Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur

In observance of the Day of Atonement, CONTENTIONS will not publish new items until an hour after sundown Monday night. G’mar chatimah tova.

In observance of the Day of Atonement, CONTENTIONS will not publish new items until an hour after sundown Monday night. G’mar chatimah tova.

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Safire and the Day of Atonement

John, you’ve  already noted the irony of William Safire’s death on the eve of Yom Kippur, given that Safire was known for his annual break-the-fast party. In addition to the party, there are at least two more interesting links between the late columnist and speechwriter and the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.

In 1968, while on the Nixon presidential campaign trail, Safire told Richard Nixon that he would not be working the next day because of Yom Kippur.  Nixon’s somewhat condescending reaction was “You go all the way, the cap, the shawl, and everything? Good for you!”

Two years later, Safire was a White House speechwriter, on loan to Vice President Spiro Agnew for the off-year election campaign. Agnew was barnstorming the country, giving a series of hard-hitting campaign speeches, and Safire was contributing catchy phrases like “nattering nabobs of negativism” to describe the liberal cultural elite. The day before Yom Kippur, Safire left the Agnew campaign for 36 hours to fly cross-country to Washington, arriving at Adas Israel synagogue on Connecticut Avenue just in time for the Kol Nidre service that signals the onset of the holiday.

Unfortunately, the synagogue’s rabbi considered himself a bit of a political speechwriter as well, and gave an overly political and unbecoming sermon that evening condemning “those who would use alliteration to polarize our society.” As Safire put it in his book Before the Fall, “that’s all I needed; the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ was not a sin I had come to atone for.” Yitzhak Rabin, who was the Israeli ambassador to Washington at the time, comforted Safire after the sermon and later told the rabbi that he felt the attack was inappropriate, something for which Safire was forever grateful.

Two and a half decades later, Safire and Rabin were reunited at a dinner at the Israeli embassy. The two men got into a heated discussion about the Oslo peace process and, according to Safire, “the man sitting at the table between us—Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who never breaches protocol—blanched at the seeming heatedness of the exchange.” Rabin then told the story of that long ago Yom Kippur and explained to Christopher, “That’s why we can get angry with each other today without getting angry with each other.”

The famously uptight Christopher probably remained mortified nonetheless, but Safire recounted that he “walked out of the Ambassador’s residence that night with a good, hot column for my paper and a good, warm feeling for Yitzhak Rabin.”

John, you’ve  already noted the irony of William Safire’s death on the eve of Yom Kippur, given that Safire was known for his annual break-the-fast party. In addition to the party, there are at least two more interesting links between the late columnist and speechwriter and the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.

In 1968, while on the Nixon presidential campaign trail, Safire told Richard Nixon that he would not be working the next day because of Yom Kippur.  Nixon’s somewhat condescending reaction was “You go all the way, the cap, the shawl, and everything? Good for you!”

Two years later, Safire was a White House speechwriter, on loan to Vice President Spiro Agnew for the off-year election campaign. Agnew was barnstorming the country, giving a series of hard-hitting campaign speeches, and Safire was contributing catchy phrases like “nattering nabobs of negativism” to describe the liberal cultural elite. The day before Yom Kippur, Safire left the Agnew campaign for 36 hours to fly cross-country to Washington, arriving at Adas Israel synagogue on Connecticut Avenue just in time for the Kol Nidre service that signals the onset of the holiday.

Unfortunately, the synagogue’s rabbi considered himself a bit of a political speechwriter as well, and gave an overly political and unbecoming sermon that evening condemning “those who would use alliteration to polarize our society.” As Safire put it in his book Before the Fall, “that’s all I needed; the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ was not a sin I had come to atone for.” Yitzhak Rabin, who was the Israeli ambassador to Washington at the time, comforted Safire after the sermon and later told the rabbi that he felt the attack was inappropriate, something for which Safire was forever grateful.

Two and a half decades later, Safire and Rabin were reunited at a dinner at the Israeli embassy. The two men got into a heated discussion about the Oslo peace process and, according to Safire, “the man sitting at the table between us—Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who never breaches protocol—blanched at the seeming heatedness of the exchange.” Rabin then told the story of that long ago Yom Kippur and explained to Christopher, “That’s why we can get angry with each other today without getting angry with each other.”

The famously uptight Christopher probably remained mortified nonetheless, but Safire recounted that he “walked out of the Ambassador’s residence that night with a good, hot column for my paper and a good, warm feeling for Yitzhak Rabin.”

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Checkmate?

The story President Obama appears to be building about Iran’s nuclear program and the new site at Qom creates only a weak premise for tougher sanctions. That premise is unlikely to galvanize other key powers, which are increasingly motivated by their own geopolitical agendas and growing ties with Iran. The only real consequence of Obama’s maneuver with the Qom site is the framing of a diplomatic sideshow that might have been designed to checkmate Israel.

In revealing our knowledge of the Qom site as he has, Obama is playing a procedurally weak hand. Indignation can be maintained about this site for only so long, given that Iran itself disclosed the Qom facility, nominally in accordance with those of the IAEA rules that Tehran acknowledges. If, indeed, the Qom site is not to be operational for at least another six months, there is an argument that Iran has not been obligated to disclose it before now. This is, of course, an argument on picayune technical points, but that fact by itself will not prevent opponents of a tougher stance against Iran from achieving what they must with it: that is, the deflection of international consensus and will.

To justify tougher sanctions, Obama needs to go beyond depicting Iran as opaque and duplicitous, well-documented traits that have yet to persuade other nations to approve tougher action. He needs, in fact, to make the explicit case that the Qom site, among other factors, demonstrates that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Yet his own intelligence community reiterated as recently as Thursday that it still assesses Iran as having suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. Objectively, of course, the site is suspicious, but if our intelligence agencies believe Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has not been active since 2003, why would not Ahmadinejad’s ready explanation of the Qom site be satisfactory, at least for official purposes?

From Obama’s narrowly staked position, he is unlikely to persuade Russia, China, or other leading nations to endorse a tougher posture with Iran. Jennifer has noted Medvedev’s clarification on the Russian position, which is basically that it has not changed (and certainly not because of Obama’s policy reversal on missile defense). China’s representatives at the G-20 conference affirmed that the Qom revelation had not altered Beijing’s opposition to toughened sanctions.

