Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 3, 2009

Tapper on the Case

Jake Tapper provides a comprehensive report on the Mary Robinson award, detailing her involvement at Durban and criticism from the Jewish community “over perceptions of her lack of even-handedness regarding Israel” on not just Durban but on Jenin as well. In addition to the ADL objection to the award earlier on Monday, Tapper catches up with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:

Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told ABC News that he agreed with [ADL National Director Abe] Foxman’s assessment of Robinson’s past behavior but added that his organization had yet to decide whether it would formally protest Robinson being honored by the President.

Not clear why it’s so hard to decide whether a “formal” protest will be made if in fact Hoenlein agrees with Foxman’s assessment. But what is clear is that the White House blew it — failing to appreciate the reaction that Robinson’s award would generate and underestimating the degree to which she is a toxic figure in the Jewish community.

And if that weren’t bad enough, we learn that Robinson is joining fellow Medal of Freedom nominee Desmond Tutu (who has advocated divestment in Israel) and Jimmy Carter for a tour of Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. One can only imagine the travel journal they will come back with.

It seems the Obama administration won’t succeed in its effort to just make this whole mess go away. The central question remains: what were they thinking?

Jake Tapper provides a comprehensive report on the Mary Robinson award, detailing her involvement at Durban and criticism from the Jewish community “over perceptions of her lack of even-handedness regarding Israel” on not just Durban but on Jenin as well. In addition to the ADL objection to the award earlier on Monday, Tapper catches up with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:

Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told ABC News that he agreed with [ADL National Director Abe] Foxman’s assessment of Robinson’s past behavior but added that his organization had yet to decide whether it would formally protest Robinson being honored by the President.

Not clear why it’s so hard to decide whether a “formal” protest will be made if in fact Hoenlein agrees with Foxman’s assessment. But what is clear is that the White House blew it — failing to appreciate the reaction that Robinson’s award would generate and underestimating the degree to which she is a toxic figure in the Jewish community.

And if that weren’t bad enough, we learn that Robinson is joining fellow Medal of Freedom nominee Desmond Tutu (who has advocated divestment in Israel) and Jimmy Carter for a tour of Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. One can only imagine the travel journal they will come back with.

It seems the Obama administration won’t succeed in its effort to just make this whole mess go away. The central question remains: what were they thinking?

Read Less

Gitmo Trials in Virginia?

The AP reports:

Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in the nation’s capital, Virginia and New York City, officials told The Associated Press on Monday as a second strategy for trying the detainees emerged within the Obama administration. The Justice Department’s strategy of holding trials in East Coast cities could be a sharp departure from a Pentagon plan to hold all Guantanamo-related civilian and military trials in the Midwest.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell is blasting the decision, declaring:

I strongly oppose the trials of any Guantanamo Bay detainees being conducted in Alexandria, or anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The federal courthouse in Alexandria is located just feet from hotels, shops and apartment buildings. In 2006 the Alexandria trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui demonstrated firsthand the tremendous burden such events place on the community. Since that time the area surrounding the Courthouse has grown more populated and busier. Trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in Alexandria would lead to a severe disruption of daily life in the city, and would be an imposition on all residents of the area. It would present numerous public safety challenges and concerns. I join with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, Congressman Frank Wolf and other local officials in strongly opposing any effort to try detainees at the federal courthouse in the city. I continue to support passage of federal legislation prohibiting the transfer of detainees to a state without approval from the governor and legislature. One of the chief obligations of a governor is to take every action necessary to keep their citizens and communities safe and secure. I strongly oppose this proposal by the Department of Justice.

No word yet from Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds.

The AP reports:

Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in the nation’s capital, Virginia and New York City, officials told The Associated Press on Monday as a second strategy for trying the detainees emerged within the Obama administration. The Justice Department’s strategy of holding trials in East Coast cities could be a sharp departure from a Pentagon plan to hold all Guantanamo-related civilian and military trials in the Midwest.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell is blasting the decision, declaring:

I strongly oppose the trials of any Guantanamo Bay detainees being conducted in Alexandria, or anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The federal courthouse in Alexandria is located just feet from hotels, shops and apartment buildings. In 2006 the Alexandria trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui demonstrated firsthand the tremendous burden such events place on the community. Since that time the area surrounding the Courthouse has grown more populated and busier. Trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in Alexandria would lead to a severe disruption of daily life in the city, and would be an imposition on all residents of the area. It would present numerous public safety challenges and concerns. I join with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, Congressman Frank Wolf and other local officials in strongly opposing any effort to try detainees at the federal courthouse in the city. I continue to support passage of federal legislation prohibiting the transfer of detainees to a state without approval from the governor and legislature. One of the chief obligations of a governor is to take every action necessary to keep their citizens and communities safe and secure. I strongly oppose this proposal by the Department of Justice.

No word yet from Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds.

Read Less

In the Crucible of Events

As Jonathan elaborates, in the New York Times Magazine, columnist Roger Cohen wrote an article, “The Making of an Iran Policy,” in which, according to the magazine, Cohen “gets inside the Obama Administration’s struggle with its biggest diplomatic challenge.” In the piece, we learn several things. For example, after he returned from Iran, Cohen went to see senior officials and asked them what it had been like for the administration to react to the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 election. “Painful, was the response,” according to Cohen. “It is difficult to weigh all the different considerations,” an official told him.

We also learn that the Obama stance of directing its diplomatic overture chiefly at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, was undermined because of events. “The theory was always that you deal with the supreme leader because Ahmadinejad is not the ultimate decision maker,” a senior official instrumental in formulating Iran policy told Cohen. “But then he takes Ahmadinejad’s side. You still have to make the effort, the ground has to be covered, but it’s hard to be very optimistic.”

We also learn that Obama’s June visit to Saudi Arabia “proved disappointing. He got neither the Saudi help on Israel-Palestine nor the Saudi acceptance of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay that he had hoped for.”

There is more. Cohen reports:

If the Saudis are difficult, they pale by comparison with the Russians and Chinese, who are partners with the U.S. in the six-power effort (known as P5+1) to curb Iran’s nuclear program. . . . But for all Obama’s efforts to multipartner — by reviving the relationship with Russia and a similar outreach to the Chinese — it is far from clear that Moscow and Beijing do not still see America’s Iran problem as a useful tool in building a multipolar world less dominated by Washington. Getting them to impose sanctions that really bite will be difficult. Iran is awash in Chinese products — trade has boomed in recent years — and it supplies 15 percent of China ‘s oil. “It’s going to be very tough,” one senior administration official told me. “The Russian calculus about Iran is only partly about their relationship with Iran and partly about their view of us. Everyone agrees it’s not a great idea for this Iranian regime to acquire a nuclear weapon, but there’s not the same urgency we have, and certainly not the same as the Israelis have.”

“Painful” . . . “It is difficult” . . . “It’s hard to be very optimistic” . . . “It’s going to be very tough” — these are the words of reality intruding on the world of make-believe. It turns out that dealing with Iran in practice is a lot harder than dealing with Iran in the context of a presidential campaign. Who knew? For starters, almost anyone who has worked in the executive branch — and certainly anyone who has dealt with Iran in a policymaking role.

During his run for the presidency, Barack Obama made it sound as if dealing with Iran — as well as North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Guantanamo Bay, and a host of other issues — would be rather quite simple: do the opposite of what the preceding administration did (regardless of the fact that the previous administration devoted a lot of time and effort to building a multilateral approach and offered conditional talks to Iran, which the latter rejected out of hand).

“Direct engagement” and unconditional talks were the chosen courses of action. Obama would make it clear to Iran that it was in its best interest to give up its quest for nuclear weapons, which after all was keeping it from fully rejoining the “community of nations.” Come, let us reason together, and all that. Obama himself would, as he put it in his Inaugural Address, “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your first.” Since his election, though, Obama has met with fists that are more clenched than ever before.

A policy of engagement with adversaries is not necessarily foolish, and in some circumstances it may be wise. It depends on facts and circumstances. The hard question has always been what happens if engagement fails, which in the case of Iran is far more likely to happen than not. And here the Obama administration seems to have little to offer beyond the threat of more sanctions against Iran, even though, as the administration is discovering, the nations that can help impose tougher sanctions are opposed to them.

To be fair to Obama — although Obama has been less than fair to those who came before him — during the campaign, he succumbed to the temptation faced by office seekers, pundits, and diplomats-in-waiting: criticizing the party in power by sketching out solutions that, on paper at least, sound both brilliant and simple. It is so much easier to critique others from the safe distance of a television studio, in blogs and essays, in columns and editorials. But the world is an untidy place; often those in high office have to act on incomplete information, under enormous pressure, on issues they would rather avoid, and choose among a series of bad options. And sometimes the wrong option is chosen.

Iran is not an easy matter to deal with for anyone, of either party. None of this is meant to argue for suspending judgment or accountability; it is simply to point out that executing a policy is more difficult than commenting on it. In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judg­ment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contribu­tions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems. De Gaulle characteristically summed up the dilemma in a letter cited by Aron: “It happens that I am sometimes not convinced by what you write and I know that from the outset you have rarely approved what I do. However, please believe that I admire the way in which your mind attempts to encompass the great flood that is carrying all of us toward an apparently measureless and, in any event, unprecedented fate.

My concern with Obama has less to do with his simplistic assertions when he ran for office than with his unwillingness to adjust to changing circumstances now that he has won. According to the Cohen article, the policy of direct engagement with Iran “goes deep with the president. He’s driving Iran policy. The Iran gambit lies close to the core of his refashioned global strategy, America’s ‘new era of engagement.’”

Will Obama, upon learning that the “policy of engagement” may have been founded upon false premises, adjust to reality? Having settled on one course of action, will he be able to show the intellectual suppleness to embrace another? Will he come to understand that the leaders of repressive regimes are immune to his charm and reasonableness and may even view them as weaknesses? And if engagement fails as a strategy, will he show the strength and creativity necessary? These questions are ones we can never fully know the answers to in advance of electing a president. But they are ones that a president will have to answer over time, in the crucible of events.

As Jonathan elaborates, in the New York Times Magazine, columnist Roger Cohen wrote an article, “The Making of an Iran Policy,” in which, according to the magazine, Cohen “gets inside the Obama Administration’s struggle with its biggest diplomatic challenge.” In the piece, we learn several things. For example, after he returned from Iran, Cohen went to see senior officials and asked them what it had been like for the administration to react to the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 election. “Painful, was the response,” according to Cohen. “It is difficult to weigh all the different considerations,” an official told him.

