Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 19, 2009

Robert Novak’s Israel Problem

John’s mention of it in his obituary note put me in mind of my own first encounter with Robert Novak’s Israel problem. It was a CNN talk show a couple of months after 9/11, and the subject was Hamas, long before the group even made a pretense of running kindergartens and standing up government ministers.

Here is the transcript:

NOVAK: Can you imagine the audacity? Secretary Powell makes a very balanced speech, says they both have to do things, recognize each other’s existence. Prime Minister Sharon says, yes, that’s fine. Immediately the next day they have this attack on Hamas targeting, as they’ve been targeting ever since he came in as prime minister, people to be killed.

Now, the question all over the Middle East is: Is the United States going to take this conduct by Israel lying down, or are they going to say this is unacceptable behavior? And the one thing that was very disappointing about the secretary’s speech was he didn’t criticize the Sharon line that you have to have seven days without violence before he’ll sit down to even talk with the Palestinians. You can’t have seven days without violence if the Israelis are going to start the provocation.

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John’s mention of it in his obituary note put me in mind of my own first encounter with Robert Novak’s Israel problem. It was a CNN talk show a couple of months after 9/11, and the subject was Hamas, long before the group even made a pretense of running kindergartens and standing up government ministers.

Here is the transcript:

NOVAK: Can you imagine the audacity? Secretary Powell makes a very balanced speech, says they both have to do things, recognize each other’s existence. Prime Minister Sharon says, yes, that’s fine. Immediately the next day they have this attack on Hamas targeting, as they’ve been targeting ever since he came in as prime minister, people to be killed.

Now, the question all over the Middle East is: Is the United States going to take this conduct by Israel lying down, or are they going to say this is unacceptable behavior? And the one thing that was very disappointing about the secretary’s speech was he didn’t criticize the Sharon line that you have to have seven days without violence before he’ll sit down to even talk with the Palestinians. You can’t have seven days without violence if the Israelis are going to start the provocation.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, since September 11, 90 percent of all the deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been on the Palestinian side.
HUNT: Well Mark, look, I think every administration come into office saying they’re going to stay out of that Middle Eastern briar patch; and it’s understandable why they want to, and none can. Margaret’s right: This administration only now is fully appreciating that; same thing with the Clinton administration eight years ago.

I thought George Mitchell has laid out exactly what has to be done there. And I think it really is quite even-handed, as I think the Secretary’s speech was. I think it was a good speech. And then we saw what happened.

And Bob, it wasn’t just the Israelis, it was also the Palestinians. And it seems to me that the great danger is that, look, neither Sharon nor Arafat is a day at the beach. But what’s behind them, in both instances, may be worse. I mean, Arafat has these terrorist who bring pressure on him. And if anything should happen to him, I think any success (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Sharon’s been the poster child of the Israeli right the last 20 years, hears footsteps from Netanyahu on his right. That’s what’s so scary about this whole situation.

O’BEIRNE: Mark, this week Colin Powell called on the Palestinians to remove any doubt that they don’t support the right of Israel to exist. It’s not a question about which there’s any doubt. The PLO explicitly does not accept Israel’s right to exist.

Barak, Sharon’s predecessor, called Arafat’s bluff. He was willing to give more than Arafat ever dreamed he would get—share governing of Jerusalem. And Arafat either couldn’t our wouldn’t deliver. So why he remains the head of the PLO—he apparently can’t deliver, and he can’t keep down violence or—as I said, he plays a role in—or doesn’t want to.

Powell also talked to the intifada which, we should remember, Arafat launched last year. He said it’s self-defeating violence. Well, we’ve got to make darn clear that it’s self-defeating. All of a sudden this administration’s talking about supporting a Palestinian state. They flirt with the notion that terrorism, used as a negotiating tool, does work.

And after September 11, it seems to me, it should be harder and harder for us to urge Israelis to have this incredible restraint when civilians are routinely attacked. Every Israeli family has a gas mask in their home. And they’ve now slipped into Israel and killed a Cabinet secretary.

NOVAK: I think—well, of course, the Israelis have been killing all kinds of leaders in the Palestinian movement. But I think . . .

O’BEIRNE: It was self-defense.

NOVAK: Oh, self-defense? It’s an attack.

I can’t imagine, Al, anybody worse than Sharon. I mean, the idea that he’s a good guy is just part of the propaganda.

But I am just amazed—I am always amazed how American conservatives can get involved in this absolutely mindless support of the transigent (ph) Israeli policy. And there’s one other thing . . .

O’BEIRNE: They just don’t have a right to exist.

NOVAK: No, it . . .

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: The thing that General Powell said, which I think is exactly correct, is that the Israelis have to accept a Palestinian state. And they—and Sharon won’t do that, and either will his friends in this country. And that is the main thing that’s holding up the whole process.

CARLSON: The Palestinians throw bombs into pizza parlors and cafés and discos. They killed a civilian yesterday. The Israelis killed a senior official of Hamas. He is, himself, a terrorist.

NOVAK: Well, why do you call him a terrorist? I mean, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

CARLSON: No . . .

NOVAK: They’re trying to get their own land in the . . .

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Bob, you’re the only people (sic)—you’re the only person who would call Hamas freedom fighters.

NOVAK: Oh, no; people all over the world do.

HUNT: I don’t disagree with what you said about Sharon; but are the Palestinians willing to accept, as Powell said they must, a Jewish state?

NOVAK: Will Arafat? Yes. I think Arafat will. Will all his followers? No. But you have to start negotiating; Sharon won’t even negotiate.

You surely don’t defend that, do you?

