Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 7, 2009

Polls and Leaders

A new poll shows these results about the war in Afghanistan:

By a 65 – 28 percent majority, American voters are willing to have American soldiers “fight and possibly die” to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating from Afghanistan, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But voters say 49 – 38 percent that they do not think the U.S. will be successful in eliminating this terrorist threat. . . . A 52 – 37 percent majority of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is the right thing for the U.S. to do, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of 2,630 American voters finds.

While 30 percent of voters are willing to have large numbers of American troops in Afghanistan “as long as it takes,” another 28 percent say less than a year; 21 percent say one to two years and 14 percent say two to five years. Voters are more worried 50 – 42 percent that the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan too long, rather than U.S. troops will leave too soon. But only 32 percent of voters think the U.S. is headed for another Vietnam.

This suggests that there is a heavy reservoir of support for a war effort and is in some sense surprising given the president’s lack of public advocacy for the war. Since his speech, now oft-quoted because he seems to be repudiating it, this spring he’s failed to give a major address and is shushing his military men from engaging the public. If there were a cogent and robust explanation of our war aims, the number might be far higher.

But we don’t and can’t fight wars by polls. Had we done so in Iraq, we’d have retreated, and untold bloodshed and chaos would have resulted. That is why there is no substitute for presidential leadership — especially when the public is weary. Looking back on George W. Bush’s decision to mount the surge, one can only marvel at the intestinal fortitude to ignore the hue and cry from all quarters and do what was needed to prevent an American defeat. That Obama can’t muster a modicum of decisive leadership in a political atmosphere not nearly as treacherous says much about the two leaders.

Can Obama muster the same resolve to do what is needed? He gives no indication that he is willing to do what is needed to secure a victory. “All in” is spoken with disdain — as if only wacky extremists would favor pouring in all the resources and troops required to win a critical war. Not him. He’s above that sort of thing. Well, let’s hope not.

A new poll shows these results about the war in Afghanistan:

By a 65 – 28 percent majority, American voters are willing to have American soldiers “fight and possibly die” to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating from Afghanistan, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But voters say 49 – 38 percent that they do not think the U.S. will be successful in eliminating this terrorist threat. . . . A 52 – 37 percent majority of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is the right thing for the U.S. to do, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of 2,630 American voters finds.

While 30 percent of voters are willing to have large numbers of American troops in Afghanistan “as long as it takes,” another 28 percent say less than a year; 21 percent say one to two years and 14 percent say two to five years. Voters are more worried 50 – 42 percent that the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan too long, rather than U.S. troops will leave too soon. But only 32 percent of voters think the U.S. is headed for another Vietnam.

This suggests that there is a heavy reservoir of support for a war effort and is in some sense surprising given the president’s lack of public advocacy for the war. Since his speech, now oft-quoted because he seems to be repudiating it, this spring he’s failed to give a major address and is shushing his military men from engaging the public. If there were a cogent and robust explanation of our war aims, the number might be far higher.

But we don’t and can’t fight wars by polls. Had we done so in Iraq, we’d have retreated, and untold bloodshed and chaos would have resulted. That is why there is no substitute for presidential leadership — especially when the public is weary. Looking back on George W. Bush’s decision to mount the surge, one can only marvel at the intestinal fortitude to ignore the hue and cry from all quarters and do what was needed to prevent an American defeat. That Obama can’t muster a modicum of decisive leadership in a political atmosphere not nearly as treacherous says much about the two leaders.

Can Obama muster the same resolve to do what is needed? He gives no indication that he is willing to do what is needed to secure a victory. “All in” is spoken with disdain — as if only wacky extremists would favor pouring in all the resources and troops required to win a critical war. Not him. He’s above that sort of thing. Well, let’s hope not.

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I May Not Know Art but I Know . . . Actually, I’m Not Sure

You can’t make this kind of stuff up: the New York Times reports that among the paintings the Obamas have borrowed from Washington-area museums to hang in the White House is “I Think I’ll . . .” by California artist Ed Ruscha. As the Times notes, it deals with “indecision.”

Indeed it does. The painting features a reddish background, and floating on it are phrases such as “Wait a Minute,” “Maybe . . . No,” and “On Second Thought.” Hard to imagine a better metaphor for the tortuous Afghanistan-policy debate now going on in the White House.

They’re not great art, but somehow it would be more inspiring of confidence if Obama were to festoon the White House with these motivational posters featuring images and quotations of Winston Churchill.

You can’t make this kind of stuff up: the New York Times reports that among the paintings the Obamas have borrowed from Washington-area museums to hang in the White House is “I Think I’ll . . .” by California artist Ed Ruscha. As the Times notes, it deals with “indecision.”

Indeed it does. The painting features a reddish background, and floating on it are phrases such as “Wait a Minute,” “Maybe . . . No,” and “On Second Thought.” Hard to imagine a better metaphor for the tortuous Afghanistan-policy debate now going on in the White House.

They’re not great art, but somehow it would be more inspiring of confidence if Obama were to festoon the White House with these motivational posters featuring images and quotations of Winston Churchill.

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A Portrait of the President as a Young Man

Benjamin Kerstein has a 3,500-word essay entitled “Obama and Israel: Betrayal in the Broken Places” that is essential reading. It is a portrait of Obama as a dangerous combination of hubris and ineptitude, and a description of the process by which he “lost the Israelis, possibly for good,” with “no one to blame but himself.”

Obama centered his policy on an unrealistic call for complete cessation of all settlement-building, violating longstanding understandings with Israel underlying the “peace process.” But if it had been handled differently, it might not have had such disastrous consequences:

Had Obama proved flexible on Jerusalem and its nearby “consensus” settlements, which most Israelis consider essential to their security and want to retain in any peace agreement, some sort of modus vivendi might have been reached early enough to avoid a serious breach. In his insistence on a total freeze, however, Obama was demanding something that was both too much for most Israelis to swallow and Netanyahu simply could not deliver. . . . Obama may have hoped for precisely that, believing that a new, more pliable government led by Livni would replace Netanyahu. If so, it was a horrendous miscalculation.

But it was not the push for a total, uncompromising settlement freeze, however, that was the key moment. That moment was, ironically, the one Obama considered one of his triumphs: the Cairo “address to the Muslim world”:

Taken as a whole, the speech was simply a craven embarrassment; but the references it made to Israel could not have been more alienating and insulting had they been calculated for the purpose. How Obama’s speechwriters and advisors became convinced that equating the Holocaust with the Palestinian nakba . . . comparing Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to segregation in the United States, and pointing to the Jewish people’s “tragic history” as the sole justification for Israel’s existence would assuage Israeli concerns about the new administration must remain a question for history to answer. There is no doubt, however, that this single speech (which everyone in Israel watched) did more to demolish Obama’s credibility in Israeli eyes than any of his demands on Netanyahu ever could have.

The Cairo speech, with its emphasis on the Holocaust as the justification for Israel (to the exclusion of thousands of years of Jewish civilization and historical claims to the Land predating by centuries the birth of Islam and extending through the 20th century in the Balfour Declaration) revealed a “glaring ignorance of Israeli history and sensibilities,” as did the reference to segregation, which recalled the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

But the worst was Obama’s moral equivalence between Nazi genocide and the Arab displacement in 1948, occasioned by a war the Arabs started after rejecting — not for the first or last time — a two-state solution:

It is true that 1948 was a catastrophe for the Palestinians, and many thousands of them were displaced — voluntarily and involuntarily — as a result of the war; but for many Jews (and many non-Jews) the equation of this to the Holocaust was not only morally appalling but served to minimize a genocide that is still within living memory, and did so in front of an audience that often claims it never happened at all.

Watching Obama, Israelis recognized something they have seen before in the violent and unstable Middle East: idealistic incompetence. That judgment was confirmed by Obama’s failure, also glaringly obvious, to obtain any steps toward normalization to accompany any new settlement freeze, and his passive encouragement of maximalist Palestinian claims even after the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history had spent a year in the Annapolis Process unsuccessfully offering the Palestinians a state.

The result is that “[Obama’s] relationship with the Israelis is now so damaged that Netanyahu probably could not sell further concessions to the Israeli public even if he wanted to (which he most certainly does not).”

The portrait of Obama that emerges in Kerstein’s article has ramifications beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Obama’s idealistic but unrealistic belief that speeches, videos, reset buttons, bows, unclenched fists, and other gestures of goodwill are the key to resolving international disputes is now well-known. His combination of extreme self-regard and absence of actual accomplishments (both before and after he became president) reflects a mindset that is, in Abe Greenwald’s perceptive phrase, anti-decisive (since it is easier to protect a self-portrait by merely voting “present”). He is tough on small allies (Israel, Honduras, Georgia), or those deemed inconsequential (Poland, the Czech Republic, the UK), but endlessly patient and non-confrontational with adversaries. It is not a very presidential picture.

Benjamin Kerstein has a 3,500-word essay entitled “Obama and Israel: Betrayal in the Broken Places” that is essential reading. It is a portrait of Obama as a dangerous combination of hubris and ineptitude, and a description of the process by which he “lost the Israelis, possibly for good,” with “no one to blame but himself.”

