Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2, 2009

Apparently This Answer Wasn’t Enough

In the Q&A session with the International Olympic Committee Members, after the formal presentations, President Obama was asked to comment on how the U.S. would deal with the millions of people who would come to the U.S. for the Games.

Here is the concluding paragraph of his two-paragraph response:

And I’m very impressed with part of the presentation that we made matching up host families for the athletes who are going to be there, because, as I said, Chicago, we’ve got — we’ve got everybody. This could be a meeting in Chicago, because we look like the world. And I think that over the last several years sometimes that fundamental truth about the United States has been lost. And one of the legacies, I think, of this Olympics Games in Chicago would be a restoration of that understanding of what the United States is all about, and the United States’ recognition of how we are linked to the world.

He asked to be awarded the Games to help him overcome the legacy of George W. Bush.

In the Q&A session with the International Olympic Committee Members, after the formal presentations, President Obama was asked to comment on how the U.S. would deal with the millions of people who would come to the U.S. for the Games.

Here is the concluding paragraph of his two-paragraph response:

And I’m very impressed with part of the presentation that we made matching up host families for the athletes who are going to be there, because, as I said, Chicago, we’ve got — we’ve got everybody. This could be a meeting in Chicago, because we look like the world. And I think that over the last several years sometimes that fundamental truth about the United States has been lost. And one of the legacies, I think, of this Olympics Games in Chicago would be a restoration of that understanding of what the United States is all about, and the United States’ recognition of how we are linked to the world.

He asked to be awarded the Games to help him overcome the legacy of George W. Bush.

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“We Must Show Resolve”

That was an outstanding speech that Gen. McChrystal gave in London. In light of the debate now going on in the administration, this part especially resonates:

We must show resolve. Uncertainty disheartens our allies, emboldens our foe. A villager recently asked me whether we intended to remain in his village and provide security, to which I confidently promised him that, of course, we would. He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you did not stay last time.”

It would be a tragedy–for us as well as for the Afghans–if we deserted them again.

That was an outstanding speech that Gen. McChrystal gave in London. In light of the debate now going on in the administration, this part especially resonates:

We must show resolve. Uncertainty disheartens our allies, emboldens our foe. A villager recently asked me whether we intended to remain in his village and provide security, to which I confidently promised him that, of course, we would. He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you did not stay last time.”

It would be a tragedy–for us as well as for the Afghans–if we deserted them again.

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RE: The Limits of Egomania

Well, I hate to be an old I-told-you-so, but . . . Rio got the Games and Obama got humiliated. I must say I wish I were on Copacabana Beach right now celebrating along with a gazillion Brazilians. They sure know how to party, and Copacabana (and Impanema) have more stunningly beautiful people wearing less clothing than any other place in the world.

More seriously, there is this from the Times of London:

Chicago’s dismal showing today, after Mr Obama’s personal, impassioned last-minute pitch, is a stunning humiliation for this President. It cannot be emphasised enough how this will feed the perception that on the world stage he looks good—but carries no heft.

I am no fan of President Obama (still less of his agenda), but I also don’t want my president making a fool of himself before the world as, I’m afraid, he did in this instance.

Well, I hate to be an old I-told-you-so, but . . . Rio got the Games and Obama got humiliated. I must say I wish I were on Copacabana Beach right now celebrating along with a gazillion Brazilians. They sure know how to party, and Copacabana (and Impanema) have more stunningly beautiful people wearing less clothing than any other place in the world.

More seriously, there is this from the Times of London:

Chicago’s dismal showing today, after Mr Obama’s personal, impassioned last-minute pitch, is a stunning humiliation for this President. It cannot be emphasised enough how this will feed the perception that on the world stage he looks good—but carries no heft.

I am no fan of President Obama (still less of his agenda), but I also don’t want my president making a fool of himself before the world as, I’m afraid, he did in this instance.

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The Iron Grip of Liberalism on American Jewry

As with the American Jewish Committee poll, a new Gallup poll provides further evidence that even among the most loyal Democratic voters—Jews—some of the luster is wearing off Obama, albeit not as much as one might expect.

Gallup shows that, just as elucidated in Norman Podhoretz’s book Why Are Jews Liberals?, Jews are the voters most tightly wedded to Obama and to the Democratic party. General approval among all voters in Gallup’s survey stands at 52 percent. For Jews it is 64 percent, by far the highest among all religious groups and nearly dead-even with atheists and agnostics. If one focuses on just white, non-Hispanic voters, it is even more stark: “Two-thirds of white Jews (66%) approve of the job Obama is doing, compared with 44% of whites nationwide, 45% of white Catholics, and 37% of white Protestants.”

The reason is simple: Jews affiliate with the Democratic party more strongly than any other group—by a lot. Sixty-six percent of Jews say they are Democrats or lean toward the Democrats, only 47 percent of Catholics, 43 percent of Protestants, and 20 percent of Mormons do.

But even among Jews, there is rising discontent with Obama. In January, 83 percent of Jews approved of Obama’s performance, while now “only” 64 percent do. But this is telling:

Importantly, the decline in approval of Obama among Jews since January is no greater than that seen among the general public. This suggests that since Obama became president, his actions on Middle East policy issues—particularly relating to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute—have not had a disproportionately negative (or positive) impact on his image among U.S. Jews.

So once again we see that Jews remain, despite ample reason to lose faith in Obama, more supportive of him than any other religious group (and Americans more generally). The grip of liberalism remains tight, despite policies and rhetoric that on their objective merits would seem alienating to American Jews. The explanation seems rather simple: the majority of Jews care more about the liberal-Democratic creed than about anything else, more than the president’s anti-Israel policies and more than economic self-interest. It is, as Podhoretz explained, a religious-like fervor that keeps many Jews from straying from the Democratic fold.

That attachment may, however, not be entirely impervious to outside influences. And we are seeing just how far Obama can go before he loses the support of the majority of his most devoted flock of followers.

As with the American Jewish Committee poll, a new Gallup poll provides further evidence that even among the most loyal Democratic voters—Jews—some of the luster is wearing off Obama, albeit not as much as one might expect.

Gallup shows that, just as elucidated in Norman Podhoretz’s book Why Are Jews Liberals?, Jews are the voters most tightly wedded to Obama and to the Democratic party. General approval among all voters in Gallup’s survey stands at 52 percent. For Jews it is 64 percent, by far the highest among all religious groups and nearly dead-even with atheists and agnostics. If one focuses on just white, non-Hispanic voters, it is even more stark: “Two-thirds of white Jews (66%) approve of the job Obama is doing, compared with 44% of whites nationwide, 45% of white Catholics, and 37% of white Protestants.”

The reason is simple: Jews affiliate with the Democratic party more strongly than any other group—by a lot. Sixty-six percent of Jews say they are Democrats or lean toward the Democrats, only 47 percent of Catholics, 43 percent of Protestants, and 20 percent of Mormons do.

But even among Jews, there is rising discontent with Obama. In January, 83 percent of Jews approved of Obama’s performance, while now “only” 64 percent do. But this is telling:

Importantly, the decline in approval of Obama among Jews since January is no greater than that seen among the general public. This suggests that since Obama became president, his actions on Middle East policy issues—particularly relating to Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute—have not had a disproportionately negative (or positive) impact on his image among U.S. Jews.

