomatic endeavors are not a harbinger of a new Holocaust, and the rift between the two countries should not be exaggerated. Indeed, while the destroyed temples are mourned today, it should be remembered that contemporary Jewry has much to celebrate. But the threats to Israel’s existence presented by a nuclear Iran and the rise of a new anti-Semitic wave around the world, whose primary characteristic is hostility toward the right of Jews to live in peace in their historic homeland, are disturbing trends that should not be ignored. If even the Washington Post can realize that this administration has singled out Israel for ill treatment, it does not behoove American Jewry to ignore it. That is especially true on a day when the calendar compels us to remember past disasters.

Jennifer is right about the significance of today’s Washington Post editorial, which points out that “one of the more striking results of the Obama administration’s first six months is that only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel.”

But isn’t it curious that the Post would, today of all days, choose to note what a great many American Jews have been working overtime trying to ignore: the hostility of the Obama administration toward the State of Israel. In the Hebrew calendar, today is the ninth of Av, or Tisha b’Av, the date on which Jews commemorate some of the worst disasters in their history. The First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date. The expulsion of Jews from Spain was made official on Tisha b’Av, and subsequent persecutors of Jews, including the Nazis, also delighted in inaugurating new horrors on this day.

Many American Jews and other partisan Democrats have adopted a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to the president’s signals, which indicate that he views the Jewish state as an obstacle to his ambition of improving relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Indeed, as the Post explains, Obama hoped that making public his disagreements with Israel would buy him credibility with Arab governments.

While not enthralled with the Israelis’ electing a right-of-center government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu a few months after Americans chose Mr. Obama, the Post observes something Jewish Democrats have been in denial about: Obama’s one-sided pressure has only increased the appetite of Palestinian and Arab leaders for more Israeli concessions and made them less likely to reciprocate. This is a familiar pattern. So long as the Arabs can rely on Americans to pressure Israel, they feel no need to make concessions themselves or take any proactive steps (such as halting terrorism and stopping anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement in their official media) to advance the cause of peace.

As Mahmoud Abbas, the supposedly moderate head of the Palestinian Authority, recently told the Washington Post, he has no intention of dealing with Israel. Instead, he will sit back and wait for Obama to keep applying the screws to America’s only democratic ally in the region.

By putting all the public pressure on Israel and none on the Palestinians, Obama has ensured that there will be no progress toward a two-state solution — a solution the Israelis desire more fervently than the Palestinians. Polls show that Israelis understand that the president is not to be trusted. His equivocal stance on the existential threat Israel faces from Iran further undermines their faith in Washington’s goodwill and reliability. As for the Palestinians, who are ruled by a feckless Fatah in the West Bank and an Islamist Hamas in Gaza, Obama’s distancing himself from Israel has only decreased their willingness to accept an independent state, which Israel has been offering them for a decade. Why should they give up their dreams of destroying Israel and accept half a loaf when Obama’s attitude toward Israel makes them think they can do better by standing pat?

Obama’s poorly conceived diplomatic endeavors are not a harbinger of a new Holocaust, and the rift between the two countries should not be exaggerated. Indeed, while the destroyed temples are mourned today, it should be remembered that contemporary Jewry has much to celebrate. But the threats to Israel’s existence presented by a nuclear Iran and the rise of a new anti-Semitic wave around the world, whose primary characteristic is hostility toward the right of Jews to live in peace in their historic homeland, are disturbing trends that should not be ignored. If even the Washington Post can realize that this administration has singled out Israel for ill treatment, it does not behoove American Jewry to ignore it. That is especially true on a day when the calendar compels us to remember past disasters.

Read Less

Author of Durban I Gets Medal of Freedom

Mary Robinson, U.N. Commissioner and former president of Ireland, is being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Obama. Well, isn’t that just dandy. Who is Mary Robinson? You may remember her role in presiding over the infamous Durban I Conference. At the time she joined Rashid Khalidi at Columbia University (no, you can’t make this up), this report summarized the objections to her hiring, given her record in overseeing the infamous Israel-bashing event:

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

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

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

Recently deceased congressman and human-rights champion Tom Lantos had this to say:

Mary Robinson’s lack of leadership was a major contributing factor to the debacle in Durban. Her yearning to have a “dialogue among civilizations” blinded her to the reality that the noble goals of her conference had been usurped by some of the world’s least tolerant and most repressive states, wielding human rights claims as a weapon in a political dispute.

