Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 20, 2009

“The Biggest Bunch of Crybabies”

That’s how Chris Wallace describes the Obama team, constantly calling to “work the umps” to whine about coverage and object to stories and guest selection on TV talk shows. Obama’s talk-show blitz today conspicuously avoided Fox even though, as Politico’s Michael Calderone concedes, “the network dominates the cable ratings and reaches a viewership far beyond the Democratic base.”

We know from David Brooks, among others, that the Obama team famously descends en masse to object to stories and insist its spin be transmitted. And the personal attacks on everyone from Rick Santelli to Rush Limbaugh directly from the White House press room are unprecedented.

One could say that this media approach is “aggressive” or “quick to respond.” But it also suggests, both in ferocity and obsessiveness, a problematic mindset that no doubt comes straight from the president: any tough criticism is inauthentic, illegitimate, or just wrong. Fox should be ignored because it don’t follow the mainstream-media story lines. Conservative-media stories should be similarly ignored because they’re just nutty attacks attempting to delegitimize the president. (The Washington Post helpfully offered that the White House sees an “existential threat” to the president from coverage of such stories.) And even a knowledgeable business reporter like Santelli needs to be written off as a know-nothing who has his facts wrong because it’s simply impossible to have legitimate objections on the merits of the president’s proposals.

The danger here, as we have seen with the health-care debate and the populist uprising on spending (embodied in the “I see nothing” reaction to the Tea Parties outside the White House windows), is that the White House misses the public mood and doesn’t pick up on early-warning signals that its agenda is in trouble or its message ineffective. The administration prefers to strangle the coverage of its critics’ complaints rather than take the criticism seriously—or even learn from it. The result is that it is caught flat-footed and unprepared to respond effectively to very real concerns about everything from political appointments to major policy initiatives. And one suspects this is purely a function of the president’s prickly personality and inability to tolerate criticism. After all, he has been the one to call out Fox and complain about the 24/7 news cycle.

The irony of all of this, obviously, is that this administration has been the beneficiary of the most sycophantic coverage ever of a presidency. That it cannot accept even minor deviations from that idolatry tells us much about the thinking of the Obama team and the president himself.

That’s how Chris Wallace describes the Obama team, constantly calling to “work the umps” to whine about coverage and object to stories and guest selection on TV talk shows. Obama’s talk-show blitz today conspicuously avoided Fox even though, as Politico’s Michael Calderone concedes, “the network dominates the cable ratings and reaches a viewership far beyond the Democratic base.”

We know from David Brooks, among others, that the Obama team famously descends en masse to object to stories and insist its spin be transmitted. And the personal attacks on everyone from Rick Santelli to Rush Limbaugh directly from the White House press room are unprecedented.

One could say that this media approach is “aggressive” or “quick to respond.” But it also suggests, both in ferocity and obsessiveness, a problematic mindset that no doubt comes straight from the president: any tough criticism is inauthentic, illegitimate, or just wrong. Fox should be ignored because it don’t follow the mainstream-media story lines. Conservative-media stories should be similarly ignored because they’re just nutty attacks attempting to delegitimize the president. (The Washington Post helpfully offered that the White House sees an “existential threat” to the president from coverage of such stories.) And even a knowledgeable business reporter like Santelli needs to be written off as a know-nothing who has his facts wrong because it’s simply impossible to have legitimate objections on the merits of the president’s proposals.

The danger here, as we have seen with the health-care debate and the populist uprising on spending (embodied in the “I see nothing” reaction to the Tea Parties outside the White House windows), is that the White House misses the public mood and doesn’t pick up on early-warning signals that its agenda is in trouble or its message ineffective. The administration prefers to strangle the coverage of its critics’ complaints rather than take the criticism seriously—or even learn from it. The result is that it is caught flat-footed and unprepared to respond effectively to very real concerns about everything from political appointments to major policy initiatives. And one suspects this is purely a function of the president’s prickly personality and inability to tolerate criticism. After all, he has been the one to call out Fox and complain about the 24/7 news cycle.