So once again we see that Jews remain, despite ample reason to lose faith in Obama, more supportive of him than any other religious group (and Americans more generally). The grip of liberalism remains tight, despite policies and rhetoric that on their objective merits would seem alienating to American Jews. The explanation seems rather simple: the majority of Jews care more about the liberal-Democratic creed than about anything else, more than the president’s anti-Israel policies and more than economic self-interest. It is, as Podhoretz explained, a religious-like fervor that keeps many Jews from straying from the Democratic fold.

That attachment may, however, not be entirely impervious to outside influences. And we are seeing just how far Obama can go before he loses the support of the majority of his most devoted flock of followers.

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Reply to Andy McCarthy

It’s bad enough that many liberals are turning against the Afghanistan war that they once wholeheartedly supported. Such faintheartedness is to be expected, alas, since the Vietnam War. What’s truly dismaying, at least for me, is to see a small number of conservatives join the liberal chorus in sniping at our battle-hardened commander and his time-tested war plan.

I have already replied to the criticisms of George Will, Ralph Peters, Diana West, and Byron York. (See this op-ed and this COMMENTARY post.) Now along comes Andy McCarthy in National Review with another misguided attack on General McChrystal—and implicitly on General David Petraeus, the greatest American military commander since Eisenhower, who fully endorses McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.

Echoing the views of Peters et al., McCarthy sneers that McChrystal—who gained a legendary reputation in Special Operations circles as head of the elite unit that tracked down and eliminated big-time terrorists between 2003 and 2008—is a “a progressive big-thinker on geopolitics, having been a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School.” As a fellow at the council myself, perhaps I too qualify as a “progressive big thinker,” although I have more often been labeled a “propagandist and apologist for war crimes” (Palestinian Chronicle) and a “warmonger” (the Nation). But let me nevertheless briefly try to explain why McCarthy and his ilk are so wildly off-base in criticizing McChrystal’s strategy as a “a well-meaning social experiment masquerading as a counterinsurgency.” Read More

It’s bad enough that many liberals are turning against the Afghanistan war that they once wholeheartedly supported. Such faintheartedness is to be expected, alas, since the Vietnam War. What’s truly dismaying, at least for me, is to see a small number of conservatives join the liberal chorus in sniping at our battle-hardened commander and his time-tested war plan.

I have already replied to the criticisms of George Will, Ralph Peters, Diana West, and Byron York. (See this op-ed and this COMMENTARY post.) Now along comes Andy McCarthy in National Review with another misguided attack on General McChrystal—and implicitly on General David Petraeus, the greatest American military commander since Eisenhower, who fully endorses McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.

Echoing the views of Peters et al., McCarthy sneers that McChrystal—who gained a legendary reputation in Special Operations circles as head of the elite unit that tracked down and eliminated big-time terrorists between 2003 and 2008—is a “a progressive big-thinker on geopolitics, having been a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School.” As a fellow at the council myself, perhaps I too qualify as a “progressive big thinker,” although I have more often been labeled a “propagandist and apologist for war crimes” (Palestinian Chronicle) and a “warmonger” (the Nation). But let me nevertheless briefly try to explain why McCarthy and his ilk are so wildly off-base in criticizing McChrystal’s strategy as a “a well-meaning social experiment masquerading as a counterinsurgency.”

McCarthy seems to think that McChrystal’s attempts to implement population-centric counterinsurgency are antithetical to “our goal in going to war in Afghanistan,” which “was to vanquish al-Qaeda, its jihadist affiliates, and the Taliban.” Au contraire. McChrystal’s strategy is the only way to achieve this goal, as the past eight years should have proven. During those years, we did not pursue a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. We focused on killing bad guys—something that McCarthy presumably approves of. The result has been that the Taliban are seizing control of large parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan. What experience teaches—most recently the experience of Iraq—is that only by placing troops among the population can we prevent safe havens for terrorists from emerging. To gain the intelligence needed to eliminate the terrorists, those troops need to gain the confidence of the population. The indiscriminate employment of firepower, which can cause civilian casualties, makes this task harder. So do “force protection” measures that isolate our troops from the population.

That is why McChrystal has told his soldiers to use less firepower and less force protection. His actual Rules of Engagement are classified, so it is not clear either how McCarthy has concluded that they are “mind-boggling” or what he thinks proper rules of engagement should look like—perhaps “Kill every Muslim on sight”? That’s not far from the strategy that the Russians tried in Afghanistan during their failed war, which is one reason among many that McChrystal has no desire to replicate their scorched-earth approach.

McCarthy seems to think that if we use “back-breaking force” we can “achieve our objectives as swiftly as possible.” McChrystal knows better; he knows we tried to win cheaply and swiftly in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2001, and in both places we failed miserably. He knows that his population-centric counterinsurgency policies run a calculated risk and that they may cost American lives in the short run. But he also knows that in the long run this is the only way to secure the population, kick the terrorists out, win the war, and ultimately decrease our casualties. That, at least, is what happened in Iraq, and it can work again in Afghanistan if McChrystal is given sufficient resources to carry out his job.

Our troops are not engaged in “a social engineering experiment” that would bring “big, modern, collectivist, secular government to a segmented, corrupt, tribal Islamic society.” All that they are trying to do is create a minimally functional government able to deliver some basic services (notably law and order)—which is what the people of Afghanistan want. There is no reason for that government to be secular, and it isn’t. McCarthy may not have noticed, but the country is formally the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.”

It is hard to know what irks McCarthy more—the suspicion that we are fighting on behalf of secularists or moderate Muslims? He seems to think that all Muslims are enemies of the West and allies of al-Qaeda. He writes that “even though a majority of Afghans does not want the Taliban back in power, the group still enjoys considerable support among a population that was largely content to live under its rule.”

The truth is that in public-opinion polling, only 4 percent of Afghans want the Taliban back in power, reflecting the fact that very few Afghans were “content” to live under Taliban rule. In Iraq, a far higher percentage of the population sympathized with the Sunni and Shiite insurgents, and they were still defeated. The gains that the Taliban have been making have been almost entirely the result of coercion and intimidation because there has been a security vacuum in much of the country. That is a vacuum that American troops can fill in the short-term, while training Afghans to defend their own country.

McCarthy seems to think that McChrystal is eager to “leave Afghanistan with the Taliban and al-Qaeda still causing trouble,” because the general emphasizes the need to train Afghan forces to secure the country in the years ahead. What a willful perversion of reality. In fact, for the past eight years we have been following a strategy of training the Afghan forces and not doing nearly enough to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda ourselves. McChrystal actually proposes to take the fight to the enemy in a way that we haven’t done before—by sending troops into areas where the Taliban are exerting de facto control.

McCarthy makes a more reasonable point when he questions Obama’s commitment to the war. The president’s dedication is indeed open to question, but it’s still possible he may give McChrystal what he needs to win. If he does, conservatives would be well-advised to support the president rather than to engage in partisan carping as too many of them did during the 1990s while Bill Clinton was taking military action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere. Back then, some on the Right mindlessly adopted an isolationist stance simply because interventions were being ordered by a Democratic president. That is a mistake they should not repeat. Instead, “national-security conservatives” should unite to support our troops and their battle-tested commanders as they try to turn around a failing war effort in Afghanistan.