But Durban was not the only blot on her record. As Michael Rubin pointed out in this 2002 column, in her capacity as president of Ireland, she also happily provided millions of dollars of support to the PLO, which were used in terror attacks:

During the last four years of Robinson’s tenure, the European Union donated large sums of money to the Palestinian Authority. Ireland even held the presidency of the European Union for the second half of 1996. During this time, Arafat siphoned large amounts of European aid money away to pay for terror. Robinson can plead ignorance, but documents seized during the recent Israeli incursion into the West Bank revealed that the Palestinian Authority spent approximately $9 million of European Union aid money each month on the salaries of those organizing terror attacks against civilians. While European officials like Robinson looked the other way, the Palestinian Authority regularly converted millions of dollars of aid money into shekels at rates about 20 percent below normal, allowing the Palestinian chairman to divert millions of dollars worth of aid into his personal slush fund.

And then in her post-Durban career, she proceeded on the same Israel-bashing course that has made her infamous among supporters of Israel:

Robinson’s post-Durban record is little better. On April 15, Robinson’s commission voted on a decision that condoned suicide bombings as a legitimate means to establish Palestinian statehood (six European Union members voted in favor including, not surprisingly, France and Belgium). The vote came after Robinson initiated a drive to become a fact finder to investigate the now-famous massacre in Jenin (also known as “the massacre that never happened”).

There are no words to describe how atrocious a selection this is. But it does speak volumes about the president’s sympathies. And now, will the same voices that condemned her appointment to Columbia step forward? We hope. Somewhere, Tom Lantos is weeping.

Mary Robinson, U.N. Commissioner and former president of Ireland, is being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Obama. Well, isn’t that just dandy. Who is Mary Robinson? You may remember her role in presiding over the infamous Durban I Conference. At the time she joined Rashid Khalidi at Columbia University (no, you can’t make this up), this report summarized the objections to her hiring, given her record in overseeing the infamous Israel-bashing event:

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

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

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

Recently deceased congressman and human-rights champion Tom Lantos had this to say:

Mary Robinson’s lack of leadership was a major contributing factor to the debacle in Durban. Her yearning to have a “dialogue among civilizations” blinded her to the reality that the noble goals of her conference had been usurped by some of the world’s least tolerant and most repressive states, wielding human rights claims as a weapon in a political dispute.

But Durban was not the only blot on her record. As Michael Rubin pointed out in this 2002 column, in her capacity as president of Ireland, she also happily provided millions of dollars of support to the PLO, which were used in terror attacks:

During the last four years of Robinson’s tenure, the European Union donated large sums of money to the Palestinian Authority. Ireland even held the presidency of the European Union for the second half of 1996. During this time, Arafat siphoned large amounts of European aid money away to pay for terror. Robinson can plead ignorance, but documents seized during the recent Israeli incursion into the West Bank revealed that the Palestinian Authority spent approximately $9 million of European Union aid money each month on the salaries of those organizing terror attacks against civilians. While European officials like Robinson looked the other way, the Palestinian Authority regularly converted millions of dollars of aid money into shekels at rates about 20 percent below normal, allowing the Palestinian chairman to divert millions of dollars worth of aid into his personal slush fund.

And then in her post-Durban career, she proceeded on the same Israel-bashing course that has made her infamous among supporters of Israel:

Robinson’s post-Durban record is little better. On April 15, Robinson’s commission voted on a decision that condoned suicide bombings as a legitimate means to establish Palestinian statehood (six European Union members voted in favor including, not surprisingly, France and Belgium). The vote came after Robinson initiated a drive to become a fact finder to investigate the now-famous massacre in Jenin (also known as “the massacre that never happened”).

There are no words to describe how atrocious a selection this is. But it does speak volumes about the president’s sympathies. And now, will the same voices that condemned her appointment to Columbia step forward? We hope. Somewhere, Tom Lantos is weeping.

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One Doesn’t Want Him, the Other Might Not Get Him

Politico observes the year’s two high-profile gubernatorial races and finds a stark difference:

The two Democrats running for governor in the closely watched New Jersey and Virginia elections this fall are taking markedly different approaches when it comes to President Barack Obama.

