Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 22, 2009

Re: Reading the Polls, Not the Tea Leaves, Correctly

Pete, I concur with your sharp analysis — and the word of caution that nothing is certain in politics. One point you make is especially telling: “Obama is revivifying the GOP to an extent that few thought possible just a few months ago.”

Less than a year from the election, the same pundits who predicted a “permanent Democratic majority” now concede that 2010 looks dicey for the Democrats. In about a week, we will see two gubernatorial races in which one Republican is far ahead in a key swing-state and another is in a dead heat in a deep-Blue one. A spontaneous grassroots movement has generated marches, meetings, and hundreds of thousands of protesting Americans — and not the sort of professional protesters often hired by the Left. How did this happen?

The Republican Party didn’t re-invent itself, as some counseled. And it didn’t kick out social conservatives. It went into opposition and played the hand it was dealt. At the time the pundit hand-ringing fest was ongoing, I expressed some exasperation with the sterile argument about how to “remake” the Republican party. Then I argued that facts on the ground, individual personalities, and the natural tendency of incumbents to mess up would have more to say about the future of the party (and more generally, of the conservative movement) than any model for revitalization cooked up in a pundit’s cubicle or in a Washington think tank. Well, at least so far, that’s the way things have gone.

As you point out, this need not have been the case. The White House could have governed from the center and rejected Chicago-style partisanship. Then we might well be talking about a far different picture both of the Obama presidency and the fate of its opposition. One bruising round or two of defeats in 2009 and 2010 still might force a course correction that would establish Obama as the political colossus some imagined he would be. But that hasn’t happened yet, so the opposition party has gotten off the mat and is landing blows. We’ll see how the fight progresses.

Pete, I concur with your sharp analysis — and the word of caution that nothing is certain in politics. One point you make is especially telling: “Obama is revivifying the GOP to an extent that few thought possible just a few months ago.”

Less than a year from the election, the same pundits who predicted a “permanent Democratic majority” now concede that 2010 looks dicey for the Democrats. In about a week, we will see two gubernatorial races in which one Republican is far ahead in a key swing-state and another is in a dead heat in a deep-Blue one. A spontaneous grassroots movement has generated marches, meetings, and hundreds of thousands of protesting Americans — and not the sort of professional protesters often hired by the Left. How did this happen?

The Republican Party didn’t re-invent itself, as some counseled. And it didn’t kick out social conservatives. It went into opposition and played the hand it was dealt. At the time the pundit hand-ringing fest was ongoing, I expressed some exasperation with the sterile argument about how to “remake” the Republican party. Then I argued that facts on the ground, individual personalities, and the natural tendency of incumbents to mess up would have more to say about the future of the party (and more generally, of the conservative movement) than any model for revitalization cooked up in a pundit’s cubicle or in a Washington think tank. Well, at least so far, that’s the way things have gone.

As you point out, this need not have been the case. The White House could have governed from the center and rejected Chicago-style partisanship. Then we might well be talking about a far different picture both of the Obama presidency and the fate of its opposition. One bruising round or two of defeats in 2009 and 2010 still might force a course correction that would establish Obama as the political colossus some imagined he would be. But that hasn’t happened yet, so the opposition party has gotten off the mat and is landing blows. We’ll see how the fight progresses.

Read Less

Being Controversial vs. Being Influential

The past week for J Street has been an example of what happens to a political group unable to maintain some semblance of ideological discipline. The group’s pre-conference problems all derive from the exposure of the radicals in its midst: the crackpots who compare Gaza to Auschwitz; the anti-Zionists like Avram Burg and Bernard Avishai; the blogger panel composed of shrill fanatics and slanderers of the Jewish State. Instead of cultivating an image of seriousness and maturity, the conference has sharpened the public’s perception of a group dedicated to apologizing for and attempting to sanitize people who have made careers out of antagonizing Israel.

Meanwhile, the group reserves its real indignation for people like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Michael Goldfarb. All this does is create fodder for the charge that it’s a Trojan Horse for anti-Zionism. Given its record, I can’t really disagree that this is its purpose. Jeremy Ben-Ami told Politico that “we are at the center of debate and controversy after only 18 months, and this is a real impact and a success.” He doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being controversial and being influential, or the way the former characteristic can undermine the latter. The burden has shifted very publicly onto J Street to prove its detractors wrong, and that’s a bad position to be in.

The past week for J Street has been an example of what happens to a political group unable to maintain some semblance of ideological discipline. The group’s pre-conference problems all derive from the exposure of the radicals in its midst: the crackpots who compare Gaza to Auschwitz; the anti-Zionists like Avram Burg and Bernard Avishai; the blogger panel composed of shrill fanatics and slanderers of the Jewish State. Instead of cultivating an image of seriousness and maturity, the conference has sharpened the public’s perception of a group dedicated to apologizing for and attempting to sanitize people who have made careers out of antagonizing Israel.

Meanwhile, the group reserves its real indignation for people like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Michael Goldfarb. All this does is create fodder for the charge that it’s a Trojan Horse for anti-Zionism. Given its record, I can’t really disagree that this is its purpose. Jeremy Ben-Ami told Politico that “we are at the center of debate and controversy after only 18 months, and this is a real impact and a success.” He doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being controversial and being influential, or the way the former characteristic can undermine the latter. The burden has shifted very publicly onto J Street to prove its detractors wrong, and that’s a bad position to be in.

Read Less

The Peevish White House

Robert Gibbs responded predictably to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism that the Obama administration dithers on Afghanistan, answering with an attack on the Bush administration. (I know you’re shocked.) He offered no explanation about why the Obama administration is taking so long to reach a decision or why the military, our allies, and members of the president’s own party are wringing their hands about the president’s public angst. And what of the charge that the Obama team in effect lied when it claimed that it had to start its war-planning from scratch? Well, there was no answer:

Gibbs sidestepped a question about whether Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who was tasked with assessing war strategy by the Bush administration, had filed a report with the recommendations Cheney mentioned. “I have not looked at that review,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know whether what he describes is accurate.”

The mainstream media might want to press that point. Did the Obama team lie about that, in the same way it concealed the Qom enrichment facility? What does the president have to say for failing to approve the plan his own general recommended, aside from “They were in disarray too!”?

You will not find a better example of what ails this administration. It is all blame game, all Not Bush (or get Bush), and not much serious governance. American troops are in combat, and all the administration can do is rerun the campaign. It’s the sort of thing that causes moderates and those who invested great faith in Obama’s intellect and temperament to wonder if they were fooled. The evidence mounts daily that they were.

Robert Gibbs responded predictably to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism that the Obama administration dithers on Afghanistan, answering with an attack on the Bush administration. (I know you’re shocked.) He offered no explanation about why the Obama administration is taking so long to reach a decision or why the military, our allies, and members of the president’s own party are wringing their hands about the president’s public angst. And what of the charge that the Obama team in effect lied when it claimed that it had to start its war-planning from scratch? Well, there was no answer:

Gibbs sidestepped a question about whether Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who was tasked with assessing war strategy by the Bush administration, had filed a report with the recommendations Cheney mentioned. “I have not looked at that review,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know whether what he describes is accurate.”

The mainstream media might want to press that point. Did the Obama team lie about that, in the same way it concealed the Qom enrichment facility? What does the president have to say for failing to approve the plan his own general recommended, aside from “They were in disarray too!”?

