Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 6, 2009

The Situation in Honduras─for Now

The Obama administration’s position on Honduras seems more than a little strange. When a president is removed from office by order of the country’s Supreme Court and is replaced by the civilian next in line (a member of the president’s own political party), pursuant to a nearly unanimous vote of the country’s Congress, and there is a broad consensus in the church and civil society that the president’s return to office would cause violence, it makes no sense to call the removal a “coup” — much less the “military coup” necessary under U.S. law to terminate aid to the country.

Even stranger is the idea that the solution to the situation (assuming the situation is bad) is to not hold the previously scheduled November presidential elections — particularly since the removed president cannot run for re-election and would, even if he were restored to office, have to leave it a few months later.

So why is the Obama administration focused on forcing Honduras to restore Manuel Zelaya, even though the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that his removal was constitutional and that his reinstatement would violate Honduran law? Does the State Department know Honduran constitutional law better than the Honduran Supreme Court? Does it know the desires of the Honduran people better than the Honduran Congress?

And how would the Obama administration ensure that returning Zelaya to office would, in fact, be temporary? That question was raised in the September 3 State Department press conference after the removed president met with Secretary of State Clinton. Here is the colloquy with Phillip J. Crowley, assistant secretary of state:

QUESTION: P.J., you mentioned that the Secretary in the meeting today with Zelaya also suggested steps to him that he could take to give more guarantees or whatever to the de facto government. What are those?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, what we have here is a lack of trust on both sides. . . . Part of [the Honduran government’s] concerns, we believe, are questions about whether President Zelaya would abide by the San Jose Accords if both sides do, in fact, accept them.

And what the Secretary said to President Zelaya is there are things that you can do to create assurances within Honduras that if both sides accept the San Jose Accords formally, that he will in fact live by them . . .

QUESTION: And what specific steps would those include?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, part of this also is to bring down the — there’s anxiety within Honduran society. We remain concerned about human rights, intimidation by various — by the police, others, some episodes of violence. And we think that if all sides can bring down the rhetoric, tone down the acrimony, that then that would create a climate where ultimately, more rational actors can prevail.

Bringing down the rhetoric, toning down the acrimony, and creating a climate for “rational actors” is probably not going to be viewed by the Honduran government and civil society as responsive to their concerns. On the contrary, their concerns will probably be heightened when they read the September 4 article “Zelaya Speaks” in the Nation:

What the June 28 coup was able to prevent, for now, was an advisory referendum planned for three days later on whether there should be a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduras constitution. . . .

“The grassroots movement [provoked by the coup],” Zelaya said, has only one purpose, the transformation of Honduras, including deep structural changes. “This movement is now very strong. It can never be destroyed,” he said. . . .

The present tension may be winding down, but it is not over. . . . Any return to Honduras by Zelaya could be volatile, with the right-wing wanting his arrest or even his death. He cannot run for re-election under the present constitution. There is no visible candidate to replace him, and the constituent assembly proposal is off the agenda for now (or “por ahora,” as a young Hugo Chávez once said upon release from prison). [Emphasis added]

If you can just get reinstated, and if you realize you’ve only got a few months left to transform Honduras, “por ahora” might not be too long. You might simply need a serious crisis as an opportunity you would not want to waste.

The Obama administration’s position on Honduras seems more than a little strange. When a president is removed from office by order of the country’s Supreme Court and is replaced by the civilian next in line (a member of the president’s own political party), pursuant to a nearly unanimous vote of the country’s Congress, and there is a broad consensus in the church and civil society that the president’s return to office would cause violence, it makes no sense to call the removal a “coup” — much less the “military coup” necessary under U.S. law to terminate aid to the country.

Even stranger is the idea that the solution to the situation (assuming the situation is bad) is to not hold the previously scheduled November presidential elections — particularly since the removed president cannot run for re-election and would, even if he were restored to office, have to leave it a few months later.

