In observance of Rosh Hashanah, CONTENTIONS will be taking a blog holiday until Sunday night. May you all be inscribed for a good year.
Posts For: September 18, 2009
The intellectual and political life of the United States over the past 60 years was affected in so many important and enduring ways by Irving Kristol that it is difficult to capture in words the extent of his powerful and positive influence. Irving, who died today at the age of 89, was the rarest of creatures—a thoroughgoing intellectual who was also a man of action. He was a maker of things, a builder of institutions, a harvester and disseminator and progenitor of ideas and the means whereby those ideas were made flesh.
The clarity of his thinking and the surety of his purpose were one and the same; they were immeasurably enhanced by a powerful curiosity for the way things worked and the ways in which things could be made to work better. His was a restless intelligence, always on the move; there was not an idea he didn’t want to play with, and there wasn’t a new idea for a think tank or a magazine or a center for the study of something-or-other that didn’t excite him. He was a conservative by temperament and conviction, but he was an innovator to the depths of his being.
The number of institutions with which he was affiliated, or started, or helped grow into major centers of learning and thinking is hard to count. There is this institution, COMMENTARY, where he began working after his release from the Army following the conclusion of the Second World War. There were two other magazines in the 1950s, the Reporter and Encounter, which he helped found and whose influence on civil discourse was profound and enduring, even legendary. There was the Public Interest, the quarterly he co-founded in 1965 with Daniel Bell and then ran with Nathan Glazer for more than 30 years, which was the wellspring of neoconservative thinking on domestic-policy issues. He helped bring a sleepy Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute into the forefront. And he made Basic Books into a publishing powerhouse that was, for more than 20 years, at the red-hot center of every major debate in American life.
It was through his encouragement and lobbying efforts that several foundations began providing the kind of support to thinkers and academics on the Right that other foundations and most universities afforded thinkers and academics on the Left. Through his columns in the Wall Street Journal, he instructed American businessmen on the relation between what they did and the foundational ideas of capitalism as explicated by Adam Smith, and changed many of them from sideline players in the battle over the direction of the American economy into front-line advocates.
Just an example of Irving’s approach: In 1979, as a first-year student at the University of Chicago, I started a magazine called Midway (later Counterpoint) with my friend Tod Lindberg, now the editor of Policy Review. I sent the first issue to Irving, a family friend. He called me a few days later. “Do you need money?” he said in his fascinating accent, which bore both traces of the Brooklyn of his youth and the London where he spent crucial years in his 30s. “Money?” I said. “No, we made enough from advertising to pay for it.”
“If you ever do, let me know,” he said. And a few issues later, we did. I called him, and he instructed me on the fine art of writing a grant proposal to a new foundation he had begun called the Institute for Educational Affairs. A few weeks later, he called me to report that a grant of $2,000 had been approved and, moreover, that he had used our little magazine as an example of what might be done on college campuses to encourage non-Leftist thinking among students. The board of the foundation found his pitch compelling, and it was decided that efforts should be made to encourage the creation of other publications like Counterpoint. From this seedling came a project that would, by the mid-1980s, lead to the creation of more than 50 college newspapers and magazines across the country engaged in a vital intellectual project to bring ideological diversity to campus life.
Now, if one were to measure by the nature of colleges today as opposed to 30 years ago, one would have to say this venture did not effect much change. But what came out of it were dozens of young writers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs (like Peter Thiel, the co-creator of PayPal and one of the founding editors of the Stanford Review) who have enriched American life.
So it was with Irving the mentor. There are people throughout the United States, writers and editors and academics and thinkers and speechwriters and policymakers, who owe their careers and the shape of their lives to Irving and his direct efforts on their behalf—giving them counsel, writing them letters, finding them employment. He was a human job bank.
It was interesting how interested he was in people in this way, because he was not an open person—friendly, funny, brilliantly anecdotal, yes, but not given to the present-day exchange of intimacies. And yet no one I’ve known in my 48 years on this earth did more, and more selflessly, for more people than Irving Kristol. It might have been that his essential kindness required him to keep some distance emotionally, lest he be swallowed up by his compulsive need to help.
His hunger to do lots of different things, his innate restlessness, was certainly why he was not a writer of books, though he was a crafter of English prose almost without peer in his time, strong and bold and authoritative. He published several important collections of essays but left the writing of magisterial volumes to his wife. When they were dating, he related at his 80th birthday party, he told the ambitious young Gertrude Himmelfarb that he would make sure if they married that she would write 10 books—and, he reported almost offhandedly in a manner that made tears spring to the eyes of many in the room, page proofs for her tenth book had arrived that day at their apartment in the Watergate. I suspect that, in Irving’s eyes, his foremost contribution to the intellectual life of his time was the encouragement, support, and freedom he gave in supporting Bea as she became one of the great historians of ideas of the 20th century.
We at COMMENTARY will be opening the entirety of his 45-article oeuvre in our archives (from his first contribution, a short story called “Adam and I,” published in November 1946, to his last, a 1994 essay entitled “Countercultures“) for free perusal by all readers. It is a treasure trove, as he was himself an incomparable treasure of a man, an intellectual, and an American. May Bea, Bill, Liz, and Irving’s five grandchildren be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
At the center of the recent controversy about the participation of Israeli artists at the Toronto Film Festival was the fact that the event highlighted the city of Tel Aviv’s centennial. To the signatories of a letter of protest, a group that included Danny Glover, Wallace Shawn, and Jane Fonda, it was the notion of celebrating Tel Aviv that was the real problem. It was, they said, founded on violence and the “suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants.”