(CROSSTALK)

O’BEIRNE: . . . negotiated, it got him nowhere and Arafat wouldn’t . . . (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: See, that’s the attitude—that’s a bad attitude . . .   

Many of Novak’s obituarists have noted his elan. Clearly, he had the appeal of those (we all know the type) who do not dress up their vanity or let personal pettiness get in the way of doing business. But that he let his moral judgment be overwhelmed by his nasty Israel problem speaks to poor character and a fundamental untrustworthiness.

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Boilerplate—and a Joint Rebuke

Shimon Peres made his first visit to Russia this week since assuming Israel’s presidency in 2007. Out of a four-hour discussion with Dmitry Medvedev held in Sochi on the Black Sea came several diplomatic announcements. As with Foreign Minister Lieberman’s visit in June, this one concluded with a boilerplate affirmation of both parties’ desire to strengthen relations.

Medvedev averred, moreover, that Russia “would like to upgrade its strategic relations with the State of Israel to the same level as our relations with Germany, France and Italy.” He also said Russia “wanted to actively assist in opening direct negotiations between Israel and Syria”—the next step sought by Israel after its foreign ministry on August 12 proclaimed the Turkish-mediated proximity talks with Syria defunct. (The U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, spent June and July trying to bring about direct Israel-Syria talks but has not procured an agreement from Syria yet.)

Peres, for his part, announced that he secured a promise from Medvedev to review Russia’s pending sale to Iran of the S-300 air-defense system. Previous similar requests from Lieberman and Netanyahu produced noncommittal responses from Moscow, and the Kremlin has declined to comment on Peres’s statement this week. Less noticed in the U.S. media was a joint statement issued by Peres and Medvedev that implicitly linked “denial” of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany with denial of the Holocaust. “We express our deep indignation at attempts to deny the great contribution that the Russian people and other peoples of the Soviet Union brought to the victory over Nazi Germany and also to deny the Holocaust of European Jews,” their statement said.

This apparently minor diplomatic communication follows a move by the European members of the OSCE in early July to proclaim the same remembrance day (August 23) for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism. This proposal, politically freighted for both Russia and Eastern Europeans, was passed overwhelmingly by the OSCE Parliament after Russia walked out on the deliberations. The endorsement from Israel’s president of the Soviet Union’s non-complicity with Nazi Germany is clearly a moral prize of some significance for Russia.

Acknowledging the character of Stalinism is not, of course, the same thing as denying the role of the USSR in defeating Nazi Germany. But it strains no ethical boundaries for Israel to focus on endorsing a commemoration of that role and to offer the diplomatic gesture Russia seeks. More significant is the fact that Shimon Peres was in Russia wielding such bargaining chips in the first place. As with Russian-born Avigdor Lieberman, Peres’s birth in what is now Belarus (then Poland) has been touted as an advantage in negotiating with Russia, which has been a growing priority for Israel. The Jewish state has put its official imprimatur on political comparisons that invoke the Holocaust. Doing so here argues a growing desire in Jerusalem to bargain for hard commitments from Russia and an emerging view of Russia as a key security player in the Middle East.

Given the Obama administration’s intensive cultivation of Arab leaders as its approach to formulating a yet-to-be-unveiled Middle East peace plan, Israel’s initiatives with Russia serve to keep some increasingly significant options open. Peres, Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Ehud Barak will have no illusions about Moscow’s trustworthiness. But necessity for Israel may be opening a strategic window for Russia that the U.S. will wish had remained shut.

Shimon Peres made his first visit to Russia this week since assuming Israel’s presidency in 2007. Out of a four-hour discussion with Dmitry Medvedev held in Sochi on the Black Sea came several diplomatic announcements. As with Foreign Minister Lieberman’s visit in June, this one concluded with a boilerplate affirmation of both parties’ desire to strengthen relations.

Medvedev averred, moreover, that Russia “would like to upgrade its strategic relations with the State of Israel to the same level as our relations with Germany, France and Italy.” He also said Russia “wanted to actively assist in opening direct negotiations between Israel and Syria”—the next step sought by Israel after its foreign ministry on August 12 proclaimed the Turkish-mediated proximity talks with Syria defunct. (The U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, spent June and July trying to bring about direct Israel-Syria talks but has not procured an agreement from Syria yet.)

Peres, for his part, announced that he secured a promise from Medvedev to review Russia’s pending sale to Iran of the S-300 air-defense system. Previous similar requests from Lieberman and Netanyahu produced noncommittal responses from Moscow, and the Kremlin has declined to comment on Peres’s statement this week. Less noticed in the U.S. media was a joint statement issued by Peres and Medvedev that implicitly linked “denial” of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany with denial of the Holocaust. “We express our deep indignation at attempts to deny the great contribution that the Russian people and other peoples of the Soviet Union brought to the victory over Nazi Germany and also to deny the Holocaust of European Jews,” their statement said.

This apparently minor diplomatic communication follows a move by the European members of the OSCE in early July to proclaim the same remembrance day (August 23) for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism. This proposal, politically freighted for both Russia and Eastern Europeans, was passed overwhelmingly by the OSCE Parliament after Russia walked out on the deliberations. The endorsement from Israel’s president of the Soviet Union’s non-complicity with Nazi Germany is clearly a moral prize of some significance for Russia.

Acknowledging the character of Stalinism is not, of course, the same thing as denying the role of the USSR in defeating Nazi Germany. But it strains no ethical boundaries for Israel to focus on endorsing a commemoration of that role and to offer the diplomatic gesture Russia seeks. More significant is the fact that Shimon Peres was in Russia wielding such bargaining chips in the first place. As with Russian-born Avigdor Lieberman, Peres’s birth in what is now Belarus (then Poland) has been touted as an advantage in negotiating with Russia, which has been a growing priority for Israel. The Jewish state has put its official imprimatur on political comparisons that invoke the Holocaust. Doing so here argues a growing desire in Jerusalem to bargain for hard commitments from Russia and an emerging view of Russia as a key security player in the Middle East.