So why is the Obama administration focused on forcing Honduras to restore Manuel Zelaya, even though the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that his removal was constitutional and that his reinstatement would violate Honduran law? Does the State Department know Honduran constitutional law better than the Honduran Supreme Court? Does it know the desires of the Honduran people better than the Honduran Congress?

And how would the Obama administration ensure that returning Zelaya to office would, in fact, be temporary? That question was raised in the September 3 State Department press conference after the removed president met with Secretary of State Clinton. Here is the colloquy with Phillip J. Crowley, assistant secretary of state:

QUESTION: P.J., you mentioned that the Secretary in the meeting today with Zelaya also suggested steps to him that he could take to give more guarantees or whatever to the de facto government. What are those?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, what we have here is a lack of trust on both sides. . . . Part of [the Honduran government’s] concerns, we believe, are questions about whether President Zelaya would abide by the San Jose Accords if both sides do, in fact, accept them.

And what the Secretary said to President Zelaya is there are things that you can do to create assurances within Honduras that if both sides accept the San Jose Accords formally, that he will in fact live by them . . .

QUESTION: And what specific steps would those include?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, obviously, part of this also is to bring down the — there’s anxiety within Honduran society. We remain concerned about human rights, intimidation by various — by the police, others, some episodes of violence. And we think that if all sides can bring down the rhetoric, tone down the acrimony, that then that would create a climate where ultimately, more rational actors can prevail.

Bringing down the rhetoric, toning down the acrimony, and creating a climate for “rational actors” is probably not going to be viewed by the Honduran government and civil society as responsive to their concerns. On the contrary, their concerns will probably be heightened when they read the September 4 article “Zelaya Speaks” in the Nation:

What the June 28 coup was able to prevent, for now, was an advisory referendum planned for three days later on whether there should be a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduras constitution. . . .

“The grassroots movement [provoked by the coup],” Zelaya said, has only one purpose, the transformation of Honduras, including deep structural changes. “This movement is now very strong. It can never be destroyed,” he said. . . .

The present tension may be winding down, but it is not over. . . . Any return to Honduras by Zelaya could be volatile, with the right-wing wanting his arrest or even his death. He cannot run for re-election under the present constitution. There is no visible candidate to replace him, and the constituent assembly proposal is off the agenda for now (or “por ahora,” as a young Hugo Chávez once said upon release from prison). [Emphasis added]

If you can just get reinstated, and if you realize you’ve only got a few months left to transform Honduras, “por ahora” might not be too long. You might simply need a serious crisis as an opportunity you would not want to waste.

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Wishing It Were So

Sheera Frenkel is an American who works for the UK Times in its dubious Jerusalem bureau, which has a great deal of trouble distinguishing truth from fiction. Her current piece, linked on Drudge, provides a nice example of how Frenkel and her employer view the sensationalization of the Middle East as one of their main jobs. The report is entitled “US fury as Israel defies settlement freeze call,” and in case the point wasn’t made clear by the title, the piece goes on to declare that

Israeli plans to authorise the construction of hundreds of houses in the occupied West Bank sparked furious protests from American and Palestinian officials yesterday.

“Fury” and “furious protests” from the Obama administration? I hadn’t seen them mentioned anywhere else. The dictionary says that furious means “full of or characterized by extreme anger; raging.” What was the American reaction? Right there, a few paragraphs down in Frenkel’s own story, we read that:

“We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction,” Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said. . . . Another US official said: “In the end America will be forced to do what is necessary to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. But the Netanyahu Government has proven difficult to work with.”

There is regret, and a belief that Netanyahu has been difficult to work with, a feeling about Obama that is surely reciprocated by the Israelis. But who could characterize this as “fury”? Sheera Frenkel, doing her best to contribute to the worst tendencies of the British media, does. She wishes fervently that it were so.

Sheera Frenkel is an American who works for the UK Times in its dubious Jerusalem bureau, which has a great deal of trouble distinguishing truth from fiction. Her current piece, linked on Drudge, provides a nice example of how Frenkel and her employer view the sensationalization of the Middle East as one of their main jobs. The report is entitled “US fury as Israel defies settlement freeze call,” and in case the point wasn’t made clear by the title, the piece goes on to declare that

Israeli plans to authorise the construction of hundreds of houses in the occupied West Bank sparked furious protests from American and Palestinian officials yesterday.