The anti-Israel protesters have their facts wrong. Tel Aviv was founded not on the site of former homes of Palestinian Arabs who were dispossessed by the Jews but on empty sand dunes outside the city Jaffa. The village that was founded there a century ago grew large as a result of Jews fleeing anti-Jewish riots in Jaffa in 1921. The city has grown to be the nation’s largest city and is as cosmopolitan … and liberal as any in the world today.
So it is no small irony that those seeking to boycott Israel and brand it as illegitimate are willing to claim that Tel Aviv, of all places, is just another illegal Jewish settlement. As pressure grows on Israel to “freeze” building in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, as well as in parts of that city itself, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that to those who wish to destroy the Jewish state, every house in every town in the country is an illegal settlement.
Many in Israel (especially in Tel Aviv), as well as many friends of Israel in the United States, like to think of the West Bank settlements as being bizarre places where crazy, violent people live and that have nothing to do with the “real” Israel inside the 1967 borders. What these anti–Tel Aviv protesters tell us is that for much of the rest of the world, this is a false distinction. And, in a sense, they are right—just as once Tel Aviv was another empty place where intrepid Jews bravely attempted to put down roots and build homes. Today it may be a booming, bustling city, but to Hamas and Fatah—as well as Glover, Shawn, and Fonda—it is just a part of hated Israel and no more legitimate than any hilltop settlement deep in the West Bank.
Those Americans who think there is nothing wrong with the Obama administration’s decision to press for more Israeli concessions and building freezes in Jerusalem and elsewhere should think about the significance of the Tel Aviv bashers. Some may argue that the settlements, even those in and around Jerusalem, must go to save Israel. But to those whom Obama wishes to appease by this pressure policy, there is no difference between them and the biggest Jewish settlement of them all in Tel Aviv.
As a companion piece to Charlie Cook’s analysis, which Jen drew attention to, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, reporting from the Mountain West, finds that:
amid a fierce conservative backlash against President Obama’s agenda, Democrats face an escalating challenge to defend those advances in 2010. All signs show the momentum shifting toward Republicans in a region that has traditionally resisted the sort of assertive federal initiatives that Obama has offered on issues from the economic stimulus to health care.
… with Bush gone and Obama in the White House, warning lights are blinking for Democrats across the Mountain states. Five of the eight states ranked among the 10 where Obama’s job-approval ratings were lowest when Gallup combined the results of its daily tracking surveys through June; at that point, the president’s approval rating was lower in Colorado than in any other state he carried last year. More-recent surveys have also recorded poor approval ratings for Ritter and Sen. Michael Bennet, the Denver school superintendent whom Ritter appointed earlier this year to serve the remainder of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Senate term. Ritter is up for re-election next year; Bennet is expected to run for a full term. Meanwhile, in Nevada , Senate Majority Leader Reid, who’s also up for re-election in 2010, posted startlingly anemic numbers against his potential GOP challengers in a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll last month.
Obama’s problems, then, are both national and regional. His much touted health-care speech to the joint session turned out to be more white noise; the small bounce he received from it has almost entirely dissipated. Since the speech, Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Nancy Pelosi have begun to lash out in ugly and reckless ways against Obama’s critics, making their party look even more angry, more out of touch, and more interested in creating distractions than in governing. On top of that, my hunch is that Obama’s scraping of the missile-defense agreement the Bush administration negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic will do a lot of damage—not just to American interests overseas but politically as well.
It’s always hard to tell when certain images begin to metastasize, when the whole becomes larger than the parts. Obama seems to be edging up to that line, and in future months and years Obama’s capitulation to Russia may well be among the litany of examples people point to when they judge him to be, in a fundamental way, a weak president. Jimmy Carter experienced something similar; in the late 1970s, the issues were the dramatic extension of Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean; the lack of strength and competence in dealing with Iran (which had seized American hostages); the eagerness to berate American allies and deal tenderly with American adversaries; and an obsession with arms-control agreements.
We’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
It’s still early, things can change, and Obama may mature in office and find his balance. I hope he does. But based on what we’ve seen, the prospects are not terribly bright.
It seems a fitting end to a remarkable week. On September 18, Iranian reform advocates mounted the largest protest in Tehran since July, drawing a crowd that reportedly numbered at least in the hundreds of thousands (on-scene reporting has estimates in the millions). Blog updates can be followed here, here, and here. The regime organized a counter-protest, so the crowd size would have been split between regime supporters and the opposition. Today is “Qods Day,” or “Jerusalem Day,” in Iran, an occasion on which the regime expresses support for the Palestinian Arabs and Ahmadinejad has, since 2005, routinely featured Holocaust denial in his address to the nation.
The events in Iran are a reminder of some salient truths. One is that President Obama has decided to lift diplomatic pressure on Iran just at the point when Tehran’s theocratic regime is especially vulnerable to a courageous movement of national reform. Obama’s acceptance of negotiations with Iran, on Iran’s terms and without preconditions, serves mainly to give the mullahs breathing room. His decision to dismiss the threat that Iran will develop long-range missiles and to concentrate American missile-defense efforts on the existing shorter-range threat has the same effect. A regime the IAEA now says is capable of producing a nuclear weapon, the same regime that has for decades sponsored homicidal terror against Israel and Lebanon and that this summer has been torturing and executing its own people for the crimes of free speech and protest—this is the regime Obama is letting off the hook with his policy posture.
