Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 22, 2009

Re: Re: What Price Photo Op?

Obama’s silly stunt to force a complete settlement freeze is essentially kaput. To avoid a huge humiliation, he dragged both Abbas and Netanyahu to a meeting to decide they are going to talk some more—without preconditions (i.e., no freeze)—and get back to him in a month:

There was general agreement, including on the part of the Palestinians, that the peace process has to be resumed as soon as possible with no preconditions,” the premier told reporters in New York City.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama expressed a similar sentiment, emerging from bilateral meetings with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowing to move ahead with the diplomatic process, while seeming to step back from his call for a total settlement freeze, saying that Israel now is discussing “restraining settlement activities.”

In other words, the “Cairo effect” boils down to the Obama administration picking up where George W. Bush left off after a cringe-inducing detour into Israel-bashing. Meanwhile, the Arab states have repeatedly rebuffed Obama, as Zvi Mazel reminds us:

In a recent visit to Washington and following a meeting with the secretary of state, the Saudi minister for foreign affairs stated that “incrementalism and a step-by-step approach” would not lead to peace. The problem was not what the Arabs would give to Israel, but what Israel was ready to give in return for the Arab initiative, he later stated — adding, in effect, that the Arabs had only normalization to offer Israel as an incentive, and if they gave it away while the territories were still under occupation, they would lose their only leverage.

According to American sources, Obama himself got a dusty answer when, on his first visit to Riyadh a few weeks after he assumed office, he asked the Saudi king for some small normalization steps.

Prior to a tripartite meeting with the Mideast leaders, the US president said that Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell will continue holding negotiations with both sides, and Israel and the Palestinians will send delegations to Washington next week for the talks. He gave mid-October as a deadline for reviewing the status of the situation.

Similarly frosty answers have come from Egypt, Morocco, and others:

If Obama thought his famed charisma and the kudos he received in the Arab world for his attempts at reconciliation with Islam, as exemplified in his Cairo speech in June, would stand him in good stead with Arab leaders and that they would lead them to unbend a little and help him promote his policy, he must have been sadly disappointed.

The overall response from the Arab world highlighted not only its stubbornness, but also, and more to the point, its visceral hostility toward Israel.

Well, perhaps after some “self-reflection,” Obama will rethink what the central stumbling block to peace really is. It isn’t settlements—the parties don’t need any more preconditions. It might have something to do with that “visceral hostility toward Israel.”

Obama’s silly stunt to force a complete settlement freeze is essentially kaput. To avoid a huge humiliation, he dragged both Abbas and Netanyahu to a meeting to decide they are going to talk some more—without preconditions (i.e., no freeze)—and get back to him in a month:

There was general agreement, including on the part of the Palestinians, that the peace process has to be resumed as soon as possible with no preconditions,” the premier told reporters in New York City.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama expressed a similar sentiment, emerging from bilateral meetings with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowing to move ahead with the diplomatic process, while seeming to step back from his call for a total settlement freeze, saying that Israel now is discussing “restraining settlement activities.”

In other words, the “Cairo effect” boils down to the Obama administration picking up where George W. Bush left off after a cringe-inducing detour into Israel-bashing. Meanwhile, the Arab states have repeatedly rebuffed Obama, as Zvi Mazel reminds us:

In a recent visit to Washington and following a meeting with the secretary of state, the Saudi minister for foreign affairs stated that “incrementalism and a step-by-step approach” would not lead to peace. The problem was not what the Arabs would give to Israel, but what Israel was ready to give in return for the Arab initiative, he later stated — adding, in effect, that the Arabs had only normalization to offer Israel as an incentive, and if they gave it away while the territories were still under occupation, they would lose their only leverage.

According to American sources, Obama himself got a dusty answer when, on his first visit to Riyadh a few weeks after he assumed office, he asked the Saudi king for some small normalization steps.

Prior to a tripartite meeting with the Mideast leaders, the US president said that Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell will continue holding negotiations with both sides, and Israel and the Palestinians will send delegations to Washington next week for the talks. He gave mid-October as a deadline for reviewing the status of the situation.

Similarly frosty answers have come from Egypt, Morocco, and others:

If Obama thought his famed charisma and the kudos he received in the Arab world for his attempts at reconciliation with Islam, as exemplified in his Cairo speech in June, would stand him in good stead with Arab leaders and that they would lead them to unbend a little and help him promote his policy, he must have been sadly disappointed.

The overall response from the Arab world highlighted not only its stubbornness, but also, and more to the point, its visceral hostility toward Israel.

Well, perhaps after some “self-reflection,” Obama will rethink what the central stumbling block to peace really is. It isn’t settlements—the parties don’t need any more preconditions. It might have something to do with that “visceral hostility toward Israel.”

Read Less

Re: What Price Photo Op?

Jonathan, President Obama’s statement about his meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders today can be easily mistaken as meaningless, given its recitation of hoary peace-process platitudes. But there is an important nugget buried in the clichés. He said:

Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity, but they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues. And it remains important for the Arab states to take concrete steps to promote peace. [Emphasis mine]

And so the climbdown begins. The words in these types of statements are chosen carefully. Compare today’s statement with any one of the Obama administration’s previous demands for a complete settlement freeze, such as when Secretary of State Clinton said in May that the administration “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

Eli Lake reports exclusively today that Israel is offering a six-to-nine-month accommodation that would stop settlement activity, except in Jerusalem and the 2,500 housing units already slated for construction. If true, this strikes me as a shrewd Israeli move. It will shift the pressures created by anticipation of the peace process onto Obama and the Arabs, who now must respond by either betraying their initial demands or by digging in and exposing themselves to blame for being unwilling to compromise.

The strategic foolishness of Obama’s opening settlement-freeze gambit should now be fully in view: the Palestinians, of course, responded by seconding the demand and insisting that negotiations would not proceed until Israel complied. Obama seems to have believed he could strong-arm Netanyahu into obedience, at which point the negotiations would start, from Obama’s perspective, on the right track—with a big Israeli concession. Everything depended on a total Obama victory in this opening round.

But now, bowing to political reality, it seems that Obama has given up his opening demand for a complete freeze and seeks only that Israel “restrain” settlement activity, which the Israelis appear willing to do. If this happens, the process will turn back on Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas will be forced to choose between rejecting the entire peace process on the absurd grounds that 100 percent of his demands weren’t met, or abandoning his maximalist position and being humiliated in front of Hamas. Either way, the peace process is becoming far more damaging to Abbas than it is to Bibi. What’s truly staggering, as Elliott Abrams predicted would happen all the way back in July, is that it is President Obama who forced the Palestinians into this corner.

Jonathan, President Obama’s statement about his meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders today can be easily mistaken as meaningless, given its recitation of hoary peace-process platitudes. But there is an important nugget buried in the clichés. He said:

Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations. Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity, but they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues. And it remains important for the Arab states to take concrete steps to promote peace. [Emphasis mine]

And so the climbdown begins. The words in these types of statements are chosen carefully. Compare today’s statement with any one of the Obama administration’s previous demands for a complete settlement freeze, such as when Secretary of State Clinton said in May that the administration “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

Eli Lake reports exclusively today that Israel is offering a six-to-nine-month accommodation that would stop settlement activity, except in Jerusalem and the 2,500 housing units already slated for construction. If true, this strikes me as a shrewd Israeli move. It will shift the pressures created by anticipation of the peace process onto Obama and the Arabs, who now must respond by either betraying their initial demands or by digging in and exposing themselves to blame for being unwilling to compromise.

The strategic foolishness of Obama’s opening settlement-freeze gambit should now be fully in view: the Palestinians, of course, responded by seconding the demand and insisting that negotiations would not proceed until Israel complied. Obama seems to have believed he could strong-arm Netanyahu into obedience, at which point the negotiations would start, from Obama’s perspective, on the right track—with a big Israeli concession. Everything depended on a total Obama victory in this opening round.

But now, bowing to political reality, it seems that Obama has given up his opening demand for a complete freeze and seeks only that Israel “restrain” settlement activity, which the Israelis appear willing to do. If this happens, the process will turn back on Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas will be forced to choose between rejecting the entire peace process on the absurd grounds that 100 percent of his demands weren’t met, or abandoning his maximalist position and being humiliated in front of Hamas. Either way, the peace process is becoming far more damaging to Abbas than it is to Bibi. What’s truly staggering, as Elliott Abrams predicted would happen all the way back in July, is that it is President Obama who forced the Palestinians into this corner.

Read Less

What Price Photo Op?

Barack Obama got to play peacemaker today during his staged meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. In a throwback to Bill Clinton’s famous photo op on the White House Lawn with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Obama stood between the men, holding their arms as the two shook hands.

In his remarks, the president proclaimed that he intended to break new ground:

It is past time to talk about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward. It is time to show flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that is necessary to achieve our goals,” he continued, adding that leaders in the Middle East could not continue “the same patterns, taking tentative steps forward, then taking steps back.

