Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2009

Wolf vs. Holder

Rep. Frank Wolf took to the floor of the House today in response to the letter sent to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. He described the decision to dismiss an obvious case of voter intimidation:

This inexplicable dismissal came over the objections of the career attorneys on the trial team as well as the department’s own appeal office, which advised that the complaint was “sufficient to support the injunctions” sought by the career lawyers, and that “the government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters.”

Despite this guidance urging that the department pursue a judgment in the case, it was dismissed in May over the career attorneys’ objections.

However, this unjustified dismissal has not gone unnoticed. I have worked with Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith to demand answers from Attorney General Holder. I am pleased that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has also taken note of this case. The commission has an important special statutory responsibility to “investigate voting rights deprivations and make appraisals of federal policies to enforce federal voting rights laws.”

He then explained the stonewalling that has taken place and called on Holder to respond to the commission’s requests, as he is obligated to:

Congress instilled this independent oversight responsibility of the commission in statute: “All Federal agencies shall fully cooperate with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.” This includes the authority to subpoena witnesses with regard to cases of interest.

The commission has written Attorney General Holder on June 16, June 22, and August 10 requesting answers on the dismissal of this case. It also voted at its September meeting to make its review of this case the primary focus of its 2009 independent report. Earlier today, the commission sent a fourth letter to Attorney General Holder—which I submit for the record—reiterating its requests for information and asking him to respond no later than October 14—or it will proceed with an investigation using its own statutory authorities.

I applaud the commission’s efforts to investigate this unexplained dismissal, which would have serious and dangerous consequences for future voter intimidation enforcement.

I call on Attorney General Holder to answer the questions posed in my letters—dated June 8, July 17, July 22, and July 31—as well as comply with the commission’s request for information so it may complete its report, as required by its statutory authority.

Over to you, Mr. Attorney General. Stonewall or not?

Rep. Frank Wolf took to the floor of the House today in response to the letter sent to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. He described the decision to dismiss an obvious case of voter intimidation:

This inexplicable dismissal came over the objections of the career attorneys on the trial team as well as the department’s own appeal office, which advised that the complaint was “sufficient to support the injunctions” sought by the career lawyers, and that “the government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters.”

Despite this guidance urging that the department pursue a judgment in the case, it was dismissed in May over the career attorneys’ objections.

However, this unjustified dismissal has not gone unnoticed. I have worked with Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith to demand answers from Attorney General Holder. I am pleased that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has also taken note of this case. The commission has an important special statutory responsibility to “investigate voting rights deprivations and make appraisals of federal policies to enforce federal voting rights laws.”

He then explained the stonewalling that has taken place and called on Holder to respond to the commission’s requests, as he is obligated to:

Congress instilled this independent oversight responsibility of the commission in statute: “All Federal agencies shall fully cooperate with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.” This includes the authority to subpoena witnesses with regard to cases of interest.

The commission has written Attorney General Holder on June 16, June 22, and August 10 requesting answers on the dismissal of this case. It also voted at its September meeting to make its review of this case the primary focus of its 2009 independent report. Earlier today, the commission sent a fourth letter to Attorney General Holder—which I submit for the record—reiterating its requests for information and asking him to respond no later than October 14—or it will proceed with an investigation using its own statutory authorities.

I applaud the commission’s efforts to investigate this unexplained dismissal, which would have serious and dangerous consequences for future voter intimidation enforcement.

I call on Attorney General Holder to answer the questions posed in my letters—dated June 8, July 17, July 22, and July 31—as well as comply with the commission’s request for information so it may complete its report, as required by its statutory authority.

Over to you, Mr. Attorney General. Stonewall or not?

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How’s a Week from 2010 Sound?

It sounds like a Jon Stewart routine:

“What we’re looking for here is a meeting that leads to a process that leads to a resolution of the concerns that we have. That process will take some time, and we’re not going to make a snap judgment on Thursday,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, two days before the talks set to take place in Geneva, which he indicated could be the first of several. . . .

While Iran has balked at discussing the nuclear issue as part of Thursday’s talks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stressed Tuesday that when it came to bringing up the nuclear issue, “they may not, but we will.”

So we’re looking for a meeting that leads to a process that leads to other meetings that lead to a meeting in which one day Iran would agree to discuss the nuclear issue. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports:

Britain’s intelligence services say that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead “since late 2004 or early 2005”, an assessment that suggests Tehran has embarked on the final steps towards acquiring nuclear weapons capability. As world powers prepare to confront Iran on Thursday on its nuclear ambitions, the Financial Times has learnt that the UK now judges that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, ordered the resumption of the country’s weapons programme four years ago. . . . By contrast, US intelligence services remain firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted weapons design work in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort as of 2007.

Well, except Obama did concede that the newly revealed plant isn’t configured for peaceful purposes.

The Obama team not only isn’t focused, serious, or deliberate about this process—it doesn’t even have the presence of mind to pretend to be so. And if we can’t seriously talk with Iran about its nuclear capability—until we have the meeting for the meeting to talk about it—how will we ever put an end to the talking phase and commence sanctions or a serious consideration of military options? We won’t, I suspect — and so do Israel, Iran, and America’s allies.

It sounds like a Jon Stewart routine:

“What we’re looking for here is a meeting that leads to a process that leads to a resolution of the concerns that we have. That process will take some time, and we’re not going to make a snap judgment on Thursday,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, two days before the talks set to take place in Geneva, which he indicated could be the first of several. . . .

While Iran has balked at discussing the nuclear issue as part of Thursday’s talks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stressed Tuesday that when it came to bringing up the nuclear issue, “they may not, but we will.”

So we’re looking for a meeting that leads to a process that leads to other meetings that lead to a meeting in which one day Iran would agree to discuss the nuclear issue. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports:

Britain’s intelligence services say that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead “since late 2004 or early 2005”, an assessment that suggests Tehran has embarked on the final steps towards acquiring nuclear weapons capability. As world powers prepare to confront Iran on Thursday on its nuclear ambitions, the Financial Times has learnt that the UK now judges that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, ordered the resumption of the country’s weapons programme four years ago. . . . By contrast, US intelligence services remain firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted weapons design work in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort as of 2007.

Well, except Obama did concede that the newly revealed plant isn’t configured for peaceful purposes.

The Obama team not only isn’t focused, serious, or deliberate about this process—it doesn’t even have the presence of mind to pretend to be so. And if we can’t seriously talk with Iran about its nuclear capability—until we have the meeting for the meeting to talk about it—how will we ever put an end to the talking phase and commence sanctions or a serious consideration of military options? We won’t, I suspect — and so do Israel, Iran, and America’s allies.

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More on New Black Panthers

Rep. Lamar Smith, along with Rep. Frank Wolf, has been at the center of efforts to demand that the Justice Department come clean on its reasons for dismissing the default judgment in the New Black Panther case of voter intimidation. The Justice Department has refused to explain to anyone—Congress, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, or the public why a case filed by the Bush administration in January for which a default judgment was obtained should be dismissed in May. As an adviser to Smith explained today, “What changed as a legal or factual matter? Just tell us. It’s not hard.”

Smith was pleased that his call for an internal Justice Department inquiry was heeded, but that isn’t the end of the matter. As those familiar with his thinking explain, “It is not our judgment to sit back and let OPR do its thing and come out eighteen months from now to say, ‘Nobody here did anything unethical.’”

The issue is not the usual turf for OPR—whether trial lawyers misbehaved. The real issue is whether political appointees intervened for political reasons (e.g., protecting allies of the Democratic party) or because of some newfangled theory that civil-rights laws aren’t properly invoked unless their alleged violator is white.

It isn’t surprising then that Smith, like Wolf, doesn’t appear impressed by Holder’s argument to date that OPR’s involvement blocks further inquires either by Congress or the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As for the latter, those familiar with his thinking suggest, “It would certainly be an important interest that needed to be protected for the [U.S. Civil Rights] Commission to carry out its legally mandated authority which Congress has invested in it.” At least in this case, Smith isn’t inclined to accept that “hiding behind” OPR is an appropriate response to requests for further information.

This is a stunning reversal from the Bush administration. Then the Bush team conducted an inspector general’s investigation of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and also responded to oversight requests from outside the executive branch. Bush officials would not have dreamed of stiffing Congress simply because an internal review was going on. Indeed, the Bush Justice Department submitted piles of documents and made numerous witnesses available for hearings.

Now, however, oversight hearings by the Democratic-controlled Congress to probe the goings-on in the Obama Justice Department hold no lure for Democrats. Likewise, to date Holder shows no inclination to comply with an independent commission’s demands for information. It is quite a nontransparent view of  the executive branch, one that declares it is no one’s  business, other than the administration’s, how the laws of the United States are enforced. It is rather breathtaking when you think about it. It’s the sort of thing law professors, the ACLU, and the civil-rights industry would, in another administration, be frothing at the mouth over—but then this isn’t just any administration. It’s historic, didn’t you hear?

Rep. Lamar Smith, along with Rep. Frank Wolf, has been at the center of efforts to demand that the Justice Department come clean on its reasons for dismissing the default judgment in the New Black Panther case of voter intimidation. The Justice Department has refused to explain to anyone—Congress, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, or the public why a case filed by the Bush administration in January for which a default judgment was obtained should be dismissed in May. As an adviser to Smith explained today, “What changed as a legal or factual matter? Just tell us. It’s not hard.”

Smith was pleased that his call for an internal Justice Department inquiry was heeded, but that isn’t the end of the matter. As those familiar with his thinking explain, “It is not our judgment to sit back and let OPR do its thing and come out eighteen months from now to say, ‘Nobody here did anything unethical.’”

The issue is not the usual turf for OPR—whether trial lawyers misbehaved. The real issue is whether political appointees intervened for political reasons (e.g., protecting allies of the Democratic party) or because of some newfangled theory that civil-rights laws aren’t properly invoked unless their alleged violator is white.

It isn’t surprising then that Smith, like Wolf, doesn’t appear impressed by Holder’s argument to date that OPR’s involvement blocks further inquires either by Congress or the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As for the latter, those familiar with his thinking suggest, “It would certainly be an important interest that needed to be protected for the [U.S. Civil Rights] Commission to carry out its legally mandated authority which Congress has invested in it.” At least in this case, Smith isn’t inclined to accept that “hiding behind” OPR is an appropriate response to requests for further information.

This is a stunning reversal from the Bush administration. Then the Bush team conducted an inspector general’s investigation of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and also responded to oversight requests from outside the executive branch. Bush officials would not have dreamed of stiffing Congress simply because an internal review was going on. Indeed, the Bush Justice Department submitted piles of documents and made numerous witnesses available for hearings.