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RE: More Than a Quarter Million New Unemployed

As Jennifer has pointed out, the just-released employment figures are pretty dismal, with unemployment rising a tick to 9.8 percent and a significant rise in jobs lost, to 263,000 last month. This is, of course, bad news both for those who have lost their jobs and for the Obama administration. For while the economy is recovering from its winter lows (the job losses in January were a horrific 741,000) and many sectors are now growing, unemployment—always a lagging indicator—has been lagging more and more in the past two decades.

As a chart in a 2003 report by the New York Federal Reserve (scroll down to find Chart 1) shows clearly, job growth after the 1990-91 recession was much slower than the average of earlier recessions, a fact that contributed considerably to George H.W. Bush losing the White House a full year and a half after the recession had ended. The recession of 2001 was followed by even more dismal job growth–in fact it was job loss. There is no reason whatever to think that this recovery will not continue that trend.

Needless to say, the jobless recoveries after the recessions of 1990-91 and 2001 were blamed on Bush, père et fils, respectively. The mainstream media will be far more reluctant to blame Obama for this new jobless recovery, I’m sure. It should be noted, however, that the unemployment rate, 5.7 percent when the 2001 recession officially ended, remained steady and even rose as the recovery continued. It was at 6.1 percent in May 2003, when those dreadful Bush tax cuts for the rich were enacted. But then the unemployment rate immediately began to decline, falling as low as 4.4 percent and staying under 5 percent until March 2008. It was either the Bush tax cuts that ended the jobless recovery from the 2001 recession or it was a remarkable coincidence.

The underlying reason for increasingly jobless recoveries in recent decades can be found in Chart 5 of the New York Fed’s report. In the early 1980s, 51 percent of industries were undergoing structural change as opposed to merely cyclical change. By the 1990s, that percentage was 57. In 2003, it was fully 79 percent. It is undoubtedly even more now, six years later. The fact of the matter is that the microprocessor is remaking the economy from top to bottom—just as the steam engine did two centuries earlier—but it is doing so much faster. One result of this profound economic revolution is that productivity—the amount of output per unit of input—is rising quickly, and the largest input in most industries is labor. Thus the need to hire new workers as the economy begins to grow again is less and less urgent. It increasingly makes a lot more business sense to invest in new, highly productive equipment instead.

The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in July 1997 and stayed below until September 2001 (it was actually at 3.9 percent in the last four months of 2000). If the Democrats allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010, it’s going to be a very jobless recovery indeed.

Maybe the mainstream media won’t blame President Obama, but I suspect the voters will.

As Jennifer has pointed out, the just-released employment figures are pretty dismal, with unemployment rising a tick to 9.8 percent and a significant rise in jobs lost, to 263,000 last month. This is, of course, bad news both for those who have lost their jobs and for the Obama administration. For while the economy is recovering from its winter lows (the job losses in January were a horrific 741,000) and many sectors are now growing, unemployment—always a lagging indicator—has been lagging more and more in the past two decades.

As a chart in a 2003 report by the New York Federal Reserve (scroll down to find Chart 1) shows clearly, job growth after the 1990-91 recession was much slower than the average of earlier recessions, a fact that contributed considerably to George H.W. Bush losing the White House a full year and a half after the recession had ended. The recession of 2001 was followed by even more dismal job growth–in fact it was job loss. There is no reason whatever to think that this recovery will not continue that trend.

Needless to say, the jobless recoveries after the recessions of 1990-91 and 2001 were blamed on Bush, père et fils, respectively. The mainstream media will be far more reluctant to blame Obama for this new jobless recovery, I’m sure. It should be noted, however, that the unemployment rate, 5.7 percent when the 2001 recession officially ended, remained steady and even rose as the recovery continued. It was at 6.1 percent in May 2003, when those dreadful Bush tax cuts for the rich were enacted. But then the unemployment rate immediately began to decline, falling as low as 4.4 percent and staying under 5 percent until March 2008. It was either the Bush tax cuts that ended the jobless recovery from the 2001 recession or it was a remarkable coincidence.

The underlying reason for increasingly jobless recoveries in recent decades can be found in Chart 5 of the New York Fed’s report. In the early 1980s, 51 percent of industries were undergoing structural change as opposed to merely cyclical change. By the 1990s, that percentage was 57. In 2003, it was fully 79 percent. It is undoubtedly even more now, six years later. The fact of the matter is that the microprocessor is remaking the economy from top to bottom—just as the steam engine did two centuries earlier—but it is doing so much faster. One result of this profound economic revolution is that productivity—the amount of output per unit of input—is rising quickly, and the largest input in most industries is labor. Thus the need to hire new workers as the economy begins to grow again is less and less urgent. It increasingly makes a lot more business sense to invest in new, highly productive equipment instead.

The unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in July 1997 and stayed below until September 2001 (it was actually at 3.9 percent in the last four months of 2000). If the Democrats allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2010, it’s going to be a very jobless recovery indeed.

Maybe the mainstream media won’t blame President Obama, but I suspect the voters will.

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The Limits of Egomania

Obama received a nasty rebuff and a stern reminder that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily care what he thinks. Chicago is out of the Olympics bidding process–in the first round. Why did Obama invest so much personal capital and time for this? Well, he simply can’t help himself. It’s the same force of ego that drives him on to those TV talk shows again and again and that imagines that a grand speech with no content and no appeal outside his base will be a game changer on health-care reform.

It’s also another reminder that, apparently, there isn’t anyone influential enough in the White House to keep the president from embarrassing himself. No one to say, “Enough with the talk shows.” No one to explain that presidents should not invest their personal credibility and standing to beg the IOC on behalf of his hometown. No one, unfortunately, to direct him back to the job of making timely, forceful decisions to defend America’s real interests. Not an interest in getting the Olympics, but the interests in defanging Iran, in maintaining robust alliances with friendly democracies, in executing a winning strategy in Afghanistan, and in readjusting domestic policy away from job-killing measures and toward job-creating ones.

Obama didn’t get the Olympics. He did get a slap in the face. Maybe he will learn something about multilateral institutions. At the very least, he may want to consider finding some advisers who will tell him to stop doing such silly things.

Obama received a nasty rebuff and a stern reminder that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily care what he thinks. Chicago is out of the Olympics bidding process–in the first round. Why did Obama invest so much personal capital and time for this? Well, he simply can’t help himself. It’s the same force of ego that drives him on to those TV talk shows again and again and that imagines that a grand speech with no content and no appeal outside his base will be a game changer on health-care reform.

It’s also another reminder that, apparently, there isn’t anyone influential enough in the White House to keep the president from embarrassing himself. No one to say, “Enough with the talk shows.” No one to explain that presidents should not invest their personal credibility and standing to beg the IOC on behalf of his hometown. No one, unfortunately, to direct him back to the job of making timely, forceful decisions to defend America’s real interests. Not an interest in getting the Olympics, but the interests in defanging Iran, in maintaining robust alliances with friendly democracies, in executing a winning strategy in Afghanistan, and in readjusting domestic policy away from job-killing measures and toward job-creating ones.

Obama didn’t get the Olympics. He did get a slap in the face. Maybe he will learn something about multilateral institutions. At the very least, he may want to consider finding some advisers who will tell him to stop doing such silly things.

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How’s the Breakthrough Going?