Given the Obama administration’s intensive cultivation of Arab leaders as its approach to formulating a yet-to-be-unveiled Middle East peace plan, Israel’s initiatives with Russia serve to keep some increasingly significant options open. Peres, Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Ehud Barak will have no illusions about Moscow’s trustworthiness. But necessity for Israel may be opening a strategic window for Russia that the U.S. will wish had remained shut.

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Re: The ObamaCare Bluff

I agree with your post, John, and would add several points to it. The first is that the New York Times specifically, and liberals generally, seem strangely untroubled by the Obama administration’s threat to go it alone when it comes to health-care legislation. President George W. Bush was lacerated for not being sufficiently bipartisan—even though his record at this stage in his presidency was, by this measure, much more impressive (including widespread bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind). Obama made healing the political breach a core of his appeal during the election. During the Age of Obama, liberal and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, lions and lambs: they would all lie down together. Reality has turned out very differently indeed. Obama is, in fact, the most polarizing first-year president in modern history. And at this pace, he will end up among the most unpopular ones as well.

In addition, the effort to blame the problems with ObamaCare on Republicans ought to elicit a belly laugh from the supposedly skeptical, tough-minded media. Democrats have the numbers; the problem is that they may not have the votes. And the reason they are losing Democratic support has very little to do with “misinformation” or PR problems; it has to do with the Democrats’ having crafted terribly disagreeable pieces of health-care legislation—and the more time passes, the more unpopular they become. It’s not the mere unpopularity of ObamaCare that should alarm Democrats the most; it’s the intensity of the opposition. Young Mr. Obama has triggered what very nearly qualifies as a popular revolt. And that revolt is eroding his support at a precipitous rate. It is also a poison-tipped dart aimed at Democrats, as politicians like Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds, in his run for governor of Virginia, are finding out.

The supposedly smooth-running Obama Machine is sputtering. Unaccustomed to governing, seemingly in over their heads, and watching their signature domestic initiative turn radioactive, Obama and company are trying to find excuses to latch on to enemies to blame. But this dog won’t hunt. What we’re seeing is a transparent and slightly pathetic effort at damage control. The Obama administration is in a slide; and they don’t know how to stop it. The promise of “hope and change” seems from so long ago and so far away.

I agree with your post, John, and would add several points to it. The first is that the New York Times specifically, and liberals generally, seem strangely untroubled by the Obama administration’s threat to go it alone when it comes to health-care legislation. President George W. Bush was lacerated for not being sufficiently bipartisan—even though his record at this stage in his presidency was, by this measure, much more impressive (including widespread bipartisan support for No Child Left Behind). Obama made healing the political breach a core of his appeal during the election. During the Age of Obama, liberal and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, lions and lambs: they would all lie down together. Reality has turned out very differently indeed. Obama is, in fact, the most polarizing first-year president in modern history. And at this pace, he will end up among the most unpopular ones as well.

In addition, the effort to blame the problems with ObamaCare on Republicans ought to elicit a belly laugh from the supposedly skeptical, tough-minded media. Democrats have the numbers; the problem is that they may not have the votes. And the reason they are losing Democratic support has very little to do with “misinformation” or PR problems; it has to do with the Democrats’ having crafted terribly disagreeable pieces of health-care legislation—and the more time passes, the more unpopular they become. It’s not the mere unpopularity of ObamaCare that should alarm Democrats the most; it’s the intensity of the opposition. Young Mr. Obama has triggered what very nearly qualifies as a popular revolt. And that revolt is eroding his support at a precipitous rate. It is also a poison-tipped dart aimed at Democrats, as politicians like Virginia Democrat Creigh Deeds, in his run for governor of Virginia, are finding out.

The supposedly smooth-running Obama Machine is sputtering. Unaccustomed to governing, seemingly in over their heads, and watching their signature domestic initiative turn radioactive, Obama and company are trying to find excuses to latch on to enemies to blame. But this dog won’t hunt. What we’re seeing is a transparent and slightly pathetic effort at damage control. The Obama administration is in a slide; and they don’t know how to stop it. The promise of “hope and change” seems from so long ago and so far away.

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Panetta Revealed

Joseph Finder at the Daily Beast has the scoop on Leon Panetta:

CIA Director Leon Panetta’s emergency testimony to Congress about an illegal assassination program has set off a crisis at the spy agency. The Daily Beast’s Joseph Finder exclusively reports that:

• The secret assassination “program” wasn’t much more than a PowerPoint presentation, a task force and a collection of schemes—it never got off the ground.

• Panetta’s three immediate predecessors—George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden—have spoken to him, and that he now sees that no laws were broken.

• Panetta has frantically tried to rectify his gaffe, but now faces increased Congressional oversight.

For those not previously convinced of Panetta’s ineptitude, this story will completely undermine faith in the director of the CIA. And this is sad news.

Panetta came to the post after many years in government service, most notably as a long-time member of Congress and then as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. But his tenure in government as a politician, and as the most senior aide to a very political president, indicated that he would carry his partisan ways to his current posting. It should also go without saying that Panetta’s lack of experience in the intelligence sector was deeply worrisome.

The sad irony is that the Obama administration needs strong intelligence agencies. Obama has cut defense spending and generally seems wary of the armed services. This leaves a wide gap, so to speak, for heavy reliance on wide-reaching, covert intelligence agencies.