You will not find a better example of what ails this administration. It is all blame game, all Not Bush (or get Bush), and not much serious governance. American troops are in combat, and all the administration can do is rerun the campaign. It’s the sort of thing that causes moderates and those who invested great faith in Obama’s intellect and temperament to wonder if they were fooled. The evidence mounts daily that they were.

Read Less

Did You Miss It?

If you blinked, you missed the economic lift from Obama’s stimulus plan. Now it’s over, according to the administration’s top economist:

An interesting tidbit from Dr. Christina Romer’s testimony before the Joint Economic Committee. Citing economic analysts she says the fiscal stimulus will have its greatest impact on growth in the second and third quarters of 2009. (Editors note — those quarters are now behind us). By mid-2010, according to her testimony submitted to the committee, the “fiscal stimulus will likely be contributing little to growth.” … And for those who think the recession is over — the Administration still predicts the unemployment rate won’t dip below 10% until the third quarter of 2010 – that’s next summer.

The administration promised that unemployment would remain below 8 percent if a trillion-dollar (interest-included) grab bag of liberal goodies passed. It hasn’t panned out — we have the debt but not the jobs. And the administration will not, I suspect, endear itself to the American people by claiming that the results “exceeded expectations.”

More important, as we slog through the health-care debate, the Obami will have to convince Americans that they are competent enough to manage 17 percent of the economy and make health-care decisions for 300 million Americans. No easy task, I would suggest, given their track record on stimulating the economy.

If you blinked, you missed the economic lift from Obama’s stimulus plan. Now it’s over, according to the administration’s top economist:

An interesting tidbit from Dr. Christina Romer’s testimony before the Joint Economic Committee. Citing economic analysts she says the fiscal stimulus will have its greatest impact on growth in the second and third quarters of 2009. (Editors note — those quarters are now behind us). By mid-2010, according to her testimony submitted to the committee, the “fiscal stimulus will likely be contributing little to growth.” … And for those who think the recession is over — the Administration still predicts the unemployment rate won’t dip below 10% until the third quarter of 2010 – that’s next summer.

The administration promised that unemployment would remain below 8 percent if a trillion-dollar (interest-included) grab bag of liberal goodies passed. It hasn’t panned out — we have the debt but not the jobs. And the administration will not, I suspect, endear itself to the American people by claiming that the results “exceeded expectations.”

More important, as we slog through the health-care debate, the Obami will have to convince Americans that they are competent enough to manage 17 percent of the economy and make health-care decisions for 300 million Americans. No easy task, I would suggest, given their track record on stimulating the economy.

Read Less

A Painful but Necessary Process in Afghanistan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes in the Washington Post today about the Marines’ success in pacifying Nawa in southern Afghanistan — the same story I mentioned in my New York Times op-ed. Chandrasekaran’s article is excellent and adds more details than I could include in a brief opinion piece. He suggests, as did I, that the relative success in Nawa — admittedly fragile and limited — indicates “that after eight years of war the United States still may be able to regain momentum in some areas that had long been written off to the Taliban.”

To expand such successful efforts across southern and eastern Afghanistan will require more troops, more time, more money — and more casualties. It’s a painful process, but what choice do we have unless we want to risk Afghanistan reverting to its pre-9/11 state? Options such as “reintegration” — offering incentives to lure Taliban fighters to lay down their arms (described in this USA Today article) — are unlikely to work until foreign and Afghan troops have changed the facts on the ground to convince the Taliban they can’t win. Other shortcuts such as the counterterrorism option or training Afghan forces can complement a large ground-force commitment but can’t substitute for it.

For an explanation of why there is no credible Plan B in Afghanistan — any more than there was in Iraq when the surge was being debated — see this New Republic article by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Stephen Biddle.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes in the Washington Post today about the Marines’ success in pacifying Nawa in southern Afghanistan — the same story I mentioned in my New York Times op-ed. Chandrasekaran’s article is excellent and adds more details than I could include in a brief opinion piece. He suggests, as did I, that the relative success in Nawa — admittedly fragile and limited — indicates “that after eight years of war the United States still may be able to regain momentum in some areas that had long been written off to the Taliban.”

To expand such successful efforts across southern and eastern Afghanistan will require more troops, more time, more money — and more casualties. It’s a painful process, but what choice do we have unless we want to risk Afghanistan reverting to its pre-9/11 state? Options such as “reintegration” — offering incentives to lure Taliban fighters to lay down their arms (described in this USA Today article) — are unlikely to work until foreign and Afghan troops have changed the facts on the ground to convince the Taliban they can’t win. Other shortcuts such as the counterterrorism option or training Afghan forces can complement a large ground-force commitment but can’t substitute for it.

For an explanation of why there is no credible Plan B in Afghanistan — any more than there was in Iraq when the surge was being debated — see this New Republic article by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Stephen Biddle.

Read Less

Not So Fast

Joe Biden and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed to a new missile-defense deal on Tuesday, touted as the improved replacement for the missile-defense plan scrapped by Obama last month. The new plan will put a land-based version of the Navy’s SM-3 — the missile used by its Aegis missile-defense ships — in Poland by 2015. The land-based version of the SM-3 is still in development, but readying it for deployment should be feasible on the administration’s time line. So presto: a missile defense for Europe. We’re back on track, right?

Well, no. We’re not on the same track. The Bush plan for silo-based interceptors in Poland would, along with the defense capability for Europe, have given North America a midcourse intercept defense against long-range ICBMs launched from the east. The SM-3 doesn’t reach the altitude for midcourse intercept of an ICBM (although it might be developed to by the end of the next decade). With the scrapping of the silos in Poland, there is a gap for the eastern approach to North America in our missile-defense concept.

This is why Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has awarded the new plan a benign, if provisional, approval. Obama’s plan does not envision defending America against ICBMs coming from our east, at least until the end of the next decade. Our silo-based interceptors in Alaska and California remain the only deployed elements of a national missile defense. Secretary Gates pointed out, after Obama’s September announcement, that under the new plan, the SM-3 would be further developed to intercept ICBMs, and R&D would continue on the silo-based interceptors. But of course those measures could have been pursued along with a deployment of silo-based interceptors in Poland, which under Bush had been scheduled to begin in 2013.

This modern missile-defense issue is analogous in some ways to the Pershing-II-missile issue of 30 years ago. Like Obama, Jimmy Carter held off deploying a system the Russians objected to, while affirming America’s vigorous intention to develop the capability and someday deploy it. The Russians of 30 years ago were unimpressed with those long-range intentions; what they found informative was Carter’s unwillingness to confront them with an actual deployment. Today’s Russians assuredly find Obama’s missile-defense approach equally informative. They will object to a future ICBM-intercept capability when it emerges — what matters to them today is that Obama has been unwilling to risk their anger by deploying the current one. The means exist for it, but we continue to have no plan in execution for a dedicated missile defense of the U.S. East Coast.

Joe Biden and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed to a new missile-defense deal on Tuesday, touted as the improved replacement for the missile-defense plan scrapped by Obama last month. The new plan will put a land-based version of the Navy’s SM-3 — the missile used by its Aegis missile-defense ships — in Poland by 2015. The land-based version of the SM-3 is still in development, but readying it for deployment should be feasible on the administration’s time line. So presto: a missile defense for Europe. We’re back on track, right?