Less than 24 hours after the “constructive” meeting, as Obama described the confab in Geneva, there is the predictable signal that nothing at all has changed. As the AP notes, “Fresh from a landmark meeting that put Iran nuclear talks back on track, Tehran and six world powers are already quibbling over what was agreed on ahead of follow-up talks later this month.”

It seems that the deal to ship Iranian uranium to Russia isn’t really a deal. We learn:

Western officials at the session said the Islamic republic had also agreed to allow Russia to take some of its enriched uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel its research reactor in Tehran, a potentially significant move that would show greater flexibility by both sides.

President Barack Obama noted the deal in comments on the meeting. But Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the Iranian delegation at the talks, told The Associated Press the issue had “not been discussed yet.” Asked if Iran had accepted, he replied: “No, no!”

To clear this all up, I’m sure they can have a meeting to discuss what they discussed at the last meeting–before the next meeting to discuss future meetings. Welcome to the world of  “engagement.” Do you feel safer yet?

Less than 24 hours after the “constructive” meeting, as Obama described the confab in Geneva, there is the predictable signal that nothing at all has changed. As the AP notes, “Fresh from a landmark meeting that put Iran nuclear talks back on track, Tehran and six world powers are already quibbling over what was agreed on ahead of follow-up talks later this month.”

It seems that the deal to ship Iranian uranium to Russia isn’t really a deal. We learn:

Western officials at the session said the Islamic republic had also agreed to allow Russia to take some of its enriched uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel its research reactor in Tehran, a potentially significant move that would show greater flexibility by both sides.

President Barack Obama noted the deal in comments on the meeting. But Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the Iranian delegation at the talks, told The Associated Press the issue had “not been discussed yet.” Asked if Iran had accepted, he replied: “No, no!”

To clear this all up, I’m sure they can have a meeting to discuss what they discussed at the last meeting–before the next meeting to discuss future meetings. Welcome to the world of  “engagement.” Do you feel safer yet?

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Cruel September

The Wall Street Journal headline reads: “Cruel September for Carmakers.” It seems that cash-for-clunkers merely shifted buying patterns, as many conservatives suspected it would. While August sales were up (giving away billions of dollars has that effect), there weren’t many buyers or many cars left the following month. Auto sales overall fell 23 percent, with GM down 45 percent and Chrysler off 42.

The car makers are keeping their chins up. Could have been worse. The next quarter looks better. But, of course, they’re wards of the taxpayers and need to avoid the impression that tens and tens of those taxpayers’ billions has been thrown away for very little benefit. At one point, Sen. Lamar Alexander was pushing the idea (originally floated by Mitt Romney) that we should be giving car-company stock back to the taxpayers. The idea: let’s get the government out of the car business, put a halt to huge transfers of wealth to enfeebled companies, and give the taxpayers some hope of a return on their “investment.” Now might be a good time to revisit that scheme.

The Wall Street Journal headline reads: “Cruel September for Carmakers.” It seems that cash-for-clunkers merely shifted buying patterns, as many conservatives suspected it would. While August sales were up (giving away billions of dollars has that effect), there weren’t many buyers or many cars left the following month. Auto sales overall fell 23 percent, with GM down 45 percent and Chrysler off 42.

The car makers are keeping their chins up. Could have been worse. The next quarter looks better. But, of course, they’re wards of the taxpayers and need to avoid the impression that tens and tens of those taxpayers’ billions has been thrown away for very little benefit. At one point, Sen. Lamar Alexander was pushing the idea (originally floated by Mitt Romney) that we should be giving car-company stock back to the taxpayers. The idea: let’s get the government out of the car business, put a halt to huge transfers of wealth to enfeebled companies, and give the taxpayers some hope of a return on their “investment.” Now might be a good time to revisit that scheme.

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Liberals Notice: Obama Is Indecisive

Dana Milbank is the latest liberal media pundit to whine about the president’s lack of spine. He gives a blow-by-blow of the increasingly frustrated White House press corps trying to extract an actual position, or a deadline to reach a position, on key issues. No luck. Milbank complains: “Why isn’t the president more decisive and forceful? On many of the most pressing issues — the public option in health reform, troop levels in Afghanistan, sanctions against Iran — the administration has hewed to hemming and hawing.” So it is left to the hapless Robert Gibbs to explain that, with the exception of the 2016 Olympic bid, there isn’t much action coming out of the White House:

Negotiating with Republicans on health care? “I’m not going to get ahead of the bill.” The Fed refusing to release the names of banks that received government funds? “I’m not going to get into discussing an active legal case.” Gasoline sanctions against Iran? “I’m not going to get into the pluses and minuses.” Predator missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan? “Not going to get into discussing that,” Gibbs said with a wave.

Neither could the press secretary commit to allowing the top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, to testify before Congress. Gibbs’s reason: He had not “seen the comments” requesting the general’s testimony.

You can pick your favorite explanation for the paralysis: Obama lacks executive management skills. He is weak. He is conflict-averse. He has too many cooks making policy. All may be correct–but the reason is irrelevant. What is key is that, on domestic and foreign-policy issues, events are spinning out of control. And it is no longer simply conservatives who are noticing.

Dana Milbank is the latest liberal media pundit to whine about the president’s lack of spine. He gives a blow-by-blow of the increasingly frustrated White House press corps trying to extract an actual position, or a deadline to reach a position, on key issues. No luck. Milbank complains: “Why isn’t the president more decisive and forceful? On many of the most pressing issues — the public option in health reform, troop levels in Afghanistan, sanctions against Iran — the administration has hewed to hemming and hawing.” So it is left to the hapless Robert Gibbs to explain that, with the exception of the 2016 Olympic bid, there isn’t much action coming out of the White House:

Negotiating with Republicans on health care? “I’m not going to get ahead of the bill.” The Fed refusing to release the names of banks that received government funds? “I’m not going to get into discussing an active legal case.” Gasoline sanctions against Iran? “I’m not going to get into the pluses and minuses.” Predator missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan? “Not going to get into discussing that,” Gibbs said with a wave.

Neither could the press secretary commit to allowing the top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, to testify before Congress. Gibbs’s reason: He had not “seen the comments” requesting the general’s testimony.

You can pick your favorite explanation for the paralysis: Obama lacks executive management skills. He is weak. He is conflict-averse. He has too many cooks making policy. All may be correct–but the reason is irrelevant. What is key is that, on domestic and foreign-policy issues, events are spinning out of control. And it is no longer simply conservatives who are noticing.

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Shrinking Daylight

Something has happened to American-Israeli relations in the past few months. On Iran, suddenly Israel is voicing clear support for American dialogue with Iran, and the U.S. is voicing increasing impatience with the Iranian regime. On the Goldstone report, we are hearing that the U.S. intends to do what it can to quash it and to make sure nothing in it becomes operative in forums like the International Criminal Court. We’re even hearing today that the Palestinians may withdraw their support of the report, under U.S. pressure. On negotiations with the Palestinians, we have heard that the U.S. has effectively dropped its demands that Israel freeze settlements as a precondition for negotiations and that Obama explicitly used the phrase “Jewish State,” accepting one of Israel’s key demands. What’s going on?

The simple answer is that the Obama administration has shifted course, backtracking from its now infamous declaration that there ought to be “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem. There are many reasons for this: Netanyahu has repeatedly outmaneuvered and out-speeched Obama, whether in the wake of the latter’s catastrophic Cairo address in May or in the UN last week.

