Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2, 2009

Obama’s Backward Progressivism

In yesterday’s book review in the Wall Street Journal (the book under review was 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus), William Anthony Hay writes that King James II “sought to extend state power at the expense of Parliament and the privileges of local communities. James’s adversaries preferred the dynamism of commerce; they believed that wealth sprang from the limitless striving of human endeavor rather than the finite availability of land.”

King James II (reigned 1685-1688)  attempted to emulate Louis XIV’s absolutist, dirigiste France rather than the live-and-let-live, commercial-minded, and very wealthy Dutch Republic. The ever more commercial-minded British gave James II the boot in the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” replacing him with his elder daughter and son-in-law (as well as nephew) William of Orange, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands.  Britain rapidly became the richest and most powerful state in Europe, while France languished under its top-down, autocratic government until the explosion of the French Revolution a century later produced, in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase, “a pile of corpses and a tyrant.”

Tweak that passage a little and it could easily be about Barack Obama versus those who believe in free markets. For three hundred years later, despite the vast changes that have taken place, the basic political divide in the world remains between those who believe in empowering the state to do good for all and those who believe in empowering the individual to do good for himself under the rule of law while letting the invisible hand do good for all thereby.

With many fits and starts, individual power has been winning around the world and will, I am sure, continue to win. Thus, Obama’s idea of how the country should be run is really a throwback to an earlier world view. But in the greatest triumph of public relations in the history of politics, the Left succeeded some one hundred years ago in labeling its ideas as “progressive” — i.e., new and innovative. In fact they are deeply regressive. Louis XIV’s France, after all, was characterized by an autocrat who ruled with the help of a council that served at his pleasure and with the support of a small and vastly privileged elite; the great mass of the people had no rights whatever. How does that differ from Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union? Other than the autocrat being chosen by heredity, not at all (and North Korea has even eliminated that difference).

Is there much difference between Barack Obama’s vision for America and Clement Atlee’s vision for Britain sixty-four years ago. Not really.

Going back to an idea that failed more than two generations ago may be “progressive” but it’s not progress.

In yesterday’s book review in the Wall Street Journal (the book under review was 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus), William Anthony Hay writes that King James II “sought to extend state power at the expense of Parliament and the privileges of local communities. James’s adversaries preferred the dynamism of commerce; they believed that wealth sprang from the limitless striving of human endeavor rather than the finite availability of land.”

King James II (reigned 1685-1688)  attempted to emulate Louis XIV’s absolutist, dirigiste France rather than the live-and-let-live, commercial-minded, and very wealthy Dutch Republic. The ever more commercial-minded British gave James II the boot in the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” replacing him with his elder daughter and son-in-law (as well as nephew) William of Orange, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands.  Britain rapidly became the richest and most powerful state in Europe, while France languished under its top-down, autocratic government until the explosion of the French Revolution a century later produced, in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase, “a pile of corpses and a tyrant.”

Tweak that passage a little and it could easily be about Barack Obama versus those who believe in free markets. For three hundred years later, despite the vast changes that have taken place, the basic political divide in the world remains between those who believe in empowering the state to do good for all and those who believe in empowering the individual to do good for himself under the rule of law while letting the invisible hand do good for all thereby.

With many fits and starts, individual power has been winning around the world and will, I am sure, continue to win. Thus, Obama’s idea of how the country should be run is really a throwback to an earlier world view. But in the greatest triumph of public relations in the history of politics, the Left succeeded some one hundred years ago in labeling its ideas as “progressive” — i.e., new and innovative. In fact they are deeply regressive. Louis XIV’s France, after all, was characterized by an autocrat who ruled with the help of a council that served at his pleasure and with the support of a small and vastly privileged elite; the great mass of the people had no rights whatever. How does that differ from Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union? Other than the autocrat being chosen by heredity, not at all (and North Korea has even eliminated that difference).

Is there much difference between Barack Obama’s vision for America and Clement Atlee’s vision for Britain sixty-four years ago. Not really.

Going back to an idea that failed more than two generations ago may be “progressive” but it’s not progress.

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You Think Obama Has Poll Problems

Much has been written about Obama’s stark and speedy decline in the polls. However, voters like Congress even less. Politico notes:

The number of Americans who view Congress favorably has dipped to a 24-year low, according to a new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll released Wednesday. Only 37 percent of those surveyed held a favorable view of Congress, down 13 percentage points since April, while 52 percent held an unfavorable view.

Rasmussen reports that 57 percent of voters would like to replace the entire Congress. Depending on the poll, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval ratings range from the mid-30s to the high 20s. And Majority Leader Harry Reid trails in polls for his Senate re-election in 2010.

All in all, it’s a fairly stunning performance for the Democratic-controlled Congress, which can no longer blame its woes (at least not credibly) on the Republicans. Democrats control the show, and so far voters are voting thumbs down. Might it be that the spend-a-thon and the parade of ethical problem children are putting voters in another “throw the bums out” sort of mood?

In 2006 voters rejected incumbents who spent like drunken sailors and racked up a series of embarrassing ethical violations—while sending a message to the president that he was mismanaging the key issue of the day (then it was the Iraq war). It could happen again, unless Congress gets its act together.