We also learn that the Obama stance of directing its diplomatic overture chiefly at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, was undermined because of events. “The theory was always that you deal with the supreme leader because Ahmadinejad is not the ultimate decision maker,” a senior official instrumental in formulating Iran policy told Cohen. “But then he takes Ahmadinejad’s side. You still have to make the effort, the ground has to be covered, but it’s hard to be very optimistic.”

We also learn that Obama’s June visit to Saudi Arabia “proved disappointing. He got neither the Saudi help on Israel-Palestine nor the Saudi acceptance of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay that he had hoped for.”

There is more. Cohen reports:

If the Saudis are difficult, they pale by comparison with the Russians and Chinese, who are partners with the U.S. in the six-power effort (known as P5+1) to curb Iran’s nuclear program. . . . But for all Obama’s efforts to multipartner — by reviving the relationship with Russia and a similar outreach to the Chinese — it is far from clear that Moscow and Beijing do not still see America’s Iran problem as a useful tool in building a multipolar world less dominated by Washington. Getting them to impose sanctions that really bite will be difficult. Iran is awash in Chinese products — trade has boomed in recent years — and it supplies 15 percent of China ‘s oil. “It’s going to be very tough,” one senior administration official told me. “The Russian calculus about Iran is only partly about their relationship with Iran and partly about their view of us. Everyone agrees it’s not a great idea for this Iranian regime to acquire a nuclear weapon, but there’s not the same urgency we have, and certainly not the same as the Israelis have.”

“Painful” . . . “It is difficult” . . . “It’s hard to be very optimistic” . . . “It’s going to be very tough” — these are the words of reality intruding on the world of make-believe. It turns out that dealing with Iran in practice is a lot harder than dealing with Iran in the context of a presidential campaign. Who knew? For starters, almost anyone who has worked in the executive branch — and certainly anyone who has dealt with Iran in a policymaking role.

During his run for the presidency, Barack Obama made it sound as if dealing with Iran — as well as North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Guantanamo Bay, and a host of other issues — would be rather quite simple: do the opposite of what the preceding administration did (regardless of the fact that the previous administration devoted a lot of time and effort to building a multilateral approach and offered conditional talks to Iran, which the latter rejected out of hand).

“Direct engagement” and unconditional talks were the chosen courses of action. Obama would make it clear to Iran that it was in its best interest to give up its quest for nuclear weapons, which after all was keeping it from fully rejoining the “community of nations.” Come, let us reason together, and all that. Obama himself would, as he put it in his Inaugural Address, “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your first.” Since his election, though, Obama has met with fists that are more clenched than ever before.

A policy of engagement with adversaries is not necessarily foolish, and in some circumstances it may be wise. It depends on facts and circumstances. The hard question has always been what happens if engagement fails, which in the case of Iran is far more likely to happen than not. And here the Obama administration seems to have little to offer beyond the threat of more sanctions against Iran, even though, as the administration is discovering, the nations that can help impose tougher sanctions are opposed to them.

To be fair to Obama — although Obama has been less than fair to those who came before him — during the campaign, he succumbed to the temptation faced by office seekers, pundits, and diplomats-in-waiting: criticizing the party in power by sketching out solutions that, on paper at least, sound both brilliant and simple. It is so much easier to critique others from the safe distance of a television studio, in blogs and essays, in columns and editorials. But the world is an untidy place; often those in high office have to act on incomplete information, under enormous pressure, on issues they would rather avoid, and choose among a series of bad options. And sometimes the wrong option is chosen.

Iran is not an easy matter to deal with for anyone, of either party. None of this is meant to argue for suspending judgment or accountability; it is simply to point out that executing a policy is more difficult than commenting on it. In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judg­ment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contribu­tions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems. De Gaulle characteristically summed up the dilemma in a letter cited by Aron: “It happens that I am sometimes not convinced by what you write and I know that from the outset you have rarely approved what I do. However, please believe that I admire the way in which your mind attempts to encompass the great flood that is carrying all of us toward an apparently measureless and, in any event, unprecedented fate.

My concern with Obama has less to do with his simplistic assertions when he ran for office than with his unwillingness to adjust to changing circumstances now that he has won. According to the Cohen article, the policy of direct engagement with Iran “goes deep with the president. He’s driving Iran policy. The Iran gambit lies close to the core of his refashioned global strategy, America’s ‘new era of engagement.’”

Will Obama, upon learning that the “policy of engagement” may have been founded upon false premises, adjust to reality? Having settled on one course of action, will he be able to show the intellectual suppleness to embrace another? Will he come to understand that the leaders of repressive regimes are immune to his charm and reasonableness and may even view them as weaknesses? And if engagement fails as a strategy, will he show the strength and creativity necessary? These questions are ones we can never fully know the answers to in advance of electing a president. But they are ones that a president will have to answer over time, in the crucible of events.

Read Less

Avigdor Lieberman and the Two Narratives of Israeli Corruption

Rightly or wrongly, many people around the world are breathing more easily today knowing that Avigdor Lieberman — Israel’s foreign minister, the head of its third-largest political party, and a man loathed by supporters and opponents of Israel alike — may soon be out of their hair. Several of us have offered intricate speculations as to why Lieberman had been relegated to the role of diplomatic ambassador to Russia and Latin America, while dealing with the U.S. and Europe appears to be left in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But recent news supplies another possible explanation: if the foreign minister is about to be indicted on corruption charges, it’s better if his profile were as low as possible to begin with.

Yesterday Israeli police handed the case over to the state prosecutor’s office, which will decide whether to indict — a decision that should be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. If radio news reports are to be believed, the indictment is highly likely. Lieberman, while denying the charges, has said that he will nonetheless resign his positions as foreign minister and head of his party if indicted. Then, of course, there would be the trial, which could stretch out.

The Lieberman case is yet another in a long string of police investigations, indictments, and trials of high-ranking public officials of the Jewish state. To list just a few: the multiple claims against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the indictment of President Moshe Katzav on sexual-assault charges, the conviction of Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, and, of course, the endless criminal proceedings against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

What are supporters of Israel to make of all this? Two main narratives have emerged.

According to one, this is all one big politically motivated campaign to discredit and crush anyone on the Right who attains too much power. According to this theory, the justice system in Israel — judges and prosecutors alike — is dominated by supporters of the Left, who have no qualms about trying to achieve by criminal law what they fail to achieve at the ballot box. Supporters of this viewpoint point to the fact that it’s always people on the Right who have to face intensive investigation into their private lives, and even if they are technically guilty, there are plenty of left-wing politicians equally corrupt who yet seem immune from prosecution. Sharon’s criminal inquiries always seemed to move forward during the periods when he was being tough with the Palestinians; as soon as he announced his plan to withdraw from Gaza, the inquiries stalled.

For his part, Lieberman has been quick to point to the fact that the investigations against him have dragged on for more than a decade, and only when he finally rose to a position of power did they move into high gear. Even his planned resignation is not a matter of legislated law but the product of a Supreme Court ruling — again, part of the ruling elites — that requires senior officials to quit if indicted. Criminal justice, some argue, has become a tool for the Left to subvert democracy by negating electoral results through prosecution.

There is, of course, a second narrative. It goes like this: Since the founding of the country, Israeli politics have been deeply corrupt. For the past decade or more, however, the justice system has made a crusade of changing the norms of Israeli politics, seeking to uncover corruption wherever it is found. If a disproportionate number of dirty politicians is exposed on the Right, maybe that’s because those on the Right are less committed to universal norms and ethics or they’re not as good at covering their tracks.

According to this view, every successful prosecution is just another rotten apple out of the barrel, a step toward consistently applying ethical norms of conduct to Israeli public life. Even if mistakes are occasionally made, we should nonetheless applaud and support the efforts of the justice system.

I sincerely wish I could report that the second narrative is the true explanation for our current state of affairs. I do believe that many of Israel’s leaders are corrupt, and the evidence — not just what’s a matter of public record but also my personal, firsthand account — suggests that many scandals are kindled by solid evidence of wrongdoing and a genuine desire to root out rampant corruption. Israeli public life should emerge from corruption, and the best way to achieve this goal is by sending a strong message that corruption does not pay — through investigating, trying, and convicting those guilty of it.

While I have no doubt that at least some of Lieberman’s accusations are based in fact, I maintain that justice should be served equally in order to be just. But it is far too easy for the justice system in Israel to control both the pace of investigations and their political distribution. And Israel is far too small and politically charged a country for me to believe that most people in positions of authority act fully independently of their political ideology.

The timing of Sharon’s investigations was uncanny. Every once in a while, members of the Israeli elites basically admit outright that Lieberman’s description of his own situation is in fact correct. For example, veteran journalist Amnon Abramovich infamously claimed that Sharon should be treated like an “Etrog,” a highly sensitive fruit to be protected from public criticism as long as he is pursuing the disengagement from Gaza — thus lending credence to the suspicion that investigations can be politically motivated.

Israel is a country founded on ideology; most Israelis have a tough time distinguishing between their opinions and the means they can legitimately employ in implementing them. A healthy democracy requires that people subordinate their most cherished beliefs to a political process that restrains arbitrary impulses. And while people in positions of power can be kept in check by a vigorous free market of ideas, Israel is a country too small for that market to always be efficient. Monopolies can emerge, which distort the debate. These are problems Israel struggles with every day.

Rightly or wrongly, many people around the world are breathing more easily today knowing that Avigdor Lieberman — Israel’s foreign minister, the head of its third-largest political party, and a man loathed by supporters and opponents of Israel alike — may soon be out of their hair. Several of us have offered intricate speculations as to why Lieberman had been relegated to the role of diplomatic ambassador to Russia and Latin America, while dealing with the U.S. and Europe appears to be left in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But recent news supplies another possible explanation: if the foreign minister is about to be indicted on corruption charges, it’s better if his profile were as low as possible to begin with.

Yesterday Israeli police handed the case over to the state prosecutor’s office, which will decide whether to indict — a decision that should be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. If radio news reports are to be believed, the indictment is highly likely. Lieberman, while denying the charges, has said that he will nonetheless resign his positions as foreign minister and head of his party if indicted. Then, of course, there would be the trial, which could stretch out.

The Lieberman case is yet another in a long string of police investigations, indictments, and trials of high-ranking public officials of the Jewish state. To list just a few: the multiple claims against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the indictment of President Moshe Katzav on sexual-assault charges, the conviction of Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, and, of course, the endless criminal proceedings against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

What are supporters of Israel to make of all this? Two main narratives have emerged.