The irony of all of this, obviously, is that this administration has been the beneficiary of the most sycophantic coverage ever of a presidency. That it cannot accept even minor deviations from that idolatry tells us much about the thinking of the Obama team and the president himself.

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Holder Commits Malpractice

Late on Friday, an unprecedented and significant rebuke from seven former CIA chiefs was issued to the Obama administration’s decision to name a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorists at overseas location. In a letter to the president, the CIA chiefs called on Obama to step up to the plate and reel in Attorney General Eric Holder. They reminded him (as some of us reported at the time of the decision) that Holder’s decision is really an ill-advised do-over that seeks to second-guess the work of career prosecutors:

Career prosecutors under the supervision of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia determined that one prosecution (of a CIA contractor) was warranted. A conviction was later obtained. They determined that prosecutions were not warranted in the other cases. In a number of these cases the CIA subsequently took administrative disciplinary steps against the individuals involved.

Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.

If criminal investigations closed by career prosecutors during one administration can so easily be reopened at the direction of political appointees in the next, declinations of prosecution will be rendered meaningless. Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions.

They explain the ramifications to the intelligence community:

Success in intelligence often depends on surprise and deception and on creating uncertainty in the mind of an enemy. As president you have the authority to make decisions restricting substantive interrogation or any other intelligence collection method, based on legal analyses and policy recommendations.

But, the administration must be mindful that public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help Al Qaeda elude U.S. intelligence and plan future operations. Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.

Finally, another certain result of these reopened investigations is the serious damage done to our intelligence community’s ability to obtain the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies. Foreign services are already greatly concerned about the United States’ inability to maintain any secrets. They rightly fear that, through these additional investigations and the court proceedings that could follow, terrorists may learn how other countries came to our assistance in a time of peril.

But the thrust of the letter is to challenge the administration’s dodge that somehow the president is powerless here. Nonsense, they, in essence, say. Issue an executive order or simply direct your Cabinet official to knock it off : “We support your stated commitment, Mr. President, to look to the future regarding these important issues. In our judgment the only way that is possible is if the criminal investigation of these interrogations that Attorney General Holder has re-opened is now re-closed.”

The administration must have gotten nervous. Saturday a spin-filled piece appeared in the Washington Post trying to argue that only a few cases were to be reinvestigated (but why any?) and that there were supposedly some new facts that might lead to a different result. But the story has not a single “new” fact or hint that any of these cases are prosecutable. To the contrary, the new information is “unspecified,” we are told. And the alleged “cases” are a defense counsel’s dream come true:

Justice Department officials cited complications, including a lack of evidence, problems with jurisdiction and “low probability of conviction,” according to a letter sent to Senate Democrats, who had demanded information about the investigations. One government lawyer involved in the reviews called the evidence “a mess” and said that material collected on battlefields and in secret prisons was difficult to translate into a criminal case, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. CIA officials have noted that the allegations of detainee mistreatment had been evaluated by an aggressive team of federal prosecutors who declined to file criminal charges, after which some CIA employees were subjected to internal discipline.

[. . .]

The Justice Department review in the Eastern District of Virginia decision several years ago was conducted by some of the office’s top prosecutors.

One official involved in the review said there was “absolutely no pressure from DOJ” to decide the cases in a certain direction. “There was absolutely none of that, and if I had seen that I would have been very offended by it,” the official said.

And even more damning , it appears that “Holder did not read detailed memos that prosecutors drafted and placed in files to explain their decision to decline prosecutions.” What?? This is mind-boggling. It is nothing less than egregious prosecutorial malpractice not to review the careful work of the prosecutors he is overruling. It reveals that the entire process to review the matters previously considered by career prosecutors to be a fraud, a contrived charade with a preordained outcome. If you think they got it “wrong” the first time, an honest evaluation would plainly start with reading the work you are overruling, right?