Down by double digits in polls and facing rock-bottom approval ratings, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has embraced the president with gusto, regularly invoking his name on the campaign trail and embracing his agenda at every opportunity. . . . In Virginia, however, state Sen. Creigh Deeds has taken a different tack. He’s been far more circumspect about his relationship with the president, using him to raise money and win support from the Democratic base but showing little desire to introduce Obama as a central character in his race or make the contest a referendum of the administration’s policies.

Deeds was nowhere to be found when Obama came to Bristol, Virginia this week. And his opponent Bob McDonnell is very deliberately pressing Deeds to take a stand on the ultraliberal policies of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

But Corzine, among his many problems, may have trouble roping Obama into his gubernatorial race. Why would Obama want to show up in the wake of the massive corruption bust and use up his political capital on a governor trailing by double digits and with an approval rating of less than 40 percent? Corzine and the Trenton machine are about as far from “hope and change” as one can get — and Corzine’s fiscal woes and tax-hiking fetish isn’t exactly an agenda Obama wants to be associated with.

The two races come at a particularly troubling time for Obama and the Democrats as the president’s poll numbers are drifting downward and the public is registering its disapproval of the liberal agenda emanating from Washington. Things could look different on Election Day, but for now it appears that Obama’s impact may be neutral — or even a net negative — in races that rightly or wrongly will be viewed as precursors to the 2010 congressional elections.

Politico observes the year’s two high-profile gubernatorial races and finds a stark difference:

The two Democrats running for governor in the closely watched New Jersey and Virginia elections this fall are taking markedly different approaches when it comes to President Barack Obama.

Down by double digits in polls and facing rock-bottom approval ratings, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has embraced the president with gusto, regularly invoking his name on the campaign trail and embracing his agenda at every opportunity. . . . In Virginia, however, state Sen. Creigh Deeds has taken a different tack. He’s been far more circumspect about his relationship with the president, using him to raise money and win support from the Democratic base but showing little desire to introduce Obama as a central character in his race or make the contest a referendum of the administration’s policies.

Deeds was nowhere to be found when Obama came to Bristol, Virginia this week. And his opponent Bob McDonnell is very deliberately pressing Deeds to take a stand on the ultraliberal policies of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

But Corzine, among his many problems, may have trouble roping Obama into his gubernatorial race. Why would Obama want to show up in the wake of the massive corruption bust and use up his political capital on a governor trailing by double digits and with an approval rating of less than 40 percent? Corzine and the Trenton machine are about as far from “hope and change” as one can get — and Corzine’s fiscal woes and tax-hiking fetish isn’t exactly an agenda Obama wants to be associated with.

The two races come at a particularly troubling time for Obama and the Democrats as the president’s poll numbers are drifting downward and the public is registering its disapproval of the liberal agenda emanating from Washington. Things could look different on Election Day, but for now it appears that Obama’s impact may be neutral — or even a net negative — in races that rightly or wrongly will be viewed as precursors to the 2010 congressional elections.

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Alienating Friends and Influencing No One

Ever so gently, the Washington Post editors wade into the growing controversy over Obama’s stance toward Israel. No, they don’t take him to task over the abysmally one-sided Cairo speech. And they feel compelled to take a shot at the “right wing” Netanyahu government. But then they get down to business, recognizing the Israeli prime minister’s forthcoming speech earlier this year and the president’s ill-conceived course of action:

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement “freeze.” Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the “confidence-building” concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration’s final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world — a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed.

Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Perhaps others in Congress and those still spinning so furiously for Obama (Alan Dershowitz included) can at least concede that whatever Obama thought he might be able to achieve by alienating our ally has proven to be counterproductive. He has lost the trust of the Israelis and encouraged intransigence among Palestinians and Arab states.

Moreover, while the Post editors only obliquely acknowledge that the “two governments have also differed over policy toward Iran,” one must consider the consequences of that difference and the ramifications for the relations between the two countries. Israel faces an existential threat from Iran; Obama still fancies a policy of “engagement” with the identity of the fiancée still in doubt and the prospects for success virtually nonexistent. Obama’s advisers mouth platitudes — the U.S. is “committed to Israel’s security.” But does this commitment extend to the current threat by Iranian mullahs to Israel’s security and to the lives of millions of its citizens?