Now, however, oversight hearings by the Democratic-controlled Congress to probe the goings-on in the Obama Justice Department hold no lure for Democrats. Likewise, to date Holder shows no inclination to comply with an independent commission’s demands for information. It is quite a nontransparent view of  the executive branch, one that declares it is no one’s  business, other than the administration’s, how the laws of the United States are enforced. It is rather breathtaking when you think about it. It’s the sort of thing law professors, the ACLU, and the civil-rights industry would, in another administration, be frothing at the mouth over—but then this isn’t just any administration. It’s historic, didn’t you hear?

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RE: The IOC on 9/11

I certainly agree with Ted Bromund that the IOC is as pompous and self-important as only an international bureaucracy can be and that the 9/11 quote from them is disgusting. But I wonder if President Obama is going to personally present the case for Chicago despite the quote or because of it. After all, apologizing if not actually groveling before anti-American countries and NGOs seems to be an important tactic of his foreign policy. It will interesting to see what he says on Friday.

It also seems to me that he’s fighting an uphill battle, which makes putting his personal prestige on the line even more problematic. The summer Olympics have been held in the United States four times, in St. Louis (1904), Los Angeles (1932 and 1984), and Atlanta (1996). The winter games have also been held in the United States four times, in Lake Placid (1932 and 1980), Squaw Valley (1960), and Salt Lake City (2002).

Brazil’s government is pushing hard for the 2016 summer games to be held in Rio de Janeiro and they have a very good case. Rio’s dazzling setting makes Chicago’s utter flatness dreary. More important, Brazil is rapidly emerging as a major power, with the world’s eighth or tenth largest economy—depending on which statistical source you choose. It is thus economically larger than Canada, which has hosted the Summer Games once and the winter ones twice. But not only has Brazil never hosted the Olympic Games before, neither has the entire continent of South America. It would seem to be their turn.

So I’m betting on Brazil getting the nod. I’ll also bet that Obama’s speech on Friday will be one more variation on the theme of (with apologies to Alexander Pope):

America’s goodness lay hid in night. God Said “Let Obama be!” and all’s now right.

I certainly agree with Ted Bromund that the IOC is as pompous and self-important as only an international bureaucracy can be and that the 9/11 quote from them is disgusting. But I wonder if President Obama is going to personally present the case for Chicago despite the quote or because of it. After all, apologizing if not actually groveling before anti-American countries and NGOs seems to be an important tactic of his foreign policy. It will interesting to see what he says on Friday.

It also seems to me that he’s fighting an uphill battle, which makes putting his personal prestige on the line even more problematic. The summer Olympics have been held in the United States four times, in St. Louis (1904), Los Angeles (1932 and 1984), and Atlanta (1996). The winter games have also been held in the United States four times, in Lake Placid (1932 and 1980), Squaw Valley (1960), and Salt Lake City (2002).

Brazil’s government is pushing hard for the 2016 summer games to be held in Rio de Janeiro and they have a very good case. Rio’s dazzling setting makes Chicago’s utter flatness dreary. More important, Brazil is rapidly emerging as a major power, with the world’s eighth or tenth largest economy—depending on which statistical source you choose. It is thus economically larger than Canada, which has hosted the Summer Games once and the winter ones twice. But not only has Brazil never hosted the Olympic Games before, neither has the entire continent of South America. It would seem to be their turn.

So I’m betting on Brazil getting the nod. I’ll also bet that Obama’s speech on Friday will be one more variation on the theme of (with apologies to Alexander Pope):

America’s goodness lay hid in night. God Said “Let Obama be!” and all’s now right.

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Is McDonnell Pulling Away?

We have three separate polls in the Virginia gubernatorial race, showing Bob McDonnell up by 5, 14, and 9 points. The latter, from Rasmussen, shows a rebound of sorts for McDonnell: “Over the past two weeks, McDonnell’s support has gone up three percentage points while Deeds has lost four points. After closing to essentially a toss-up in mid-September, the race is back to where it was in early September, when the GOP hopeful held a nine-point advantage. In August, McDonnell was up by eight.”

There are five weeks to go, but plainly Creigh Deeds is concerned. How do we know? One of Big Labor’s most fearsome political forces, AFSME, dumped $400,000 more into the race yesterday. Plainly Big Labor is in this to win—and Deeds can use all the help he can get. We’ll see whether an unprecedented amount of money from Big Labor helps Deeds make up the difference. But one thing is clear: whatever lift Deeds might have gotten from the Washington Post–fanned thesis flap isn’t in and of itself going to be sufficient to drag him across the finish line.

We have three separate polls in the Virginia gubernatorial race, showing Bob McDonnell up by 5, 14, and 9 points. The latter, from Rasmussen, shows a rebound of sorts for McDonnell: “Over the past two weeks, McDonnell’s support has gone up three percentage points while Deeds has lost four points. After closing to essentially a toss-up in mid-September, the race is back to where it was in early September, when the GOP hopeful held a nine-point advantage. In August, McDonnell was up by eight.”

There are five weeks to go, but plainly Creigh Deeds is concerned. How do we know? One of Big Labor’s most fearsome political forces, AFSME, dumped $400,000 more into the race yesterday. Plainly Big Labor is in this to win—and Deeds can use all the help he can get. We’ll see whether an unprecedented amount of money from Big Labor helps Deeds make up the difference. But one thing is clear: whatever lift Deeds might have gotten from the Washington Post–fanned thesis flap isn’t in and of itself going to be sufficient to drag him across the finish line.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Lunch

Yesterday, the assistant secretary of state, briefing reporters on the upcoming meeting with Iran, was unable to say who would be attending for Iran, but he indicated that the department would post an additional answer if it had “any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.”

Late this morning, the State Department posted its further response:

Question Taken at the September 29, 2009, Daily Press Briefing

Question: Have we been told by the Iranians who they are sending to participate in the meeting in Geneva? If so, who?

Answer: We refer you to the EU for all inquiries on P5+1 meeting discussions and logistics.

I believe that the department’s answer represents a 15-word diplomatic response meaning “no.”

Yesterday, the assistant secretary of state, briefing reporters on the upcoming meeting with Iran, was unable to say who would be attending for Iran, but he indicated that the department would post an additional answer if it had “any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.”

Late this morning, the State Department posted its further response:

Question Taken at the September 29, 2009, Daily Press Briefing

Question: Have we been told by the Iranians who they are sending to participate in the meeting in Geneva? If so, who?

Answer: We refer you to the EU for all inquiries on P5+1 meeting discussions and logistics.

I believe that the department’s answer represents a 15-word diplomatic response meaning “no.”

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Re: Not Sufficient to Let Holder Investigate Holder

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has independent statutory authority that it is exercising to investigate the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) case’s dismissal. In a letter, a copy of which I received, dated today to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Commission’s Chairman, Gerald A. Reynolds, reminds Holder of the Commission’s “overdue information request” regarding the case. Reynolds informs Holder that the Commission has “initiated an inquiry into the implications of the Department’s enforcement actions in the NBPP case as reflected in our letters to DOJ of June 16 and June 22.” Reynolds recaps the Justice Department’s track record of non-responsiveness and advises Holder that at its September 11 meeting, the Commission “voted to make its review of the implications of the NBPP matter the subject of its annual enforcement report.” Reynolds promises to “accommodate any legitimate concerns” regarding potential interference with the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s internal review.

Reynolds, however, dismisses the notion that the Commission is somehow preempted by OPR’s review:

The Commission has a special statutory responsibility to investigate voting rights deprivations and make appraisals of federal policies to enforce federal voting rights laws. The Commission must form an independent judgment regarding the merits of the NBPP enforcement actions (regardless of how the decisions were made) and the potential impact on future voter-intimidation enforcement by the Department. Accordingly, Congress has provided, in a provision with no statutory exceptions, that “All Federal agencies shall fully cooperate with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.”

Reynolds concludes by requesting that Holder identify the “individual with substantive responsibility for the production of documents, scheduling of interviews and any possible depositions.” If Holder fails to do so, Reynolds warns that the Commission will “propound interrogatories and interview requests directly to the affected department personnel.”

The issue is now joined. Will Holder and the most transparent administration in history, as they keep telling us, stonewall the U.S. Civil Rights Commission? If so, we are headed for a legal showdown and an embarrassing display of obstructionism by a Justice Department quickly gaining the reputation as the most politicized ever.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has independent statutory authority that it is exercising to investigate the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) case’s dismissal. In a letter, a copy of which I received, dated today to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Commission’s Chairman, Gerald A. Reynolds, reminds Holder of the Commission’s “overdue information request” regarding the case. Reynolds informs Holder that the Commission has “initiated an inquiry into the implications of the Department’s enforcement actions in the NBPP case as reflected in our letters to DOJ of June 16 and June 22.” Reynolds recaps the Justice Department’s track record of non-responsiveness and advises Holder that at its September 11 meeting, the Commission “voted to make its review of the implications of the NBPP matter the subject of its annual enforcement report.” Reynolds promises to “accommodate any legitimate concerns” regarding potential interference with the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility’s internal review.

Reynolds, however, dismisses the notion that the Commission is somehow preempted by OPR’s review:

The Commission has a special statutory responsibility to investigate voting rights deprivations and make appraisals of federal policies to enforce federal voting rights laws. The Commission must form an independent judgment regarding the merits of the NBPP enforcement actions (regardless of how the decisions were made) and the potential impact on future voter-intimidation enforcement by the Department. Accordingly, Congress has provided, in a provision with no statutory exceptions, that “All Federal agencies shall fully cooperate with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.”

Reynolds concludes by requesting that Holder identify the “individual with substantive responsibility for the production of documents, scheduling of interviews and any possible depositions.” If Holder fails to do so, Reynolds warns that the Commission will “propound interrogatories and interview requests directly to the affected department personnel.”

The issue is now joined. Will Holder and the most transparent administration in history, as they keep telling us, stonewall the U.S. Civil Rights Commission? If so, we are headed for a legal showdown and an embarrassing display of obstructionism by a Justice Department quickly gaining the reputation as the most politicized ever.

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The IOC on 9/11

Does President Obama’s trip to Copenhagen tomorrow to lobby for Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics mean that victory is in the bag for the Windy City? Ramesh Ponnuru, for one, believes so, and quite a few others have echoed his thought that the president would hardly dare to go—especially after he said on September 14 that he was too busy to make the trip—and risk looking foolish if Chicago lost.

