Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 23, 2009

The Moral-Equivalence Game

The present and past chairs of Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to the New York Times this week, criticizing the founder of their organization, Robert L. Bernstein, for allegedly arguing that Israel should be judged by a different human-rights standard than the rest of the world.

This was, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted, a gross distortion of Bernstein’s views; Bernstein had written that HRW’s original mission was “to pry open closed societies” by supporting dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky. Open societies could correct themselves — through public debate, an adversarial press, an independent judiciary, a politically active academia, and multiple political parties — all especially evident in Israel and conspicuously absent in the “authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records” around it. Bernstein wrote that to ignore the distinction between open and closed societies is to be taken into a “moral equivalence game.”

No one has described the corruption of that game better than Sharansky himself, recounting in The Case for Democracy the respect he lost for Amnesty International (AI) after he read its annual report:

I immediately noticed that something was terribly wrong.  There were pages and pages of material about human rights abuses in my new country Israel, and very little on the nondemocratic states that surrounded us.  It appeared as though Israel was a bigger violator of human rights than Saudi Arabia, a country where there was no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, and no freedom of religion.

At the time, Sharansky offered what he thought was a constructive suggestion:

Why not divide the report into three sections:  one for totalitarian regimes, one for authoritarian regimes, and one for democracies?  Without those categories, Amnesty was creating a dangerous moral equivalence between countries where human rights are sometimes abused and countries where they are always abused.

His suggestion was rejected out of hand; AI would not “label” countries; it would not “support or oppose any political system”; it would concern itself only with the “impartial” protection of human rights. To which Sharansky responded: “How can a human rights organization be impartial about political systems that are inherently hostile to human rights?”

Israel is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but now the noxious fumes come from the “human rights organizations” themselves. If HRW were worthy of its name (and its history), it would elevate Gildad Shalit to the status it once gave Sharansky. It would use Shalit not simply to condemn holding a prisoner incommunicado but also to mobilize the moral authority of the free world against a terrorist regime that holds its entire population captive, that caused a war through relentless rockets fired on neighboring civilians, and that used its own civilians as human shields when the inevitable reaction finally came.

Bernstein’s important article demonstrates that HRW once understood the moral stakes involved between open and closed societies before it descended into the game of moral equivalence that has turned it into a part of the problem instead of the solution. It has reduced itself to writing to the Times to distort the argument its own founder now makes against it.

The present and past chairs of Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to the New York Times this week, criticizing the founder of their organization, Robert L. Bernstein, for allegedly arguing that Israel should be judged by a different human-rights standard than the rest of the world.

This was, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted, a gross distortion of Bernstein’s views; Bernstein had written that HRW’s original mission was “to pry open closed societies” by supporting dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky. Open societies could correct themselves — through public debate, an adversarial press, an independent judiciary, a politically active academia, and multiple political parties — all especially evident in Israel and conspicuously absent in the “authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records” around it. Bernstein wrote that to ignore the distinction between open and closed societies is to be taken into a “moral equivalence game.”

No one has described the corruption of that game better than Sharansky himself, recounting in The Case for Democracy the respect he lost for Amnesty International (AI) after he read its annual report:

I immediately noticed that something was terribly wrong.  There were pages and pages of material about human rights abuses in my new country Israel, and very little on the nondemocratic states that surrounded us.  It appeared as though Israel was a bigger violator of human rights than Saudi Arabia, a country where there was no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, and no freedom of religion.

At the time, Sharansky offered what he thought was a constructive suggestion:

Why not divide the report into three sections:  one for totalitarian regimes, one for authoritarian regimes, and one for democracies?  Without those categories, Amnesty was creating a dangerous moral equivalence between countries where human rights are sometimes abused and countries where they are always abused.

His suggestion was rejected out of hand; AI would not “label” countries; it would not “support or oppose any political system”; it would concern itself only with the “impartial” protection of human rights. To which Sharansky responded: “How can a human rights organization be impartial about political systems that are inherently hostile to human rights?”

Israel is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but now the noxious fumes come from the “human rights organizations” themselves. If HRW were worthy of its name (and its history), it would elevate Gildad Shalit to the status it once gave Sharansky. It would use Shalit not simply to condemn holding a prisoner incommunicado but also to mobilize the moral authority of the free world against a terrorist regime that holds its entire population captive, that caused a war through relentless rockets fired on neighboring civilians, and that used its own civilians as human shields when the inevitable reaction finally came.

Bernstein’s important article demonstrates that HRW once understood the moral stakes involved between open and closed societies before it descended into the game of moral equivalence that has turned it into a part of the problem instead of the solution. It has reduced itself to writing to the Times to distort the argument its own founder now makes against it.

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They Sell Pirates in the Seychelles

The good news is that the multinational anti-piracy force continues to push Somali pirates eastward into the open waters of the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. Piracy is harder to patrol and prevent in the open ocean — and it’s also harder to punish.

Suppression of Somali piracy has been largely successful in the Gulf of Aden. But with the end of the summer monsoon season, Somali pirates have gotten back to work in the Indian Ocean, attacking at least eight ships in the last month. On Monday a Chinese coaling freighter was seized nearly 700 miles east of Somalia, further from the coast than any previous hijacking. The seizure occurred, in fact, closer to the Seychelles than to Africa, a circumstance that carries its own set of challenges. The geographic shift of piracy patterns is likely to increase the already significant difficulty of prosecuting pirates: the Seychelles informed France this month that, with its minimal penal infrastructure and a surfeit of already captured pirates, it had no capacity to accept more.

But a pirate could do worse than get detained in the Seychelles. A lively incident in September highlighted what we might call “vulnerabilities” in the arrangements for regional prosecution of pirates. Reconstruction of the garbled event indicates that on September 6, a charter aircraft with 23 pirates aboard flew from the Seychelles to the African continent, apparently landing at Nairobi. The pirates transferred to smaller aircraft and proceeded to a remote airstrip in Somali Puntland, where they were to be exchanged for three Seychellian hostages held by a pirate organization.

Kenyan authorities asserted during this period that the same pirates were being held incommunicado at the Nairobi airport. The government of Puntland, in an official statement, disagreed; and the Seychelles announced on September 13 that its three hostages had been freed. Most press reporting agrees that the 23 pirates disappeared into the Puntland bush. Kenyan journalists, meanwhile, report that piracy is making money for a lot of Kenyans; they speculate, with their Somali counterparts, that the release of pirates from the Seychelles was brokered in Kenya.

Kenya, of course, is the world’s hope for pirate prosecutions, which are not going so well in Europe (e.g., Spain and the Netherlands). The pirates lost to the Puntland caper represent more than 10 percent of the 212 who have been sent to various nations for prosecution. While the soap opera continues, the pirates are growing bolder. The pirates who seized M/V De Xin Hai, the coaling freighter, issued an uncharacteristic warning to China that the crewmen would be killed if any attempt were made to rescue them. Between the pirates and their pursuers, a key difference may be whose threats are actually credible.