On this basis alone, the president should shut Holder down—and then consider why he should keep an attorney general who has incurred the wrath of former CIA chiefs, second-guessed career prosecutors, done untold damage to our intelligence community—all without a modicum of prosecutorial professionalism.

Late on Friday, an unprecedented and significant rebuke from seven former CIA chiefs was issued to the Obama administration’s decision to name a special prosecutor to reinvestigate CIA operatives who employed enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorists at overseas location. In a letter to the president, the CIA chiefs called on Obama to step up to the plate and reel in Attorney General Eric Holder. They reminded him (as some of us reported at the time of the decision) that Holder’s decision is really an ill-advised do-over that seeks to second-guess the work of career prosecutors:

Career prosecutors under the supervision of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia determined that one prosecution (of a CIA contractor) was warranted. A conviction was later obtained. They determined that prosecutions were not warranted in the other cases. In a number of these cases the CIA subsequently took administrative disciplinary steps against the individuals involved.

Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.

If criminal investigations closed by career prosecutors during one administration can so easily be reopened at the direction of political appointees in the next, declinations of prosecution will be rendered meaningless. Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions.

They explain the ramifications to the intelligence community:

Success in intelligence often depends on surprise and deception and on creating uncertainty in the mind of an enemy. As president you have the authority to make decisions restricting substantive interrogation or any other intelligence collection method, based on legal analyses and policy recommendations.

But, the administration must be mindful that public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help Al Qaeda elude U.S. intelligence and plan future operations. Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.

Finally, another certain result of these reopened investigations is the serious damage done to our intelligence community’s ability to obtain the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies. Foreign services are already greatly concerned about the United States’ inability to maintain any secrets. They rightly fear that, through these additional investigations and the court proceedings that could follow, terrorists may learn how other countries came to our assistance in a time of peril.

But the thrust of the letter is to challenge the administration’s dodge that somehow the president is powerless here. Nonsense, they, in essence, say. Issue an executive order or simply direct your Cabinet official to knock it off : “We support your stated commitment, Mr. President, to look to the future regarding these important issues. In our judgment the only way that is possible is if the criminal investigation of these interrogations that Attorney General Holder has re-opened is now re-closed.”

The administration must have gotten nervous. Saturday a spin-filled piece appeared in the Washington Post trying to argue that only a few cases were to be reinvestigated (but why any?) and that there were supposedly some new facts that might lead to a different result. But the story has not a single “new” fact or hint that any of these cases are prosecutable. To the contrary, the new information is “unspecified,” we are told. And the alleged “cases” are a defense counsel’s dream come true:

Justice Department officials cited complications, including a lack of evidence, problems with jurisdiction and “low probability of conviction,” according to a letter sent to Senate Democrats, who had demanded information about the investigations. One government lawyer involved in the reviews called the evidence “a mess” and said that material collected on battlefields and in secret prisons was difficult to translate into a criminal case, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. CIA officials have noted that the allegations of detainee mistreatment had been evaluated by an aggressive team of federal prosecutors who declined to file criminal charges, after which some CIA employees were subjected to internal discipline.

[. . .]

The Justice Department review in the Eastern District of Virginia decision several years ago was conducted by some of the office’s top prosecutors.

One official involved in the review said there was “absolutely no pressure from DOJ” to decide the cases in a certain direction. “There was absolutely none of that, and if I had seen that I would have been very offended by it,” the official said.

And even more damning , it appears that “Holder did not read detailed memos that prosecutors drafted and placed in files to explain their decision to decline prosecutions.” What?? This is mind-boggling. It is nothing less than egregious prosecutorial malpractice not to review the careful work of the prosecutors he is overruling. It reveals that the entire process to review the matters previously considered by career prosecutors to be a fraud, a contrived charade with a preordained outcome. If you think they got it “wrong” the first time, an honest evaluation would plainly start with reading the work you are overruling, right?