But given the fact that the Palestinian Authority and Abbas are in no position to make any deal with Israel no matter where such an agreement placed the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, the Obama-orchestrated dog-and-pony show staged for the press today is, in fact, simply more of the same. Like George W. Bush’s Annapolis Summit, held in the fall of 2007, the pictures and the talk about the need for progress are utterly futile. After that meeting, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas pretty much the deal that the “experts” on the Middle East always claim is the only solution: a two-state plan, with the Palestinians getting virtually all the West Bank as well as part of Jerusalem. But Abbas was no more able to say yes to this than Arafat was when Ehud Barak offered him almost as much in the summer of 2000.

What is different about the current situation is that when this president makes “evenhanded” statements in which he poses a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians, his coolness to the Jewish state during his nine months in office leads one to believe that he really means it. Obama’s obsession with trying to halt the building of Jewish housing not only in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank (parts of which were accepted by the Bush administration as permanently belonging to Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza) has not made the Palestinians more amenable to peace. On the contrary, the more Washington backs away from the Israelis, the more likely Abbas (not to mention his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza and threaten his hold on the West Bank) is to stand pat and wait for the Americans to deliver more Israeli concessions to him on a silver platter. And given that leftist Jewish groups, who may well have the ear of Obama and his intimates, are calling for more pressure on Israel, supposedly for its own good, there is every reason to believe that any involvement by the president in the talks will be to Israel’s detriment.

Far from being a formula for peace, Obama’s involvement and his hectoring of Israel may set in motion a chain of events that, like the failure of Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit, may instigate a new campaign of Palestinian violence. Photos such as the one taken today may nurture the illusion that Obama is helping to nudge the Middle East on its way to peace. But the price for such heightened expectations, in the absence of any real change of heart about the need for mutual recognition of Israel on the part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, may be terrible indeed.

Barack Obama got to play peacemaker today during his staged meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. In a throwback to Bill Clinton’s famous photo op on the White House Lawn with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, Obama stood between the men, holding their arms as the two shook hands.

In his remarks, the president proclaimed that he intended to break new ground:

It is past time to talk about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward. It is time to show flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that is necessary to achieve our goals,” he continued, adding that leaders in the Middle East could not continue “the same patterns, taking tentative steps forward, then taking steps back.

But given the fact that the Palestinian Authority and Abbas are in no position to make any deal with Israel no matter where such an agreement placed the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, the Obama-orchestrated dog-and-pony show staged for the press today is, in fact, simply more of the same. Like George W. Bush’s Annapolis Summit, held in the fall of 2007, the pictures and the talk about the need for progress are utterly futile. After that meeting, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas pretty much the deal that the “experts” on the Middle East always claim is the only solution: a two-state plan, with the Palestinians getting virtually all the West Bank as well as part of Jerusalem. But Abbas was no more able to say yes to this than Arafat was when Ehud Barak offered him almost as much in the summer of 2000.

What is different about the current situation is that when this president makes “evenhanded” statements in which he poses a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians, his coolness to the Jewish state during his nine months in office leads one to believe that he really means it. Obama’s obsession with trying to halt the building of Jewish housing not only in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank (parts of which were accepted by the Bush administration as permanently belonging to Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza) has not made the Palestinians more amenable to peace. On the contrary, the more Washington backs away from the Israelis, the more likely Abbas (not to mention his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza and threaten his hold on the West Bank) is to stand pat and wait for the Americans to deliver more Israeli concessions to him on a silver platter. And given that leftist Jewish groups, who may well have the ear of Obama and his intimates, are calling for more pressure on Israel, supposedly for its own good, there is every reason to believe that any involvement by the president in the talks will be to Israel’s detriment.

Far from being a formula for peace, Obama’s involvement and his hectoring of Israel may set in motion a chain of events that, like the failure of Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit, may instigate a new campaign of Palestinian violence. Photos such as the one taken today may nurture the illusion that Obama is helping to nudge the Middle East on its way to peace. But the price for such heightened expectations, in the absence of any real change of heart about the need for mutual recognition of Israel on the part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, may be terrible indeed.

Read Less

More on Matt Latimer

Over at Politico.com, Ben Smith reports on the continuing story of Bill McGurn’s devastating column on Matt Latimer, a “top speechwriter to President George W. Bush” who has written a “tell-all” book about his short stint in the Bush White House. The upshot of this is that a former communications director for Dick Cheney and Latimer friend e-mailed to Smith some correspondence between McGurn and Latimer during their time together in the White House (McGurn was Latimer’s boss). The supposed “gotcha” is that McGurn told Latimer he was a “star” who made his boss “look like a freakin genius.”

McGurn does a brilliant job of laying out what was behind all this. But here’s the really delicious fact: the e-mail Latimer saved “like a teenage girl pressing roses from her prom,” in McGurn’s words, came in response to remarks Latimer had written for—I kid you not—a turkey-day pardon. The subject heading of the e-mail, “Turkey remarks,” might lead one to believe that the speech dealt with U.S.-Turkish relations. But noooo; the remarks—delivered on November 20, 2007—had to do with the annual Thanksgiving-turkey pardon, in which a well-fed turkey is transported to the White House and, in the presence of the president, spared from execution, then allowed to retire on a farm somewhere in the countryside. This is the set of remarks that Bill McGurn praised via e-mail, in order to help a junior speechwriter who did not have the confidence of the president feel good about himself—and that Latimer proudly retains to this day.

When I was deputy director for presidential speechwriting, the guy who did the turkey-pardon remarks was the one who drew the short straw. A lot of us who served in the White House retain notes we received over the years that meant a lot to us; no one else I can think of kept an e-mail praising remarks drafted for a turkey-day pardon. For Latimer and his friends to use this e-mail as evidence to support Latimer’s case underscores just how weak and pathetic their claims are.

Game, set, and match to McGurn.

Over at Politico.com, Ben Smith reports on the continuing story of Bill McGurn’s devastating column on Matt Latimer, a “top speechwriter to President George W. Bush” who has written a “tell-all” book about his short stint in the Bush White House. The upshot of this is that a former communications director for Dick Cheney and Latimer friend e-mailed to Smith some correspondence between McGurn and Latimer during their time together in the White House (McGurn was Latimer’s boss). The supposed “gotcha” is that McGurn told Latimer he was a “star” who made his boss “look like a freakin genius.”

McGurn does a brilliant job of laying out what was behind all this. But here’s the really delicious fact: the e-mail Latimer saved “like a teenage girl pressing roses from her prom,” in McGurn’s words, came in response to remarks Latimer had written for—I kid you not—a turkey-day pardon. The subject heading of the e-mail, “Turkey remarks,” might lead one to believe that the speech dealt with U.S.-Turkish relations. But noooo; the remarks—delivered on November 20, 2007—had to do with the annual Thanksgiving-turkey pardon, in which a well-fed turkey is transported to the White House and, in the presence of the president, spared from execution, then allowed to retire on a farm somewhere in the countryside. This is the set of remarks that Bill McGurn praised via e-mail, in order to help a junior speechwriter who did not have the confidence of the president feel good about himself—and that Latimer proudly retains to this day.

When I was deputy director for presidential speechwriting, the guy who did the turkey-pardon remarks was the one who drew the short straw. A lot of us who served in the White House retain notes we received over the years that meant a lot to us; no one else I can think of kept an e-mail praising remarks drafted for a turkey-day pardon. For Latimer and his friends to use this e-mail as evidence to support Latimer’s case underscores just how weak and pathetic their claims are.

Game, set, and match to McGurn.

Read Less

Nowhere Close

James Capretta reminds us that the House Democrats’ health-care bill—which had to (honest!) be voted on before the recess—is nowhere to be found:

It never came up for a vote, and there’s no plan to bring it up in coming days, even though Congress has now been back for two weeks from its summer recess. What’s the hold up? Well, it turns out the President of the United States — who was telling House members in July that it was critical to pass their bill before the August recess — doesn’t really like the House version after all. In his speech to Congress just after Labor Day, Pres. Obama spelled out several key objectives for a bill that the current House version does not come close to meeting.

Then the Baucus plan was going to save the day—before everyone decided they hated some aspect of it:

First, there’s the so-called “individual mandate.” This is the key provision of Obamacare. It turns out that the grand plan to finally bring civilized, “universal coverage” to America amounts to nothing more than a hefty, regressive tax on low and moderate wage working Americans.

[. . .]

Second, there are the cuts in Medicare Advantage (MA) payment rates, which Democrats have targeted for nearly three years now. Pres. Obama keeps trying to sell these cuts as nothing more than reductions in profits for insurance companies, but senior citizens know better. . . . In the coming weeks, the Medicare population is likely to turn even more decisively against Obamacare as they hear and learn more about these cuts.

Third, there’s the new tax on high-cost insurance plans. Here especially, the president has no one to blame but himself for the fix Democrats are in. Many conservatives actually favor reforming the tax treatment of health insurance to foster cost-conscious consumption in a competitive marketplace. But Pres. Obama won the election last November in part because he attacked his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, for endorsing a proposal to convert the job-based tax preference into individual tax credits. In scores of ads, the Obama-Biden campaign warned that the McCain plan would tax workplace health benefits “for the first time in history.” Now, the president and Sen. Baucus want to do exactly that — without admitting that’s what they are doing.