Obama centered his policy on an unrealistic call for complete cessation of all settlement-building, violating longstanding understandings with Israel underlying the “peace process.” But if it had been handled differently, it might not have had such disastrous consequences:

Had Obama proved flexible on Jerusalem and its nearby “consensus” settlements, which most Israelis consider essential to their security and want to retain in any peace agreement, some sort of modus vivendi might have been reached early enough to avoid a serious breach. In his insistence on a total freeze, however, Obama was demanding something that was both too much for most Israelis to swallow and Netanyahu simply could not deliver. . . . Obama may have hoped for precisely that, believing that a new, more pliable government led by Livni would replace Netanyahu. If so, it was a horrendous miscalculation.

But it was not the push for a total, uncompromising settlement freeze, however, that was the key moment. That moment was, ironically, the one Obama considered one of his triumphs: the Cairo “address to the Muslim world”:

Taken as a whole, the speech was simply a craven embarrassment; but the references it made to Israel could not have been more alienating and insulting had they been calculated for the purpose. How Obama’s speechwriters and advisors became convinced that equating the Holocaust with the Palestinian nakba . . . comparing Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to segregation in the United States, and pointing to the Jewish people’s “tragic history” as the sole justification for Israel’s existence would assuage Israeli concerns about the new administration must remain a question for history to answer. There is no doubt, however, that this single speech (which everyone in Israel watched) did more to demolish Obama’s credibility in Israeli eyes than any of his demands on Netanyahu ever could have.

The Cairo speech, with its emphasis on the Holocaust as the justification for Israel (to the exclusion of thousands of years of Jewish civilization and historical claims to the Land predating by centuries the birth of Islam and extending through the 20th century in the Balfour Declaration) revealed a “glaring ignorance of Israeli history and sensibilities,” as did the reference to segregation, which recalled the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

But the worst was Obama’s moral equivalence between Nazi genocide and the Arab displacement in 1948, occasioned by a war the Arabs started after rejecting — not for the first or last time — a two-state solution:

It is true that 1948 was a catastrophe for the Palestinians, and many thousands of them were displaced — voluntarily and involuntarily — as a result of the war; but for many Jews (and many non-Jews) the equation of this to the Holocaust was not only morally appalling but served to minimize a genocide that is still within living memory, and did so in front of an audience that often claims it never happened at all.

Watching Obama, Israelis recognized something they have seen before in the violent and unstable Middle East: idealistic incompetence. That judgment was confirmed by Obama’s failure, also glaringly obvious, to obtain any steps toward normalization to accompany any new settlement freeze, and his passive encouragement of maximalist Palestinian claims even after the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history had spent a year in the Annapolis Process unsuccessfully offering the Palestinians a state.

The result is that “[Obama’s] relationship with the Israelis is now so damaged that Netanyahu probably could not sell further concessions to the Israeli public even if he wanted to (which he most certainly does not).”

The portrait of Obama that emerges in Kerstein’s article has ramifications beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Obama’s idealistic but unrealistic belief that speeches, videos, reset buttons, bows, unclenched fists, and other gestures of goodwill are the key to resolving international disputes is now well-known. His combination of extreme self-regard and absence of actual accomplishments (both before and after he became president) reflects a mindset that is, in Abe Greenwald’s perceptive phrase, anti-decisive (since it is easier to protect a self-portrait by merely voting “present”). He is tough on small allies (Israel, Honduras, Georgia), or those deemed inconsequential (Poland, the Czech Republic, the UK), but endlessly patient and non-confrontational with adversaries. It is not a very presidential picture.

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Another Vote to Spare Rangel

Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has collected tax and ethics scandals the way some people collect stamps (in big batches, that is), sits atop the House Ways and Means Committee because neither the Speaker of the House nor his colleagues have the nerve to kick him out. If you have lost track of the Rangel scandal, the collection includes failure to report $75,000 in rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic on federal and state tax returns, pushing through a tax loophole for an oil-drilling company whose CEO pledged $1 million to a City College of New York school in Rangel’s name, using congressional letterhead to solicit support for his Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York (which also snagged a $1.9 million earmark), using rent-stabilized apartments that evaded the residency requirements, improperly funding trips to the Caribbean in possible violation of House rules, and failing to disclose $1.3M in income.

He’ll be a poster boy for corruption in the 2010 race the way Tom Delay was in 2oo6 and Dan Rostenkowski was in 1994. (The House post-office scandal seems almost quaint, doesn’t it?) But the party in power never sees it that way prospectively; the incumbents’ natural tendency is to circle the wagons and hope it all blows over.

Today we had another episode: Republicans have forced two previous votes on Rangel, and each time he’s been spared from removal as Ways and Means chairman. This time it was Rep. John Carter (R-Texas)  who brought a motion to oust Rangel from his chairmanship. The Democrats came up with a procedural maneuver to table it on a 243-156 vote. (Note that 13 Republicans voted present and six didn’t bother to vote at all. Hmm.) Well, no one expected this to pass. It was simply one more vote for the ads of 2010 and one more headache for any Democrat in an unsafe seat who now has to explain to the electorate those votes sparing Rangel.

And speaking of the electorate, what do they think of all this? Corruption (safe to say Rangel fits in that category) has been moving up on the list of voters’ concerns. According to Rasmussen, more people rank corruption as an important issue than they do the economy or health care.

“Wave” elections tend to have multiple causes. But a common theme has been corruption — which provides added motivation to “throw the bums out.” As we get closer to 2010, Democrats might look back wistfully on the vote today and wonder why they didn’t throw Rangel overboard. And Republicans might be quietly thrilled they didn’t.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has collected tax and ethics scandals the way some people collect stamps (in big batches, that is), sits atop the House Ways and Means Committee because neither the Speaker of the House nor his colleagues have the nerve to kick him out. If you have lost track of the Rangel scandal, the collection includes failure to report $75,000 in rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic on federal and state tax returns, pushing through a tax loophole for an oil-drilling company whose CEO pledged $1 million to a City College of New York school in Rangel’s name, using congressional letterhead to solicit support for his Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York (which also snagged a $1.9 million earmark), using rent-stabilized apartments that evaded the residency requirements, improperly funding trips to the Caribbean in possible violation of House rules, and failing to disclose $1.3M in income.

He’ll be a poster boy for corruption in the 2010 race the way Tom Delay was in 2oo6 and Dan Rostenkowski was in 1994. (The House post-office scandal seems almost quaint, doesn’t it?) But the party in power never sees it that way prospectively; the incumbents’ natural tendency is to circle the wagons and hope it all blows over.

Today we had another episode: Republicans have forced two previous votes on Rangel, and each time he’s been spared from removal as Ways and Means chairman. This time it was Rep. John Carter (R-Texas)  who brought a motion to oust Rangel from his chairmanship. The Democrats came up with a procedural maneuver to table it on a 243-156 vote. (Note that 13 Republicans voted present and six didn’t bother to vote at all. Hmm.) Well, no one expected this to pass. It was simply one more vote for the ads of 2010 and one more headache for any Democrat in an unsafe seat who now has to explain to the electorate those votes sparing Rangel.

And speaking of the electorate, what do they think of all this? Corruption (safe to say Rangel fits in that category) has been moving up on the list of voters’ concerns. According to Rasmussen, more people rank corruption as an important issue than they do the economy or health care.

“Wave” elections tend to have multiple causes. But a common theme has been corruption — which provides added motivation to “throw the bums out.” As we get closer to 2010, Democrats might look back wistfully on the vote today and wonder why they didn’t throw Rangel overboard. And Republicans might be quietly thrilled they didn’t.

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A New Narrative

An “information theme” appears to be emerging from the Obama administration this week: that our operations against al-Qaeda have made real progress, that our counterterrorism intelligence is performing well, and that the numbers of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are small and dwindling. Robert Haddick at Small Wars Journal picked up on this theme yesterday. Citing complementary articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, he discerned an administration narrative according to which the combination of preventive intelligence and stand-off strikes against al-Qaeda operatives is protecting America from terrorist attacks.

Today an AP story flogs the theme further, featuring the additional point that fewer than 100 of al-Qaeda’s “core fighters” remain in Afghanistan, and adding James Jones’s point from his CNN appearance on Sunday that the Taliban aren’t likely to regain control there. Meanwhile, Obama visited the national Counterterrorism Intelligence Center on Tuesday and praised national intelligence for its role in successes against al-Qaeda, “especially in recent months and days.” Factored into these successes, as Haddick points out, are both the breakup of the Najibullah Zazi terrorist plot and the continuing series of “surgical strikes” on terrorists overseas.

That the administration appears to be building its case for an Afghanistan policy shift obliquely, through the synchronized emission of talking points, is one story. Another is the neutrality — or should we say passivity — of the mainstream media as its vehicle. We would imagine such cooperation in vain if a campaign to shape the public narrative had been orchestrated by the Bush administration. But none of the hostile skepticism routinely applied by the media to Bush’s comparatively straightforward policy statements is detectable here.

This is the more remarkable because valid concerns about shifting to a Bidenesque, standoff, counterterrorism posture loom so large. General McChrystal thinks Afghanistan is vulnerable to recapture by Islamist warlords. Failing to secure the country could make the NATO posture untenable in the short run and allow warlords to regain control of it in the long run, thus ceding to Islamists of various stripes a safe haven again. Henry Kissinger, in a very worthwhile essay this week, outlines a larger context. Afghanistan is a key to our relations with its neighbors — Russia, China, India, Iran — and working with them represents an indispensable opportunity. But the equities these nations have in Afghan stability also limit our latitude to act narrowly, by focusing solely on an al-Qaeda manhunt.