On this basis alone, the president should shut Holder down—and then consider why he should keep an attorney general who has incurred the wrath of former CIA chiefs, second-guessed career prosecutors, done untold damage to our intelligence community—all without a modicum of prosecutorial professionalism.

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Deeds Doesn’t Take Care of Business

On the heels of its scathing coverage of Creigh Deeds debate performance, the Washington Post explains that unlike the Democrats, who won the past two gubernatorial races, Deeds isn’t wowing the business community:

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, is struggling to connect with some business leaders, an influential voting bloc that has been key to Democratic victories in recent elections.

With major backing from unions, conflicting promises on taxes and no details on how to fix the state’s mounting transportation crisis, Deeds is not swaying some business-minded voters who are jittery about the economy and who say they don’t like what they see as Deeds’s uncertain positions on a host of critical state and federal issues.

Doubts about Deeds’s business support have pervaded the campaign this week, as has the perception that his Republican opponent, Robert F. McDonnell, has more persuasively made the case that he will create jobs, keep taxes low, and protect Virginia’s right-to-work laws.

So Deeds is switching to social issues (aided by the Post, of course) to try to make the race about hot-button issues and to portray his opponent as out of the mainstream of suburban voters. But, alas, McDonnell isn’t playing ball:

The difficulty for Deeds is that McDonnell has focused almost exclusively on economic issues in his candidacy. He has promised to pursue oil and gas exploration off the coast of Virginia. He has offered a tax credit for businesses that create jobs. He has laid out a plan to pay for traffic improvements by selling Virginia’s state-run liquor stores and adding tolls to highways. And he has taken a strong stand against federal proposals to restrict carbon emissions, require small businesses to provide health coverage and eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.

It remains a mystery (and no doubt a source of angst for Democrats) that Deeds has not been effective in presenting his policy proposals—allowing McDonnell to seize the bread-and-butter issues in the race. And Deeds’ “series of ambiguous answers” have only pushed a long list of business groups into McDonnell’s camp.

Deeds may have turned out to be a mediocre candidate with a poorly designed strategy. Nevertheless the race is tightening as many Democrats return to the fold, realizing the implications of a Deeds loss. If Deeds loses, the results are likely to be interpreted not as a sign of one candidate’s shortcomings but as a signal of Republican resurgence. Whatever the spin, if McDonnell wins, Republicans around the country are certainly going to be studying his conservative message on those issues that affect the daily lives of voters. And both sides may conclude that the Obama era is not nearly so hospitable to Democrats in swing states as they imagined.

On the heels of its scathing coverage of Creigh Deeds debate performance, the Washington Post explains that unlike the Democrats, who won the past two gubernatorial races, Deeds isn’t wowing the business community:

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, is struggling to connect with some business leaders, an influential voting bloc that has been key to Democratic victories in recent elections.

With major backing from unions, conflicting promises on taxes and no details on how to fix the state’s mounting transportation crisis, Deeds is not swaying some business-minded voters who are jittery about the economy and who say they don’t like what they see as Deeds’s uncertain positions on a host of critical state and federal issues.

Doubts about Deeds’s business support have pervaded the campaign this week, as has the perception that his Republican opponent, Robert F. McDonnell, has more persuasively made the case that he will create jobs, keep taxes low, and protect Virginia’s right-to-work laws.

So Deeds is switching to social issues (aided by the Post, of course) to try to make the race about hot-button issues and to portray his opponent as out of the mainstream of suburban voters. But, alas, McDonnell isn’t playing ball:

The difficulty for Deeds is that McDonnell has focused almost exclusively on economic issues in his candidacy. He has promised to pursue oil and gas exploration off the coast of Virginia. He has offered a tax credit for businesses that create jobs. He has laid out a plan to pay for traffic improvements by selling Virginia’s state-run liquor stores and adding tolls to highways. And he has taken a strong stand against federal proposals to restrict carbon emissions, require small businesses to provide health coverage and eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.