The good news is that the multinational anti-piracy force continues to push Somali pirates eastward into the open waters of the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. Piracy is harder to patrol and prevent in the open ocean — and it’s also harder to punish.

Suppression of Somali piracy has been largely successful in the Gulf of Aden. But with the end of the summer monsoon season, Somali pirates have gotten back to work in the Indian Ocean, attacking at least eight ships in the last month. On Monday a Chinese coaling freighter was seized nearly 700 miles east of Somalia, further from the coast than any previous hijacking. The seizure occurred, in fact, closer to the Seychelles than to Africa, a circumstance that carries its own set of challenges. The geographic shift of piracy patterns is likely to increase the already significant difficulty of prosecuting pirates: the Seychelles informed France this month that, with its minimal penal infrastructure and a surfeit of already captured pirates, it had no capacity to accept more.

But a pirate could do worse than get detained in the Seychelles. A lively incident in September highlighted what we might call “vulnerabilities” in the arrangements for regional prosecution of pirates. Reconstruction of the garbled event indicates that on September 6, a charter aircraft with 23 pirates aboard flew from the Seychelles to the African continent, apparently landing at Nairobi. The pirates transferred to smaller aircraft and proceeded to a remote airstrip in Somali Puntland, where they were to be exchanged for three Seychellian hostages held by a pirate organization.

Kenyan authorities asserted during this period that the same pirates were being held incommunicado at the Nairobi airport. The government of Puntland, in an official statement, disagreed; and the Seychelles announced on September 13 that its three hostages had been freed. Most press reporting agrees that the 23 pirates disappeared into the Puntland bush. Kenyan journalists, meanwhile, report that piracy is making money for a lot of Kenyans; they speculate, with their Somali counterparts, that the release of pirates from the Seychelles was brokered in Kenya.

Kenya, of course, is the world’s hope for pirate prosecutions, which are not going so well in Europe (e.g., Spain and the Netherlands). The pirates lost to the Puntland caper represent more than 10 percent of the 212 who have been sent to various nations for prosecution. While the soap opera continues, the pirates are growing bolder. The pirates who seized M/V De Xin Hai, the coaling freighter, issued an uncharacteristic warning to China that the crewmen would be killed if any attempt were made to rescue them. Between the pirates and their pursuers, a key difference may be whose threats are actually credible.

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The Body Isn’t Cold

Creigh Deeds hasn’t actually lost yet, but the White House doesn’t want to wait for that to happen before setting up a neon light that screams: “Not Obama’s Fault!” The Obami go running to explain to the Washington Post what a political disaster the Deeds’s campaign has been:

Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election. …

A senior administration official said Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”

Another White House spinner says that Deeds didn’t follow the example set out by Barack Obama and Tim Kaine. Others moan that Deeds didn’t embrace Obama closely enough. But how could he? Obama’s approval in polling is in the low-40s, and his real strength is among African Americans and young people, two groups unlikely to turn out for the election. Deeds, while no stellar candidate, was probably wise to run as a centrist Democrat, and that’s hard to do while embracing a president who has lurched sharply to the Left.

One key tidbit for anti-card-check forces: it seems that Deeds’s support of Big Labor was a major stumbling block for a key figure, Sheila Johnson, a major Democratic donor in past years and a prominent African-American businesswoman, who ultimately backed Republican Bob McDonnell, a strong opponent of card-check legislation.

The Obami will try to fob off the defeat, when it comes, onto Deeds. But Deeds ran in a far less favorable environment than Obama did last year. Obama ran against George W. Bush. Deeds had to run with Obama in the White House. Turns out that’s an uphill battle for Democrats in swing states.

Creigh Deeds hasn’t actually lost yet, but the White House doesn’t want to wait for that to happen before setting up a neon light that screams: “Not Obama’s Fault!” The Obami go running to explain to the Washington Post what a political disaster the Deeds’s campaign has been:

Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election. …

A senior administration official said Deeds badly erred on several fronts, including not doing a better job of coordinating with the White House. “I understood in the beginning why there was some reluctance to run all around the state with Barack Obama,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race. “You don’t do that in Virginia. But when you consider the African American turnout that they need, and then when you consider as well they’ve got a huge problem with surge voters, younger voters, we were just a natural for them.”

Another White House spinner says that Deeds didn’t follow the example set out by Barack Obama and Tim Kaine. Others moan that Deeds didn’t embrace Obama closely enough. But how could he? Obama’s approval in polling is in the low-40s, and his real strength is among African Americans and young people, two groups unlikely to turn out for the election. Deeds, while no stellar candidate, was probably wise to run as a centrist Democrat, and that’s hard to do while embracing a president who has lurched sharply to the Left.

One key tidbit for anti-card-check forces: it seems that Deeds’s support of Big Labor was a major stumbling block for a key figure, Sheila Johnson, a major Democratic donor in past years and a prominent African-American businesswoman, who ultimately backed Republican Bob McDonnell, a strong opponent of card-check legislation.

The Obami will try to fob off the defeat, when it comes, onto Deeds. But Deeds ran in a far less favorable environment than Obama did last year. Obama ran against George W. Bush. Deeds had to run with Obama in the White House. Turns out that’s an uphill battle for Democrats in swing states.

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Just Like Herbert Hoover

President Obama has a habit of letting Congress shape legislation, and the result has not been pretty. The stimulus bill turned into a liberal wish list that stimulated only the national debt. Cap-and-trade is stalled. And the health bills (there are, I think, five at the moment) are a mess, with no clear way to enactment (which is, of course, just fine with me).

This is reminiscent of one of the great legislative disasters in American history. In 1928, as Herbert Hoover was running for president, farm prices were low and going lower, and rural depression was deepening. He promised American farmers protection from foreign competition. Keeping his promise, he asked Congress to raise tariffs on farm products. Farm-state congressmen and senators were, naturally, all for this. But Congress works by log-rolling (I’ll vote for what you want if you’ll vote for what I want), and the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill (named for its chief sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon) soon turned into a special-interest feeding frenzy.

No fewer than 20,000 products, including tombstones (who knew that imported tombstones were a threat to American prosperity?), had their tariffs raised, and the overall level set by the new tariff was the highest in American history. Economists knew this was economic lunacy, and more than 1,000 signed a petition asking for a presidential veto. So did the international banking industry. Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan and Co. wrote: “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot Tariff. That Act intensified nationalism all over the world.”

It sure did. Other countries immediately slapped on retaliatory tariffs, and world trade began to collapse. It was $36 billion in 1929. In 1932, it was $12 billion. American exports declined 78 percent between 1929 and 1933, falling below the 1896 level if inflation is factored in.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was one of the three big government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession and stock-market crash into the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression, now forever linked to Herbert Hoover’s historical reputation.

One has to wonder why President Obama seems to have chosen Hoover as his role model. Wouldn’t Lyndon Johnson have been a better choice?