The Post is right that Obama needs to rethink his approach. His current “policy” (which consists of offending one side and then trying to repair the damage without embarrassing himself with the other) will bring neither peace nor security to the region and will only encourage those who fall under the dark cloud of Iran’s nuclear threat to take matters into their own hands.

Ever so gently, the Washington Post editors wade into the growing controversy over Obama’s stance toward Israel. No, they don’t take him to task over the abysmally one-sided Cairo speech. And they feel compelled to take a shot at the “right wing” Netanyahu government. But then they get down to business, recognizing the Israeli prime minister’s forthcoming speech earlier this year and the president’s ill-conceived course of action:

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement “freeze.” Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the “confidence-building” concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration’s final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world — a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed.

Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Perhaps others in Congress and those still spinning so furiously for Obama (Alan Dershowitz included) can at least concede that whatever Obama thought he might be able to achieve by alienating our ally has proven to be counterproductive. He has lost the trust of the Israelis and encouraged intransigence among Palestinians and Arab states.

Moreover, while the Post editors only obliquely acknowledge that the “two governments have also differed over policy toward Iran,” one must consider the consequences of that difference and the ramifications for the relations between the two countries. Israel faces an existential threat from Iran; Obama still fancies a policy of “engagement” with the identity of the fiancée still in doubt and the prospects for success virtually nonexistent. Obama’s advisers mouth platitudes — the U.S. is “committed to Israel’s security.” But does this commitment extend to the current threat by Iranian mullahs to Israel’s security and to the lives of millions of its citizens?

The Post is right that Obama needs to rethink his approach. His current “policy” (which consists of offending one side and then trying to repair the damage without embarrassing himself with the other) will bring neither peace nor security to the region and will only encourage those who fall under the dark cloud of Iran’s nuclear threat to take matters into their own hands.

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Re: Pinching Pennies in a Spending Spree

Like Jennifer, I too found the Wall Street Journal’s story on latter-day federal penny-pinching fascinating. I have two comments:

1) Here is the perfect example of why the government should never run anything it doesn’t absolutely have to. Because corporations are wealth-creation machines and Benjamin Franklin was right (“A penny saved is a penny earned”), corporate management spends much of its time looking for ways to save money.

The most famous example of this cost-scavenging attitude, perhaps, is the story of John D. Rockefeller and the drops of solder. He was at a Standard Oil factory where kerosene was being put in five-gallon cans sealed with solder. He asked the manager how many drops of solder were being used. The answer was 40. “Try 38,” Rockefeller said. A few of the cans leaked, so they tried 39. No leaks. The yearly savings — which went, of course, directly into the pockets of Standard Oil shareholders — were over $100,000. No wonder Rockefeller created the greatest fortune of his age.

But bureaucrats have no incentive to save money. Indeed, since bureaucratic prestige is measured in the size of one’s budget, they have every incentive not to save money. That probably accounts for why the Forest Service was buying white vehicles and painting them green, instead of — wait for it! — buying green vehicles to start with.

2) How do we get bureaucrats to think like corporate managers and look constantly for ways to save money? Simple, incentivize them to do so and they will be all over waste and inefficiency like ducks on a june bug. The Royal Navy showed how it’s done in the 18th century. The navy, naturally, wanted to capture as many enemy vessels in wartime as possible and disrupt enemy commerce to the maximum possible extent, so they simply gave the ships’ officers and crews the profits. All captured vessels became the property of the men who captured them. Merchant vessels and their cargoes were sold to the highest bidders, and warships were bought by the Royal Navy (which is why so many Royal Navy ships in the days of Nelson had French names). A single happy capture could make a captain very rich, and members of the crew would have more ready money in their pockets than they had ever known.

If the federal government were to give half the first year’s savings generated by each cost-saving idea to the bureaucrats who came up with it, they’d save a lot more than $100 million. That would hardly get the government out of deficit, to be sure, as most of the federal budget goes to entitlements and interest on the debt, which would remain unaffected. But it would create a different culture, and at least we’d see the end of $600 toilet seats.