But a more striking reason probably has to do with internal U.S. politics: Obama has discovered that Congress is not in his pocket, and that with midterm elections a year away, sitting senators and congressmen have no desire to ally themselves with an increasingly unpopular president perceived as hostile to Israel. Polls are showing growing alienation among American Jews from the administration’s Israel policies. In one poll, 51 percent oppose Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze, while only 41 percent support it–a big surprise considering that U.S. Jews have traditionally opposed Israeli settlement policy.

One starts to wonder whether American Jews are voicing their feelings about Obama’s Israel policy, or even about Obama’s presidency, more than about settlements per se. If that’s the case, then Obama’s internal political troubles may be far more serious than he knows.

Something has happened to American-Israeli relations in the past few months. On Iran, suddenly Israel is voicing clear support for American dialogue with Iran, and the U.S. is voicing increasing impatience with the Iranian regime. On the Goldstone report, we are hearing that the U.S. intends to do what it can to quash it and to make sure nothing in it becomes operative in forums like the International Criminal Court. We’re even hearing today that the Palestinians may withdraw their support of the report, under U.S. pressure. On negotiations with the Palestinians, we have heard that the U.S. has effectively dropped its demands that Israel freeze settlements as a precondition for negotiations and that Obama explicitly used the phrase “Jewish State,” accepting one of Israel’s key demands. What’s going on?

The simple answer is that the Obama administration has shifted course, backtracking from its now infamous declaration that there ought to be “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem. There are many reasons for this: Netanyahu has repeatedly outmaneuvered and out-speeched Obama, whether in the wake of the latter’s catastrophic Cairo address in May or in the UN last week.

But a more striking reason probably has to do with internal U.S. politics: Obama has discovered that Congress is not in his pocket, and that with midterm elections a year away, sitting senators and congressmen have no desire to ally themselves with an increasingly unpopular president perceived as hostile to Israel. Polls are showing growing alienation among American Jews from the administration’s Israel policies. In one poll, 51 percent oppose Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze, while only 41 percent support it–a big surprise considering that U.S. Jews have traditionally opposed Israeli settlement policy.

One starts to wonder whether American Jews are voicing their feelings about Obama’s Israel policy, or even about Obama’s presidency, more than about settlements per se. If that’s the case, then Obama’s internal political troubles may be far more serious than he knows.

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More Than a Quarter Million New Unemployed

There is no way to sugarcoat the appallingly bad economic news this morning:

The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September as employers cut far more jobs than expected, evidence that the longest recession since the 1930s is still inflicting widespread pain. The Labor Department said Friday that the economy lost a net total of 263,000 jobs last month, up from a downwardly revised 201,000 in August. That’s above Wall Street economists’ expectations of 180,000 job losses, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Obama and his team have been giving the “light at the end of the tunnel” spiel for weeks and have been pointing to a momentary slowdown in the rate at which unemployment was increasing (yes, a thin reed to cling to). Now they will have to deal with a new round of criticism. What did the trillion-dollar stimulus get us? Why are we dreaming up new ways to burden employers and hike taxes rather than stimulate job creation? Good questions all. Maybe Obama can go on five more TV talk shows when he returns from hawking the Olympics and explain what his jobs plan is.

There is no way to sugarcoat the appallingly bad economic news this morning:

The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September as employers cut far more jobs than expected, evidence that the longest recession since the 1930s is still inflicting widespread pain. The Labor Department said Friday that the economy lost a net total of 263,000 jobs last month, up from a downwardly revised 201,000 in August. That’s above Wall Street economists’ expectations of 180,000 job losses, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Obama and his team have been giving the “light at the end of the tunnel” spiel for weeks and have been pointing to a momentary slowdown in the rate at which unemployment was increasing (yes, a thin reed to cling to). Now they will have to deal with a new round of criticism. What did the trillion-dollar stimulus get us? Why are we dreaming up new ways to burden employers and hike taxes rather than stimulate job creation? Good questions all. Maybe Obama can go on five more TV talk shows when he returns from hawking the Olympics and explain what his jobs plan is.

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Sarkozy’s Road Map to an Un-Obama Foreign Policy

A number of news reports and commentators have made reference to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments on Iran at the G-20 last week. But the speech deserves to be examined in full and in detail. It is a remarkable rebuttal to Obama’s Iran policy, and more generally to Obama’s entire worldview. For conservatives, it is a road map to developing a reasoned response to Obama-ism, if there is such a thing in foreign affairs.

Sarkozy begins with a call to the present. Enough with dreamy-eyed musings about the future and hopes for a lion-and-lamb reconciliation:

France fully supports your initiative to organize this meeting and the efforts you undertook with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals. But let us speak frankly — we are here to guarantee peace.We are right to speak of the future, but before the future there is the present, and at present we have two nuclear crises. The people of the entire world are listening to what we’re saying, to our promises, our commitments and our speeches, but we live in a real world, not a virtual world. Read More

A number of news reports and commentators have made reference to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments on Iran at the G-20 last week. But the speech deserves to be examined in full and in detail. It is a remarkable rebuttal to Obama’s Iran policy, and more generally to Obama’s entire worldview. For conservatives, it is a road map to developing a reasoned response to Obama-ism, if there is such a thing in foreign affairs.

Sarkozy begins with a call to the present. Enough with dreamy-eyed musings about the future and hopes for a lion-and-lamb reconciliation:

France fully supports your initiative to organize this meeting and the efforts you undertook with Russia to reduce nuclear arsenals. But let us speak frankly — we are here to guarantee peace.We are right to speak of the future, but before the future there is the present, and at present we have two nuclear crises. The people of the entire world are listening to what we’re saying, to our promises, our commitments and our speeches, but we live in a real world, not a virtual world.

In other words, we should put aside for a moment Obama’s utopianism and, yes, commit ourselves to realism, the sort of realism that does not conceal or deny hard facts. He calls Obama’s attention, and ours, to the most critical issue we now face–Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

We say: reductions must be made. And President Obama has even said, “I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].” Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite. Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council resolutions. Since 2005, Secretary-General, the international community has called on Iran to engage in dialogue. An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009. President Obama, I support the Americans’ outstretched hand. But what did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing. More enriched uranium, more centrifuges, and on top of that, a statement by Iranian leaders proposing to wipe a UN member State off the map.

Sarkozy, who we now know was dissuaded from bringing up the secret Iranian nuclear site by none other than Obama, presses forward, asking Obama, in effect, what he hopes to accomplish and what he’s waiting for:

What are we doing? What conclusions are we drawing? There comes a time when facts are stubborn and decisions must be made. If we want in the end to have a world without nuclear weapons, let us not accept the violation of international rules. I understand perfectly well the various positions of the different parties, but all of us may one day be threatened by a neighbour who has obtained a nuclear weapon.

And if Obama needed any further evidence that endless talks with despotic regimes is not a recipe for success, Sarkozy is only too happy to offer it, pointing to the North Korea experience:

Second, North Korea. It gets even better: they have violated all Security Council deliberations since 1993, and they disregard everything that the international community says, everything. What’s more, they are continuing their ballistic tests. How can we accept this? What conclusions can we draw from it? I say that at some point, all of us — regardless of our positions in other respects — will have to work together to adopt sanctions and to ensure that the UN Security Council’s decisions are effective.