“Fury” and “furious protests” from the Obama administration? I hadn’t seen them mentioned anywhere else. The dictionary says that furious means “full of or characterized by extreme anger; raging.” What was the American reaction? Right there, a few paragraphs down in Frenkel’s own story, we read that:

“We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction,” Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said. . . . Another US official said: “In the end America will be forced to do what is necessary to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. But the Netanyahu Government has proven difficult to work with.”

There is regret, and a belief that Netanyahu has been difficult to work with, a feeling about Obama that is surely reciprocated by the Israelis. But who could characterize this as “fury”? Sheera Frenkel, doing her best to contribute to the worst tendencies of the British media, does. She wishes fervently that it were so.

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Hugo, Such Rhetoric!

Quick question: How far does Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric have to go before Western leaders, above all those of the United States, stop dismissing it as “mere rhetoric”?

I’m just curious because, well, he sure sounds like a real, serious enemy in league with the West’s most dangerous foes. In a telephone interview with Venezuelan TV from Tehran on Friday, he declared that Iran is “a true strategic ally, a staunch ally” of Venezuela. Whom is this alliance directed against? In Chavez’s view, Tehran and Caracas are “facing the same enemy, which is the U.S. empire and its lackeys. And we will defeat the empire and its lackeys.”

And lest anyone think there’s no Israel angle in all this — there always is — Chavez has not hesitated in the past few days to brand Israel as a “genocidal” regime. “The state of Israel has become a murderous lackey at the service of imperialism,” he said. “It’s a genocidal government. I condemn that Zionist government that persecutes the heroic Palestinian people.”

Convinced yet?

Quick question: How far does Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric have to go before Western leaders, above all those of the United States, stop dismissing it as “mere rhetoric”?

I’m just curious because, well, he sure sounds like a real, serious enemy in league with the West’s most dangerous foes. In a telephone interview with Venezuelan TV from Tehran on Friday, he declared that Iran is “a true strategic ally, a staunch ally” of Venezuela. Whom is this alliance directed against? In Chavez’s view, Tehran and Caracas are “facing the same enemy, which is the U.S. empire and its lackeys. And we will defeat the empire and its lackeys.”

And lest anyone think there’s no Israel angle in all this — there always is — Chavez has not hesitated in the past few days to brand Israel as a “genocidal” regime. “The state of Israel has become a murderous lackey at the service of imperialism,” he said. “It’s a genocidal government. I condemn that Zionist government that persecutes the heroic Palestinian people.”

Convinced yet?

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The Foreign-Policy Snare

Detailing the hard policy choices that Obama faces this September that may antagonize the Left of the Democratic party, Michael Barone comments on Afghanistan:

Obama is averse to using the V-word (victory) and the American Left since the Vietnam years has not wanted to see America victorious in war. They think it makes us look chauvinistic and proud about our nation when we should be, as Obama often has been, apologetic for its sins. But accepting a recommendation for more troops would set him on a course where victory is the only acceptable result, which will make the angry Left angry at him.

Reading between the lines of stories on Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations, it seems likely that the White House has been pressuring him not to ask for more troops and that he will do so anyway, and with the approval of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Obama, having already dispatched more troops there, will be asked to double down on a policy that public opinion polls show is unpopular with Democratic voters, and with some conservatives, like columnist George Will, as well.

And on Iran:

The popular opposition to the rigged Iranian elections in June and the internal turmoil within the mullah regime make it unlikely that Obama will have any reliable negotiating partner. And as George Perkovich of the dovish Carnegie Endowment says, “The Iranians show no sign that they’re going to be genuinely prepared to negotiate.” They’re more interested in getting nukes than in getting to yes, even with a president with an Arabic middle name.