Much has been written about Obama’s stark and speedy decline in the polls. However, voters like Congress even less. Politico notes:

The number of Americans who view Congress favorably has dipped to a 24-year low, according to a new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll released Wednesday. Only 37 percent of those surveyed held a favorable view of Congress, down 13 percentage points since April, while 52 percent held an unfavorable view.

Rasmussen reports that 57 percent of voters would like to replace the entire Congress. Depending on the poll, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval ratings range from the mid-30s to the high 20s. And Majority Leader Harry Reid trails in polls for his Senate re-election in 2010.

All in all, it’s a fairly stunning performance for the Democratic-controlled Congress, which can no longer blame its woes (at least not credibly) on the Republicans. Democrats control the show, and so far voters are voting thumbs down. Might it be that the spend-a-thon and the parade of ethical problem children are putting voters in another “throw the bums out” sort of mood?

In 2006 voters rejected incumbents who spent like drunken sailors and racked up a series of embarrassing ethical violations—while sending a message to the president that he was mismanaging the key issue of the day (then it was the Iraq war). It could happen again, unless Congress gets its act together.

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British History No Guide in Afghanistan

David Ignatius resorts to history to suggest that we should limit our commitment in Afghanistan. He writes:

Reading Afghan history is sobering, to put it mildly. Peter Hopkirk’s narrative “The Great Game” documents the inability of the British Empire, with all its troops, wealth and imperial discipline, to subdue Afghanistan’s fiercely independent tribes. The book highlights the hubris of British hawks, who argued that potential threats to the British raj must be confronted with an aggressive “forward strategy” in the Hindu Kush.

There was a more cautious faction back then, too. They argued for a “backward” approach to defending India: Let invaders exhaust themselves on the way; if they made it past Afghanistan, proper defenses could be mustered in time. This was known as the “masterly inactivity” school, and it was probably right.

This misses the point entirely. The U.S. strategic interest in Afghanistan is vastly different from that of the Raj. The British were concerned that Afghanistan would fall into Russia’s orbit and could be used as a staging ground for an invasion of India (which included the present-day territory of Pakistan). They achieved their aim in the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), when, following a British invasion, the government of Afghanistan gave the British Empire control of its foreign policy. That arrangement lasted until 1919, by which time the Great Game was history.

The British made no attempt to subdue Afghanistan—at least not after the disastrous First Afghan War (1839-1842)—because they didn’t have to. They were perfectly happy to leave a small force on the Northwest Frontier to keep the Pashtun tribes (they called them Pathans) from getting too far out of line. For roughly a century (1849-1947), British and Indian troops fought, with the help of Pashtu militias, to limit the predations of the hill tribes and quell their periodic uprisings.

In those days it was simply inconceivable that backward tribesmen could pose a threat to London or other centers of civilization. It is no longer inconceivable. Thus our stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan is much different from that of the Brits. We have no interest in stopping a classic invasion emanating from Afghanistan. What we are worried about is that these ungoverned spaces will be used as launching pads for terrorism in the West. So we cannot afford to leave the Afghans and Pakistanis to their own devices as we did before 9/11.

We have no choice but to try to bring a measure of stability and security to these troubled regions, because if we don’t, we will pay a price far higher than the British Empire ever contemplated. “Masterly inactivity” isn’t an option for the U.S.—not unless we want to risk repeating the horrors of 9/11.

David Ignatius resorts to history to suggest that we should limit our commitment in Afghanistan. He writes:

Reading Afghan history is sobering, to put it mildly. Peter Hopkirk’s narrative “The Great Game” documents the inability of the British Empire, with all its troops, wealth and imperial discipline, to subdue Afghanistan’s fiercely independent tribes. The book highlights the hubris of British hawks, who argued that potential threats to the British raj must be confronted with an aggressive “forward strategy” in the Hindu Kush.

There was a more cautious faction back then, too. They argued for a “backward” approach to defending India: Let invaders exhaust themselves on the way; if they made it past Afghanistan, proper defenses could be mustered in time. This was known as the “masterly inactivity” school, and it was probably right.

This misses the point entirely. The U.S. strategic interest in Afghanistan is vastly different from that of the Raj. The British were concerned that Afghanistan would fall into Russia’s orbit and could be used as a staging ground for an invasion of India (which included the present-day territory of Pakistan). They achieved their aim in the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), when, following a British invasion, the government of Afghanistan gave the British Empire control of its foreign policy. That arrangement lasted until 1919, by which time the Great Game was history.

The British made no attempt to subdue Afghanistan—at least not after the disastrous First Afghan War (1839-1842)—because they didn’t have to. They were perfectly happy to leave a small force on the Northwest Frontier to keep the Pashtun tribes (they called them Pathans) from getting too far out of line. For roughly a century (1849-1947), British and Indian troops fought, with the help of Pashtu militias, to limit the predations of the hill tribes and quell their periodic uprisings.