President Obama has a habit of letting Congress shape legislation, and the result has not been pretty. The stimulus bill turned into a liberal wish list that stimulated only the national debt. Cap-and-trade is stalled. And the health bills (there are, I think, five at the moment) are a mess, with no clear way to enactment (which is, of course, just fine with me).

This is reminiscent of one of the great legislative disasters in American history. In 1928, as Herbert Hoover was running for president, farm prices were low and going lower, and rural depression was deepening. He promised American farmers protection from foreign competition. Keeping his promise, he asked Congress to raise tariffs on farm products. Farm-state congressmen and senators were, naturally, all for this. But Congress works by log-rolling (I’ll vote for what you want if you’ll vote for what I want), and the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill (named for its chief sponsors, Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon) soon turned into a special-interest feeding frenzy.

No fewer than 20,000 products, including tombstones (who knew that imported tombstones were a threat to American prosperity?), had their tariffs raised, and the overall level set by the new tariff was the highest in American history. Economists knew this was economic lunacy, and more than 1,000 signed a petition asking for a presidential veto. So did the international banking industry. Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan and Co. wrote: “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot Tariff. That Act intensified nationalism all over the world.”

It sure did. Other countries immediately slapped on retaliatory tariffs, and world trade began to collapse. It was $36 billion in 1929. In 1932, it was $12 billion. American exports declined 78 percent between 1929 and 1933, falling below the 1896 level if inflation is factored in.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was one of the three big government mistakes that converted an ordinary recession and stock-market crash into the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression, now forever linked to Herbert Hoover’s historical reputation.

One has to wonder why President Obama seems to have chosen Hoover as his role model. Wouldn’t Lyndon Johnson have been a better choice?

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Islamist Extremism and the Murder of Daniel Pearl

These are the remarks Sen. Joseph Lieberman delivered at the fourth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at Stanford University on October 18:

It has been nearly eight years since Ruth and Judea Pearl were confronted by the most unspeakable horror that any parent can contemplate. But rather than retreat into grief and anger, they have instead ensured that the flame of their son’s memory, and everything he stood for, has continued to burn with undiminished urgency and relevance. Because of their work, and the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, Danny’s life continues to illuminate our world.

Daniel Pearl’s legacy is a powerful one, precisely because he embodied so many of the best values and convictions of our country and of the Jewish faith and people, with which he courageously identified himself in the final moment of his life. They are the values that were taught to him by his parents—the values that animate this great university in which he was educated—and the values that informed his decision to pursue a career in journalism.

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

These are the remarks Sen. Joseph Lieberman delivered at the fourth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at Stanford University on October 18:

It has been nearly eight years since Ruth and Judea Pearl were confronted by the most unspeakable horror that any parent can contemplate. But rather than retreat into grief and anger, they have instead ensured that the flame of their son’s memory, and everything he stood for, has continued to burn with undiminished urgency and relevance. Because of their work, and the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, Danny’s life continues to illuminate our world.

Daniel Pearl’s legacy is a powerful one, precisely because he embodied so many of the best values and convictions of our country and of the Jewish faith and people, with which he courageously identified himself in the final moment of his life. They are the values that were taught to him by his parents—the values that animate this great university in which he was educated—and the values that informed his decision to pursue a career in journalism.

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

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Obama’s Enemies List

I have argued before that the tone and manner in which one practices politics are undervalued commodities, especially at a presidential level. The public looks for leaders who are large-minded rather than petty and peevish, who engage in public arguments rather than in personal attacks, who want to solve problems rather than settle scores. Tone and approach are important not simply for the aesthetics of politics but also because of what they reveal about a person’s predisposition and attitude, temperament and spirit. …

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

I have argued before that the tone and manner in which one practices politics are undervalued commodities, especially at a presidential level. The public looks for leaders who are large-minded rather than petty and peevish, who engage in public arguments rather than in personal attacks, who want to solve problems rather than settle scores. Tone and approach are important not simply for the aesthetics of politics but also because of what they reveal about a person’s predisposition and attitude, temperament and spirit. …

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

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Unclear on the Concept

Jennifer, the article you cited, “Biden Asks Eastern Europe to Spread Democracy,” ends with Biden’s exhortation to the students in his audience:

“You were present at the creation of a new Europe, a new security, a new era of peace because you were bold enough to seize that moment,” Mr. Biden told an audience of over 200 university students at the Bucharest library. “Be like those in ’89. Be bold. Exercise your leadership. You have a history and you have a tradition. You can make a gigantic difference, and we’ll stand with you.”

After Biden left, the students perhaps reflected on Biden’s track record. He had proposed withdrawing from Iraq and leaving the nascent democracy there to fend for itself; he is urging the administration to reject the request for sufficient troops to stand by Afghanistan; on this trip, he will not visit Georgia, where Russian troops remain after splitting an American ally in two; and he will be too busy, like his running mate, to travel to Berlin on November 9 to participate in the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is a shame that one of the students did not get the opportunity to suggest to Biden that “stand with you” does not mean what he thinks it does.

Jennifer, the article you cited, “Biden Asks Eastern Europe to Spread Democracy,” ends with Biden’s exhortation to the students in his audience:

“You were present at the creation of a new Europe, a new security, a new era of peace because you were bold enough to seize that moment,” Mr. Biden told an audience of over 200 university students at the Bucharest library. “Be like those in ’89. Be bold. Exercise your leadership. You have a history and you have a tradition. You can make a gigantic difference, and we’ll stand with you.”

After Biden left, the students perhaps reflected on Biden’s track record. He had proposed withdrawing from Iraq and leaving the nascent democracy there to fend for itself; he is urging the administration to reject the request for sufficient troops to stand by Afghanistan; on this trip, he will not visit Georgia, where Russian troops remain after splitting an American ally in two; and he will be too busy, like his running mate, to travel to Berlin on November 9 to participate in the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is a shame that one of the students did not get the opportunity to suggest to Biden that “stand with you” does not mean what he thinks it does.

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Re: Iran Haggles

Following on Jennifer’s post, and also according to Reuters, “Iran on Friday failed to accept a UN-drafted plan for it to cut a stockpile of nuclear fuel that the West fears could be used for weapons, instead calling for responses to its own proposal.” Thus, Obama’s not-so-revolutionary engagement strategy fizzles in a very ordinary, very Iranian dead end. Tehran was toying with us the whole time. Iran “negotiates” to buy time and legitimacy. It does not negotiate to resolve conflicts with the West. You’d think after 30 years the West would have discovered this much.