Barone’s analysis suggests that while Obama’s current travails and priorities center on domestic issues, he will not be able to escape serious foreign-policy challenges, which may, in turn, aggravate the growing disenchantment of the Left. And these foreign-policy challenges make it that much harder for Obama to set the agenda and control the debate.

However accommodating Obama would like to be to our foes and however conflict-averse he appears (whatever the international conflict, no matter how fundamental, the answer is the same: ingratiate himself with the troublemakers), he can’t escape the responsibility to lead America in war or ignore the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. We have already seen how closing Guantanamo and waging war, not on terror but on the Bush administration and the CIA, have sucked up precious attention and potentially depleted (further) his standing with Independents.

But this is an old story — many presidents would like to avoid the snare of knotty foreign-policy issues. Few succeed. The world and specifically America’s enemies don’t give a hoot about our president’s legislative priorities. If Obama does not demonstrate resolve on these and other foreign-policy challenges, he will only enhance the perception that he is losing his grip on events and failing to live up to his billing as a transformative president. And despite his fondest hopes, his hardest challenges won’t melt away with platitudinous phrases and offers of “engagement.” By now, even Obama must be realizing that this isn’t the way the world works.

Detailing the hard policy choices that Obama faces this September that may antagonize the Left of the Democratic party, Michael Barone comments on Afghanistan:

Obama is averse to using the V-word (victory) and the American Left since the Vietnam years has not wanted to see America victorious in war. They think it makes us look chauvinistic and proud about our nation when we should be, as Obama often has been, apologetic for its sins. But accepting a recommendation for more troops would set him on a course where victory is the only acceptable result, which will make the angry Left angry at him.

Reading between the lines of stories on Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations, it seems likely that the White House has been pressuring him not to ask for more troops and that he will do so anyway, and with the approval of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Obama, having already dispatched more troops there, will be asked to double down on a policy that public opinion polls show is unpopular with Democratic voters, and with some conservatives, like columnist George Will, as well.

And on Iran:

The popular opposition to the rigged Iranian elections in June and the internal turmoil within the mullah regime make it unlikely that Obama will have any reliable negotiating partner. And as George Perkovich of the dovish Carnegie Endowment says, “The Iranians show no sign that they’re going to be genuinely prepared to negotiate.” They’re more interested in getting nukes than in getting to yes, even with a president with an Arabic middle name.

Barone’s analysis suggests that while Obama’s current travails and priorities center on domestic issues, he will not be able to escape serious foreign-policy challenges, which may, in turn, aggravate the growing disenchantment of the Left. And these foreign-policy challenges make it that much harder for Obama to set the agenda and control the debate.

However accommodating Obama would like to be to our foes and however conflict-averse he appears (whatever the international conflict, no matter how fundamental, the answer is the same: ingratiate himself with the troublemakers), he can’t escape the responsibility to lead America in war or ignore the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. We have already seen how closing Guantanamo and waging war, not on terror but on the Bush administration and the CIA, have sucked up precious attention and potentially depleted (further) his standing with Independents.

But this is an old story — many presidents would like to avoid the snare of knotty foreign-policy issues. Few succeed. The world and specifically America’s enemies don’t give a hoot about our president’s legislative priorities. If Obama does not demonstrate resolve on these and other foreign-policy challenges, he will only enhance the perception that he is losing his grip on events and failing to live up to his billing as a transformative president. And despite his fondest hopes, his hardest challenges won’t melt away with platitudinous phrases and offers of “engagement.” By now, even Obama must be realizing that this isn’t the way the world works.

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Every Excuse in the Book

The Washington Post notes in a lengthy Page One story the decline in Obama’s poll numbers. The team of reporters on this one first suggests that the problem is a failure to implement his “consensus” politics:

The slide has only quickened. Emerging from an angry August recess, Obama is weakened politically and faces growing concerns, particularly from within his own party, over his strength as a leader. Dozens of interviews this summer in six states — from Maine to California — have revealed a growing angst and disappointment over the administration’s present course.