Well, no. We’re not on the same track. The Bush plan for silo-based interceptors in Poland would, along with the defense capability for Europe, have given North America a midcourse intercept defense against long-range ICBMs launched from the east. The SM-3 doesn’t reach the altitude for midcourse intercept of an ICBM (although it might be developed to by the end of the next decade). With the scrapping of the silos in Poland, there is a gap for the eastern approach to North America in our missile-defense concept.

This is why Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has awarded the new plan a benign, if provisional, approval. Obama’s plan does not envision defending America against ICBMs coming from our east, at least until the end of the next decade. Our silo-based interceptors in Alaska and California remain the only deployed elements of a national missile defense. Secretary Gates pointed out, after Obama’s September announcement, that under the new plan, the SM-3 would be further developed to intercept ICBMs, and R&D would continue on the silo-based interceptors. But of course those measures could have been pursued along with a deployment of silo-based interceptors in Poland, which under Bush had been scheduled to begin in 2013.

This modern missile-defense issue is analogous in some ways to the Pershing-II-missile issue of 30 years ago. Like Obama, Jimmy Carter held off deploying a system the Russians objected to, while affirming America’s vigorous intention to develop the capability and someday deploy it. The Russians of 30 years ago were unimpressed with those long-range intentions; what they found informative was Carter’s unwillingness to confront them with an actual deployment. Today’s Russians assuredly find Obama’s missile-defense approach equally informative. They will object to a future ICBM-intercept capability when it emerges — what matters to them today is that Obama has been unwilling to risk their anger by deploying the current one. The means exist for it, but we continue to have no plan in execution for a dedicated missile defense of the U.S. East Coast.

Read Less

Reading Polls, Not Tea Leaves, Correctly

The most recent data from Gallup is quite interesting. Among the findings:

In Gallup Daily tracking that spans Barack Obama’s third quarter in office (July 20 through Oct. 19), the president averaged a 53% job approval rating. That is down sharply from his prior quarterly averages, which were both above 60%. In fact, the 9-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953. … More generally, Obama’s 9-point slide between quarters ranks as one of the steepest for a president at any point in his first year in office. … In Obama’s first quarter and second quarter, his job approval average compared favorably with those of prior presidents. But after the drop in his support during the last quarter, his average now ranks near the bottom for presidents at similar points in their presidencies. Only Clinton had a lower third-quarter average among elected presidents. … Obama’s 53% third-quarter average is substandard from a broader historical perspective that encompasses all 255 presidential quarters for which Gallup has data going back to 1945. On this basis, Obama’s most recent average ranks 144th, or in the 44th percentile, clearly below average not just for presidents’ third quarters but for all presidents. [emphasis added]

There are, I think, several conclusions we can draw from this survey. Read More

The most recent data from Gallup is quite interesting. Among the findings:

In Gallup Daily tracking that spans Barack Obama’s third quarter in office (July 20 through Oct. 19), the president averaged a 53% job approval rating. That is down sharply from his prior quarterly averages, which were both above 60%. In fact, the 9-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953. … More generally, Obama’s 9-point slide between quarters ranks as one of the steepest for a president at any point in his first year in office. … In Obama’s first quarter and second quarter, his job approval average compared favorably with those of prior presidents. But after the drop in his support during the last quarter, his average now ranks near the bottom for presidents at similar points in their presidencies. Only Clinton had a lower third-quarter average among elected presidents. … Obama’s 53% third-quarter average is substandard from a broader historical perspective that encompasses all 255 presidential quarters for which Gallup has data going back to 1945. On this basis, Obama’s most recent average ranks 144th, or in the 44th percentile, clearly below average not just for presidents’ third quarters but for all presidents. [emphasis added]

There are, I think, several conclusions we can draw from this survey.

One is that Obama’s slide, while not debilitating, is significant and serious.

Second, ObamaCare is a large part of the reason the president’s support has been crumbling.

Third, the Gallup Poll corresponds to other evidence of trouble for Obama and Democrats – including intensity and fundraising for Democrats (down); intensity and fundraising for Republicans (way up); the generic ballot (Gallup shows Democrats leading by only 2 points, a tremendous narrowing of the gap); how the two parties match up on the issues (Republicans lead in 8 out of 10, according to Rasmussen); gubernatorial races (the Republican candidate leads in the polls in Virginia, a Purple State, by a wide margin, and the Republican candidate is in a dead heat with the Democratic candidate in New Jersey, a Blue State); and a marked loss of support among independents and seniors. President Obama is viewed as liberal by much of the country – and in a center-right nation, that’s a problem. Nine months into his presidency, the public is turning against Obama and Democrats.

Fourth, Obama had an excellent chance earlier this year to lock in, at least for a time, key demographic groups for the Democrats. This would have made life very difficult for the GOP. Another opportunity may come again – but for now, it has been squandered. Obama is revivifying the GOP to an extent that few thought possible just a few months ago. It should be said, though, that Republicans still have considerable work to do to win back the confidence of the public.

Fifth, the political environment right now – from Afghanistan to the high unemployment rate – isn’t a good one for Obama and the Democrats. Passage of a health-care plan would be an impressive legislative achievement, but it would end up being, I think, a damaging substantive and political one. Passing legislation isn’t the end of the story; in some respects, it’s only the start. And I suspect that ObamaCare will become a very important and helpful issue in the 2010 elections – for Republicans, not Democrats. It will feed into the larger narrative of Obama as being reckless when it comes to the size, scope, and reach of government. Another potent issue that’s out there is taxes; the increases we are bound to see will help the GOP and frame the policy debate in a way that’s favorable to Republicans.

I’ve said it before, and it’s worth restating, that things can change dramatically for the better – and dramatically for the worse. There is a tendency among the political class to take a moment in time and assume that this is how it will always be, or make straight-line projections based on the current situation. That’s usually unwise. But what we can do with some precision is quantify and review what has unfolded. And it’s reasonable to say that, so far, the first year – and especially the third quarter – has not been a good one for Obama and the Democrats.

They have reason to be concerned, and maybe even alarmed.

Read Less

The Fruits of “Reset”

Funny which statements out of Moscow get American media attention. If while clearing his throat, Dmitry Medvedev creates a sound similar to sanctions, the murmur is hailed as a monumental step forward in American-Russian ice-breaking, a quantifiable vindication of both President Obama’s Russian reset policy and his engagement approach to defanging Iran. But what about something like this:

Russia on Thursday said it would continue military cooperation with Iran amid widespread unease in the West over Moscow’s controversial contract to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran.

“The Russian Federation implements and plans to further implement the military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran in strict accordance with existing legislation and its international obligations,” Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation said.

That’s from Agence France-Presse. This statement of reassurance from our resetees to our engagees has yet to appear in any American report. The lag should give Secretary of State Hillary Clinton some time to whip up another batch of mechanical enthusiasm for our new Russian partners in the face of yet another blow. Remember, when the Kremlin shot her down on Iran sanctions a couple of weeks back, Clinton announced that she felt “very good” about the reset policy. Today’s news will undoubtedly find her ecstatic.

Funny which statements out of Moscow get American media attention. If while clearing his throat, Dmitry Medvedev creates a sound similar to sanctions, the murmur is hailed as a monumental step forward in American-Russian ice-breaking, a quantifiable vindication of both President Obama’s Russian reset policy and his engagement approach to defanging Iran. But what about something like this:

Russia on Thursday said it would continue military cooperation with Iran amid widespread unease in the West over Moscow’s controversial contract to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran.