They may be right, but my take is a little different. The IOC has an enormously swollen ego, believing itself to be the spiritual center of the ideology of Olympism. It very much likes to have world leaders at its beck and call. Tony Blair’s successful in-person lobbying for London’s 2012 bid set the unfortunate precedent, and now this round of bidders must match his standard. What persuaded Obama to schedule the visit to Copenhagen was not an assurance that Chicago had won. What persuaded him was influential Canadian IOC member Dick Pound’s comment that his absence from Copenhagen would “be noticed.” Obama is not going to Copenhagen to win. He is going to avoid losing.

It is depressing that Obama, after notifying the Czech Republic that he was pulling the plug on missile defense in a last-minute, late-night phone call, and after having spoken with his senior commander in Afghanistan only once in 10 weeks, has found time to fly to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC. But the IOC itself is far more depressing. Consider the IOC’s history of the Games, titled Athens to Athens, and published in 2003 by British journalist David Miller. Here is the IOC’s official statement, on page 345, on 9/11 and the 2002 Salt Lake City Games:

Yet again every foreigner was either embarrassed or irritated by the rampant American media chauvinism. George W. Bush breached protocol when declaring the Games open “on behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation.” In the space of five months the American people seemed wholly to have forgotten what they had temporarily begun to acknowledge on September 11: that while the immense achievements of the nation over two centuries are regarded with admiration and not a little envy, there are many who find U.S. triumphalism unacceptable.

There is a lot that could be said about this disgusting smear. But most repulsive of all is the IOC’s implication that 9/11 was a reply by a few of the “many” offended by unacceptable American triumphalism, and that Americans are too dense to recognize in a permanent way their own culpability in causing the attack. That is the official, published view of the organization that the president of the United States has decided to grace with a personal visit of supplication. And that is the most nauseating part of this entire miserable affair.

Does President Obama’s trip to Copenhagen tomorrow to lobby for Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics mean that victory is in the bag for the Windy City? Ramesh Ponnuru, for one, believes so, and quite a few others have echoed his thought that the president would hardly dare to go—especially after he said on September 14 that he was too busy to make the trip—and risk looking foolish if Chicago lost.

They may be right, but my take is a little different. The IOC has an enormously swollen ego, believing itself to be the spiritual center of the ideology of Olympism. It very much likes to have world leaders at its beck and call. Tony Blair’s successful in-person lobbying for London’s 2012 bid set the unfortunate precedent, and now this round of bidders must match his standard. What persuaded Obama to schedule the visit to Copenhagen was not an assurance that Chicago had won. What persuaded him was influential Canadian IOC member Dick Pound’s comment that his absence from Copenhagen would “be noticed.” Obama is not going to Copenhagen to win. He is going to avoid losing.

It is depressing that Obama, after notifying the Czech Republic that he was pulling the plug on missile defense in a last-minute, late-night phone call, and after having spoken with his senior commander in Afghanistan only once in 10 weeks, has found time to fly to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC. But the IOC itself is far more depressing. Consider the IOC’s history of the Games, titled Athens to Athens, and published in 2003 by British journalist David Miller. Here is the IOC’s official statement, on page 345, on 9/11 and the 2002 Salt Lake City Games:

Yet again every foreigner was either embarrassed or irritated by the rampant American media chauvinism. George W. Bush breached protocol when declaring the Games open “on behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation.” In the space of five months the American people seemed wholly to have forgotten what they had temporarily begun to acknowledge on September 11: that while the immense achievements of the nation over two centuries are regarded with admiration and not a little envy, there are many who find U.S. triumphalism unacceptable.

There is a lot that could be said about this disgusting smear. But most repulsive of all is the IOC’s implication that 9/11 was a reply by a few of the “many” offended by unacceptable American triumphalism, and that Americans are too dense to recognize in a permanent way their own culpability in causing the attack. That is the official, published view of the organization that the president of the United States has decided to grace with a personal visit of supplication. And that is the most nauseating part of this entire miserable affair.

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California Screamin’

Get ready for a political donnybrook in California. The California Tax Commission, charged with designing a new tax system for the state to replace the one that has led it into fiscal disaster, is about to report, and its recommendations have already been widely leaked. The Wall Street Journal editorialized favorably on the report this morning.

The commission would replace the current, hugely complex system with one that has no sales tax (currently 5 percent) and no corporate income tax (currently 8.85 percent). Instead, it would have a Business Net Receipts Tax of 4 percent, which would tax what a business sells minus the cost of what they purchase from other firms. It is, therefore, very similar to the Value Added Tax widely used in Europe. This would tax major portions of the California economy, such as services, that currently escape the current system designed in the 1930s, when California’s economy was dominated by farms and factories.

The personal income tax would move sharply towards the flat-tax model. There would be a personal deduction of $22,500 for individuals and $45,000 for joint filers, and only three tax rates: 2.75 percent on taxable income up to $56,000 for a couple, 6.5 percent on income above $56,000, and 7.5 percent on income above $1 million. The current tax has seven tax rates and reaches as high as 10.55 percent. There would be deductions only for mortgages, property taxes, and charitable contributions. A family could fill out its state income-tax form in five minutes flat. The current personal-income tax gets fully half its revenues from 144,000 filers at the very top of the economic pyramid, which makes income-tax revenues highly volatile. Money pours into the state treasury in good times (and legislators rush to spend it) and dries up in bad times, such as now, when the state faces a deep fiscal hole.

The commission report would also require that all state revenues above a 10-year rolling average (with allowance for population increase and inflation) be put into a rainy-day fund rather than spent. The legislature will love that idea.

Governor Schwarzenegger has called for a special session of the legislature to consider the proposals, but when that will happen is hard to say. What is certain is that the proposals will be shamelessly demagogued by “progressives” determined to maintain the status quo. The Los Angeles Times, the paper of record for California reactionary progressivism, notes that someone making less than $50,000 might pay $4 less in taxes, a 1.8% reduction, while Californians making $1 million or more would reap, on average, nearly $109,000—a cut of more than 31%.” Translation: Tax cuts for the rich! In fact, under the proposed tax with its sharply increased personal deductions, families earning as much as $101,000 would pay no income tax at all. And the ability of the rich to manipulate their incomes to escape or reduce taxation, via the corporate income tax and special-interest provisions, would be eliminated.

If, by some miracle, the commission’s proposals get enacted more or less intact, California would become a perfect laboratory for testing these tax ideas in the real world. If the state’s fiscal situation improved markedly, it would be a powerful argument for adopting such a tax system by other states and the federal government. But that’s only one more reason “progressives” will fight to the death to prevent their enactment.

Get ready for a political donnybrook in California. The California Tax Commission, charged with designing a new tax system for the state to replace the one that has led it into fiscal disaster, is about to report, and its recommendations have already been widely leaked. The Wall Street Journal editorialized favorably on the report this morning.

The commission would replace the current, hugely complex system with one that has no sales tax (currently 5 percent) and no corporate income tax (currently 8.85 percent). Instead, it would have a Business Net Receipts Tax of 4 percent, which would tax what a business sells minus the cost of what they purchase from other firms. It is, therefore, very similar to the Value Added Tax widely used in Europe. This would tax major portions of the California economy, such as services, that currently escape the current system designed in the 1930s, when California’s economy was dominated by farms and factories.

The personal income tax would move sharply towards the flat-tax model. There would be a personal deduction of $22,500 for individuals and $45,000 for joint filers, and only three tax rates: 2.75 percent on taxable income up to $56,000 for a couple, 6.5 percent on income above $56,000, and 7.5 percent on income above $1 million. The current tax has seven tax rates and reaches as high as 10.55 percent. There would be deductions only for mortgages, property taxes, and charitable contributions. A family could fill out its state income-tax form in five minutes flat. The current personal-income tax gets fully half its revenues from 144,000 filers at the very top of the economic pyramid, which makes income-tax revenues highly volatile. Money pours into the state treasury in good times (and legislators rush to spend it) and dries up in bad times, such as now, when the state faces a deep fiscal hole.

The commission report would also require that all state revenues above a 10-year rolling average (with allowance for population increase and inflation) be put into a rainy-day fund rather than spent. The legislature will love that idea.

Governor Schwarzenegger has called for a special session of the legislature to consider the proposals, but when that will happen is hard to say. What is certain is that the proposals will be shamelessly demagogued by “progressives” determined to maintain the status quo. The Los Angeles Times, the paper of record for California reactionary progressivism, notes that someone making less than $50,000 might pay $4 less in taxes, a 1.8% reduction, while Californians making $1 million or more would reap, on average, nearly $109,000—a cut of more than 31%.” Translation: Tax cuts for the rich! In fact, under the proposed tax with its sharply increased personal deductions, families earning as much as $101,000 would pay no income tax at all. And the ability of the rich to manipulate their incomes to escape or reduce taxation, via the corporate income tax and special-interest provisions, would be eliminated.

If, by some miracle, the commission’s proposals get enacted more or less intact, California would become a perfect laboratory for testing these tax ideas in the real world. If the state’s fiscal situation improved markedly, it would be a powerful argument for adopting such a tax system by other states and the federal government. But that’s only one more reason “progressives” will fight to the death to prevent their enactment.

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Tom Friedman Awakens to the Dangers of Incivility

You can add Thomas Friedman to the long list of pundits who are now quite concerned about the state of political discourse in America and of critics of the president who question his legitimacy. Friedman worries:

I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. . . . [We face] a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest. We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

I’ve written before about the importance of civility in public discourse and the need for what has been called the “etiquette of democracy.” One question, though: When George W. Bush was being routinely savaged by those on the Left—including prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Harry Reid—where were those Friedman columns of ringing condemnation? I don’t recall them; perhaps you do.

When there was actually a movie made about the assassination of President Bush (Death of a President), I don’t recall Friedman writing about “creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.”

When Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker declared that Bush’s “legitimacy is hard to accept,” I don’t recall Mr. Friedman worrying that Bush was having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the Left (adding a mild line of criticism against liberals now, in order to gain the patina of fair-mindedness, simply underscores that Friedman was AWOL when it counted).

I should add that when Jonathan Chait of the New Republic published a piece in 2003 that began, “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it,” one admirable New York Times columnist did speak out. His name is David Brooks. (“The quintessential new warrior scans the Web for confirmation of the president’s villainy,” Brooks wrote. “The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.”)

Most of us struggle with the temptation to employ double standards, to cloak political agendas in the language of moral concern and outrage. Some individuals do an admirable job resisting that temptation. Others, like Tom Friedman, do not. He would have a lot more credibility now if he had actually spoken out before.