Obama’s ill-chosen reliance on Leon Panetta speaks volumes about the slipshod way in which vital national-security issues are handled in this administration.

Joseph Finder at the Daily Beast has the scoop on Leon Panetta:

CIA Director Leon Panetta’s emergency testimony to Congress about an illegal assassination program has set off a crisis at the spy agency. The Daily Beast’s Joseph Finder exclusively reports that:

• The secret assassination “program” wasn’t much more than a PowerPoint presentation, a task force and a collection of schemes—it never got off the ground.

• Panetta’s three immediate predecessors—George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden—have spoken to him, and that he now sees that no laws were broken.

• Panetta has frantically tried to rectify his gaffe, but now faces increased Congressional oversight.

For those not previously convinced of Panetta’s ineptitude, this story will completely undermine faith in the director of the CIA. And this is sad news.

Panetta came to the post after many years in government service, most notably as a long-time member of Congress and then as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. But his tenure in government as a politician, and as the most senior aide to a very political president, indicated that he would carry his partisan ways to his current posting. It should also go without saying that Panetta’s lack of experience in the intelligence sector was deeply worrisome.

The sad irony is that the Obama administration needs strong intelligence agencies. Obama has cut defense spending and generally seems wary of the armed services. This leaves a wide gap, so to speak, for heavy reliance on wide-reaching, covert intelligence agencies.

Obama’s ill-chosen reliance on Leon Panetta speaks volumes about the slipshod way in which vital national-security issues are handled in this administration.

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The Cost of “Emotionalizing”

Oops:

The outgoing leader of Greenpeace has admitted his organization’s recent claim that the Arctic Ice will disappear by 2030 was “a mistake.” Greenpeace made the claim in a July 15 press release entitled “Urgent Action Needed As Arctic Ice Melts,” which said there will be an ice-free Arctic by 2030 because of global warming.

Under close questioning by BBC reporter Stephen Sackur on the “Hardtalk” program, Gerd Leipold, the retiring leader of Greenpeace, said the claim was wrong.

“I don’t think it will be melting by 2030. . . . That may have been a mistake,” he said.

But Leipold admitted to something far more destructive than a mistaken press release. “We, as a pressure group, have to emotionalize issues,” he said, “and we’re not ashamed of emotionalizing issues.”

That is a bald confession of contempt for science. Greenpeace is “proud” to fudge data, to do violence to the scientific method and the tradition of empirical analysis. This should be one of those moments that sets a movement on a path to marginalization. The 2030 iceless age is a fiction embraced in circles far beyond Greenpeace. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported: “The consensus of most sea-ice scientists is that the Arctic could be free of ice in the summer between 2030 and 2040.”

But “emotionalizing issues” isn’t really frowned on these days. It’s been the Left’s modus operandi for at least half a century, and distorting facts to fit a political narrative is standard practice. After all, the very idea that scientific confirmation is a matter of consensus is itself an emotionalized insult to the scientific tradition. (H2O isn’t water because a consensus of scientists says so.) That this revered consensus was built admittedly on propaganda and not evidence will most likely do nothing to slow the billions going down the sinkhole in the name of cooling the planet. False emissions-markets will be created; industries will be destroyed; and dynamic nations will cede sovereignty via transnational treaties.

“The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear,” said President-elect Obama, in a video address to a global-climate summit last November. Both statements, if you think about it, are actually true. But science and facts have nothing to with the intellectual mass delusion of climatology or the runaway policies it will generate.

Oops:

The outgoing leader of Greenpeace has admitted his organization’s recent claim that the Arctic Ice will disappear by 2030 was “a mistake.” Greenpeace made the claim in a July 15 press release entitled “Urgent Action Needed As Arctic Ice Melts,” which said there will be an ice-free Arctic by 2030 because of global warming.

Under close questioning by BBC reporter Stephen Sackur on the “Hardtalk” program, Gerd Leipold, the retiring leader of Greenpeace, said the claim was wrong.

“I don’t think it will be melting by 2030. . . . That may have been a mistake,” he said.

But Leipold admitted to something far more destructive than a mistaken press release. “We, as a pressure group, have to emotionalize issues,” he said, “and we’re not ashamed of emotionalizing issues.”

That is a bald confession of contempt for science. Greenpeace is “proud” to fudge data, to do violence to the scientific method and the tradition of empirical analysis. This should be one of those moments that sets a movement on a path to marginalization. The 2030 iceless age is a fiction embraced in circles far beyond Greenpeace. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported: “The consensus of most sea-ice scientists is that the Arctic could be free of ice in the summer between 2030 and 2040.”

But “emotionalizing issues” isn’t really frowned on these days. It’s been the Left’s modus operandi for at least half a century, and distorting facts to fit a political narrative is standard practice. After all, the very idea that scientific confirmation is a matter of consensus is itself an emotionalized insult to the scientific tradition. (H2O isn’t water because a consensus of scientists says so.) That this revered consensus was built admittedly on propaganda and not evidence will most likely do nothing to slow the billions going down the sinkhole in the name of cooling the planet. False emissions-markets will be created; industries will be destroyed; and dynamic nations will cede sovereignty via transnational treaties.

“The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear,” said President-elect Obama, in a video address to a global-climate summit last November. Both statements, if you think about it, are actually true. But science and facts have nothing to with the intellectual mass delusion of climatology or the runaway policies it will generate.

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Obama and the Happy Dictator

One thing to be said about Barack Obama’s efforts at outreach in the Muslim world: there’s at least one dictator who is just delighted. As the New York Times reports of the visit to the White House by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak:

The meeting between the two presidents, their third, was marked by a warmth that was notably absent between Mr. Mubarak and President George W. Bush, who annoyed the Egyptian leader by pushing him to relax his authoritarian rule.