No hint of such caveats is marring the accurate transmission of the new Obama administration’s themes. It’s downright refreshing to see the mainstream media assume a “straight reporting” posture and not try to reframe the sitting administration’s message with prejudicial adjectives and allusions. The outcome looks oddly shallow and tendentious, however — less like a judicious assessment from the administration and more like an obvious ploy.

An “information theme” appears to be emerging from the Obama administration this week: that our operations against al-Qaeda have made real progress, that our counterterrorism intelligence is performing well, and that the numbers of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are small and dwindling. Robert Haddick at Small Wars Journal picked up on this theme yesterday. Citing complementary articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, he discerned an administration narrative according to which the combination of preventive intelligence and stand-off strikes against al-Qaeda operatives is protecting America from terrorist attacks.

Today an AP story flogs the theme further, featuring the additional point that fewer than 100 of al-Qaeda’s “core fighters” remain in Afghanistan, and adding James Jones’s point from his CNN appearance on Sunday that the Taliban aren’t likely to regain control there. Meanwhile, Obama visited the national Counterterrorism Intelligence Center on Tuesday and praised national intelligence for its role in successes against al-Qaeda, “especially in recent months and days.” Factored into these successes, as Haddick points out, are both the breakup of the Najibullah Zazi terrorist plot and the continuing series of “surgical strikes” on terrorists overseas.

That the administration appears to be building its case for an Afghanistan policy shift obliquely, through the synchronized emission of talking points, is one story. Another is the neutrality — or should we say passivity — of the mainstream media as its vehicle. We would imagine such cooperation in vain if a campaign to shape the public narrative had been orchestrated by the Bush administration. But none of the hostile skepticism routinely applied by the media to Bush’s comparatively straightforward policy statements is detectable here.

This is the more remarkable because valid concerns about shifting to a Bidenesque, standoff, counterterrorism posture loom so large. General McChrystal thinks Afghanistan is vulnerable to recapture by Islamist warlords. Failing to secure the country could make the NATO posture untenable in the short run and allow warlords to regain control of it in the long run, thus ceding to Islamists of various stripes a safe haven again. Henry Kissinger, in a very worthwhile essay this week, outlines a larger context. Afghanistan is a key to our relations with its neighbors — Russia, China, India, Iran — and working with them represents an indispensable opportunity. But the equities these nations have in Afghan stability also limit our latitude to act narrowly, by focusing solely on an al-Qaeda manhunt.

No hint of such caveats is marring the accurate transmission of the new Obama administration’s themes. It’s downright refreshing to see the mainstream media assume a “straight reporting” posture and not try to reframe the sitting administration’s message with prejudicial adjectives and allusions. The outcome looks oddly shallow and tendentious, however — less like a judicious assessment from the administration and more like an obvious ploy.

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Who Is Making Foreign Policy?

Charles Krauthammer observes:

You have the best generals in the world – McChrystal on counterterrorism and Petraeus on counterinsurgency – the best in the world who know exactly how this is done and who conclude you cannot do a counterterrorism strategy, only counterinsurgency. And all of a sudden he is relying on Biden, Rahm Emanuel, and himself to go against the advice of these experts? Hard to believe.

It is. (And don’t forget David Axelrod.) More than one conservative colleague has remarked upon the inordinate role that advisers who lack the necessary credentials and expertise have in shaping foreign policy in this administration. We are told that the notion of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and undermining Bibi Netanyahu among Israeli voters was the brainchild of Emanuel and Axelrod. Axelrod in particular is regularly sent out to opine on foreign policy on the TV talk shows and plays a central role both at internal meetings and with outside groups to whom the administration is trying to pitch its foreign-policy gambits.

There are several potential explanations — a weak group of advisers who are supposed to have national-security portfolios, a reliance by the president on a close-knit set of aides, and, most disturbingly, the predilection of seeing all national-security issues through the prism of domestic policies. (And then there is the frightening possibility that Obama considers Biden, who hasn’t gotten a national-security issue right in 30 years, an “expert.”)

How much will it cost while we need to pay for ObamaCare? Don’t we need the Left to get through our agenda? How can we win the 2012 election if we are bogged down in Afghanistan? These seem to be the determining factors — as the president himself often articulates. So naturally, the political gurus rather than the national-security gurus have the upper hand. It’s not surprising then that issues get prolonged, the fights take place in the media, and horse-trading and compromising take precedence over smart strategic analysis. It is all the tell-tale sign of domestic pols trying to shove national-security policy-making into the meat grinder of domestic politics. No wonder the American public trusts the military rather than the president on Afghanistan — at least the generals are focused on the merits, not the politics.

Charles Krauthammer observes:

You have the best generals in the world – McChrystal on counterterrorism and Petraeus on counterinsurgency – the best in the world who know exactly how this is done and who conclude you cannot do a counterterrorism strategy, only counterinsurgency. And all of a sudden he is relying on Biden, Rahm Emanuel, and himself to go against the advice of these experts? Hard to believe.

It is. (And don’t forget David Axelrod.) More than one conservative colleague has remarked upon the inordinate role that advisers who lack the necessary credentials and expertise have in shaping foreign policy in this administration. We are told that the notion of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and undermining Bibi Netanyahu among Israeli voters was the brainchild of Emanuel and Axelrod. Axelrod in particular is regularly sent out to opine on foreign policy on the TV talk shows and plays a central role both at internal meetings and with outside groups to whom the administration is trying to pitch its foreign-policy gambits.

There are several potential explanations — a weak group of advisers who are supposed to have national-security portfolios, a reliance by the president on a close-knit set of aides, and, most disturbingly, the predilection of seeing all national-security issues through the prism of domestic policies. (And then there is the frightening possibility that Obama considers Biden, who hasn’t gotten a national-security issue right in 30 years, an “expert.”)

How much will it cost while we need to pay for ObamaCare? Don’t we need the Left to get through our agenda? How can we win the 2012 election if we are bogged down in Afghanistan? These seem to be the determining factors — as the president himself often articulates. So naturally, the political gurus rather than the national-security gurus have the upper hand. It’s not surprising then that issues get prolonged, the fights take place in the media, and horse-trading and compromising take precedence over smart strategic analysis. It is all the tell-tale sign of domestic pols trying to shove national-security policy-making into the meat grinder of domestic politics. No wonder the American public trusts the military rather than the president on Afghanistan — at least the generals are focused on the merits, not the politics.

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Hey, a New Deadline!

James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, told lawmakers yesterday that the administration will know whether Iran is serious about nuclear diplomacy by the end of this month. As silly as yet another deadline is, I’d take it in a heartbeat — if were to be honored.

The problem is the Obama administration has a near magical ability to stretch the pre-decision phase of any policy challenge into infinity. This president is not indecisive; he’s anti-decisive. It’s as if locking himself into this or that position would leave an intolerable blemish on that façade of satisfied ambivalence that people have thankfully stopped calling a presidential temperament.

Obama has coasted along by declaring every fork in the road a false choice and then walking straight into the middle of nowhere. Even when he’s made choices, he’s been sure to keep the path to indecision clear and accessible. He closed Guantanamo Bay without closing it and ended the Iraq war without ending it. He committed himself to Afghanistan without committing himself to Afghanistan. When he scrapped missile-defense assets in Central Europe, he was quick to point out that he was actually, somehow, doing no such thing. He gave Iran a September deadline to show it was serious about discussing nukes, and when the regime in response sent him a few lunatic pages about paradise on Earth, Obama decided to talk after September anyway.

It’s gotten to the point where an Obama policy decision would be less interesting for its contents than for its having been made at all.

There’s a certain crazy symmetry at work now. For Tehran is also expert at seeming to mull over a point indefinitely. That is how Iranians negotiate: representatives pretend to be forever considering an offer while their centrifuges spin and missiles are assembled. If only Obama’s endless deliberation were as strategic.

James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, told lawmakers yesterday that the administration will know whether Iran is serious about nuclear diplomacy by the end of this month. As silly as yet another deadline is, I’d take it in a heartbeat — if were to be honored.

The problem is the Obama administration has a near magical ability to stretch the pre-decision phase of any policy challenge into infinity. This president is not indecisive; he’s anti-decisive. It’s as if locking himself into this or that position would leave an intolerable blemish on that façade of satisfied ambivalence that people have thankfully stopped calling a presidential temperament.

Obama has coasted along by declaring every fork in the road a false choice and then walking straight into the middle of nowhere. Even when he’s made choices, he’s been sure to keep the path to indecision clear and accessible. He closed Guantanamo Bay without closing it and ended the Iraq war without ending it. He committed himself to Afghanistan without committing himself to Afghanistan. When he scrapped missile-defense assets in Central Europe, he was quick to point out that he was actually, somehow, doing no such thing. He gave Iran a September deadline to show it was serious about discussing nukes, and when the regime in response sent him a few lunatic pages about paradise on Earth, Obama decided to talk after September anyway.

It’s gotten to the point where an Obama policy decision would be less interesting for its contents than for its having been made at all.