After a nod to the benefits of peaceful nuclear-power programs (and why not, since France, unlike the U.S., makes full use of this entirely “green” energy source), he wraps up. The way to get from where we are to Obama’s dream world of a nuke-free planet, Sarkozy explains, is for the West to do its job and forcefully so:

So, ladies and gentlemen, my dear colleagues, this is what I believe, in full support of what was decided in the resolution and in full support of President Obama’s initiative. What I believe is that by having the courage to strengthen sanctions, together, against countries that violate Security Council resolutions, we will give credibility to our commitment to a world whose future holds fewer nuclear weapons and perhaps, one day, no nuclear weapons.

Sarkozy’s speech is a finely constructed argument against Obama’s open-ended scheme of negotiations and willful ignorance about the events that are unfolding. For conservatives, it provides the necessary building blocks for an alternative foreign policy. Obama has his eyes on the distant horizon; conservatives should urge us to see what’s happening in front of our eyes. Obama would rather skip over inconvenient facts and unhelpful history; conservatives should highlight them and extract relevant lessons. Obama is wary of employing leverage or defining his position; conservatives should insist he do both. And while Obama appeals to some mythical “international community” (as if there actually existed a world composed of nations that shared the same values and aspirations), conservatives would do well to point out that other nations in the world as it is (replete with bad actors and nervous allies) are watching Obama, evaluating his conduct, and making assessments about their own conduct.

The question remains: Will the West follow Sarkozy’s worldview, or Obama’s? Those concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran and a regional nuclear-arms race had better hope it is the former.

 

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Constructive for Which Side?

As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors observe, the Geneva talks have revived the reputation of the despotic regime:

Responding to an overture from the Obama Administration, the Iranians even talked about the future of the U.N. and other nonnuclear issues. Meanwhile, Washington was “buzzing” (as one newspaper put it) that a one-day visit by Iran’s foreign minister might signal more detente to come. Back in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad floated a tete-a-tete with the U.S. President. In short, this engagement conferred a respectability on his regime that Mr. Ahmadinejad could only have imagined amid his vicious post-election crackdown.

And like the missile-defense capitulation, we’ve gotten precious little for this. We’re now sucked into a process of meetings, and the inspection of Qom will take place with plenty of time for the Iranians to “clean the place out.” We now begin the familiar dance of endless talks, quibbles about inspections, and compromises on verification–all culminating in the realization (eventually) that a secretive, despotic regime is on track to engage in nuclear blackmail.

Of all this Obama seems blissfully unaware. We’re finally engaging! We’re getting down to business. This is constructive, he gushes. Well, for Iran certainly. The mullahs are getting what they want (the limelight on the world stage and plenty of breathing room), now with a nod of approval from the president. As the editors note, Geneva gives Iran “new legitimacy, and new hope that they can have their bomb and enhanced global standing too.” And to boot, it’s all been made possible by the American president, who gave the Iranians all the breathing room they needed, welcomed them to Geneva, lifted not a finger to aid (rhetorically or otherwise) the  democracy protesters, and now praises the regime for doing nothing concrete at all to halt its nuclear program.

As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors observe, the Geneva talks have revived the reputation of the despotic regime:

Responding to an overture from the Obama Administration, the Iranians even talked about the future of the U.N. and other nonnuclear issues. Meanwhile, Washington was “buzzing” (as one newspaper put it) that a one-day visit by Iran’s foreign minister might signal more detente to come. Back in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad floated a tete-a-tete with the U.S. President. In short, this engagement conferred a respectability on his regime that Mr. Ahmadinejad could only have imagined amid his vicious post-election crackdown.

And like the missile-defense capitulation, we’ve gotten precious little for this. We’re now sucked into a process of meetings, and the inspection of Qom will take place with plenty of time for the Iranians to “clean the place out.” We now begin the familiar dance of endless talks, quibbles about inspections, and compromises on verification–all culminating in the realization (eventually) that a secretive, despotic regime is on track to engage in nuclear blackmail.

Of all this Obama seems blissfully unaware. We’re finally engaging! We’re getting down to business. This is constructive, he gushes. Well, for Iran certainly. The mullahs are getting what they want (the limelight on the world stage and plenty of breathing room), now with a nod of approval from the president. As the editors note, Geneva gives Iran “new legitimacy, and new hope that they can have their bomb and enhanced global standing too.” And to boot, it’s all been made possible by the American president, who gave the Iranians all the breathing room they needed, welcomed them to Geneva, lifted not a finger to aid (rhetorically or otherwise) the  democracy protesters, and now praises the regime for doing nothing concrete at all to halt its nuclear program.

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Losing Faith in the Commander in Chief

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dymanic poll is chock-full of bad news for the president. But on foreign policy, the results are nothing short of stunning. On who they trust more to decide the next steps in Afghanistan. 66 percent say military commanders, while only 20 percent say the president. Even Democrats have more faith in the military commanders (by a 45 to 37 percent margin). On Iran, 69 percent say Obama has not been tough enough, including 55 percent of Democrats. Sixty-one percent favor a U.S. military action, if needed, to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Fifty-one percent think Obama apologizes for American too much.

Less than a year into his presidency, this is a remarkable and widespread loss of confidence in the president’s handling of national security. This should actually come as no surprise. Neither his rhetoric or his decision-making to date has projected strength. He spent months arguing that we should close Guantanamo and dump the terrorists into the U.S. or into other countries. The voters disagreed. He dithers on Afghanistan, and the voters no longer see him as the best person to set our course. He sends video valentines to the mullahs, delighting in the notion that we can talk them out of their nukes, and waits for Russia and China to climb onto the Obama bandwagon (or Israel to do the dirty work for us). And Americans overwhelmingly see his performance as weak.

In short, Obama has already achieved what it took Jimmy Carter an entire term to attain: the conviction of a large majority of the American people that he is not protecting our interests or performing adequately as commander in chief. He can either stiffen his resolve to confront America’s foes or continue his decline. World events are unlikely to help him–they will only highlight his shoddy performance as our adversaries, seeing exactly what Americans do, begin to test and challenge the U.S. at every turn.

Joe Biden had a single correct insight during the campaign about foreign policy: Obama’s mettle would be tested, and “it’s not going to be apparent that’s we’re right.” For once Biden has proved to be the master of understatement.

The latest Fox News/Opinion Dymanic poll is chock-full of bad news for the president. But on foreign policy, the results are nothing short of stunning. On who they trust more to decide the next steps in Afghanistan. 66 percent say military commanders, while only 20 percent say the president. Even Democrats have more faith in the military commanders (by a 45 to 37 percent margin). On Iran, 69 percent say Obama has not been tough enough, including 55 percent of Democrats. Sixty-one percent favor a U.S. military action, if needed, to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Fifty-one percent think Obama apologizes for American too much.

Less than a year into his presidency, this is a remarkable and widespread loss of confidence in the president’s handling of national security. This should actually come as no surprise. Neither his rhetoric or his decision-making to date has projected strength. He spent months arguing that we should close Guantanamo and dump the terrorists into the U.S. or into other countries. The voters disagreed. He dithers on Afghanistan, and the voters no longer see him as the best person to set our course. He sends video valentines to the mullahs, delighting in the notion that we can talk them out of their nukes, and waits for Russia and China to climb onto the Obama bandwagon (or Israel to do the dirty work for us). And Americans overwhelmingly see his performance as weak.