Like Jennifer, I too found the Wall Street Journal’s story on latter-day federal penny-pinching fascinating. I have two comments:

1) Here is the perfect example of why the government should never run anything it doesn’t absolutely have to. Because corporations are wealth-creation machines and Benjamin Franklin was right (“A penny saved is a penny earned”), corporate management spends much of its time looking for ways to save money.

The most famous example of this cost-scavenging attitude, perhaps, is the story of John D. Rockefeller and the drops of solder. He was at a Standard Oil factory where kerosene was being put in five-gallon cans sealed with solder. He asked the manager how many drops of solder were being used. The answer was 40. “Try 38,” Rockefeller said. A few of the cans leaked, so they tried 39. No leaks. The yearly savings — which went, of course, directly into the pockets of Standard Oil shareholders — were over $100,000. No wonder Rockefeller created the greatest fortune of his age.

But bureaucrats have no incentive to save money. Indeed, since bureaucratic prestige is measured in the size of one’s budget, they have every incentive not to save money. That probably accounts for why the Forest Service was buying white vehicles and painting them green, instead of — wait for it! — buying green vehicles to start with.

2) How do we get bureaucrats to think like corporate managers and look constantly for ways to save money? Simple, incentivize them to do so and they will be all over waste and inefficiency like ducks on a june bug. The Royal Navy showed how it’s done in the 18th century. The navy, naturally, wanted to capture as many enemy vessels in wartime as possible and disrupt enemy commerce to the maximum possible extent, so they simply gave the ships’ officers and crews the profits. All captured vessels became the property of the men who captured them. Merchant vessels and their cargoes were sold to the highest bidders, and warships were bought by the Royal Navy (which is why so many Royal Navy ships in the days of Nelson had French names). A single happy capture could make a captain very rich, and members of the crew would have more ready money in their pockets than they had ever known.

If the federal government were to give half the first year’s savings generated by each cost-saving idea to the bureaucrats who came up with it, they’d save a lot more than $100 million. That would hardly get the government out of deficit, to be sure, as most of the federal budget goes to entitlements and interest on the debt, which would remain unaffected. But it would create a different culture, and at least we’d see the end of $600 toilet seats.

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Obama’s No Good, Horrible Polling Streak

The poll news was flying around the blogosphere on Wednesday as slack-jawed conservatives and nervous liberals picked through the numbers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama’s approval rating had dropped to 53 percent, from 61 percent in April. But that wasn’t the worst of it:

Support for President Barack Obama’s health-care effort slipped substantially over the past five weeks — particularly among those who already have insurance — as Congress has struggled to finalize legislation and attention has focused on its high price, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

[. . .]

In mid-June, the public was evenly divided when asked whether it thought Mr. Obama’s health plan was a good idea or bad idea. The new poll, conducted July 24-27, found 42% calling it a bad idea versus 36% who said it was a good idea. Among those with insurance, the portion calling the plan a bad idea rose to 47% from 37%.

The kicker: Obama’s health-care poll numbers are about where Bill Clinton’s were when HillaryCare crashed and burned.

The New York Times/CBS poll also chimed in with another survey confirming that more people want to work on deficit control than on spending: “Preference for deficit reduction ahead of spending to boost the economy peaks at 79 percent among Republicans, and also includes 60 percent of independents. It falls below half, to 43 percent, among Democrats.” The New York Times (with its thumb so clearly on the scale) nevertheless concedes that Obama is losing the message war:

President Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray the effort as a government-takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to choose their doctor and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that overhauling the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatment and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument being made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month

(Imagine, portraying the government takeover of health care as a government takeover of health care!)

Whatever the president has been doing hasn’t worked. Deferring to the liberal House leadership and encouraging it to come up with an unworkable and exorbitant plan while casting all opponents as defenders of the status quo hasn’t worked. Insisting the government will both slash Medicare and protect it, cut health-care costs but not interfere with doctors, and create a public option but not drive us out of our private insurance has been spectacularly unsuccessful, not to mention incoherent.

Does the president have Plan B? Well, restoring his credibility and recapturing the public’s confidence begins by scrapping the House leadership’s bill and starting over. The electorate isn’t interested in a public option or boards of bureaucrats to tell their doctors when their treatment is “unnecessary.” Whether Obama has the nerve and courage to adjust to political realities remains to be seen — and may determine the course of the remainder of his presidency.

