Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2, 2009

Even in New Jersey

The suspicion among conservatives is that independent Chris Daggett has been helped along by Jon Corzine, who was looking to go down by a big margin in a two-man race. Now comes evidence of real foul play — even if we are talking New Jersey. This report tells us:

The Democratic State Committee now admits paying for a robocall to Somerset County voters that slams Republican Chris Christie and promotes independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett. A Democratic spokeswoman says the party’s chairman, Joe Cryan, was not aware of the robocalls when he denied that the state committee had anything to do with them yesterday afternoon. … The call angered Republicans and further fueled conspiracy theories that Daggett is in cahoots with the Corzine camp. A disclaimer at the end says it was paid for by Victory ’09, “a project of the NJDSC” (Democratic State Committee), and gave the committee’s Trenton address.

And it seems the Daggett team tried to cover it up: “Before the Democrats owned up to it, Daggett media advisor Bill Hillsman said the call might be a Republican trick to generate a sympathetic newspaper story.”

If New Jersey voters are capable of outrage, this is a good target for their outrage. After all, fronting an independent to take votes away from a better-situated opponent should be beyond the pale, even in the Garden State.

The suspicion among conservatives is that independent Chris Daggett has been helped along by Jon Corzine, who was looking to go down by a big margin in a two-man race. Now comes evidence of real foul play — even if we are talking New Jersey. This report tells us:

The Democratic State Committee now admits paying for a robocall to Somerset County voters that slams Republican Chris Christie and promotes independent gubernatorial candidate Christopher Daggett. A Democratic spokeswoman says the party’s chairman, Joe Cryan, was not aware of the robocalls when he denied that the state committee had anything to do with them yesterday afternoon. … The call angered Republicans and further fueled conspiracy theories that Daggett is in cahoots with the Corzine camp. A disclaimer at the end says it was paid for by Victory ’09, “a project of the NJDSC” (Democratic State Committee), and gave the committee’s Trenton address.

And it seems the Daggett team tried to cover it up: “Before the Democrats owned up to it, Daggett media advisor Bill Hillsman said the call might be a Republican trick to generate a sympathetic newspaper story.”

If New Jersey voters are capable of outrage, this is a good target for their outrage. After all, fronting an independent to take votes away from a better-situated opponent should be beyond the pale, even in the Garden State.

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Why Are Arabs Unhappy with Hillary? Blame Obama

If Hillary Clinton is unhappy about the abuse she is taking from the Arab world over her equivocal attitude toward Israel, then she should blame President Obama and those of his foreign-policy advisers who urged him to make picking a fight with the Jewish state over settlements one of their top priorities once they took office. Clinton is taking flack for her comment that Israel’s offer to “restrain” the building of housing in Jewish settlements in the West Bank was “unprecedented.”

She’s right, in that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone a long way toward trying to mollify the Obama administration on this issue. But having spent much of the past year hounding Netanyahu over settlements in a futile attempt to undermine the Israeli’s hold on power (in fact, Netanyahu’s popularity has grown as a result of his refusal to bow to Obama, while the Israeli public has lost all faith in the U.S. president’s goodwill), the Americans have raised Arab expectations to the point where any Israeli gesture on the issue is considered insignificant. Even more, when the United States reacts to such Israeli gestures with anything but complete contempt, it is interpreted by the Arabs as American acquiescence with the entire settlement enterprise. The Arab world was wrongly encouraged by months of Washington skirmishing with Jerusalem to think that the administration intended to completely ditch the U.S.-Israel alliance. Anything less than a break with Israel winds up being seen as a betrayal of those unrealistic hopes that were engendered by Obama’s ill-advised strategy.

So what does Clinton say in her defense in response to Arab criticisms? All she can do is repeat past rhetoric that attacks Israel on settlements, which does nothing to ameliorate Arab hard feelings. Allowing more “daylight” between Israel and the United States has turned out to be dead end from which the administration cannot extract itself.

But let’s go back to the basics about this whole dispute. The settlements argument was utterly pointless, because even if Israel continued to build everywhere at a breakneck pace, it wouldn’t mean that they couldn’t or wouldn’t surrender territory if a real peace deal was in the offing. But it isn’t. In fact, the Palestinians still have no interest in negotiating with Israel for reasons that have everything to do with the toxic nature of Palestinian nationalism and their refusal to accept a Jewish state within any borders and nothing to do with any gestures the Israelis have or have not made. So the argument with Israel accomplished nothing to undermine America’s standing on both sides of the argument, which is, when you think about, quite a trick.