According to one, this is all one big politically motivated campaign to discredit and crush anyone on the Right who attains too much power. According to this theory, the justice system in Israel — judges and prosecutors alike — is dominated by supporters of the Left, who have no qualms about trying to achieve by criminal law what they fail to achieve at the ballot box. Supporters of this viewpoint point to the fact that it’s always people on the Right who have to face intensive investigation into their private lives, and even if they are technically guilty, there are plenty of left-wing politicians equally corrupt who yet seem immune from prosecution. Sharon’s criminal inquiries always seemed to move forward during the periods when he was being tough with the Palestinians; as soon as he announced his plan to withdraw from Gaza, the inquiries stalled.

For his part, Lieberman has been quick to point to the fact that the investigations against him have dragged on for more than a decade, and only when he finally rose to a position of power did they move into high gear. Even his planned resignation is not a matter of legislated law but the product of a Supreme Court ruling — again, part of the ruling elites — that requires senior officials to quit if indicted. Criminal justice, some argue, has become a tool for the Left to subvert democracy by negating electoral results through prosecution.

There is, of course, a second narrative. It goes like this: Since the founding of the country, Israeli politics have been deeply corrupt. For the past decade or more, however, the justice system has made a crusade of changing the norms of Israeli politics, seeking to uncover corruption wherever it is found. If a disproportionate number of dirty politicians is exposed on the Right, maybe that’s because those on the Right are less committed to universal norms and ethics or they’re not as good at covering their tracks.

According to this view, every successful prosecution is just another rotten apple out of the barrel, a step toward consistently applying ethical norms of conduct to Israeli public life. Even if mistakes are occasionally made, we should nonetheless applaud and support the efforts of the justice system.

I sincerely wish I could report that the second narrative is the true explanation for our current state of affairs. I do believe that many of Israel’s leaders are corrupt, and the evidence — not just what’s a matter of public record but also my personal, firsthand account — suggests that many scandals are kindled by solid evidence of wrongdoing and a genuine desire to root out rampant corruption. Israeli public life should emerge from corruption, and the best way to achieve this goal is by sending a strong message that corruption does not pay — through investigating, trying, and convicting those guilty of it.

While I have no doubt that at least some of Lieberman’s accusations are based in fact, I maintain that justice should be served equally in order to be just. But it is far too easy for the justice system in Israel to control both the pace of investigations and their political distribution. And Israel is far too small and politically charged a country for me to believe that most people in positions of authority act fully independently of their political ideology.

The timing of Sharon’s investigations was uncanny. Every once in a while, members of the Israeli elites basically admit outright that Lieberman’s description of his own situation is in fact correct. For example, veteran journalist Amnon Abramovich infamously claimed that Sharon should be treated like an “Etrog,” a highly sensitive fruit to be protected from public criticism as long as he is pursuing the disengagement from Gaza — thus lending credence to the suspicion that investigations can be politically motivated.

Israel is a country founded on ideology; most Israelis have a tough time distinguishing between their opinions and the means they can legitimately employ in implementing them. A healthy democracy requires that people subordinate their most cherished beliefs to a political process that restrains arbitrary impulses. And while people in positions of power can be kept in check by a vigorous free market of ideas, Israel is a country too small for that market to always be efficient. Monopolies can emerge, which distort the debate. These are problems Israel struggles with every day.

Read Less

White House PR Campaign Won’t Work

Barack Obama hasn’t gotten very far with his efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. But let it not be said that the White House is satisfied with what it has achieved so far. The administration has evaluated the situation and is prepared to correct the course, not with any concrete action, but with what our chief executive does best: more talk. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that:

In coming weeks, senior administration officials said, the White House will begin a public-relations campaign in Israel and Arab countries to better explain Mr. Obama’s plans for a comprehensive peace agreement involving Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world.

The campaign, which will include interviews with Mr. Obama on Israeli and Arab television, amounts to a reframing of a policy that people inside and outside the administration say has become overly defined by the American pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction on the West Bank.

For believing that the preceding administration was a collection of arrogant imperialists who didn’t understand the rest of the world, the Obama team surprises with this decision, which is reminiscent of how stereotypically “ugly American” tourists respond to foreigners who don’t understand English by merely speaking English louder.

It’s not as if Israelis don’t understand that Obama’s intentions toward them are good and his motives pure. The reason they think they have been singled out for rough treatment by Obama is that he has singled them out. The dispute about settlements was a calculated decision on the part of Washington to pick a fight with its ally and raise the stakes until Netanyahu gives in, handing Obama an easy triumph and a signal to the Arab world that friends of Israel no longer have a decisive say in American foreign policy.

Obama’s eloquence is a formidable diplomatic tool, but the idea that it can be used to convince Israelis to, as the president has said, “reflect” on their policies and change their tune is not only astoundingly arrogant; it’s also wrong. The Israelis already want peace and have shown time and again they are ready to make sacrifices to achieve it. What is lacking is a similar commitment from the Palestinians. No amount of patently insincere sweet talk from the president is going to convince Israelis that more bullying of Israel is the path to peace.

Barack Obama hasn’t gotten very far with his efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. But let it not be said that the White House is satisfied with what it has achieved so far. The administration has evaluated the situation and is prepared to correct the course, not with any concrete action, but with what our chief executive does best: more talk. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that:

In coming weeks, senior administration officials said, the White House will begin a public-relations campaign in Israel and Arab countries to better explain Mr. Obama’s plans for a comprehensive peace agreement involving Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world.

The campaign, which will include interviews with Mr. Obama on Israeli and Arab television, amounts to a reframing of a policy that people inside and outside the administration say has become overly defined by the American pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction on the West Bank.

For believing that the preceding administration was a collection of arrogant imperialists who didn’t understand the rest of the world, the Obama team surprises with this decision, which is reminiscent of how stereotypically “ugly American” tourists respond to foreigners who don’t understand English by merely speaking English louder.

It’s not as if Israelis don’t understand that Obama’s intentions toward them are good and his motives pure. The reason they think they have been singled out for rough treatment by Obama is that he has singled them out. The dispute about settlements was a calculated decision on the part of Washington to pick a fight with its ally and raise the stakes until Netanyahu gives in, handing Obama an easy triumph and a signal to the Arab world that friends of Israel no longer have a decisive say in American foreign policy.

Obama’s eloquence is a formidable diplomatic tool, but the idea that it can be used to convince Israelis to, as the president has said, “reflect” on their policies and change their tune is not only astoundingly arrogant; it’s also wrong. The Israelis already want peace and have shown time and again they are ready to make sacrifices to achieve it. What is lacking is a similar commitment from the Palestinians. No amount of patently insincere sweet talk from the president is going to convince Israelis that more bullying of Israel is the path to peace.

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Mary Robinson, Victim

The Mary Robinson saga continues along predictable lines. As Thomas Lifson reports, Mary Robinson has claimed the mantle of victimhood. She declares, “There’s a lot of bullying in the Jewish community” and decries unspecified “stuff out on the internet.” All of this from some minimal reporting on her own record of “accomplishment” at the UN. Well that is rich. Anyone who objects to the coronation of the Empress of Durban is a bully. Anyone who calls into question her championing the Jenin propaganda hoax is a bully. And would that include the late Tom Lantos, who dissected her performance at Durban? Perhaps she’d like to be more specific about what inaccuracies are being put out on the Internet.

The White House is in defensive mode, hoping the whole fuss will just go away. And by refusing to comment on the “deliberations” (hard as it is to imagine that people really thought this through), they hope to quell the flurry of questions that remain. Did they think to consult with Jewish groups? Did they consider how this would be perceived in Israel? They won’t say.

But now the ADL has released a statement that reads:

The awarding of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson as an “agent of change” was ill-advised.

While Mary Robinson may have accomplishments to her credit, she also, unfortunately, has an animus towards Israel as evidenced by her tenure as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As head of the international body that was consumed with anti-Israel bias, rather than be constructive and act objectively, she became its lead cheerleader by adopting the Palestinian narrative.

She issued distorted and detrimental reports on the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and blamed Israel for the outbreak of Palestinian violence – the Second Intifada. As the convener of the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, she allowed the process to be hijacked to promote the delegitimizing of Israel and pronouncements of hateful anti-Jewish canards, such as “Zionism is racism.” She failed miserably in her leadership role, opting to join the anti-Israel forces rather than temper them.

Ms. Robinson has been quoted as saying, “On the Palestinian side, they are the victims, etc. On the Israeli side, they feel they are the victims, in some measure” (“Democracy Now,” Pacifica Radio, Feb. 25 ,2009). Because she has not moved away from her anti-Israel bias, she is not an “Agent of Change” and is undeserving of America’s highest civilian honor.

Perhaps that will provoke further self-reflection at the White House and pry responses from a number of senators, including Sens. Schumer, Gillibrand, Specter and Feinstein, who have so far refused to respond to our inquiries.

The Mary Robinson saga continues along predictable lines. As Thomas Lifson reports, Mary Robinson has claimed the mantle of victimhood. She declares, “There’s a lot of bullying in the Jewish community” and decries unspecified “stuff out on the internet.” All of this from some minimal reporting on her own record of “accomplishment” at the UN. Well that is rich. Anyone who objects to the coronation of the Empress of Durban is a bully. Anyone who calls into question her championing the Jenin propaganda hoax is a bully. And would that include the late Tom Lantos, who dissected her performance at Durban? Perhaps she’d like to be more specific about what inaccuracies are being put out on the Internet.

The White House is in defensive mode, hoping the whole fuss will just go away. And by refusing to comment on the “deliberations” (hard as it is to imagine that people really thought this through), they hope to quell the flurry of questions that remain. Did they think to consult with Jewish groups? Did they consider how this would be perceived in Israel? They won’t say.

But now the ADL has released a statement that reads:

The awarding of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson as an “agent of change” was ill-advised.

While Mary Robinson may have accomplishments to her credit, she also, unfortunately, has an animus towards Israel as evidenced by her tenure as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As head of the international body that was consumed with anti-Israel bias, rather than be constructive and act objectively, she became its lead cheerleader by adopting the Palestinian narrative.

She issued distorted and detrimental reports on the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and blamed Israel for the outbreak of Palestinian violence – the Second Intifada. As the convener of the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, she allowed the process to be hijacked to promote the delegitimizing of Israel and pronouncements of hateful anti-Jewish canards, such as “Zionism is racism.” She failed miserably in her leadership role, opting to join the anti-Israel forces rather than temper them.