“The Russian Federation implements and plans to further implement the military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran in strict accordance with existing legislation and its international obligations,” Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation said.

That’s from Agence France-Presse. This statement of reassurance from our resetees to our engagees has yet to appear in any American report. The lag should give Secretary of State Hillary Clinton some time to whip up another batch of mechanical enthusiasm for our new Russian partners in the face of yet another blow. Remember, when the Kremlin shot her down on Iran sanctions a couple of weeks back, Clinton announced that she felt “very good” about the reset policy. Today’s news will undoubtedly find her ecstatic.

Read Less

This Is Why They’re the Juicebox Mafia

I didn’t want to devote any more time to this matter, but Matt Yglesias is very upset over what I wrote yesterday. He says:

But a liberal democracy can’t just say “we’re a liberal democracy!” and thereby evade questions about actual human rights practices. Part of being a liberal democracy is to, in practice, attempt to avoid human rights violations and attempt to investigate allegations that they’ve taken place.

The link in his post is to the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, which, like the UN Human Rights Council that Yglesias refuses to question, has a long record of hostility to the IDF. And B’tselem, like Goldstone, has been called out repeatedly and credibly on its own biases and errors.

But never mind that for now. The link to B’tselem is meant as a rebuttal to those of us who criticize the Goldstone Report and its sponsor, the UN Human Rights Council. But because Yglesias doesn’t know much about these matters, he doesn’t realize that B’tselem joined the ranks of the Goldstone and UN critics:

“There’s no question that the HRC, which mandated the Goldstone [fact-finding mission into the Gaza fighting], has an inappropriate, disproportionate fixation with Israel,” [Jessica Montell, executive director of B'tselem] said, adding that the Council was “a political body made up of diplomats, not human rights experts, which means that the powerful states are never going to come under scrutiny the way the powerless will. So China, Russia and the US will never have commission of inquiry, regardless of how their crimes rank relative to Israeli crimes.”

Furthermore, the Goldstone Report itself, which was presented in its final version to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, is “disagreeable” and mistaken in some of its gravest accusations against Israel, she believes. These include the claim that Israel intentionally targeted the civilian population rather than Hamas, and the “weak, hesitant way that the report mentions Hamas’s strategy of using civilians [in combat].”

The executive director of B’tselem made the very same criticisms of Goldstone that we evil apologists for Israeli militarism have been making, yet Yglesias points to B’tselem as Exhibit A in his defense of Goldstone. Whoops.

I didn’t want to devote any more time to this matter, but Matt Yglesias is very upset over what I wrote yesterday. He says:

But a liberal democracy can’t just say “we’re a liberal democracy!” and thereby evade questions about actual human rights practices. Part of being a liberal democracy is to, in practice, attempt to avoid human rights violations and attempt to investigate allegations that they’ve taken place.

The link in his post is to the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, which, like the UN Human Rights Council that Yglesias refuses to question, has a long record of hostility to the IDF. And B’tselem, like Goldstone, has been called out repeatedly and credibly on its own biases and errors.

But never mind that for now. The link to B’tselem is meant as a rebuttal to those of us who criticize the Goldstone Report and its sponsor, the UN Human Rights Council. But because Yglesias doesn’t know much about these matters, he doesn’t realize that B’tselem joined the ranks of the Goldstone and UN critics:

“There’s no question that the HRC, which mandated the Goldstone [fact-finding mission into the Gaza fighting], has an inappropriate, disproportionate fixation with Israel,” [Jessica Montell, executive director of B'tselem] said, adding that the Council was “a political body made up of diplomats, not human rights experts, which means that the powerful states are never going to come under scrutiny the way the powerless will. So China, Russia and the US will never have commission of inquiry, regardless of how their crimes rank relative to Israeli crimes.”

Furthermore, the Goldstone Report itself, which was presented in its final version to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, is “disagreeable” and mistaken in some of its gravest accusations against Israel, she believes. These include the claim that Israel intentionally targeted the civilian population rather than Hamas, and the “weak, hesitant way that the report mentions Hamas’s strategy of using civilians [in combat].”

The executive director of B’tselem made the very same criticisms of Goldstone that we evil apologists for Israeli militarism have been making, yet Yglesias points to B’tselem as Exhibit A in his defense of Goldstone. Whoops.

Read Less

Obama’s Trade Faux Pas

Predictably, Beijing has retaliated against Barack Obama’s protectionist trade policy. Earlier this week, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a preliminary ruling that puts a 36 percent tariff on U.S.-made nylon. That tariff, like the initial one, will hurt American industry and American consumers, and it could have been avoided.

If only Obama had been more … diplomatic. By upholding his campaign promises to labor unions, he backtracked on his promise to avoid protectionism. And tariffs are a surefire way to irk overseas friends.

The fray began in September. The United Steelworkers, who make the metal wiring that goes into tires, complained to the International Trade Commission that the high number of Chinese tire imports was disrupting and directly threatening the market.

The president has the final say about enforcing ITC recommendations. Unlike George W. Bush, who four times dismissed similar complaints, Obama sided with the labor union.  If only Obama had used his Nobel-winning charm to sate the labor-union leader with dinners and discussions, and if only he had worried about how provoking Beijing might impede goals like international security, global warming, and especially the economy. Instead, he ultimately conceded an internationally important decision to a powerful domestic lobby.

How? Obama enforced a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires in addition to the existing 4 percent one, ensuring that trade hostility would escalate. And, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Americans got shot in the foot:

Since the tariff announcement on September 11, U.S. tire wholesalers have been warning that their sales prices to retailers will increase by about 15 percent on average. In some cases, the hikes are as high as 28 percent. The only reason prices haven’t risen by the full 35% tariff rate yet is that wholesalers still have some pre-tariff inventory stocks in their warehouse.

Beijing countered. It filed a complaint against the U.S. with the World Trade Organization and threatened tariffs on American poultry and car-part exports. And on Monday came the decision to impose the tariff on Nylon 6, “a synthetic filament that ends up in a wide array of products including toothbrushes, auto parts, socks and the handles of Glock handguns,” the New York Times reports. Who knows where this will end?

None of this should come as any surprise; Chinese trade retaliation has been brewing for more than a month. The irony is that this is one instance where Obama’s conciliatory international approach could have served him well.

Predictably, Beijing has retaliated against Barack Obama’s protectionist trade policy. Earlier this week, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a preliminary ruling that puts a 36 percent tariff on U.S.-made nylon. That tariff, like the initial one, will hurt American industry and American consumers, and it could have been avoided.

If only Obama had been more … diplomatic. By upholding his campaign promises to labor unions, he backtracked on his promise to avoid protectionism. And tariffs are a surefire way to irk overseas friends.

The fray began in September. The United Steelworkers, who make the metal wiring that goes into tires, complained to the International Trade Commission that the high number of Chinese tire imports was disrupting and directly threatening the market.

The president has the final say about enforcing ITC recommendations. Unlike George W. Bush, who four times dismissed similar complaints, Obama sided with the labor union.  If only Obama had used his Nobel-winning charm to sate the labor-union leader with dinners and discussions, and if only he had worried about how provoking Beijing might impede goals like international security, global warming, and especially the economy. Instead, he ultimately conceded an internationally important decision to a powerful domestic lobby.