The bottom line of Obama’s and Clinton’s first 10 months in office is worsened relations with both Israel and the Arab world, with peace just as far off as it was under Bush. All of which should leave us wondering just how much worse off another year of Obama’s foreign-policy incompetence will leave the Middle East.

If Hillary Clinton is unhappy about the abuse she is taking from the Arab world over her equivocal attitude toward Israel, then she should blame President Obama and those of his foreign-policy advisers who urged him to make picking a fight with the Jewish state over settlements one of their top priorities once they took office. Clinton is taking flack for her comment that Israel’s offer to “restrain” the building of housing in Jewish settlements in the West Bank was “unprecedented.”

She’s right, in that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone a long way toward trying to mollify the Obama administration on this issue. But having spent much of the past year hounding Netanyahu over settlements in a futile attempt to undermine the Israeli’s hold on power (in fact, Netanyahu’s popularity has grown as a result of his refusal to bow to Obama, while the Israeli public has lost all faith in the U.S. president’s goodwill), the Americans have raised Arab expectations to the point where any Israeli gesture on the issue is considered insignificant. Even more, when the United States reacts to such Israeli gestures with anything but complete contempt, it is interpreted by the Arabs as American acquiescence with the entire settlement enterprise. The Arab world was wrongly encouraged by months of Washington skirmishing with Jerusalem to think that the administration intended to completely ditch the U.S.-Israel alliance. Anything less than a break with Israel winds up being seen as a betrayal of those unrealistic hopes that were engendered by Obama’s ill-advised strategy.

So what does Clinton say in her defense in response to Arab criticisms? All she can do is repeat past rhetoric that attacks Israel on settlements, which does nothing to ameliorate Arab hard feelings. Allowing more “daylight” between Israel and the United States has turned out to be dead end from which the administration cannot extract itself.

But let’s go back to the basics about this whole dispute. The settlements argument was utterly pointless, because even if Israel continued to build everywhere at a breakneck pace, it wouldn’t mean that they couldn’t or wouldn’t surrender territory if a real peace deal was in the offing. But it isn’t. In fact, the Palestinians still have no interest in negotiating with Israel for reasons that have everything to do with the toxic nature of Palestinian nationalism and their refusal to accept a Jewish state within any borders and nothing to do with any gestures the Israelis have or have not made. So the argument with Israel accomplished nothing to undermine America’s standing on both sides of the argument, which is, when you think about, quite a trick.

The bottom line of Obama’s and Clinton’s first 10 months in office is worsened relations with both Israel and the Arab world, with peace just as far off as it was under Bush. All of which should leave us wondering just how much worse off another year of Obama’s foreign-policy incompetence will leave the Middle East.

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Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, Anyone?

The House Republican Conference spent the weekend laboring over the unenviable task of reading the Pelosi health-care bill, all 1,990 pages of it. While they were at it, they noted the new federal boards, bureaucracies, commissions, and programs that the bill would establish. The number — are you sitting down? — is 111. These include everything from a “Telehealth Advisory Committee,” whatever that might be, to an “Independence at home demonstration program” to a “Comparative Effectiveness Research Trust Fund” to a “Public health workforce loan forgiveness program” to a “University centers for excellence in developmental disabilities education” and on and on and on and …

You can get the full list over at PowerLine.

The House Republican Conference spent the weekend laboring over the unenviable task of reading the Pelosi health-care bill, all 1,990 pages of it. While they were at it, they noted the new federal boards, bureaucracies, commissions, and programs that the bill would establish. The number — are you sitting down? — is 111. These include everything from a “Telehealth Advisory Committee,” whatever that might be, to an “Independence at home demonstration program” to a “Comparative Effectiveness Research Trust Fund” to a “Public health workforce loan forgiveness program” to a “University centers for excellence in developmental disabilities education” and on and on and on and …

You can get the full list over at PowerLine.

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Proxy Campaign Watch

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union favored certain methods: sponsoring Marxist insurrections, training guerrillas, and arming terrorists. Revolutionary Iran remains an ambitious student of these practices. Its regional outreach now extends well beyond Lebanon and Gaza, and the anti-Semitic character of Iran’s proxy campaign is impossible to miss.