In short, Obama has already achieved what it took Jimmy Carter an entire term to attain: the conviction of a large majority of the American people that he is not protecting our interests or performing adequately as commander in chief. He can either stiffen his resolve to confront America’s foes or continue his decline. World events are unlikely to help him–they will only highlight his shoddy performance as our adversaries, seeing exactly what Americans do, begin to test and challenge the U.S. at every turn.

Joe Biden had a single correct insight during the campaign about foreign policy: Obama’s mettle would be tested, and “it’s not going to be apparent that’s we’re right.” For once Biden has proved to be the master of understatement.

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A Universe Apart

Discussing Obama’s failed Mideast-peace strategy, Michael Gerson focuses on an increasingly critical ramification (aside from the soured U.S.-Israeli relations, the humiliating rebuff to the U.S., and the encouragement of Palestinian rejectionism) of the president’s decision to put “daylight” between America and Israel:

Obama has injected considerable suspicion into the American-Israeli relationship, picking public fights on issues such as settlements and adopting a tone of neutrality in other controversies. If Israel thinks America is an increasingly unreliable partner, Israel will be more likely to depend on itself alone — and let the bombers fly.

As Gerson points out, the Israelis (along with the French) have every reason to doubt U.S. resolve. Anyone who’s listened to Obama’s rhetoric from Cairo to Pittsburgh can discern that this is not a man who draws lines in the sand and not someone willing to take decisive action (unless it’s to capitulate unilaterally, as he did on missile defense). So we find ourselves in the not unexpected situation brought about by American weakness and procrastination: “If the Israelis were confident that America would act decisively against the Iranian nuclear threat in the greatest extremity, they would be far less likely to act themselves.”

Indeed, one senses that Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama are on a rhetorical seesaw. The higher Obama’s rhetoric becomes and the less grounded in reality he appears (as was the case at the UN), the more blunt and steely-eyed Netanyahu becomes (as was the case with his UN speech). Obama ignores Iran’s genocidal threats, so Netanyahu must remind us of them. Obama loves to speak of a “process,” so Netanyahu warns we must have results. Obama clings to the security blanket of “multilateralism,” while Netanyahu emphasizes that the UN is no better than a low-rent circus. Obama obscures and conceals the Iranian nuclear operations, whereas Netanyahu highlights them. There is not simply “daylight” between the two leaders but a vast expanse that separates them.

Gerson is right: the Israelis will do what they must, in no small part because the American president does not view the world as they do. And they in turn are not about to put their fate in the hands of someone who lacks both the understanding and the will to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of butchers whose fondest hope is to eradicate the Jewish state.

Discussing Obama’s failed Mideast-peace strategy, Michael Gerson focuses on an increasingly critical ramification (aside from the soured U.S.-Israeli relations, the humiliating rebuff to the U.S., and the encouragement of Palestinian rejectionism) of the president’s decision to put “daylight” between America and Israel:

Obama has injected considerable suspicion into the American-Israeli relationship, picking public fights on issues such as settlements and adopting a tone of neutrality in other controversies. If Israel thinks America is an increasingly unreliable partner, Israel will be more likely to depend on itself alone — and let the bombers fly.

As Gerson points out, the Israelis (along with the French) have every reason to doubt U.S. resolve. Anyone who’s listened to Obama’s rhetoric from Cairo to Pittsburgh can discern that this is not a man who draws lines in the sand and not someone willing to take decisive action (unless it’s to capitulate unilaterally, as he did on missile defense). So we find ourselves in the not unexpected situation brought about by American weakness and procrastination: “If the Israelis were confident that America would act decisively against the Iranian nuclear threat in the greatest extremity, they would be far less likely to act themselves.”

Indeed, one senses that Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama are on a rhetorical seesaw. The higher Obama’s rhetoric becomes and the less grounded in reality he appears (as was the case at the UN), the more blunt and steely-eyed Netanyahu becomes (as was the case with his UN speech). Obama ignores Iran’s genocidal threats, so Netanyahu must remind us of them. Obama loves to speak of a “process,” so Netanyahu warns we must have results. Obama clings to the security blanket of “multilateralism,” while Netanyahu emphasizes that the UN is no better than a low-rent circus. Obama obscures and conceals the Iranian nuclear operations, whereas Netanyahu highlights them. There is not simply “daylight” between the two leaders but a vast expanse that separates them.

Gerson is right: the Israelis will do what they must, in no small part because the American president does not view the world as they do. And they in turn are not about to put their fate in the hands of someone who lacks both the understanding and the will to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of butchers whose fondest hope is to eradicate the Jewish state.

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In an Ocean of Bad Ideas

The Washington Post reports that Republicans are going after the health-care bill, which is “riddled” with taxes on Americans making less than $250,000:

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee narrowly defeated amendments by GOP senators Mike Crapo of Idaho and John Ensign of Nevada, 11 to 12. But the measures attracted the votes of two moderates, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), suggesting that the issue could prove problematic as the health-care debate moves to the House and Senate floors in the weeks to come. Calling his amendment an effort to make sure that health-care reform lives up to Obama’s promises, Crapo proposed to strip out all taxes and fees that would strike individuals who earn less than $200,000 a year and families who earn less than $250,000 a year.

Crapo must not have gotten the memo explaining that these are not “taxes.” But voters really aren’t going to buy that explanation, as even Blanche Lincoln can figure out. So once again we are back to an uncomfortably familiar dilemma for Democrats: there aren’t enough rich people to pay for all the things they want to “give” us. The idea that they will raise taxes, massively so, in the midst of a recession, with unemployment climbing to double digits, strikes one as politically suicidal.

As you might imagine, the Democrats are furious. How dare Crapo offer a “message amendment,” says Sen. Max Baucus. (Can’t be casting those defining votes on an issue of central concern to voters, you see.) This is a “killer amendment,” fumes Baucus. Republicans certainly hope so. The telltale sign that Democrats are in a panic was the vote to exempt seniors from the tax. (If it’s not a tax, why do we need to exempt them? Oh, yes, they vote in overwhelming numbers and hate this whole thing.) That leaves younger voters to shoulder the entire burden. Sen. Orin Hatch has the comment of the day on the decision to load new taxes onto those already struggling to pay medical bills in a recession: “I think this is the worst idea in an ocean of bad ideas.”

At this point, one imagines that only Democratic lawmakers in very secure seats are looking forward to voting on this. But then they still have to figure out what the “this” is.

The Washington Post reports that Republicans are going after the health-care bill, which is “riddled” with taxes on Americans making less than $250,000:

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee narrowly defeated amendments by GOP senators Mike Crapo of Idaho and John Ensign of Nevada, 11 to 12. But the measures attracted the votes of two moderates, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), suggesting that the issue could prove problematic as the health-care debate moves to the House and Senate floors in the weeks to come. Calling his amendment an effort to make sure that health-care reform lives up to Obama’s promises, Crapo proposed to strip out all taxes and fees that would strike individuals who earn less than $200,000 a year and families who earn less than $250,000 a year.

Crapo must not have gotten the memo explaining that these are not “taxes.” But voters really aren’t going to buy that explanation, as even Blanche Lincoln can figure out. So once again we are back to an uncomfortably familiar dilemma for Democrats: there aren’t enough rich people to pay for all the things they want to “give” us. The idea that they will raise taxes, massively so, in the midst of a recession, with unemployment climbing to double digits, strikes one as politically suicidal.