There’s a certain crazy symmetry at work now. For Tehran is also expert at seeming to mull over a point indefinitely. That is how Iranians negotiate: representatives pretend to be forever considering an offer while their centrifuges spin and missiles are assembled. If only Obama’s endless deliberation were as strategic.

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Feminists, Take Note

In Israel, a woman has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In Gaza, women have been banned from riding on motorcycles.

In Israel, a woman has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In Gaza, women have been banned from riding on motorcycles.

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Re: Iran Isn’t Stalinist Russia

Michael Totten has rightly flagged Fareed Zakaria’s argument that Iran can be contained for its flaws. One should add two points to Michael’s argument.

First, regarding the likelihood of a massive upsurge of popular support for the regime if Iran were attacked: whether it is likely or not, it is largely irrelevant, in my view. If a military strike is successful in degrading the nuclear program, one can afford a nationalist backlash.

Second, and more important, Zakaria’s statement that “a massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime” is likely because this is what “happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government” is simply inaccurate.

While Iranians are unlikely to clap while they die under foreign bombardment, there are many precedents of nationalist backlash being short-lived and eventually turning against the regime. One needs only look at Serbia in 1999 and Argentina in 1982. In both instances, an authoritarian government dragged the nation into a war propped up by nationalist revanchism — Kosovo in 1999, the Falklands in 1982. I doubt Serbs loved the 78 days of NATO aerial bombing — they are still bitter today! Similarly, Argentineans by and large still consider the Falklands to be their own. But the military defeat of their authoritarian regimes, far from enhancing those regimes’ popularity, led to their downfall. Both countries have experienced a long season of democracy since then. While differences still exist between London and Buenos Aires, and between Belgrade and NATO, the odious regimes that triggered those wars are gone. And good riddance for their citizens!

To the list of examples, one could add Iraq in 1991. As soon as the guns fell silent, Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south rose up against the hated dictator and his regime. Their failure — thanks to the American decision to stand by and let them be crushed — cemented their distrust for America 12 years later. Regardless, the point is clear: the oppressed subjects of vanquished dictators may not love the foreign victor, but neither will they forgive their oppressors. And a military defeat exposes a despotic regime to its own weakness and vulnerability like nothing else does.

If Iran’s nuclear program were to be successfully targeted by military force, Iranians may not be expected to wrap themselves up in American or Israeli flags, no doubt. But it is questionable whether they will renew their pledge to the Islamic Republic and its murderous ideology.

Michael Totten has rightly flagged Fareed Zakaria’s argument that Iran can be contained for its flaws. One should add two points to Michael’s argument.

First, regarding the likelihood of a massive upsurge of popular support for the regime if Iran were attacked: whether it is likely or not, it is largely irrelevant, in my view. If a military strike is successful in degrading the nuclear program, one can afford a nationalist backlash.

Second, and more important, Zakaria’s statement that “a massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime” is likely because this is what “happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government” is simply inaccurate.

While Iranians are unlikely to clap while they die under foreign bombardment, there are many precedents of nationalist backlash being short-lived and eventually turning against the regime. One needs only look at Serbia in 1999 and Argentina in 1982. In both instances, an authoritarian government dragged the nation into a war propped up by nationalist revanchism — Kosovo in 1999, the Falklands in 1982. I doubt Serbs loved the 78 days of NATO aerial bombing — they are still bitter today! Similarly, Argentineans by and large still consider the Falklands to be their own. But the military defeat of their authoritarian regimes, far from enhancing those regimes’ popularity, led to their downfall. Both countries have experienced a long season of democracy since then. While differences still exist between London and Buenos Aires, and between Belgrade and NATO, the odious regimes that triggered those wars are gone. And good riddance for their citizens!

To the list of examples, one could add Iraq in 1991. As soon as the guns fell silent, Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south rose up against the hated dictator and his regime. Their failure — thanks to the American decision to stand by and let them be crushed — cemented their distrust for America 12 years later. Regardless, the point is clear: the oppressed subjects of vanquished dictators may not love the foreign victor, but neither will they forgive their oppressors. And a military defeat exposes a despotic regime to its own weakness and vulnerability like nothing else does.

If Iran’s nuclear program were to be successfully targeted by military force, Iranians may not be expected to wrap themselves up in American or Israeli flags, no doubt. But it is questionable whether they will renew their pledge to the Islamic Republic and its murderous ideology.

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Compare and Contrast

As we wend our way through the first year of the Obama administration, it is hard not to notice a stark contrast in style between the American president and another democratic leader who has been in power for almost the same amount of time: Binyamin Netanyahu. The political trajectories of the two men have been almost perfectly opposite. Obama started off his presidency blessed by great popularity only to see his fortunes plummet, while Netanyahu began under a cloud of public uncertainty and suspicion yet today enjoys healthy public-approval numbers. More than anything else, the leadership styles of the two men explain their divergent fortunes.

The most obvious difference between the two is in the level of public exposure that each has pursued. Obama seeks to place himself in the headlines of newspapers and to lead the television news broadcasts on a daily basis, achieving an omnipresence unprecedented in American politics. He has given scores of speeches, each heralded to be of great consequence to the nation and the world. He has staked much of his presidential power on the sheer force of his personality, giving little consideration to the sustainability of such a strategy or whether so much narcissistic pageantry is becoming to a national leader. His public pronouncements are astonishingly self-absorbed: to take one example, in their speeches to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen, the First Couple used the first-person pronoun 70 times in 89 sentences.

Obama’s permanent publicity blitz has rendered his pronouncements banal and is helping to create an impression that he is all talk, no results. Who can recall with any precision what the president says from one day to the next? Why bother trying when another speech is moments away? CBS News’ White House correspondent noted on July 13 that Obama had already delivered his 200th speech — on his 177th day in office.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

As we wend our way through the first year of the Obama administration, it is hard not to notice a stark contrast in style between the American president and another democratic leader who has been in power for almost the same amount of time: Binyamin Netanyahu. The political trajectories of the two men have been almost perfectly opposite. Obama started off his presidency blessed by great popularity only to see his fortunes plummet, while Netanyahu began under a cloud of public uncertainty and suspicion yet today enjoys healthy public-approval numbers. More than anything else, the leadership styles of the two men explain their divergent fortunes.

The most obvious difference between the two is in the level of public exposure that each has pursued. Obama seeks to place himself in the headlines of newspapers and to lead the television news broadcasts on a daily basis, achieving an omnipresence unprecedented in American politics. He has given scores of speeches, each heralded to be of great consequence to the nation and the world. He has staked much of his presidential power on the sheer force of his personality, giving little consideration to the sustainability of such a strategy or whether so much narcissistic pageantry is becoming to a national leader. His public pronouncements are astonishingly self-absorbed: to take one example, in their speeches to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen, the First Couple used the first-person pronoun 70 times in 89 sentences.

Obama’s permanent publicity blitz has rendered his pronouncements banal and is helping to create an impression that he is all talk, no results. Who can recall with any precision what the president says from one day to the next? Why bother trying when another speech is moments away? CBS News’ White House correspondent noted on July 13 that Obama had already delivered his 200th speech — on his 177th day in office.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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Democrats Lose Edge

Gallup shows that Congressional Democrats have lost their advantage over Republicans, less than a year after last rites were being performed over the GOP:

For the second time this year, Gallup polling shows the Republicans within single digits of the Democrats in the congressional voting preferences of registered voters. That’s a distinct shift away from the larger Democratic leads seen since the Democrats won back control of Congress in 2006, and a sign that if the 2010 elections were held today, Republicans would likely outperform Democrats, given usual turnout patterns. The challenge for congressional Democrats is underscored by today’s low approval of Congress. While it is far too early to say whether these indicators spell real trouble for the Democrats in 2010, they could provide some encouragement to the Republicans.

The Democrats’ lead in generic polling is only 2 points, within the margin of error. Independents favor Republicans by a 45 to 36 percent margin. And the approval rating for Congress has slid to 21 percent (who are those people?). Seventy-two percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen has for some time shown Republicans’ pulling even or ahead in generic polling. (Rasmussen uses likely voters, while Gallup tracks national adults.)

All this suggests that the era of Democratic dominance may be in jeopardy. At the very least, it’s safe to conclude that one-party, liberal governance has not worked out as planned for the Democrats.

Gallup shows that Congressional Democrats have lost their advantage over Republicans, less than a year after last rites were being performed over the GOP:

For the second time this year, Gallup polling shows the Republicans within single digits of the Democrats in the congressional voting preferences of registered voters. That’s a distinct shift away from the larger Democratic leads seen since the Democrats won back control of Congress in 2006, and a sign that if the 2010 elections were held today, Republicans would likely outperform Democrats, given usual turnout patterns. The challenge for congressional Democrats is underscored by today’s low approval of Congress. While it is far too early to say whether these indicators spell real trouble for the Democrats in 2010, they could provide some encouragement to the Republicans.

The Democrats’ lead in generic polling is only 2 points, within the margin of error. Independents favor Republicans by a 45 to 36 percent margin. And the approval rating for Congress has slid to 21 percent (who are those people?). Seventy-two percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen has for some time shown Republicans’ pulling even or ahead in generic polling. (Rasmussen uses likely voters, while Gallup tracks national adults.)