Nor is support likely to come from Iran’s major oil customers (and, increasingly, general-trade partners): Japan and India. Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned on greater independence from U.S. policies and has already announced more than one such initiative regarding Afghanistan. India, meanwhile, is chafing under a passage in the McChrystal report that suggests Delhi’s robust commercial involvement in Afghanistan is a destabilizing factor because of the long-running friction with Pakistan. Neither nation is in a mood to forsake economic interests at America’s behest. India and Japan both undertook major oil and gas projects with Tehran against protests from the Bush administration and have been eager to impose the existing UN sanctions on Iran as lightly as possible. Strong-arming Iran over what can be cast as an ambiguous procedural violation has little prospect of winning their endorsement.

During a global recession, support for effective sanctions on a major oil producer is improbable outside of Western Europe and the British Commonwealth. What Obama may succeed in creating, however, is an appearance of “action,” by making the Qom site the centerpiece of a negotiating strategy that could well produce nominal concessions from Iran. Tehran has made concessions before without giving up the core features of its nuclear program and can do so again; fresh concessions are likely to fall somewhere between cosmetic and meaningless. Obama does not hold the cards to force more significant ones.

But the existence of the negotiating process, and the P5+1’s commitment to it, will be held to obligate Israel to wait on its outcome. Nicolas Sarkozy favors a December deadline for compliance from Iran, but Iran’s nuclear program has survived deadlines before. Ultimately, the Qom revelation has too little catalytic potential to come off as more than a sophomoric maneuver in dealing with a nuclearizing Iran. That is an unfortunate, indeed an untimely, reflection on Obama’s statesmanship. It is something worse for the security of Israel and the stability of the Middle East.

The story President Obama appears to be building about Iran’s nuclear program and the new site at Qom creates only a weak premise for tougher sanctions. That premise is unlikely to galvanize other key powers, which are increasingly motivated by their own geopolitical agendas and growing ties with Iran. The only real consequence of Obama’s maneuver with the Qom site is the framing of a diplomatic sideshow that might have been designed to checkmate Israel.

In revealing our knowledge of the Qom site as he has, Obama is playing a procedurally weak hand. Indignation can be maintained about this site for only so long, given that Iran itself disclosed the Qom facility, nominally in accordance with those of the IAEA rules that Tehran acknowledges. If, indeed, the Qom site is not to be operational for at least another six months, there is an argument that Iran has not been obligated to disclose it before now. This is, of course, an argument on picayune technical points, but that fact by itself will not prevent opponents of a tougher stance against Iran from achieving what they must with it: that is, the deflection of international consensus and will.

To justify tougher sanctions, Obama needs to go beyond depicting Iran as opaque and duplicitous, well-documented traits that have yet to persuade other nations to approve tougher action. He needs, in fact, to make the explicit case that the Qom site, among other factors, demonstrates that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Yet his own intelligence community reiterated as recently as Thursday that it still assesses Iran as having suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. Objectively, of course, the site is suspicious, but if our intelligence agencies believe Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has not been active since 2003, why would not Ahmadinejad’s ready explanation of the Qom site be satisfactory, at least for official purposes?

From Obama’s narrowly staked position, he is unlikely to persuade Russia, China, or other leading nations to endorse a tougher posture with Iran. Jennifer has noted Medvedev’s clarification on the Russian position, which is basically that it has not changed (and certainly not because of Obama’s policy reversal on missile defense). China’s representatives at the G-20 conference affirmed that the Qom revelation had not altered Beijing’s opposition to toughened sanctions.

Nor is support likely to come from Iran’s major oil customers (and, increasingly, general-trade partners): Japan and India. Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, campaigned on greater independence from U.S. policies and has already announced more than one such initiative regarding Afghanistan. India, meanwhile, is chafing under a passage in the McChrystal report that suggests Delhi’s robust commercial involvement in Afghanistan is a destabilizing factor because of the long-running friction with Pakistan. Neither nation is in a mood to forsake economic interests at America’s behest. India and Japan both undertook major oil and gas projects with Tehran against protests from the Bush administration and have been eager to impose the existing UN sanctions on Iran as lightly as possible. Strong-arming Iran over what can be cast as an ambiguous procedural violation has little prospect of winning their endorsement.

During a global recession, support for effective sanctions on a major oil producer is improbable outside of Western Europe and the British Commonwealth. What Obama may succeed in creating, however, is an appearance of “action,” by making the Qom site the centerpiece of a negotiating strategy that could well produce nominal concessions from Iran. Tehran has made concessions before without giving up the core features of its nuclear program and can do so again; fresh concessions are likely to fall somewhere between cosmetic and meaningless. Obama does not hold the cards to force more significant ones.

But the existence of the negotiating process, and the P5+1’s commitment to it, will be held to obligate Israel to wait on its outcome. Nicolas Sarkozy favors a December deadline for compliance from Iran, but Iran’s nuclear program has survived deadlines before. Ultimately, the Qom revelation has too little catalytic potential to come off as more than a sophomoric maneuver in dealing with a nuclearizing Iran. That is an unfortunate, indeed an untimely, reflection on Obama’s statesmanship. It is something worse for the security of Israel and the stability of the Middle East.

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Obama Administration to Young Workers: Drop Dead

The New York Post is reporting that unemployment among young workers (aged 16-24, excluding students) has reached a postwar high of 52.2 percent. It had never topped 50 percent before.

A recession is always going to hit the unskilled the hardest, and most of this age group are unskilled. But the increase in the minimum wage on July 24, 2009, adversely impacted this group as well, for it raised the price of unskilled labor by no less than 10.7 percent in the teeth of an already growing unemployment rate. Since 2006, as the seeds of recession were beginning to germinate, the minimum wage has increased by a whopping 40.8 percent. This could only have reduced the demand for unskilled labor. A small-business owner with 10 minimum-wage employees in 2006 could have hired another four with the wage increase he has been forced to pay to the ones he already had. So, of course, many of them didn’t hire anybody.

The evidence that minimum-wage laws work against, not for, the interests of the unskilled is pretty clear. There are, for instance, 13 states, ranging from California to New England, with minimum wages above the federal level. Their unemployment rates among the unskilled average higher than the national unemployment rate. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence.

The biggest backer of a higher minimum wage has long been Big Labor, few of whose workers are paid the minimum wage. But many of their workers are paid wages that are multiples of the minimum wage, so any increase in the minimum boosts their wages as well.