In striking contrast to his chilly relationship with President Bush, Mr. Mubarak said President Obama had “removed all doubts about the United States and the Muslim world” with his “great, fantastic” speech in Cairo in June.

It would appear that among many of the “doubts” Obama had removed “about the United States and the Muslim world,” we must include any effort to hold tyrants like Mubarak to account, especially since we are still paying him and Egypt off for the Camp David Accords 30 years after their signing to the tune of a few billion dollars a year. We’re talking about a potentate who imprisoned his only rival during the last election and locks up democracy activists and those who question the viability of a Mubarak dynasty. Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush, it’s surely to his credit that he didn’t show Mubarak a good time. And it’s surely to Obama’s discredit that he believes he is reaching out to Muslims by placing his hand in the hand of one of their chief subjugators. As Elliott Abrams (yes, my brother-in-law Elliott Abrams) writes on the Weekly Standard‘s website:

While the visit to Washington must have been immensely satisfying for Mubarak, it did not advance American interests in Egypt. As Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment wrote in the Washington Post, “something is missing from the meeting. That would be the interests of Egypt’s 83 million citizens, whose collective hopes and aspirations have disappeared from U.S. considerations since President George W. Bush’s freedom agenda flamed out years ago.” Mubarak is 81 years old, so placing all our bets on him—even for so short a time as the three years left to President Obama—is unwise. . . . American officials who want to rely on a permanent military government in Egypt will eventually fail (and let’s be clear: the Egyptian regime is led by a retired general, Hosni Mubarak, has never held a free election, jails its opponents, and is kept in power by the secret police and the army).

Mubarak has ruled for 28 years and done next to nothing to prepare Egypt for democracy; indeed this very week his government once again refused to allow the formation of a moderate Islamic party that would draw votes away from the Muslim Brotherhood. He has in fact created a dangerous two-party system: the ruling “National Democratic Party” and the Muslim Brotherhood are the only organized political entities. Moderates have been crushed, imprisoned, exiled, and forbidden to organize. This is sowing the wind and when Mubarak is gone the reaping may begin.

One thing to be said about Barack Obama’s efforts at outreach in the Muslim world: there’s at least one dictator who is just delighted. As the New York Times reports of the visit to the White House by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak:

The meeting between the two presidents, their third, was marked by a warmth that was notably absent between Mr. Mubarak and President George W. Bush, who annoyed the Egyptian leader by pushing him to relax his authoritarian rule.

In striking contrast to his chilly relationship with President Bush, Mr. Mubarak said President Obama had “removed all doubts about the United States and the Muslim world” with his “great, fantastic” speech in Cairo in June.

It would appear that among many of the “doubts” Obama had removed “about the United States and the Muslim world,” we must include any effort to hold tyrants like Mubarak to account, especially since we are still paying him and Egypt off for the Camp David Accords 30 years after their signing to the tune of a few billion dollars a year. We’re talking about a potentate who imprisoned his only rival during the last election and locks up democracy activists and those who question the viability of a Mubarak dynasty. Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush, it’s surely to his credit that he didn’t show Mubarak a good time. And it’s surely to Obama’s discredit that he believes he is reaching out to Muslims by placing his hand in the hand of one of their chief subjugators. As Elliott Abrams (yes, my brother-in-law Elliott Abrams) writes on the Weekly Standard‘s website:

While the visit to Washington must have been immensely satisfying for Mubarak, it did not advance American interests in Egypt. As Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment wrote in the Washington Post, “something is missing from the meeting. That would be the interests of Egypt’s 83 million citizens, whose collective hopes and aspirations have disappeared from U.S. considerations since President George W. Bush’s freedom agenda flamed out years ago.” Mubarak is 81 years old, so placing all our bets on him—even for so short a time as the three years left to President Obama—is unwise. . . . American officials who want to rely on a permanent military government in Egypt will eventually fail (and let’s be clear: the Egyptian regime is led by a retired general, Hosni Mubarak, has never held a free election, jails its opponents, and is kept in power by the secret police and the army).

Mubarak has ruled for 28 years and done next to nothing to prepare Egypt for democracy; indeed this very week his government once again refused to allow the formation of a moderate Islamic party that would draw votes away from the Muslim Brotherhood. He has in fact created a dangerous two-party system: the ruling “National Democratic Party” and the Muslim Brotherhood are the only organized political entities. Moderates have been crushed, imprisoned, exiled, and forbidden to organize. This is sowing the wind and when Mubarak is gone the reaping may begin.

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Oxfam and Israel: More than Sex and the City

Two weeks ago I blogged about a story published in the New York Post concerning Sex and the City star Kristin Davis’s being fired from her role as spokeswoman for Oxfam because she also endorses Israeli-made Ahava Cosmetics, a stance that conflicts with Oxfam’s support for boycotts of certain Israeli products.

However, a reader who communicated with Oxfam International, which claims Davis is still working for them, has now forwarded to me an e-mail from Lyndsay Cruz, Oxfam press officer, that reads: “Recent news stories reported that Oxfam and actress Kristin Davis have ended our relationship. In fact, Kristin Davis remains an Oxfam ambassador and supporter. Oxfam values its on-going relationship with Kristin very highly.”

This doesn’t entirely contradict the original Post story, which claimed that the relationship between the actress and the NGO was ongoing even though they claimed at the time that “Oxfam remains opposed to settlement [Israeli] trade, in which Ahava is engaged. Both Kristin and Oxfam do not want this issue to detract from the great work we have done in the past and plan to do in the future.”