Ms. Robinson has been quoted as saying, “On the Palestinian side, they are the victims, etc. On the Israeli side, they feel they are the victims, in some measure” (“Democracy Now,” Pacifica Radio, Feb. 25 ,2009). Because she has not moved away from her anti-Israel bias, she is not an “Agent of Change” and is undeserving of America’s highest civilian honor.

Perhaps that will provoke further self-reflection at the White House and pry responses from a number of senators, including Sens. Schumer, Gillibrand, Specter and Feinstein, who have so far refused to respond to our inquiries.

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What the Peace Process and ObamaCare Have in Common

Rick, I think things for Obama are even worse than you describe. The Saudi statement on Friday was really the coup de grace to a peace process that was already on life support.

“Prince” Faisal’s summary rejection of Saudi participation raises a basic question: who, at this point, actually wants the peace process? Israelis, weary after two decades of peace-process failure, are beyond skeptical and also question the credibility of the American salesman. Abu Mazen, who fantasizes that Obama will serve up the Israelis to him with a side of hummus, is taking a relaxed approach, admitting that “in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.” Hamas refuses to supply any momentum by joining a unity government with Fatah, and Egypt, which was trying to broker the deal, has quit. Jordan, following the Saudis, has just bowed out. Fatah, at its upcoming convention in Bethlehem, will reject Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Syria has reinforced its demand for a preemptive Israeli promise to hand over the Golan Heights before negotiations even begin. This means that negotiations will never begin.

So let’s tally up all those who want little or nothing to do with the peace process: the Palestinians, both Hamas and Fatah; Saudi Arabia, the standard-bearer of the Arab “moderates,” and Jordan; Syria; Egypt, by sheer exhaustion at the Sisyphean national-unity project; and Israel, which has repeatedly sent George Mitchell back to Washington without a settlement freeze. The only one who still wants it is Obama.

Sort of like how the only one who seems to still want ObamaCare is Obama (and his dwindling acolytes). You might think it crazy to link health care and the Middle East, but actually Obama’s problems in both places stem from the same source: his cynical strategy of using crises to advance favored projects. Domestically, Obama has been trying to use the financial crisis as leverage on the passage of socialized medicine legislation. He claims that rising health-care costs helped cause the crisis and will be a major impediment to its resolution. Nobody believes him, because they know that health-care costs are only a marginal contributor to the recession; and besides, who really believes that a government-run anything is going to reduce costs?

Obama’s Middle East gambit is essentially the same story: the crisis for the Arab states and Israel (and America, let us not forget) is the Iranian nuclear program, not the Palestinians. Obama confronts this reality by conjuring an alternative one in which progress toward Palestinian statehood will help prevent the Iranians from going nuclear. But in the same way that Americans do not believe that ObamaCare will rescue the economy, the Arabs and Israelis do not believe the peace process will rescue them from Iran. The Saudis, in one of their finer moments of ruthless realism, communicated exactly this message to Obama on Friday. One wonders if he understands their signals.

Rick, I think things for Obama are even worse than you describe. The Saudi statement on Friday was really the coup de grace to a peace process that was already on life support.

“Prince” Faisal’s summary rejection of Saudi participation raises a basic question: who, at this point, actually wants the peace process? Israelis, weary after two decades of peace-process failure, are beyond skeptical and also question the credibility of the American salesman. Abu Mazen, who fantasizes that Obama will serve up the Israelis to him with a side of hummus, is taking a relaxed approach, admitting that “in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.” Hamas refuses to supply any momentum by joining a unity government with Fatah, and Egypt, which was trying to broker the deal, has quit. Jordan, following the Saudis, has just bowed out. Fatah, at its upcoming convention in Bethlehem, will reject Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Syria has reinforced its demand for a preemptive Israeli promise to hand over the Golan Heights before negotiations even begin. This means that negotiations will never begin.

So let’s tally up all those who want little or nothing to do with the peace process: the Palestinians, both Hamas and Fatah; Saudi Arabia, the standard-bearer of the Arab “moderates,” and Jordan; Syria; Egypt, by sheer exhaustion at the Sisyphean national-unity project; and Israel, which has repeatedly sent George Mitchell back to Washington without a settlement freeze. The only one who still wants it is Obama.

Sort of like how the only one who seems to still want ObamaCare is Obama (and his dwindling acolytes). You might think it crazy to link health care and the Middle East, but actually Obama’s problems in both places stem from the same source: his cynical strategy of using crises to advance favored projects. Domestically, Obama has been trying to use the financial crisis as leverage on the passage of socialized medicine legislation. He claims that rising health-care costs helped cause the crisis and will be a major impediment to its resolution. Nobody believes him, because they know that health-care costs are only a marginal contributor to the recession; and besides, who really believes that a government-run anything is going to reduce costs?

Obama’s Middle East gambit is essentially the same story: the crisis for the Arab states and Israel (and America, let us not forget) is the Iranian nuclear program, not the Palestinians. Obama confronts this reality by conjuring an alternative one in which progress toward Palestinian statehood will help prevent the Iranians from going nuclear. But in the same way that Americans do not believe that ObamaCare will rescue the economy, the Arabs and Israelis do not believe the peace process will rescue them from Iran. The Saudis, in one of their finer moments of ruthless realism, communicated exactly this message to Obama on Friday. One wonders if he understands their signals.

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Happy Days Are Here Again

If you’ve been watching financial markets for the past three weeks, they’re now emphatically telling us the recession is over and it’s all smooth sailing from here on.

No one ever wants to be the one guy bucking the crowd, which someone ends up doing during every market upswing. (That’s also the answer to the perennial but stupid question people ask during every bust: why didn’t you see this coming?) Consequently, you’re even starting to hear recent bears like Alan Greenspan and Nouriel Roubini say that an economic recovery is just around the corner. Nobody pays attention to you (or pays you consulting fees) when you’re saying what no one wants to hear.

What are the sources of the imminent recovery? For one thing, the economic statistics will show recovery as soon as the economy stops falling. That’s because GDP and other statistics are measured on a quarter-to-quarter basis. Compare this quarter to Q3 ’08 and it will look horrible. Compare it to Q2 ’09 and it won’t look bad. The change might even be positive.

But if there is to be real economic growth, where will it come from? The hunch is that China and other emerging economies are now growing robustly again. But since those economies are export-driven (although China has had a lot of government stimulus recently), they need a source of demand in order to sustain growth.

The U.S. consumer has traditionally provided that demand. But consumer demand is now down by about 2 percent from its peak in 2007. So far, the Cash for Clunkers program is the only measure shown to increase it, and that’s a government subsidy. That point contains the answer to the overall question. The U.S. government, through massive deficit spending, is providing the final demand that could be powering the beginning of a global recovery. Keynesianism is working.

This is borne out in the Commerce Department’s initial reading of Q2 GDP, which was released last Friday. It shows very significant increases in government spending, notably in the defense sector, as Obama steps up the war in Afghanistan.

In essence, public demand is replacing private demand in the global economic mix, and you have to ask yourself whether this development is sustainable. For a clue, remember that U.S. final demand from the mid-90s until 2007 was sustained well above trend by a strong increase in cheap credit available to consumers. Credit-fueled growth is obviously over and done with, but one borrower is still not having the slightest bit of trouble accessing credit at quite affordable rates of interest. Who? The U.S. Treasury, of course.

We’ve started inflating another asset bubble by financing economic activity with the same dynamic that led to the Internet bust and the Great Recession. The place right now where I see certain asset prices growing to borderline unreasonable levels is in high-rated corporate bonds. Watch them. Many are now pricing at spreads comparable to Treasury rates that are inside LIBOR.

So that’s one overall risk factor. Another is that inflation still remains a complete question mark. According to current inflation measures, real interest rates (nominal rates minus inflation) are at historically high levels, which squares up with the lack of private-sector growth. If the private sector recovers, we’ll be facing quite a mess on the inflation front.

In a perverse way, this situation could give Obama a reason to keep the private sector from recovering strongly. Slow growth on the private front would render the incipient government-led recovery more sustainable. It would also explain the sudden talk of middle-class tax increases from Tim Geithner.

If you’ve been watching financial markets for the past three weeks, they’re now emphatically telling us the recession is over and it’s all smooth sailing from here on.

No one ever wants to be the one guy bucking the crowd, which someone ends up doing during every market upswing. (That’s also the answer to the perennial but stupid question people ask during every bust: why didn’t you see this coming?) Consequently, you’re even starting to hear recent bears like Alan Greenspan and Nouriel Roubini say that an economic recovery is just around the corner. Nobody pays attention to you (or pays you consulting fees) when you’re saying what no one wants to hear.

What are the sources of the imminent recovery? For one thing, the economic statistics will show recovery as soon as the economy stops falling. That’s because GDP and other statistics are measured on a quarter-to-quarter basis. Compare this quarter to Q3 ’08 and it will look horrible. Compare it to Q2 ’09 and it won’t look bad. The change might even be positive.

But if there is to be real economic growth, where will it come from? The hunch is that China and other emerging economies are now growing robustly again. But since those economies are export-driven (although China has had a lot of government stimulus recently), they need a source of demand in order to sustain growth.

The U.S. consumer has traditionally provided that demand. But consumer demand is now down by about 2 percent from its peak in 2007. So far, the Cash for Clunkers program is the only measure shown to increase it, and that’s a government subsidy. That point contains the answer to the overall question. The U.S. government, through massive deficit spending, is providing the final demand that could be powering the beginning of a global recovery. Keynesianism is working.

This is borne out in the Commerce Department’s initial reading of Q2 GDP, which was released last Friday. It shows very significant increases in government spending, notably in the defense sector, as Obama steps up the war in Afghanistan.

In essence, public demand is replacing private demand in the global economic mix, and you have to ask yourself whether this development is sustainable. For a clue, remember that U.S. final demand from the mid-90s until 2007 was sustained well above trend by a strong increase in cheap credit available to consumers. Credit-fueled growth is obviously over and done with, but one borrower is still not having the slightest bit of trouble accessing credit at quite affordable rates of interest. Who? The U.S. Treasury, of course.

We’ve started inflating another asset bubble by financing economic activity with the same dynamic that led to the Internet bust and the Great Recession. The place right now where I see certain asset prices growing to borderline unreasonable levels is in high-rated corporate bonds. Watch them. Many are now pricing at spreads comparable to Treasury rates that are inside LIBOR.

So that’s one overall risk factor. Another is that inflation still remains a complete question mark. According to current inflation measures, real interest rates (nominal rates minus inflation) are at historically high levels, which squares up with the lack of private-sector growth. If the private sector recovers, we’ll be facing quite a mess on the inflation front.