You can add Thomas Friedman to the long list of pundits who are now quite concerned about the state of political discourse in America and of critics of the president who question his legitimacy. Friedman worries:

I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. . . . [We face] a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest. We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

I’ve written before about the importance of civility in public discourse and the need for what has been called the “etiquette of democracy.” One question, though: When George W. Bush was being routinely savaged by those on the Left—including prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Harry Reid—where were those Friedman columns of ringing condemnation? I don’t recall them; perhaps you do.

When there was actually a movie made about the assassination of President Bush (Death of a President), I don’t recall Friedman writing about “creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.”

When Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker declared that Bush’s “legitimacy is hard to accept,” I don’t recall Mr. Friedman worrying that Bush was having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the Left (adding a mild line of criticism against liberals now, in order to gain the patina of fair-mindedness, simply underscores that Friedman was AWOL when it counted).

I should add that when Jonathan Chait of the New Republic published a piece in 2003 that began, “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it,” one admirable New York Times columnist did speak out. His name is David Brooks. (“The quintessential new warrior scans the Web for confirmation of the president’s villainy,” Brooks wrote. “The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.”)

Most of us struggle with the temptation to employ double standards, to cloak political agendas in the language of moral concern and outrage. Some individuals do an admirable job resisting that temptation. Others, like Tom Friedman, do not. He would have a lot more credibility now if he had actually spoken out before.

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Losing the Battle — and the War

In the morass of buzzwords and legislative minutiae, some fundamental questions about health care are obscured. Gallup asked a central one: Whose responsibility is it to provide health insurance? By a huge 62 to 35 percent margin, Democrats say it’s the government’s. Republicans believe the opposite—by an 89 to 10 percent margin, they say it is up to individuals. What’s remarkable is that independents are far closer to Republicans: by 64 to 34 percent, they maintain that the responsibility lies with individuals. By a 61 to 37 percent margin, Americans overall also say it is the individual’s responsibility, not the government’s. Gallup concludes:

An important principle behind the current push for healthcare reform is that healthcare is a basic right that the government ought to guarantee for all Americans. Not only are the details of achieving universal coverage proving to be highly controversial, but it is unclear how strongly Americans support the premise.

Well that’s a squirrely way to put it. We actually do see some dramatic evidence that not only have Democrats failed to persuade their fellow citizens of the merits of their particular scheme(s), but they have badly lost the philosophical argument. The mantra that health care is  a “right” has seemingly not carried the day. Americans might like the government to help out, but the notion that government is defective in some regard unless it becomes their health-care provider is not catching on.

So many TV appearances and so many speeches, yet the president finds himself unable to move his fellow citizens off their cranky attachment to individual responsibility and limited government. We must be such a disappointment to him.

In the morass of buzzwords and legislative minutiae, some fundamental questions about health care are obscured. Gallup asked a central one: Whose responsibility is it to provide health insurance? By a huge 62 to 35 percent margin, Democrats say it’s the government’s. Republicans believe the opposite—by an 89 to 10 percent margin, they say it is up to individuals. What’s remarkable is that independents are far closer to Republicans: by 64 to 34 percent, they maintain that the responsibility lies with individuals. By a 61 to 37 percent margin, Americans overall also say it is the individual’s responsibility, not the government’s. Gallup concludes:

An important principle behind the current push for healthcare reform is that healthcare is a basic right that the government ought to guarantee for all Americans. Not only are the details of achieving universal coverage proving to be highly controversial, but it is unclear how strongly Americans support the premise.

Well that’s a squirrely way to put it. We actually do see some dramatic evidence that not only have Democrats failed to persuade their fellow citizens of the merits of their particular scheme(s), but they have badly lost the philosophical argument. The mantra that health care is  a “right” has seemingly not carried the day. Americans might like the government to help out, but the notion that government is defective in some regard unless it becomes their health-care provider is not catching on.

So many TV appearances and so many speeches, yet the president finds himself unable to move his fellow citizens off their cranky attachment to individual responsibility and limited government. We must be such a disappointment to him.

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And Then There Is China

Most of the attention concerning Obama’s fixation on finding international consensus for sanctions has focused on Russia. He felt compelled to throw Poland and the Czech Republic under the bus to get on Russia’s good side. So far, Russia remains skeptical. But Russia is a model team player compared with China. The Chinese aren’t remotely interested in sanctions, as the Washington Post reports:

In its effort to muster support for sterner action against Iran, the Obama administration will have to overcome China’s reluctance to punish a country that is one of its top oil suppliers and a major beneficiary of its energy-related investments.

The administration’s frustration with Beijing is growing. U.S. officials have noted that China has appeared even more reluctant than Russia to take action against Iran after disclosures about its nuclear program. U.S. officials said they are particularly concerned that China has blocked their efforts to target freight-forwarding companies based in Hong Kong that reship goods, including prohibited weaponry, to Iran.

The Chinese “have not displayed a sense of urgency” on Iran, said a senior administration official. Instead, the official said, China has attempted to “have it both ways,” preserving its relationship with Iran while also working with the United States and other countries involved in the effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

(Well, that’s rich—the Obama administration complaining about other countries’ lack of urgency on Iran.) It seems that China’s desire for oil and to protect its Iranian investments take precedence over any desire to assist Obama in reaching that fervently hoped for global consensus. One imagines that Obama’s team is brainstorming ideas—what could they give the Chinese to change their minds? Could they be bribed or cajoled in some fashion? Unlikely. And this will almost certainly become a “complicating factor” (that’s when reality intervenes in Obama’s fantasy foreign policy), delaying and impeding implementations of those “crippling” sanctions.

What’s Plan B if the Chinese don’t come around? Well, the Obama team certainly hasn’t gotten that far. The U.S. is still “testing” Iran’s intentions, we are told. Actually it’s been the other way around—Iran’s been testing us. And Obama and the rest of the “international community” have amply demonstrated just how unserious they are about depriving Iran of nuclear weapons.

Most of the attention concerning Obama’s fixation on finding international consensus for sanctions has focused on Russia. He felt compelled to throw Poland and the Czech Republic under the bus to get on Russia’s good side. So far, Russia remains skeptical. But Russia is a model team player compared with China. The Chinese aren’t remotely interested in sanctions, as the Washington Post reports:

In its effort to muster support for sterner action against Iran, the Obama administration will have to overcome China’s reluctance to punish a country that is one of its top oil suppliers and a major beneficiary of its energy-related investments.

The administration’s frustration with Beijing is growing. U.S. officials have noted that China has appeared even more reluctant than Russia to take action against Iran after disclosures about its nuclear program. U.S. officials said they are particularly concerned that China has blocked their efforts to target freight-forwarding companies based in Hong Kong that reship goods, including prohibited weaponry, to Iran.

The Chinese “have not displayed a sense of urgency” on Iran, said a senior administration official. Instead, the official said, China has attempted to “have it both ways,” preserving its relationship with Iran while also working with the United States and other countries involved in the effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

(Well, that’s rich—the Obama administration complaining about other countries’ lack of urgency on Iran.) It seems that China’s desire for oil and to protect its Iranian investments take precedence over any desire to assist Obama in reaching that fervently hoped for global consensus. One imagines that Obama’s team is brainstorming ideas—what could they give the Chinese to change their minds? Could they be bribed or cajoled in some fashion? Unlikely. And this will almost certainly become a “complicating factor” (that’s when reality intervenes in Obama’s fantasy foreign policy), delaying and impeding implementations of those “crippling” sanctions.

What’s Plan B if the Chinese don’t come around? Well, the Obama team certainly hasn’t gotten that far. The U.S. is still “testing” Iran’s intentions, we are told. Actually it’s been the other way around—Iran’s been testing us. And Obama and the rest of the “international community” have amply demonstrated just how unserious they are about depriving Iran of nuclear weapons.

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Remembering William Safire

Back in 2004, in a minor moment in the presidential campaign, John Kerry accused the White House of a misrepresentation “no matter how much they bluster and futz.” It is probably safe to say there were not many political columnists who recognized that Kerry, with his “futzing” accusation, had used a Yiddish word.

There certainly was only one columnist who wrote a column about it. Safire traced the Yiddish origin of the word, and then its first use in American English by James Farrell in his 1936 novel Studs Lonigan, then its appearance in Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?, then noted a music critic writing that “you don’t want to futz with Shubert,” and finally—lest the entire Jewish vote go to Kerry—cited “futzing” statements by President Reagan and the Republican majority leader in New York.

Safire is also probably the only columnist who ever wrote an entire column on whether the proper reference to the Jewish Bible is the “Old Testament” or the “Hebrew Bible.” He concluded that the most accurate title might be “the Hebrew Bible, plus parts of Daniel, Ezra, Jeremiah and the others that were written in Aramaic.”

Most people will remember him as a New York Times columnist, since his column ran for 32 years and became an American institution, but he was probably the closest thing we had to a Renaissance man. He wrote 16 books on language, with titles such as Quoth the Maven and The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time. He was the author of a dictionary.

In addition to his books on language, he was the author of four novels, the editor of five anthologies, and the author of five other books on politics—30 books in all. And it is also safe to say there was no other political columnist who saw in the Book of Job a political parable, with contemporary relevance, and wrote a book about it (The First Dissident) that became a classic.

Not bad for someone who didn’t finish college. Safire attended Syracuse University but left after two years. He returned a generation later to deliver the commencement address, telling the graduating class that his honorary degree demonstrated there was hope for slow learners. He became a member of the Syracuse Board of Trustees, where he said his function was to represent the dropouts.

He once described himself facetiously as a neo-neanderthal, someone whose favorite day was the end of Daylight Savings Time, when he got the chance to turn back the clock. But his serious self-description was “libertarian conservative”—although his longtime championship of civil liberties, and his criticism of the Patriot Act, was admired by liberals as well.

He was a recorder of the American language, a chronicler of American history in fact-based novels, and a writer of one of the most enduring and widely read political columns in American history. But it is his book on the Book of Job that may ultimately be viewed as his most important contribution. It captures the literary brilliance, the challenges to theology, and the continuing political significance of one of the seminal works of the Hebrew Bible.

Ironically, it is also what gave him the opportunity to demonstrate that he was the furthest thing from a “rigid Republican.” At an earlier point in the 2004 election, when Howard Dean was the front-runner, Dean made a huge gaffe: attempting to appeal to Midwestern Christians before the Iowa primary, he described the Book of Job as his favorite one in the New Testament. He was one testament off, and his rivals savaged him for his misstatement. Safire came to his defense, devoting a column to Dean’s remarks, arguing he had in fact subtly described some of the complicated themes in the book. Safire did not use his erudition to politically pile on.