All this suggests that the era of Democratic dominance may be in jeopardy. At the very least, it’s safe to conclude that one-party, liberal governance has not worked out as planned for the Democrats.

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Michael Oren on Holocaust Denial and the Goldstone Report

Michael Oren’s must-read column is both a defense of his prime minister’s UN speech (as a necessary rebuttal to Holocaust denial) and an insightful explanation as to why the Goldstone report is so insidious. And, yes, the two are very much related.

On Bibi Netanyahu’s UN speech, Oren takes exception to those in Israel who didn’t care for the notion that its prime minister should stoop to, in effect, debating the “Iranian thug”:

Perhaps because they were raised in a society suffused with Holocaust consciousness, some Israelis might be unaware of the extent of ignorance of the Final Solution throughout the world, even in the United States, and especially among youth. Confronted with the enormity of the horror, many young people today–much like American Jewish leaders in 1942–react with incredulousness, rendering them susceptible to denial. Millions of Muslims, moreover, subscribe to the syllogism: If Israel was created by Europeans out of Holocaust guilt, and the Holocaust never occurred, then Israel’s existence is unjust. Where better than the General Assembly, a body established in response to World War II and affording a global audience, to reaffirm the veracity of an event now so widely questioned if not refuted?

But it is in taking on the Goldstone report that Oren provides the most critical analysis. He explains that the report ignored Hamas’s effort to deploy women and children as human shields (in order to maximize casualties and their own vicious propaganda campaign) and instead “handpicked Hamas witnesses, several of them senior commanders disguised as civilians, and uncritically accepted their testimony. Inexorably, the report, which presumed Israel’s guilt, condemned the Jewish state for crimes against humanity and for mounting a premeditated campaign against Gaza civilians.” This is, he explains, worse than Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denial act:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

And that brings us once again to the timid and equivocating U.S. response to the Goldstone report. Surely someone in the administration must understand Oren’s central point — that the report strikes at the Jewish state’s right to exist and defend itself. Or is it that all facts and all positions are subject to the Obama split-the-baby school of foreign policy? “Well, yes, the Goldstone report is bad, but we don’t want to aggravate the Palestinians” is the formulation that seems to have prevailed. Forget for a moment that it is not the “Palestinians” who might be most aggrieved by a forceful condemnation of the Goldstone report, but Hamas. (We are still in favor of undermining and delegitimizing Hamas, right? Maybe not so much.)

The Goldstone report may come before the Security Council today. If so, we will see how the U.S. reacts and whether we finally get a fulsome response. It nevertheless remains deeply disturbing that the U.S. has tried to slide by with saying and doing as little as possible on this latest round of Israel-bashing. It is part of a disastrous and morally offensive strategy — distance ourselves from Israel, downplay threats to the Jewish state, ingratiate ourselves with Israel’s foes, and fudge historical events to fit the desired narrative (i.e., both sides are equally to blame). Let’s see if the Obama team has learned anything from the collapse of its settlement gambit (the most vivid example of this approach) and can step back from the cliff of moral equivalence.

Michael Oren’s must-read column is both a defense of his prime minister’s UN speech (as a necessary rebuttal to Holocaust denial) and an insightful explanation as to why the Goldstone report is so insidious. And, yes, the two are very much related.

On Bibi Netanyahu’s UN speech, Oren takes exception to those in Israel who didn’t care for the notion that its prime minister should stoop to, in effect, debating the “Iranian thug”:

Perhaps because they were raised in a society suffused with Holocaust consciousness, some Israelis might be unaware of the extent of ignorance of the Final Solution throughout the world, even in the United States, and especially among youth. Confronted with the enormity of the horror, many young people today–much like American Jewish leaders in 1942–react with incredulousness, rendering them susceptible to denial. Millions of Muslims, moreover, subscribe to the syllogism: If Israel was created by Europeans out of Holocaust guilt, and the Holocaust never occurred, then Israel’s existence is unjust. Where better than the General Assembly, a body established in response to World War II and affording a global audience, to reaffirm the veracity of an event now so widely questioned if not refuted?

But it is in taking on the Goldstone report that Oren provides the most critical analysis. He explains that the report ignored Hamas’s effort to deploy women and children as human shields (in order to maximize casualties and their own vicious propaganda campaign) and instead “handpicked Hamas witnesses, several of them senior commanders disguised as civilians, and uncritically accepted their testimony. Inexorably, the report, which presumed Israel’s guilt, condemned the Jewish state for crimes against humanity and for mounting a premeditated campaign against Gaza civilians.” This is, he explains, worse than Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denial act:

The Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves. If a country can be pummeled by thousands of rockets and still not be justified in protecting its inhabitants, then at issue is not the methods by which that country survives but whether it can survive at all. But more insidiously, the report does not only hamstring Israel; it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents–as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.

And that brings us once again to the timid and equivocating U.S. response to the Goldstone report. Surely someone in the administration must understand Oren’s central point — that the report strikes at the Jewish state’s right to exist and defend itself. Or is it that all facts and all positions are subject to the Obama split-the-baby school of foreign policy? “Well, yes, the Goldstone report is bad, but we don’t want to aggravate the Palestinians” is the formulation that seems to have prevailed. Forget for a moment that it is not the “Palestinians” who might be most aggrieved by a forceful condemnation of the Goldstone report, but Hamas. (We are still in favor of undermining and delegitimizing Hamas, right? Maybe not so much.)

The Goldstone report may come before the Security Council today. If so, we will see how the U.S. reacts and whether we finally get a fulsome response. It nevertheless remains deeply disturbing that the U.S. has tried to slide by with saying and doing as little as possible on this latest round of Israel-bashing. It is part of a disastrous and morally offensive strategy — distance ourselves from Israel, downplay threats to the Jewish state, ingratiate ourselves with Israel’s foes, and fudge historical events to fit the desired narrative (i.e., both sides are equally to blame). Let’s see if the Obama team has learned anything from the collapse of its settlement gambit (the most vivid example of this approach) and can step back from the cliff of moral equivalence.

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The New Indulgences

Earlier this year, it was reported in the online journal “spiked” that Britain’s energy and climate-change minister, Ed Miliband, joined by the Right Reverend James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, and the Right Reverend Dr. Richard Chartres, bishop of London, issued a statement calling for a “carbon fast” during the then-approaching Lenten season. Evidently, these Guardians of the Faith, having looked deeply into their souls – and the souls of their fellow Brits – felt that the accumulated weight of the sin of “carbon emission” had grown so overwhelming that divine recompense was called for. For his part, Miliband’s sin-offering entailed (among other unspecified sacrifices) abstaining from “driving short distances into town.” Bishop Jones characterized as a “moral imperative” the reduction of carbon consumption by those “who emit more than our fair share of carbon.” To my knowledge, the Right Reverend Jones offered no specific ecclesiastical guidance on how one’s “fair share” of carbon is to be calculated.

It has been quite some time — to the best of my knowledge — since the Church of England has had much to say about the expiation of sin, so the pronouncements of the good bishops of Liverpool and of London may, perhaps, reflect a new conception of sin, viz. environmental sin. It is still an evolving concept, but evidently paths of atonement and expiation are already being blazed by the shepherds of the Church (and, it should be noted, of other churches as well).

In addition to foregoing “short drives,” a more demonstrative — if not environmentally efficacious — ritual is also available to the carbon sinner in the form of “carbon offsets.”  These are modern-day counterparts to the “indulgences” of old that so agitated Martin Luther and legions of those faithful who were to become Protestants. Granted, this form of expiation is available only to the large corporate sinner; the common sinner will — for now — have to make do with more modest measures: rigorous recycling regimens, reusable forms of this-and-that, abstention from meat, switching to cloth diapers, and the like. (This may yet change. Is it too much to hope that the same financial minds who conceived of complex derivative securities might find a way of syndicating carbon offsets, dividing and redividing them into ever smaller chunks and making them available to the average investor-sinner?)

Be that as it may, just knowing that carbon offsets are available and are, as I write, laying up a treasury in heaven against which we — that most accursed of species — may draw on to atone for the original sin of inhabiting this planet and consuming its resources fills me with a sense of awe and renews my appreciation of the magisterial power of simple faith.

Earlier this year, it was reported in the online journal “spiked” that Britain’s energy and climate-change minister, Ed Miliband, joined by the Right Reverend James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, and the Right Reverend Dr. Richard Chartres, bishop of London, issued a statement calling for a “carbon fast” during the then-approaching Lenten season. Evidently, these Guardians of the Faith, having looked deeply into their souls – and the souls of their fellow Brits – felt that the accumulated weight of the sin of “carbon emission” had grown so overwhelming that divine recompense was called for. For his part, Miliband’s sin-offering entailed (among other unspecified sacrifices) abstaining from “driving short distances into town.” Bishop Jones characterized as a “moral imperative” the reduction of carbon consumption by those “who emit more than our fair share of carbon.” To my knowledge, the Right Reverend Jones offered no specific ecclesiastical guidance on how one’s “fair share” of carbon is to be calculated.

It has been quite some time — to the best of my knowledge — since the Church of England has had much to say about the expiation of sin, so the pronouncements of the good bishops of Liverpool and of London may, perhaps, reflect a new conception of sin, viz. environmental sin. It is still an evolving concept, but evidently paths of atonement and expiation are already being blazed by the shepherds of the Church (and, it should be noted, of other churches as well).