In a perverse way, this situation could give Obama a reason to keep the private sector from recovering strongly. Slow growth on the private front would render the incipient government-led recovery more sustainable. It would also explain the sudden talk of middle-class tax increases from Tim Geithner.

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Burmese Bomb Next?

As if the Obama administration didn’t have enough problems on its plate, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, based on “evidence from key defectors,” that “Burma’s isolated military junta is building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korean help, with the aim of acquiring its first nuclear bomb in five years.”

Just what the world needs to go along with the North Korean bomb and the (soon to come) Iranian bomb — the Burmese bomb.

I wonder what would lead the Burmese junta to think it could get away with such a dangerous and destabilizing move? Gee, perhaps Iran and North Korea suffering absolutely no serious repercussions may have had something to do with it?

This development shows just how dangerous the Iranian and North Korean programs are — not just in and of themselves but also for how they encourage nuclear proliferation in other rogue states.

So what can we do about it? History suggests only two really effective ways of rolling back nuclear-weapons programs. The first is military action. Libya gave up its WMD program following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Syria’s program, meanwhile, was stopped or at least set back by an Israeli air strike on its nuclear reactor in 2007. In the past, other countries such as South Africa and Brazil have given up their nuclear-weapons programs after they have democratized.

It is telling, in light of this experience, that we are pursuing neither democratization nor military action (at least not in a serious way) against North Korea, Iran, or Burma. That means the odds of success are not high and the world will likely become a more dangerous place. Unless, perhaps, Israel bails us out. Wonder whether Rangoon is within Israel’s aircraft range?

(h/t: Foreign Policy Initiative)

As if the Obama administration didn’t have enough problems on its plate, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, based on “evidence from key defectors,” that “Burma’s isolated military junta is building a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction facilities with North Korean help, with the aim of acquiring its first nuclear bomb in five years.”

Just what the world needs to go along with the North Korean bomb and the (soon to come) Iranian bomb — the Burmese bomb.

I wonder what would lead the Burmese junta to think it could get away with such a dangerous and destabilizing move? Gee, perhaps Iran and North Korea suffering absolutely no serious repercussions may have had something to do with it?

This development shows just how dangerous the Iranian and North Korean programs are — not just in and of themselves but also for how they encourage nuclear proliferation in other rogue states.

So what can we do about it? History suggests only two really effective ways of rolling back nuclear-weapons programs. The first is military action. Libya gave up its WMD program following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Syria’s program, meanwhile, was stopped or at least set back by an Israeli air strike on its nuclear reactor in 2007. In the past, other countries such as South Africa and Brazil have given up their nuclear-weapons programs after they have democratized.

It is telling, in light of this experience, that we are pursuing neither democratization nor military action (at least not in a serious way) against North Korea, Iran, or Burma. That means the odds of success are not high and the world will likely become a more dangerous place. Unless, perhaps, Israel bails us out. Wonder whether Rangoon is within Israel’s aircraft range?

(h/t: Foreign Policy Initiative)

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Hamas Pretends Resistance Is Futile

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told the Wall Street Journal that he’s finally willing to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines,” he said. “This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.”

Meshal needs to do a lot more than make the right kind of noises to the Wall Street Journal before any of us begin to take what he said seriously.

Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing to Westerners in English and something else entirely to Palestinians in Arabic. He spoke so convincingly like a peacemaker to Israelis, Americans, and Europeans that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Yet while smiling for the cameras during sham negotiations with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, his own newspapers and schools incited the Palestinian people to murder and war. Not until hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada did most in Israel and the United States understand what Arafat was up to.

It won’t be so easy for Hamas to pull off a similar stunt, and not only because Americans and Israelis — especially Israelis — have heard this rhetoric before and are accordingly skeptical. We also have outfits like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) providing us with translations of what is written and said every day in the Arabic media. If MEMRI were as well known among journalists and policymakers in the 1990s as it is now, the violent collapse of the Oslo peace process might have come as less of a shock — and might therefore have been less deadly.

Even if Meshal were serious, accepting a Palestinian state along 1967 borders is a start, but it’s only half of what’s necessary. Hamas must also accept an Israeli state on the other side of the Green Line. And Hamas must accept that the Israeli state have a Jewish majority. Israel will no more transform itself into an Arab country by allowing every Palestinian in the diaspora to settle there than Hamas will allow all the Jews in the world to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza.

In any case, if you want to know what Middle Eastern political leaders really think, pay more attention to what they do than to what they say. Even what they say in Arabic means less than what they actually do. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for instance, flattered the Iranian government with all sorts of friendly gestures and promises while sending Iraqi soldiers into battle alongside Americans to crush Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Sadr City and Basra. It’s theoretically possible (though highly improbable) that Hamas might at some point continue paying lip service to the cause of “resistance” when speaking to a regional audience while working to convince Palestinians that the perpetual war has been a disaster.

The rockets out of Gaza have stopped, at least for now. That’s something. It’s not as significant as Maliki’s fighting Iranian-backed militias alongside Americans, but it’s something.

Assuming Meshal doesn’t instantly and publicly reverse himself, what Hamas-run schools, newspapers, and television programs say should settle any lingering doubts. Will Palestinian children still be told they will one day “liberate” Tel Aviv, Haifa, and all Jerusalem? Or will the cause be properly narrowed to the West Bank and Gaza? If the Palestinian public — and especially Palestinian children — doesn’t get the message that Hamas is finally willing to accept a two-state solution, what Meshal just said to a Wall Street Journal reporter doesn’t mean anything.

And we’ll see if Hamas amends its charter. Genocidal principles like the following are still on their books: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

The charter likewise contradicts Meshal’s promise to the Wall Street Journal that Hamas will “cooperate with any American, international or regional effort to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end the Israeli occupation and to grant the Palestinian people their right of self-determination.” According to the charter, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

Actions mean more than words, and even the right words are useless if they’re contradicted the very next day — or even the same day — in front of a different audience.

It’s strange that Hamas took so long to even pretend it supports a two-state solution to this ridiculous conflict. All sorts of people would love to believe it and might adjust their opinion of Hamas, and therefore their politics toward it, if Hamas would only wink and say the right words.

We aren’t all suckers, though, and thank heaven for that. Obama-administration officials dismissed Khaled Meshal’s remarks out of hand, which should tell him something. If he’s lying — as he almost certainly is — he can fool some but not nearly as many as Yasser Arafat did.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told the Wall Street Journal that he’s finally willing to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines,” he said. “This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect.”

Meshal needs to do a lot more than make the right kind of noises to the Wall Street Journal before any of us begin to take what he said seriously.

Yasser Arafat was famous for saying one thing to Westerners in English and something else entirely to Palestinians in Arabic. He spoke so convincingly like a peacemaker to Israelis, Americans, and Europeans that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Yet while smiling for the cameras during sham negotiations with U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, his own newspapers and schools incited the Palestinian people to murder and war. Not until hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers during the Second Intifada did most in Israel and the United States understand what Arafat was up to.

It won’t be so easy for Hamas to pull off a similar stunt, and not only because Americans and Israelis — especially Israelis — have heard this rhetoric before and are accordingly skeptical. We also have outfits like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) providing us with translations of what is written and said every day in the Arabic media. If MEMRI were as well known among journalists and policymakers in the 1990s as it is now, the violent collapse of the Oslo peace process might have come as less of a shock — and might therefore have been less deadly.

Even if Meshal were serious, accepting a Palestinian state along 1967 borders is a start, but it’s only half of what’s necessary. Hamas must also accept an Israeli state on the other side of the Green Line. And Hamas must accept that the Israeli state have a Jewish majority. Israel will no more transform itself into an Arab country by allowing every Palestinian in the diaspora to settle there than Hamas will allow all the Jews in the world to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza.

In any case, if you want to know what Middle Eastern political leaders really think, pay more attention to what they do than to what they say. Even what they say in Arabic means less than what they actually do. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for instance, flattered the Iranian government with all sorts of friendly gestures and promises while sending Iraqi soldiers into battle alongside Americans to crush Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Sadr City and Basra. It’s theoretically possible (though highly improbable) that Hamas might at some point continue paying lip service to the cause of “resistance” when speaking to a regional audience while working to convince Palestinians that the perpetual war has been a disaster.

The rockets out of Gaza have stopped, at least for now. That’s something. It’s not as significant as Maliki’s fighting Iranian-backed militias alongside Americans, but it’s something.

Assuming Meshal doesn’t instantly and publicly reverse himself, what Hamas-run schools, newspapers, and television programs say should settle any lingering doubts. Will Palestinian children still be told they will one day “liberate” Tel Aviv, Haifa, and all Jerusalem? Or will the cause be properly narrowed to the West Bank and Gaza? If the Palestinian public — and especially Palestinian children — doesn’t get the message that Hamas is finally willing to accept a two-state solution, what Meshal just said to a Wall Street Journal reporter doesn’t mean anything.

And we’ll see if Hamas amends its charter. Genocidal principles like the following are still on their books: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

The charter likewise contradicts Meshal’s promise to the Wall Street Journal that Hamas will “cooperate with any American, international or regional effort to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end the Israeli occupation and to grant the Palestinian people their right of self-determination.” According to the charter, “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

Actions mean more than words, and even the right words are useless if they’re contradicted the very next day — or even the same day — in front of a different audience.

It’s strange that Hamas took so long to even pretend it supports a two-state solution to this ridiculous conflict. All sorts of people would love to believe it and might adjust their opinion of Hamas, and therefore their politics toward it, if Hamas would only wink and say the right words.

We aren’t all suckers, though, and thank heaven for that. Obama-administration officials dismissed Khaled Meshal’s remarks out of hand, which should tell him something. If he’s lying — as he almost certainly is — he can fool some but not nearly as many as Yasser Arafat did.

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How Far Along Is Iran on the Bomb?

A few weeks after a German intelligence report indicated that Iran never stopped its clandestine nuclear-weapons program, a new article suggests that Iran did in fact stop in 2003, echoing the infamous December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate’s findings.

Clearly, we are not in a position to determine which is correct — Iran either did or didn’t stop in 2003.

What is clear though is that the NIE was wrong, at least if one believes these leaked reports. According to the Times of London’s latest revelation, Iran stopped its weaponization program in 2003 “because its strides had far outpaced the enrichment program.” In other words, the decision to suspend the program had nothing to do with pressure from America’s invasion of Iraq. It also had nothing to do with the much fabled secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran that were ongoing in Paris at the time. Rather, it had to do with the simple fact that Iran had finished the weaponization part of the program before it had completed the other two elements — perfecting the delivery systems and mastering the enrichment process.