How? Obama enforced a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires in addition to the existing 4 percent one, ensuring that trade hostility would escalate. And, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Americans got shot in the foot:

Since the tariff announcement on September 11, U.S. tire wholesalers have been warning that their sales prices to retailers will increase by about 15 percent on average. In some cases, the hikes are as high as 28 percent. The only reason prices haven’t risen by the full 35% tariff rate yet is that wholesalers still have some pre-tariff inventory stocks in their warehouse.

Beijing countered. It filed a complaint against the U.S. with the World Trade Organization and threatened tariffs on American poultry and car-part exports. And on Monday came the decision to impose the tariff on Nylon 6, “a synthetic filament that ends up in a wide array of products including toothbrushes, auto parts, socks and the handles of Glock handguns,” the New York Times reports. Who knows where this will end?

None of this should come as any surprise; Chinese trade retaliation has been brewing for more than a month. The irony is that this is one instance where Obama’s conciliatory international approach could have served him well.

Read Less

Re: Re: It’s the Media Intimidation, Stupid

Mickey Kaus is the latest to explore the White House’s seemingly counterproductive Fox vendetta:

The official what-we-tell-reporters reasons for the White House War with Fox don’t quite add up. If the attempt is to get the MSM not to follow Fox stories–well, they weren’t following FOX stories before (see ACORN). If the attempt is to keep FOX “off balance,” the White House campaign is instead giving FOX extra life. If the attempt is to triangulate–isn’t triangulation is supposed to make you look sensible and moderate? This is making the White House look a bit hysterical, coming just when health care reform seemed a quiet “fait accompli.”

Kaus is left wondering if this isn’t an effort to stir up the base for campaign donations. Perhaps, but it’s got to be equally lucrative for the Republicans, who see this as further evidence of an overreaching, bullying White House that’s coming after all dissenters.

I think Kaus may be giving the White House too much credit. He supposes there’s a well-reasoned plan, a finely calibrated rationale for this. But listen, this is the gang that humiliated its own president in the Olympics bid. This is the White House that engages in the obsessive-compulsive need to send the president on every TV show on the schedule. This is the White House that publicly and embarrassingly dithers over a war. This is the White House that hired Van Jones and let the ensuing controversy fester for days. This is the White House that let Nancy Pelosi draft the stimulus and Joe Biden, the Afghanistan-war seminars. They get it wrong a lot.

This in fact is what naturally happens when a White House gives into its most extreme partisan inclinations and has no trip wire — no empowered, non–Kool Aid drinker who acts as the skeptic and can save the president and his advisers from themselves. The question remains whether a major political comeuppance or some external event will cause the White House to re-evaluate and revise its screechy partisanship. What we do know is that so long as the White House is intent on blaming Fox News and Rush Limbaugh — or ordinary citizen protesters — for its travails, it’s unlikely to consider a course correction before calamity strikes.

Mickey Kaus is the latest to explore the White House’s seemingly counterproductive Fox vendetta:

The official what-we-tell-reporters reasons for the White House War with Fox don’t quite add up. If the attempt is to get the MSM not to follow Fox stories–well, they weren’t following FOX stories before (see ACORN). If the attempt is to keep FOX “off balance,” the White House campaign is instead giving FOX extra life. If the attempt is to triangulate–isn’t triangulation is supposed to make you look sensible and moderate? This is making the White House look a bit hysterical, coming just when health care reform seemed a quiet “fait accompli.”

Kaus is left wondering if this isn’t an effort to stir up the base for campaign donations. Perhaps, but it’s got to be equally lucrative for the Republicans, who see this as further evidence of an overreaching, bullying White House that’s coming after all dissenters.

I think Kaus may be giving the White House too much credit. He supposes there’s a well-reasoned plan, a finely calibrated rationale for this. But listen, this is the gang that humiliated its own president in the Olympics bid. This is the White House that engages in the obsessive-compulsive need to send the president on every TV show on the schedule. This is the White House that publicly and embarrassingly dithers over a war. This is the White House that hired Van Jones and let the ensuing controversy fester for days. This is the White House that let Nancy Pelosi draft the stimulus and Joe Biden, the Afghanistan-war seminars. They get it wrong a lot.

This in fact is what naturally happens when a White House gives into its most extreme partisan inclinations and has no trip wire — no empowered, non–Kool Aid drinker who acts as the skeptic and can save the president and his advisers from themselves. The question remains whether a major political comeuppance or some external event will cause the White House to re-evaluate and revise its screechy partisanship. What we do know is that so long as the White House is intent on blaming Fox News and Rush Limbaugh — or ordinary citizen protesters — for its travails, it’s unlikely to consider a course correction before calamity strikes.

Read Less

Re: On Their Own

The Washington Post‘s editors report the sentencing of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison. They, unlike the feckless White House, see this as a telling signal about the Iranian regime’s intentions:

The arrest and trial of Mr. Tajbakhsh and more than 140 other people, including a number of opposition leaders, constitute a key element in the coup that the regime’s hard-liners have staged against more moderate elements — including those who genuinely favor rapprochement with the West. The tactical concessions that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government is hinting at in Vienna complement the crackdown: By striking deals with Western leaders, the ruling clique seeks to legitimize itself at home. If it wins the domestic power struggle, there is no chance that it will retreat from its attempt to acquire nuclear weapons or to gain influence over the Middle East through terrorism and militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

In short, we are being played. The talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions provide cover for the regime to solidify its position. And while the president still remains convinced that “engagement” is the key to taming Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it’s the West that’s being tamed and restrained, and the Iranian mullahs who have obtained new breathing room. As the editors note, “The fact that Tehran is imprisoning the very people capable of building bridges between Iran and the United States is a clear message to the president about how the regime regards his ‘engagement’ policy.”

But that’s a message he has no interest in receiving, for if he did, he might be called on to actually do something about the Islamic revolutionary state’s nuclear ambitions and thuggery. And that prospect, it seems, must be avoided at all costs. Engagement serves two purposes: It allows the Iranian regime to avoid the West’s ire; but it also mutes demands on Obama to take more forceful action. He’s busy engaging the regime, don’t expect anything more. They’re talking, forget about sanctions. Engagement becomes an end in itself, peculiarly serving the interests of Iran, which wants to avoid scrutiny, and of Obama, who is allergic to confrontation. The losers, of course, will be the Iranian people, who will face an emboldened and strengthened regime, and the rest of the world, which is inching closer to facing a nuclear-armed state with an apocalyptic ideology.

The Washington Post‘s editors report the sentencing of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison. They, unlike the feckless White House, see this as a telling signal about the Iranian regime’s intentions:

The arrest and trial of Mr. Tajbakhsh and more than 140 other people, including a number of opposition leaders, constitute a key element in the coup that the regime’s hard-liners have staged against more moderate elements — including those who genuinely favor rapprochement with the West. The tactical concessions that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government is hinting at in Vienna complement the crackdown: By striking deals with Western leaders, the ruling clique seeks to legitimize itself at home. If it wins the domestic power struggle, there is no chance that it will retreat from its attempt to acquire nuclear weapons or to gain influence over the Middle East through terrorism and militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

In short, we are being played. The talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions provide cover for the regime to solidify its position. And while the president still remains convinced that “engagement” is the key to taming Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it’s the West that’s being tamed and restrained, and the Iranian mullahs who have obtained new breathing room. As the editors note, “The fact that Tehran is imprisoning the very people capable of building bridges between Iran and the United States is a clear message to the president about how the regime regards his ‘engagement’ policy.”