He would not have liked that last sentence, since his first rule of writing was “Remember to never split an infinitive.” And another was “And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction,” and that “a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.” But (if you will excuse a sentence starting with a conjunction), the sentence accurately describes his spirit, and our loss.

Back in 2004, in a minor moment in the presidential campaign, John Kerry accused the White House of a misrepresentation “no matter how much they bluster and futz.” It is probably safe to say there were not many political columnists who recognized that Kerry, with his “futzing” accusation, had used a Yiddish word.

There certainly was only one columnist who wrote a column about it. Safire traced the Yiddish origin of the word, and then its first use in American English by James Farrell in his 1936 novel Studs Lonigan, then its appearance in Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?, then noted a music critic writing that “you don’t want to futz with Shubert,” and finally—lest the entire Jewish vote go to Kerry—cited “futzing” statements by President Reagan and the Republican majority leader in New York.

Safire is also probably the only columnist who ever wrote an entire column on whether the proper reference to the Jewish Bible is the “Old Testament” or the “Hebrew Bible.” He concluded that the most accurate title might be “the Hebrew Bible, plus parts of Daniel, Ezra, Jeremiah and the others that were written in Aramaic.”

Most people will remember him as a New York Times columnist, since his column ran for 32 years and became an American institution, but he was probably the closest thing we had to a Renaissance man. He wrote 16 books on language, with titles such as Quoth the Maven and The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time. He was the author of a dictionary.

In addition to his books on language, he was the author of four novels, the editor of five anthologies, and the author of five other books on politics—30 books in all. And it is also safe to say there was no other political columnist who saw in the Book of Job a political parable, with contemporary relevance, and wrote a book about it (The First Dissident) that became a classic.

Not bad for someone who didn’t finish college. Safire attended Syracuse University but left after two years. He returned a generation later to deliver the commencement address, telling the graduating class that his honorary degree demonstrated there was hope for slow learners. He became a member of the Syracuse Board of Trustees, where he said his function was to represent the dropouts.

He once described himself facetiously as a neo-neanderthal, someone whose favorite day was the end of Daylight Savings Time, when he got the chance to turn back the clock. But his serious self-description was “libertarian conservative”—although his longtime championship of civil liberties, and his criticism of the Patriot Act, was admired by liberals as well.

He was a recorder of the American language, a chronicler of American history in fact-based novels, and a writer of one of the most enduring and widely read political columns in American history. But it is his book on the Book of Job that may ultimately be viewed as his most important contribution. It captures the literary brilliance, the challenges to theology, and the continuing political significance of one of the seminal works of the Hebrew Bible.

Ironically, it is also what gave him the opportunity to demonstrate that he was the furthest thing from a “rigid Republican.” At an earlier point in the 2004 election, when Howard Dean was the front-runner, Dean made a huge gaffe: attempting to appeal to Midwestern Christians before the Iowa primary, he described the Book of Job as his favorite one in the New Testament. He was one testament off, and his rivals savaged him for his misstatement. Safire came to his defense, devoting a column to Dean’s remarks, arguing he had in fact subtly described some of the complicated themes in the book. Safire did not use his erudition to politically pile on.

He would not have liked that last sentence, since his first rule of writing was “Remember to never split an infinitive.” And another was “And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction,” and that “a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.” But (if you will excuse a sentence starting with a conjunction), the sentence accurately describes his spirit, and our loss.

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Oren on Yom Kippur

On Yom Yippur, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren explained to the Adas Israel congregation in Washington, D.C., Israel’s position on Iran:

“The government of Israel has supported [Obama's] position on engagement with Iran. It was not an easy position to adopt,” Oren told the fasting congregants. “We see a clock ticking on the wall, but we support it, with assurances that this will not be an open-ended process, that by the end of the year, the [U.S.] administration will have a good idea about where Iran stood on this process, and that failing to persuade Iran diplomatically to stop enriching uranium on its soil, the United States would lead the international effort to impose crippling sanctions on Iran.”

Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, “If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can’t let that person come.”

As for when or under what circumstances Israel would be compelled to take that step, he added, “We’ll defer that answer until later on.”

Before the U.S. government’s atrocious response, Oren also commented on the Goldstone report:

Assailing the credibility of the report, Oren said it “established a mandate that assumed Israel’s guilt in advance, which included a judge who published her findings condemning Israel for war crimes in advance, which conducted its hearings under the auspices of Hamas … and thanked Hamas for its cooperation.”

“We take that kind of cooperation very, very seriously as a very severe threat to Israel’s security,” he added.

He compared it to a hypothetical situation whereby the U.N. would investigate American operations in Afghanistan by holding hearings under the auspices of the Taliban.

“We in Israel as a democracy, and as a Jewish state, are taking the responsibility upon ourselves by investigating ourselves,” he added, referring to several ongoing inquiries the Israeli military is conducting into alleged abuses during the January Gaza operation.

Meanwhile, Obama meanders on. He’s not going to be hurried into making any decisions, we are told. No quick decisions on sanctions—which once decided upon would then have to be designed, negotiated, implemented, and maintained. Obama is plainly on a different time line (forever?) from the Israelis and is not yet willing to throw in the towel on engagement, no matter how many times his negotiating partner is caught cheating.

One can’t help but conclude that the administration and Israel are on a collision course. Israel insists on clarity (as to Iran’s conduct and intentions); Obama is straining to obscure Iran’s behavior. Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. One gets the sense Obama has no bright lines. What is “unacceptable” one day is a fact of life the next for him. Israel will act, if needed, on its own; Obama is fixated on finding international consensus, which he must at some level understand is highly unlikely.

Iran’s self-disclosure has brought these fundamental differences, as well as Obama’s reckless waste of time, to the surface. Obama would have preferred to let it all slide, to let the Iranian threat fester and grow. It is a measure of how deluded and self-absorbed this president is that he imagined he could get by with such an approach. Would Iran’s behavior remain concealed forever? Would Israel wait indefinitely? The administration lacked a coherent plan—and still does—for dealing with a dire threat to our security and to those in Iran’s neighborhood.

Instead, Obama has harbored the childish notion that talking to the despotic regime (unaided as of yet by even the remote threat of sanctions) will bring about a “solution.” Stripped of the illusion that Iran was being lured into a meaningful discussion, the president finds himself increasingly isolated from America’s closest allies. All this is now painfully and inescapably obvious to friends and foes alike. It is what comes, after all, from weakness, indecision, and willful blindness to the nature of our enemies.

On Yom Yippur, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren explained to the Adas Israel congregation in Washington, D.C., Israel’s position on Iran:

“The government of Israel has supported [Obama's] position on engagement with Iran. It was not an easy position to adopt,” Oren told the fasting congregants. “We see a clock ticking on the wall, but we support it, with assurances that this will not be an open-ended process, that by the end of the year, the [U.S.] administration will have a good idea about where Iran stood on this process, and that failing to persuade Iran diplomatically to stop enriching uranium on its soil, the United States would lead the international effort to impose crippling sanctions on Iran.”

Oren said that Israel had no choice but to hold in reserve its right to strike Iran first, saying, “If you know someone is going to cause harm to your family, you are compelled to launch a preemptive strike against them. You can’t let that person come.”

As for when or under what circumstances Israel would be compelled to take that step, he added, “We’ll defer that answer until later on.”

Before the U.S. government’s atrocious response, Oren also commented on the Goldstone report:

Assailing the credibility of the report, Oren said it “established a mandate that assumed Israel’s guilt in advance, which included a judge who published her findings condemning Israel for war crimes in advance, which conducted its hearings under the auspices of Hamas … and thanked Hamas for its cooperation.”

“We take that kind of cooperation very, very seriously as a very severe threat to Israel’s security,” he added.

He compared it to a hypothetical situation whereby the U.N. would investigate American operations in Afghanistan by holding hearings under the auspices of the Taliban.

“We in Israel as a democracy, and as a Jewish state, are taking the responsibility upon ourselves by investigating ourselves,” he added, referring to several ongoing inquiries the Israeli military is conducting into alleged abuses during the January Gaza operation.

Meanwhile, Obama meanders on. He’s not going to be hurried into making any decisions, we are told. No quick decisions on sanctions—which once decided upon would then have to be designed, negotiated, implemented, and maintained. Obama is plainly on a different time line (forever?) from the Israelis and is not yet willing to throw in the towel on engagement, no matter how many times his negotiating partner is caught cheating.

One can’t help but conclude that the administration and Israel are on a collision course. Israel insists on clarity (as to Iran’s conduct and intentions); Obama is straining to obscure Iran’s behavior. Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. One gets the sense Obama has no bright lines. What is “unacceptable” one day is a fact of life the next for him. Israel will act, if needed, on its own; Obama is fixated on finding international consensus, which he must at some level understand is highly unlikely.

Iran’s self-disclosure has brought these fundamental differences, as well as Obama’s reckless waste of time, to the surface. Obama would have preferred to let it all slide, to let the Iranian threat fester and grow. It is a measure of how deluded and self-absorbed this president is that he imagined he could get by with such an approach. Would Iran’s behavior remain concealed forever? Would Israel wait indefinitely? The administration lacked a coherent plan—and still does—for dealing with a dire threat to our security and to those in Iran’s neighborhood.

Instead, Obama has harbored the childish notion that talking to the despotic regime (unaided as of yet by even the remote threat of sanctions) will bring about a “solution.” Stripped of the illusion that Iran was being lured into a meaningful discussion, the president finds himself increasingly isolated from America’s closest allies. All this is now painfully and inescapably obvious to friends and foes alike. It is what comes, after all, from weakness, indecision, and willful blindness to the nature of our enemies.

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The Inertia President

Robert Kagan makes the case for regime change in Iran:

The regime’s overriding goal since the election, therefore, has been to buy time and try to reestablish and consolidate control without any foreign interference in its internal affairs. In this Tehran has succeeded admirably.

But it has also had help. The Obama administration has, perhaps unwittingly, been a most cooperative partner. It has refused to make the question of regime survival part of its strategy. Indeed, it doesn’t even treat Iran as if it were in the throes of a political crisis. President Obama seems to regard the ongoing turmoil as a distraction from the main business of stopping Iran’s nuclear program. And this is exactly what the rulers in Tehran want him to do: focus on the nukes and ignore the regime’s instability.

We could have done both–sought to aid the democratic protesters and taken swifter action to enforce existing sanctions and enact new ones. But the Obama administration has done neither. Its rationale for muteness during the protests was a mix of fatalism and misguided optimism. The protesters are sure to lose–and we need the regime to stabilize to make that grand bargain. Well, it wasn’t well thought out, but the implications were clear. We wouldn’t exploit the regime’s instability. Nothing would be done to endanger our ability to enter talks with a regime we knew to be cheating on existing sanctions. Got that?