Far from it. The collection of breathless commentary about the “big victory” for Obama already undoubtedly at hand is now cringe-inducing. Thomas Barnett has a DOA piece over at Esquire‘s website titled “So Iran Caved on the Bomb. What Now?” Yesterday, arms-control expert Peter Crail told the Christian Science Monitor, “At this point, it would be very difficult for Iran to back away from the deal altogether.” But the topper, for my money, was Kevin Sullivan’s attempt to dismiss the “neoconservative panic attacks” with this pearl:

I can’t help but wonder if those screaming of Iranian betrayal have ever had to haggle or negotiate for anything; like a used car, or a raise at work. I have, and I’ve always been told that you never walk in agreeing to the first offer or asking price if you think you can get something more to your liking.

How stunning that after three decades of dealing with a regime that is, at its core, animated by anti-Western sentiment, radical Shiism, a quest for nukes, and underhanded “negotiation,” the best the U.S. can do is see in the ayatollahs a bunch of savvy used-car shoppers. A few years ago, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke before the UN, and afterward he claimed that no one in the audience blinked, so enthralled were they with his divine ability to convey the rightness and sanctity of the Islamic Republic. That’s no less preposterous than the fact that the supposedly incredulous West (governments, experts, and media alike) believed that Iran had suddenly become reasonable and trustworthy because . . . because, why, again?

Oh, that’s right — because we asked it too.

Following on Jennifer’s post, and also according to Reuters, “Iran on Friday failed to accept a UN-drafted plan for it to cut a stockpile of nuclear fuel that the West fears could be used for weapons, instead calling for responses to its own proposal.” Thus, Obama’s not-so-revolutionary engagement strategy fizzles in a very ordinary, very Iranian dead end. Tehran was toying with us the whole time. Iran “negotiates” to buy time and legitimacy. It does not negotiate to resolve conflicts with the West. You’d think after 30 years the West would have discovered this much.

Far from it. The collection of breathless commentary about the “big victory” for Obama already undoubtedly at hand is now cringe-inducing. Thomas Barnett has a DOA piece over at Esquire‘s website titled “So Iran Caved on the Bomb. What Now?” Yesterday, arms-control expert Peter Crail told the Christian Science Monitor, “At this point, it would be very difficult for Iran to back away from the deal altogether.” But the topper, for my money, was Kevin Sullivan’s attempt to dismiss the “neoconservative panic attacks” with this pearl:

I can’t help but wonder if those screaming of Iranian betrayal have ever had to haggle or negotiate for anything; like a used car, or a raise at work. I have, and I’ve always been told that you never walk in agreeing to the first offer or asking price if you think you can get something more to your liking.

How stunning that after three decades of dealing with a regime that is, at its core, animated by anti-Western sentiment, radical Shiism, a quest for nukes, and underhanded “negotiation,” the best the U.S. can do is see in the ayatollahs a bunch of savvy used-car shoppers. A few years ago, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke before the UN, and afterward he claimed that no one in the audience blinked, so enthralled were they with his divine ability to convey the rightness and sanctity of the Islamic Republic. That’s no less preposterous than the fact that the supposedly incredulous West (governments, experts, and media alike) believed that Iran had suddenly become reasonable and trustworthy because . . . because, why, again?

Oh, that’s right — because we asked it too.

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Re: Livni and J Street

Noah, maybe Livni recognizes a political disaster when she sees one. As Michael Goldfarb explains, we have a study in contrast here. This weekend, Elie Wiesel will be speaking at a gathering of the pro-Israel group Christians United for Israel. (Unlike the J Street confab, this group is really “pro-Israel” — defending the Jewish state, attacking its enemies, and lauding its accomplishments). CUFI, like AIPAC, has been the object of J Street’s ire. (Notice the pattern here?)  As Goldfarb notes:

On the one hand we have a Holocaust survivor and rightful Nobel Peace Prize winner addressing an organization whose pro-Israel credentials J Street has repeatedly attacked. And on the other we have a paranoid, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist addressing an organization that the Israeli ambassador refuses to engage on the grounds that the policies it supports could “impair Israel’s interests.”

No wonder Livni thought it best to steer clear of the J Street circus. She may have lost an election, but she hasn’t lost her mind. J Street is in the business of creating controversy and attacking its political rivals. J Street hosts those who attack Israel’s legitimacy and who mimic the propaganda of Israel’s  most hardened enemies.  It has invited Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which bandies about the  “Zionism is Nazism” slogan. J Street’s confab is not the place where Livni likely wants to be seen.

Noah, maybe Livni recognizes a political disaster when she sees one. As Michael Goldfarb explains, we have a study in contrast here. This weekend, Elie Wiesel will be speaking at a gathering of the pro-Israel group Christians United for Israel. (Unlike the J Street confab, this group is really “pro-Israel” — defending the Jewish state, attacking its enemies, and lauding its accomplishments). CUFI, like AIPAC, has been the object of J Street’s ire. (Notice the pattern here?)  As Goldfarb notes:

On the one hand we have a Holocaust survivor and rightful Nobel Peace Prize winner addressing an organization whose pro-Israel credentials J Street has repeatedly attacked. And on the other we have a paranoid, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist addressing an organization that the Israeli ambassador refuses to engage on the grounds that the policies it supports could “impair Israel’s interests.”

No wonder Livni thought it best to steer clear of the J Street circus. She may have lost an election, but she hasn’t lost her mind. J Street is in the business of creating controversy and attacking its political rivals. J Street hosts those who attack Israel’s legitimacy and who mimic the propaganda of Israel’s  most hardened enemies.  It has invited Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which bandies about the  “Zionism is Nazism” slogan. J Street’s confab is not the place where Livni likely wants to be seen.

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Iran Haggles

I know it’s hard to believe, but Iran appears to be playing games in Geneva. Reuters reports:

Iran declined on Friday to endorse proposals by the UN nuclear watchdog to help reduce Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It said it was awaiting a “positive and constructive” response from world powers to its proposal on providing nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes, state television reported.

This is par for the course. You will recall that Iran was given a Friday deadline to agree to the draft deal. But we already know that “deadline” doesn’t mean, you know, a deadline to the Obama administration. Once again the Iranians are demonstrating what little regard they have for the administration’s word.

And let’s be clear, even if Iran accepted the “deal” to have some of its enriched uranium shipped to France or Russia for re-purposing for peaceful uses,  we’d spend endless time negotiating over the details. And, moreover, Iran maintains that even with such a deal, it still would have the right to proceed with its weapons program. (As this report explains, “Tehran could replace 2,600 pounds of low-enriched uranium “in little over a year.”) The agreement, as others have noted, even if consummated and enforced, “doesn’t prevent Iran from enriching uranium, a capability Iranian officials have made clear they don’t intend to relinquish.”

But this is what Obama-style engagement is all about — haggling over something that doesn’t solve the problem. It becomes increasingly hard to see what purpose, other than providing cover for Iran and taking the onus for action off of Obama, these talks are serving.

I know it’s hard to believe, but Iran appears to be playing games in Geneva. Reuters reports:

Iran declined on Friday to endorse proposals by the UN nuclear watchdog to help reduce Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It said it was awaiting a “positive and constructive” response from world powers to its proposal on providing nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes, state television reported.