UPDATE: And from Pew: “The president’s overall job approval number fell from 61% in mid-June to 54% currently. His approval ratings for handling the economy and the federal budget deficit have also fallen sharply, tumbling to 38% and 32%, respectively. Majorities now say they disapprove of the way the president is handling these two issues. The new poll also finds significant declines over the last few months in the percentage of Americans giving Obama high marks for dealing with health care, foreign policy and tax policy.” By a 41-29% Americans disapprove of his handling of Gates-gate.

The poll news was flying around the blogosphere on Wednesday as slack-jawed conservatives and nervous liberals picked through the numbers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama’s approval rating had dropped to 53 percent, from 61 percent in April. But that wasn’t the worst of it:

Support for President Barack Obama’s health-care effort slipped substantially over the past five weeks — particularly among those who already have insurance — as Congress has struggled to finalize legislation and attention has focused on its high price, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

[. . .]

In mid-June, the public was evenly divided when asked whether it thought Mr. Obama’s health plan was a good idea or bad idea. The new poll, conducted July 24-27, found 42% calling it a bad idea versus 36% who said it was a good idea. Among those with insurance, the portion calling the plan a bad idea rose to 47% from 37%.

The kicker: Obama’s health-care poll numbers are about where Bill Clinton’s were when HillaryCare crashed and burned.

The New York Times/CBS poll also chimed in with another survey confirming that more people want to work on deficit control than on spending: “Preference for deficit reduction ahead of spending to boost the economy peaks at 79 percent among Republicans, and also includes 60 percent of independents. It falls below half, to 43 percent, among Democrats.” The New York Times (with its thumb so clearly on the scale) nevertheless concedes that Obama is losing the message war:

President Obama’s ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray the effort as a government-takeover that could limit Americans’ ability to choose their doctor and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Americans are concerned that overhauling the health care system would reduce the quality of their care, increase their out-of-pocket health costs and tax bills and limit their options in choosing doctors, treatment and tests, the poll found. The percentage who describe health care costs as a serious threat to the American economy — a central argument being made by Mr. Obama — has dropped over the past month

(Imagine, portraying the government takeover of health care as a government takeover of health care!)

Whatever the president has been doing hasn’t worked. Deferring to the liberal House leadership and encouraging it to come up with an unworkable and exorbitant plan while casting all opponents as defenders of the status quo hasn’t worked. Insisting the government will both slash Medicare and protect it, cut health-care costs but not interfere with doctors, and create a public option but not drive us out of our private insurance has been spectacularly unsuccessful, not to mention incoherent.

Does the president have Plan B? Well, restoring his credibility and recapturing the public’s confidence begins by scrapping the House leadership’s bill and starting over. The electorate isn’t interested in a public option or boards of bureaucrats to tell their doctors when their treatment is “unnecessary.” Whether Obama has the nerve and courage to adjust to political realities remains to be seen — and may determine the course of the remainder of his presidency.

UPDATE: And from Pew: “The president’s overall job approval number fell from 61% in mid-June to 54% currently. His approval ratings for handling the economy and the federal budget deficit have also fallen sharply, tumbling to 38% and 32%, respectively. Majorities now say they disapprove of the way the president is handling these two issues. The new poll also finds significant declines over the last few months in the percentage of Americans giving Obama high marks for dealing with health care, foreign policy and tax policy.” By a 41-29% Americans disapprove of his handling of Gates-gate.

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Backlash or More Racial Bullying?

Once again, liberals are throwing around the race card. No, it’s not Gates-gate. The Democrats are threatening a “backlash” (read: ethnic resentment) if Republicans don’t vote for Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Aside from the utter unseemliness (imagine threatening Democrats who opposed Sam Alito with an “Italian backlash”), Democrats don’t have much evidence to back up their threats.

Wendy Long points out that there’s no polling evidence that Sotomayor helps Obama with Hispanics:

From the week of July 13–19 to the week July 20–26, Obama suffered a 7-point drop in support among Hispanics. Correlation does not mean causation, of course, but the fact that the drop occurred in the week following the Sotomayor confirmation hearings means at least one thing for the cynical, identity-politics play by the Obama White House: It didn’t work.

Maybe the president stupidly assumed the entire country is motivated by race.