The stimulus bill did nothing for those earning the minimum wage. Had a substantial portion been designated to fund tax relief for employers who added minimum-wage jobs to their payrolls, the unemployment rate would have been immediately impacted for the better by lowering the cost of unskilled labor. Instead, the Obama administration made it harder for employers to hire the unskilled, not easier. Why? First, because Big Labor has enormous clout in this administration; second, because of this administration’s intellectual rigidity and mindless adherence to the gospel of liberalism.

The New York Post is reporting that unemployment among young workers (aged 16-24, excluding students) has reached a postwar high of 52.2 percent. It had never topped 50 percent before.

A recession is always going to hit the unskilled the hardest, and most of this age group are unskilled. But the increase in the minimum wage on July 24, 2009, adversely impacted this group as well, for it raised the price of unskilled labor by no less than 10.7 percent in the teeth of an already growing unemployment rate. Since 2006, as the seeds of recession were beginning to germinate, the minimum wage has increased by a whopping 40.8 percent. This could only have reduced the demand for unskilled labor. A small-business owner with 10 minimum-wage employees in 2006 could have hired another four with the wage increase he has been forced to pay to the ones he already had. So, of course, many of them didn’t hire anybody.

The evidence that minimum-wage laws work against, not for, the interests of the unskilled is pretty clear. There are, for instance, 13 states, ranging from California to New England, with minimum wages above the federal level. Their unemployment rates among the unskilled average higher than the national unemployment rate. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence.

The biggest backer of a higher minimum wage has long been Big Labor, few of whose workers are paid the minimum wage. But many of their workers are paid wages that are multiples of the minimum wage, so any increase in the minimum boosts their wages as well.

The stimulus bill did nothing for those earning the minimum wage. Had a substantial portion been designated to fund tax relief for employers who added minimum-wage jobs to their payrolls, the unemployment rate would have been immediately impacted for the better by lowering the cost of unskilled labor. Instead, the Obama administration made it harder for employers to hire the unskilled, not easier. Why? First, because Big Labor has enormous clout in this administration; second, because of this administration’s intellectual rigidity and mindless adherence to the gospel of liberalism.

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William Safire, 1929-2009

William Safire, who died today, was a breakthrough figure—the first professional Republican ideologue of his time to become a mainstream fixture in journalism. Indeed, when he was hired by the New York Times to write a column after his tenure as a speechwriter and intimate of the president in the Nixon White House, the shock and horror with which his new position was viewed in the Times newsroom and in the journalistic corridors of Washington were unprecedented in their ferocity. Safire himself said that people would barely look him in the eye in his place of employ for years.

He was blessed with a skin as thick as a rhinoceros’s, and he kept at what he was doing without apology or fear or regret. Over time, he revealed himself as a profoundly unorthodox columnist who combined hawkish views on foreign policy with a libertarian perspective on domestic matters—and a more uncompromising advocate for the state of Israel, its right to defend itself, and the importance of the Zionist experiment never walked this earth.

Safire famously said he wrote his column in 20 minutes, which is in part what gave his pieces their immediacy and force, as though his hand had untrammeled access to his thoughts and conveying them through touch-typing 750 words was all it took. He took far more care with the novels he wrote–among them the wonderful potboiler Full Disclosure, about a conspiracy to evade the requirements of the 25th Amendment, and the enormous bestseller Freedom, about Abraham Lincoln.

He achieved perhaps even greater popularity with his Times Magazine column on language, of which I was not an admirer–Safire was himself a writer of little elegance and served as an advocate for inelegant prose at a time when Americans really could have used a voice of authority that did not grant them unlimited permission to muck around with the rules of grammar and usage. In this way, actually, Safire revealed that the word conservative really didn’t properly apply to him. Rather, he was a patriot, an American nationalist, a Zionist, a civil libertarian, and a classic Washington type of a sort that has now almost entirely passed from the scene.

It is ironic that he leaves us on the eve of Yom Kippur, because he was for a very long time the host of Washington’s most exclusive annual Jewish ticket—a catered party to break the Yom Kippur fast. Most of the people who went didn’t actually fast. But they pretended that they had. Such is life in Washington.

William Safire, who died today, was a breakthrough figure—the first professional Republican ideologue of his time to become a mainstream fixture in journalism. Indeed, when he was hired by the New York Times to write a column after his tenure as a speechwriter and intimate of the president in the Nixon White House, the shock and horror with which his new position was viewed in the Times newsroom and in the journalistic corridors of Washington were unprecedented in their ferocity. Safire himself said that people would barely look him in the eye in his place of employ for years.

He was blessed with a skin as thick as a rhinoceros’s, and he kept at what he was doing without apology or fear or regret. Over time, he revealed himself as a profoundly unorthodox columnist who combined hawkish views on foreign policy with a libertarian perspective on domestic matters—and a more uncompromising advocate for the state of Israel, its right to defend itself, and the importance of the Zionist experiment never walked this earth.

Safire famously said he wrote his column in 20 minutes, which is in part what gave his pieces their immediacy and force, as though his hand had untrammeled access to his thoughts and conveying them through touch-typing 750 words was all it took. He took far more care with the novels he wrote–among them the wonderful potboiler Full Disclosure, about a conspiracy to evade the requirements of the 25th Amendment, and the enormous bestseller Freedom, about Abraham Lincoln.

He achieved perhaps even greater popularity with his Times Magazine column on language, of which I was not an admirer–Safire was himself a writer of little elegance and served as an advocate for inelegant prose at a time when Americans really could have used a voice of authority that did not grant them unlimited permission to muck around with the rules of grammar and usage. In this way, actually, Safire revealed that the word conservative really didn’t properly apply to him. Rather, he was a patriot, an American nationalist, a Zionist, a civil libertarian, and a classic Washington type of a sort that has now almost entirely passed from the scene.

It is ironic that he leaves us on the eve of Yom Kippur, because he was for a very long time the host of Washington’s most exclusive annual Jewish ticket—a catered party to break the Yom Kippur fast. Most of the people who went didn’t actually fast. But they pretended that they had. Such is life in Washington.

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Strategy vs. Resources

“The bumper sticker here is strategy before resources,” said [Gen. James] Jones, adding: “This isn’t just about more troops.”