So that leaves what? Maybe Baucus will revise the plan or the liberals will finally cave on the public option. But right now, there is no there there. There is no ObamaCare plan—not a single bill or idea-for-a-bill that a plurality of the electorate favors. For a popular president with lauded communication skills and large Democratic majorities in both houses, that is quite remarkable.

He could, of course, take up Republicans’ suggestions for targeted, specific insurance reforms. But I suspect he and the Congress are not quite done floundering. In a few months perhaps.

James Capretta reminds us that the House Democrats’ health-care bill—which had to (honest!) be voted on before the recess—is nowhere to be found:

It never came up for a vote, and there’s no plan to bring it up in coming days, even though Congress has now been back for two weeks from its summer recess. What’s the hold up? Well, it turns out the President of the United States — who was telling House members in July that it was critical to pass their bill before the August recess — doesn’t really like the House version after all. In his speech to Congress just after Labor Day, Pres. Obama spelled out several key objectives for a bill that the current House version does not come close to meeting.

Then the Baucus plan was going to save the day—before everyone decided they hated some aspect of it:

First, there’s the so-called “individual mandate.” This is the key provision of Obamacare. It turns out that the grand plan to finally bring civilized, “universal coverage” to America amounts to nothing more than a hefty, regressive tax on low and moderate wage working Americans.

[. . .]

Second, there are the cuts in Medicare Advantage (MA) payment rates, which Democrats have targeted for nearly three years now. Pres. Obama keeps trying to sell these cuts as nothing more than reductions in profits for insurance companies, but senior citizens know better. . . . In the coming weeks, the Medicare population is likely to turn even more decisively against Obamacare as they hear and learn more about these cuts.

Third, there’s the new tax on high-cost insurance plans. Here especially, the president has no one to blame but himself for the fix Democrats are in. Many conservatives actually favor reforming the tax treatment of health insurance to foster cost-conscious consumption in a competitive marketplace. But Pres. Obama won the election last November in part because he attacked his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, for endorsing a proposal to convert the job-based tax preference into individual tax credits. In scores of ads, the Obama-Biden campaign warned that the McCain plan would tax workplace health benefits “for the first time in history.” Now, the president and Sen. Baucus want to do exactly that — without admitting that’s what they are doing.

So that leaves what? Maybe Baucus will revise the plan or the liberals will finally cave on the public option. But right now, there is no there there. There is no ObamaCare plan—not a single bill or idea-for-a-bill that a plurality of the electorate favors. For a popular president with lauded communication skills and large Democratic majorities in both houses, that is quite remarkable.

He could, of course, take up Republicans’ suggestions for targeted, specific insurance reforms. But I suspect he and the Congress are not quite done floundering. In a few months perhaps.

Read Less

Caudillos para Todos

Brazil’s support for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is the latest event in a worrying trend. Zelaya has been holed up at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since his secretive return to Honduras on Monday. Brazil is not taking a neutral stance by harboring him. Brazil is among the majority of Latin American nations that have insisted on Zelaya’s reinstatement, but it is significant that Brasilia’s embassy is hosting the ousted president, rather than, say, the embassy of Costa Rica, whose President Arias acted as mediator in talks this summer.

Harboring Zelaya is, first of all, a deliberate regional-leadership action when undertaken by Brazil. With the largest population in Latin America and the fastest-growing economy, Brazil has for decades sought just such a leadership position. Under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in office since 2002, Brazil has achieved membership in the elite “BRIC” club—Brazil, Russia, India, China—whose growth and regional significance are projected to rival the global standing of the U.S. and EU by mid-century (if not before). References to this prospect abound in Brazil’s popular press.

While Lula da Silva is a leftist in his social and economic policies, somewhat in the European mold, he has navigated a more circumspect and judicious path than counterparts like Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, and Ortega in Nicaragua. He has, for example, continued to advance the sometimes troubled MERCOSUR common market of South America, established in 1991, while slow-rolling the prospects of Brazilian participation in the U.S.-promoted Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Chavez, by contrast, launched a new common-market framework, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), that is explicitly revolutionary and an overt competitor to the FTAA. Venezuela and Brazil have solicited each other’s participation in the respective common markets they lead, and it appears Brazil will get Venezuela into MERCOSUR first—a quiet but significant achievement.

While Chavez buys tanks from Russia, hosts Ahmadinejad, and threatens war if the U.S. is allowed to use Colombian military bases, Lula da Silva buys fighter jets from France, asserts reassuringly that there is “no arms race” going on, and opposes the Colombian-basing agreement through normal diplomatic channels. Chavez is infamous for his ties to Hezbollah; Lula da Silva’s Brazil merely turns a blind eye to its fast-growing activities there, refusing to designate it a terrorist organization. Brazil can do what Chavez and his fellow presidents-for-life in Central America cannot: harbor Zelaya without the appearance of precipitating overt or revolutionary confrontation.

It should not surprise us to learn that Lula da Silva is facing the same decision that confronts all modern Latin American presidents: the end of his constitutionally permitted tenure in office. He has steadfastly refused to consider amending Brazil’s constitution so he can seek another term. But he is a popular president, his handpicked successor has been battling cancer, and Brazilian sentiment is 50-50 on whether he should be allowed another term. Like Uribe of Colombia, Lula da Silva is popular enough to obtain the approval of the people for this course—making them both unlike Zelaya.

But this factor sheds a particular light on Brazil’s harboring of Zelaya. To the extent that Brazil consciously seeks regional leadership, and appears to take a decisive role in the Zelaya problem, the future looks dimmer than ever for reliable constitutionalism in Latin America. The U.S. president, effectively ranging himself on the side of caudillo-ism, comes off less as taking leadership than as acquiescing to Brazil’s.

Brazil’s support for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is the latest event in a worrying trend. Zelaya has been holed up at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since his secretive return to Honduras on Monday. Brazil is not taking a neutral stance by harboring him. Brazil is among the majority of Latin American nations that have insisted on Zelaya’s reinstatement, but it is significant that Brasilia’s embassy is hosting the ousted president, rather than, say, the embassy of Costa Rica, whose President Arias acted as mediator in talks this summer.

Harboring Zelaya is, first of all, a deliberate regional-leadership action when undertaken by Brazil. With the largest population in Latin America and the fastest-growing economy, Brazil has for decades sought just such a leadership position. Under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in office since 2002, Brazil has achieved membership in the elite “BRIC” club—Brazil, Russia, India, China—whose growth and regional significance are projected to rival the global standing of the U.S. and EU by mid-century (if not before). References to this prospect abound in Brazil’s popular press.

While Lula da Silva is a leftist in his social and economic policies, somewhat in the European mold, he has navigated a more circumspect and judicious path than counterparts like Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, and Ortega in Nicaragua. He has, for example, continued to advance the sometimes troubled MERCOSUR common market of South America, established in 1991, while slow-rolling the prospects of Brazilian participation in the U.S.-promoted Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Chavez, by contrast, launched a new common-market framework, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), that is explicitly revolutionary and an overt competitor to the FTAA. Venezuela and Brazil have solicited each other’s participation in the respective common markets they lead, and it appears Brazil will get Venezuela into MERCOSUR first—a quiet but significant achievement.

While Chavez buys tanks from Russia, hosts Ahmadinejad, and threatens war if the U.S. is allowed to use Colombian military bases, Lula da Silva buys fighter jets from France, asserts reassuringly that there is “no arms race” going on, and opposes the Colombian-basing agreement through normal diplomatic channels. Chavez is infamous for his ties to Hezbollah; Lula da Silva’s Brazil merely turns a blind eye to its fast-growing activities there, refusing to designate it a terrorist organization. Brazil can do what Chavez and his fellow presidents-for-life in Central America cannot: harbor Zelaya without the appearance of precipitating overt or revolutionary confrontation.

It should not surprise us to learn that Lula da Silva is facing the same decision that confronts all modern Latin American presidents: the end of his constitutionally permitted tenure in office. He has steadfastly refused to consider amending Brazil’s constitution so he can seek another term. But he is a popular president, his handpicked successor has been battling cancer, and Brazilian sentiment is 50-50 on whether he should be allowed another term. Like Uribe of Colombia, Lula da Silva is popular enough to obtain the approval of the people for this course—making them both unlike Zelaya.

But this factor sheds a particular light on Brazil’s harboring of Zelaya. To the extent that Brazil consciously seeks regional leadership, and appears to take a decisive role in the Zelaya problem, the future looks dimmer than ever for reliable constitutionalism in Latin America. The U.S. president, effectively ranging himself on the side of caudillo-ism, comes off less as taking leadership than as acquiescing to Brazil’s.

Read Less

Guess Who’s Coming to Bedford?

So Muammar Qaddafi has pitched his tent in Bedford, New York, having been kicked out of New Jersey faster than a cast member of The Sopranos.

And who will be among his neighbors in this tony Westchester burb? Why Martha Stewart, who I’m sure will be DELIGHTED to look out her picture window only to catch “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Brotherly Leader and Guide of Previously Mentioned Revolution” in her peripheral vision.