In addition to foregoing “short drives,” a more demonstrative — if not environmentally efficacious — ritual is also available to the carbon sinner in the form of “carbon offsets.”  These are modern-day counterparts to the “indulgences” of old that so agitated Martin Luther and legions of those faithful who were to become Protestants. Granted, this form of expiation is available only to the large corporate sinner; the common sinner will — for now — have to make do with more modest measures: rigorous recycling regimens, reusable forms of this-and-that, abstention from meat, switching to cloth diapers, and the like. (This may yet change. Is it too much to hope that the same financial minds who conceived of complex derivative securities might find a way of syndicating carbon offsets, dividing and redividing them into ever smaller chunks and making them available to the average investor-sinner?)

Be that as it may, just knowing that carbon offsets are available and are, as I write, laying up a treasury in heaven against which we — that most accursed of species — may draw on to atone for the original sin of inhabiting this planet and consuming its resources fills me with a sense of awe and renews my appreciation of the magisterial power of simple faith.

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Iran Isn’t Stalinist Russia

In the October 12 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria makes a case for containing rather than confronting Iran, partly because he expects “a massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime” if its nuclear-weapons facilities are attacked by the U.S. or Israel. “This happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government,” he writes.

As a precedent, he cites how Russians rallied to Stalin when Germany invaded in 1941. But of course Russians rallied to Stalin. No viable political opposition existed as it does today in Iran, and besides: they were attacked by the Nazis. The Germans weren’t liberators. Russia was not going to be treated better by foreign totalitarians than by its own. Even the U.S. and Britain backed Stalinist Russia under those circumstances.

The people of Afghanistan, on the other hand, were euphoric when NATO demolished the Taliban regime in 2001. The Taliban has since reconstituted itself as a terrorist and insurgent militia, but its approval rating among Afghan civilians is by some reports as miserable as 6 percent. Support for the U.S. and NATO has slipped recently, but it’s still telling that, according to an ABC News poll of public opinion, 58 percent still say the Taliban is the greatest threat to security, while only 8 percent say the same of the United States. Read More

In the October 12 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria makes a case for containing rather than confronting Iran, partly because he expects “a massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime” if its nuclear-weapons facilities are attacked by the U.S. or Israel. “This happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government,” he writes.

As a precedent, he cites how Russians rallied to Stalin when Germany invaded in 1941. But of course Russians rallied to Stalin. No viable political opposition existed as it does today in Iran, and besides: they were attacked by the Nazis. The Germans weren’t liberators. Russia was not going to be treated better by foreign totalitarians than by its own. Even the U.S. and Britain backed Stalinist Russia under those circumstances.

The people of Afghanistan, on the other hand, were euphoric when NATO demolished the Taliban regime in 2001. The Taliban has since reconstituted itself as a terrorist and insurgent militia, but its approval rating among Afghan civilians is by some reports as miserable as 6 percent. Support for the U.S. and NATO has slipped recently, but it’s still telling that, according to an ABC News poll of public opinion, 58 percent still say the Taliban is the greatest threat to security, while only 8 percent say the same of the United States.

Very few Iraqis outside the relatively small Sunni community threw their support behind Saddam Hussein when President Bill Clinton bombed Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities in 1998 or when President George W. Bush finished off his Baath party regime once and for all in 2003. Meanwhile, the various terrorist and insurgent militias that later rose up were almost exclusively sectarian and Islamist, not Baathist.

Even the Shia of south Lebanon — today’s Hezbollah supporters — initially hailed the Israelis as liberators in 1982 when they invaded to oust Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization from its state-within-a-state along the border and in West Beirut. Only later, when the Israelis did not leave as expected, did the prototype of Hezbollah begin to take shape.

An insurgency would probably break out in Iran, too, if it were invaded and occupied. Not that it matters — no one in the U.S. or Israel is pushing for an invasion and occupation of Iran. Destroying the regime’s nuclear-weapons facilities from the skies wouldn’t require anything like that.

Zakaria quotes Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, who says, “If there were an attack, all of us would have to come out the next day and support the government. It would be the worst scenario for the opposition.”

Some dissidents feel that way; others don’t.

Iranians, writer and dissident Kianoosh Sanjari told me when I met him in Iraq after he was released from the dungeon of Evin Prison, “are praying for an external outside power to do something for them and get rid of the mullahs. Personally, it’s not acceptable for me if the United States crosses the Iranian border. I like the independence of Iran and respect the independence of my country. But my generation doesn’t care about this.”

Hossein Khomeini, grandson of the Islamic Republic’s first “supreme guide,” Ruhollah Khomeini, said “Bring in the 82nd Airborne” to Christopher Hitchens. The younger Khomeini isn’t a rebel in North Tehran’s liberal enclave. He, like his late grandfather, is a cleric. “I think it was the matter-of-factness of the reply that impressed me the most,” Hitchens said about Khomeini’s call for American intervention. “He spoke as if talking of the obvious and the uncontroversial.”

I’m not saying Zakaria and the dissident he quotes are entirely wrong. I, too, know Iranians who hate the regime and say they’ll be furious if any country attacks for any reason. Public opinion in Iran is all over the place, even among those who don’t like the government. Some probably would react the way Zakaria warns, but others would not.

Iran’s proxy militias in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq might ignite wars in three countries if their patron regime comes under attack, and they might cause even more trouble later if Tehran places them under a nuclear umbrella. How, or even whether, to stop Iran from acquiring the world’s worst weapons may be the most momentous decision President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ever make. Every option is terrible.

And thanks to the deadly years-long insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans are more averse to using military force than we were shortly after September 11, 2001. But let’s not learn the wrong lessons from what has happened since then. Middle Eastern countries tend to produce insurgencies against foreign-occupation soldiers, but that’s not at all the same thing as dissidents throwing their support behind a homegrown dictatorship that tortured, raped, and murdered them yesterday.

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It’s More Than Greg Craig

Greg Craig is being set up as the “fall guy” on Guantanamo, according to a report by Josh Gerstein in Politico. It’s not just Craig, writes Gerstein:

Instead, it was a widespread breakdown on the political, legislative, policy and planning fronts that is contributing to what is shaping up as one of Obama’s most high-profile setbacks. . . . The White House misread the public mood — as roughly half of Americans surveyed say they disagree with Obama’s approach. A strong element of NIMBY-ism permeates those results, as Americans say they don’t want the prisoners in their backyards.

And even within Washington, the Obama team “mistook that political consensus from the campaign trail for a deep commitment.” Not surprisingly, a former Bush official on background offers that the Obami were victims of their own “Kool-Aid” consumption — “that everybody, or most people, at Guantanamo were innocent and shouldn’t be there, and the Bush administration was not working very hard to resolve these issues, and that the issues were fairly easy to resolve once adults who were really committed to doing something about it in charge.” Well, the Bush team deserves its “We told you so.”

All in all, it’s a frightful picture of the Obama administration – naive, arrogant, and unprepared. They have learned (or have they really not?) that treating a serious national security concern as a campaign issue is a serious error. And one naturally worries if this dangerous combination of arrogance, insertion of domestic political objectives into national-security issues, ideological rigidity, and lack of preparation isn’t also at the heart of so many other national-security issues (e.g., the Israeli settlement fetish, the backing of Manuel Zelaya, the yanking of missile-defense sites, the agonizing over Afghanistan, and the inertia on Iran). One assumes that a certain level of professionalism and common sense exists among advisers and a man who has made it all the way to the White House. They must know what they are doing, right? Well, maybe not.

Greg Craig is being set up as the “fall guy” on Guantanamo, according to a report by Josh Gerstein in Politico. It’s not just Craig, writes Gerstein:

Instead, it was a widespread breakdown on the political, legislative, policy and planning fronts that is contributing to what is shaping up as one of Obama’s most high-profile setbacks. . . . The White House misread the public mood — as roughly half of Americans surveyed say they disagree with Obama’s approach. A strong element of NIMBY-ism permeates those results, as Americans say they don’t want the prisoners in their backyards.

And even within Washington, the Obama team “mistook that political consensus from the campaign trail for a deep commitment.” Not surprisingly, a former Bush official on background offers that the Obami were victims of their own “Kool-Aid” consumption — “that everybody, or most people, at Guantanamo were innocent and shouldn’t be there, and the Bush administration was not working very hard to resolve these issues, and that the issues were fairly easy to resolve once adults who were really committed to doing something about it in charge.” Well, the Bush team deserves its “We told you so.”

All in all, it’s a frightful picture of the Obama administration – naive, arrogant, and unprepared. They have learned (or have they really not?) that treating a serious national security concern as a campaign issue is a serious error. And one naturally worries if this dangerous combination of arrogance, insertion of domestic political objectives into national-security issues, ideological rigidity, and lack of preparation isn’t also at the heart of so many other national-security issues (e.g., the Israeli settlement fetish, the backing of Manuel Zelaya, the yanking of missile-defense sites, the agonizing over Afghanistan, and the inertia on Iran). One assumes that a certain level of professionalism and common sense exists among advisers and a man who has made it all the way to the White House. They must know what they are doing, right? Well, maybe not.