Equally telling is the reminder of revolutionary Iran’s emphasis on Jerusalem Day. The name of the day matters; it is not Palestine Day or even Anti-Zionist Entity Day but Jerusalem Day. Iran’s mullahs have not relinquished their revolutionary Islamic doctrine, and it is as much eschatological as political. They invoke “Jerusalem” because, for them, it is not an abstract ideological symbol but a geo-strategic and religious prize.
Yet a new chant heard from Iranian reform protesters today presents an extraordinary counterpoint to that regime posture. It is being translated as “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran!” The live blogs have links to video of the opposition protesters chanting it repeatedly. This chant provides illuminating evidence that Iran’s people understand perfectly their regime’s policies and intentions—and that they oppose them.
The heartfelt urgency of Iran’s protesters is oddly reminiscent of America’s Tea Party protests from last weekend. American protesters also understand and oppose the intentions of their leader. One has a sense this week that Obama joins Ahmadinejad and the Iranian mullahs in being pursued relentlessly by the truth. The exposure of his domestic policies by his people’s diligent homework seems of a piece with the exposure of his missile-defense policy by the ironically timed IAEA report. The Iranian protestors’ focus on framing and opposing specific regime policies has the same aspect of unvarnished honesty, set as a counterpoint to obfuscation and mendacity. That this week of strangely fateful exposure to the truth should culminate in Jerusalem Day in Iran, and in the Jewish New Year among the world’s Jews, lends it an additional poignancy.
A friend who occupied a senior American foreign-policy position e-mails with a very insightful comment:
The decision to drop [missile defense] for Poland and Czechoslovakia is a thinly disguised step toward the fulfillment of [Hillary Clinton's] statement a couple months ago that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, the U.S. will “protect” the Gulf States and (silently) Israel by deterring and containing Iran. So this is a message that the U.S. will now accommodate both Russian and Iranian “sphere of influence” ambitions, including accepting Iran as a nuclear power.
If this is indeed the subtext of Obama’s missile-defense decision, it is problematic on its own terms. A U.S. containment and deterrence regime against Iran would depend for its effectiveness—that is, for its ability to deter both Iran and America’s allies from producing their own nuclear stockpiles or asserting policies outside the American umbrella—on the conviction among our allies that the United States will never go wobbly in protecting them. It would depend on the word and reputation of President Obama.
Yet the Poles and Czechs understand that they have now been thrown under the bus. Having witnessed the lesson of Eastern European missile defense, why should the Arabs or the Israelis choose to rely on a promise from Obama that the U.S. will “contain” Iran? They shouldn’t, and they won’t.
On this one, let’s give the New York Times credit. Reporter Robert Worth begins his story on the Iranian protest as follows:
Iran’s government and its relentlessly defiant critics used an annual day of support for Palestinians on Friday to promote their agendas, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets in their largest rally in two months and the president making some of his harshest comments on the Holocaust, which he called “a lie.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel comments came the day after President Obama, in a major national security reversal, scuttled his predecessor’s missile shield plan to focus instead on protecting Israel and Europe against short- and medium-range Iranian missiles.
Translation: Obama’s foolish unilateral concessions are only emboldening our foes to behave more boldly and outrageously. Iranian leaders feel not the slightest compulsion to curb their hateful diatribes. And why should they? Obama has already decided that none of their conduct really matters and no rhetoric is disqualifying—he’ll talk to them no matter what.
So when Hillary Clinton (deliciously described here) finger-wags at Iran, declaring there will be “profound consequences” if Iran doesn’t prove that its nuclear program is peaceful, one suspects they are guffawing in Tehran. Obama’s actions and his refusal to insist on any standard of international behavior speak louder than even Clinton at her highest decibel.
Liam Fox, the Tory shadow defense secretary, spoke at the Heritage Foundation yesterday. His admirably concise remarks on the “The War in Afghanistan: Why Britain, America and NATO Must Fight to Win” will be available online shortly. They’re well worth your time if you’re interested in Afghanistan or what the Conservatives are likely to do if they come to power in May, as all the polls indicate they will.
The main takeaways are clear, and welcome. First, the Conservatives remain strongly committed to the fight in Afghanistan. Unlike conservatives in the U.S., they aren’t that much concerned that the current government wants out of the fight: bluntly, Gordon Brown is in too deep for that. Second, the Tories would back an increase in the size of the British forces in Afghanistan if those forces were used to train the Afghan National Army. And third, Fox in particular is concerned about mission creep in Afghanistan and how failure to fulfill all possible aims of the war is sapping public support. As he put it:
The best way to maintain support is to be very clear that we are there for national security reasons. . . . All of these other aims—on human rights, on democratic improvement, on what happens to education for the next generation, especially women—these are important and laudable aims in themselves but they’re not why we’re in Afghanistan.
For my part, Fox’s most interesting comment came toward the end of his remarks, when he pointed out that, while—as in Iraq—there will be many locals in Afghanistan who are reconcilable, there will remain a hard core of fanatics who will never be amenable to negotiation and who must be met with force. The belief that everyone is amenable to negotiation is, he argued, one of our most characteristic modern delusions.