Now that valuable time has been frittered away, Kagan advises that sanctions shouldn’t aim to deprive the Iranian regime of its nuclear weapons but to help topple the regime itself. He explains:

The opposition leadership is engaged in a struggle to the death with the regime. When sanctions begin to cause hardships, the opposition will press its case that the regime is leading Iran to ruin. That is the case for moving ahead with crippling sanctions as soon as possible and not waiting months for Iran’s leaders to drag out talks. Will crippling sanctions topple the regime? Not necessarily. But the odds that the regime might fall given the right mix of internal opposition and foreign pressure are higher than the odds that it will give up its nuclear program voluntarily — probably much higher. The Obama administration prides itself on pragmatic realism. It ought to pursue the policy that has the higher chance of success.

The Obama administration, however, seems to have a “none of the above” approach to Iran. It doesn’t want to rattle the regime or promote unrest. It didn’t want to exploit information about the secret nuclear facility. It doesn’t yet want to pursue sanctions. And it’s warning against a military option as well. Meanwhile, Obama is busy dismantling missile defense. Apparently, there is no option–other than chatting without the remote chance of success and without an end point–that seems to capture the president’s imagination.

Obama’s preference for inertia–on Iran as well as Afghanistan–is spun by his supporters as “thoughtfulness.” But it’s becoming apparent that Obama is conflict-averse and action-averse. Whether it’s flak from Russia on Iran or push back from Joe Biden and the Democratic left-wingers, Obama seems unable to endure forceful opposition. So he defers or shops for alternatives. He consults and waits some more. He conceals evidence of the Iranians’ mendacity. And he has more meetings.

Unfortunately, we’re running out of time. It would have been helpful had we already begun a concerted effort on one or multiple fronts to defang or topple the Iranian government. That not being the case, our options are becoming limited, and soon we will have no viable ones at all. Maybe that was the game plan all along.

Robert Kagan makes the case for regime change in Iran:

The regime’s overriding goal since the election, therefore, has been to buy time and try to reestablish and consolidate control without any foreign interference in its internal affairs. In this Tehran has succeeded admirably.

But it has also had help. The Obama administration has, perhaps unwittingly, been a most cooperative partner. It has refused to make the question of regime survival part of its strategy. Indeed, it doesn’t even treat Iran as if it were in the throes of a political crisis. President Obama seems to regard the ongoing turmoil as a distraction from the main business of stopping Iran’s nuclear program. And this is exactly what the rulers in Tehran want him to do: focus on the nukes and ignore the regime’s instability.

We could have done both–sought to aid the democratic protesters and taken swifter action to enforce existing sanctions and enact new ones. But the Obama administration has done neither. Its rationale for muteness during the protests was a mix of fatalism and misguided optimism. The protesters are sure to lose–and we need the regime to stabilize to make that grand bargain. Well, it wasn’t well thought out, but the implications were clear. We wouldn’t exploit the regime’s instability. Nothing would be done to endanger our ability to enter talks with a regime we knew to be cheating on existing sanctions. Got that?

Now that valuable time has been frittered away, Kagan advises that sanctions shouldn’t aim to deprive the Iranian regime of its nuclear weapons but to help topple the regime itself. He explains:

The opposition leadership is engaged in a struggle to the death with the regime. When sanctions begin to cause hardships, the opposition will press its case that the regime is leading Iran to ruin. That is the case for moving ahead with crippling sanctions as soon as possible and not waiting months for Iran’s leaders to drag out talks. Will crippling sanctions topple the regime? Not necessarily. But the odds that the regime might fall given the right mix of internal opposition and foreign pressure are higher than the odds that it will give up its nuclear program voluntarily — probably much higher. The Obama administration prides itself on pragmatic realism. It ought to pursue the policy that has the higher chance of success.

The Obama administration, however, seems to have a “none of the above” approach to Iran. It doesn’t want to rattle the regime or promote unrest. It didn’t want to exploit information about the secret nuclear facility. It doesn’t yet want to pursue sanctions. And it’s warning against a military option as well. Meanwhile, Obama is busy dismantling missile defense. Apparently, there is no option–other than chatting without the remote chance of success and without an end point–that seems to capture the president’s imagination.

Obama’s preference for inertia–on Iran as well as Afghanistan–is spun by his supporters as “thoughtfulness.” But it’s becoming apparent that Obama is conflict-averse and action-averse. Whether it’s flak from Russia on Iran or push back from Joe Biden and the Democratic left-wingers, Obama seems unable to endure forceful opposition. So he defers or shops for alternatives. He consults and waits some more. He conceals evidence of the Iranians’ mendacity. And he has more meetings.

Unfortunately, we’re running out of time. It would have been helpful had we already begun a concerted effort on one or multiple fronts to defang or topple the Iranian government. That not being the case, our options are becoming limited, and soon we will have no viable ones at all. Maybe that was the game plan all along.

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Meeting Iran: If It Goes Well, There’ll Be an Opportunity for Lunch

At the State Department press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley was asked to respond to Iran’s assertion that it will not talk about its second nuclear facility at this coming Thursday’s meeting:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re — as we have stated quite clearly, we have encouraged this meeting because the United States and the international community have concerns about all of Iran’s activities, all of its nuclear ambitions. We seek answers to questions that we’ve had for some time and questions that were raised most recently by this covert reactor.

So that is the ultimate question on the table: Is Iran going to come to the meeting on Thursday, prepared to seriously address the concerns that the international community has? And we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

Sounds tough. One wonders exactly how tough, however, given the answers to the questions that followed. First–since Obama assured us last year that his advocacy of meetings without “preconditions” did not mean lack of “preparations”–do we know who is going to show up for Iran?

QUESTION: Have they even actually confirmed that they are going to attend the meeting — and at what level — or even attend it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: We — I don’t — as of last night, I don’t know that we had a confirmation as to who was attending the meetings. So I think that — I’ll take the question if we have any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.

Okay, so we don’t know who’s coming. But what about the details of the meeting from our side? Has anyone thought them through, especially what happens if Iran says it won’t talk about the nuclear issue?

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any indication, do you know any of the details of how this will come about, the talks Thursday, in the sense that — do they all sit around the same table? Do they make presentations? And if the Iranians, as they’ve said, refuse to discuss the nuclear issue, what is the reaction? Does everybody else get up and walk out?

MR. CROWLEY: . . . I think leading the effort will be Javier Solana. So many of the mechanics of the meeting, both in terms of the setting, the duration, et cetera, will be up to him. I think that we will welcome whatever opportunity presents itself for discussion, both as the P5+1, and then if it goes well, you can probably anticipate one or more plenary discussions, perhaps the opportunity for lunch and further discussion.

Okay, Mr. Solana’s handling all that — mechanics, duration, lunch. But at the end of the meeting, will Crowley provide a “readout,” giving a sense of whether it’s “worth continuing with this at all”? Or will there be just a “thumbs-up or thumbs-down that it’s a useful engagement”?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would put it this way. The President has said clearly that we’re interested in a process. We don’t think that these issues will be solved in one meeting. I don’t think that we’ll get the full perspective of Iran’s willingness to engage in one meeting. But clearly, once we are at the table, we hear from them, we see the tone, we’ll know some things.

And then the real question is, are they willing to engage in a process. . . .

So Thursday’s meeting will start a process without preconditions and, apparently, without a lot of preparation either. If the meeting makes it through lunch, however, expect a “readout” suggesting it was a “useful” start, although one requiring a lot more meetings to meet the tough Western demands.

At the State Department press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley was asked to respond to Iran’s assertion that it will not talk about its second nuclear facility at this coming Thursday’s meeting:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re — as we have stated quite clearly, we have encouraged this meeting because the United States and the international community have concerns about all of Iran’s activities, all of its nuclear ambitions. We seek answers to questions that we’ve had for some time and questions that were raised most recently by this covert reactor.

So that is the ultimate question on the table: Is Iran going to come to the meeting on Thursday, prepared to seriously address the concerns that the international community has? And we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

Sounds tough. One wonders exactly how tough, however, given the answers to the questions that followed. First–since Obama assured us last year that his advocacy of meetings without “preconditions” did not mean lack of “preparations”–do we know who is going to show up for Iran?

QUESTION: Have they even actually confirmed that they are going to attend the meeting — and at what level — or even attend it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: We — I don’t — as of last night, I don’t know that we had a confirmation as to who was attending the meetings. So I think that — I’ll take the question if we have any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.

Okay, so we don’t know who’s coming. But what about the details of the meeting from our side? Has anyone thought them through, especially what happens if Iran says it won’t talk about the nuclear issue?

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any indication, do you know any of the details of how this will come about, the talks Thursday, in the sense that — do they all sit around the same table? Do they make presentations? And if the Iranians, as they’ve said, refuse to discuss the nuclear issue, what is the reaction? Does everybody else get up and walk out?

MR. CROWLEY: . . . I think leading the effort will be Javier Solana. So many of the mechanics of the meeting, both in terms of the setting, the duration, et cetera, will be up to him. I think that we will welcome whatever opportunity presents itself for discussion, both as the P5+1, and then if it goes well, you can probably anticipate one or more plenary discussions, perhaps the opportunity for lunch and further discussion.

Okay, Mr. Solana’s handling all that — mechanics, duration, lunch. But at the end of the meeting, will Crowley provide a “readout,” giving a sense of whether it’s “worth continuing with this at all”? Or will there be just a “thumbs-up or thumbs-down that it’s a useful engagement”?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would put it this way. The President has said clearly that we’re interested in a process. We don’t think that these issues will be solved in one meeting. I don’t think that we’ll get the full perspective of Iran’s willingness to engage in one meeting. But clearly, once we are at the table, we hear from them, we see the tone, we’ll know some things.

And then the real question is, are they willing to engage in a process. . . .

So Thursday’s meeting will start a process without preconditions and, apparently, without a lot of preparation either. If the meeting makes it through lunch, however, expect a “readout” suggesting it was a “useful” start, although one requiring a lot more meetings to meet the tough Western demands.

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What’s Next?

Holman Jenkins pines for a rational health-care debate. He notes:

President Barack Obama made a “public option” his centerpiece not because it’s the answer to what’s broken in the U.S. system, but because it’s a halfway house to a single-payer setup that liberal Democrats have always wanted. Team Obama also knew the public is concerned about rising costs, so they jammed together a hooey-filled argument that the public option was somehow the solution to rising costs.