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Czars Need Not Appear

Sen. Russ Feingold deserves some credit. Unlike colleagues such as Sen. Pat Leahy, whose criticism of the “imperial presidency” vanished with a new White House occupant, Feingold is going after the Obama administration for its reliance on “czars” not subject to congressional oversight or confirmation. Feingold decided to hold a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, but alas the administration stiffed him and refused to send anyone to appear in it. After all, czars don’t have to answer to Congress, and apparently neither does anyone else in the administration. Feingold’s opening comments at the hearing say it all:

The White House decided not to accept my invitation to send a witness to this hearing to explain its position on the constitutional issues we will address today. That’s unfortunate. It’s also a bit ironic since one of the concerns that has been raised about these officials is that they will thwart congressional oversight of the Executive Branch.

But that’s par for the course. No ACORN investigation. The Obami don’t have to. No cooperation with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on its investigation of the dismissal of the New Black Panther case. Who’s going to make them? Allow Gen. Stanley McChrystal to testify, as his predecessors did, before Congress? Not a chance. All that accountability and transparency we were promised hasn’t really panned out. And aside from Feingold, it’s now quite clear, if it wasn’t before, that the fuss about a “unitary executive” and “shredding the Constitution” — buzzwords for an overreaching administration that showed insufficient respect for the Congress – was just another excuse (as if they needed one) to club the Bush administration.

Sen. Russ Feingold deserves some credit. Unlike colleagues such as Sen. Pat Leahy, whose criticism of the “imperial presidency” vanished with a new White House occupant, Feingold is going after the Obama administration for its reliance on “czars” not subject to congressional oversight or confirmation. Feingold decided to hold a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, but alas the administration stiffed him and refused to send anyone to appear in it. After all, czars don’t have to answer to Congress, and apparently neither does anyone else in the administration. Feingold’s opening comments at the hearing say it all:

The White House decided not to accept my invitation to send a witness to this hearing to explain its position on the constitutional issues we will address today. That’s unfortunate. It’s also a bit ironic since one of the concerns that has been raised about these officials is that they will thwart congressional oversight of the Executive Branch.

But that’s par for the course. No ACORN investigation. The Obami don’t have to. No cooperation with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on its investigation of the dismissal of the New Black Panther case. Who’s going to make them? Allow Gen. Stanley McChrystal to testify, as his predecessors did, before Congress? Not a chance. All that accountability and transparency we were promised hasn’t really panned out. And aside from Feingold, it’s now quite clear, if it wasn’t before, that the fuss about a “unitary executive” and “shredding the Constitution” — buzzwords for an overreaching administration that showed insufficient respect for the Congress – was just another excuse (as if they needed one) to club the Bush administration.

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Americans Think There Is One Thing Worse Than Bombing Iran

The respected Pew Research Center released a national survey yesterday finding that Americans: (a) approve of negotiating with Iran (61-28); (b) think such talks will fail (64-22); (c) favor tougher economic sanctions (78-12); (d) believe such sanctions will not get Iran to drop its nuclear program (56-32); and (e) think it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action against Iran, than it is to avoid a military conflict (61-24).

Over at the New Republic, Michael Crowley’s reaction was “Woah.” He found the poll “very surprising, and frankly even a little hard to believe”:

At first I wondered if this was a result of responses from people who haven’t been paying much attention, and thus may not appreciate the consequences of attacking Iran. But no: The poll also finds that “comparable majorities of those who have heard a lot about the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program (64%), and those have heard little or nothing about this (59%), say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means using military force.”

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey summarized the “rather remarkable consensus”:

Direct talks, tougher negotiations, and the use of force all get relatively consistent support from Americans regardless of political affiliation. It shows a rather remarkable consensus that supports Barack Obama on the question of diplomacy, but opposes the use of appeasement and shows far less optimism than the administration has thus far shown for its attempts to open Iran to talks.

The Pew poll tracks similar results recently found by Fox News (finding majorities for U.S. military action among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats) and by the American Jewish Committee (finding 56 percent support among American Jews).

The American people seem to have a more sophisticated strategic and tactical understanding than the administration. They would be pleased if the problem of Iran could be solved by “talks” or by “sanctions,” but are unimpressed by the arsenal of adjectives used to accompany such solutions (with talks always described as “tough and direct” and sanctions always described as “crippling” in order to give the content-less nouns a rhetorical force they do not have on their own).

The public is realistic about the prospects for the “tough” talks and “crippling” sanctions solving anything and unwilling to see the process end with a nuclear-armed Iran. Ironically, if Iran believed that the Obama administration might actually entertain military action, talks might work. But as long as the Iranians believe the talks are motivated by Obama’s increasingly obvious desire to avoid fighting even a self-declared “war of necessity” if it would interfere with health care, climate change, and other issues closer to his heart, the chances for talks succeeding are nil.

The respected Pew Research Center released a national survey yesterday finding that Americans: (a) approve of negotiating with Iran (61-28); (b) think such talks will fail (64-22); (c) favor tougher economic sanctions (78-12); (d) believe such sanctions will not get Iran to drop its nuclear program (56-32); and (e) think it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action against Iran, than it is to avoid a military conflict (61-24).

Over at the New Republic, Michael Crowley’s reaction was “Woah.” He found the poll “very surprising, and frankly even a little hard to believe”:

At first I wondered if this was a result of responses from people who haven’t been paying much attention, and thus may not appreciate the consequences of attacking Iran. But no: The poll also finds that “comparable majorities of those who have heard a lot about the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program (64%), and those have heard little or nothing about this (59%), say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means using military force.”

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey summarized the “rather remarkable consensus”:

Direct talks, tougher negotiations, and the use of force all get relatively consistent support from Americans regardless of political affiliation. It shows a rather remarkable consensus that supports Barack Obama on the question of diplomacy, but opposes the use of appeasement and shows far less optimism than the administration has thus far shown for its attempts to open Iran to talks.

The Pew poll tracks similar results recently found by Fox News (finding majorities for U.S. military action among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats) and by the American Jewish Committee (finding 56 percent support among American Jews).

The American people seem to have a more sophisticated strategic and tactical understanding than the administration. They would be pleased if the problem of Iran could be solved by “talks” or by “sanctions,” but are unimpressed by the arsenal of adjectives used to accompany such solutions (with talks always described as “tough and direct” and sanctions always described as “crippling” in order to give the content-less nouns a rhetorical force they do not have on their own).

The public is realistic about the prospects for the “tough” talks and “crippling” sanctions solving anything and unwilling to see the process end with a nuclear-armed Iran. Ironically, if Iran believed that the Obama administration might actually entertain military action, talks might work. But as long as the Iranians believe the talks are motivated by Obama’s increasingly obvious desire to avoid fighting even a self-declared “war of necessity” if it would interfere with health care, climate change, and other issues closer to his heart, the chances for talks succeeding are nil.

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Democrats Figure Out the President Isn’t Serious About Sanctions

The Hill reports:

Lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated with the Obama administration on Tuesday as a State Department official refused to endorse a new package of sanctions on Iran that is expected to speed through Congress this year. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Banking Committee the administration is reserving judgment for now on the new sanctions being considered by senators. That led to some consternation among the panel’s members, including prominent Democrats.

This is mind-boggling, even for this administration. Even the most cynical conservatives can sympathize just a bit with the frustrated Democrats. Doesn’t Obama want the leverage? Doesn’t he want to have sanctions at the ready when the talk-a-thon ends? (It will end, right?)

The answer to all of these queries is “no,” it seems. Steinberg said the administration didn’t ask for sanctions, and he gave every indication that the president isn’t particularly happy to include a stick with his carrots. It will just give the Iranians the excuse to claim we are being hostile, Steinberg explained with a straight face. (Yes, and imagine how upset they’ll be if we ever insist on a deadline on talks.) Now you can’t have sanctions if you’re afraid that passing the sanctions will make the other side “mad.” So you see where this is going — nowhere.

Democrats not known to be part of the conservative cabal are mighty nervous with the administration’s pathetic behavior:

“I find it troubling that the administration is not looking to support the toughest sanctions possible,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).“You don’t want Congress to pursue the legislation, but you don’t give us a verifiable timeframe. That makes us very uneasy,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “Regardless of what is said, we need real action.”

Troubled and uneasy, are they? Well, it’s about time that Democrats realized what the game is here — do nothing and then accept the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran. We wouldn’t want to try to stop them or anything. It could be taken as a sign of “U.S. hostility.”

The Hill reports:

Lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated with the Obama administration on Tuesday as a State Department official refused to endorse a new package of sanctions on Iran that is expected to speed through Congress this year. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Banking Committee the administration is reserving judgment for now on the new sanctions being considered by senators. That led to some consternation among the panel’s members, including prominent Democrats.

This is mind-boggling, even for this administration. Even the most cynical conservatives can sympathize just a bit with the frustrated Democrats. Doesn’t Obama want the leverage? Doesn’t he want to have sanctions at the ready when the talk-a-thon ends? (It will end, right?)

The answer to all of these queries is “no,” it seems. Steinberg said the administration didn’t ask for sanctions, and he gave every indication that the president isn’t particularly happy to include a stick with his carrots. It will just give the Iranians the excuse to claim we are being hostile, Steinberg explained with a straight face. (Yes, and imagine how upset they’ll be if we ever insist on a deadline on talks.) Now you can’t have sanctions if you’re afraid that passing the sanctions will make the other side “mad.” So you see where this is going — nowhere.