In those days it was simply inconceivable that backward tribesmen could pose a threat to London or other centers of civilization. It is no longer inconceivable. Thus our stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan is much different from that of the Brits. We have no interest in stopping a classic invasion emanating from Afghanistan. What we are worried about is that these ungoverned spaces will be used as launching pads for terrorism in the West. So we cannot afford to leave the Afghans and Pakistanis to their own devices as we did before 9/11.

We have no choice but to try to bring a measure of stability and security to these troubled regions, because if we don’t, we will pay a price far higher than the British Empire ever contemplated. “Masterly inactivity” isn’t an option for the U.S.—not unless we want to risk repeating the horrors of 9/11.

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AARP in the Doghouse

The president isn’t the only one with problems keeping his base happy. USA Today reports:

AARP, which has lost tens of thousands of members over its support for efforts to revamp the health care system, is preparing a post–Labor Day blitz to try to cast itself as a politically impartial advocate on health care issues. “To be clear: AARP has not endorsed any comprehensive health care reform bill — but we are fighting for a solution that improves health care for our members,” the group’s CEO, Barry Rand, and president, Jennie Chin Hansen, wrote to members on Tuesday.

[. . .]

Since July 1, many of the 60,000 AARP members who have quit over concerns about health care legislation said they were worried it could lead to cuts in Medicare. Although AARP has not endorsed any specific plan, its general support for a system change left many members with the impression it backs the Democrats’ bill.

The resignations surprised leaders of the 40-million-member lobbying group, even though it signed up 400,000 new members during the same period.

It seems AARP was completely taken by surprise. They had no idea their members cared about rationing:

AARP’s legislative director, David Certner, says the concerns seniors are raising now about rationing and cuts to their benefits are far different from those seniors have voiced for the past several years — concerns that prompted AARP to endorse plans for health care system changes. Those concerns, he says, were about the high cost of health care, the difficulty getting insurance for those between 50 and 64 years old who don’t yet qualify for Medicare and the high cost of prescription drugs.

“The last thing I want is for members to feel we’re not representing them,” says Lori Parham, AARP’s Florida director.

Well, maybe they should go on a listening tour—or better yet, hold some town-hall meetings (perhaps a joint event with the AMA, whose members are also bewildered by their organization’s support of a bill antithetical to the interests of its members).

It seems that lots of health-care “leaders” have been shocked to learn that their members don’t agree with a government takeover of health care. If they want to remain leaders, they’d do well to get in touch with those folks and get out of the Obama-cheerleading business.

The president isn’t the only one with problems keeping his base happy. USA Today reports:

AARP, which has lost tens of thousands of members over its support for efforts to revamp the health care system, is preparing a post–Labor Day blitz to try to cast itself as a politically impartial advocate on health care issues. “To be clear: AARP has not endorsed any comprehensive health care reform bill — but we are fighting for a solution that improves health care for our members,” the group’s CEO, Barry Rand, and president, Jennie Chin Hansen, wrote to members on Tuesday.

[. . .]

Since July 1, many of the 60,000 AARP members who have quit over concerns about health care legislation said they were worried it could lead to cuts in Medicare. Although AARP has not endorsed any specific plan, its general support for a system change left many members with the impression it backs the Democrats’ bill.

The resignations surprised leaders of the 40-million-member lobbying group, even though it signed up 400,000 new members during the same period.

It seems AARP was completely taken by surprise. They had no idea their members cared about rationing:

AARP’s legislative director, David Certner, says the concerns seniors are raising now about rationing and cuts to their benefits are far different from those seniors have voiced for the past several years — concerns that prompted AARP to endorse plans for health care system changes. Those concerns, he says, were about the high cost of health care, the difficulty getting insurance for those between 50 and 64 years old who don’t yet qualify for Medicare and the high cost of prescription drugs.

“The last thing I want is for members to feel we’re not representing them,” says Lori Parham, AARP’s Florida director.

Well, maybe they should go on a listening tour—or better yet, hold some town-hall meetings (perhaps a joint event with the AMA, whose members are also bewildered by their organization’s support of a bill antithetical to the interests of its members).

It seems that lots of health-care “leaders” have been shocked to learn that their members don’t agree with a government takeover of health care. If they want to remain leaders, they’d do well to get in touch with those folks and get out of the Obama-cheerleading business.

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Napolitano to the Rescue

A friend noticed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the Today show. Apparently trying to defend her colleague Eric Holder, she had this to say about the decision to name a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA operatives accused of misconduct in implementing enhanced interrogation techniques at overseas locations. She said: “I’m a former United States Attorney. I’m a former [state] Attorney General, a prosecutor. . . . I would never second-guess a prosecutor.”

Huh?? Well, the career prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia who already examined the matters raised in the CIA’s 2004 inspector-general report conducted an investigation, drafted formal declination memos setting forth their reasons for not proceeding, and have now been dubbed, in essence, patsies of the Bush administration by Holder would be glad to hear they are not being “second-guessed.”

Maybe Napolitano would also like to offer her insights on the Bill Richardson case, which according to AP reports was dismissed at the behest of “Washington.” Does the New Mexico U.S. attorney, who publicly intimated there is much more to say, get Napolitano’s backing as well?