More to the point, it shouldn’t distract us from acknowledging that Oxfam has a long and mostly dishonorable record with regard to Israel issues. A quick search of Oxfam’s own website shows a host of press releases on the organization’s calls for an end to Israeli measures of self-defense against Hamas—including a “humanitarian” stand that demonized Israel’s counteroffensive to the rocket fire directed at its southern towns and villages—calls for ending the boycott of the terrorist state there, and position papers that treat the presence of Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal.

It is of particular note that Oxfam is also a virulent opponent of Israel’s security fence, a structure that has virtually ended the Palestinian terror campaign of suicide bombings inside the Jewish state. Though Oxfam claims it is merely a humanitarian organization and not partisan in the Arab-Israeli conflict, its decision to treat a structure that has saved lives and thwarted terrorism as criminal exposes its claim of neutrality as a lie. As its own website documents, Oxfam has never been shy about condemning Israel, but at the height of the second intifada, when Jews were being slaughtered in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the most that Oxfam would do was issue a statement in May 2004 that refused to specifically condemn the suicide bombings carried out by Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas but that merely noted how “civilians are paying a high price for the escalating violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Hundreds of innocent lives are being lost and hundreds of thousands deprived of their basic rights as the security situation deteriorates. A solution to the conflict can only lie in a political process.”

Moreover, it should be noted that while Oxfam International has attempted at times to portray itself as neutral, at least one of its chapters, Oxfam Belgium, has actively supported a boycott of Israeli products.

Whether or not Kristin Davis is able to keep her position as spokeswoman for the group is of only marginal interest. Of greater import is that the anti-Israel slant of Oxfam is a matter of record. Americans who wish to give charitable donations to this group or have their own philanthropies partner with it on projects should be aware that in doing so they are helping to support an NGO that is an active participant in the ongoing campaign to smear the state of Israel and ultimately render it defenseless.

Two weeks ago I blogged about a story published in the New York Post concerning Sex and the City star Kristin Davis’s being fired from her role as spokeswoman for Oxfam because she also endorses Israeli-made Ahava Cosmetics, a stance that conflicts with Oxfam’s support for boycotts of certain Israeli products.

However, a reader who communicated with Oxfam International, which claims Davis is still working for them, has now forwarded to me an e-mail from Lyndsay Cruz, Oxfam press officer, that reads: “Recent news stories reported that Oxfam and actress Kristin Davis have ended our relationship. In fact, Kristin Davis remains an Oxfam ambassador and supporter. Oxfam values its on-going relationship with Kristin very highly.”

This doesn’t entirely contradict the original Post story, which claimed that the relationship between the actress and the NGO was ongoing even though they claimed at the time that “Oxfam remains opposed to settlement [Israeli] trade, in which Ahava is engaged. Both Kristin and Oxfam do not want this issue to detract from the great work we have done in the past and plan to do in the future.”

More to the point, it shouldn’t distract us from acknowledging that Oxfam has a long and mostly dishonorable record with regard to Israel issues. A quick search of Oxfam’s own website shows a host of press releases on the organization’s calls for an end to Israeli measures of self-defense against Hamas—including a “humanitarian” stand that demonized Israel’s counteroffensive to the rocket fire directed at its southern towns and villages—calls for ending the boycott of the terrorist state there, and position papers that treat the presence of Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal.

It is of particular note that Oxfam is also a virulent opponent of Israel’s security fence, a structure that has virtually ended the Palestinian terror campaign of suicide bombings inside the Jewish state. Though Oxfam claims it is merely a humanitarian organization and not partisan in the Arab-Israeli conflict, its decision to treat a structure that has saved lives and thwarted terrorism as criminal exposes its claim of neutrality as a lie. As its own website documents, Oxfam has never been shy about condemning Israel, but at the height of the second intifada, when Jews were being slaughtered in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the most that Oxfam would do was issue a statement in May 2004 that refused to specifically condemn the suicide bombings carried out by Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas but that merely noted how “civilians are paying a high price for the escalating violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Hundreds of innocent lives are being lost and hundreds of thousands deprived of their basic rights as the security situation deteriorates. A solution to the conflict can only lie in a political process.”

Moreover, it should be noted that while Oxfam International has attempted at times to portray itself as neutral, at least one of its chapters, Oxfam Belgium, has actively supported a boycott of Israeli products.

Whether or not Kristin Davis is able to keep her position as spokeswoman for the group is of only marginal interest. Of greater import is that the anti-Israel slant of Oxfam is a matter of record. Americans who wish to give charitable donations to this group or have their own philanthropies partner with it on projects should be aware that in doing so they are helping to support an NGO that is an active participant in the ongoing campaign to smear the state of Israel and ultimately render it defenseless.

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Accusing the Post Office of Acting Inefficiently

Until Jennifer Rubin returns from vacation, coverage of the comedy gold of Robert Gibbs’s press conferences will necessarily be inadequate, but there was a moment yesterday that bears noting in her absence, starring (as usual) Jake Tapper as the straight man:

TAPPER: . . . In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a, quote, “collective disappointment that you” — meaning the president — “chose the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example in efficiency.” Does the president — has the president seen that letter? Has he responded? Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?

GIBBS: I doubt he’s seen that letter, and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.

It might have been better to say something like “I don’t know if he has seen the letter yet, Jake, but I am sure he will respond because he holds the Postal Service and its employees in the highest regard”—rather than assert that Obama must not regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency, since he did it twice.

Keating’s letter informed the president that the U.S. Postal Service, with its 35,000 employees, has been suffering during the economic downturn, has eliminated a lot of overtime and thousands of management positions, and that:

With all these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.

Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year.  For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.