But that’s a message he has no interest in receiving, for if he did, he might be called on to actually do something about the Islamic revolutionary state’s nuclear ambitions and thuggery. And that prospect, it seems, must be avoided at all costs. Engagement serves two purposes: It allows the Iranian regime to avoid the West’s ire; but it also mutes demands on Obama to take more forceful action. He’s busy engaging the regime, don’t expect anything more. They’re talking, forget about sanctions. Engagement becomes an end in itself, peculiarly serving the interests of Iran, which wants to avoid scrutiny, and of Obama, who is allergic to confrontation. The losers, of course, will be the Iranian people, who will face an emboldened and strengthened regime, and the rest of the world, which is inching closer to facing a nuclear-armed state with an apocalyptic ideology.

Read Less

What Is He Afraid of?

Clearly, the Obami are tied up in knots over Afghanistan. They decided to implement a counterinsurgency plan and now are undecided, or re-deciding. Domestic-policy advisers have apparently convinced Obama that he is at risk with his base and with the country at large if he follows the advice of his highly respected general, Stanley McChrystal. And that’s where it gets a little murky.

Karl Rove points out that even if you place the decision in the context of domestic politics, it makes little sense for the president to flinch. He explains that Obama shouldn’t be afraid of losing the Left:

That fear is both dangerous and unnecessary. The president can retain liberal support for liberal domestic initiatives regardless of the war. And he can sustain support for the war by assembling a coalition of Democrats who want to win in Afghanistan, Democrats who would reluctantly follow their president — and almost every Republican.

Really, is Carl Levin going to vote “no” on ObamaCare because the president followed McChrystal’s recommendation? Will Nancy Pelosi and her minions whip a vote against their party’s leader and commander in chief? It doesn’t make much sense.

Now perhaps Obama just doesn’t like crossing his base or suffering a loss of confidence when the netroots fret. But he is the president, not the Democratic nominee, and one would think it’s time to move beyond such parochial concerns. Moreover, as Rove notes, there is something more important here than internal Democratic politics. We do, after all, have a war to win.

While Obama is concerned about becoming an unpopular wartime president (George W. Bush redux), he would do well to recall that Bush’s party suffered at the polls in 2006 when the war strategy had not yet been revised. And Obama would also be wise to think about another president whom the American people came to see as irresolute, naive, and unable to stand up to America’s foes. That president, Jimmy Carter, got only one term. The American people sized him up, didn’t like what they saw, and voted for a figure committed to asserting American power and values in a dangerous world. Now, that’s something for Obama to worry about.

Clearly, the Obami are tied up in knots over Afghanistan. They decided to implement a counterinsurgency plan and now are undecided, or re-deciding. Domestic-policy advisers have apparently convinced Obama that he is at risk with his base and with the country at large if he follows the advice of his highly respected general, Stanley McChrystal. And that’s where it gets a little murky.

Karl Rove points out that even if you place the decision in the context of domestic politics, it makes little sense for the president to flinch. He explains that Obama shouldn’t be afraid of losing the Left:

That fear is both dangerous and unnecessary. The president can retain liberal support for liberal domestic initiatives regardless of the war. And he can sustain support for the war by assembling a coalition of Democrats who want to win in Afghanistan, Democrats who would reluctantly follow their president — and almost every Republican.

Really, is Carl Levin going to vote “no” on ObamaCare because the president followed McChrystal’s recommendation? Will Nancy Pelosi and her minions whip a vote against their party’s leader and commander in chief? It doesn’t make much sense.

Now perhaps Obama just doesn’t like crossing his base or suffering a loss of confidence when the netroots fret. But he is the president, not the Democratic nominee, and one would think it’s time to move beyond such parochial concerns. Moreover, as Rove notes, there is something more important here than internal Democratic politics. We do, after all, have a war to win.

While Obama is concerned about becoming an unpopular wartime president (George W. Bush redux), he would do well to recall that Bush’s party suffered at the polls in 2006 when the war strategy had not yet been revised. And Obama would also be wise to think about another president whom the American people came to see as irresolute, naive, and unable to stand up to America’s foes. That president, Jimmy Carter, got only one term. The American people sized him up, didn’t like what they saw, and voted for a figure committed to asserting American power and values in a dangerous world. Now, that’s something for Obama to worry about.

Read Less

Human Rights Is Now Classified, It Seems

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors remind us that candidate Barack Obama was seriously concerned when the Bush administration was moving toward normalization of relations with Sudan — a “reckless and cynical” move, he then called it. Oh well, enough of that. Now the Obama administration is out to engage Sudan, along with every other bad actor and despotic regime on the planet. What isn’t clear is what this means in practice. What are we prepared to give and what sanctions would be imposed if improvement isn’t seen?

In this instance, as in so many, the language of engagement masks a certain incoherence. How are we to measure progress? What are we to do if Sudan doesn’t respond? How will we know if we are effectively engaging the regime? Oh that’s a secret, you see. What? How do we — and Sudan — know if it’s working if the test (“a classified annex to the strategy”) is concealed from view? There is an Animal House–like “double secret probation” quality to all this.

This unintentionally comic and entirely opaque approach to dealing with a genocidal regime shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone following Obama’s foreign policy. Increasingly, any measure of success in dealing with despotic regimes is lost in a haze of warm, fuzzy feelings. It is the triumph of good intentions over effective action. And as for those who specialize in good intentions, the new Obama approach seems to be just fine with them:

The larger wonder is how all of this can go down so smoothly with those in the human-rights community who have championed Darfur and assailed the Bush Administration for not doing enough. Instead, they are congratulating Mr. Obama, in part because he didn’t take the even softer line on Sudan being advocated by U.S. special envoy J. Scott Gration.

The Obama administration seems to have succeeded in taming only chic, liberal human-rights advocates, who, it turns out, were advocates of stronger American action in Sudan only when George W. Bush occupied the White House. Now that the most awesome-est person ever is there, well, Darfur — like Iranian democracy — isn’t going to command the attention of the stylish protesters.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors remind us that candidate Barack Obama was seriously concerned when the Bush administration was moving toward normalization of relations with Sudan — a “reckless and cynical” move, he then called it. Oh well, enough of that. Now the Obama administration is out to engage Sudan, along with every other bad actor and despotic regime on the planet. What isn’t clear is what this means in practice. What are we prepared to give and what sanctions would be imposed if improvement isn’t seen?

In this instance, as in so many, the language of engagement masks a certain incoherence. How are we to measure progress? What are we to do if Sudan doesn’t respond? How will we know if we are effectively engaging the regime? Oh that’s a secret, you see. What? How do we — and Sudan — know if it’s working if the test (“a classified annex to the strategy”) is concealed from view? There is an Animal House–like “double secret probation” quality to all this.

This unintentionally comic and entirely opaque approach to dealing with a genocidal regime shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone following Obama’s foreign policy. Increasingly, any measure of success in dealing with despotic regimes is lost in a haze of warm, fuzzy feelings. It is the triumph of good intentions over effective action. And as for those who specialize in good intentions, the new Obama approach seems to be just fine with them:

The larger wonder is how all of this can go down so smoothly with those in the human-rights community who have championed Darfur and assailed the Bush Administration for not doing enough. Instead, they are congratulating Mr. Obama, in part because he didn’t take the even softer line on Sudan being advocated by U.S. special envoy J. Scott Gration.