Thus does Bob Woodward quote the president’s National Security Advisor. His formulation “strategy before resources” seems to have become an article of faith in this administration, which is refusing to let Gen. McChrystal submit the request for resources he needs to carry out the counterinsurgency strategy outlined in his leaked Initial Assessment. But does this actually make sense? How can you separate strategy from resources? Imagine two extremes. If Gen. McChrystal had concluded that he could pacify Afghanistan with just 10,000 soldiers, I doubt there would be any hint of opposition back home. Conversely, if McChrystal concluded that it would take 1 million American soldiers to pacify Afghanistan, I doubt that anyone would support such a request, which would require a draft to implement. Questions of resources are intimately bound up with questions of strategy. Often a president will undertake actions whose costs are deemed low, that he might not have undertaken if the costs were deemed high. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

What’s not reasonable is the administration’s artificial insistence on considering strategy in a vacuum and apparently without the president bothering to seek in person the views of his commander on the ground, as President Bush did so often in Iraq. This Newsweek article notes that McChrystal, “who admires Obama, has met him only three times, and has never really had the chance to discuss the war with the president in any depth.”

This is more than passing odd for a president who echoed the frequent Democratic criticism of his predecessor for being disengaged from the nuts and bolts of policy. The lackadaisical pace of the administration review—with officials refusing, as Jen Rubin has pointed out, to set a time line for making a decision—should also raise some eyebrows because of the long lead times needed to deploy troops. If reinforcements are to reach Afghanistan in time for the spring fighting season, orders will have to be given soon—very soon. Unlike in the health-care debate, we don’t have the luxury of time in Afghanistan.

I hope and expect that the president will still reach the right conclusion in the end—to support Mullen, Petraeus, McChrystal, and the troops under their command—but the process so far does not inspire confidence.

“The bumper sticker here is strategy before resources,” said [Gen. James] Jones, adding: “This isn’t just about more troops.”

Thus does Bob Woodward quote the president’s National Security Advisor. His formulation “strategy before resources” seems to have become an article of faith in this administration, which is refusing to let Gen. McChrystal submit the request for resources he needs to carry out the counterinsurgency strategy outlined in his leaked Initial Assessment. But does this actually make sense? How can you separate strategy from resources? Imagine two extremes. If Gen. McChrystal had concluded that he could pacify Afghanistan with just 10,000 soldiers, I doubt there would be any hint of opposition back home. Conversely, if McChrystal concluded that it would take 1 million American soldiers to pacify Afghanistan, I doubt that anyone would support such a request, which would require a draft to implement. Questions of resources are intimately bound up with questions of strategy. Often a president will undertake actions whose costs are deemed low, that he might not have undertaken if the costs were deemed high. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

What’s not reasonable is the administration’s artificial insistence on considering strategy in a vacuum and apparently without the president bothering to seek in person the views of his commander on the ground, as President Bush did so often in Iraq. This Newsweek article notes that McChrystal, “who admires Obama, has met him only three times, and has never really had the chance to discuss the war with the president in any depth.”

This is more than passing odd for a president who echoed the frequent Democratic criticism of his predecessor for being disengaged from the nuts and bolts of policy. The lackadaisical pace of the administration review—with officials refusing, as Jen Rubin has pointed out, to set a time line for making a decision—should also raise some eyebrows because of the long lead times needed to deploy troops. If reinforcements are to reach Afghanistan in time for the spring fighting season, orders will have to be given soon—very soon. Unlike in the health-care debate, we don’t have the luxury of time in Afghanistan.

I hope and expect that the president will still reach the right conclusion in the end—to support Mullen, Petraeus, McChrystal, and the troops under their command—but the process so far does not inspire confidence.

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Then There Is the Voting Record

You have to go to the middle of this Washington Post story–page four of the Metro section–to find this information on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

McDonnell has generally opposed new taxes and supported tax cuts, while Deeds has often voted for increases.

Deeds opposed a bill to study whether to reduce or eliminate the tangible personal property tax. He voted to raise sales and use taxes in Northern Virginia for transportation. He voted repeatedly to boost the gas tax.

And in 2003, Deeds opposed an elimination of the estate tax, although he tried to introduce a compromise that, among other things, would have made farmers exempt. Deeds voted to sustain the governor’s veto of the original proposal.

McDonnell occasionally supported increases in taxes or fees, twice voting with Deeds against amendments to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. In 1999, he voted for a bill that reduced taxes on food, as did Deeds.

In 2004, in one of the defining moments of modern Virginia politics, Deeds and McDonnell split on whether to support a $1.4 billion tax increase initiated by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to boost spending on education, health and public safety. Deeds was one of 31 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to support it, while McDonnell joined the fiscally conservative Republicans who opposed it in the House.

That seems like sort of a big deal, no? It is, after all, the central issue on which McDonnell is now running and the source of numerous ads and much angst for Deeds. It may be the top issue on voters’ minds, along with job growth and the state budget gap. But the front page of the Post has been devoted to its made-up thesis story. So a stark and key difference between the candidates becomes an afterthought.

Despite the Post‘s best efforts to bury it deep inside the paper, this issue, I suspect, will be front and center for the final five weeks of the campaign. If so, and if McDonnell prevails, then the Post will scramble to explain how it was that the defining issue in the race was something it tried so strenuously to ignore.

You have to go to the middle of this Washington Post story–page four of the Metro section–to find this information on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

McDonnell has generally opposed new taxes and supported tax cuts, while Deeds has often voted for increases.

Deeds opposed a bill to study whether to reduce or eliminate the tangible personal property tax. He voted to raise sales and use taxes in Northern Virginia for transportation. He voted repeatedly to boost the gas tax.

And in 2003, Deeds opposed an elimination of the estate tax, although he tried to introduce a compromise that, among other things, would have made farmers exempt. Deeds voted to sustain the governor’s veto of the original proposal.

McDonnell occasionally supported increases in taxes or fees, twice voting with Deeds against amendments to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. In 1999, he voted for a bill that reduced taxes on food, as did Deeds.

In 2004, in one of the defining moments of modern Virginia politics, Deeds and McDonnell split on whether to support a $1.4 billion tax increase initiated by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to boost spending on education, health and public safety. Deeds was one of 31 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to support it, while McDonnell joined the fiscally conservative Republicans who opposed it in the House.

That seems like sort of a big deal, no? It is, after all, the central issue on which McDonnell is now running and the source of numerous ads and much angst for Deeds. It may be the top issue on voters’ minds, along with job growth and the state budget gap. But the front page of the Post has been devoted to its made-up thesis story. So a stark and key difference between the candidates becomes an afterthought.

Despite the Post‘s best efforts to bury it deep inside the paper, this issue, I suspect, will be front and center for the final five weeks of the campaign. If so, and if McDonnell prevails, then the Post will scramble to explain how it was that the defining issue in the race was something it tried so strenuously to ignore.