This is par for the course. You will recall that Iran was given a Friday deadline to agree to the draft deal. But we already know that “deadline” doesn’t mean, you know, a deadline to the Obama administration. Once again the Iranians are demonstrating what little regard they have for the administration’s word.

And let’s be clear, even if Iran accepted the “deal” to have some of its enriched uranium shipped to France or Russia for re-purposing for peaceful uses,  we’d spend endless time negotiating over the details. And, moreover, Iran maintains that even with such a deal, it still would have the right to proceed with its weapons program. (As this report explains, “Tehran could replace 2,600 pounds of low-enriched uranium “in little over a year.”) The agreement, as others have noted, even if consummated and enforced, “doesn’t prevent Iran from enriching uranium, a capability Iranian officials have made clear they don’t intend to relinquish.”

But this is what Obama-style engagement is all about — haggling over something that doesn’t solve the problem. It becomes increasingly hard to see what purpose, other than providing cover for Iran and taking the onus for action off of Obama, these talks are serving.

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Romney on Israel, Again

Fresh from his AIPAC speech, Mitt Romney has an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Israel. In a shortened version of the AIPAC speech, he points out that the “Saudi government will not even sit in the same room as the Israelis, let alone normalize relations or work toward a realistic peace agreement,” while “Israel, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to a lasting and realistic peace.” He also doesn’t think much of the Obama effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel:

We can encourage both parties in the conflict, but we must never forget which one is our ally. Nor must we forget that Hamas, like other violent jihadists, does not have a two-state solution as its objective. It has the conquest and annihilation of Israel as its objective. The notion that Hamas and violent Jihadists are motivated by “shared interests” and “common goals” is naive in the extreme and dangerous to the entire free world.

And he argues that this is part of a broader and problematic tendency of an administration that “steps away” from allies and tries to move us closer to our foes.

It’s telling that Romney chose to place this in a New Hampshire paper. The home of the first-in-the-nation primary still demands some attention. But it’s also interesting that Romney, at least now, is choosing to make foreign policy and Israel specifically such prominent issues. One can argue that this is simply smart politics — hitting the president where he’s weak, demonstrating greater comfort with a subject his opponent dominated in the last presidential run, and appealing not only to Jewish Republicans (they may be a minority of Jewish voters but they play an active role in the party monetarily and otherwise) but also to evangelical Christians (whose affection for Israel is boundless). But like Dick Cheney’s speech this week, he’s also making cogent arguments to which the administration has yet to respond on the merits. Perhaps if Romney is very lucky, the White House will seek to “marginalize” him too. That would certainly make his day.

Fresh from his AIPAC speech, Mitt Romney has an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Israel. In a shortened version of the AIPAC speech, he points out that the “Saudi government will not even sit in the same room as the Israelis, let alone normalize relations or work toward a realistic peace agreement,” while “Israel, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to a lasting and realistic peace.” He also doesn’t think much of the Obama effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel:

We can encourage both parties in the conflict, but we must never forget which one is our ally. Nor must we forget that Hamas, like other violent jihadists, does not have a two-state solution as its objective. It has the conquest and annihilation of Israel as its objective. The notion that Hamas and violent Jihadists are motivated by “shared interests” and “common goals” is naive in the extreme and dangerous to the entire free world.

And he argues that this is part of a broader and problematic tendency of an administration that “steps away” from allies and tries to move us closer to our foes.

It’s telling that Romney chose to place this in a New Hampshire paper. The home of the first-in-the-nation primary still demands some attention. But it’s also interesting that Romney, at least now, is choosing to make foreign policy and Israel specifically such prominent issues. One can argue that this is simply smart politics — hitting the president where he’s weak, demonstrating greater comfort with a subject his opponent dominated in the last presidential run, and appealing not only to Jewish Republicans (they may be a minority of Jewish voters but they play an active role in the party monetarily and otherwise) but also to evangelical Christians (whose affection for Israel is boundless). But like Dick Cheney’s speech this week, he’s also making cogent arguments to which the administration has yet to respond on the merits. Perhaps if Romney is very lucky, the White House will seek to “marginalize” him too. That would certainly make his day.

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NY-23: A Defining Moment?

The special election to fill the NY-23 House seat is becoming a gut check for conservatives but also another example of just how far the balance of energy and influence has shifted from Beltway insiders to emboldened outsiders. Politico characterizes it as a test of the Tea Party protesters. In a sense that’s right. Can grassroots organizers rise up, defy the party  establishment, and vault a political novice and pro-free-market businessman into office? We’ll find out.

It’s also a defining moment for Republican wannabe leaders. Newt Gingrich has himself tied up in knots explaining why Dede Scozzafava — a pro-card-check, pro-gay-marriage,  rather liberal Republican (think Olympia Snowe), who’s not savvy enough to avoid embarrassing scenes like this — is really the “practical” choice for Republicans. Tim Pawlenty says he “doesn’t know anything about it.” Sarah Palin is backing the insurgent Republican Doug Hoffman. That will tell Republican voters something about all three potential candidates for 2012.

And it’s also a moment for the influence of the conservative media, which, in a sort of “I am Spartacus” moment, has risen to the defense of the Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack to demand that Scozzafava withdraw from the race after calling the cops on the journalist and falsely accusing him of yelling at the embattled candidate. To some extent this issue has overshadowed the political face-off between moderate/insider and populist/outsider. It’s now a race about the front-runner’s character.

One thing is clear: the Beltway stamp of approval is no asset these days in Republican primaries. The judgment and political preferences of the party establishment are being called into question. Republicans who want to win the affection of voters would do well to put some distance between themselves and the D.C. political class.

The special election to fill the NY-23 House seat is becoming a gut check for conservatives but also another example of just how far the balance of energy and influence has shifted from Beltway insiders to emboldened outsiders. Politico characterizes it as a test of the Tea Party protesters. In a sense that’s right. Can grassroots organizers rise up, defy the party  establishment, and vault a political novice and pro-free-market businessman into office? We’ll find out.

It’s also a defining moment for Republican wannabe leaders. Newt Gingrich has himself tied up in knots explaining why Dede Scozzafava — a pro-card-check, pro-gay-marriage,  rather liberal Republican (think Olympia Snowe), who’s not savvy enough to avoid embarrassing scenes like this — is really the “practical” choice for Republicans. Tim Pawlenty says he “doesn’t know anything about it.” Sarah Palin is backing the insurgent Republican Doug Hoffman. That will tell Republican voters something about all three potential candidates for 2012.

And it’s also a moment for the influence of the conservative media, which, in a sort of “I am Spartacus” moment, has risen to the defense of the Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack to demand that Scozzafava withdraw from the race after calling the cops on the journalist and falsely accusing him of yelling at the embattled candidate. To some extent this issue has overshadowed the political face-off between moderate/insider and populist/outsider. It’s now a race about the front-runner’s character.