Of course, this conviction is not unique to Dr. Fox. But he will shortly be in a position to act on it. And in the British context, something very much needs to be done. As evidence, I point to the most recent National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom, released in late June. The fact that it is 112 densely spaced pages long is one problem: nothing so wordy can possibly qualify as a strategy. But one of the worst bits is its treatment of ideology, which it describes, correctly if stiffly, as “a particularly important . . . threat driver.” But it then concludes:
Such [belief-based] rivalries can be made less potentially harmful if they are constrained within multilateral systems of rules, at the global level through the United Nations, though international law, through security and defence alliances such as NATO, and through regional organisations, particularly in Europe through the European Union. A rules-based international system is vital to help turn any rivalry into peaceful competition and in turn into constructive cooperation. This is another compelling argument for strong multilateral governance.
Yes indeed: the way to defeat rival ideologies is to invite those possessed by them into the UN, the EU, NATO, and the whole panoply of international institutions, membership into which will convince them to turn to “constructive cooperation.” That is the British government’s official view of how to deal with global ideological challenges. It is hard to imagine a more unserious and dangerous approach, or one more in keeping with the views that Dr. Fox rightly criticizes.
There is no doubt that Sergeant First Class Jared Monti earned the Medal of Honor bestowed by President Obama on Thursday. But he wasn’t around to collect it because he died as a result of the heroic actions for which he was cited. That makes Sergeant Monti an extraordinary human being but a run-of-the-mill Medal of Honor recipient. Four of the nation’s highest medals have been awarded in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, two in Somalia—all posthumously. A Medal of Honor hasn’t been given to a living recipient since the Vietnam War.
This is a bit of a historical aberration because out of 3,467 Medals of Honor handed out since the award’s inception during the Civil War, only 620 have been awarded posthumously. That makes it all the more striking that the only way a service member can earn one of these decorations of late is by giving his or her life. I can’t help wondering why some of the heroes who have been given Navy Crosses or Distinguished Service Crosses haven’t been decorated with the Medal of Honor instead. Take, for example, the case of Marine Private First Class Richard S. Weinmaster, who recently received the Navy Cross, his service’s second-highest award. Here is his citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Private First Class Richard S. Weinmaster, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Automatic Rifleman, 3d Platoon, Company E, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, Marine Corps Forces, Central Command (Forward), in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM on 8 July 2008. Private First Class Weinmaster’s squad was conducting a dismounted patrol down a narrow side street in the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces ambushed the squad with machine gun fire and hand grenades. Upon contact, Private First Class Weinmaster immediately began engaging the enemy positions with his squad automatic weapon. As he delivered suppressive fire and assaulted the enemy, encountering a withering volume of fire that passed within meters of his position, Private First Class Weinmaster saw two hand grenades tossed over a wall land in the middle of his patrol. Noting where one of the grenades landed, he quickly placed himself between the grenade and his fire team leader, using his body to shield both his team leader and several other Marines from the blast, which occurred immediately. Private first Class Weinmaster was seriously injured when the grenade detonated, but his valorous actions prevented his fire team leader from receiving any shrapnel. Although he was critically wounded, Private First Class Weinmaster continued to carry on the attack, engaging enemy forces with accurate automatic weapons fire and forcing them to break contact, until he collapsed from the gravity of his wounds. By his outstanding display of decisive action, unlimited courage in the face of extreme danger, and total dedication to duty, Private First Class Weinmaster reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
As an Army friend of mine—Lieutenant Colonel Bob Bateman—commented: “And somehow this doesn’t rise to the level of ‘heroism, above and beyond the call of duty’? What is wrong with us? How is this not worthy of a Medal of Honor? When did the level rise to ‘must be dead’?” Good questions. Obviously we don’t want “grade inflation” in the awarding of medals (some of which has occurred among lesser decorations), but the stinginess in awarding the Medal of Honor today seems a bit crass given how many acts of awe-inspiring heroism have been performed in Iraq and Afghanistan—two of the longest wars in our history.
Obama’s effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and to ingratiate himself with the “Muslim world” has resulted, once again, in abject failure. This report explains:
A senior Palestinian official said on Friday that U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell has ended his latest shuttle without agreement on terms for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians or for setting a trilateral summit.
Envoy George Mitchell had hoped to lay the groundwork for such a meeting next week, perhaps also attended by President Barack Obama at the periphery of next week’s United Nation General Assembly in New York.
But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking to European Union consuls in Jerusalem, said the Palestinians are sticking to their demand for a total halt to Israeli settlement activity before talks can take place.
“There is no agreement yet with the Israeli side and no middle ground solution,” Erekat said.
This follows the rebuff of Arab states, which declared themselves unwilling to entertain half-measures on the road to peace. This comes after Syria’s declaration that it will not entertain talks with Israel, and its refusal to do anything about terrorists who pour into Iraq to kill Americans. It comes after Iran has told the administration it isn’t interested in discussing its nuclear arsenal, just everyone else’s. The smart diplomacy has proved itself not only amoral in its disregard for the historic relationship with Israel and for the obligations of the U.S. government but also a colossal failure. All Obama has done—just as many of us predicted—is heighten the Palestinians’ intransigence, increase Israel’s skittishness, and convey a sense of desperation from the U.S. government.
What now? Whoever recommended this course of action should leave, a more level-headed and realistic policy should be developed to build on real progress on the ground in the West Bank, and the U.S. administration should turn its attention to the looming Iranian nuclear threat.