As you might imagine, the Democrats are furious. How dare Crapo offer a “message amendment,” says Sen. Max Baucus. (Can’t be casting those defining votes on an issue of central concern to voters, you see.) This is a “killer amendment,” fumes Baucus. Republicans certainly hope so. The telltale sign that Democrats are in a panic was the vote to exempt seniors from the tax. (If it’s not a tax, why do we need to exempt them? Oh, yes, they vote in overwhelming numbers and hate this whole thing.) That leaves younger voters to shoulder the entire burden. Sen. Orin Hatch has the comment of the day on the decision to load new taxes onto those already struggling to pay medical bills in a recession: “I think this is the worst idea in an ocean of bad ideas.”

At this point, one imagines that only Democratic lawmakers in very secure seats are looking forward to voting on this. But then they still have to figure out what the “this” is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Are we getting closer to a health-care deal? “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has ruled out including cooperatives in the House version of the healthcare bill, putting the House further at odds with the Senate Finance Committee.” Doesn’t seem like it.

The fierce urgency of “maybe around Thanksgiving“: “Senior Obama lieutenants, including Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, have all said recently they think Congress can get a bill to the president before the end of the Thanksgiving break. The comments suggest the White House is trying to light a fire under congressional negotiators, but it doesn’t appear to be working.” (h/t Mickey Kaus)

Meanwhile: “Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said today Republicans will not be at the table when the Senate merges the health-care bills from two committees before sending one to the floor. Harkin, a Democrat and chairman of one of the committees, also said any bill that passes Congress will include a government-run insurance option for Americans to buy.” We’ll see if there really are the votes for an increasingly unpopular (especially with seniors), strict-party-line-passed government takeover of health care.

So much for “restoring America’s standing in the world“: “At his U.N. debut last week, Obama shocked the Europeans — and especially Sarkozy — by responding to the Iranian nuclear crisis not with fair firmness, but with platitudes about arms control, the reinvention of disarmament, and achieving peace in his term. . . . Sarkozy, who had been pressing for a forceful warning to the Iranians, had to tone down his own response. Instead, he simply pointed out that Iran had made threats that ought to be taken seriously by America and the world, but that clearly wasn’t happening. He mocked Obama by telling Le Monde’s diplomatic correspondent that the American president wasn’t living in the real world — a ‘virtual world,’ he called it.”

He’s not the first to make the prediction: “Top U.S. military officials may retire or resign unless President Obama quickly sets forth a clear plan on winning the war in Afghanistan, including whether to send more troop to stop insurgents, says Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.”

Marty Peretz catches Hillary Clinton being irrelevant again, this time on UN resolutions on violence against women. He observes: “In the meantime, while the president and his secretary of state are worrying about women, there is one decision to be made at the White House that will affect the very lives and dignity of more than 14 million women. It is the decision over Afghanistan where we–that is, our soldiers and the soldiers of our NATO–have freed millions of Afghan women from a humiliating form of degradation and slavery. Their fates are also at stake in the issue of whether we stay and fight or not. But almost nobody has them in the equation.” Well, if as Irving Kristol observed “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality,” then a neocon must be a pro-Israel Democrat who can’t believe he vouched for Obama.

Charles Krauthammer catches the French catching Obama’s weakness (and deceitful concealment of the intelligence on the Qom enrichment site): “When France chides you for appeasement, you know you’re scraping bottom. Just how low we’ve sunk was demonstrated by the Obama administration’s satisfaction when Russia’s president said of Iran, after meeting President Obama at the United Nations, that ‘sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable.'”

Voters may want him to do his day job (that would include being commander in chief and finally deciding on a war strategy): “Forty-three percent (43%) of Americans say it’s a bad idea for President Obama to go overseas at this time to help Chicago make its final presentation to the International Olympic Committee. But 36% disagree and think it’s a good move on the president’s part.”

In the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll Obama’s approval rating drops another four points in two weeks to 50%. ( 65 percent think he’s proposing too much spending and 78 percent think all that debt is hurting our economic future.)

Are we getting closer to a health-care deal? “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has ruled out including cooperatives in the House version of the healthcare bill, putting the House further at odds with the Senate Finance Committee.” Doesn’t seem like it.

The fierce urgency of “maybe around Thanksgiving“: “Senior Obama lieutenants, including Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, have all said recently they think Congress can get a bill to the president before the end of the Thanksgiving break. The comments suggest the White House is trying to light a fire under congressional negotiators, but it doesn’t appear to be working.” (h/t Mickey Kaus)

Meanwhile: “Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said today Republicans will not be at the table when the Senate merges the health-care bills from two committees before sending one to the floor. Harkin, a Democrat and chairman of one of the committees, also said any bill that passes Congress will include a government-run insurance option for Americans to buy.” We’ll see if there really are the votes for an increasingly unpopular (especially with seniors), strict-party-line-passed government takeover of health care.

So much for “restoring America’s standing in the world“: “At his U.N. debut last week, Obama shocked the Europeans — and especially Sarkozy — by responding to the Iranian nuclear crisis not with fair firmness, but with platitudes about arms control, the reinvention of disarmament, and achieving peace in his term. . . . Sarkozy, who had been pressing for a forceful warning to the Iranians, had to tone down his own response. Instead, he simply pointed out that Iran had made threats that ought to be taken seriously by America and the world, but that clearly wasn’t happening. He mocked Obama by telling Le Monde’s diplomatic correspondent that the American president wasn’t living in the real world — a ‘virtual world,’ he called it.”

He’s not the first to make the prediction: “Top U.S. military officials may retire or resign unless President Obama quickly sets forth a clear plan on winning the war in Afghanistan, including whether to send more troop to stop insurgents, says Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.”

Marty Peretz catches Hillary Clinton being irrelevant again, this time on UN resolutions on violence against women. He observes: “In the meantime, while the president and his secretary of state are worrying about women, there is one decision to be made at the White House that will affect the very lives and dignity of more than 14 million women. It is the decision over Afghanistan where we–that is, our soldiers and the soldiers of our NATO–have freed millions of Afghan women from a humiliating form of degradation and slavery. Their fates are also at stake in the issue of whether we stay and fight or not. But almost nobody has them in the equation.” Well, if as Irving Kristol observed “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality,” then a neocon must be a pro-Israel Democrat who can’t believe he vouched for Obama.

Charles Krauthammer catches the French catching Obama’s weakness (and deceitful concealment of the intelligence on the Qom enrichment site): “When France chides you for appeasement, you know you’re scraping bottom. Just how low we’ve sunk was demonstrated by the Obama administration’s satisfaction when Russia’s president said of Iran, after meeting President Obama at the United Nations, that ‘sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable.'”

Voters may want him to do his day job (that would include being commander in chief and finally deciding on a war strategy): “Forty-three percent (43%) of Americans say it’s a bad idea for President Obama to go overseas at this time to help Chicago make its final presentation to the International Olympic Committee. But 36% disagree and think it’s a good move on the president’s part.”

In the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll Obama’s approval rating drops another four points in two weeks to 50%. ( 65 percent think he’s proposing too much spending and 78 percent think all that debt is hurting our economic future.)

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