Then there is the Black Panther case. Career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division obtained default judgment that higher-ups in the Justice Department instructed them to dismiss. Would Napolitano put in a good word for them as well?

I’m sure she’ll have a word with Holder about defending the integrity of Justice Department lawyers and not letting politics get in the way of the impartial administration of justice. Won’t she?

A friend noticed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the Today show. Apparently trying to defend her colleague Eric Holder, she had this to say about the decision to name a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA operatives accused of misconduct in implementing enhanced interrogation techniques at overseas locations. She said: “I’m a former United States Attorney. I’m a former [state] Attorney General, a prosecutor. . . . I would never second-guess a prosecutor.”

Huh?? Well, the career prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia who already examined the matters raised in the CIA’s 2004 inspector-general report conducted an investigation, drafted formal declination memos setting forth their reasons for not proceeding, and have now been dubbed, in essence, patsies of the Bush administration by Holder would be glad to hear they are not being “second-guessed.”

Maybe Napolitano would also like to offer her insights on the Bill Richardson case, which according to AP reports was dismissed at the behest of “Washington.” Does the New Mexico U.S. attorney, who publicly intimated there is much more to say, get Napolitano’s backing as well?

Then there is the Black Panther case. Career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division obtained default judgment that higher-ups in the Justice Department instructed them to dismiss. Would Napolitano put in a good word for them as well?

I’m sure she’ll have a word with Holder about defending the integrity of Justice Department lawyers and not letting politics get in the way of the impartial administration of justice. Won’t she?

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Cheney Right, Post Editors Wrong

The Washington Post‘s editors take issue with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s accusation that Obama has reneged on his promise to look forward, not backward with regard to investigating and prosecuting intelligence agents:

Mr. Cheney asserted that President Obama had flip-flopped on an earlier promise to shield participants from liability. “We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn’t be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration,” Mr. Cheney told host Chris Wallace. “Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they’re reversing course on that.”

The editors say that’s wrong, but play fast and loose with the facts. First, as evidence that no such promise was made by the president, they cite Eric Holder’s weaselly words that he wouldn’t go after CIA agents who followed the advice of DOJ lawyers. But Cheney is speaking of the president’s betrayal. Now it’s easy to assume that Holder is running the show, given Obama’s shirking of responsibility and the decision to name the special prosecutor while the president was camped out in Martha Vineyard. But Holder’s not the president and was not the subject of Cheney’s complaint. The decision to reinvestigate CIA personnel is, in fact, the quintessential act of looking backward, not forward. The Post‘s editors utterly ignore the president’s own words, which were meant to assure the country, not to mention the CIA, that we wouldn’t be doing the very thing that Holder announced last week—initiating criminal investigations of low-level CIA employees.

Yet the Post editors are forced to concede this: “Mr. Cheney is right when he argues that these incidents already have been investigated; prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and at Justice Department headquarters looked into the abuse allegations and concluded that prosecution was warranted in only one case, involving a CIA contractor.” But they then go on to smear these career prosecutors with the vague accusation that the Bush administration was politicized and that therefore the decision of these prosecutors is suspect. The unsupported and unsupportable attack on the reputation and decision-making of the career prosecutors and the suggestion that they remained silent in the face of meddling from unknown figures in the White House is unconscionable. (A more comprehensive explanation and refutation of this point is here.)

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion (especially on the op-ed pages), but not to his own facts. Let’s be clear about what went down here. Career prosecutors with expertise in these areas examined all the allegations in the 2004 CIA inspector-general report. With the exception of one contractor, they found no basis for criminal action. The matters were returned to the CIA for internal discipline. Congress was briefed on the matter. The president promised the CIA and the country at large that he was interested in looking forward but not back. However, Holder (with the acquiescence of the White House), based on no additional data, has set about to reopen an already completed investigation based on nothing more than the change in administration. This is unprecedented. Moreover, it is the height of “politicization”—eroding the confidence that individuals and other branches of government have that the Justice Department doesn’t change its tune with election returns.

Cheney was precisely right. This is a shameful instance of politicization of justice by Holder’s Justice Department, which is running up quite a record on this score. And the Post editors should be honest with their readers about Holder’s antics rather than throw darts at the former vice president, who in this and many instances has a better grasp of the facts than do his critics.

The Washington Post‘s editors take issue with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s accusation that Obama has reneged on his promise to look forward, not backward with regard to investigating and prosecuting intelligence agents:

Mr. Cheney asserted that President Obama had flip-flopped on an earlier promise to shield participants from liability. “We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn’t be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration,” Mr. Cheney told host Chris Wallace. “Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they’re reversing course on that.”