I wonder what helpful hints Martha will have for Qaddafi? Perhaps how to fold the corners of his tent in a manner worthy of an Eagle Scout, or the inestimable value of lace, or perhaps she’ll proffer a few interior-design tips to rid his dwelling of that whole scimitar motif. (How 70s! 1570s!)

My guess is that once the butcher of Lockerbie and entourage actually show their faces, the genteel residents of Bedford will storm his bivvy with such feral ferocity it will make T.E. Lawrence’s descent on Aqaba look like a skiing accident.

UPDATE: It appears Qaddafi may be squatting on none other than The Donald’s property. Assuming this is true, and Trump’s people seem to be denying it, what on earth does this mean? Is there another reality show in the offing—instead of The Apprentice, can we expect a mid-season replacement called The Henchman, in which contestants vie to become a brutal dictator’s right-hand assassin, and instead of the losers fearing the dreaded “You’re fired,” they’ll be subjected to “You’re toast”?

It’s the gift that keeps on giving . . .


So Muammar Qaddafi has pitched his tent in Bedford, New York, having been kicked out of New Jersey faster than a cast member of The Sopranos.

And who will be among his neighbors in this tony Westchester burb? Why Martha Stewart, who I’m sure will be DELIGHTED to look out her picture window only to catch “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Brotherly Leader and Guide of Previously Mentioned Revolution” in her peripheral vision.

I wonder what helpful hints Martha will have for Qaddafi? Perhaps how to fold the corners of his tent in a manner worthy of an Eagle Scout, or the inestimable value of lace, or perhaps she’ll proffer a few interior-design tips to rid his dwelling of that whole scimitar motif. (How 70s! 1570s!)

My guess is that once the butcher of Lockerbie and entourage actually show their faces, the genteel residents of Bedford will storm his bivvy with such feral ferocity it will make T.E. Lawrence’s descent on Aqaba look like a skiing accident.

UPDATE: It appears Qaddafi may be squatting on none other than The Donald’s property. Assuming this is true, and Trump’s people seem to be denying it, what on earth does this mean? Is there another reality show in the offing—instead of The Apprentice, can we expect a mid-season replacement called The Henchman, in which contestants vie to become a brutal dictator’s right-hand assassin, and instead of the losers fearing the dreaded “You’re fired,” they’ll be subjected to “You’re toast”?

It’s the gift that keeps on giving . . .


Read Less

Obama’s Dilemma

Like my old boss Les Gelb, I too am befuddled by Obama’s handling of Afghanistan. Until recently, all signs indicated that he had signed off on a broad-based counterinsurgency campaign that would require substantially more resources. Indeed, he agreed earlier this year to send 21,000 more troops—hardly the sign of a president eager to get out. Yet now he seems to be publicly flirting with jettisoning the counterinsurgency plan for a more focused counterterrorism strategy of the kind that Joe Biden (a consistent font of bad advice) has long advocated.

What gives? A number of commentators have noted that hawkishness does not come naturally to a man who is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office ever. He became a supporter of the Afghanistan war during the presidential campaign largely to establish his national-security credentials at a time when he was arguing for a fast pullout from Iraq. Now in office he has to live with the consequences of his campaign commitments, and he doesn’t like where they are leading him—toward a full-blown war effort. He would prefer to concentrate on health care or other domestic priorities. Yet he knows he cannot just walk away from Afghanistan. What to do?

Unfortunately there is no alternative to the McChrystal counterinsurgency plan that will offer the same hope of success. Reverting to long-range strikes against terrorists cannot possibly succeed. Indeed, that is the same failed strategy we have pursued in Afghanistan since 2001. If Obama were to choose that path, he would in effect be conceding defeat in Afghanistan. That would be extremely foolish, not only from the standpoint of America’s interests, but also from Obama’s own narrow vantage point.

He has already established himself as an ultra-liberal in domestic affairs, with his plans to nationalize health care and his out-of-control spending. Virtually the only appeal he has left for independents and conservatives lies in the realm of national security, where in some areas—principally Iraq and Afghanistan—he has been more stalwart than his campaign rhetoric would have led one to expect. If, after caving in to Iran on nuclear talks and to Russia on missile defense, he now caves to the Taliban, he will revive all the old stereotypes of Democrats’ being too weak to be trusted on foreign policy. He will also precipitate a full-blown civil-military crisis, because he will place himself in opposition to the advice of his top generals—Petraeus, McChrystal, and Mullen. It’s possible that Bob Gates and Jim Jones could provide him some cover, but this would still be a dangerous place to be for a president who has no personal experience of military affairs.

My hope is that Obama is smart enough to realize all that, overcome his current hesitations, and give McChrystal what he needs. If he does, he will undoubtedly suffer a short-term hit with public opinion, which has turned against the war. But in the long term, backing the McChrystal approach will allow Obama to burnish his badly tarnished centrist credentials. More important, it will allow him to rescue a failing war effort that he himself has dubbed a “war of necessity.”

Like my old boss Les Gelb, I too am befuddled by Obama’s handling of Afghanistan. Until recently, all signs indicated that he had signed off on a broad-based counterinsurgency campaign that would require substantially more resources. Indeed, he agreed earlier this year to send 21,000 more troops—hardly the sign of a president eager to get out. Yet now he seems to be publicly flirting with jettisoning the counterinsurgency plan for a more focused counterterrorism strategy of the kind that Joe Biden (a consistent font of bad advice) has long advocated.

What gives? A number of commentators have noted that hawkishness does not come naturally to a man who is probably the most liberal occupant of the Oval Office ever. He became a supporter of the Afghanistan war during the presidential campaign largely to establish his national-security credentials at a time when he was arguing for a fast pullout from Iraq. Now in office he has to live with the consequences of his campaign commitments, and he doesn’t like where they are leading him—toward a full-blown war effort. He would prefer to concentrate on health care or other domestic priorities. Yet he knows he cannot just walk away from Afghanistan. What to do?

Unfortunately there is no alternative to the McChrystal counterinsurgency plan that will offer the same hope of success. Reverting to long-range strikes against terrorists cannot possibly succeed. Indeed, that is the same failed strategy we have pursued in Afghanistan since 2001. If Obama were to choose that path, he would in effect be conceding defeat in Afghanistan. That would be extremely foolish, not only from the standpoint of America’s interests, but also from Obama’s own narrow vantage point.

He has already established himself as an ultra-liberal in domestic affairs, with his plans to nationalize health care and his out-of-control spending. Virtually the only appeal he has left for independents and conservatives lies in the realm of national security, where in some areas—principally Iraq and Afghanistan—he has been more stalwart than his campaign rhetoric would have led one to expect. If, after caving in to Iran on nuclear talks and to Russia on missile defense, he now caves to the Taliban, he will revive all the old stereotypes of Democrats’ being too weak to be trusted on foreign policy. He will also precipitate a full-blown civil-military crisis, because he will place himself in opposition to the advice of his top generals—Petraeus, McChrystal, and Mullen. It’s possible that Bob Gates and Jim Jones could provide him some cover, but this would still be a dangerous place to be for a president who has no personal experience of military affairs.

My hope is that Obama is smart enough to realize all that, overcome his current hesitations, and give McChrystal what he needs. If he does, he will undoubtedly suffer a short-term hit with public opinion, which has turned against the war. But in the long term, backing the McChrystal approach will allow Obama to burnish his badly tarnished centrist credentials. More important, it will allow him to rescue a failing war effort that he himself has dubbed a “war of necessity.”

Read Less

Running the Troop Numbers in Afghanistan

The dynamic duo of Fred and Kim Kagan have just released a typically cogent and persuasive study of troop requirements in Afghanistan. The entire 46-slide PowerPoint presentation is well worth reading. In it they analyze the size of the population in southern and eastern Afghanistan—the key areas in which the Taliban are on the march—and compare them with the levels of existing Afghan and international forces.

One of the key points they make is that even nominal troop figures understate on-the-ground strength because so many troops are diverted for support functions. Thus the Afghan National Army may have a nominal strength of 103,475, but only 53,417 soldiers are assigned to kandaks (battalions). As for the U.S. force, they estimate that out of 64,000 total, only 23,300 soldiers are actually on the ground doing counterinsurgency, compared with 105,000 in Iraq at the height of the surge. Our allies add another 16,000 counterinsurgents, but that still leaves us well short of the numbers needed to control vital terrain if we estimate a force ratio of one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians. The ultimate answer is to grow the Afghan National Security Forces, but that’s a long-term process. In the meantime, the Kagans estimate that we need 40,000 to 45,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and we need them urgently.

Whether this comports with the resource estimates of General Stanley McChrystal is impossible to say because the administration is refusing to let him submit his request. In all likelihood, based on media leaks, the Kagans’ estimate is at the high end of the options McChrystal may be laying out—but in war, it’s better to have more troops than too few. Different experts may disagree on how many more troops will be needed, but no serious analyst can doubt that we need more troops to carry out a counterinsurgency strategy if we want to avoid the dire consequences that McChrystal himself has warned of.