The public is not as dumb as it’s made out to be, and Mr. Obama’s public option died a bipartisan death yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee. What’s left is a package of “reforms” that are mere trite extensions of what we’ve been doing for decades. That is, piling up mandates on private insurers and then lying that this somehow isn’t driving up the cost of health insurance; piling up subsidies for health consumption and then lying that this somehow isn’t responsible for runaway health-care spending.

So where does that put us now? It seems there are several possibilities. As occurred with social security and immigration reform under George W. Bush, the entire health-care reform effort may simply implode without resolution. Liberals insist on a public option while everyone else says no. Everyone goes away mad, vowing to blame the other guys. The public breathes a sigh of relief.

Alternatively, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid may realize they cannot become the death panel for the Obama administration. They assemble a package of discrete reforms that could have been enacted months ago. There are many pilot programs and study groups. Obama declares “victory,” liberals are furious that their moment of triumph has turned to mush, and the Obama agenda limps on.

And then there is the possibility that out of the morass of conflicting measures and without any assistance from the president (who plainly has no inner LBJ), some sort of comprehensive bill emerges. This alternative now seems the most difficult to imagine, which suggests how far we’ve come and how badly the president has fared. What would be in the bill? Could the Democrats use the reconciliation process to jam it through? We still have no answers to these basic questions. Why?

It’s simple really: on the signature issue in his domestic agenda, Obama never laid out and fought for a bipartisan, credible health-care plan. He conceived of health-care reform as an extension of a partisan campaign rather than as a test of serious policy-making and governance. It turns out that you can’t campaign on the idea of health-care reform (especially the idea of a radical government takeover of health care) once you’re president. You actually have to put a plan together, negotiate with Congress, and then explain it to the voters. That, it seems, Obama was never going to do. It is still possible that a comprehensive plan may emerge in spite of the president’s lethargic attitude toward governance, but it’s seeming less likely with each passing day.

Holman Jenkins pines for a rational health-care debate. He notes:

President Barack Obama made a “public option” his centerpiece not because it’s the answer to what’s broken in the U.S. system, but because it’s a halfway house to a single-payer setup that liberal Democrats have always wanted. Team Obama also knew the public is concerned about rising costs, so they jammed together a hooey-filled argument that the public option was somehow the solution to rising costs.

The public is not as dumb as it’s made out to be, and Mr. Obama’s public option died a bipartisan death yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee. What’s left is a package of “reforms” that are mere trite extensions of what we’ve been doing for decades. That is, piling up mandates on private insurers and then lying that this somehow isn’t driving up the cost of health insurance; piling up subsidies for health consumption and then lying that this somehow isn’t responsible for runaway health-care spending.

So where does that put us now? It seems there are several possibilities. As occurred with social security and immigration reform under George W. Bush, the entire health-care reform effort may simply implode without resolution. Liberals insist on a public option while everyone else says no. Everyone goes away mad, vowing to blame the other guys. The public breathes a sigh of relief.

Alternatively, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid may realize they cannot become the death panel for the Obama administration. They assemble a package of discrete reforms that could have been enacted months ago. There are many pilot programs and study groups. Obama declares “victory,” liberals are furious that their moment of triumph has turned to mush, and the Obama agenda limps on.

And then there is the possibility that out of the morass of conflicting measures and without any assistance from the president (who plainly has no inner LBJ), some sort of comprehensive bill emerges. This alternative now seems the most difficult to imagine, which suggests how far we’ve come and how badly the president has fared. What would be in the bill? Could the Democrats use the reconciliation process to jam it through? We still have no answers to these basic questions. Why?

It’s simple really: on the signature issue in his domestic agenda, Obama never laid out and fought for a bipartisan, credible health-care plan. He conceived of health-care reform as an extension of a partisan campaign rather than as a test of serious policy-making and governance. It turns out that you can’t campaign on the idea of health-care reform (especially the idea of a radical government takeover of health care) once you’re president. You actually have to put a plan together, negotiate with Congress, and then explain it to the voters. That, it seems, Obama was never going to do. It is still possible that a comprehensive plan may emerge in spite of the president’s lethargic attitude toward governance, but it’s seeming less likely with each passing day.

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A Diplomatic Train Wreck

Robert Satloff observes that Obama’s fetish about Israel’s settlements resulted in a “diplomatic train-wreck.” He explains:

In June, after Obama and Clinton publicly demanded a freeze–but before the Americans reached a deal with the Israelis–the president flew to Riyadh to ask Saudi King Abdullah to ante up in terms of incremental normalization with Israel. The king reportedly sent the president packing. . . . Washington’s fixation on stopping settlement activity did have a powerful echo in at least one Middle East country: Israel. America’s freeze-mania managed to transform Israel’s deep national ambivalence about the wisdom of expanding West Bank settlements into patriotic support for the right of Jews to live in their ancient capital. By giving off vibes that it wanted a freeze even more than the Arabs themselves, and that it wanted to halt building even in Israel’s capital, the administration succeeded in making Netanyahu more popular than when he came to office in March. Obama’s own approval ratings among Israeli voters fell to single digits–and this is before he had shown whether he had the mettle to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the region’s real strategic threat. Getting into a fight with Israel without having anything to show for it from the Arabs was not what the president bargained for.

So now we are back to where things stood at the end of the Bush administration, Satloff argues. But are we? The Israelis have lost confidence in the American president and discovered they can say no. The Palestinians have learned that “unacceptable” for Obama (as in “the settlement activity is unacceptable”) doesn’t mean anything. So we’re not exactly back to square one. Both sides have little reason to alter their positions or to listen to American negotiators. (For those who see the entire “peace process” as a charade divorced from the real world–where there is no Palestinian commitment to abate terrorism or recognize the Jewish state–this all comes as no surprise.)

Meanwhile, the Israelis have come to see that the American president is not to be relied upon and does not regard the U.S.-Israel relationship in quite the same way as the past few presidents. Friendship has been replaced by legalisms, trust has been superseded by public acts of defiance. That will have ramifications not merely for the moribund “peace process” but also for the immediate and overriding issue that Israel and its neighbors must confront–the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The lesson the Israelis have learned is that they rely on Obama at their own risk. That’s not likely to be forgotten any time soon.

Robert Satloff observes that Obama’s fetish about Israel’s settlements resulted in a “diplomatic train-wreck.” He explains:

In June, after Obama and Clinton publicly demanded a freeze–but before the Americans reached a deal with the Israelis–the president flew to Riyadh to ask Saudi King Abdullah to ante up in terms of incremental normalization with Israel. The king reportedly sent the president packing. . . . Washington’s fixation on stopping settlement activity did have a powerful echo in at least one Middle East country: Israel. America’s freeze-mania managed to transform Israel’s deep national ambivalence about the wisdom of expanding West Bank settlements into patriotic support for the right of Jews to live in their ancient capital. By giving off vibes that it wanted a freeze even more than the Arabs themselves, and that it wanted to halt building even in Israel’s capital, the administration succeeded in making Netanyahu more popular than when he came to office in March. Obama’s own approval ratings among Israeli voters fell to single digits–and this is before he had shown whether he had the mettle to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the region’s real strategic threat. Getting into a fight with Israel without having anything to show for it from the Arabs was not what the president bargained for.

So now we are back to where things stood at the end of the Bush administration, Satloff argues. But are we? The Israelis have lost confidence in the American president and discovered they can say no. The Palestinians have learned that “unacceptable” for Obama (as in “the settlement activity is unacceptable”) doesn’t mean anything. So we’re not exactly back to square one. Both sides have little reason to alter their positions or to listen to American negotiators. (For those who see the entire “peace process” as a charade divorced from the real world–where there is no Palestinian commitment to abate terrorism or recognize the Jewish state–this all comes as no surprise.)

Meanwhile, the Israelis have come to see that the American president is not to be relied upon and does not regard the U.S.-Israel relationship in quite the same way as the past few presidents. Friendship has been replaced by legalisms, trust has been superseded by public acts of defiance. That will have ramifications not merely for the moribund “peace process” but also for the immediate and overriding issue that Israel and its neighbors must confront–the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The lesson the Israelis have learned is that they rely on Obama at their own risk. That’s not likely to be forgotten any time soon.

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What Would He Have to Do?

Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Obama. So how’s he doing after nearly nine months of beating up on Israel, cowering from a confrontation with Iran, and telling Jewish leaders (with a large measure of disdain) that they should go engage in some self-reflection on the Israeli-Palestinian question? Well, his poll numbers are not stellar among American Jews–but not as bad as you might expect given his conduct.

The highlights: Fifty-four percent still approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. But 51 percent disagree with Obama’s call for a settlement freeze. (Yes, the two items seem contradictory, but we’ll get to that. This isn’t about logic.) Fifty-one percent don’t think Israel should compromise on the final status of Jerusalem. Also notable is the fact that American Jews are gloomy about the outlook for peace: 75 percent think the goal of the Arab states is the destruction of Israel rather than the return of occupied territories, and by a 51 percent to 43 percent margin, American Jews don’t think there will be a time when Israel will live in peace with its neighbors.

As for Iran, American Jews approve of Obama’s performance by a 49-35 percent margin. Fifty-six percent support an American military action, while 66 percent would support an Israeli action. In 2008, American Jews opposed military action by a 47-42 percent margin.

The most sobering numbers may be these: 41 percent feel fairly close to Israel, 22 percent very close, and 30 percent fairly or very distant from Israel.

From the executive summary, we learn:

Among age segments, AJC found little distinction in approval of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, with 54 percent of those under 40; 57 percent aged 40-59; and 49 percent over 60 expressing approval.

On the other hand, denominational affiliation appears to be a key factor in determining attitudes. While majorities of Conservative (54 percent) and Reform Jews (59 percent) approve, only 14 percent of Orthodox Jews approve of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. . . .

The AJC survey found that a majority, 51 percent of U.S. Jews, disagree with the Obama Administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction, while 41 percent agree with that tactic.

Disapproval is fairly consistent among age segments — 49 percent of those under 40 disapprove and 38 percent approve; 53 percent ages 40-59 disapprove and 42 percent approve; and 51 percent over 60 disapprove, while 41 percent approve. Among the denominations, 74 percent of Orthodox, 62 percent of Conservative, and 46 percent of Reform Jews disapprove of the call for a full settlement freeze. In contrast, 21 percent of Orthodox, 33 percent of Conservative and 45 percent of Reform approve.