If the German report is correct, Iran never stopped. And if the Times is correct — Iran never stopped.

Others, I am sure, will comment on this aspect, but one issue should be raised for the scrutiny of those who put either too much or too little reliance on the intelligence community. The NIE crucially failed to answer a simple question about Iran’s nuclear program, one that was factual, not political: it never revealed what it believed was the cause of the suspension. By omitting a crucial piece of information, the NIE left policymakers and opinion leaders guessing — and we know the result.

This string of reports should also have implications for the Obama administration. If all that is missing for Iran to acquire the bomb is an order from the Supreme Leader, as the Times report suggests, then it is time to reaffirm a commitment to prevention at all costs — and to recognize that there is no time left for engagement.

A few weeks after a German intelligence report indicated that Iran never stopped its clandestine nuclear-weapons program, a new article suggests that Iran did in fact stop in 2003, echoing the infamous December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate’s findings.

Clearly, we are not in a position to determine which is correct — Iran either did or didn’t stop in 2003.

What is clear though is that the NIE was wrong, at least if one believes these leaked reports. According to the Times of London’s latest revelation, Iran stopped its weaponization program in 2003 “because its strides had far outpaced the enrichment program.” In other words, the decision to suspend the program had nothing to do with pressure from America’s invasion of Iraq. It also had nothing to do with the much fabled secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran that were ongoing in Paris at the time. Rather, it had to do with the simple fact that Iran had finished the weaponization part of the program before it had completed the other two elements — perfecting the delivery systems and mastering the enrichment process.

If the German report is correct, Iran never stopped. And if the Times is correct — Iran never stopped.

Others, I am sure, will comment on this aspect, but one issue should be raised for the scrutiny of those who put either too much or too little reliance on the intelligence community. The NIE crucially failed to answer a simple question about Iran’s nuclear program, one that was factual, not political: it never revealed what it believed was the cause of the suspension. By omitting a crucial piece of information, the NIE left policymakers and opinion leaders guessing — and we know the result.

This string of reports should also have implications for the Obama administration. If all that is missing for Iran to acquire the bomb is an order from the Supreme Leader, as the Times report suggests, then it is time to reaffirm a commitment to prevention at all costs — and to recognize that there is no time left for engagement.

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We Know How This Turns Out

With Congress heading out of town, attention is turning to the states. If we care to pay attention, there is a wealth of valuable experience about the results we can expect should the president and the Democratic congressional leadership get their way on their liberal agenda.

Ross Douthat looks at the relative performance of Texas and California, the latter an example of the Blue States’ “zeal for unsustainable social spending, the preference for regulation over job creation, the heavy reliance for tax revenue on the volatile incomes of the upper upper class.” He argues that the comparison should be sobering for those seeking to follow that model for the entire nation:

The Republicans have their mistresses, but the Democrats are dealing with a more serious array of scandals: the Blagojevich-Burris embarrassment in Illinois, Senator Christopher Dodd’s dubious mortgage dealings in Connecticut, the expansive graft case in New Jersey, and a slew of corruption investigations featuring Democratic congressmen.

This helps explain why the Republican Party might be competitive in the Northeast for the first time in years. Chris Christie is easily leading Jon Corzine in the race for New Jersey’s governorship. Rob Simmons might unseat Chris Dodd in Connecticut. Rudy Giuliani, who has experience with blue-state crises, is pondering a run for the statehouse in New York.

And it also helps explain Obama’s current difficulties. The president is pushing a California-style climate-change bill at a time when businesses (and people) are fleeing the Golden State in droves. He’s pushing a health care plan that looks a lot like the system currently hemorrhaging money in Massachusetts. His ballooning deficits resemble the shortfalls paralyzing state capitals from Springfield to Sacramento.

Robert Samuelson makes a similar argument, focusing on the fiscal train wreck in California. He writes:

Its government made more promises than its economy can easily support. For years, state leaders papered over the contradiction with loans and modest changes. By overwhelming these expedients, the recession triggered an inevitable reckoning.

Here’s the national lesson. There’s a collision between high and rising demands for government services and the capacity of the economy to produce the income and tax revenue to pay for those demands. That’s true of California, where poor immigrants and their children have increased pressures for more government services. It’s also true of the nation, where an aging population raises Social Security and Medicare spending. California is leading the transformation of politics into a form of collective torture: pay more (higher taxes), get less (lower services).

[. . .]

The state’s liberal establishment is in mourning. “Reversing 40 years of progress” is how Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, put it in one blog. Some welfare benefits will be cut by half. California’s student-teacher ratio, now about a third above the national average, will probably go even higher. The University of California system lost 20 percent of its state payments. It’s raising tuition and student fees 9.3 percent, imposing salary reductions of 4 to 10 percent on more than 100,000 workers, and delaying faculty hires.

National parallels again seem apparent. Federal budget deficits — reflecting the urge to spend and not tax — predate the recession and, as baby boomers retire, will survive any recovery. Amazingly, the Obama administration would worsen the long-term outlook by expanding federal health insurance coverage. There’s much mushy thinking about how we’ll muddle through.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that Democratic governors are facing tough elections in 2009 and 2010. But the larger lesson is for the president and the Congress and about the inevitable results of liberal one-party rule. As Douthat says: “The president wants to govern America like a blue state. But for that to work, he’ll need the nation’s economy to start performing more like Texas.” It is far from clear, however, that Beltway Democrats — who have waited decades to achieve control of both ends of Pennsylvania — are going to give up their dream of enacting their ultraliberal agenda.

With Congress heading out of town, attention is turning to the states. If we care to pay attention, there is a wealth of valuable experience about the results we can expect should the president and the Democratic congressional leadership get their way on their liberal agenda.

Ross Douthat looks at the relative performance of Texas and California, the latter an example of the Blue States’ “zeal for unsustainable social spending, the preference for regulation over job creation, the heavy reliance for tax revenue on the volatile incomes of the upper upper class.” He argues that the comparison should be sobering for those seeking to follow that model for the entire nation:

The Republicans have their mistresses, but the Democrats are dealing with a more serious array of scandals: the Blagojevich-Burris embarrassment in Illinois, Senator Christopher Dodd’s dubious mortgage dealings in Connecticut, the expansive graft case in New Jersey, and a slew of corruption investigations featuring Democratic congressmen.

This helps explain why the Republican Party might be competitive in the Northeast for the first time in years. Chris Christie is easily leading Jon Corzine in the race for New Jersey’s governorship. Rob Simmons might unseat Chris Dodd in Connecticut. Rudy Giuliani, who has experience with blue-state crises, is pondering a run for the statehouse in New York.

And it also helps explain Obama’s current difficulties. The president is pushing a California-style climate-change bill at a time when businesses (and people) are fleeing the Golden State in droves. He’s pushing a health care plan that looks a lot like the system currently hemorrhaging money in Massachusetts. His ballooning deficits resemble the shortfalls paralyzing state capitals from Springfield to Sacramento.

Robert Samuelson makes a similar argument, focusing on the fiscal train wreck in California. He writes:

Its government made more promises than its economy can easily support. For years, state leaders papered over the contradiction with loans and modest changes. By overwhelming these expedients, the recession triggered an inevitable reckoning.

Here’s the national lesson. There’s a collision between high and rising demands for government services and the capacity of the economy to produce the income and tax revenue to pay for those demands. That’s true of California, where poor immigrants and their children have increased pressures for more government services. It’s also true of the nation, where an aging population raises Social Security and Medicare spending. California is leading the transformation of politics into a form of collective torture: pay more (higher taxes), get less (lower services).

[. . .]

The state’s liberal establishment is in mourning. “Reversing 40 years of progress” is how Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, put it in one blog. Some welfare benefits will be cut by half. California’s student-teacher ratio, now about a third above the national average, will probably go even higher. The University of California system lost 20 percent of its state payments. It’s raising tuition and student fees 9.3 percent, imposing salary reductions of 4 to 10 percent on more than 100,000 workers, and delaying faculty hires.

National parallels again seem apparent. Federal budget deficits — reflecting the urge to spend and not tax — predate the recession and, as baby boomers retire, will survive any recovery. Amazingly, the Obama administration would worsen the long-term outlook by expanding federal health insurance coverage. There’s much mushy thinking about how we’ll muddle through.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that Democratic governors are facing tough elections in 2009 and 2010. But the larger lesson is for the president and the Congress and about the inevitable results of liberal one-party rule. As Douthat says: “The president wants to govern America like a blue state. But for that to work, he’ll need the nation’s economy to start performing more like Texas.” It is far from clear, however, that Beltway Democrats — who have waited decades to achieve control of both ends of Pennsylvania — are going to give up their dream of enacting their ultraliberal agenda.

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You Can See Why They Wanted to Rush

There is good reason for Obama, the Democratic House leadership, and the media cheerleaders of nationalized health care were rooting to wrap up health-care reform before the August recess. Via Powerline, we get a glimpse of the problem: an eye-opening video of a town hall with Sen. Arlen Specter. Voters are enraged that lawmakers aren’t reading the 1,000-page bill – and are even more enraged at Specter for suggesting this has to be done fast.

Moreover, as time has gone on, the Republicans have learned to explain the downsides of ObamaCare and debunk the accusation that they are opposed to all reform. In an impressive outing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Jim DeMint explained:

Well, they cut Medicare to come up with some money, and they raise taxes on — on small businesses, and they penalize any American with a 2.5 percent tax if they don’t have government-approved health care. I mean, this is not the America we know. . . . Barney Frank admitted this week that the whole reform effort is a way to move towards a single-payer government plan.

He went on to list two “better ideas”: allowing interstate insurance sales and equalizing the tax treatment for individual- and employer-purchased insurance.

As if that were not enough, the Democrats have managed to offend not only Blue Dogs but also bipartisan dealmakers like Orin Hatch, who are now disgusted with the Democrats’ insistence on a hugely expensive, government-run health-care scheme. The Hill explains:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has a long history of teaming up with Democrats on health-care legislation, says Democratic health-care reform plans now under consideration are ‘out of this world.’ Hatch also told The Hill in a Friday interview he would be “shocked” if Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) sign onto a health-care deal with Democrats given the current trajectory of the legislation.

So where does this leave us going into August? The public is skeptical if not furious about this process of health-care reform and the substance of ObamaCare. The Republicans’ message has gotten sharper. And the liberal Democrats are increasingly isolated. This doesn’t mean some type of health-care bill won’t get through. But you can see why those who hoped for a government takeover of health care are so agitated. Time is not on their side.