Democrats not known to be part of the conservative cabal are mighty nervous with the administration’s pathetic behavior:

“I find it troubling that the administration is not looking to support the toughest sanctions possible,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).“You don’t want Congress to pursue the legislation, but you don’t give us a verifiable timeframe. That makes us very uneasy,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “Regardless of what is said, we need real action.”

Troubled and uneasy, are they? Well, it’s about time that Democrats realized what the game is here — do nothing and then accept the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran. We wouldn’t want to try to stop them or anything. It could be taken as a sign of “U.S. hostility.”

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He’s Not Serious, Is He?

From news reports it appears that the president is close to doing exactly the wrong thing on Afghanistan – searching for a middle ground and trying to run a war on the cheap. As the New York Times describes it, “Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to ‘dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,’ as White House officials later described his remarks.” This is typical Obama pabulum — both sides are extreme and he, the voice of moderation, will step in to split the difference. But this doesn’t work in a war when the middle ground, as we learned both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, is not a viable option.

One almost gets the sense that the Obama team may have not learned anything from our recent experiences in two war theaters. It is not as if Donald Rumsfeld and a slew of generals didn’t try in Iraq to use the fewest possible troops, spend the least possible amount of taxpayer money, and get the most out of high-tech wizardry. Doesn’t the Obama team remember that this didn’t work, that a wholesale revision of strategy was needed and that only once a fully implemented counterinsurgency approach was employed did we achieve a victory? This sort of willful obtuseness is deeply troubling because there simply isn’t any viable military/strategic rationale for what the president is straining to do. It is a political approach plain and simple. He wants money for health care and he doesn’t want a revolt on the Left.

But that’s not what we expect from the commander in chief, is it? There are always other things to spend money on, especially if you want government to undertake all sorts of new responsibilities. But the first and primary responsibility of the president is to protect the nation. He was the one who explained that the Afghanistan war was critical to our national security. Now faced with political push-back and a big price tag, he’s losing (already lost?) his nerve. It’s a shabby performance indeed. Rep. Ike Skelton had this to say:

“I said the real war in Afghanistan did not start until March, when the president made the speech on strategy,” Mr. Skelton said in an interview, referring to the strategy Mr. Obama put in place shortly after taking office. “There was no strategy before that,” he said, and so the president ought to give General McChrystal what he needs to execute it.

That’s what we expect of a commander in chief: set a strategy, hire the best generals, get their advice, and implement it. But that doesn’t seem to be what we’re getting. We get equivocation, agonizing, and timidity — because the president would rather spend hundreds of billions on a health-care scheme Americans don’t support. No wonder the generals have gone to the newspapers. They must be searching in vain for some way to get the president to focus on what it takes to win the war that he declared to be critical. One can imagine they must be at their wits’ end. How does one respond to a president who, in essence, says he’d doesn’t have another strategy but another place he’d like to spend the money instead?

From news reports it appears that the president is close to doing exactly the wrong thing on Afghanistan – searching for a middle ground and trying to run a war on the cheap. As the New York Times describes it, “Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to ‘dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,’ as White House officials later described his remarks.” This is typical Obama pabulum — both sides are extreme and he, the voice of moderation, will step in to split the difference. But this doesn’t work in a war when the middle ground, as we learned both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, is not a viable option.

One almost gets the sense that the Obama team may have not learned anything from our recent experiences in two war theaters. It is not as if Donald Rumsfeld and a slew of generals didn’t try in Iraq to use the fewest possible troops, spend the least possible amount of taxpayer money, and get the most out of high-tech wizardry. Doesn’t the Obama team remember that this didn’t work, that a wholesale revision of strategy was needed and that only once a fully implemented counterinsurgency approach was employed did we achieve a victory? This sort of willful obtuseness is deeply troubling because there simply isn’t any viable military/strategic rationale for what the president is straining to do. It is a political approach plain and simple. He wants money for health care and he doesn’t want a revolt on the Left.

But that’s not what we expect from the commander in chief, is it? There are always other things to spend money on, especially if you want government to undertake all sorts of new responsibilities. But the first and primary responsibility of the president is to protect the nation. He was the one who explained that the Afghanistan war was critical to our national security. Now faced with political push-back and a big price tag, he’s losing (already lost?) his nerve. It’s a shabby performance indeed. Rep. Ike Skelton had this to say:

“I said the real war in Afghanistan did not start until March, when the president made the speech on strategy,” Mr. Skelton said in an interview, referring to the strategy Mr. Obama put in place shortly after taking office. “There was no strategy before that,” he said, and so the president ought to give General McChrystal what he needs to execute it.

That’s what we expect of a commander in chief: set a strategy, hire the best generals, get their advice, and implement it. But that doesn’t seem to be what we’re getting. We get equivocation, agonizing, and timidity — because the president would rather spend hundreds of billions on a health-care scheme Americans don’t support. No wonder the generals have gone to the newspapers. They must be searching in vain for some way to get the president to focus on what it takes to win the war that he declared to be critical. One can imagine they must be at their wits’ end. How does one respond to a president who, in essence, says he’d doesn’t have another strategy but another place he’d like to spend the money instead?

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The Farce Never Ends

Jeffrey Goldberg writes: “Iran is going to use a new generation of faster centrifuges to enrich uranium at its formerly-secret, now-not, nuclear site near Qom. So says the Iranians themselves.” So he wants to know when the Obama administration is going to concede “that this is all a farce, that Iran is committed to having a nuclear weapons capability at almost any cost?”

The “when” is almost as intriguing as the “why,” but let’s look at the “when” first. You’d think once the Obama team received information on the Qom site they’d blow the whistle on the engagement act. But no. You’d think once the regime brutally suppressed its own people after a stolen election they’d declare that the nature of the regime was now obvious and call a halt to the charade. Nope. You’d think once they set the September 15 deadline and got the equivalent of a fifth-grade essay project (“Explain to the Great Satan why we’re never giving up the nukes”) they would stop the “engagement” chatter. No again. And so it goes, as each rebuff and revelation is brushed away. So “never” or “who knows?” is as good an answer as Goldberg may get to his query as to when the Obama team will stop enabling the Iranian engagement fantasy.

But then we get to the “Why?” The explanations for Obama’s reticence run the gamut. He’s an egomaniac who thinks the mullahs will eventually be won over. He’s hopelessly naive and believes his own clap-trap that if the West disarms, then Iran and other rogue states will have to as well. He’s conflict-averse and has deluded himself into believing a nuclear Iran can be contained. He’s deluded himself into believing this is not an immediate problem and can be back-burnered while he deals with the real important stuff, like taking over 17 percent of the economy. He’s a poor decision-maker and simply can’t decide what to do. You decide which — or maybe it’s a combination of factors.

What he is not doing is leading. He’s not set out a clear marker to move from engagement to sanctions to military options. And he is rhetorically behind our closest allies and even his fellow Democrats in Congress. He is, as with Afghanistan, reacting to events. The American people, our allies, and Iran can see this. And so can every other adversary who might want to test and challenge the feckless American president. So if you think things now seem to be spinning out of control, wait a year or so. America’s enemies are just getting warmed up.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes: “Iran is going to use a new generation of faster centrifuges to enrich uranium at its formerly-secret, now-not, nuclear site near Qom. So says the Iranians themselves.” So he wants to know when the Obama administration is going to concede “that this is all a farce, that Iran is committed to having a nuclear weapons capability at almost any cost?”

The “when” is almost as intriguing as the “why,” but let’s look at the “when” first. You’d think once the Obama team received information on the Qom site they’d blow the whistle on the engagement act. But no. You’d think once the regime brutally suppressed its own people after a stolen election they’d declare that the nature of the regime was now obvious and call a halt to the charade. Nope. You’d think once they set the September 15 deadline and got the equivalent of a fifth-grade essay project (“Explain to the Great Satan why we’re never giving up the nukes”) they would stop the “engagement” chatter. No again. And so it goes, as each rebuff and revelation is brushed away. So “never” or “who knows?” is as good an answer as Goldberg may get to his query as to when the Obama team will stop enabling the Iranian engagement fantasy.

But then we get to the “Why?” The explanations for Obama’s reticence run the gamut. He’s an egomaniac who thinks the mullahs will eventually be won over. He’s hopelessly naive and believes his own clap-trap that if the West disarms, then Iran and other rogue states will have to as well. He’s conflict-averse and has deluded himself into believing a nuclear Iran can be contained. He’s deluded himself into believing this is not an immediate problem and can be back-burnered while he deals with the real important stuff, like taking over 17 percent of the economy. He’s a poor decision-maker and simply can’t decide what to do. You decide which — or maybe it’s a combination of factors.

What he is not doing is leading. He’s not set out a clear marker to move from engagement to sanctions to military options. And he is rhetorically behind our closest allies and even his fellow Democrats in Congress. He is, as with Afghanistan, reacting to events. The American people, our allies, and Iran can see this. And so can every other adversary who might want to test and challenge the feckless American president. So if you think things now seem to be spinning out of control, wait a year or so. America’s enemies are just getting warmed up.

Read Less




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