The Obama administration seems to have succeeded in taming only chic, liberal human-rights advocates, who, it turns out, were advocates of stronger American action in Sudan only when George W. Bush occupied the White House. Now that the most awesome-est person ever is there, well, Darfur — like Iranian democracy — isn’t going to command the attention of the stylish protesters.

Read Less

What’s the Matter with Harry?

Majority Leader Harry Reid shot himself in the foot yesterday and unnerved his party. The subject was a discrete vote on doctors’ Medicare payments:

A dozen Democrats (plus independent Joe Lieberman) voted against Majority Leader Harry Reid’s gambit, which would have superseded automatic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors scheduled for 21% next year and higher after that. Democrats had included this fix as part of “comprehensive” reform but that pushed costs too high, while President Obama is insisting on a bill that doesn’t increase the deficit on paper.

So the AMA is miffed, given that their payments aren’t “fixed” and Democrats are left wondering if their leader knows what he is doing. As Yuval Levin points out, this suggests:

The biggest problem is the danger of losing the confidence of his Democratic senators. Passing health care reform remains an extremely difficult challenge: there are two Senate bills, with very significant substantive differences between them, which need to be combined, voted on, then merged with an even more different House bill, and voted on again. Each of these votes would require the support of just about every (if not indeed every single) Senate Democrat, and each would be a very tough vote for one or another group in their caucus.

It may just be that there isn’t any legislative skill there to pull off the “serial needle-threading” needed to get this through, if the “this” is going to be one massive health-care reform bill. And as of yet the White House hasn’t demonstrated any inclination to roll up its sleeves and try to broker a deal.

Maybe all the pieces will magically fall into place and the stars will align to produce a viable bill by the end of the year. But how likely is it that a messy legislative process run by not-very-competent leadership struggling to produce a bill that the public opposes will “succeed”? Not as likely as one would have thought nine months ago.

Majority Leader Harry Reid shot himself in the foot yesterday and unnerved his party. The subject was a discrete vote on doctors’ Medicare payments:

A dozen Democrats (plus independent Joe Lieberman) voted against Majority Leader Harry Reid’s gambit, which would have superseded automatic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors scheduled for 21% next year and higher after that. Democrats had included this fix as part of “comprehensive” reform but that pushed costs too high, while President Obama is insisting on a bill that doesn’t increase the deficit on paper.

So the AMA is miffed, given that their payments aren’t “fixed” and Democrats are left wondering if their leader knows what he is doing. As Yuval Levin points out, this suggests:

The biggest problem is the danger of losing the confidence of his Democratic senators. Passing health care reform remains an extremely difficult challenge: there are two Senate bills, with very significant substantive differences between them, which need to be combined, voted on, then merged with an even more different House bill, and voted on again. Each of these votes would require the support of just about every (if not indeed every single) Senate Democrat, and each would be a very tough vote for one or another group in their caucus.

It may just be that there isn’t any legislative skill there to pull off the “serial needle-threading” needed to get this through, if the “this” is going to be one massive health-care reform bill. And as of yet the White House hasn’t demonstrated any inclination to roll up its sleeves and try to broker a deal.

Maybe all the pieces will magically fall into place and the stars will align to produce a viable bill by the end of the year. But how likely is it that a messy legislative process run by not-very-competent leadership struggling to produce a bill that the public opposes will “succeed”? Not as likely as one would have thought nine months ago.

Read Less

Maureen Dowd Will Need Her Smelling Salts Again

Liz Cheney makes some news in this interview, directly accusing Obama of endangering the lives of  our troops and announcing that her group will be discussing economic issues as well. She explains that the nation’s economy — the $1.4 trillion deficit and the weakened dollar, for example – is an issue of national security. Is Obama “more radical than she thought”? Yes, she says, reminding us of the soothing rhetoric (“not a collection of Red states and Blue states, but the United States of America”) that convinced so many Americans that Obama would be a break from the past.

I’m struck by several things in the interview. The first is tone. Cheney delivers a very tough message with serenity and with no trace of anger. It defies the image of the grumpy or angry conservative. To borrow a phrase, she has a “superior temperament.” And that temperament stands in contrast, ironically, to Obama’s. He used to be the calm one but now is increasingly seen as partisan and testy.

Second, there is an opening for Cheney’s message precisely because Obama has proved to be a more radical figure than most imagined. Had he made a definitive decision on Afghanistan or decided against throwing the netroots a bunch of bones by investigating CIA interrogators and discontinuing the full funding of key defense programs (e.g., F-22, missile defense), there would be much less for her to talk about. It’s only because Obama chose a George McGovern model over a Bill Clinton model that there is so much running room to his right.

And finally, notice the lawyerly indictment of the White House operatives’ attack on Fox. They are launching a “secondary boycott,” she says — trying to induce others not to do business with Fox or rely on its reports. No, she’s not readying a lawsuit. But you can see her analytical mind at work and her ability to marshal an argument. She’s making her point: the White House is behaving in unprecedented and entirely inappropriate ways. Her political opponents certainly are going to have their hands full with her.

Liz Cheney makes some news in this interview, directly accusing Obama of endangering the lives of  our troops and announcing that her group will be discussing economic issues as well. She explains that the nation’s economy — the $1.4 trillion deficit and the weakened dollar, for example – is an issue of national security. Is Obama “more radical than she thought”? Yes, she says, reminding us of the soothing rhetoric (“not a collection of Red states and Blue states, but the United States of America”) that convinced so many Americans that Obama would be a break from the past.

I’m struck by several things in the interview. The first is tone. Cheney delivers a very tough message with serenity and with no trace of anger. It defies the image of the grumpy or angry conservative. To borrow a phrase, she has a “superior temperament.” And that temperament stands in contrast, ironically, to Obama’s. He used to be the calm one but now is increasingly seen as partisan and testy.

Second, there is an opening for Cheney’s message precisely because Obama has proved to be a more radical figure than most imagined. Had he made a definitive decision on Afghanistan or decided against throwing the netroots a bunch of bones by investigating CIA interrogators and discontinuing the full funding of key defense programs (e.g., F-22, missile defense), there would be much less for her to talk about. It’s only because Obama chose a George McGovern model over a Bill Clinton model that there is so much running room to his right.

And finally, notice the lawyerly indictment of the White House operatives’ attack on Fox. They are launching a “secondary boycott,” she says — trying to induce others not to do business with Fox or rely on its reports. No, she’s not readying a lawsuit. But you can see her analytical mind at work and her ability to marshal an argument. She’s making her point: the White House is behaving in unprecedented and entirely inappropriate ways. Her political opponents certainly are going to have their hands full with her.

Read Less

The Other Cheney

Former Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for “dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.” And for good measure he blew the whistle on the Obami who claimed they had to start war-planning from scratch. Cheney said not true:

“They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt,” Cheney said in prepared remarks.

Cheney’s comments contradicted a claim by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the Obama administration had to form an Afghan war strategy from scratch because the Bush administration hadn’t asked any key questions about the war and left it “adrift.”

(This account is confirmed by Karl Rove here.)

Cheney in forceful terms summed up the criticism coming from the Right, but also from some increasingly frustrated Democrats:

“They made a decision — a good one, I think — and sent a commander into the field to implement it,” Cheney said, referring to McChrystal, who was chosen in May by Obama to lead the fight in Afghanistan.

“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced,” he said. “It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.” …

“Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries,” he added. “Waffling, while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause.”