It remains a mystery (and no doubt a source of angst for Democrats) that Deeds has not been effective in presenting his policy proposals—allowing McDonnell to seize the bread-and-butter issues in the race. And Deeds’ “series of ambiguous answers” have only pushed a long list of business groups into McDonnell’s camp.

Deeds may have turned out to be a mediocre candidate with a poorly designed strategy. Nevertheless the race is tightening as many Democrats return to the fold, realizing the implications of a Deeds loss. If Deeds loses, the results are likely to be interpreted not as a sign of one candidate’s shortcomings but as a signal of Republican resurgence. Whatever the spin, if McDonnell wins, Republicans around the country are certainly going to be studying his conservative message on those issues that affect the daily lives of voters. And both sides may conclude that the Obama era is not nearly so hospitable to Democrats in swing states as they imagined.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Fred Barnes explains why the Democrats are so nervous about Virginia: “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Mr. McDonnell pulls off a victory, he will demonstrate that 2008 may have been an aberration—an artifact of the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s candidacy and his well-run campaign. A McDonnell win would also likely be a signal that voters got a close look at Mr. Obama’s ideas and took out their frustration with the president on the nearest Democrat—Mr. Deeds. There’s a sense of normalcy returning to Virginia, and it portends well for Republicans.”

Stephen Walt gives thumbs up to J Street. Not since Osama bin Laden’s inclusion of Jimmy Carter in his book club has an endorsement been more revealing.

Obama wants to talk health care, but voters in 42 states may wonder why he isn’t talking about jobs: “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia lost jobs last month, confirming that the nation’s labor market continues to deteriorate even as more ‘green shoots’ are sighted in other areas of the economy. Fourteen states and the District suffered double-digit jobless rates in August as the unemployment rate increased in 27 states and the nation’s capital, the Labor Department reported Friday. As a result, states whose budgets have been battered by soaring unemployment, rising social spending and collapsing tax revenues took another big hit in August even as the nation appeared to be climbing out of recession.”

This report suggests that Obama’s reversal on missile defense was motivated in large part by penny-pinching on defense. After all, with all those trillions to be spent on domestic programs, they have to save money somewhere, right?

From Rich Lowry, as good as description of Obama’s missile-defense retreat as you will find: “If diplomatic pusillanimity was the aim, Pres. Barack Obama’s decision to abandon our current missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe must be regarded as a masterstroke.”

Jamie Fly sums up: “President Obama seems to think that by making a grand gesture and downplaying the Iranian threat he will garner good will from the Russians and the Iranians going into these talks, never mind the hurt feelings of long-time allies. More likely, Iran, Russia, and a watching world will see this for what it is: a colossal sign of U.S. weakness.”

Hillary Clinton’s woes as secretary of state wind up on the front page of the Washington Post, which describes the tension between her “aspiration and status.” Perhaps being a marginal player in a Carter-like foreign-policy team wasn’t the best career move after all.

Republicans have a pulse, the New York Times breathlessly declares! Political analysts and polls have been revealing this for months, but the Times apparently was too busy not reporting on the Tea Parties and ignoring the Van Jones story to notice.

New AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka tells us to ignore Sen. Arlen Specter—Big Labor is still going for card check. Matthew Kaminski sums up Trumka’s mission: “It’s time for unions to lead the overhaul of the American economy. With members comes that power. … In his view, securing collective bargaining in a union for a larger share of the workforce, presumably leading to higher pay, can revive consumer spending that can drive economic growth.” Hey, it worked for GM and Chrysler, right? Well, no.

Stephen Hayes, in a must-read recapitulation of Obama’s repeated efforts to ingratiate himself with the Iranian regime—and the regime’s repeated rebuffs: “Iran continues to enrich uranium, it continues to support terrorists, and it continues to suppress political opposition. None of that is surprising. What is hard to understand is the fact that Iran continues to dictate the agenda of international talks. Ahmadinejad is right, the Islamic Republic is running the show.”