One thing is clear: the Beltway stamp of approval is no asset these days in Republican primaries. The judgment and political preferences of the party establishment are being called into question. Republicans who want to win the affection of voters would do well to put some distance between themselves and the D.C. political class.

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Re: Bullies’ Overreach

Politico reports that the White House’s efforts to marginalize and vilify critics are making some Democrats very nervous:

White House effort to undermine conservative critics is generating a backlash on Capitol Hill — and not just from Republicans. “It’s a mistake,” said Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from western Pennsylvania. “I think it’s beneath the White House to get into a tit for tat with news organizations.”

It’s not just the war on Fox that has moderate Democrats squirming. They’re also queasy about going after the Chamber of Congress. (“The campaign websites of moderate Democrats from across the country are filled with endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce.”)

Those Democrats who must operate in the center of the political spectrum are right to be antsy. The image of a White House lashing out at critics — not simply making counterarguments on the merits but seeking to remove the critics themselves from respectable discourse — will not enhance the party’s image with anyone but the left wing of the party. It makes one wonder if Obama’s standing with the base is so precarious that he must imperil his presidential stature and his party’s appeal to key swing voters simply to keep the netroots happy.

One senses, once again, that there is no grown-up voice of restraint willing to object to the most self-destructive and self-absorbed tendencies within the administration. When Rahm Emanuel was selected as chief of staff, some raised objections for the reasons that are increasingly evident every day. He was thought to be too volatile and mean-spirited, a practitioner of politics as a blood sport. Well, that’s certainly the emerging image of the White House.

But ultimately it is the president who sets the tone. He’s chosen to encourage and personally take part in these sorts of attacks on perceived enemies  — including Fox News, ordinary Republicans (who, he says, only do what they’re told), the Chamber of Commerce, talk radio, business reporters, insurance companies, and town-hall attendees. Apparently there are millions of such objectionable sorts — and they really need to just shut up. Unbecoming? Unpresidential? Indeed.

Politico reports that the White House’s efforts to marginalize and vilify critics are making some Democrats very nervous:

White House effort to undermine conservative critics is generating a backlash on Capitol Hill — and not just from Republicans. “It’s a mistake,” said Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from western Pennsylvania. “I think it’s beneath the White House to get into a tit for tat with news organizations.”

It’s not just the war on Fox that has moderate Democrats squirming. They’re also queasy about going after the Chamber of Congress. (“The campaign websites of moderate Democrats from across the country are filled with endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce.”)

Those Democrats who must operate in the center of the political spectrum are right to be antsy. The image of a White House lashing out at critics — not simply making counterarguments on the merits but seeking to remove the critics themselves from respectable discourse — will not enhance the party’s image with anyone but the left wing of the party. It makes one wonder if Obama’s standing with the base is so precarious that he must imperil his presidential stature and his party’s appeal to key swing voters simply to keep the netroots happy.

One senses, once again, that there is no grown-up voice of restraint willing to object to the most self-destructive and self-absorbed tendencies within the administration. When Rahm Emanuel was selected as chief of staff, some raised objections for the reasons that are increasingly evident every day. He was thought to be too volatile and mean-spirited, a practitioner of politics as a blood sport. Well, that’s certainly the emerging image of the White House.

But ultimately it is the president who sets the tone. He’s chosen to encourage and personally take part in these sorts of attacks on perceived enemies  — including Fox News, ordinary Republicans (who, he says, only do what they’re told), the Chamber of Commerce, talk radio, business reporters, insurance companies, and town-hall attendees. Apparently there are millions of such objectionable sorts — and they really need to just shut up. Unbecoming? Unpresidential? Indeed.

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Livni and J Street

Steve Clemons broke the news yesterday that Kadima-party leader Tzipi Livni has written a letter expressing support for some of J Street’s views. But it was hoped that she would actually attend the J Street conference. Perhaps the reason she will not be appearing in person is that half the attendees of the conference want her tried as a war criminal in The Hague, and she’s afraid that the members of the blogger panel may try to stage a citizen’s arrest.

Steve Clemons broke the news yesterday that Kadima-party leader Tzipi Livni has written a letter expressing support for some of J Street’s views. But it was hoped that she would actually attend the J Street conference. Perhaps the reason she will not be appearing in person is that half the attendees of the conference want her tried as a war criminal in The Hague, and she’s afraid that the members of the blogger panel may try to stage a citizen’s arrest.

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Are We There Yet?

In case you thought we were getting closer to a final health-care bill, consider two headlines. From the Hill: “Whip count shows Democrats lack votes on public option for healthcare reform.” And this one from the New York Times: “Senate Majority Leader Reid Leaning Toward ‘Public Option’ for Insurance.” Got that?

And to complicate matters, although Reid thinks he has 60 votes, the math gets fuzzy. Politico reports: “A handful of key moderates voiced concern about the inclusion of the public option in the merged bill. [Sen. Olympia] Snowe (R-Maine), one of the last hopes of giving the bill a blush of bipartisanship, said it would be ‘difficult’ for her to support bringing a bill with a government insurance plan to the Senate floor.”

This really is what comes of delegating to Congress a major legislative initiative, especially in the absence of skilled legislative leaders. It bogs down. (We now hear that the debate will be pushed “late into December” and maybe beyond.) Interest groups run amok. Competing sides dig in. Tempers flare. It doesn’t mean failure is assured, but it does suggest that the potential for failure is much, much higher than some of Obama’s cheerleaders are willing to acknowledge. This is especially true, of course, when the public doesn’t really want the big, messy, controversial bill anyway.

In case you thought we were getting closer to a final health-care bill, consider two headlines. From the Hill: “Whip count shows Democrats lack votes on public option for healthcare reform.” And this one from the New York Times: “Senate Majority Leader Reid Leaning Toward ‘Public Option’ for Insurance.” Got that?

And to complicate matters, although Reid thinks he has 60 votes, the math gets fuzzy. Politico reports: “A handful of key moderates voiced concern about the inclusion of the public option in the merged bill. [Sen. Olympia] Snowe (R-Maine), one of the last hopes of giving the bill a blush of bipartisanship, said it would be ‘difficult’ for her to support bringing a bill with a government insurance plan to the Senate floor.”

This really is what comes of delegating to Congress a major legislative initiative, especially in the absence of skilled legislative leaders. It bogs down. (We now hear that the debate will be pushed “late into December” and maybe beyond.) Interest groups run amok. Competing sides dig in. Tempers flare. It doesn’t mean failure is assured, but it does suggest that the potential for failure is much, much higher than some of Obama’s cheerleaders are willing to acknowledge. This is especially true, of course, when the public doesn’t really want the big, messy, controversial bill anyway.