The editors say that’s wrong, but play fast and loose with the facts. First, as evidence that no such promise was made by the president, they cite Eric Holder’s weaselly words that he wouldn’t go after CIA agents who followed the advice of DOJ lawyers. But Cheney is speaking of the president’s betrayal. Now it’s easy to assume that Holder is running the show, given Obama’s shirking of responsibility and the decision to name the special prosecutor while the president was camped out in Martha Vineyard. But Holder’s not the president and was not the subject of Cheney’s complaint. The decision to reinvestigate CIA personnel is, in fact, the quintessential act of looking backward, not forward. The Post‘s editors utterly ignore the president’s own words, which were meant to assure the country, not to mention the CIA, that we wouldn’t be doing the very thing that Holder announced last week—initiating criminal investigations of low-level CIA employees.

Yet the Post editors are forced to concede this: “Mr. Cheney is right when he argues that these incidents already have been investigated; prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and at Justice Department headquarters looked into the abuse allegations and concluded that prosecution was warranted in only one case, involving a CIA contractor.” But they then go on to smear these career prosecutors with the vague accusation that the Bush administration was politicized and that therefore the decision of these prosecutors is suspect. The unsupported and unsupportable attack on the reputation and decision-making of the career prosecutors and the suggestion that they remained silent in the face of meddling from unknown figures in the White House is unconscionable. (A more comprehensive explanation and refutation of this point is here.)

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion (especially on the op-ed pages), but not to his own facts. Let’s be clear about what went down here. Career prosecutors with expertise in these areas examined all the allegations in the 2004 CIA inspector-general report. With the exception of one contractor, they found no basis for criminal action. The matters were returned to the CIA for internal discipline. Congress was briefed on the matter. The president promised the CIA and the country at large that he was interested in looking forward but not back. However, Holder (with the acquiescence of the White House), based on no additional data, has set about to reopen an already completed investigation based on nothing more than the change in administration. This is unprecedented. Moreover, it is the height of “politicization”—eroding the confidence that individuals and other branches of government have that the Justice Department doesn’t change its tune with election returns.

Cheney was precisely right. This is a shameful instance of politicization of justice by Holder’s Justice Department, which is running up quite a record on this score. And the Post editors should be honest with their readers about Holder’s antics rather than throw darts at the former vice president, who in this and many instances has a better grasp of the facts than do his critics.

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Peace-Process Promises and Preconditions

At Politico, Ben Smith reports that “Obama Ties Netanyahu Support to Talks”:

“Netanyahu’s at a pivotal moment,” said a senior U.S. official. “Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel.”

“It could very well hinge on what he decides in the next couple of weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another senior U.S. official held out a similar carrot for Netanyahu: This moment offers the opportunity to “forge a very important and positive relationship between Netanyahu and the president,” the official said.

The “senior U.S. officials” appear to be laying it on a little thick: potential historic greatness and a very strong relationship with Obama—if Netanyahu will just meet Palestinian preconditions for negotiations. Once Netanyahu agrees, he may find he will get repeated opportunities to demonstrate his potential for historic greatness, lest his very strong relationship with Obama prove short-lived.

Smith indicates that a six-to-nine-month agreement is being discussed, without a formal acknowledgment that Israel can resume building if (and when) the talks fail. But the idea that Israel, once it stops settlement construction, can ever resume it—without Netanyahu risking his chance for historic greatness and his very strong relationship with Obama—is naive. So the temporary agreement will likely be a permanent concession for whatever Israel obtains in exchange.

The current process is approaching the surreal: it results from Obama’s reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel on the meaning of a settlement “freeze” in order to meet a Palestinian demand for additional Israeli concessions prior to the commencement of new final status negotiations, which were not supposed to start in the first place before the Palestinians met their own obligations under Phase I and II of the “road map.” The Palestinians, having met neither Phase I nor II, and having had Phase III “accelerated” last year to produce an Israeli offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history, which the Palestinians then rejected, now not only want new final status negotiations with no Palestinian concessions to get them, but with new Israeli ones before they start.

Perhaps Israel will want, before it makes any new concessions, to seek a minimal commitment from Obama as well: to abide as president by what he promised as a presidential candidate. In his AIPAC address last year, Obama asked that he be permitted to be clear:

Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders.

Since those are minimum conditions for Israel in any negotiations, Israel may want a written assurance that Obama will not treat the commitment as a merely unenforceable oral understanding, nor as simply a letter from some other president—but as Obama’s own.

Netanyahu cannot offer Obama potential historic greatness, but he can offer him the opportunity to demonstrate that his words matter.

At Politico, Ben Smith reports that “Obama Ties Netanyahu Support to Talks”:

“Netanyahu’s at a pivotal moment,” said a senior U.S. official. “Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel.”

“It could very well hinge on what he decides in the next couple of weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another senior U.S. official held out a similar carrot for Netanyahu: This moment offers the opportunity to “forge a very important and positive relationship between Netanyahu and the president,” the official said.

The “senior U.S. officials” appear to be laying it on a little thick: potential historic greatness and a very strong relationship with Obama—if Netanyahu will just meet Palestinian preconditions for negotiations. Once Netanyahu agrees, he may find he will get repeated opportunities to demonstrate his potential for historic greatness, lest his very strong relationship with Obama prove short-lived.