Other polling bears out Long’s take:

Of those voters who say they have learned enough about Sotomayor to make a decision, 49 percent favor her confirmation and 49 percent oppose her confirmation. Surprisingly, even Hispanic voters are roughly split on Sotomayor, as 47 percent favor her confirmation and 43 percent oppose it. Independent voters, however, oppose Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation 55 percent to 44 percent, as do small business owners 52 to 42 percent. A majority of gun owners (67 percent) also oppose her confirmation, while only 30 percent support it.

So maybe the real question isn’t whether Republicans can survive a Hispanic Backlash but whether Democrats can survive one from gun owners.

Once again, liberals are throwing around the race card. No, it’s not Gates-gate. The Democrats are threatening a “backlash” (read: ethnic resentment) if Republicans don’t vote for Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Aside from the utter unseemliness (imagine threatening Democrats who opposed Sam Alito with an “Italian backlash”), Democrats don’t have much evidence to back up their threats.

Wendy Long points out that there’s no polling evidence that Sotomayor helps Obama with Hispanics:

From the week of July 13–19 to the week July 20–26, Obama suffered a 7-point drop in support among Hispanics. Correlation does not mean causation, of course, but the fact that the drop occurred in the week following the Sotomayor confirmation hearings means at least one thing for the cynical, identity-politics play by the Obama White House: It didn’t work.

Maybe the president stupidly assumed the entire country is motivated by race.

Other polling bears out Long’s take:

Of those voters who say they have learned enough about Sotomayor to make a decision, 49 percent favor her confirmation and 49 percent oppose her confirmation. Surprisingly, even Hispanic voters are roughly split on Sotomayor, as 47 percent favor her confirmation and 43 percent oppose it. Independent voters, however, oppose Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation 55 percent to 44 percent, as do small business owners 52 to 42 percent. A majority of gun owners (67 percent) also oppose her confirmation, while only 30 percent support it.

So maybe the real question isn’t whether Republicans can survive a Hispanic Backlash but whether Democrats can survive one from gun owners.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

But they will be back: “Senate efforts to compromise on a watered-down version of the Employee Free Choice Act have been put firmly on the chamber’s back burner — perhaps for the rest of the year — as senators, aides and lobbyists focus on health care and other legislation, participants said.”

I think Jonah Goldberg has it only half right when he says, “Socialized medicine needs Obama to be popular in order to pass, and socialized medicine is making Obama unpopular.” Actually, there isn’t much evidence that Obama is adept at selling socialized medicine.

And it’s almost like they don’t want to be seen with him: “Perhaps he’d rather they be working? No members of Congress will be joining POTUS at his health care events in North Carolina and Virginia today, a WH aide said.”

Chuck Todd unloads on Glenn Beck and a bunch of other people: “It’s getting nuts that the folks who are creating the perception of an ideological/polarized media world are people who have never really spent their lives being journalists. Whether it’s former political consultants-turned-TV execs or former radio DJs, or former California socialites, the folks helping to accelerate the public’s perception of the media off a cliff made their livings trying to do other things.” Sort of like a loudmouth ex-sportscaster who’s become a raving lunatic on a netroot cable-news network, huh?

Nathan Diament explains why a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem will never be enough. After all, giving the Palestinians their own state and 95 percent+ of the West Bank wasn’t enough.

I share Jeffrey Goldberg’s desire not to make Israel a “pariah” state, which is why we should object to Obama’s efforts to make Israeli settlements the “key” to unlocking peace. (The unilateral Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Sinai and the multiple offers to give Palestinians their own state suggest it’s not all, or even primarily, about the settlements.) To his credit and more indicative of his fact-based analysis, Goldberg does acknowledge that Obama’s approach is not appreciated in Israel, where “disturbing” poll numbers show that they know hostility when they see it.

Think this will make Obama’s next Middle East speech? “A Gaza man is being held on suspicion he bludgeoned his daughter with an iron chain, cracking her skull in a particularly brutal family ‘honor killing,’ two human rights groups said Wednesday, citing police and forensics reports. The groups’ reports said that the assault was triggered by Jawdat Najjar’s discovery that his daughter Fadia — a 27-year-old divorced mother of five — owned a cell phone. He suspected she used it to speak to a man outside the family, according to the groups’ reports.”