Charlie Cook sees troubles on the horizon for congressional Democrats. He thinks most Americans still want the president to succeed, but they really don’t like what he’s up to—or what Congress is doing:
It’s purple America, the independents who voted for Democrats in the 2006 midterm election by an 18-point margin, that makes the biggest difference right now. Most House Democrats live in blue America and show little awareness that their party has a problem. However, the Democrats’ majority is built on a layer of 54 seats that the party picked up in 2006 and 2008 that are largely in purple — or even red — America. Democrats ought to keep in mind that 84 of their current House members represent districts won by President Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008. A whopping 48 of those Democrats — eight more than the size of their party’s majority — are from districts that voted for both Bush and McCain. That America is very different from the Democratic base in blue America, and it sees many major issues very differently.
[. . .]
The 17-point advantage that Democrats enjoyed in the January Gallup Poll (when “leaners” were included) shrank to 5 points in August. Their edge on the generic congressional ballot test has vanished, according to most national polls. For three years, Democrats enjoyed high single-digit or low double-digit leads on this question — a very good indicator of which direction (and how hard) the political winds are blowing as a congressional election nears.
What we are seeing is an electorate growing just as disgusted with the Democratic majority as it did with the Republican one in 2006. The mounting ethics problems of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., combined with ongoing allegations about House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., and others on his panel threaten to make matters still worse for their party.
As Cook concedes, we are a long way off from 2010. But with each sashay to the left—be it on health care, rolling back missile defense, Guantánamo, “criticism of Obama = racism,” or the mounds and mounds of spending—the White House and liberals in Congress are making clear the looming divide between their agenda and the concerns of “purple” voters. And, aside from the policy decisions, the tone of hyper-partisanship (e.g., sanctioning Joe Wilson, name-calling town-hall attendees) doesn’t endear them to those independent voters.
The data Cook is looking at is equally accessible to members of Congress who are in unsafe seats. They too see the danger of following Obama’s agenda down the road to political oblivion. The question for them remains: can they open up enough distance between themselves and the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda to save their seats? Stay tuned.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Evelyn Gordon describes media reports about the Obama administration’s planned peace initiative, suggesting it may well involve a deadline for negotiations, with consequences for missing the deadline:
Washington will announce a two-year deadline for talks that will focus mainly on borders. If no agreement is reached by then, the US and EU — and presumably the rest of the world, too — will recognize a Palestinian state with borders “based on” the June 4, 1967 lines.
In other words, Abbas will receive international recognition of the borders he has consistently demanded, the 1967 lines — and by implication, also east Jerusalem, which was not Israeli pre-1967. The announcement will say the parties “may” alter the border via territorial exchanges, but that is up to them: The world will not insist.
Gordon notes that the significance of such a plan is that Abbas would not have to concede anything for it:
. . . not the settlement blocs, not Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, not the Western Wall, not security arrangements, not the “right of return,” not recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Some of these will be awarded him outright; others, like the refugees and recognition, will be left to future negotiations. But he would obviously have no incentive to compromise in these future negotiations, since the only thing Israel has to trade is land, and the international community will already have awarded him every inch of that.
Gordon’s article is speculative, but if she is correct about the plan, it would not necessarily be announced. It would not be necessary to announce it to effectuate it.
It is more likely that any such plan would be implemented in a series of steps over time: first, reneging on prior commitments to Israel regarding building within its existing major settlement blocs; second, ignoring the assurances regarding future borders set forth in the Bush 2004 letter; third, communicating a little déjà vu diplomacy regarding the consequences for failure to reach agreement within two years; fourth, training a nascent Palestinian army for eventual use if a state were declared; and fifth, if no agreement is reached within two years, blame Israel for the failure and recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
Looking back, future historians may note that the first three steps of the unannounced plan were all accomplished by Barack Obama in his first year, with a good start on the fourth.
The U.S. Constitution was signed 222 years ago yesterday. But for all the reverence with which the Constitution is treated, Constitution Day isn’t one of the higher-visibility federal holidays. Perhaps that’s because, for most Americans, holidays are days on which you don’t have to go to work. Or perhaps it’s because, until 2004, the day was known—to the few who had heard of it—as Citizenship Day.
I confess to having been somewhat skeptical of Senator Robert Byrd’s initiative that led to the renaming of the day, in part because it requires all publicly funded educational institutions—which is almost all of them, to some extent—to devote part of the day to the history of the Constitution. The idea is excellent in theory, but I tended to think that, in practice, the universities that needed to study the Constitution the most would do their best to pervert any history they offered of it. But credit where credit is due: Yale’s commemoration yesterday included a public address on Lincoln and his faith in the Constitution by a former leader of Yale’s Conservative party. True, such events do nothing to change the political tide in American higher education, but at least they incline in the right direction.
Today, though, I’m more exercised about another constitution, the European one. The so-called Lisbon Treaty—in reality a rewrite of the EU’s abortive constitution—is up for its second vote in Ireland on October 2, the Irish having rejected it the first time, in June 2008. At that point, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned that “there is no plan B.” That, of course, was untrue: the plan, as always in Europe, was to have the Irish vote until they got it right. And this time, the EU might just squeak by: polling shows that support for the treaty has been dropping, but it still has a lead of 46 percent to 29 percent, with 25 percent undecided.