So in addition to his unfortunate use of the post office—twice—as an example of what his health-care plan would look like, Obama insulted federal employees, antagonized campaign contributors, and heard his press secretary effectively reaffirm the insult.

It is not clear how Obama can now correct the situation (much less remove the image from the minds of the public of a health-care system gone postal). It is probably not possible to invite 35,000 people to the White House for a beer.

UPDATE:  I am indebted to Boyd Klingler for writing to note that the 35,000 figure in my post was a bit off:

At the end of September 2007, according to Fortune’s list of the world’s largest employers, the U.S. Postal Service had over 785,000 employees.  Now I know service seems to get worse every year, but we do eventually get our mail, so I have a feeling the figure cited in your post is slightly low.  I also think we might have heard about the layoffs of 750,000 postal workers in the less than two years since fiscal 2007 . . .

I should have referred to 35,000 management employees, since Keating was writing on behalf of the 35,000 members of the National Association of Postal Supervisors.  As of 2009, Fortune Magazine lists the U.S. Postal Service as No. 84 in its list of the 500 largest corporations in the world, with 765,000 employees, so I should also have noted the absolute impossibility of serving beers to all the people affected by the Obama/Gibbs remarks.

Until Jennifer Rubin returns from vacation, coverage of the comedy gold of Robert Gibbs’s press conferences will necessarily be inadequate, but there was a moment yesterday that bears noting in her absence, starring (as usual) Jake Tapper as the straight man:

TAPPER: . . . In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a, quote, “collective disappointment that you” — meaning the president — “chose the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example in efficiency.” Does the president — has the president seen that letter? Has he responded? Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?

GIBBS: I doubt he’s seen that letter, and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.

It might have been better to say something like “I don’t know if he has seen the letter yet, Jake, but I am sure he will respond because he holds the Postal Service and its employees in the highest regard”—rather than assert that Obama must not regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency, since he did it twice.

Keating’s letter informed the president that the U.S. Postal Service, with its 35,000 employees, has been suffering during the economic downturn, has eliminated a lot of overtime and thousands of management positions, and that:

With all these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.

Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year.  For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.

So in addition to his unfortunate use of the post office—twice—as an example of what his health-care plan would look like, Obama insulted federal employees, antagonized campaign contributors, and heard his press secretary effectively reaffirm the insult.

It is not clear how Obama can now correct the situation (much less remove the image from the minds of the public of a health-care system gone postal). It is probably not possible to invite 35,000 people to the White House for a beer.

UPDATE:  I am indebted to Boyd Klingler for writing to note that the 35,000 figure in my post was a bit off:

At the end of September 2007, according to Fortune’s list of the world’s largest employers, the U.S. Postal Service had over 785,000 employees.  Now I know service seems to get worse every year, but we do eventually get our mail, so I have a feeling the figure cited in your post is slightly low.  I also think we might have heard about the layoffs of 750,000 postal workers in the less than two years since fiscal 2007 . . .

I should have referred to 35,000 management employees, since Keating was writing on behalf of the 35,000 members of the National Association of Postal Supervisors.  As of 2009, Fortune Magazine lists the U.S. Postal Service as No. 84 in its list of the 500 largest corporations in the world, with 765,000 employees, so I should also have noted the absolute impossibility of serving beers to all the people affected by the Obama/Gibbs remarks.

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WSJ Gets Kabul Wrong

Yesterday I dinged the Financial Times for one of its opinion articles on Afghanistan. Today it’s the turn of its major competitor, the Wall Street Journal. To be sure, the Journal has an excellent editorial today, pointing out what an achievement Thursday’s presidential election is. It will mark the second time that the people of Afghanistan have voted for president since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. But far more people are likely to see the sensationalistic and inaccurate headline on the Journal‘s front page: “Taliban Besiege Kabul.”

According to my dictionary, siege means “a military blockade of a city or fortified place to compel it to surrender.” Famous sieges in history range from the siege of Troy during the Trojan War to the siege of Leningrad during World War II. What has occurred in Kabul lately to make anyone think that a siege is going on? Well, on Tuesday the Taliban fired some mortar shells into the center of Kabul that killed no one and then set off a bomb that killed eight people in a NATO convoy. As the Journal notes: “The Kabul attacks make five in the past week for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, killing 15 people and injuring 144.” That’s 15 people killed out of an urban population of perhaps 5 million. You might just as well say that New York City is under siege because there were 523 murders last year and 16,247 felonious assaults—meaning that 10 people a week were killed and 311 injured. In fact, New York is generally considered the safest big city in America, and its homicide rate is among the lowest on record.

Or you could write that Baghdad is under siege because a series of car bombings killed at least 75 people on Wednesday morning. But, again, we know that conditions in Baghdad are actually much better than they have been in recent years and that life is returning to normal—even though it still has a far higher violence rate than Kabul.

To describe what is happening in Kabul as a siege is, quite simply, to redefine siege to the point of meaninglessness. You would think the Journal headline writers—who have already erred recently by putting words into the mouth of Gen. Stan McChrystal—would be more careful.

Yesterday I dinged the Financial Times for one of its opinion articles on Afghanistan. Today it’s the turn of its major competitor, the Wall Street Journal. To be sure, the Journal has an excellent editorial today, pointing out what an achievement Thursday’s presidential election is. It will mark the second time that the people of Afghanistan have voted for president since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. But far more people are likely to see the sensationalistic and inaccurate headline on the Journal‘s front page: “Taliban Besiege Kabul.”