Smith indicates that a six-to-nine-month agreement is being discussed, without a formal acknowledgment that Israel can resume building if (and when) the talks fail. But the idea that Israel, once it stops settlement construction, can ever resume it—without Netanyahu risking his chance for historic greatness and his very strong relationship with Obama—is naive. So the temporary agreement will likely be a permanent concession for whatever Israel obtains in exchange.

The current process is approaching the surreal: it results from Obama’s reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel on the meaning of a settlement “freeze” in order to meet a Palestinian demand for additional Israeli concessions prior to the commencement of new final status negotiations, which were not supposed to start in the first place before the Palestinians met their own obligations under Phase I and II of the “road map.” The Palestinians, having met neither Phase I nor II, and having had Phase III “accelerated” last year to produce an Israeli offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history, which the Palestinians then rejected, now not only want new final status negotiations with no Palestinian concessions to get them, but with new Israeli ones before they start.

Perhaps Israel will want, before it makes any new concessions, to seek a minimal commitment from Obama as well: to abide as president by what he promised as a presidential candidate. In his AIPAC address last year, Obama asked that he be permitted to be clear:

Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders.

Since those are minimum conditions for Israel in any negotiations, Israel may want a written assurance that Obama will not treat the commitment as a merely unenforceable oral understanding, nor as simply a letter from some other president—but as Obama’s own.

Netanyahu cannot offer Obama potential historic greatness, but he can offer him the opportunity to demonstrate that his words matter.

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Not Smart at All

Whether we are talking about the heartfelt Libyan reunion for the convicted Lockerbie terrorist or the rebuff from Arab states on his peace-plan offensive, the results of Obama’s Middle East policy are coming in. Obama’s efforts have been spectacularly unsuccessful, and indeed counterproductive. Elliott Abrams offers Syria as another example of Obama’s failed approach:

Within the past week, Iraq has withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus and accused Syria of involvement in terrorist incidents in Baghdad. Iraqi TV has also aired a confession by an accused al Qaeda terrorist, a Saudi who claimed he had been trained in Syria—by the Asad regime’s intelligence services. Nor is this all. Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

[. . .]

Watching the smiling Mitchell shaking hands with Asad, Syrians knew that any hope of American pressure for human rights progress was in vain as well. Neither Mitchell nor Obama has ever mentioned the subject publicly, and if Mitchell has asked Asad to release any particular political prisoners that fact has been kept secret. In fact the president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization, Muhanad Al-Hasani, was imprisoned on July 28, four weeks after Mitchell’s last visit.

But, as with Iran’s brutalization of its own people, Obama and his advisers would rather not make too much of the Syrians’ bad behavior. That would invite demands that we do something about the murder of Americans and Syria’s atrocious human-rights record.

At bottom, Obama’s Middle East policy is an exercise in passive-aggressiveness. We are snubbed by the Arabs, our soldiers are murdered by terrorists streaming in from Syria, and the Iranians ignore the international community in pursuit of nuclear weapons. So Obama screams at Israel for allowing Jews to build apartments in East Jerusalem and for evicting Palestinians who have violated their leases. Well, maybe the Israelis will listen to us, right? No one else does.

This is the upside-down “diplomacy” that the Obama administration now offers. “Smart” diplomacy? This is not even diplomacy—which involves the pursuit of one’s own interests. We have no discernible interests, apparently, or none we are willing to forcefully assert in the face of recalcitrant opponents. So instead we lambast our closest ally in the region and hope, by pummeling Israel, to garner greater credibility with Israel’s neighbors.

All we have accomplished, as Abrams said, is loss of our “moral clarity.” And along the way we have advertised our uncanny willingness to accept outrageous behavior by the region’s bad actors. The Iranian regime, among others, can only be delighted and emboldened.

Whether we are talking about the heartfelt Libyan reunion for the convicted Lockerbie terrorist or the rebuff from Arab states on his peace-plan offensive, the results of Obama’s Middle East policy are coming in. Obama’s efforts have been spectacularly unsuccessful, and indeed counterproductive. Elliott Abrams offers Syria as another example of Obama’s failed approach:

Within the past week, Iraq has withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus and accused Syria of involvement in terrorist incidents in Baghdad. Iraqi TV has also aired a confession by an accused al Qaeda terrorist, a Saudi who claimed he had been trained in Syria—by the Asad regime’s intelligence services. Nor is this all. Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

[. . .]

Watching the smiling Mitchell shaking hands with Asad, Syrians knew that any hope of American pressure for human rights progress was in vain as well. Neither Mitchell nor Obama has ever mentioned the subject publicly, and if Mitchell has asked Asad to release any particular political prisoners that fact has been kept secret. In fact the president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization, Muhanad Al-Hasani, was imprisoned on July 28, four weeks after Mitchell’s last visit.

But, as with Iran’s brutalization of its own people, Obama and his advisers would rather not make too much of the Syrians’ bad behavior. That would invite demands that we do something about the murder of Americans and Syria’s atrocious human-rights record.

At bottom, Obama’s Middle East policy is an exercise in passive-aggressiveness. We are snubbed by the Arabs, our soldiers are murdered by terrorists streaming in from Syria, and the Iranians ignore the international community in pursuit of nuclear weapons. So Obama screams at Israel for allowing Jews to build apartments in East Jerusalem and for evicting Palestinians who have violated their leases. Well, maybe the Israelis will listen to us, right? No one else does.