That’s not as strong for the yes vote as it looks: last time round, the no vote was behind by almost 2-to-1 and ended up pulling it out. But facing the EU’s “vote, vote, and vote again” strategy, and Ireland’s economic collapse in the interim, the no campaigners must be less confident this time. As Tony Barber’s EU blog post for the Financial Times suggests, the main asset of the no campaign—apart from Irish anger at the EU’s presumptuousness in demanding a revote—is the sentiment that, since pro-Lisbon politicians made a mess of Ireland’s finances, they should not be trusted with the future of its sovereignty.
But there are other troubles ahead for the EU’s constitution. One of them is in the Czech Republic, where President Klaus has yet to sign—and shows no intention of doing so. The more formidable one, though, is in Britain. If by chance Ireland votes no, and presuming it wins the May general election, the Conservative party will hold a referendum on the constitution, which will destroy it. The trickier question is what the Tories will do if Ireland votes yes. This remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but there are some valuable straws in the wind. The first is the simple political reality that 90 percent of all Tory candidates want to reduce the EU’s hold on Britain. That is not a bloc of future Tory MPs: it is virtually the entire party.
The second is Dan Hannan’s recent statement, after a meeting with the Tory shadow minister for Europe, that “I am increasingly confident that Britain will get its referendum. I’m not in a position to explain why at this stage, but our hand is stronger than is generally supposed.” Right now, that remains just a tantalizing hint, but as the results of the June European elections show, there is a good deal of anger at the political establishment in Britain, and nothing is more establishment than the European Union.
The party that challenges that establishment, and Labour’s steady centralization of power into it, will not win power simply on an anti-EU vote, but resisting the EU will be essential to the coherence of the appeal. And that—apart from the EU’s failure to serve British national interests, of course—is the fundamental reason to believe that Hannan is not just indulging his hopes, and to believe that this constitution, unlike the American one, will not make it 222 days—much less 222 years.
You know that Creigh Deeds bombed yesterday in Virginia’s gubernatorial debate when the Washington Post—yeah, that Washington Post—carries three stories hugely critical of Deeds. Could it be that they’ve been backing the horse that has come up lame?
From the page-one story:
Deeds opened himself to criticism by saying that he would not raise taxes but that he would come up with new money to pay for road and transit improvements. Pushed by reporters after the debate to explain the seeming contradiction, Deeds amended his answer to say he has no plans to raise taxes that go to the state’s general fund, which pays for schools, public safety and other services. He did not make the same promise for taxes that support the state’s transportation trust fund.”What that meant is, in the general sense of the term, I’m not going to raise general fund taxes,” Deeds said. “I’m willing to sign a bill that raises new money for transportation. In fact, I intend to sign that bill.”
Deeds might have hurt his attempts to appeal to women voters during the same post-debate discussion by making a sharp remark to a female reporter who asked about his plan to pay for road improvements. “I think I made myself clear, young lady,” said Deeds, though he said it with a smile. The exchange was quickly posted on YouTube and sent out by the state Republican party. Deeds later called to apologize to the reporter, Chelyen Davis of the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, who said she was not offended by the remark.
[. . .]
Although both men were generally polite and respectful, the debate grew tense at times, as each turned directly to the other to deliver their strongest lines. Deeds often raised his voice, and although he was firmer and more concise than in previous appearances with McDonnell, he still struggled at times to articulate his positions. His folksy manner stood in contrast to McDonnell’s precision.
From the Fact Checker column:
Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds declared pretty definitively to a full house at a debate in Tysons Corner on Thursday that as governor he would not support higher taxes.
“I’m not going to raise taxes,” he said.
But gubernatorial candidate Deeds (Bath) also said that he would gladly sign a transportation plan that identifies new revenue to fix roads. A tax increase is one option on the table, he said.
When asked to explain the apparent contradiction, Deeds said he would not raise taxes for the general fund, the account that pays for such government functions as schools, prisons and social services. The gas tax goes to the transportation trust fund, and Deeds would look at that and other options for roads.
If Deeds looks as though he is dancing around the tax issue, it isn’t the first time. It wasn’t that long ago that he wasn’t willing to say he would raise taxes for roads; his promise was to keep “all options” on the table and to bring lots of people together to forge a bipartisan solution to improve traffic across Virginia.
And from columnist Robert McCartney, who candidly admits that he likes Deeds better as a candidate:
If you’re a candidate for governor coming to debate in Northern Virginia, you’d better be able to say simply and plainly how you’d raise money to repair and improve the roads. Democratic State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) failed to do that Thursday. In fact, he bungled it pretty badly. He managed to sound both vague and two-faced about the most important issue in the race for the Washington region. . . . Deeds also got a bit testy with a reporter who pressed him about whether he’d be ready to increase the gasoline tax. He’s supported that before — to his great credit, in my view — but he wouldn’t say so Thursday.
And this is the Washington Post mind you.
The Washington Post‘s editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s decision to scrap missile defense for Poland and the Czech Republic. Their tone is controlled, but their disdain for the ham-handed move is obvious. First, we gave something away for nothing:
By replacing a planned radar system in the Czech Republic with another in the Caucasus and by ending a commitment to place 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland, President Obama satisfies the unjustified demands of Russia’s leaders, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. Moscow implausibly claimed to feel threatened by those systems; in reality, Russia objects to any significant U.S. deployment in NATO countries that once belonged to the Soviet bloc.
[. . .]