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A Netanyahu Postscript, and a New Year

After Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his remarkable address to the UN, he appeared late in the afternoon at the 92nd Street Y to address a group assembled by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israeli consulate.

The ovation he received when he arrived, the extraordinary introduction by Elie Wiesel, and Netanyahu’s own captivating speech–by turns personal, autobiographical, firm, and inspirational–are all on this video, which is worth watching in its entirety.

And as the New Year begins, it is worth reading Anne Lieberman’s eloquent and impassioned essay about Netanyahu’s moment at the UN.

After Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his remarkable address to the UN, he appeared late in the afternoon at the 92nd Street Y to address a group assembled by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israeli consulate.

The ovation he received when he arrived, the extraordinary introduction by Elie Wiesel, and Netanyahu’s own captivating speech–by turns personal, autobiographical, firm, and inspirational–are all on this video, which is worth watching in its entirety.

And as the New Year begins, it is worth reading Anne Lieberman’s eloquent and impassioned essay about Netanyahu’s moment at the UN.

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A Pony in There Somewhere

The Honduras situation is described in this morning’s New York Times as “this most unconventional international saga”–a “most atypical coup” that has “stuck to no script” and has left “veteran diplomats [and] foreign policy experts . . . scratching their heads.” But the situation is actually considerably clearer than the Times suggests.

Time magazine reports on former President Manuel Zelaya’s strategy:

After Zelaya told the Miami Herald earlier this week that the Micheletti government was “threatening me with death” and that “Israeli mercenaries” were trying to zap him with high-frequency radiation, Brazil admonished him to soften his rhetoric. . . . Micheletti supporters, however, suggest that’s part of Zelaya’s strategy. The only way he can win, they say, is if his demonstrators can prevent the country’s Nov. 29 presidential election from taking place, or provoke security forces into atrocities that would force the U.S. or the U.N. to intervene more forcefully.

The crisis began in June, when the Honduran Supreme Court ordered Zelaya removed from office after he disregarded its order prohibiting a Chavez-like referendum designed to keep him in office. Revising the Honduran constitution before the November election was the only way he could “win” back then, and stopping the election remains the only way he can “win” now.

The obvious way out of the crisis–especially for someone whose guiding principle is “we always want to stand with democracy”–is to endorse the November election as the best means of resolving the situation in a democratic fashion; send international observers to ensure that the election is free and fair; and then respect the people’s choice. Not only is the best way to end a “most untypical coup” an election (particularly since the former president’s term ends shortly anyway), but, as luck would have it, there is already one scheduled.

But the Obama strategy has been preemptively refusing to recognize an election, in favor of restoring to office the president who tried to steal it while also ignoring the stolen presidential election in Iran. There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

The Honduras situation is described in this morning’s New York Times as “this most unconventional international saga”–a “most atypical coup” that has “stuck to no script” and has left “veteran diplomats [and] foreign policy experts . . . scratching their heads.” But the situation is actually considerably clearer than the Times suggests.

Time magazine reports on former President Manuel Zelaya’s strategy:

After Zelaya told the Miami Herald earlier this week that the Micheletti government was “threatening me with death” and that “Israeli mercenaries” were trying to zap him with high-frequency radiation, Brazil admonished him to soften his rhetoric. . . . Micheletti supporters, however, suggest that’s part of Zelaya’s strategy. The only way he can win, they say, is if his demonstrators can prevent the country’s Nov. 29 presidential election from taking place, or provoke security forces into atrocities that would force the U.S. or the U.N. to intervene more forcefully.

The crisis began in June, when the Honduran Supreme Court ordered Zelaya removed from office after he disregarded its order prohibiting a Chavez-like referendum designed to keep him in office. Revising the Honduran constitution before the November election was the only way he could “win” back then, and stopping the election remains the only way he can “win” now.

The obvious way out of the crisis–especially for someone whose guiding principle is “we always want to stand with democracy”–is to endorse the November election as the best means of resolving the situation in a democratic fashion; send international observers to ensure that the election is free and fair; and then respect the people’s choice. Not only is the best way to end a “most untypical coup” an election (particularly since the former president’s term ends shortly anyway), but, as luck would have it, there is already one scheduled.

But the Obama strategy has been preemptively refusing to recognize an election, in favor of restoring to office the president who tried to steal it while also ignoring the stolen presidential election in Iran. There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

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They’ll Get to It . . . Whenever

What’s the big rush? That seems to be Obama’s modus operandi on any foreign-policy challenge. Iran has secret (well, not secret, since the president knew about it) nuclear facilities, but we can talk about it. December’s a good deadline. But really, what’s a “deadline” mean? September’s deadline came and went, right?

Likewise on Afghanistan: there is no time frame for even making a decision, according to Bob Woodward:

President Obama has not set a deadline for determining a new strategy or for committing more troops to the war in Afghanistan, despite an urgent request from his top commander, his national security adviser said Saturday.

In a lengthy telephone interview, retired Gen. James L. Jones outlined Obama’s plans for reassessing the war effort. Jones noted that although the administration has seen some progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it remains uncertain about the outcome of President Hamid Karzai’s contentious bid for reelection. . . .

Obama’s calculations about how to proceed in Afghanistan are occurring as the war is presenting a political challenge at home. Congressional Democrats have become increasingly skeptical about the war; Republicans voice support for McChrystal’s assessment and the likely troop request.

Jones stressed that the president and his advisers will spend the coming weeks focusing on strategy before addressing any troop request.

Military guru Joe Biden says one thing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal says another. Maybe they can get the general to change his mind, suggests National Security Advisor James Jones. Who knows? They’ll talk. And in some bizarre one-upmanship, Jones pronounces:

Jones said the challenges Obama faces in the Afghan war are more “complex” and “bigger than the surge” decision President George W. Bush faced in Iraq three years ago.

In early 2007, Bush ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq as a “surge” to assist in the counterinsurgency strategy of protecting Iraqis. The surge is now regarded as one of several factors that helped stabilize Iraq and reduce violence there.

“This is bigger than the surge,” Jones said. “This is more complex. There are more moving parts.”

That would be the surge Gen. David Petraeus masterminded and then Sens. Biden and Obama opposed. But it’s small potatoes. The big thinkers are thinking big thoughts in the Obama administration.