Democratic officials and foot soldiers, who have experienced the volatile public mood firsthand, are asking Obama to take a more assertive approach this fall. His senior advisers say he will, beginning with his Wednesday address to Congress on health care.

His challenge, however, is more fundamental. Obama built his successful candidacy and presidency around a leadership style that seeks consensus. But he is entering a period when consensus may not be possible on the issues most important to his administration and party. Whatever approach he takes is likely to upset some of his most ardent supporters, many of whom are unwilling to compromise at a time when Democrats control the White House and Congress.

This neatly ignores the obvious: Obama talked consensus in the campaign but never governed that way. His has been a hyper-partisan style of attack, accusation, and ultra-liberalism. This was the president of “I won” who rejected every Republican suggestion on the stimulus, who tried to Limbaugh-ize the GOP from the press room, who figured he could take over the Census and rig reapportionment, and who embarked on the largest spending spree and debt accumulation bonanza in history. The Post is silent on all that.

Well then, it’s the economy. That was supposed to be the opportunity not to waste, according to Rahm Emanuel. Instead: “A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly, said that ‘there were so many things we had to do, and those are the things that feed into the skepticism that government is taking over everything or can’t get it right.’ ” It’s just an impression, you see, that Obama wanted to take over car companies, install executive-compensation rules, set up a new consumer “protection” watchdog, spent a trillion on a non-stimulus stimulus, take over 17 percent of the economy in the name of saving money on health care, and celebrate a mammoth tax and regulatory scheme styled as climate control. But don’t you see, “These were things we had no interest in doing,” pleads an unnamed official. We’re told that’s “irony.” Well, perhaps that’s a lie.

Obama declared early on he was going to rebuild the entire country on a new foundation, not simply rebuild the economy, but reinvent it. To a large degree, this was a giant bait and switch, with many of the largest endeavors utterly unrelated to the economic recovery. It hasn’t worked out as planned either economically or politically, so now we get a hodgepodge of lame excuses and half-truths. In a story as long as the Post‘s, it is no small feat to ignore substance altogether, but they pulled it off — in large part because they are parroting the administration’s narrative and turning away from a simple, straightforward examination of what went wrong.

It isn’t hard to fathom what actually occurred: Obama ran as a moderate, governed from the far Left, and thereby disappointed and scared the vast center of the electorate while energizing the Right. And yes, he overexposed himself and proved to be ill-suited to legislative dealmaking.

This is not to say that Obama can’t bounce back. But the first step would be an honest assessment of where he went astray. If the handmaidens at the Post are any guide, the administation hasn’t even begun that task.

The Washington Post notes in a lengthy Page One story the decline in Obama’s poll numbers. The team of reporters on this one first suggests that the problem is a failure to implement his “consensus” politics:

The slide has only quickened. Emerging from an angry August recess, Obama is weakened politically and faces growing concerns, particularly from within his own party, over his strength as a leader. Dozens of interviews this summer in six states — from Maine to California — have revealed a growing angst and disappointment over the administration’s present course.

Democratic officials and foot soldiers, who have experienced the volatile public mood firsthand, are asking Obama to take a more assertive approach this fall. His senior advisers say he will, beginning with his Wednesday address to Congress on health care.

His challenge, however, is more fundamental. Obama built his successful candidacy and presidency around a leadership style that seeks consensus. But he is entering a period when consensus may not be possible on the issues most important to his administration and party. Whatever approach he takes is likely to upset some of his most ardent supporters, many of whom are unwilling to compromise at a time when Democrats control the White House and Congress.

This neatly ignores the obvious: Obama talked consensus in the campaign but never governed that way. His has been a hyper-partisan style of attack, accusation, and ultra-liberalism. This was the president of “I won” who rejected every Republican suggestion on the stimulus, who tried to Limbaugh-ize the GOP from the press room, who figured he could take over the Census and rig reapportionment, and who embarked on the largest spending spree and debt accumulation bonanza in history. The Post is silent on all that.