Yet at a time when decisive leadership is called for, President Obama has adopted a Hamlet pose, publicly agonizing over whether we have a good strategy and mission in Afghanistan. This, to put it mildly, does not inspire confidence. The president needs to get his act together and give his handpicked general the resources he needs to win what Obama himself has called a “war of necessity.”

The dynamic duo of Fred and Kim Kagan have just released a typically cogent and persuasive study of troop requirements in Afghanistan. The entire 46-slide PowerPoint presentation is well worth reading. In it they analyze the size of the population in southern and eastern Afghanistan—the key areas in which the Taliban are on the march—and compare them with the levels of existing Afghan and international forces.

One of the key points they make is that even nominal troop figures understate on-the-ground strength because so many troops are diverted for support functions. Thus the Afghan National Army may have a nominal strength of 103,475, but only 53,417 soldiers are assigned to kandaks (battalions). As for the U.S. force, they estimate that out of 64,000 total, only 23,300 soldiers are actually on the ground doing counterinsurgency, compared with 105,000 in Iraq at the height of the surge. Our allies add another 16,000 counterinsurgents, but that still leaves us well short of the numbers needed to control vital terrain if we estimate a force ratio of one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians. The ultimate answer is to grow the Afghan National Security Forces, but that’s a long-term process. In the meantime, the Kagans estimate that we need 40,000 to 45,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and we need them urgently.

Whether this comports with the resource estimates of General Stanley McChrystal is impossible to say because the administration is refusing to let him submit his request. In all likelihood, based on media leaks, the Kagans’ estimate is at the high end of the options McChrystal may be laying out—but in war, it’s better to have more troops than too few. Different experts may disagree on how many more troops will be needed, but no serious analyst can doubt that we need more troops to carry out a counterinsurgency strategy if we want to avoid the dire consequences that McChrystal himself has warned of.

Yet at a time when decisive leadership is called for, President Obama has adopted a Hamlet pose, publicly agonizing over whether we have a good strategy and mission in Afghanistan. This, to put it mildly, does not inspire confidence. The president needs to get his act together and give his handpicked general the resources he needs to win what Obama himself has called a “war of necessity.”

Read Less

Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor

Picking up on Jen’s post, if you want to know what a well-placed missile can do to its target, read Bill McGurn’s column today on Matt Latimer’s book Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor. Bill, who hired Latimer as a White House speechwriter, has a well-deserved reputation as a most principled and admirable person. There is a core decency and kindness to Bill. That is what makes his column doubly devastating. That smoldering ruin you see is Latimer’s book and reputation. I’m not sure how the former will sell, but I am sure the latter will not recover.

Picking up on Jen’s post, if you want to know what a well-placed missile can do to its target, read Bill McGurn’s column today on Matt Latimer’s book Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor. Bill, who hired Latimer as a White House speechwriter, has a well-deserved reputation as a most principled and admirable person. There is a core decency and kindness to Bill. That is what makes his column doubly devastating. That smoldering ruin you see is Latimer’s book and reputation. I’m not sure how the former will sell, but I am sure the latter will not recover.

Read Less

Could It Get Worse? Yes!

The return of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to Honduras has upped the ante for the Obama administration—and revealed just how counterproductive its approach is there. This report explains:

It was unclear what Mr. Zelaya would do next. He has the support of the international community as well as the U.S., which canceled the visas of many officials in the interim government, and cut some aid to Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. However, Mr. Zelaya’s return is vehemently opposed by the country’s institutions, including the congress, the courts, the armed forces and the powerful Catholic Church.

The interim government had hoped elections scheduled for Nov. 29 would produce a new president as a way out of the country’s political impasse. But this option dimmed when the U.S. and other governments suggested they would not recognize the winner. Analysts say the U.S.’s stand strengthened Mr. Zelaya and might have encouraged him to try this last gambit.

So the Obama team is insisting on the return of the man no institution in this democratic country supports–and that position only emboldened that same unpopular figure to return. Nice work. And now that he has returned, will the Obama administration give up its bizarrely stubborn position that no new election can be recognized because that same unpopular figure isn’t back in power? And he isn’t in power, you will recall, because the supreme court and legislature, with the backing of the military, acted in defense of their constitution.

This is Alice-in-Wonderland “diplomacy”–making things worse and more difficult for a U.S. ally while bolstering Hugo Chavez’s ally. Actually, it’s just gross incompetence, which is becoming pretty much par for the course for the Obama foreign-policy wrecking crew.

The return of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to Honduras has upped the ante for the Obama administration—and revealed just how counterproductive its approach is there. This report explains:

It was unclear what Mr. Zelaya would do next. He has the support of the international community as well as the U.S., which canceled the visas of many officials in the interim government, and cut some aid to Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. However, Mr. Zelaya’s return is vehemently opposed by the country’s institutions, including the congress, the courts, the armed forces and the powerful Catholic Church.

The interim government had hoped elections scheduled for Nov. 29 would produce a new president as a way out of the country’s political impasse. But this option dimmed when the U.S. and other governments suggested they would not recognize the winner. Analysts say the U.S.’s stand strengthened Mr. Zelaya and might have encouraged him to try this last gambit.

So the Obama team is insisting on the return of the man no institution in this democratic country supports–and that position only emboldened that same unpopular figure to return. Nice work. And now that he has returned, will the Obama administration give up its bizarrely stubborn position that no new election can be recognized because that same unpopular figure isn’t back in power? And he isn’t in power, you will recall, because the supreme court and legislature, with the backing of the military, acted in defense of their constitution.

This is Alice-in-Wonderland “diplomacy”–making things worse and more difficult for a U.S. ally while bolstering Hugo Chavez’s ally. Actually, it’s just gross incompetence, which is becoming pretty much par for the course for the Obama foreign-policy wrecking crew.

Read Less

But They Want Jobs

John Judis lets the cat out of the bag: health-care reform isn’t going to help Obama’s political problems, even if it passes. He explains that the real issues for voters are high unemployment and a weak economy. And it’s not enough for the rate of job loss to slow:

Moreover, history suggests that it is not enough for the economy to be headed in the right direction; it has to be headed in the right direction in tangible ways that voters can see. Economists pronounced the recession of the early 1990s over in March 1991. But, when unemployment continued to rise through 1991 and most of 1992 and real wages stagnated, the public perceived the economy to still be declining–and it punished George H.W. Bush accordingly.

Well, that gets dicey if economists are right in predicting high unemployment for years to come. And Judis notes that Obama is doing far worse than his predecessors:

Obama’s disapproval ratings exceed those of every president since Eisenhower at this early stage–except for Clinton, who had similar disapproval ratings nine months into his first term. And they can’t be explained as the inevitable result of the administration’s honeymoon period coming to an end: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush all saw their popularity rise during the same period Obama’s has fallen.

So what can Obama do? It’s easy to say what would really help: rapid job growth, the revival of the housing market, transit systems that aren’t breaking down, the reinstitution of after-school programs, crowded shopping malls and auto showrooms–the kind of things that go with a robust economic recovery. But the U.S. economy isn’t going to morph overnight from its current woeful condition to a state of buoyant full employment. . . . What Obama and the Democrats have to hope for, then, is not a full recovery, but sufficient improvement in jobs, wages, and public services to convince voters that the economy is on the mend.

It doesn’t dawn on Judis–nor, more important, on Obama–that the administration shouldn’t just “hope” things get better but that it must get off the health-care kick (replete with taxes, mandates, and fines) and deploy policies that would spur job growth. Judis is reduced to arguing that Obama must pass health-care reform now to “ward off the stigma of incompetence and ineffective leadership that haunted Carter and Clinton during their first two years.” But if in fact some maze of taxes and regulations is enacted, deepening the private sector’s slump, then Obama will only have worsened the country’s economic predicament and his own political problems.

I suspect there are few if any personnel inside the administration that have any understanding of the needed policies that would encourage employers to staff up. They have plenty of academics and liberal politicians, but precious few entrepreneurs. So they throw up their hands–and even worse, devise policies that discourage job creation. Obama might not want to focus on jobs, but the voters certainly will. And if Judis is right, even a “win” on health care won’t restore the president’s political standing.

John Judis lets the cat out of the bag: health-care reform isn’t going to help Obama’s political problems, even if it passes. He explains that the real issues for voters are high unemployment and a weak economy. And it’s not enough for the rate of job loss to slow:

Moreover, history suggests that it is not enough for the economy to be headed in the right direction; it has to be headed in the right direction in tangible ways that voters can see. Economists pronounced the recession of the early 1990s over in March 1991. But, when unemployment continued to rise through 1991 and most of 1992 and real wages stagnated, the public perceived the economy to still be declining–and it punished George H.W. Bush accordingly.

Well, that gets dicey if economists are right in predicting high unemployment for years to come. And Judis notes that Obama is doing far worse than his predecessors:

Obama’s disapproval ratings exceed those of every president since Eisenhower at this early stage–except for Clinton, who had similar disapproval ratings nine months into his first term. And they can’t be explained as the inevitable result of the administration’s honeymoon period coming to an end: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush all saw their popularity rise during the same period Obama’s has fallen.