In fact, administration officials say they sought nothing from Russia in exchange for the missile decision — and, it’s worth noting, there have been no parallel steps by Moscow to address major U.S. concerns in Europe or anywhere else. Mr. Putin’s foreign minister reiterated just a few days ago that Russia will not support new sanctions against Iran. The strategic arms agreement, though desirable, is of far greater interest to Russia than to the United States.
Nor has Russia moderated its aggressive stance toward Georgia, Ukraine and other neighbors that it claims should be subject to its dominion. In Central Europe, its aim is to weaken the ties of such countries as Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO and eventually convert them to buffer states. In this, there are worrisome signs that it is making progress.
Then, aside from the damage done our Eastern European friends, the Obama team did little, if anything, to cushion the blow:
The administration could have defused this reaction by offering other NATO commitments to Poland and the Czech Republic and by demonstrating that their concerns about Russia are taken seriously. Administration officials say they did just that: Poland and the Czech Republic, they say, will have the right of first refusal on the deployment of ground-based pieces of the new system. But officials from the two nations say that they were handled callously. The raw feelings were evident in public statements from figures like former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who said that “the Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before.”
And that’s before we get to the military implications for the U.S. and the impact on Iran. It is the antithesis of the sort of smart, humble diplomacy that candidate Obama promised. And, as the Post points out, the level of incompetence in executing an albeit flawed policy is rather jaw-dropping. Hurried calls to valued allies in the middle of the night? That’s amateur hour.
But that’s not all that is wrong with this move, of course. In the same paper, David Kramer, criticizing the “serious betrayal of loyal allies,” also notes that we have frittered away a negotiating advantage in upcoming arms talks with the Russians:
Yes, Washington has an interest in an arms control deal with Moscow, but Russia’s need for such a deal is much greater: It cannot afford to maintain its aging nuclear weapons, nor could it compete with the United States in any new arms race. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is already within or moving toward the ranges proposed in the latest negotiations regarding both warheads (1,500 to 1,675 per country) and delivery vehicles (500 to 1,100). That should have provided Washington with significant negotiating leverage, but the Obama administration’s eagerness for an agreement before START expires Dec. 5 has essentially forfeited that leverage.
The Bush administration repeatedly rejected any link between a post-START accord and the Polish and Czech sites. The Obama administration initially rejected linking the two but made the mistake during Obama’s trip to Russia this summer of agreeing to a last-minute joint statement on missile defense issues and to language on the joint understanding regarding a coming arms control pact.
And then there’s the impact on our own defenses.
So when you look at the move from any perspective—the moral obligation to our allies, the appallingly rude treatment of those allies, the capitulation to the Russians, the failure to obtain concrete reciprocal moves, the signal of overeagerness in upcoming arms talks, the damage to our own defenses, and ultimately the signal to Iran on the eve of those talks—it is hard to conceive of a worse decision or a more incompetently executed one. In a foreign policy with many objectionable moves (e.g., snubbing the Dalai Lama, open hostility toward Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s man in Honduras), this is certainly a new low.
Well, you have to hand it to the smart diplomats in the Obama administration. Calling Poland and the Czech Republic in the middle of the night is one classy way to break it to them that America has been scared off by the Russians. Indeed, it was this lack of basic decency and respect that got the dander up of not just Republicans but also many moderate Democrats. The Hill reports:
Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the calls to Polish and Czech leaders came “in the middle of the night” and could endanger foreign countries’ support for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
“To do this kind of action without any more notification than that is certainly not a confidence-builder,” Lugar said.
Significantly, the senior Republicans were joined by a handful of moderate Democrats on the Armed Services Committee who said they want to see the intelligence behind the decision.
“I want to review what intelligence exists for that conclusion,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “Obviously the White House can’t consult with Congress on everything, but there are some things that are important enough, particularly as it relates to national defense. And there are some of us who have supported very strongly this defense system in the past — it seems we should have had some advance notice.”
“I’m concerned about scrapping it,” added Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), also a committee member. “I think missile defense is a very, very important part of our arsenal.”
Not all Democrats were as critical. Sen. Carl Levin is convinced that the Poles and Czechs are just fine with the decision. (Huh?) Sen. Kent Conrad says everything is fine because what we really need is missile defense in the U.S. Did anyone tell him that Obama is cutting $2 billion from that as well?
From the start of the health-care debate, the president has always posed a choice (one as “false” as any of the “false choices” he routinely derides): my way or the status quo. And the status quo is supposed to be so awful, so unacceptable, that of course we’ll take ObamaCare. Forget for a moment the myriad of alternatives to ObamaCare. It seems the public is calling Obama’s bluff. The voters at this point realize that what they have isn’t so bad. The Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll explains:
Most Americans see no upside for their family in the health care reforms being considered in Washington and don’t believe President Obama when he says his plan won’t add “one dime” to the federal deficit. The majority of Americans believe they will have to make changes to their health care coverage if the president’s plan is passed. . . . More Americans would rather Congress do nothing than pass Obama’s plan: 46 percent to 37 percent of people polled say they prefer the current health care system to the one the president has proposed.
Similarly, more people oppose — 48 percent — the health care reform legislation being considered right now than favor it — 38 percent. While most Democrats — 65 percent — favor the reforms, majorities of Republicans — 79 percent — and independents (55 percent) oppose them.