Well then, it’s the economy. That was supposed to be the opportunity not to waste, according to Rahm Emanuel. Instead: “A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly, said that ‘there were so many things we had to do, and those are the things that feed into the skepticism that government is taking over everything or can’t get it right.’ ” It’s just an impression, you see, that Obama wanted to take over car companies, install executive-compensation rules, set up a new consumer “protection” watchdog, spent a trillion on a non-stimulus stimulus, take over 17 percent of the economy in the name of saving money on health care, and celebrate a mammoth tax and regulatory scheme styled as climate control. But don’t you see, “These were things we had no interest in doing,” pleads an unnamed official. We’re told that’s “irony.” Well, perhaps that’s a lie.

Obama declared early on he was going to rebuild the entire country on a new foundation, not simply rebuild the economy, but reinvent it. To a large degree, this was a giant bait and switch, with many of the largest endeavors utterly unrelated to the economic recovery. It hasn’t worked out as planned either economically or politically, so now we get a hodgepodge of lame excuses and half-truths. In a story as long as the Post‘s, it is no small feat to ignore substance altogether, but they pulled it off — in large part because they are parroting the administration’s narrative and turning away from a simple, straightforward examination of what went wrong.

It isn’t hard to fathom what actually occurred: Obama ran as a moderate, governed from the far Left, and thereby disappointed and scared the vast center of the electorate while energizing the Right. And yes, he overexposed himself and proved to be ill-suited to legislative dealmaking.

This is not to say that Obama can’t bounce back. But the first step would be an honest assessment of where he went astray. If the handmaidens at the Post are any guide, the administation hasn’t even begun that task.

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Quite an Accomplishment

A new poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research surveying 800 Americans has some interesting results:

Some 59 percent of the respondents said they were Israel supporters, compared to 29 percent for the Palestinians. The poll was conducted by telephone from August 22 to 25.

This was a considerable jump in support for Israel since June, following the US president’s speech in Cairo, when the same question was asked by the same pollsters and Israel’s support was only 49 percent.

The number of Americans who think America should support Israel over the Palestinians also increased considerably over the last two months, with 63 percent saying the US should support Israel, and 24% saying it should support the Palestinians. In June, that number was 44% for Israel, and 32% for the Palestinians.

In contrast to the June data, a majority of Americans now believe that Netanyahu’s government is committed to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, while a majority do not believe either the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, or Hamas, are committed to peace with Israel. According to the poll, 57% of the public believes Israel is committed to peace, and 39% said they do not think the government is committed to an agreement. In June that number was 46% saying Israel was committed to peace, and 39% saying it was not.

By contrast, only 36% of the respondents thought that the PA was committed to peace, and 30% believed Hams wanted an agreement.

Well, what could have moved public opinion so? After all, Obama has been putting all that “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and nagging Israel round the clock for a settlement freeze. And of course, he gave that dramatic speech in Cairo that everyone — well, everyone in the White House and much of the mainstream media — said “reset” Middle East policy. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public is reacting against Obama’s harangues. And it may be that the obvious breach in U.S.-Israel relations has made Israel more sympathetic in the eyes of Americans. So rather than move the Israelis with his new tough-guy position, Obama has managed to alienate both Israeli and American public opinion on the topic.

Another explanation may be that the public sees the reaction of the Arab states, listens to Palestinian pronouncements that they will never recognize a “Jewish state,” and now views Israelis’ predicament in a more sympathetic light. (In this regard, some of the credit certainly goes to Bibi Netanyahu, who has conducted some effective public diplomacy while fending off an increasingly hostile American approach.) Under this theory, they aren’t so much reacting to Obama specifically but to the results of the U.S. “daylight” gambit that has encouraged intransigence among the very people with whom Obama is seeking to ingratiate himself. On this score, a few poll figures stand out:

In other survey findings, a majority of Americans disagree with Palestinian leaders’ position not to start negotiations until Israel halts all construction on settlements. On the contrary, by a 72%-23% margin, Americans agree with Netanyahu’s promise not to build any new settlements, while allowing Israel to accommodate for natural growth of existing settlements. As a basis for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, fully 95% of Americans agree that Palestinians need to recognize Israel’s right to exist and acknowledge its standing as a Jewish state.