So what can Obama do? It’s easy to say what would really help: rapid job growth, the revival of the housing market, transit systems that aren’t breaking down, the reinstitution of after-school programs, crowded shopping malls and auto showrooms–the kind of things that go with a robust economic recovery. But the U.S. economy isn’t going to morph overnight from its current woeful condition to a state of buoyant full employment. . . . What Obama and the Democrats have to hope for, then, is not a full recovery, but sufficient improvement in jobs, wages, and public services to convince voters that the economy is on the mend.

It doesn’t dawn on Judis–nor, more important, on Obama–that the administration shouldn’t just “hope” things get better but that it must get off the health-care kick (replete with taxes, mandates, and fines) and deploy policies that would spur job growth. Judis is reduced to arguing that Obama must pass health-care reform now to “ward off the stigma of incompetence and ineffective leadership that haunted Carter and Clinton during their first two years.” But if in fact some maze of taxes and regulations is enacted, deepening the private sector’s slump, then Obama will only have worsened the country’s economic predicament and his own political problems.

I suspect there are few if any personnel inside the administration that have any understanding of the needed policies that would encourage employers to staff up. They have plenty of academics and liberal politicians, but precious few entrepreneurs. So they throw up their hands–and even worse, devise policies that discourage job creation. Obama might not want to focus on jobs, but the voters certainly will. And if Judis is right, even a “win” on health care won’t restore the president’s political standing.

Read Less

The Adolescent President

The Washington Post‘s editors are understandably nervous—Obama is wavering, perhaps crumbling before their eyes, on Afghanistan. They note that, not so long ago, he was sounding George W. Bush–like in his determination to prevail. But no more:

So it was a little startling to hear Mr. Obama suggest in several televised interviews on Sunday that he had second thoughts. “We are in the process of working through that strategy,” [he] said on CNN. “The first question is . . . are we pursuing the right strategy?” On NBC he said, “if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy” of defeating al-Qaeda, “then we’ll move forward. But if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan.”

The president’s doubts come at a crucial moment. He has just received a report from the commander he appointed, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, saying the United States and its allies are in danger of losing the war if they do not work more effectively to shore up the Afghan government and army and protect the population from insurgents. Gen. McChrystal, along with his seniors in Washington, believe that this counterinsurgency strategy is the only route to success, and that it will require a commitment of substantial additional resources, including thousands more U.S. troops next year.

While Obama “appears to be distancing himself from his commanders”—whom he installed and presented with his mission of ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban—there is little reason, they note, for him to back away from his own analysis offered just months ago that a return of the Taliban would be a disaster for Afghanistan and hugely destabilizing to its neighbor Pakistan.

There is something bizarre about the president’s disassociating himself from his generals and his own stated goals–within a span of just months. He gives the appearance of an errant teenager who one month ago simply had to do X and now can’t bring himself to even defend X. But we can’t say it’s without precedent.

In April, Obama defended missile defense in Europe:

“So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.) If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”

In September, he pulled the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs. But April was April. It’s, like, you know, a whole different thing now.

In both cases, the only factor that “changed” was that objections arose to the president’s previously stated course of action. Russia made a fuss over missile defense, and the entire liberal wing of the Democratic party threw a fit over the idea that we’d have to devote time and money to winning the “good” war. So the president balked, giving way to those who screamed the loudest.

Now he hasn’t collapsed yet on Afghanistan. Maybe his spine will stiffen and he’ll realize that a confrontation with his military commanders is going to add to and not lessen his political problems. He may want to consider just how ludicrously flighty and weak he would appear if he reversed himself on not one but two major national-security positions. Even if he can’t stomach disappointing the left wing of his own party, someone in his administration must surely realize that a second reversal of this magnitude will only cement his image as a Jimmy Carter–esque figure–weak, irresolute, and easily manipulated–and invite endless challenges to the U.S. After all, if he’s going to back down whenever someone screams loudly, there will be a lot of very loud screaming.

The Washington Post‘s editors are understandably nervous—Obama is wavering, perhaps crumbling before their eyes, on Afghanistan. They note that, not so long ago, he was sounding George W. Bush–like in his determination to prevail. But no more:

So it was a little startling to hear Mr. Obama suggest in several televised interviews on Sunday that he had second thoughts. “We are in the process of working through that strategy,” [he] said on CNN. “The first question is . . . are we pursuing the right strategy?” On NBC he said, “if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy” of defeating al-Qaeda, “then we’ll move forward. But if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan.”

The president’s doubts come at a crucial moment. He has just received a report from the commander he appointed, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, saying the United States and its allies are in danger of losing the war if they do not work more effectively to shore up the Afghan government and army and protect the population from insurgents. Gen. McChrystal, along with his seniors in Washington, believe that this counterinsurgency strategy is the only route to success, and that it will require a commitment of substantial additional resources, including thousands more U.S. troops next year.

While Obama “appears to be distancing himself from his commanders”—whom he installed and presented with his mission of ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban—there is little reason, they note, for him to back away from his own analysis offered just months ago that a return of the Taliban would be a disaster for Afghanistan and hugely destabilizing to its neighbor Pakistan.

There is something bizarre about the president’s disassociating himself from his generals and his own stated goals–within a span of just months. He gives the appearance of an errant teenager who one month ago simply had to do X and now can’t bring himself to even defend X. But we can’t say it’s without precedent.

In April, Obama defended missile defense in Europe:

“So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.) If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”

In September, he pulled the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs. But April was April. It’s, like, you know, a whole different thing now.

In both cases, the only factor that “changed” was that objections arose to the president’s previously stated course of action. Russia made a fuss over missile defense, and the entire liberal wing of the Democratic party threw a fit over the idea that we’d have to devote time and money to winning the “good” war. So the president balked, giving way to those who screamed the loudest.

Now he hasn’t collapsed yet on Afghanistan. Maybe his spine will stiffen and he’ll realize that a confrontation with his military commanders is going to add to and not lessen his political problems. He may want to consider just how ludicrously flighty and weak he would appear if he reversed himself on not one but two major national-security positions. Even if he can’t stomach disappointing the left wing of his own party, someone in his administration must surely realize that a second reversal of this magnitude will only cement his image as a Jimmy Carter–esque figure–weak, irresolute, and easily manipulated–and invite endless challenges to the U.S. After all, if he’s going to back down whenever someone screams loudly, there will be a lot of very loud screaming.

Read Less

Depends on What the Meaning of “Tax” Is

Obama may have finally hit a trip wire on the credibility front by denying that to fine those who do not buy health insurance is to tax them. George Stephanopoulos didn’t buy the president’s wordplay. Neither did the Associated Press:

Memo to President Barack Obama: It’s a tax. Obama insisted this weekend on national television that requiring people to carry health insurance—and fining them if they don’t—isn’t the same thing as a tax increase. But the language of Democratic bills to revamp the nation’s health care system doesn’t quibble. Both the House bill and the Senate Finance Committee proposal clearly state that the fines would be a tax.

And the reason the fines are in the legislation is to enforce the coverage requirement.

“If you put something in the Internal Revenue Code, and you tell the IRS to collect it, I think that’s a tax,” said Clint Stretch, head of the tax policy group for Deloitte, a major accounting firm. “If you don’t pay, the person who’s going to come and get it is going to be from the IRS.”

The AP points out that even Sen. Max Baucus calls it an “excise tax.” Others agree:

The House bill uses a complex formula to calculate the penalties, calling them a “tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage.” People would report their insurance coverage on their tax returns.

The coverage mandate is part of a political bargain in which the insurance industry would agree to take all applicants, regardless of prior medical history.

“If we’re going to have coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions, it makes sense,” said economist Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center. “Otherwise people will come in the door the day they get sick.” He sees no distinction between the requirement to get coverage and the fines themselves.

Notice that these voices are not a bunch of right-wing dictionary hounds, but Democrats and tax gurus. The president is not leveling with us—again. It is precisely this sort of dissembling that renders his media offensive so ineffective. If he is going to come out and say things that diminish his own credibility and play into his opponents’ claims that he is not being honest with the voters, he may as well stay home on a Sunday morning.

It has a Clinton-esque feel (“Depends on what the meaning of is is,” he famously uttered in his deposition)—that of a president who is too clever by half and thinks verbal tricks can replace honest explanations. The danger is not simply that it undercuts his health-care message but that voters and even the sleepy media begin to wake up to the fact that lots of what he says isn’t true. Hey, Rep. Joe Wilson was rude, but he was on to something.

Obama may have finally hit a trip wire on the credibility front by denying that to fine those who do not buy health insurance is to tax them. George Stephanopoulos didn’t buy the president’s wordplay. Neither did the Associated Press:

Memo to President Barack Obama: It’s a tax. Obama insisted this weekend on national television that requiring people to carry health insurance—and fining them if they don’t—isn’t the same thing as a tax increase. But the language of Democratic bills to revamp the nation’s health care system doesn’t quibble. Both the House bill and the Senate Finance Committee proposal clearly state that the fines would be a tax.

And the reason the fines are in the legislation is to enforce the coverage requirement.