It’s an odd mix of arrogance and irresponsibility. What could be more important than a major war? And yet they dither, tell the military to wait, have some more meetings, and roll out Biden to pontificate on how a counterterrorism operation (tried and failed in Iraq) is preferable to a robust counterinsurgency effort (tried and worked in Iraq). One wonders where the adults are. More important, one wonders why this isn’t a prime focus for the commander in chief. After all, since he’s avoiding and deferring any meaningful action on Iran, he should have plenty of time to reach a prompt decision on Afghanistan.

What’s the big rush? That seems to be Obama’s modus operandi on any foreign-policy challenge. Iran has secret (well, not secret, since the president knew about it) nuclear facilities, but we can talk about it. December’s a good deadline. But really, what’s a “deadline” mean? September’s deadline came and went, right?

Likewise on Afghanistan: there is no time frame for even making a decision, according to Bob Woodward:

President Obama has not set a deadline for determining a new strategy or for committing more troops to the war in Afghanistan, despite an urgent request from his top commander, his national security adviser said Saturday.

In a lengthy telephone interview, retired Gen. James L. Jones outlined Obama’s plans for reassessing the war effort. Jones noted that although the administration has seen some progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it remains uncertain about the outcome of President Hamid Karzai’s contentious bid for reelection. . . .

Obama’s calculations about how to proceed in Afghanistan are occurring as the war is presenting a political challenge at home. Congressional Democrats have become increasingly skeptical about the war; Republicans voice support for McChrystal’s assessment and the likely troop request.

Jones stressed that the president and his advisers will spend the coming weeks focusing on strategy before addressing any troop request.

Military guru Joe Biden says one thing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal says another. Maybe they can get the general to change his mind, suggests National Security Advisor James Jones. Who knows? They’ll talk. And in some bizarre one-upmanship, Jones pronounces:

Jones said the challenges Obama faces in the Afghan war are more “complex” and “bigger than the surge” decision President George W. Bush faced in Iraq three years ago.

In early 2007, Bush ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq as a “surge” to assist in the counterinsurgency strategy of protecting Iraqis. The surge is now regarded as one of several factors that helped stabilize Iraq and reduce violence there.

“This is bigger than the surge,” Jones said. “This is more complex. There are more moving parts.”

That would be the surge Gen. David Petraeus masterminded and then Sens. Biden and Obama opposed. But it’s small potatoes. The big thinkers are thinking big thoughts in the Obama administration.

It’s an odd mix of arrogance and irresponsibility. What could be more important than a major war? And yet they dither, tell the military to wait, have some more meetings, and roll out Biden to pontificate on how a counterterrorism operation (tried and failed in Iraq) is preferable to a robust counterinsurgency effort (tried and worked in Iraq). One wonders where the adults are. More important, one wonders why this isn’t a prime focus for the commander in chief. After all, since he’s avoiding and deferring any meaningful action on Iran, he should have plenty of time to reach a prompt decision on Afghanistan.

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Wanted: Defender of American Interests

Christopher Caldwell, writing in the Financial Times, observes:

The UN speech gives a hint to why the percentage of the US population that is uneasy with Mr Obama has grown steadily. The coolness that was so appealing in the campaigner is a liability in the president. Mr Obama is more comfortable analysing the international alignment of interests than in defending the particular interests of the US. In fact, to say, as he does, that “the interests of nations and peoples are shared” is to say that national interest is an illusion in the first place.

Caldwell is getting to a much under-discussed aspect of the UN speech. Conservatives are rightly outraged by Obama’s obsessive denigration of America and his reliance on mythical international consensus. Moderates are a bit nervous that he sounds sophomoric and naive. But Caldwell points to the gap, not between reality and Obama’s worldview, but between Obama’s view of America and Americans’ view of America.

Obama plainly embodies that mindset of liberal elites. America is flawed. America has no distinct message or values, and its interests are entitled to no more weight than Belgium’s or Cuba’s. It’s wrongheaded to assert our national interests. We should be seeking consensus and righting the great wrongs that America has done to other nations—both its stinginess in redistributing wealth and its failure to cater to other nations’ geopolitical and psychological concerns. Russia needs reassuring. The Arabs need validation. And it’s the president’s job to lower America’s profile so as to not incur the wrath of hostile powers.

Average Americans don’t buy into any of this. They have the notion—ridiculed by Obama and his supporters—that America is unique, both in its attributes and in its role in the world. They might grow weary of the burdens and prefer shorter and less costly wars (what democratic people do not?), but the notion that we should simply go along with the crowd, avoid hurting Russian sensibilities, or accede to false historical narratives of Arab nations in contravention to our own interests and those of our allies are alien and off-putting to them. If Iran is a threat to the world, ordinary Americans expect their president to do something about it, not merely call another meeting to talk with thugs spouting genocidal nonsense.

Sure Americans want to be “liked”—but they, unlike their president, don’t suppose that the way to be liked is to defer to bullies and madmen. They expect the president to be defending their interests, their security, and their nation’s values.

Foreign policy is never the top issue on the public’s agenda, unless it is. When events in the world seem to spin out of control, when dangers grow without a robust American response, when the leaders of other nations rather than the president seem to be taking the lead (as the French President now has on Iran), and when there is a pervasive sense that America would rather defer and retreat than lead, the public’s ire rises. Americans expect their president to be, well, their president, and when Obama suggests he envisions himself as mediator between America and the rest of the world—or apologist-in-chief—it will rankle, and perhaps anger them.

The danger for Obama then is not simply that Iran, Russia, China, and others don’t share his worldview (and will take advantage of American reticence) but that his fellow citizens don’t. And they will hold him accountable not only for the increasingly dangerous world but also for his odd indifference to America’s–and consequently their–fate.

Christopher Caldwell, writing in the Financial Times, observes:

The UN speech gives a hint to why the percentage of the US population that is uneasy with Mr Obama has grown steadily. The coolness that was so appealing in the campaigner is a liability in the president. Mr Obama is more comfortable analysing the international alignment of interests than in defending the particular interests of the US. In fact, to say, as he does, that “the interests of nations and peoples are shared” is to say that national interest is an illusion in the first place.

Caldwell is getting to a much under-discussed aspect of the UN speech. Conservatives are rightly outraged by Obama’s obsessive denigration of America and his reliance on mythical international consensus. Moderates are a bit nervous that he sounds sophomoric and naive. But Caldwell points to the gap, not between reality and Obama’s worldview, but between Obama’s view of America and Americans’ view of America.