Whatever the precise rationale for the shift in opinion, the results are rather stark. It seems that Obama’s Middle East policy is proving to be a bust at home, as it is in the region. So far, all Obama has managed to do is turn off all but 4 percent of Israelis, encourage the Palestinians to dig in their heels, receive rebuffs from the Arab states, light up the Syrians’ eyes with diplomatic overtures (offered without demand for behavioral changes by the Assad regime), and convince more Americans that his approach is not the way to go. All the while giving comfort to the mullahs in Iran and not much support, if any, to the Iranian protestors. All that in less than a year. Quite an accomplishment.

A new poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research surveying 800 Americans has some interesting results:

Some 59 percent of the respondents said they were Israel supporters, compared to 29 percent for the Palestinians. The poll was conducted by telephone from August 22 to 25.

This was a considerable jump in support for Israel since June, following the US president’s speech in Cairo, when the same question was asked by the same pollsters and Israel’s support was only 49 percent.

The number of Americans who think America should support Israel over the Palestinians also increased considerably over the last two months, with 63 percent saying the US should support Israel, and 24% saying it should support the Palestinians. In June, that number was 44% for Israel, and 32% for the Palestinians.

In contrast to the June data, a majority of Americans now believe that Netanyahu’s government is committed to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, while a majority do not believe either the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, or Hamas, are committed to peace with Israel. According to the poll, 57% of the public believes Israel is committed to peace, and 39% said they do not think the government is committed to an agreement. In June that number was 46% saying Israel was committed to peace, and 39% saying it was not.

By contrast, only 36% of the respondents thought that the PA was committed to peace, and 30% believed Hams wanted an agreement.

Well, what could have moved public opinion so? After all, Obama has been putting all that “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and nagging Israel round the clock for a settlement freeze. And of course, he gave that dramatic speech in Cairo that everyone — well, everyone in the White House and much of the mainstream media — said “reset” Middle East policy. Perhaps, just perhaps, the public is reacting against Obama’s harangues. And it may be that the obvious breach in U.S.-Israel relations has made Israel more sympathetic in the eyes of Americans. So rather than move the Israelis with his new tough-guy position, Obama has managed to alienate both Israeli and American public opinion on the topic.

Another explanation may be that the public sees the reaction of the Arab states, listens to Palestinian pronouncements that they will never recognize a “Jewish state,” and now views Israelis’ predicament in a more sympathetic light. (In this regard, some of the credit certainly goes to Bibi Netanyahu, who has conducted some effective public diplomacy while fending off an increasingly hostile American approach.) Under this theory, they aren’t so much reacting to Obama specifically but to the results of the U.S. “daylight” gambit that has encouraged intransigence among the very people with whom Obama is seeking to ingratiate himself. On this score, a few poll figures stand out:

In other survey findings, a majority of Americans disagree with Palestinian leaders’ position not to start negotiations until Israel halts all construction on settlements. On the contrary, by a 72%-23% margin, Americans agree with Netanyahu’s promise not to build any new settlements, while allowing Israel to accommodate for natural growth of existing settlements. As a basis for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, fully 95% of Americans agree that Palestinians need to recognize Israel’s right to exist and acknowledge its standing as a Jewish state.

Whatever the precise rationale for the shift in opinion, the results are rather stark. It seems that Obama’s Middle East policy is proving to be a bust at home, as it is in the region. So far, all Obama has managed to do is turn off all but 4 percent of Israelis, encourage the Palestinians to dig in their heels, receive rebuffs from the Arab states, light up the Syrians’ eyes with diplomatic overtures (offered without demand for behavioral changes by the Assad regime), and convince more Americans that his approach is not the way to go. All the while giving comfort to the mullahs in Iran and not much support, if any, to the Iranian protestors. All that in less than a year. Quite an accomplishment.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Life imitates art. The Washington Post: “McDonnell Changes Topic Amid Thesis Issue.” Sure this isn’t a parody?