The dean of conventional wisdom, David Broder, acknowledges that the health-care plan of Sen. Max Baucus pleases no one: “This was to be Baucus’s moment. But when it came last week, he had to admit that he had enlisted not one Republican supporter and then had to endure criticism from his fellow Democrats that his measure fell short of what the campaign had promised.”

Obama manages to set a face-saving meeting for Tuesday with Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. It’s not much, but Obama avoids utter humiliation: ” ‘These meetings will continue the efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Special Envoy George Mitchell to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations, and to create a positive context for those negotiations so that they can succeed,’ the statement said. But the meeting between will not serve as a preparation for negotiations and not constitute renewal of negotiations where they were left off, but rather be a preliminary meeting to set the ground for further meetings, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday.”

Fred Barnes explains why the Democrats are so nervous about Virginia: “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Mr. McDonnell pulls off a victory, he will demonstrate that 2008 may have been an aberration—an artifact of the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s candidacy and his well-run campaign. A McDonnell win would also likely be a signal that voters got a close look at Mr. Obama’s ideas and took out their frustration with the president on the nearest Democrat—Mr. Deeds. There’s a sense of normalcy returning to Virginia, and it portends well for Republicans.”

Stephen Walt gives thumbs up to J Street. Not since Osama bin Laden’s inclusion of Jimmy Carter in his book club has an endorsement been more revealing.

Obama wants to talk health care, but voters in 42 states may wonder why he isn’t talking about jobs: “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia lost jobs last month, confirming that the nation’s labor market continues to deteriorate even as more ‘green shoots’ are sighted in other areas of the economy. Fourteen states and the District suffered double-digit jobless rates in August as the unemployment rate increased in 27 states and the nation’s capital, the Labor Department reported Friday. As a result, states whose budgets have been battered by soaring unemployment, rising social spending and collapsing tax revenues took another big hit in August even as the nation appeared to be climbing out of recession.”

This report suggests that Obama’s reversal on missile defense was motivated in large part by penny-pinching on defense. After all, with all those trillions to be spent on domestic programs, they have to save money somewhere, right?

From Rich Lowry, as good as description of Obama’s missile-defense retreat as you will find: “If diplomatic pusillanimity was the aim, Pres. Barack Obama’s decision to abandon our current missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe must be regarded as a masterstroke.”

Jamie Fly sums up: “President Obama seems to think that by making a grand gesture and downplaying the Iranian threat he will garner good will from the Russians and the Iranians going into these talks, never mind the hurt feelings of long-time allies. More likely, Iran, Russia, and a watching world will see this for what it is: a colossal sign of U.S. weakness.”

Hillary Clinton’s woes as secretary of state wind up on the front page of the Washington Post, which describes the tension between her “aspiration and status.” Perhaps being a marginal player in a Carter-like foreign-policy team wasn’t the best career move after all.

Republicans have a pulse, the New York Times breathlessly declares! Political analysts and polls have been revealing this for months, but the Times apparently was too busy not reporting on the Tea Parties and ignoring the Van Jones story to notice.

New AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka tells us to ignore Sen. Arlen Specter—Big Labor is still going for card check. Matthew Kaminski sums up Trumka’s mission: “It’s time for unions to lead the overhaul of the American economy. With members comes that power. … In his view, securing collective bargaining in a union for a larger share of the workforce, presumably leading to higher pay, can revive consumer spending that can drive economic growth.” Hey, it worked for GM and Chrysler, right? Well, no.

Stephen Hayes, in a must-read recapitulation of Obama’s repeated efforts to ingratiate himself with the Iranian regime—and the regime’s repeated rebuffs: “Iran continues to enrich uranium, it continues to support terrorists, and it continues to suppress political opposition. None of that is surprising. What is hard to understand is the fact that Iran continues to dictate the agenda of international talks. Ahmadinejad is right, the Islamic Republic is running the show.”