This is the upside-down “diplomacy” that the Obama administration now offers. “Smart” diplomacy? This is not even diplomacy—which involves the pursuit of one’s own interests. We have no discernible interests, apparently, or none we are willing to forcefully assert in the face of recalcitrant opponents. So instead we lambast our closest ally in the region and hope, by pummeling Israel, to garner greater credibility with Israel’s neighbors.

All we have accomplished, as Abrams said, is loss of our “moral clarity.” And along the way we have advertised our uncanny willingness to accept outrageous behavior by the region’s bad actors. The Iranian regime, among others, can only be delighted and emboldened.

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MSNBC Employs a Man Who Defends Hitler

Literally. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, here’s Patrick J. Buchanan. Sample:

Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

Ergo, the Holocaust was the fault of the Allies. You can enjoy the observations of Mr. Buchanan many mornings on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Literally. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, here’s Patrick J. Buchanan. Sample:

Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

Ergo, the Holocaust was the fault of the Allies. You can enjoy the observations of Mr. Buchanan many mornings on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

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Voters Want to Change the Topic

In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Tom Coburn writes:

I spoke with thousands of voters at town-hall meetings this summer. What I gathered from them is that it’s not just the proposed overhaul of health care that has them upset. Many also expressed a sense of betrayal. In spite of their hope for change, it still appears that the government in Washington is run for its own benefit and the benefit of special interests—not for the benefit of the American people. The folks I met with also don’t trust politicians in Washington to address mounting long-term challenges to our economy.

Despite the town halls and ample polling data, the president and Congress just don’t get it, he says:

Notwithstanding these polling results, the administration and Congress have responded by trying to win public support on the strength of an argument that’s too clever to be true. They say that the key to saving money is spending money, a lot of money. And they’ve done just that with a $787 billion stimulus program as well as billions in bailouts and proposals to spend vast sums on health-care reform and other things. Their belief seems to be that every government expenditure grows the economy or can be counterbalanced with cost savings.

It’s a confusing argument, and it’s flat wrong, particularly with regard to health care. The Congressional Budget Office has said as much when it stated a few weeks ago that the health-care legislation before Congress fails to restrain costs and instead “significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs.”
A more convincing argument would be this: Let’s save money by spending less. This argument doesn’t require a clever explanation.

It does, however, require a complete about-face from Washington and a realization that the public isn’t freaked out by a “health-care crisis” but by a fiscal crisis. Obama and the Democratic Congress tried to convince Americans, the vast majority with insurance they like, that not only was the health-care system in America in shambles but also that the existing spending binge had to be ramped up to pay for health care for millions. Oh, and Medicare is going to get slashed. You understand the reason why the president had difficulty selling this. At bottom, it is unintelligible.

But more than that, if Coburn is right, repackaging the same concepts isn’t going to get the president anywhere. Voters would just as soon prefer he do something else entirely—on fiscal control and restraining government entitlements, not expanding them. We’ll see if the public’s angst about government spending and the mound of accumulating debt can be soothed by a fancier health-care sales job.

But I suspect Coburn is on to something. Obama wants more government, spending, and taxes; voters want less of all three. The longer Obama persists in pushing what voters don’t want, the worse his political predicament will become.

In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Tom Coburn writes:

I spoke with thousands of voters at town-hall meetings this summer. What I gathered from them is that it’s not just the proposed overhaul of health care that has them upset. Many also expressed a sense of betrayal. In spite of their hope for change, it still appears that the government in Washington is run for its own benefit and the benefit of special interests—not for the benefit of the American people. The folks I met with also don’t trust politicians in Washington to address mounting long-term challenges to our economy.

Despite the town halls and ample polling data, the president and Congress just don’t get it, he says:

Notwithstanding these polling results, the administration and Congress have responded by trying to win public support on the strength of an argument that’s too clever to be true. They say that the key to saving money is spending money, a lot of money. And they’ve done just that with a $787 billion stimulus program as well as billions in bailouts and proposals to spend vast sums on health-care reform and other things. Their belief seems to be that every government expenditure grows the economy or can be counterbalanced with cost savings.

It’s a confusing argument, and it’s flat wrong, particularly with regard to health care. The Congressional Budget Office has said as much when it stated a few weeks ago that the health-care legislation before Congress fails to restrain costs and instead “significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs.”
A more convincing argument would be this: Let’s save money by spending less. This argument doesn’t require a clever explanation.

It does, however, require a complete about-face from Washington and a realization that the public isn’t freaked out by a “health-care crisis” but by a fiscal crisis. Obama and the Democratic Congress tried to convince Americans, the vast majority with insurance they like, that not only was the health-care system in America in shambles but also that the existing spending binge had to be ramped up to pay for health care for millions. Oh, and Medicare is going to get slashed. You understand the reason why the president had difficulty selling this. At bottom, it is unintelligible.