“If you put something in the Internal Revenue Code, and you tell the IRS to collect it, I think that’s a tax,” said Clint Stretch, head of the tax policy group for Deloitte, a major accounting firm. “If you don’t pay, the person who’s going to come and get it is going to be from the IRS.”

The AP points out that even Sen. Max Baucus calls it an “excise tax.” Others agree:

The House bill uses a complex formula to calculate the penalties, calling them a “tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage.” People would report their insurance coverage on their tax returns.

The coverage mandate is part of a political bargain in which the insurance industry would agree to take all applicants, regardless of prior medical history.

“If we’re going to have coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions, it makes sense,” said economist Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center. “Otherwise people will come in the door the day they get sick.” He sees no distinction between the requirement to get coverage and the fines themselves.

Notice that these voices are not a bunch of right-wing dictionary hounds, but Democrats and tax gurus. The president is not leveling with us—again. It is precisely this sort of dissembling that renders his media offensive so ineffective. If he is going to come out and say things that diminish his own credibility and play into his opponents’ claims that he is not being honest with the voters, he may as well stay home on a Sunday morning.

It has a Clinton-esque feel (“Depends on what the meaning of is is,” he famously uttered in his deposition)—that of a president who is too clever by half and thinks verbal tricks can replace honest explanations. The danger is not simply that it undercuts his health-care message but that voters and even the sleepy media begin to wake up to the fact that lots of what he says isn’t true. Hey, Rep. Joe Wilson was rude, but he was on to something.

Read Less

When He Gets Around to It

Leslie Gelb writes:

I’m lost on President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy—along with most of Congress and the U.S. military. Not quite eight months ago, Mr. Obama pledged to “defeat” al Qaeda in Afghanistan by transforming that country’s political and economic infrastructure, training Afghan forces and adding 21,000 U.S. forces for starters. He proclaimed Afghanistan’s strategic centrality to prevent Muslim extremism from taking over Pakistan—an even more vital nation because of its nuclear weapons. And a mere three weeks ago, he punctuated his commitments by proclaiming that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity,” not one of choice. White House spokesmen reinforced this by promising that the president would “fully resource” the war.

Yet less than one week ago, Mr. Obama said the following about troop increases: “I’m going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions. There is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make a determination about resources.” He repeated that on Sunday’s talk shows.

What’s worse is that the president is now talking about “narrowing the mission” (What mission? Well, his own). He seems to  be pretending there hasn’t been a detailed recommendation from Gen. McChrystal rattling around for nearly a month, or that it’s not a recommendation that really matters. Gelb notes that nothing much has changed since he went from bold statements about the necessity of prevailing to the wishy-washy comments of late. Well, nothing except the politics.

The president is having a domestic donnybrook and is losing his grip on his top legislative item—health care. Democrats are in rebellion, and the polls are dropping. So with a deer-in-the-headlights sort of reaction to the incoming fight over a foreign-policy matter that plainly doesn’t grip him the way his liberal domestic agenda does, Obama has decided to punt. Or stall. Or send his Secretary of State out to complain that the administration can’t do much of anything until the election issues are settled. (Huh? When did this become an excuse? Well, yesterday, to be honest.)

This unseemly show of waffling and indecision for purely domestic political reasons stands in sharp contrast not only to President George Bush but also to President Bill Clinton, who at critical points in his presidency, whether on NAFTA or welfare reform, bucked up and took on the left-wing of his own party. Obama is consumed, naturally, with his health-care debacle, but the solution certainly isn’t to project weakness and indecision and start a huge fight with the military commanders he put in place and who now must resort to leaks (or others on their behalf must resort to leaks) to the Washington Post to get the president off the dime.

Obama seems to be operating under the assumption that foreign-policy issues are nuisances that have to be flicked away to get at the important stuff. But he is the commander in chief, and the conduct of a war with the lives of American servicemen at risk everyday should be his top, not his last, priority. That this is clearly not the case is both shocking and deeply worrying.

Leslie Gelb writes:

I’m lost on President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy—along with most of Congress and the U.S. military. Not quite eight months ago, Mr. Obama pledged to “defeat” al Qaeda in Afghanistan by transforming that country’s political and economic infrastructure, training Afghan forces and adding 21,000 U.S. forces for starters. He proclaimed Afghanistan’s strategic centrality to prevent Muslim extremism from taking over Pakistan—an even more vital nation because of its nuclear weapons. And a mere three weeks ago, he punctuated his commitments by proclaiming that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity,” not one of choice. White House spokesmen reinforced this by promising that the president would “fully resource” the war.

Yet less than one week ago, Mr. Obama said the following about troop increases: “I’m going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions. There is no immediate decision pending on resources, because one of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make a determination about resources.” He repeated that on Sunday’s talk shows.

What’s worse is that the president is now talking about “narrowing the mission” (What mission? Well, his own). He seems to  be pretending there hasn’t been a detailed recommendation from Gen. McChrystal rattling around for nearly a month, or that it’s not a recommendation that really matters. Gelb notes that nothing much has changed since he went from bold statements about the necessity of prevailing to the wishy-washy comments of late. Well, nothing except the politics.

The president is having a domestic donnybrook and is losing his grip on his top legislative item—health care. Democrats are in rebellion, and the polls are dropping. So with a deer-in-the-headlights sort of reaction to the incoming fight over a foreign-policy matter that plainly doesn’t grip him the way his liberal domestic agenda does, Obama has decided to punt. Or stall. Or send his Secretary of State out to complain that the administration can’t do much of anything until the election issues are settled. (Huh? When did this become an excuse? Well, yesterday, to be honest.)

This unseemly show of waffling and indecision for purely domestic political reasons stands in sharp contrast not only to President George Bush but also to President Bill Clinton, who at critical points in his presidency, whether on NAFTA or welfare reform, bucked up and took on the left-wing of his own party. Obama is consumed, naturally, with his health-care debacle, but the solution certainly isn’t to project weakness and indecision and start a huge fight with the military commanders he put in place and who now must resort to leaks (or others on their behalf must resort to leaks) to the Washington Post to get the president off the dime.

Obama seems to be operating under the assumption that foreign-policy issues are nuisances that have to be flicked away to get at the important stuff. But he is the commander in chief, and the conduct of a war with the lives of American servicemen at risk everyday should be his top, not his last, priority. That this is clearly not the case is both shocking and deeply worrying.

Read Less

No Help Even to His Side

In the nicest way possible, Hillary Clinton loyalist Lanny Davis makes clear that the president isn’t helping on the ObamaCare battle:

His media blitz should help solidify support among Democrats—but the White House needs to appeal to people (like myself) who are on TV wanting to defend and promote a national health-care bill. We need something specific on the table from the president. (I would recommend the Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act, which already has broad bipartisan support from liberal and conservative senators.)

Actually, he needs to convince non-Democratic spinners that he has a plan that isn’t going to bust the budget, disrupt health insurance people already like, slash Medicare, and slap a big tax on them if they don’t pony up to buy government-approved health care. But Davis has a point: Obama isn’t even being helpful within the party, because, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he seems to be allergic to specificity. Maybe the president realizes that there is no specific plan that meets his objectives, or maybe he’s figured out that everyone who puts a plan out there is besieged by both sides.

But conflict avoidance isn’t a very successful strategy for governing or for getting through a major piece of legislation. Perhaps at some point, someone in the White House will have the nerve to tell the president that his obsessive desire to appear on TV isn’t moving the ball forward. But then the president would have to do something else—devise a plan or meet with the opposition, for example. Oh well,  maybe he’ll just do Larry King Live instead.

In the nicest way possible, Hillary Clinton loyalist Lanny Davis makes clear that the president isn’t helping on the ObamaCare battle:

His media blitz should help solidify support among Democrats—but the White House needs to appeal to people (like myself) who are on TV wanting to defend and promote a national health-care bill. We need something specific on the table from the president. (I would recommend the Wyden-Bennett Healthy Americans Act, which already has broad bipartisan support from liberal and conservative senators.)

Actually, he needs to convince non-Democratic spinners that he has a plan that isn’t going to bust the budget, disrupt health insurance people already like, slash Medicare, and slap a big tax on them if they don’t pony up to buy government-approved health care. But Davis has a point: Obama isn’t even being helpful within the party, because, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he seems to be allergic to specificity. Maybe the president realizes that there is no specific plan that meets his objectives, or maybe he’s figured out that everyone who puts a plan out there is besieged by both sides.

But conflict avoidance isn’t a very successful strategy for governing or for getting through a major piece of legislation. Perhaps at some point, someone in the White House will have the nerve to tell the president that his obsessive desire to appear on TV isn’t moving the ball forward. But then the president would have to do something else—devise a plan or meet with the opposition, for example. Oh well,  maybe he’ll just do Larry King Live instead.

Read Less

They Aren’t The Problem

Marty Peretz wants to send out a search party for Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, whom he regards as foreign-policy grown-ups. He writes:

On foreign policy, on the other hand, rookies are doing the deciding. After all, both the president and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are amateurs. Yes, I know that Hillary visited 81 countries when she was first lady. But the president keeps her cooped up and when she is let out of Foggy Bottom she deals with women’s issues. Hortatory stuff.