The dean of conventional wisdom, David Broder, acknowledges that the health-care plan of Sen. Max Baucus pleases no one: “This was to be Baucus’s moment. But when it came last week, he had to admit that he had enlisted not one Republican supporter and then had to endure criticism from his fellow Democrats that his measure fell short of what the campaign had promised.”

Obama manages to set a face-saving meeting for Tuesday with Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. It’s not much, but Obama avoids utter humiliation: ” ‘These meetings will continue the efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Special Envoy George Mitchell to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations, and to create a positive context for those negotiations so that they can succeed,’ the statement said. But the meeting between will not serve as a preparation for negotiations and not constitute renewal of negotiations where they were left off, but rather be a preliminary meeting to set the ground for further meetings, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday.”

Read Less

Is the U.S. About to Dump Syria?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain reports in Kuwait’s Arabic-language daily Al Rai that the Obama administration has quietly decided not to return an ambassador to Syria as promised. He quotes unnamed officials who say president Bashar Assad is blackmailing the United States and its neighbors while conceding nothing in negotiations.

“Assad had started to count the American eggs in his basket before offering anything in return,” said an administration official, according to Tony Badran’s translation from Arabic. “Assad fires a rocket here or there [in south Lebanon] and expects us to run to him. . . . This kind of security blackmail no longer works on the United States.”

Syrian blackmail, though, has been working for decades. Bashar Assad’s government, like that of his late father, Hafez Assad, is an extortionist gangster regime that demands—and usually gets—the diplomatic equivalent of protection money. “The basic line is ‘Do what we want or we will kill you,’ ” said Barry Rubin, author of The Truth about Syria. “Yet at the same time they hold out the bait of great progress if only their demands are met. They play the West at times like a master fisherman reeling in his victim.”

There’s a case to be made, albeit a weak one, for buying off rogue regimes if they’ll behave. The biggest problem with bribing the Syrians, aside from the fact that it encourages more blackmail later, is that Assad won’t even hold up his end of the deal. “The Syrians,” Lebanese blogger Mustapha explained on his blog Beirut Spring, “try to sell, for a high price, water for fires they cause themselves, then they don’t deliver.”

No matter what the Syrian government is offered—normal relations, a looser sanctions regime, trade agreements—it has never rolled back support for international terrorist organizations. Syria refuses to hold peace talks with Israel or close down the local branches of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Assad won’t stop obstructing the formation of a new Lebanese government nor will he shut down his terrorist pipeline into Iraq.

Lebanese politicians and journalists have been under siege by Syrian assassins and car bombers since 2005. Iraqis have been blown apart by Syrian-supported suicide-bombers since 2003. And Israelis have been under assault by terrorist groups backed by Damascus since the Assad regime came to power decades ago. “This is how Syria negotiates,” Lee Smith wrote in 2007 after Syrian agents blew up a bus on Mount Lebanon, “with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.”

“The impediment to real change in the Syrian regime’s behavior in a manner that would satisfy American decision-makers is structural and systemic,” wrote Tony Badran in NOW Lebanon. “Syria cannot abandon its support for violence and subversion, or its alliance with Iran, because those are the only tools allowing it to bolster its relevance above its political weight.”

Indeed, Assad and his father have made Syria an indispensable nation in the Middle East, despite its utter dearth of economic and military power, by exporting terrorism and suicide murder to neighboring countries. Henry Kissinger’s famous formulation, “No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,” would be negated at once if Assad ceased and desisted his support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi terrorist groups. Syria would become just another failed Soviet-style state with no more geopolitical power than Yemen.

The Obama administration has been a bit more accommodating of Assad than it should have been, but the same can be said for every American administration in recent decades. Barry Rubin warned about this possibility long before Barack Obama was even elected. “The next U.S. president might try to engage Syria and spend a year or so finding out that it doesn’t work,” he told me in 2007.