We’re getting closer every day: “Lawmakers should scrap the current healthcare bill and start over, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said Saturday. Kline, the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has partial jurisdiction over healthcare, said the Democratic proposal is too expensive, would cost millions of jobs, and would force Americans out of their current coverage.”

You knew this was coming: “Senate Democrats are signaling that any push by the White House for more troops in Afghanistan probably will run into resistance. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must focus more on building Afghan security forces. That view was endorsed by Sen. Jack Reed, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this past week with Levin, D-Mich.”

She may come to regret her paralysis: “Why is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refusing a growing chorus of calls to drop the hammer on ethics-challenged Charlie Rangel? Because, at the moment, doing nothing creates a lot less trouble for Pelosi than doing anything, current and former House aides tell POLITICO. Stripping the Harlem Democrat of his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee would force Pelosi to make a series of unpalatable decisions about Rangel’s successor that would create a ruckus in the Democratic caucus.”

What a difference 10 months make: “In 2008, Colorado became a symbol of the changing politics in a region once firmly in Republican hands — and also of the grass-roots power and energy fueling Barack Obama’s candidacy. Today, the state embodies the uneasiness spreading throughout Democratic ranks as Obama struggles with major challenges and the 2010 midterm elections approach. . . . Today, Coloradoans appear more downbeat. Anxiety has replaced optimism. The recession has changed habits and attitudes. Obama’s agenda has raised questions among independent voters because of its ambitious scope and potential impact on the deficit. His style has left some original supporters concerned about his toughness.”

From the Los Angeles Times: “After a summer of health care battles and sliding approval ratings for President Obama, the White House is facing a troubling new trend: The voters losing faith in the president are the ones he had worked hardest to attract. New surveys show steep declines in Obama’s approval ratings among whites–including Democrats and independents–who were crucial elements of the diverse coalition that helped elect the country’s first black president.”

Life imitates art. The Washington Post: “McDonnell Changes Topic Amid Thesis Issue.” Sure this isn’t a parody?

We’re getting closer every day: “Lawmakers should scrap the current healthcare bill and start over, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said Saturday. Kline, the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has partial jurisdiction over healthcare, said the Democratic proposal is too expensive, would cost millions of jobs, and would force Americans out of their current coverage.”

You knew this was coming: “Senate Democrats are signaling that any push by the White House for more troops in Afghanistan probably will run into resistance. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must focus more on building Afghan security forces. That view was endorsed by Sen. Jack Reed, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this past week with Levin, D-Mich.”

She may come to regret her paralysis: “Why is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refusing a growing chorus of calls to drop the hammer on ethics-challenged Charlie Rangel? Because, at the moment, doing nothing creates a lot less trouble for Pelosi than doing anything, current and former House aides tell POLITICO. Stripping the Harlem Democrat of his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee would force Pelosi to make a series of unpalatable decisions about Rangel’s successor that would create a ruckus in the Democratic caucus.”

What a difference 10 months make: “In 2008, Colorado became a symbol of the changing politics in a region once firmly in Republican hands — and also of the grass-roots power and energy fueling Barack Obama’s candidacy. Today, the state embodies the uneasiness spreading throughout Democratic ranks as Obama struggles with major challenges and the 2010 midterm elections approach. . . . Today, Coloradoans appear more downbeat. Anxiety has replaced optimism. The recession has changed habits and attitudes. Obama’s agenda has raised questions among independent voters because of its ambitious scope and potential impact on the deficit. His style has left some original supporters concerned about his toughness.”

From the Los Angeles Times: “After a summer of health care battles and sliding approval ratings for President Obama, the White House is facing a troubling new trend: The voters losing faith in the president are the ones he had worked hardest to attract. New surveys show steep declines in Obama’s approval ratings among whites–including Democrats and independents–who were crucial elements of the diverse coalition that helped elect the country’s first black president.”

Read Less




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