Not good: “The U.S. Treasury sold $39 billion in five-year debt Wednesday in an auction that drew poor demand, raising worries over the cost of financing the government’s burgeoning budget deficit. It was the second lackluster showing in as many days, convincing analysts that the stellar results of debt auctions just a few weeks ago were a fluke and that Thursday’s $28 billion seven-year offering could suffer a similar fate. Under the weight of the ballooning deficit, the government has raised auction volumes and analysts now wonder whether the strain on the market is showing.”

Karl Rove makes the case that the vast majority of people with health insurance are satisfied with it. “Of those who do not have insurance — and who therefore might be better off — approximately one-fifth are illegal aliens, nearly three-fifths make $50,000 or more a year and can afford insurance, and just under a third are probably eligible for Medicaid or other government programs already. For the slice of the uninsured that is left — perhaps about 2% of all American citizens — Team Obama would dismantle the world’s greatest health-care system. That’s a losing proposition, which is why Mr. Obama is increasingly resorting to fear and misleading claims. It’s all the candidate of hope has left.”

But they will be back: “Senate efforts to compromise on a watered-down version of the Employee Free Choice Act have been put firmly on the chamber’s back burner — perhaps for the rest of the year — as senators, aides and lobbyists focus on health care and other legislation, participants said.”

I think Jonah Goldberg has it only half right when he says, “Socialized medicine needs Obama to be popular in order to pass, and socialized medicine is making Obama unpopular.” Actually, there isn’t much evidence that Obama is adept at selling socialized medicine.

And it’s almost like they don’t want to be seen with him: “Perhaps he’d rather they be working? No members of Congress will be joining POTUS at his health care events in North Carolina and Virginia today, a WH aide said.”

Chuck Todd unloads on Glenn Beck and a bunch of other people: “It’s getting nuts that the folks who are creating the perception of an ideological/polarized media world are people who have never really spent their lives being journalists. Whether it’s former political consultants-turned-TV execs or former radio DJs, or former California socialites, the folks helping to accelerate the public’s perception of the media off a cliff made their livings trying to do other things.” Sort of like a loudmouth ex-sportscaster who’s become a raving lunatic on a netroot cable-news network, huh?

Nathan Diament explains why a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem will never be enough. After all, giving the Palestinians their own state and 95 percent+ of the West Bank wasn’t enough.

I share Jeffrey Goldberg’s desire not to make Israel a “pariah” state, which is why we should object to Obama’s efforts to make Israeli settlements the “key” to unlocking peace. (The unilateral Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Sinai and the multiple offers to give Palestinians their own state suggest it’s not all, or even primarily, about the settlements.) To his credit and more indicative of his fact-based analysis, Goldberg does acknowledge that Obama’s approach is not appreciated in Israel, where “disturbing” poll numbers show that they know hostility when they see it.

Think this will make Obama’s next Middle East speech? “A Gaza man is being held on suspicion he bludgeoned his daughter with an iron chain, cracking her skull in a particularly brutal family ‘honor killing,’ two human rights groups said Wednesday, citing police and forensics reports. The groups’ reports said that the assault was triggered by Jawdat Najjar’s discovery that his daughter Fadia — a 27-year-old divorced mother of five — owned a cell phone. He suspected she used it to speak to a man outside the family, according to the groups’ reports.”

Not good: “The U.S. Treasury sold $39 billion in five-year debt Wednesday in an auction that drew poor demand, raising worries over the cost of financing the government’s burgeoning budget deficit. It was the second lackluster showing in as many days, convincing analysts that the stellar results of debt auctions just a few weeks ago were a fluke and that Thursday’s $28 billion seven-year offering could suffer a similar fate. Under the weight of the ballooning deficit, the government has raised auction volumes and analysts now wonder whether the strain on the market is showing.”

Karl Rove makes the case that the vast majority of people with health insurance are satisfied with it. “Of those who do not have insurance — and who therefore might be better off — approximately one-fifth are illegal aliens, nearly three-fifths make $50,000 or more a year and can afford insurance, and just under a third are probably eligible for Medicaid or other government programs already. For the slice of the uninsured that is left — perhaps about 2% of all American citizens — Team Obama would dismantle the world’s greatest health-care system. That’s a losing proposition, which is why Mr. Obama is increasingly resorting to fear and misleading claims. It’s all the candidate of hope has left.”

Read Less




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