Obama plainly embodies that mindset of liberal elites. America is flawed. America has no distinct message or values, and its interests are entitled to no more weight than Belgium’s or Cuba’s. It’s wrongheaded to assert our national interests. We should be seeking consensus and righting the great wrongs that America has done to other nations—both its stinginess in redistributing wealth and its failure to cater to other nations’ geopolitical and psychological concerns. Russia needs reassuring. The Arabs need validation. And it’s the president’s job to lower America’s profile so as to not incur the wrath of hostile powers.

Average Americans don’t buy into any of this. They have the notion—ridiculed by Obama and his supporters—that America is unique, both in its attributes and in its role in the world. They might grow weary of the burdens and prefer shorter and less costly wars (what democratic people do not?), but the notion that we should simply go along with the crowd, avoid hurting Russian sensibilities, or accede to false historical narratives of Arab nations in contravention to our own interests and those of our allies are alien and off-putting to them. If Iran is a threat to the world, ordinary Americans expect their president to do something about it, not merely call another meeting to talk with thugs spouting genocidal nonsense.

Sure Americans want to be “liked”—but they, unlike their president, don’t suppose that the way to be liked is to defer to bullies and madmen. They expect the president to be defending their interests, their security, and their nation’s values.

Foreign policy is never the top issue on the public’s agenda, unless it is. When events in the world seem to spin out of control, when dangers grow without a robust American response, when the leaders of other nations rather than the president seem to be taking the lead (as the French President now has on Iran), and when there is a pervasive sense that America would rather defer and retreat than lead, the public’s ire rises. Americans expect their president to be, well, their president, and when Obama suggests he envisions himself as mediator between America and the rest of the world—or apologist-in-chief—it will rankle, and perhaps anger them.

The danger for Obama then is not simply that Iran, Russia, China, and others don’t share his worldview (and will take advantage of American reticence) but that his fellow citizens don’t. And they will hold him accountable not only for the increasingly dangerous world but also for his odd indifference to America’s–and consequently their–fate.

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Count Them Out

At some point enough is enough. The Hill reports:

A bipartisan group of House members is blasting the Obama administration for its plan to send $400,000 to foundations connected to the children of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.

The group of more than two dozen lawmakers, led by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said that the State Department proposal to provide funds to nonprofit groups led by Gadhafi’s son and daughter sends the wrong message to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing. Gadhafi last month celebrated the return to Libya of the only person convicted in the bombing, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who was released by the Scottish government on grounds of compassion. . . .

According to a State Department letter to Congress, $200,000 in U.S. aid would be used to train staff at the Gadhafi Development Foundation, which is seeking to build international relationships, increase transparency among other non-profit organizations and implement political and economic reforms. The foundation is led by Saif Gadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader.

Another $200,000 would go to promote women’s economic opportunities. Kirk said that money would end up with a group led by Gadhafi’s daughter, Aisha, who also works with the United Nations Development Program.

Yes, it’s only $400,000, but one has to ask, as these lawmakers did, what were they thinking? There is a lot of that going on these days. Backing Hugo Chavez’s surrogate—who turns out to be nuts—in Honduras. Pulling the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic because we don’t really need missile defense and have an iron-clad grasp on what the Iranians’ nuclear intentions are. The list of harebrained ideas and poorly executed maneuvers is piling up, and one senses that the Democrats’ willingness to defend the president is weakening.

You see it on Iran as Sen. Evan Bayh joins a strenuous statement in favor of sanctions and against open-ended negotiations. You see moderate Democrats’ uneasy reaction to retreat on missile defense. And now lawmakers throw up their hands in horror when it comes out that Obama is running a welfare program for Qaddafi’s kids.

The president seems perpetually worried about reaction from the Left. But perhaps he should be more concerned that his erratic foreign policy is losing the sane center of his party, which has no stomach for defending the indefensible.

At some point enough is enough. The Hill reports:

A bipartisan group of House members is blasting the Obama administration for its plan to send $400,000 to foundations connected to the children of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.

The group of more than two dozen lawmakers, led by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said that the State Department proposal to provide funds to nonprofit groups led by Gadhafi’s son and daughter sends the wrong message to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing. Gadhafi last month celebrated the return to Libya of the only person convicted in the bombing, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who was released by the Scottish government on grounds of compassion. . . .

According to a State Department letter to Congress, $200,000 in U.S. aid would be used to train staff at the Gadhafi Development Foundation, which is seeking to build international relationships, increase transparency among other non-profit organizations and implement political and economic reforms. The foundation is led by Saif Gadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader.

Another $200,000 would go to promote women’s economic opportunities. Kirk said that money would end up with a group led by Gadhafi’s daughter, Aisha, who also works with the United Nations Development Program.

Yes, it’s only $400,000, but one has to ask, as these lawmakers did, what were they thinking? There is a lot of that going on these days. Backing Hugo Chavez’s surrogate—who turns out to be nuts—in Honduras. Pulling the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic because we don’t really need missile defense and have an iron-clad grasp on what the Iranians’ nuclear intentions are. The list of harebrained ideas and poorly executed maneuvers is piling up, and one senses that the Democrats’ willingness to defend the president is weakening.

You see it on Iran as Sen. Evan Bayh joins a strenuous statement in favor of sanctions and against open-ended negotiations. You see moderate Democrats’ uneasy reaction to retreat on missile defense. And now lawmakers throw up their hands in horror when it comes out that Obama is running a welfare program for Qaddafi’s kids.

The president seems perpetually worried about reaction from the Left. But perhaps he should be more concerned that his erratic foreign policy is losing the sane center of his party, which has no stomach for defending the indefensible.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The New York Post‘s editors: “And this week, after the UN Security Council adopted an anti-nuclear-proliferation ‘resolution’ that left out any mention of Iran, it took French President Nicolas Sarkozy to express shock: ‘How,’ he asked ‘could we justify meeting without tackling’ Iran’s nukes? Now, in light of yesterday’s revelation, Obama’s nine-month course seems almost suicidal. Surely this second site means Iran is closer to having a bomb than most knew. That it’s on a military base makes it harder for Iran to claim it’s for peaceful purposes—and perhaps tougher to take out by force, if need be. And the secrecy around it proves that Iran won’t ever ‘talk’ honestly with the ‘international community.’ Let’s face it: Negotiating isn’t likely to work. Obama needs a Plan B. Pronto.”