Obama did obeisance in three Muslim countries within five months of his swearing-in. He was a big hit. But, alas, he struck out. Maybe he’s talking too much but thinking and listening too little. This morning’s Times had him doing five talk show interviews on Sunday. No wonder he doesn’t have time to go to church—a matter which I’ve been wondering about for a long time. But I guess it’s impolitic to raise. Surely there are other pastors than Preacher Wright.

It would be nice to locate two of the multiple voices in the Obama foreign-policy team, but let’s face it: it doesn’t make any difference what they think. The unhappy truth for those who favor a robust, warm relationship with Israel, or who fear we are being “played” by Iran, or who see cringe-inducing weakness in refusing to make a not-very-tough call in Afghanistan (sorry, but accepting the recommendation of your own general on a war you’ve decided is critical to win doesn’t seem all that tough) is that the president is the one lacking the gut-level instincts and the temperament to avert looming disasters on these fronts. Ultimately, there is no saving a president from himself. He is either weak or resolute, skeptical of his own generals or of despots’ promises, fervently devoted to the survival of a Jewish state and the protection of our closest democratic ally in the region, or not. That’s why it’s so important to size up a candidate correctly before he gets into the Oval Office.

Marty Peretz wants to send out a search party for Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, whom he regards as foreign-policy grown-ups. He writes:

On foreign policy, on the other hand, rookies are doing the deciding. After all, both the president and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are amateurs. Yes, I know that Hillary visited 81 countries when she was first lady. But the president keeps her cooped up and when she is let out of Foggy Bottom she deals with women’s issues. Hortatory stuff.

Obama did obeisance in three Muslim countries within five months of his swearing-in. He was a big hit. But, alas, he struck out. Maybe he’s talking too much but thinking and listening too little. This morning’s Times had him doing five talk show interviews on Sunday. No wonder he doesn’t have time to go to church—a matter which I’ve been wondering about for a long time. But I guess it’s impolitic to raise. Surely there are other pastors than Preacher Wright.

It would be nice to locate two of the multiple voices in the Obama foreign-policy team, but let’s face it: it doesn’t make any difference what they think. The unhappy truth for those who favor a robust, warm relationship with Israel, or who fear we are being “played” by Iran, or who see cringe-inducing weakness in refusing to make a not-very-tough call in Afghanistan (sorry, but accepting the recommendation of your own general on a war you’ve decided is critical to win doesn’t seem all that tough) is that the president is the one lacking the gut-level instincts and the temperament to avert looming disasters on these fronts. Ultimately, there is no saving a president from himself. He is either weak or resolute, skeptical of his own generals or of despots’ promises, fervently devoted to the survival of a Jewish state and the protection of our closest democratic ally in the region, or not. That’s why it’s so important to size up a candidate correctly before he gets into the Oval Office.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Jonathan Chait insists that lots of economists think the stimulus worked, but no real people do. Actually, economists think the bailouts and Fed actions helped stop the bleeding, but it is noteworthy that Chait doesn’t actually cite anyone who attributes success to the pork-a-thon stimulus funds, most of which haven’t actually been spent yet.

ObamaCare, as Dick Morris and Eileen McGann point out, has something for everyone (taxpayers, seniors, young and healthy people) to hate.

And Nancy Pelosi wants to jam it through in a matter of weeks. Moderate and conservative Democrats would like to slow it down.

Meanwhile, the newest Gallup poll tells us: “Americans are more likely today than in the recent past to believe that government is taking on too much responsibility for solving the nation’s problems and is over-regulating business. New Gallup data show that 57% of Americans say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals, and 45% say there is too much government regulation of business. Both reflect the highest such readings in more than a decade.”

The mainstream media may not be covering the story of the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, but Mother Jones is: “In January, the Justice Department opened an investigation into the incident. But in May the Justice Department decided against prosecuting three of the men involved in the case. Career DOJ attorneys, who interviewed me several times, had months of hard work building a case nullified. In the end, only [King Samir] Shabazz, who was holding the nightstick, faced consequences for his actions—an injunction that he not display a ‘weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location on any election day in the city of Philadelphia’ until November 15, 2012. I was there, and that seems a bit light.” Yeah, a bit.

The “Cairo effect” doesn’t amount to much, it appears: “Tuesday’s tripartite meeting in New York will serve as the ‘kick-off’ to a renewed diplomatic process, even though negotiations with the Palestinians will not be launched at that time, senior diplomatic officials said Monday just prior to leaving for the United Nations. The White House, meanwhile, tamped down expectations about the meeting between US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘We have no grand expectations out of one meeting,’ said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Monday, saying only that it would be an important way to continue ‘the hard work, day-to-day diplomacy that has to be done to seek a lasting peace.’”

Bill McGurn gets it exactly right on former Bush speechwriter turned media darling Matt Latimer: “Like all kiss and tells, ‘Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor’ is thick with atmospherics intended to suggest the author’s importance: a West Wing office, meetings in the Oval, rides on Air Force One, etc. Like most kiss and tells too, it’s divided between heroes (Mr. Latimer and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and idiots (pretty much everyone else). And like so many kiss and tells, the tale of failure, foolishness and vanity it reveals is not necessarily the one the author intends.” But mostly it’s about the enormous ingratitude of a kid who was given his big break in the White House only to decide that most everyone around him is pretty much a dope.

Karl Rove gives thumbs down on Obama’s media blitz: “White House aides think President Obama has infinite charm and persuasion. They’re wrong. He’s on the edge of becoming pedestrian and boring. In his appearances on five—count them, five—Sunday programs, Obama succeeded in burying the message he wanted to highlight—health care—with the news that he’s skeptical about additional troops for Afghanistan unless accompanied by a strategic shift. Obama succeeded in picking a fight not just with George Stephanopoulos on when is a tax a tax but also with Merriam-Webster. The $750-a-person tax for not having health insurance is a tax.” Not even the Democratic pollster questioned thinks that “President Obama’s media blitz will affect public opinion.”

Jonathan Chait insists that lots of economists think the stimulus worked, but no real people do. Actually, economists think the bailouts and Fed actions helped stop the bleeding, but it is noteworthy that Chait doesn’t actually cite anyone who attributes success to the pork-a-thon stimulus funds, most of which haven’t actually been spent yet.

ObamaCare, as Dick Morris and Eileen McGann point out, has something for everyone (taxpayers, seniors, young and healthy people) to hate.

And Nancy Pelosi wants to jam it through in a matter of weeks. Moderate and conservative Democrats would like to slow it down.

Meanwhile, the newest Gallup poll tells us: “Americans are more likely today than in the recent past to believe that government is taking on too much responsibility for solving the nation’s problems and is over-regulating business. New Gallup data show that 57% of Americans say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals, and 45% say there is too much government regulation of business. Both reflect the highest such readings in more than a decade.”

The mainstream media may not be covering the story of the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, but Mother Jones is: “In January, the Justice Department opened an investigation into the incident. But in May the Justice Department decided against prosecuting three of the men involved in the case. Career DOJ attorneys, who interviewed me several times, had months of hard work building a case nullified. In the end, only [King Samir] Shabazz, who was holding the nightstick, faced consequences for his actions—an injunction that he not display a ‘weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location on any election day in the city of Philadelphia’ until November 15, 2012. I was there, and that seems a bit light.” Yeah, a bit.

The “Cairo effect” doesn’t amount to much, it appears: “Tuesday’s tripartite meeting in New York will serve as the ‘kick-off’ to a renewed diplomatic process, even though negotiations with the Palestinians will not be launched at that time, senior diplomatic officials said Monday just prior to leaving for the United Nations. The White House, meanwhile, tamped down expectations about the meeting between US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘We have no grand expectations out of one meeting,’ said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs Monday, saying only that it would be an important way to continue ‘the hard work, day-to-day diplomacy that has to be done to seek a lasting peace.’”

Bill McGurn gets it exactly right on former Bush speechwriter turned media darling Matt Latimer: “Like all kiss and tells, ‘Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor’ is thick with atmospherics intended to suggest the author’s importance: a West Wing office, meetings in the Oval, rides on Air Force One, etc. Like most kiss and tells too, it’s divided between heroes (Mr. Latimer and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and idiots (pretty much everyone else). And like so many kiss and tells, the tale of failure, foolishness and vanity it reveals is not necessarily the one the author intends.” But mostly it’s about the enormous ingratitude of a kid who was given his big break in the White House only to decide that most everyone around him is pretty much a dope.

Karl Rove gives thumbs down on Obama’s media blitz: “White House aides think President Obama has infinite charm and persuasion. They’re wrong. He’s on the edge of becoming pedestrian and boring. In his appearances on five—count them, five—Sunday programs, Obama succeeded in burying the message he wanted to highlight—health care—with the news that he’s skeptical about additional troops for Afghanistan unless accompanied by a strategic shift. Obama succeeded in picking a fight not just with George Stephanopoulos on when is a tax a tax but also with Merriam-Webster. The $750-a-person tax for not having health insurance is a tax.” Not even the Democratic pollster questioned thinks that “President Obama’s media blitz will affect public opinion.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.