Well, that’s quite an accomplishment when you think about it. For over a year during the campaign and then for the better part of this year, Obama railed against the current system and tried to convince Americans we had a “health-care crisis.” Now they’d like him to deal with the real crisis: “A 57 percent majority of Americans think the president should be spending more time right now fixing the economy — that’s three times as many as say he should be working on reforming health care (19 percent).”
Other interesting findings: by a 60-27 margin, voters think we’ve become more divided in the past year, and by a 76-12 margin, voters think the economy is a higher priority than health care. By a 53-34 margin, voters think the Obama administration is spending too much. And 65 percent of voters disagree with Osama bin Laden favorite author Jimmy Carter that the criticism of Obama is based on racism. By a 54-42 percent margin, voters don’t think we should force Americans to buy health care.
All in all it is a stunning repudiation of the president’s health-care vision. Moreover, it makes one point crystal clear to lawmakers: they are much better off voting for nothing than voting for a bad bill that contains elements voters dislike and increases the deficit. And that is the last thing Obama wants lawmakers to figure out.
I had a hard time finding a response from the U.S. to the Goldstone report. No statement of condemnation from Hillary Clinton did I find. No presidential expression of “deep disappointment” with the viciously one-sided attack on our ally Israel. A friend dug this up and passed it along:
Reporter: Madam Ambassador, do you have a comment in either your capacity as President of the Security Council or in your national capacity regarding the Goldstone report that just came out.
Ambassador [Susan] Rice: I’ll speak in national capacity. The United States is reviewing very carefully what is a very lengthy document. We have long expressed our very serious concern with the mandate that was given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining the Council, which we viewed as unbalanced, one sided and basically unacceptable. We have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report. We will expect and believe that the appropriate venue for this report to be considered is the Human Rights Council and that is our strong view. And most importantly our view is that we need to be focused on the future. This is a time to work to cement progress towards the resumptions of negotiations and their early and successful conclusion and our efforts, and we hope the efforts of others, will be directed to that end.
How positively, well, diplomatic. You’d think that if a close ally of the U.S. were subjected to an attack that in essence is an indictment of that ally’s ability to defend itself—something candidate Obama spoke tenderly about—we’d get a little more indignation, a tad more articulate defense from the U.S. government. But no. This is the conflict-avoidance crowd. Israel vilified? Time to move on. And the notion that the UN Human Rights Council is the place to address this is beyond laughable.
I wonder when Obama will decide there is enough “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. The gap between the two is certainly widening with each passing day.
The rest of the Obama agenda is on life support: “The climate bill is not dead, but its pulse is rapidly weakening on Capitol Hill. Harry Reid says he doesn’t have time for it. The White House has been largely silent on the legislation. And one Treasury analysis — disputed by critics — that says a cap-and-trade system could cost $200 billion landed with a thud on Wednesday.” That analysis says there’s a $1,761 tax increase for every American household. (Many families can add that to the $3800 fine they will have to pay for not buying ObamaCare-approved health insurance.)
At the Virginia gubernatorial debate yesterday, Creigh Deeds’s effort to harp on the made-up thesis scandal bombed: “When he did so near the end of the debate, groans came from some in the crowd of about 500 northern Virginia business leaders. McDonnell accused Deeds of running a ‘backward looking and negative campaign’ and at one point invoked Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line, ‘There you go again,’ to chastise Deeds for harping on the topic.” Well, that’s what happens when you let the Washington Post construct your campaign.
And Deeds is now running from Obama.
Mickey Kaus on the president’s health-care ratings observes that ”the red line of opposition trending ineluctably upward is not what you would want to see if you were in the White House.”
Pollster.com shows that red line.
Randy Scheunemann on Obama’s retreat on missile defense: “Unilateral preemptive concession in the hope that your negotiating partners will follow suit? Anyone who believes that will work with Russia hasn’t looked at 70 years of Soviet history and 200 years of Russian history.”
Nancy Pelosi manages to outdo Jimmy Carter with “conservative protests were similar to anti-gay rallies in the late 1970s that preceded the assassination of two San Francisco political leaders.” Republicans object: “Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Pelosi crossed the line when she related the rhetoric of anti-gay protesters in San Francisco in 1978 — the year Harvey Milk, the first openly gay member of the city’s board of supervisors, and his political ally, Mayor George Moscone, were killed by former supervisor Dan White — to that of contemporary conservatives while answering a question about the protests against President Obama’s health-care proposals.”
It’s certainly change: “President Obama promised he would win America friends where, under George W. Bush, it had antagonists. The reality is that the U.S. is working hard to create antagonists where it previously had friends. That’s one conclusion to draw from President Obama’s decision yesterday to scrap a missile-defense agreement the Bush Administration negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic. Both governments took huge political risks—including the ire of their former Russian overlords—in order to accommodate the U.S., which wanted the system to defend against a possible Iranian missile attack. Don’t expect either government to follow America’s lead anytime soon.” And you have to marvel at the timing: “Officials in Warsaw surely noticed that President Obama cancelled the missile system 70 years to the day that the Soviet Union invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany.”
Charles Krauthammer says Obama doesn’t exactly lie: “He merely elides, gliding from one dubious assertion to another. This has been the story throughout his whole health-care crusade. Its original premise was that our current financial crisis was rooted in neglect of three things — energy, education and health care. That transparent attempt to exploit Emanuel’s Law — a crisis is a terrible thing to waste — failed for health care because no one is stupid enough to believe that the 2008 financial collapse was caused by a lack of universal health care.”