There is good reason for Obama, the Democratic House leadership, and the media cheerleaders of nationalized health care were rooting to wrap up health-care reform before the August recess. Via Powerline, we get a glimpse of the problem: an eye-opening video of a town hall with Sen. Arlen Specter. Voters are enraged that lawmakers aren’t reading the 1,000-page bill – and are even more enraged at Specter for suggesting this has to be done fast.

Moreover, as time has gone on, the Republicans have learned to explain the downsides of ObamaCare and debunk the accusation that they are opposed to all reform. In an impressive outing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Jim DeMint explained:

Well, they cut Medicare to come up with some money, and they raise taxes on — on small businesses, and they penalize any American with a 2.5 percent tax if they don’t have government-approved health care. I mean, this is not the America we know. . . . Barney Frank admitted this week that the whole reform effort is a way to move towards a single-payer government plan.

He went on to list two “better ideas”: allowing interstate insurance sales and equalizing the tax treatment for individual- and employer-purchased insurance.

As if that were not enough, the Democrats have managed to offend not only Blue Dogs but also bipartisan dealmakers like Orin Hatch, who are now disgusted with the Democrats’ insistence on a hugely expensive, government-run health-care scheme. The Hill explains:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has a long history of teaming up with Democrats on health-care legislation, says Democratic health-care reform plans now under consideration are ‘out of this world.’ Hatch also told The Hill in a Friday interview he would be “shocked” if Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) sign onto a health-care deal with Democrats given the current trajectory of the legislation.

So where does this leave us going into August? The public is skeptical if not furious about this process of health-care reform and the substance of ObamaCare. The Republicans’ message has gotten sharper. And the liberal Democrats are increasingly isolated. This doesn’t mean some type of health-care bill won’t get through. But you can see why those who hoped for a government takeover of health care are so agitated. Time is not on their side.

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Saudi Arabia’s Three No’s

Friday afternoon, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, held a joint news conference with Secretary of State Clinton, describing the discussion they had just had as “frank, honest, and open” — diplomatic code words for disagreement.

Then he delivered in public his frank and honest message: no confidence-building steps for Israel, no endorsement of any step-by-step peace process, and no compromise on the uncompromising Saudi plan. “What is required is a comprehensive approach [i.e., the Saudi plan] that defines the final outcome at the outset.” Under the Saudi plan, Israel must agree to forgo defensible borders, hand over the Old City of Jerusalem, and recognize a right of return — and negotiations start after that. After it all gets implemented, there would then be (in the prince’s words) “complete peace and normal relations.”

Two weeks ago, Clinton delivered a major address at the Council on Foreign Relations that (in the version distributed the day before) stated that “those who embrace [the Saudi peace proposal] seem unwilling to do anything until the Israelis and Palestinians reach an agreement” — and that this was “not helpful”; there should be a “concrete” opening to Israel now to build its confidence in the process. In the speech as delivered, all the quoted words were omitted, leaving only the minimal request for an “opening” — with steps “however modest.”

But neither Secretary Clinton nor George Mitchell has been able to achieve even that, nor have letters, visits, and bows from Obama. On Friday, Clinton’s Saudi counterpart stood by her side and indicated there will be no opening, no steps, and no change in the required “final outcome.”

The Saudi three no’s are particularly noteworthy given the fact that Netanyahu gave the administration three yes’s: he agreed to the resumption of final-status negotiations without preconditions, he endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is not militarized), and he expressed appreciation for the Saudi plan as long as it is negotiable. But the administration decided to spend its time reneging on prior understandings on a settlement freeze and seeking an absolute prohibition on any new buildings, even 20 units in Jerusalem, and losing the trust of the Israeli public — and getting nothing from Saudi Arabia in return.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said over the weekend at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles he does not think the Obama administration is seeking to undermine Netanyahu, and that to the contrary, the administration considers him the right person to negotiate an eventual deal (in a Nixon-goes-to-China sense). If that is the administration’s current view, it is good news. But it is hard to go to China (metaphorically speaking) if you haven’t been invited — and if the response to three yes’s is three no’s.

Given the lack of progress, perhaps the next step will be for President Obama to advise Saudi Arabia to engage in some serious self-reflection. Instead, the administration appears to be gearing up for a new media campaign. The answer for this administration always seems to be a speech.

Friday afternoon, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, held a joint news conference with Secretary of State Clinton, describing the discussion they had just had as “frank, honest, and open” — diplomatic code words for disagreement.

Then he delivered in public his frank and honest message: no confidence-building steps for Israel, no endorsement of any step-by-step peace process, and no compromise on the uncompromising Saudi plan. “What is required is a comprehensive approach [i.e., the Saudi plan] that defines the final outcome at the outset.” Under the Saudi plan, Israel must agree to forgo defensible borders, hand over the Old City of Jerusalem, and recognize a right of return — and negotiations start after that. After it all gets implemented, there would then be (in the prince’s words) “complete peace and normal relations.”

Two weeks ago, Clinton delivered a major address at the Council on Foreign Relations that (in the version distributed the day before) stated that “those who embrace [the Saudi peace proposal] seem unwilling to do anything until the Israelis and Palestinians reach an agreement” — and that this was “not helpful”; there should be a “concrete” opening to Israel now to build its confidence in the process. In the speech as delivered, all the quoted words were omitted, leaving only the minimal request for an “opening” — with steps “however modest.”

But neither Secretary Clinton nor George Mitchell has been able to achieve even that, nor have letters, visits, and bows from Obama. On Friday, Clinton’s Saudi counterpart stood by her side and indicated there will be no opening, no steps, and no change in the required “final outcome.”

The Saudi three no’s are particularly noteworthy given the fact that Netanyahu gave the administration three yes’s: he agreed to the resumption of final-status negotiations without preconditions, he endorsed a two-state solution (as long as one of them is Jewish and the other is not militarized), and he expressed appreciation for the Saudi plan as long as it is negotiable. But the administration decided to spend its time reneging on prior understandings on a settlement freeze and seeking an absolute prohibition on any new buildings, even 20 units in Jerusalem, and losing the trust of the Israeli public — and getting nothing from Saudi Arabia in return.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said over the weekend at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles he does not think the Obama administration is seeking to undermine Netanyahu, and that to the contrary, the administration considers him the right person to negotiate an eventual deal (in a Nixon-goes-to-China sense). If that is the administration’s current view, it is good news. But it is hard to go to China (metaphorically speaking) if you haven’t been invited — and if the response to three yes’s is three no’s.

Given the lack of progress, perhaps the next step will be for President Obama to advise Saudi Arabia to engage in some serious self-reflection. Instead, the administration appears to be gearing up for a new media campaign. The answer for this administration always seems to be a speech.

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Panetta Begs for an End to the War on the CIA

CIA Director Leon Panetta’s Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post raised more questions than it answered. It appeared to be a desperate effort to halt the congressional Democrats’ war on the CIA, or in his words, to “learn lessons from the past without getting stuck there.” He wrote:

I’ve become increasingly concerned that the focus on the past, especially in Congress, threatens to distract the CIA from its crucial core missions: intelligence collection, analysis and covert action.

[. . .]

In its earliest days, the Obama administration made policy changes in intelligence that ended some controversial practices. The CIA no longer operates black sites and no longer employs “enhanced” interrogation techniques. It is worth remembering that the CIA implements presidential decisions; we do not make them. Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist. Those conflicts fuel a climate of suspicion and partisanship on Capitol Hill that our intelligence officers — and our country — would be better off without. My goal as director is to do everything I can to build the kind of dialogue and trust with Congress that is essential to our intelligence mission.

In that spirit, on June 24, I briefed the intelligence oversight committees of Congress on a highly classified program that had been brought to my attention the day before. Never fully operational, the program had not, in seven years, taken a single terrorist off the street, and information about it had not been shared appropriately with Congress. For me, this was more than just a simple question of law or legal requirements. Rather, it was a reflection of my firm belief that a straightforward and honest partnership with Congress can build support for intelligence. That’s what I want, and I am convinced it’s what our nation needs.

Unfortunately, rather than providing an opportunity to start a new chapter in CIA-congressional relations, the meeting sparked a fresh round of recriminations about the past.

Well, that’s a far cry from the spin put on all this by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats, who claimed they were “lied to” and denied legally required briefings. As a colleague points out, “if it was never fully operational and had never taken a terrorist off the street, what was there to share?” While Panetta says in vague terms that the nonoperational operation had not been “appropriately shared” with Congress, he doesn’t say there was any legal obligation to do so. But still, without identifying the culprits, he is telling us that the congressional Democrats who have turned this into another case of “Bush lied!” are not serving the public by inflating the incident into yet another partisan witch hunt.

Panetta then declares:

Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution. Debates over who knew what when — or what happened seven years ago — miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our focus should be. The CIA has plenty of tools to fight al Qaeda and its allies. Unlike the effort I canceled in June, our present tools are effective, we use them aggressively to go after our enemies, and Congress has been briefed on them.

Hmm. It is hard to escape the conclusion that he is aiming his complaint straight at Sen. Pat Leahy and Nancy Pelosi, who want to investigate and prosecute those who defended ”a nation at war.” But it also seems equally applicable to Attorney General Eric Holder. He is, after all, bent on pushing forward with investigations of not just the Bush-administration lawyers who authored the enhanced-interrogation-technique memos but also of CIA operatives who carried out those interrogations. Isn’t Holder the one determined to use intelligence operations as a weapon on his fellow Americans?

Panetta concludes:

When President Obama visited the CIA in April, he told agency officers, “I am going to need you more than ever.” The men and women of the CIA truly are America’s first line of defense. They must run risks and make sacrifices to acquire the intelligence our country needs for its safety and security. Having spent 16 years in the House, I know that Congress can get the facts it needs to do its job without undue strife or name-calling. I also know that we can learn lessons from the past without getting stuck there. That is what the American people expect. The CIA is ready to do its part. The nation deserves no less.

Once again, one is left dumbstruck. Who is in charge of the Obama administration’s policies on the war on terror? If, in fact, Panetta represents the administration’s thinking, why not shut down the Justice Department’s inquisitions and tell Pelosi, Leahy, and others once and for all that the administration won’t play another round of “Get the Bushies”? The president has the authority to put an end to what Panetta rightly describes as a self-destructive and dangerous war on the intelligence community. That he has not suggests he lacks the will to do so – or that he is engaged in some deceitful bit of misdirection. Did he mean what he said at Langley or not?

If the president doesn’t agree with Panetta or lacks the will to defend the intelligence community, Panetta should do the only honorable thing: resign. That is the least Panetta can do for his agency if the president is unwilling to defend the CIA.