Cheney also launched a broadside against the Obama administration’s “hounding” of intelligence employees and assailing of interrogation measures that prevented attacks on Americans.

Cheney showed in the Guantanamo debate that the president’s popularity (much reduced since then) is no substitute for cogent argument and smart policies. The White House once again will no doubt snarl in response, as they are wont to do in lieu of reasoned rebuttal. (And what would they say? ” We are not dithering!”) But Cheney’s point is the central one for the American people and for elected leaders: just how do Obama’s policies (e.g., reinvestigation of CIA operatives, release of interrogation memos and halt to enhanced interrogation techniques, delay on formulating an Afghanistan policy) improve America’s safety? Unless the president can provide a concrete answer, he remains vulnerable. More important, so does America.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for “dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.” And for good measure he blew the whistle on the Obami who claimed they had to start war-planning from scratch. Cheney said not true:

“They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt,” Cheney said in prepared remarks.

Cheney’s comments contradicted a claim by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the Obama administration had to form an Afghan war strategy from scratch because the Bush administration hadn’t asked any key questions about the war and left it “adrift.”

(This account is confirmed by Karl Rove here.)

Cheney in forceful terms summed up the criticism coming from the Right, but also from some increasingly frustrated Democrats:

“They made a decision — a good one, I think — and sent a commander into the field to implement it,” Cheney said, referring to McChrystal, who was chosen in May by Obama to lead the fight in Afghanistan.

“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced,” he said. “It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.” …

“Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries,” he added. “Waffling, while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause.”

Cheney also launched a broadside against the Obama administration’s “hounding” of intelligence employees and assailing of interrogation measures that prevented attacks on Americans.

Cheney showed in the Guantanamo debate that the president’s popularity (much reduced since then) is no substitute for cogent argument and smart policies. The White House once again will no doubt snarl in response, as they are wont to do in lieu of reasoned rebuttal. (And what would they say? ” We are not dithering!”) But Cheney’s point is the central one for the American people and for elected leaders: just how do Obama’s policies (e.g., reinvestigation of CIA operatives, release of interrogation memos and halt to enhanced interrogation techniques, delay on formulating an Afghanistan policy) improve America’s safety? Unless the president can provide a concrete answer, he remains vulnerable. More important, so does America.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

JTA’s Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas is the latest participant to drop out of the J Street conference.

Not quite the most “ethical Congress ever” — or the most transparent: “Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) locked Republicans out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room to keep them from meeting when Democrats aren’t present. Towns’s action came after repeated public ridicule from the leading Republican on the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), over Towns’s failure to launch an investigation into Countrywide Mortgage’s reported sweetheart deals to VIPs.”

Maybe dithering on Afghanistan isn’t helping: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -13. That’s just a point above the lowest level ever recorded for this President. It’s also the sixth straight day in negative double digits, matching the longest such streak.”

Where is Richard Holbrooke? Seems President Karzai won’t talk to him. Maybe Holbrooke is cooling his heels in the secret undisclosed location with Dennis Ross, who also hasn’t been let out in public lately.

Gallup on Obama’s historic plunge in approval: “The 9-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup has ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953.”

Maybe it’s because he’s pushing something Americans don’t like: “Americans are increasingly worried about the cost and quality of medical care that could result from President Obama’s effort to revamp health care, but a majority still trust him more than Republicans to change the system, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. The poll, which comes as Senate leaders are crafting a bill for a critical floor vote, finds that people who fear their costs would increase under the measure jumped 7 percentage points since last month, to 49%.”

The Senate majority leader gets run over by his troops: “Thirteen Democrats joined all 40 Republicans to block a permanent repeal of Medicare’s payment formula for doctors, with lawmakers concluding the legislation’s $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell notes that “a bipartisan majority rejected the Democrat Leadership’s attempt to add another quarter trillion dollars to the national credit card without any plan to pay for it.” It is sort of embarrassing after Harry Reid declared that “of course I don’t bring anything to the floor if I don’t think I have the votes.”

Doesn’t sound so airtight, does it? “Iranian negotiators on Wednesday agreed to consider a draft deal that — if accepted by the Tehran leadership — would delay its ability to make nuclear weapons by sending most of the material it would need to Russia for processing, diplomats said Wednesday.” They’ll consider sending most (some? more than half? a pinch more than a third?) uranium to Russia. And we’ll be able to verify that because…? Welcome to the world of engagement.

John Mercurio: “To the many warning signs Democrats face in the 2010 midterm elections, add this: New fundraising reports show Republicans outraised Democrats in the third quarter in all eight open Senate races on next fall’s ballot. Reasons for the GOP’s success vary in this narrow, but important, category. While it isn’t the only indicator of party strength and momentum, fundraising in races without incumbents does offer an unfiltered prism through which to gauge the enthusiasm and organization of each party’s base.”

JTA’s Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas is the latest participant to drop out of the J Street conference.

Not quite the most “ethical Congress ever” — or the most transparent: “Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) locked Republicans out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room to keep them from meeting when Democrats aren’t present. Towns’s action came after repeated public ridicule from the leading Republican on the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), over Towns’s failure to launch an investigation into Countrywide Mortgage’s reported sweetheart deals to VIPs.”

Maybe dithering on Afghanistan isn’t helping: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty percent (40%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -13. That’s just a point above the lowest level ever recorded for this President. It’s also the sixth straight day in negative double digits, matching the longest such streak.”

Where is Richard Holbrooke? Seems President Karzai won’t talk to him. Maybe Holbrooke is cooling his heels in the secret undisclosed location with Dennis Ross, who also hasn’t been let out in public lately.

Gallup on Obama’s historic plunge in approval: “The 9-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup has ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953.”

Maybe it’s because he’s pushing something Americans don’t like: “Americans are increasingly worried about the cost and quality of medical care that could result from President Obama’s effort to revamp health care, but a majority still trust him more than Republicans to change the system, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. The poll, which comes as Senate leaders are crafting a bill for a critical floor vote, finds that people who fear their costs would increase under the measure jumped 7 percentage points since last month, to 49%.”

The Senate majority leader gets run over by his troops: “Thirteen Democrats joined all 40 Republicans to block a permanent repeal of Medicare’s payment formula for doctors, with lawmakers concluding the legislation’s $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell notes that “a bipartisan majority rejected the Democrat Leadership’s attempt to add another quarter trillion dollars to the national credit card without any plan to pay for it.” It is sort of embarrassing after Harry Reid declared that “of course I don’t bring anything to the floor if I don’t think I have the votes.”

Doesn’t sound so airtight, does it? “Iranian negotiators on Wednesday agreed to consider a draft deal that — if accepted by the Tehran leadership — would delay its ability to make nuclear weapons by sending most of the material it would need to Russia for processing, diplomats said Wednesday.” They’ll consider sending most (some? more than half? a pinch more than a third?) uranium to Russia. And we’ll be able to verify that because…? Welcome to the world of engagement.

John Mercurio: “To the many warning signs Democrats face in the 2010 midterm elections, add this: New fundraising reports show Republicans outraised Democrats in the third quarter in all eight open Senate races on next fall’s ballot. Reasons for the GOP’s success vary in this narrow, but important, category. While it isn’t the only indicator of party strength and momentum, fundraising in races without incumbents does offer an unfiltered prism through which to gauge the enthusiasm and organization of each party’s base.”

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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