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Biden in Romania

Vice President Joe Biden went to Romania to extol his fond memories of the end of the Cold War:

“Twenty years ago, the world watched in awe and admiration as the men and women throughout this region broke the shackles of repression and emerged a free people,” Mr. Biden said in the auditorium of the rebuilt library. Now, he said, Romania and its neighbors must help countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan develop their own democracies. “You’ve delivered on the promise of your revolution,” he said. “You are now in a position to help others do the same.”

Oh really? And what is the Obama administration doing to help other democracies? Obama can’t muster a visit to celebrate the symbol of the triumph of democracy over tyranny — the destruction of the Berlin War. We just yanked missile defense out from two other democracies that emerged from the Soviet Union’s defeat. (And if that seemed out of kilter with Biden’s message of solidarity, he hastened to disabuse his hosts of their misconception. “As he did in Warsaw, Mr. Biden denied that the decision to cancel former President George W. Bush’s missile defense system in Eastern Europe was made to appease Moscow.”) How about just rhetorical support for Iranian democracy? No, not much of that coming from America either. (Although we’re awfully picky about Afghanistan’s election decorum.)

The hypocrisy, even for Biden, is rather breathtaking. The president has plainly made a choice, and it’s not to promote or defend democracy as a central tenet of American foreign policy. Engagement, multilateralism, and conflict avoidance — certainly these rank high. Global warming is right up there too. But democracy? No, if that were a critical consideration for Obama, he’d be going to the Berlin Wall ceremony, standing by Poland and the Czech Republic, speaking out forcefully for democracy advocates around the world, seeking to combat the influence of Hugo Chavez in our hemisphere (rather than bolster his minion Manuel Zelaya), and insisting on respect for human rights and the development of democratic institutions in the “Muslim World.” Alas, he does none of these things. Instead, he sends Biden to lecture the Romanians about their duty to spread democracy. Remarkable.

Vice President Joe Biden went to Romania to extol his fond memories of the end of the Cold War:

“Twenty years ago, the world watched in awe and admiration as the men and women throughout this region broke the shackles of repression and emerged a free people,” Mr. Biden said in the auditorium of the rebuilt library. Now, he said, Romania and its neighbors must help countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan develop their own democracies. “You’ve delivered on the promise of your revolution,” he said. “You are now in a position to help others do the same.”

Oh really? And what is the Obama administration doing to help other democracies? Obama can’t muster a visit to celebrate the symbol of the triumph of democracy over tyranny — the destruction of the Berlin War. We just yanked missile defense out from two other democracies that emerged from the Soviet Union’s defeat. (And if that seemed out of kilter with Biden’s message of solidarity, he hastened to disabuse his hosts of their misconception. “As he did in Warsaw, Mr. Biden denied that the decision to cancel former President George W. Bush’s missile defense system in Eastern Europe was made to appease Moscow.”) How about just rhetorical support for Iranian democracy? No, not much of that coming from America either. (Although we’re awfully picky about Afghanistan’s election decorum.)

The hypocrisy, even for Biden, is rather breathtaking. The president has plainly made a choice, and it’s not to promote or defend democracy as a central tenet of American foreign policy. Engagement, multilateralism, and conflict avoidance — certainly these rank high. Global warming is right up there too. But democracy? No, if that were a critical consideration for Obama, he’d be going to the Berlin Wall ceremony, standing by Poland and the Czech Republic, speaking out forcefully for democracy advocates around the world, seeking to combat the influence of Hugo Chavez in our hemisphere (rather than bolster his minion Manuel Zelaya), and insisting on respect for human rights and the development of democratic institutions in the “Muslim World.” Alas, he does none of these things. Instead, he sends Biden to lecture the Romanians about their duty to spread democracy. Remarkable.

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Bullies’ Overreach

In its mindless war against Fox, the White House tried to ban Fox News from the White House press pool that was to interview the “pay czar,” Kenneth Feinberg. (Yes, it was a nice touch of imperial irony that the effort to cut off access to a particular news outlet came in the context of an interview of an administrative official who is not subject to congressional confirmation or oversight and whose job it is to dictate compensation rules to private firms that were bullied into taking government bailouts.) The mainstream media’s collective spine stiffened, and the administration was forced to back down.

This is hugely revealing for several reasons. First, the administration is digging in and doubling down even though its conduct has invited scorn from pundits of every political persuasion and become the object of ridicule. The belligerence is remarkable and suggests that the White House behaves in illogical and self-destructive ways. (Attention pundits: stop looking for rational explanations for the Obamis’ irrational behavior.)

Second, the administration is doing the impossible — offending the mainstream press and forcing some of Fox’s toughest critics to ride to its defense. Nice work, fellas.

Third, it’s disturbing that at a time when we still lack a strategy decision on Afghanistan, unemployment is sky high, and health-care reform is in disarray, this is what consumes the White House. For an administration that was supposed to transcend petty partisanship, it has become, yes, the spitting image of the Nixon White House — defensive, vengeful, and self-destructive.

It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him. For those who suggested that Obama’s main selling point was his “superior temperament,” we anxiously await an admission of grave error. It seems they were terribly mistaken.

In its mindless war against Fox, the White House tried to ban Fox News from the White House press pool that was to interview the “pay czar,” Kenneth Feinberg. (Yes, it was a nice touch of imperial irony that the effort to cut off access to a particular news outlet came in the context of an interview of an administrative official who is not subject to congressional confirmation or oversight and whose job it is to dictate compensation rules to private firms that were bullied into taking government bailouts.) The mainstream media’s collective spine stiffened, and the administration was forced to back down.

This is hugely revealing for several reasons. First, the administration is digging in and doubling down even though its conduct has invited scorn from pundits of every political persuasion and become the object of ridicule. The belligerence is remarkable and suggests that the White House behaves in illogical and self-destructive ways. (Attention pundits: stop looking for rational explanations for the Obamis’ irrational behavior.)

Second, the administration is doing the impossible — offending the mainstream press and forcing some of Fox’s toughest critics to ride to its defense. Nice work, fellas.

Third, it’s disturbing that at a time when we still lack a strategy decision on Afghanistan, unemployment is sky high, and health-care reform is in disarray, this is what consumes the White House. For an administration that was supposed to transcend petty partisanship, it has become, yes, the spitting image of the Nixon White House — defensive, vengeful, and self-destructive.

It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him. For those who suggested that Obama’s main selling point was his “superior temperament,” we anxiously await an admission of grave error. It seems they were terribly mistaken.

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Is It Blank?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the president a report documenting the progress made in the Middle East “peace process.” This report uses many words to explain that there hasn’t been any:

“The Secretary advised the President that challenges remain as the United States continues to work with both sides to relaunch negotiations in an atmosphere in which they can succeed,” a White House official said on background in a statement. “They also discussed the progress that has been made on a number of issues and the path ahead.”

No “Cairo Effect”? Hmm. The president was impatient, we were told, but we’re still “working to relaunch negotiations.” Well, they could make progress. (“‘Would we like to have reached the point to launch negotiations? Of course,’ an official said. ‘Are we satisfied? No. Do we still think it’s possible in a relatively short period of time to get that admittedly preliminary step accomplished? Yes we do, that’s what we’re engaged in.'”) Engaged in working to relaunch negotiations, that is.