According to my dictionary, siege means “a military blockade of a city or fortified place to compel it to surrender.” Famous sieges in history range from the siege of Troy during the Trojan War to the siege of Leningrad during World War II. What has occurred in Kabul lately to make anyone think that a siege is going on? Well, on Tuesday the Taliban fired some mortar shells into the center of Kabul that killed no one and then set off a bomb that killed eight people in a NATO convoy. As the Journal notes: “The Kabul attacks make five in the past week for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, killing 15 people and injuring 144.” That’s 15 people killed out of an urban population of perhaps 5 million. You might just as well say that New York City is under siege because there were 523 murders last year and 16,247 felonious assaults—meaning that 10 people a week were killed and 311 injured. In fact, New York is generally considered the safest big city in America, and its homicide rate is among the lowest on record.

Or you could write that Baghdad is under siege because a series of car bombings killed at least 75 people on Wednesday morning. But, again, we know that conditions in Baghdad are actually much better than they have been in recent years and that life is returning to normal—even though it still has a far higher violence rate than Kabul.

To describe what is happening in Kabul as a siege is, quite simply, to redefine siege to the point of meaninglessness. You would think the Journal headline writers—who have already erred recently by putting words into the mouth of Gen. Stan McChrystal—would be more careful.

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The ObamaCare Bluff

So, according to the New York Times this morning, Democrats on Capitol Hill are now considering a “go it alone” approach on health-care legislation; no longer will they attempt to negotiate with Republicans, who are determined to defeat any proposal, but will instead “go it alone”:

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Democrats are free to do this because of their insuperable majorities—a 35-seat advantage in the House and, more important, 60 in the Senate (assuming every Democratic senator falls in line, 60 votes is enough to prevent Republicans from blocking “cloture,” which ends debate on a piece of legislation and allows the Senate majority leader to bring it to a vote).

Despite the breathless prose of the story by Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, which reads as though it had been dictated by a Democratic-party strategist rather than written, the effort to blame Republican intransigence for the unexpected public and polling turn against ObamaCare is almost comic. In the House of Representatives, there has been no effort to “negotiate” with Republicans; the problem for the House leadership is the 50 or so Democrats now serving in districts whose voters are generally more conservative. They fear ObamaCare for the simple reason that they are representatives, they know their voters didn’t vote for socialized health care, and their hold on their districts is tenuous. In other words, they are being held back by the logic of representative government itself.

The Senate is a somewhat different story, because there, conservative-leaning Democrats who feel the need to vote against ObamaCare can be replaced by moderate- or liberal-leaning Republicans who are representing states with populaces that have been moving leftward. Even so, the fact that ObamaCare is not commanding the enthusiasm of large majorities of voters has made this a tough vote for them as well.

Hulse and Zeleny write:

The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.

This was true months ago. It is no longer true, because the debate over ObamaCare has been the central point of political discussion for the past six weeks, and those past six weeks—and the ones to follow—have changed the nature of the debate. It seems obvious that Democratic leaders can muscle the legislation through, but can they really? They were unable to do so in July, and things have gotten only worse for them since.

Surely they know this. Therefore, the story is nothing more than an obvious and rather lame bluff, an effort to scare moderate Republicans in the Senate into playing ball. The question becomes what is more costly for such Republicans: voting against Obama on the grounds that health-care reform is unaffordable and possibly facing the wrath of Obama-loving voters in 2010 and 2012, or voting with Obama on an increasingly unpopular piece of legislation they don’t believe in.

There’s no obvious answer to this question. But right now, the White House scare tactic smacks of desperation, not confident enthusiasm.

So, according to the New York Times this morning, Democrats on Capitol Hill are now considering a “go it alone” approach on health-care legislation; no longer will they attempt to negotiate with Republicans, who are determined to defeat any proposal, but will instead “go it alone”:

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Democrats are free to do this because of their insuperable majorities—a 35-seat advantage in the House and, more important, 60 in the Senate (assuming every Democratic senator falls in line, 60 votes is enough to prevent Republicans from blocking “cloture,” which ends debate on a piece of legislation and allows the Senate majority leader to bring it to a vote).

Despite the breathless prose of the story by Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, which reads as though it had been dictated by a Democratic-party strategist rather than written, the effort to blame Republican intransigence for the unexpected public and polling turn against ObamaCare is almost comic. In the House of Representatives, there has been no effort to “negotiate” with Republicans; the problem for the House leadership is the 50 or so Democrats now serving in districts whose voters are generally more conservative. They fear ObamaCare for the simple reason that they are representatives, they know their voters didn’t vote for socialized health care, and their hold on their districts is tenuous. In other words, they are being held back by the logic of representative government itself.

The Senate is a somewhat different story, because there, conservative-leaning Democrats who feel the need to vote against ObamaCare can be replaced by moderate- or liberal-leaning Republicans who are representing states with populaces that have been moving leftward. Even so, the fact that ObamaCare is not commanding the enthusiasm of large majorities of voters has made this a tough vote for them as well.

Hulse and Zeleny write:

The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.

This was true months ago. It is no longer true, because the debate over ObamaCare has been the central point of political discussion for the past six weeks, and those past six weeks—and the ones to follow—have changed the nature of the debate. It seems obvious that Democratic leaders can muscle the legislation through, but can they really? They were unable to do so in July, and things have gotten only worse for them since.

Surely they know this. Therefore, the story is nothing more than an obvious and rather lame bluff, an effort to scare moderate Republicans in the Senate into playing ball. The question becomes what is more costly for such Republicans: voting against Obama on the grounds that health-care reform is unaffordable and possibly facing the wrath of Obama-loving voters in 2010 and 2012, or voting with Obama on an increasingly unpopular piece of legislation they don’t believe in.

There’s no obvious answer to this question. But right now, the White House scare tactic smacks of desperation, not confident enthusiasm.

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