Bashar Assad does not play well with others, and he never has. Neither did his father. The Syrians, according to a U.S. official quoted by Abdul-Hussain, “don’t know the difference between normalizing relations and behaving like they’ve defeated the US in a world war.”

President Obama’s conciliatory nature meant a temporary rapprochement with Syria was likely, if not inevitable. Assad’s nature all but ensures it won’t last.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain reports in Kuwait’s Arabic-language daily Al Rai that the Obama administration has quietly decided not to return an ambassador to Syria as promised. He quotes unnamed officials who say president Bashar Assad is blackmailing the United States and its neighbors while conceding nothing in negotiations.

“Assad had started to count the American eggs in his basket before offering anything in return,” said an administration official, according to Tony Badran’s translation from Arabic. “Assad fires a rocket here or there [in south Lebanon] and expects us to run to him. . . . This kind of security blackmail no longer works on the United States.”

Syrian blackmail, though, has been working for decades. Bashar Assad’s government, like that of his late father, Hafez Assad, is an extortionist gangster regime that demands—and usually gets—the diplomatic equivalent of protection money. “The basic line is ‘Do what we want or we will kill you,’ ” said Barry Rubin, author of The Truth about Syria. “Yet at the same time they hold out the bait of great progress if only their demands are met. They play the West at times like a master fisherman reeling in his victim.”

There’s a case to be made, albeit a weak one, for buying off rogue regimes if they’ll behave. The biggest problem with bribing the Syrians, aside from the fact that it encourages more blackmail later, is that Assad won’t even hold up his end of the deal. “The Syrians,” Lebanese blogger Mustapha explained on his blog Beirut Spring, “try to sell, for a high price, water for fires they cause themselves, then they don’t deliver.”

No matter what the Syrian government is offered—normal relations, a looser sanctions regime, trade agreements—it has never rolled back support for international terrorist organizations. Syria refuses to hold peace talks with Israel or close down the local branches of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Assad won’t stop obstructing the formation of a new Lebanese government nor will he shut down his terrorist pipeline into Iraq.

Lebanese politicians and journalists have been under siege by Syrian assassins and car bombers since 2005. Iraqis have been blown apart by Syrian-supported suicide-bombers since 2003. And Israelis have been under assault by terrorist groups backed by Damascus since the Assad regime came to power decades ago. “This is how Syria negotiates,” Lee Smith wrote in 2007 after Syrian agents blew up a bus on Mount Lebanon, “with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.”

“The impediment to real change in the Syrian regime’s behavior in a manner that would satisfy American decision-makers is structural and systemic,” wrote Tony Badran in NOW Lebanon. “Syria cannot abandon its support for violence and subversion, or its alliance with Iran, because those are the only tools allowing it to bolster its relevance above its political weight.”

Indeed, Assad and his father have made Syria an indispensable nation in the Middle East, despite its utter dearth of economic and military power, by exporting terrorism and suicide murder to neighboring countries. Henry Kissinger’s famous formulation, “No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,” would be negated at once if Assad ceased and desisted his support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi terrorist groups. Syria would become just another failed Soviet-style state with no more geopolitical power than Yemen.

The Obama administration has been a bit more accommodating of Assad than it should have been, but the same can be said for every American administration in recent decades. Barry Rubin warned about this possibility long before Barack Obama was even elected. “The next U.S. president might try to engage Syria and spend a year or so finding out that it doesn’t work,” he told me in 2007.

Bashar Assad does not play well with others, and he never has. Neither did his father. The Syrians, according to a U.S. official quoted by Abdul-Hussain, “don’t know the difference between normalizing relations and behaving like they’ve defeated the US in a world war.”

President Obama’s conciliatory nature meant a temporary rapprochement with Syria was likely, if not inevitable. Assad’s nature all but ensures it won’t last.

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