CIA Director Leon Panetta’s Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post raised more questions than it answered. It appeared to be a desperate effort to halt the congressional Democrats’ war on the CIA, or in his words, to “learn lessons from the past without getting stuck there.” He wrote:

I’ve become increasingly concerned that the focus on the past, especially in Congress, threatens to distract the CIA from its crucial core missions: intelligence collection, analysis and covert action.

[. . .]

In its earliest days, the Obama administration made policy changes in intelligence that ended some controversial practices. The CIA no longer operates black sites and no longer employs “enhanced” interrogation techniques. It is worth remembering that the CIA implements presidential decisions; we do not make them. Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist. Those conflicts fuel a climate of suspicion and partisanship on Capitol Hill that our intelligence officers — and our country — would be better off without. My goal as director is to do everything I can to build the kind of dialogue and trust with Congress that is essential to our intelligence mission.

In that spirit, on June 24, I briefed the intelligence oversight committees of Congress on a highly classified program that had been brought to my attention the day before. Never fully operational, the program had not, in seven years, taken a single terrorist off the street, and information about it had not been shared appropriately with Congress. For me, this was more than just a simple question of law or legal requirements. Rather, it was a reflection of my firm belief that a straightforward and honest partnership with Congress can build support for intelligence. That’s what I want, and I am convinced it’s what our nation needs.

Unfortunately, rather than providing an opportunity to start a new chapter in CIA-congressional relations, the meeting sparked a fresh round of recriminations about the past.

Well, that’s a far cry from the spin put on all this by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats, who claimed they were “lied to” and denied legally required briefings. As a colleague points out, “if it was never fully operational and had never taken a terrorist off the street, what was there to share?” While Panetta says in vague terms that the nonoperational operation had not been “appropriately shared” with Congress, he doesn’t say there was any legal obligation to do so. But still, without identifying the culprits, he is telling us that the congressional Democrats who have turned this into another case of “Bush lied!” are not serving the public by inflating the incident into yet another partisan witch hunt.

Panetta then declares:

Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution. Debates over who knew what when — or what happened seven years ago — miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our focus should be. The CIA has plenty of tools to fight al Qaeda and its allies. Unlike the effort I canceled in June, our present tools are effective, we use them aggressively to go after our enemies, and Congress has been briefed on them.

Hmm. It is hard to escape the conclusion that he is aiming his complaint straight at Sen. Pat Leahy and Nancy Pelosi, who want to investigate and prosecute those who defended ”a nation at war.” But it also seems equally applicable to Attorney General Eric Holder. He is, after all, bent on pushing forward with investigations of not just the Bush-administration lawyers who authored the enhanced-interrogation-technique memos but also of CIA operatives who carried out those interrogations. Isn’t Holder the one determined to use intelligence operations as a weapon on his fellow Americans?

Panetta concludes:

When President Obama visited the CIA in April, he told agency officers, “I am going to need you more than ever.” The men and women of the CIA truly are America’s first line of defense. They must run risks and make sacrifices to acquire the intelligence our country needs for its safety and security. Having spent 16 years in the House, I know that Congress can get the facts it needs to do its job without undue strife or name-calling. I also know that we can learn lessons from the past without getting stuck there. That is what the American people expect. The CIA is ready to do its part. The nation deserves no less.

Once again, one is left dumbstruck. Who is in charge of the Obama administration’s policies on the war on terror? If, in fact, Panetta represents the administration’s thinking, why not shut down the Justice Department’s inquisitions and tell Pelosi, Leahy, and others once and for all that the administration won’t play another round of “Get the Bushies”? The president has the authority to put an end to what Panetta rightly describes as a self-destructive and dangerous war on the intelligence community. That he has not suggests he lacks the will to do so – or that he is engaged in some deceitful bit of misdirection. Did he mean what he said at Langley or not?

If the president doesn’t agree with Panetta or lacks the will to defend the intelligence community, Panetta should do the only honorable thing: resign. That is the least Panetta can do for his agency if the president is unwilling to defend the CIA.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

As Obama’s poll numbers plunge, David Paul Kuhn tells us that mainstream reporters are repeating their erroneous story line about Obama’s numbers previously being sky-high: “First, let’s clarify where Obama stands in the public’s mind. Obama’s approval rating has declined to the low 50s, according to several recent polls. The rate of that decline is larger and faster than many presidents, such as George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, as I detailed here. Obama’s approval rating was average over his first half-year in office, and he stood eighth out of the 11 modern presidents on the date of his six-month anniversary in office.”

Tim Geithner isn’t ruling out a middle-class tax hike. So much for Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of taxpayers. (If you think it’s hard to get Democrats to vote for ObamaCare, wait until they are asked to hike taxes on non-rich voters.)

Maybe it’s not just about settlements: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked on the four-year anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. At the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that ‘Israel uprooted 10,000 of its citizens from their homes and Gaza has turned into a terror base under the control of Hamas, and sponsored by Iran.’”

“He’s losing the debate on substance,” says Bill Kristol, of the president on health care. Mara Liasson says it is all a tactical mistake — letting Congress run the show. But she concedes the public option is “taking on more water” and won’t be there in the end.

Mickey Kaus keep trying to save the Democrats’ health-care reform from the Democrats: “If you don’t want people to think that subsidized, voluntary end-of-of-life counseling sessions are the camel’s nose of an attempt to cut costs by limiting end-of-life care, then don’t put them in a bill the overarching, stated purpose of which is to cut health care costs! . . . I mean, did that provision have to be in the bill? If it really had nothing to do with cutting costs (which I don’t believe for a minute) did it even belong in the bill?”

Christina Romer gets points for honesty: “it’s going to be a long, hard slog getting out of this.” And she’s not guaranteeing that the president will be able to sign health-care reform this year.

The New York Times apologizes for its error-ridden obit for Walter Cronkite.

Steve Emerson warns us: “This week’s arrest of seven North Carolina residents, including Daniel Boyd and his two sons, on charges of supporting terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder abroad, showed how the problem of homegrown Islamic terrorism is far more rampant than the media or the public is aware of.”

Another episode in the “engagement” chronicles: “Since taking power nine years ago, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has: turned his country into a safe haven and transit corridor for jihadists en route to Iraq; funneled sophisticated munitions to Hezbollah and probably Hamas; sought to build an illicit nuclear reactor with North Korean help; mostly failed to liberalize Syria’s economy and resisted liberalizing its politics; publicly declared that Israel would never ‘become a legitimate state even if the peace process is implemented’; and ruled while Syrians have been implicated by a U.N. investigator in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. So, naturally, President Obama has made Syria a prime target for diplomacy as part of his new Axis of Engagement.”

John McCain says he’s undecided on Sotomayor. He’s quite impressed that she’d be the first Hispanic justice.

Big Labor vows to get even tougher: “Richard Trumka admits that unions were outmaneuvered on a key element of the Employee Free Choice Act — a bill making it easier for workers to organize. But the all-but-certain incoming president of the AFL-CIO says that legislative black eye will also carry a price — and warns that the business community and both parties ought to prepare for a more aggressive brand of labor politics once he’s in charge.”

Between fiscal-conservative senators like John McCain and Jim DeMint and moderates concerned about fuel efficiency, “Cash for Clunkers” may wind up on the junk heap.

As Obama’s poll numbers plunge, David Paul Kuhn tells us that mainstream reporters are repeating their erroneous story line about Obama’s numbers previously being sky-high: “First, let’s clarify where Obama stands in the public’s mind. Obama’s approval rating has declined to the low 50s, according to several recent polls. The rate of that decline is larger and faster than many presidents, such as George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, as I detailed here. Obama’s approval rating was average over his first half-year in office, and he stood eighth out of the 11 modern presidents on the date of his six-month anniversary in office.”

Tim Geithner isn’t ruling out a middle-class tax hike. So much for Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of taxpayers. (If you think it’s hard to get Democrats to vote for ObamaCare, wait until they are asked to hike taxes on non-rich voters.)

Maybe it’s not just about settlements: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked on the four-year anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. At the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that ‘Israel uprooted 10,000 of its citizens from their homes and Gaza has turned into a terror base under the control of Hamas, and sponsored by Iran.’”

“He’s losing the debate on substance,” says Bill Kristol, of the president on health care. Mara Liasson says it is all a tactical mistake — letting Congress run the show. But she concedes the public option is “taking on more water” and won’t be there in the end.

Mickey Kaus keep trying to save the Democrats’ health-care reform from the Democrats: “If you don’t want people to think that subsidized, voluntary end-of-of-life counseling sessions are the camel’s nose of an attempt to cut costs by limiting end-of-life care, then don’t put them in a bill the overarching, stated purpose of which is to cut health care costs! . . . I mean, did that provision have to be in the bill? If it really had nothing to do with cutting costs (which I don’t believe for a minute) did it even belong in the bill?”

Christina Romer gets points for honesty: “it’s going to be a long, hard slog getting out of this.” And she’s not guaranteeing that the president will be able to sign health-care reform this year.

The New York Times apologizes for its error-ridden obit for Walter Cronkite.

Steve Emerson warns us: “This week’s arrest of seven North Carolina residents, including Daniel Boyd and his two sons, on charges of supporting terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder abroad, showed how the problem of homegrown Islamic terrorism is far more rampant than the media or the public is aware of.”

Another episode in the “engagement” chronicles: “Since taking power nine years ago, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has: turned his country into a safe haven and transit corridor for jihadists en route to Iraq; funneled sophisticated munitions to Hezbollah and probably Hamas; sought to build an illicit nuclear reactor with North Korean help; mostly failed to liberalize Syria’s economy and resisted liberalizing its politics; publicly declared that Israel would never ‘become a legitimate state even if the peace process is implemented’; and ruled while Syrians have been implicated by a U.N. investigator in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. So, naturally, President Obama has made Syria a prime target for diplomacy as part of his new Axis of Engagement.”

John McCain says he’s undecided on Sotomayor. He’s quite impressed that she’d be the first Hispanic justice.

Big Labor vows to get even tougher: “Richard Trumka admits that unions were outmaneuvered on a key element of the Employee Free Choice Act — a bill making it easier for workers to organize. But the all-but-certain incoming president of the AFL-CIO says that legislative black eye will also carry a price — and warns that the business community and both parties ought to prepare for a more aggressive brand of labor politics once he’s in charge.”

Between fiscal-conservative senators like John McCain and Jim DeMint and moderates concerned about fuel efficiency, “Cash for Clunkers” may wind up on the junk heap.

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