Rep. Howard Berman sounds the alarm: “Tehran could soon have humankind’s most frightening weapon if substantial diplomatic progress is not made in the coming days.” (Notice “days” is his time frame—he must not have heard about the “let’s see where we are at the end of the year” Obama time frame.) “To have a sanctions bill ready for the president’s signature by early next year, we must start the process for passing it now. I intend to bring our bill to committee for consideration next month. Should negotiations with Iran not succeed and should multilateral sanctions not get off the ground, we must be prepared to do what we can on our own.” Odd how the president isn’t calling for this to strengthen his own hand, isn’t it? Apparently the president must have leverage to use with Iran forced upon him.

Newsflash: It’s not easy to close Guantanamo. “President Barack Obama may not be able to meet his stated goal of closing the much-criticized Guantanamo Bay prison by January as his administration runs into daunting legal and logistical hurdles to moving the more than 220 detainees still there. Senior administration officials acknowledged for the first time Friday that difficulties in completing the lengthy review of detainee files and resolving other thorny questions mean the president’s promised January deadline may slip.”

Michael Gerson on Obama’s UN speech: “At the United Nations, Obama set out to denigrate American goodness so he can become our rescuer. The speech had nothing to do with the confident style of Democratic rhetoric found in Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy. It insulted that tradition. And no one is likely ever to quote the speech—except to deride it.” Read the whole thing.

Democrats have incurred the wrath of seniors who have figured out that their benefits are going to get slashed under ObamaCare. So they are “scrambling to prove they are on the side of seniors.” They better scramble some more—by a margin of 59 to 31 percent, seniors oppose it. “What seems certain, however, is that Democrats’ ability to push through a health overhaul along the lines of what Obama has called for will depend in large part on their capacity to convince seniors that it’s a good deal for them.”

Mickey Kaus thinks ObamaCare has found its death panel—the voters: “If voters oppose by a 64-34 margin a health care bill with individual mandates but no public option, doesn’t that mean voters will oppose by a 64-34 margin any health care bill that is likely to pass? … That would put Obama’s reform up in Dick Morris’ the-Democratic-party-isn’t-a-suicide-pact range.”

Marty Peretz: “The UN is a joke. If it weren’t in New York no one would come. As an instrument of peace it fails every time. At its best, it is mostly charade, like Ban Ki-moon designating Bill Clinton as the organization’s special envoy to Haiti. ‘Special envoy,’ my foot. But Susan Rice seems to feel at home at the United Nations. ‘Google’ her and read any of her nonsense about the organization. Any of it. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. Either way your response will be appropriate.” Unfortunately, Obama believes her nonsense.

Mark McKinnon: “It’s pretty embarrassing when a Chinese president lectures an American president about free trade on his home turf. In a direct shot at his U.S. counterpart, President Hu Jintao Friday at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh called on his fellow leaders to ‘resolutely oppose and reject protectionism in all forms.’ Because President Obama hasn’t.”

The New York Post‘s editors: “And this week, after the UN Security Council adopted an anti-nuclear-proliferation ‘resolution’ that left out any mention of Iran, it took French President Nicolas Sarkozy to express shock: ‘How,’ he asked ‘could we justify meeting without tackling’ Iran’s nukes? Now, in light of yesterday’s revelation, Obama’s nine-month course seems almost suicidal. Surely this second site means Iran is closer to having a bomb than most knew. That it’s on a military base makes it harder for Iran to claim it’s for peaceful purposes—and perhaps tougher to take out by force, if need be. And the secrecy around it proves that Iran won’t ever ‘talk’ honestly with the ‘international community.’ Let’s face it: Negotiating isn’t likely to work. Obama needs a Plan B. Pronto.”

Rep. Howard Berman sounds the alarm: “Tehran could soon have humankind’s most frightening weapon if substantial diplomatic progress is not made in the coming days.” (Notice “days” is his time frame—he must not have heard about the “let’s see where we are at the end of the year” Obama time frame.) “To have a sanctions bill ready for the president’s signature by early next year, we must start the process for passing it now. I intend to bring our bill to committee for consideration next month. Should negotiations with Iran not succeed and should multilateral sanctions not get off the ground, we must be prepared to do what we can on our own.” Odd how the president isn’t calling for this to strengthen his own hand, isn’t it? Apparently the president must have leverage to use with Iran forced upon him.

Newsflash: It’s not easy to close Guantanamo. “President Barack Obama may not be able to meet his stated goal of closing the much-criticized Guantanamo Bay prison by January as his administration runs into daunting legal and logistical hurdles to moving the more than 220 detainees still there. Senior administration officials acknowledged for the first time Friday that difficulties in completing the lengthy review of detainee files and resolving other thorny questions mean the president’s promised January deadline may slip.”

Michael Gerson on Obama’s UN speech: “At the United Nations, Obama set out to denigrate American goodness so he can become our rescuer. The speech had nothing to do with the confident style of Democratic rhetoric found in Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy. It insulted that tradition. And no one is likely ever to quote the speech—except to deride it.” Read the whole thing.

Democrats have incurred the wrath of seniors who have figured out that their benefits are going to get slashed under ObamaCare. So they are “scrambling to prove they are on the side of seniors.” They better scramble some more—by a margin of 59 to 31 percent, seniors oppose it. “What seems certain, however, is that Democrats’ ability to push through a health overhaul along the lines of what Obama has called for will depend in large part on their capacity to convince seniors that it’s a good deal for them.”

Mickey Kaus thinks ObamaCare has found its death panel—the voters: “If voters oppose by a 64-34 margin a health care bill with individual mandates but no public option, doesn’t that mean voters will oppose by a 64-34 margin any health care bill that is likely to pass? … That would put Obama’s reform up in Dick Morris’ the-Democratic-party-isn’t-a-suicide-pact range.”

Marty Peretz: “The UN is a joke. If it weren’t in New York no one would come. As an instrument of peace it fails every time. At its best, it is mostly charade, like Ban Ki-moon designating Bill Clinton as the organization’s special envoy to Haiti. ‘Special envoy,’ my foot. But Susan Rice seems to feel at home at the United Nations. ‘Google’ her and read any of her nonsense about the organization. Any of it. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. Either way your response will be appropriate.” Unfortunately, Obama believes her nonsense.

Mark McKinnon: “It’s pretty embarrassing when a Chinese president lectures an American president about free trade on his home turf. In a direct shot at his U.S. counterpart, President Hu Jintao Friday at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh called on his fellow leaders to ‘resolutely oppose and reject protectionism in all forms.’ Because President Obama hasn’t.”

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