What to make of all this? Well, sadly it provides further support for the thesis of Norman Podhoretz’s book Why Are Jew Liberals? It seems there is virtually nothing Obama could do to offend a significant segment of the American Jewry. Even if a majority of American Jews disapprove of the main focus of Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to date –the effort to foist a settlement freeze on Israel–they still feel compelled to effectively “vote” for him by indicating approval for his Israel policy. It isn’t rational. But then the “Torah of liberalism,” as Podhoretz describes the substitution of liberal faith for religious faith, is not grounded in reason.

And as Podhoretz also argued, the more religiously observant the respondent, the less likely he/she is to support Obama. (Those Jews have no need for the Torah of liberalism; they are quite attached to the original one.) These Jews have soured on Obama,  apparently clear-eyed in their assessment of his stance toward Israel.

But there is something else quite alarming here. If 30 percent of those Jews surveyed feel very or fairly distant from Israel, then Obama’s anti-Israel stance and his desire to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel may line up quite well with their own views. In a sense, these Jews don’t care much about Israel, so they aren’t much bothered if Obama doesn’t either. And, more importantly, it is further evidence for the proposition that pro-Israel Jews who want additional support for their cause should consider being less dismissive of evangelical Christians who have unbridled affection for Israel. (I suspect that the percentage of evangelical Christians who feel fairly or very distant from Israel is less than 30 percent.)

Whether Obama’s support among American Jews will hold even at current levels remains to be seen. It seems Jews are increasingly supportive of military action against Iran, oppose a settlement freeze, and are quite skeptical about the “peace process.” Logic would tell us that if Obama acts in ways contrary to these views, that support will erode. But maybe not–this isn’t about logic for many Jews who will find some reason to justify their continued fidelity to the most liberal president we have ever elected. And for the disturbingly large segment of Jews whose affection for Israel is minimal, their focus will continue to center almost exclusively on Obama’s ultra-liberal domestic agenda. For them Obama’s unwillingness to promote a robust U.S.-Israeli relationship and deal forthrightly with an existential threat to Israel isn’t all that relevant.

So it may turn out that there is not much–short of renouncing his ultra-liberal domestic agenda–that Obama might do to lose the support of a significant percentage of American Jews.

Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for Obama. So how’s he doing after nearly nine months of beating up on Israel, cowering from a confrontation with Iran, and telling Jewish leaders (with a large measure of disdain) that they should go engage in some self-reflection on the Israeli-Palestinian question? Well, his poll numbers are not stellar among American Jews–but not as bad as you might expect given his conduct.

The highlights: Fifty-four percent still approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. But 51 percent disagree with Obama’s call for a settlement freeze. (Yes, the two items seem contradictory, but we’ll get to that. This isn’t about logic.) Fifty-one percent don’t think Israel should compromise on the final status of Jerusalem. Also notable is the fact that American Jews are gloomy about the outlook for peace: 75 percent think the goal of the Arab states is the destruction of Israel rather than the return of occupied territories, and by a 51 percent to 43 percent margin, American Jews don’t think there will be a time when Israel will live in peace with its neighbors.

As for Iran, American Jews approve of Obama’s performance by a 49-35 percent margin. Fifty-six percent support an American military action, while 66 percent would support an Israeli action. In 2008, American Jews opposed military action by a 47-42 percent margin.

The most sobering numbers may be these: 41 percent feel fairly close to Israel, 22 percent very close, and 30 percent fairly or very distant from Israel.

From the executive summary, we learn:

Among age segments, AJC found little distinction in approval of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, with 54 percent of those under 40; 57 percent aged 40-59; and 49 percent over 60 expressing approval.

On the other hand, denominational affiliation appears to be a key factor in determining attitudes. While majorities of Conservative (54 percent) and Reform Jews (59 percent) approve, only 14 percent of Orthodox Jews approve of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. . . .

The AJC survey found that a majority, 51 percent of U.S. Jews, disagree with the Obama Administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction, while 41 percent agree with that tactic.

Disapproval is fairly consistent among age segments — 49 percent of those under 40 disapprove and 38 percent approve; 53 percent ages 40-59 disapprove and 42 percent approve; and 51 percent over 60 disapprove, while 41 percent approve. Among the denominations, 74 percent of Orthodox, 62 percent of Conservative, and 46 percent of Reform Jews disapprove of the call for a full settlement freeze. In contrast, 21 percent of Orthodox, 33 percent of Conservative and 45 percent of Reform approve.

What to make of all this? Well, sadly it provides further support for the thesis of Norman Podhoretz’s book Why Are Jew Liberals? It seems there is virtually nothing Obama could do to offend a significant segment of the American Jewry. Even if a majority of American Jews disapprove of the main focus of Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to date –the effort to foist a settlement freeze on Israel–they still feel compelled to effectively “vote” for him by indicating approval for his Israel policy. It isn’t rational. But then the “Torah of liberalism,” as Podhoretz describes the substitution of liberal faith for religious faith, is not grounded in reason.

And as Podhoretz also argued, the more religiously observant the respondent, the less likely he/she is to support Obama. (Those Jews have no need for the Torah of liberalism; they are quite attached to the original one.) These Jews have soured on Obama,  apparently clear-eyed in their assessment of his stance toward Israel.

But there is something else quite alarming here. If 30 percent of those Jews surveyed feel very or fairly distant from Israel, then Obama’s anti-Israel stance and his desire to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel may line up quite well with their own views. In a sense, these Jews don’t care much about Israel, so they aren’t much bothered if Obama doesn’t either. And, more importantly, it is further evidence for the proposition that pro-Israel Jews who want additional support for their cause should consider being less dismissive of evangelical Christians who have unbridled affection for Israel. (I suspect that the percentage of evangelical Christians who feel fairly or very distant from Israel is less than 30 percent.)

Whether Obama’s support among American Jews will hold even at current levels remains to be seen. It seems Jews are increasingly supportive of military action against Iran, oppose a settlement freeze, and are quite skeptical about the “peace process.” Logic would tell us that if Obama acts in ways contrary to these views, that support will erode. But maybe not–this isn’t about logic for many Jews who will find some reason to justify their continued fidelity to the most liberal president we have ever elected. And for the disturbingly large segment of Jews whose affection for Israel is minimal, their focus will continue to center almost exclusively on Obama’s ultra-liberal domestic agenda. For them Obama’s unwillingness to promote a robust U.S.-Israeli relationship and deal forthrightly with an existential threat to Israel isn’t all that relevant.

So it may turn out that there is not much–short of renouncing his ultra-liberal domestic agenda–that Obama might do to lose the support of a significant percentage of American Jews.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Marty Peretz isn’t buying the Obama team’s excuse-mongering that a military option in Iran only buys time: “On June 7, 1981, several Israeli air force F-16s, accompanied by F-15 interceptors, took out an Iraqi uranium-powered nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad. Twenty-two years later–and not for wont of trying–the Iraqis still did not have a nuclear facility, as poor George Bush can tell you. Yes, Iranian nuclear facilities are more dispersed and more intricate. But Israeli military might (to say nothing of American military might) is also more sophisticated, more intrusive and more capacious than in 1981. I’d be happy with a 20 years delay in Iranian nuclear arms development, and even in a decade’s delay. With such a devastating defeat the regime would probably collapse. That’s when the diplomatic option might really work.”

John McCain calls for regime change in Iran. Well, if sanctions don’t work and the administration thinks military action won’t solve anything, then McCain has a point.

Jim Geraghty: “Finally, an administration official says ‘the gloves are off’ in our fight overseas. Unfortunately, it’s Michelle Obama talking Olympics.”

Senate Democrats are already considering what happens if Harry Reid loses in 2010.

In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Bob McDonnell is either five points ahead or 14 points ahead or somewhere in between. So far, Creigh Deeds doesn’t lead in any poll.

Obama has had nearly nine months to think about Iran and has long since known about its not-so-secret nuclear facility. But the president isn’t going to make any “snap judgments.” Well, as he’s been thinking about Afghanistan since the presidential campaign started and is undecided on that, too, it stands to reason he’s nowhere close to making a judgment on Iran. The last president was the Decider; this one is the Staller.

Outside military experts and Senate Republicans take exception to the president’s lackadaisical decision-making: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Obama on Tuesday to make a swift decision and explain why he accepts or rejects McChrystal’s plan. ‘Timing is important,’ McConnell said on the Senate floor. ‘A failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal’s strategy, and his anticipated request for additional forces, could serve to undermine some of the good decisions the president has made on national security.’” McConnell also calls for Gens. McChrystal and Petraeus to testify.

Obama has only talked to McChrystal once. But he’s gotten lots of memos. A Senate staffer points out that Obama meets with SEIU president Andy Stern once a week.

Marty Peretz isn’t buying the Obama team’s excuse-mongering that a military option in Iran only buys time: “On June 7, 1981, several Israeli air force F-16s, accompanied by F-15 interceptors, took out an Iraqi uranium-powered nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad. Twenty-two years later–and not for wont of trying–the Iraqis still did not have a nuclear facility, as poor George Bush can tell you. Yes, Iranian nuclear facilities are more dispersed and more intricate. But Israeli military might (to say nothing of American military might) is also more sophisticated, more intrusive and more capacious than in 1981. I’d be happy with a 20 years delay in Iranian nuclear arms development, and even in a decade’s delay. With such a devastating defeat the regime would probably collapse. That’s when the diplomatic option might really work.”

John McCain calls for regime change in Iran. Well, if sanctions don’t work and the administration thinks military action won’t solve anything, then McCain has a point.

Jim Geraghty: “Finally, an administration official says ‘the gloves are off’ in our fight overseas. Unfortunately, it’s Michelle Obama talking Olympics.”

Senate Democrats are already considering what happens if Harry Reid loses in 2010.

In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Bob McDonnell is either five points ahead or 14 points ahead or somewhere in between. So far, Creigh Deeds doesn’t lead in any poll.

Obama has had nearly nine months to think about Iran and has long since known about its not-so-secret nuclear facility. But the president isn’t going to make any “snap judgments.” Well, as he’s been thinking about Afghanistan since the presidential campaign started and is undecided on that, too, it stands to reason he’s nowhere close to making a judgment on Iran. The last president was the Decider; this one is the Staller.

Outside military experts and Senate Republicans take exception to the president’s lackadaisical decision-making: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged Obama on Tuesday to make a swift decision and explain why he accepts or rejects McChrystal’s plan. ‘Timing is important,’ McConnell said on the Senate floor. ‘A failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal’s strategy, and his anticipated request for additional forces, could serve to undermine some of the good decisions the president has made on national security.’” McConnell also calls for Gens. McChrystal and Petraeus to testify.

Obama has only talked to McChrystal once. But he’s gotten lots of memos. A Senate staffer points out that Obama meets with SEIU president Andy Stern once a week.

Read Less




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