Even a “peace process” cheerleader like Aaron David Miller seems to acknowledge that Obama hasn’t helped matters: “Those Israelis who don’t want to move ahead, have a ready made excuse. Between Goldstone, Obama, Abbas’ weakness, and Hamas, dealing with the peace process isn’t a terribly attractive proposition from this Israeli government’s perspective.” But the ultimate “excuse” not to move ahead has been handed by Obama to the Palestinians on a silver platter — the absence of a total settlement freeze (which wasn’t in the cards to begin with).

So what to do? Why, more of the same! George Mitchell (who must get paid by the mile) is jetting back to the Middle East for more meetings. That’s what he and the peace processer do — they meet. Those meetings seem increasingly divorced from the reality on the ground  — for example, an emboldened Hamas, a Palestinian Authority without authority to negotiate, a rejectionist Arab world, and a nervous Israel. Maybe it’s time to try something new. The Obama Middle East peace offensive has been a bust, no matter how creatively written or spun Clinton’s report may be.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the president a report documenting the progress made in the Middle East “peace process.” This report uses many words to explain that there hasn’t been any:

“The Secretary advised the President that challenges remain as the United States continues to work with both sides to relaunch negotiations in an atmosphere in which they can succeed,” a White House official said on background in a statement. “They also discussed the progress that has been made on a number of issues and the path ahead.”

No “Cairo Effect”? Hmm. The president was impatient, we were told, but we’re still “working to relaunch negotiations.” Well, they could make progress. (“‘Would we like to have reached the point to launch negotiations? Of course,’ an official said. ‘Are we satisfied? No. Do we still think it’s possible in a relatively short period of time to get that admittedly preliminary step accomplished? Yes we do, that’s what we’re engaged in.'”) Engaged in working to relaunch negotiations, that is.

Even a “peace process” cheerleader like Aaron David Miller seems to acknowledge that Obama hasn’t helped matters: “Those Israelis who don’t want to move ahead, have a ready made excuse. Between Goldstone, Obama, Abbas’ weakness, and Hamas, dealing with the peace process isn’t a terribly attractive proposition from this Israeli government’s perspective.” But the ultimate “excuse” not to move ahead has been handed by Obama to the Palestinians on a silver platter — the absence of a total settlement freeze (which wasn’t in the cards to begin with).

So what to do? Why, more of the same! George Mitchell (who must get paid by the mile) is jetting back to the Middle East for more meetings. That’s what he and the peace processer do — they meet. Those meetings seem increasingly divorced from the reality on the ground  — for example, an emboldened Hamas, a Palestinian Authority without authority to negotiate, a rejectionist Arab world, and a nervous Israel. Maybe it’s time to try something new. The Obama Middle East peace offensive has been a bust, no matter how creatively written or spun Clinton’s report may be.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

If Hillary Clinton hasn’t been marginalized enough already, her job seems now to have been mostly subcontracted to John Kerry: “He’s not president, a Cabinet member or ambassador, but Senator John Kerry has ascended to the unofficial role of President Barack Obama’s global adviser on key issues that could reshape the nation’s image around the world. ” So what is it that she does?

Can’t make this up: Nancy Pelosi (of the-“CIA-lied”-deer-in-the-headlights press conference) says Dick Cheney’s criticism of the president’s dithering on Afghanistan was “not dignified.”

The Right blogosphere rallies around John McCormack — and calls for Dede Scozzafava to get out of the race. This may be a case study for future campaigns on what not to do.

Newt Gingrich is having a hard time explaining why he backed Scozzafava.

Not even a Tzipi Livni video for J Street?

James Taranto: “President Obama’s promise to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has run into a little obstacle: It turns out the place is full of terrorists! Like everything else, this is not Obama’s fault. The terrorists are there because George W. Bush put them there, leaving poor Obama once again stuck cleaning up someone else’s mess.”

Tucker Carlson on the White House’s anti-Fox crusade: “Since when does the federal government get to make programming decisions, much less decide what is and what is not a legitimate news organization? Where did political consultants—people who spend their lives lying to reporters—get the moral standing to make pronouncements about journalistic ethics?” Really, where are the so-called civil-liberties groups? If the Bush administration had tried to organize an MSNBC boycott, those folks would have had a fit.

Chris Christie may have snagged an October surprise.

When Obama says Republicans just do “what they’re told,” you really wonder if he understands he’s president and no longer just an upstart politician. Really, what president has ever stooped to such crass rhetoric to characterize millions of voters? I thought we were not Red States and Blue States but the United States of America.

Charles Krauthammer doesn’t think much of the White House’s war on Fox: “Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he’s put a horse’s head in Roger Ailes’s bed. Not very subtle. And not very smart. Ailes doesn’t scare easily. … Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian.”

If Hillary Clinton hasn’t been marginalized enough already, her job seems now to have been mostly subcontracted to John Kerry: “He’s not president, a Cabinet member or ambassador, but Senator John Kerry has ascended to the unofficial role of President Barack Obama’s global adviser on key issues that could reshape the nation’s image around the world. ” So what is it that she does?

Can’t make this up: Nancy Pelosi (of the-“CIA-lied”-deer-in-the-headlights press conference) says Dick Cheney’s criticism of the president’s dithering on Afghanistan was “not dignified.”

The Right blogosphere rallies around John McCormack — and calls for Dede Scozzafava to get out of the race. This may be a case study for future campaigns on what not to do.

Newt Gingrich is having a hard time explaining why he backed Scozzafava.

Not even a Tzipi Livni video for J Street?

James Taranto: “President Obama’s promise to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has run into a little obstacle: It turns out the place is full of terrorists! Like everything else, this is not Obama’s fault. The terrorists are there because George W. Bush put them there, leaving poor Obama once again stuck cleaning up someone else’s mess.”

Tucker Carlson on the White House’s anti-Fox crusade: “Since when does the federal government get to make programming decisions, much less decide what is and what is not a legitimate news organization? Where did political consultants—people who spend their lives lying to reporters—get the moral standing to make pronouncements about journalistic ethics?” Really, where are the so-called civil-liberties groups? If the Bush administration had tried to organize an MSNBC boycott, those folks would have had a fit.

Chris Christie may have snagged an October surprise.

When Obama says Republicans just do “what they’re told,” you really wonder if he understands he’s president and no longer just an upstart politician. Really, what president has ever stooped to such crass rhetoric to characterize millions of voters? I thought we were not Red States and Blue States but the United States of America.

Charles Krauthammer doesn’t think much of the White House’s war on Fox: “Rahm Emanuel once sent a dead fish to a live pollster. Now he’s put a horse’s head in Roger Ailes’s bed. Not very subtle. And not very smart. Ailes doesn’t scare easily. … Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian.”

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