But more than that, if Coburn is right, repackaging the same concepts isn’t going to get the president anywhere. Voters would just as soon prefer he do something else entirely—on fiscal control and restraining government entitlements, not expanding them. We’ll see if the public’s angst about government spending and the mound of accumulating debt can be soothed by a fancier health-care sales job.

But I suspect Coburn is on to something. Obama wants more government, spending, and taxes; voters want less of all three. The longer Obama persists in pushing what voters don’t want, the worse his political predicament will become.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

John Bolton thinks it’s too late for sanctions on Iran. “Adopting tougher economic sanctions is simply another detour away from hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it.”

The array of voices on the Right taking issue with George Will’s call for retreat in Afghanistan and in defense of the administration’s policy is both heartening and telling. Conservatives given the chance to attack the president for partisan gain say, “No, thanks.”

All Jon Corzine’s negative attacks have gotten him nowhere. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, he still trails Republican Chris Christie by 10 points. Christie leads by a 46-30 percent margin among independent voters. What’s more: “New Jersey voters disapprove 60-34 percent of the job Corzine is doing, compared to his 58-36 percent disapproval August 11. By a 57-34 percent margin, they have an unfavorable opinion of the Governor, compared to a 41-30 percent favorable opinion of Christie.”

Obama’s poll numbers look grim, too. According to Rasmussen: “Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That’s down a point from yesterday and the lowest level of total approval yet measured for Obama. Fifty-three percent (53%) now disapprove.”

According to a CBS News poll, Obama has managed to confuse 60 percent of voters on health care.

Over at Pollster.com, Obama’s average disapproval is now 48 percent, while his approval is 47.1 percent.

From CNN: “A majority of independent voters disapprove of how Barack Obama’s handling his job as president, according to a new national poll. Fifty-three percent of independents questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say they disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties in the White House, with 43 percent in approval. That result marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of independents give the president’s performance a thumbs-down.”

The Virginia gubernatorial race has narrowed, but Republican Bob McDonnell is still leading by 7 and by 31 percent among independents. No wonder the Washington Post is running on about a 20-year-old college paper. When all else fails, Democrats in Virginia can always count on the Post to yell, “Macaca.”

Obama is going to try something new — tell us what he thinks should be in a health-care plan. But it’s “doubtful Obama will dictate a highly specific plan.” Got that? He’ll maybe just give broad hints about what he’d like.

It seems the New Mexico U.S. attorney is signaling to those who can read between the lines that he was run over by the Justice Department in the Bill Richardson case.

National Security Adviser James Jones bears an uncanny resemblance to a “Birkenstocked Cesar Chavez worshipper standing in line for Barack Obama’s autograph drunk on the global-village Kool-aid and spouting leftist bromides.” Remember when we were told we were getting the “best and the brightest” in the Obama administration?

John Bolton thinks it’s too late for sanctions on Iran. “Adopting tougher economic sanctions is simply another detour away from hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it.”

The array of voices on the Right taking issue with George Will’s call for retreat in Afghanistan and in defense of the administration’s policy is both heartening and telling. Conservatives given the chance to attack the president for partisan gain say, “No, thanks.”

All Jon Corzine’s negative attacks have gotten him nowhere. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, he still trails Republican Chris Christie by 10 points. Christie leads by a 46-30 percent margin among independent voters. What’s more: “New Jersey voters disapprove 60-34 percent of the job Corzine is doing, compared to his 58-36 percent disapproval August 11. By a 57-34 percent margin, they have an unfavorable opinion of the Governor, compared to a 41-30 percent favorable opinion of Christie.”

Obama’s poll numbers look grim, too. According to Rasmussen: “Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That’s down a point from yesterday and the lowest level of total approval yet measured for Obama. Fifty-three percent (53%) now disapprove.”

According to a CBS News poll, Obama has managed to confuse 60 percent of voters on health care.

Over at Pollster.com, Obama’s average disapproval is now 48 percent, while his approval is 47.1 percent.

From CNN: “A majority of independent voters disapprove of how Barack Obama’s handling his job as president, according to a new national poll. Fifty-three percent of independents questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say they disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties in the White House, with 43 percent in approval. That result marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of independents give the president’s performance a thumbs-down.”

The Virginia gubernatorial race has narrowed, but Republican Bob McDonnell is still leading by 7 and by 31 percent among independents. No wonder the Washington Post is running on about a 20-year-old college paper. When all else fails, Democrats in Virginia can always count on the Post to yell, “Macaca.”

Obama is going to try something new — tell us what he thinks should be in a health-care plan. But it’s “doubtful Obama will dictate a highly specific plan.” Got that? He’ll maybe just give broad hints about what he’d like.

It seems the New Mexico U.S. attorney is signaling to those who can read between the lines that he was run over by the Justice Department in the Bill Richardson case.

National Security Adviser James Jones bears an uncanny resemblance to a “Birkenstocked Cesar Chavez worshipper standing in line for Barack Obama’s autograph drunk on the global-village Kool-aid and spouting leftist bromides.” Remember when we were told we were getting the “best and the brightest” in the Obama administration?

Read Less




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