In Yemen, as reported last week, Iran has been caught red-handed supplying arms to Shia rebels in the northwest. A Wall Street Journal item from the weekend also reminds us that the dwindling Jewish population of Yemen has borne much of the brunt of this proxy alliance. Over the past year, a small, centuries-old Jewish community has found itself under escalating attack. Following an explicitly anti-Semitic murder in December 2008, the nation’s Jews have been fleeing, family by family, to Israel and the U.S.

Yemen is one of only two countries on the Arabian Peninsula that still — for now — host Jewish communities with identifiable synagogues. The other is Bahrain, which has only a few dozen Jews but has been a regional leader in protecting their rights and encouraging them to remain in the country of their birth. The emir even sent his sole Jewish parliamentarian to Washington in 2008 as Bahrain’s ambassador. Following President Obama’s June 2009 appeal for Arab nations to make diplomatic overtures to Israel, Bahrain’s crown prince took the lead in exhorting the region’s Arabs on that head.

But Bahrain is a Shia majority nation and is under the perennial threat of proxy subversion by Iran, which made its first attempt at a Bahraini revolution in 1981. In February 2009, an Iranian official set off alarm bells with his comment that Bahrain is Iran’s “14th province,” prompting Bahrain to withdraw from natural-gas talks with its northern neighbor. But politics in the Sunni-ruled emirate dictate walking a narrow line, and in June Manama closed down a newspaper that was critical of the Iranian regime after its disputed election. In October, Bahrain signaled its willingness to resume the natural-gas talks. And last week its lower house of parliament, which has substantial Shia representation, voted to prohibit all contact by Bahrainis with Israel.

Within days of the Bahraini vote, an al-Shabaab militant across the region in Somalia was issuing that group’s first known threats to attack Israel. This should be no surprise; al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked group but has a long association with Iran through its parentage in the Islamic Courts Union, which seized control of southern Somalia in 2006. That was also the year Iran reportedly sponsored 700 Somali jihadists operating in Lebanon.

Bear in mind that this is what revolutionary Iran does without nuclear weapons. For now, a tougher and more reassuring posture by the U.S. could bolster the confidence regional leaders need to oppose these proxy threats. But an Iran with the bomb will have a shield behind which to act even more aggressively through its proxies. Every sign says that’s exactly what it will do.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union favored certain methods: sponsoring Marxist insurrections, training guerrillas, and arming terrorists. Revolutionary Iran remains an ambitious student of these practices. Its regional outreach now extends well beyond Lebanon and Gaza, and the anti-Semitic character of Iran’s proxy campaign is impossible to miss.

In Yemen, as reported last week, Iran has been caught red-handed supplying arms to Shia rebels in the northwest. A Wall Street Journal item from the weekend also reminds us that the dwindling Jewish population of Yemen has borne much of the brunt of this proxy alliance. Over the past year, a small, centuries-old Jewish community has found itself under escalating attack. Following an explicitly anti-Semitic murder in December 2008, the nation’s Jews have been fleeing, family by family, to Israel and the U.S.

Yemen is one of only two countries on the Arabian Peninsula that still — for now — host Jewish communities with identifiable synagogues. The other is Bahrain, which has only a few dozen Jews but has been a regional leader in protecting their rights and encouraging them to remain in the country of their birth. The emir even sent his sole Jewish parliamentarian to Washington in 2008 as Bahrain’s ambassador. Following President Obama’s June 2009 appeal for Arab nations to make diplomatic overtures to Israel, Bahrain’s crown prince took the lead in exhorting the region’s Arabs on that head.

But Bahrain is a Shia majority nation and is under the perennial threat of proxy subversion by Iran, which made its first attempt at a Bahraini revolution in 1981. In February 2009, an Iranian official set off alarm bells with his comment that Bahrain is Iran’s “14th province,” prompting Bahrain to withdraw from natural-gas talks with its northern neighbor. But politics in the Sunni-ruled emirate dictate walking a narrow line, and in June Manama closed down a newspaper that was critical of the Iranian regime after its disputed election. In October, Bahrain signaled its willingness to resume the natural-gas talks. And last week its lower house of parliament, which has substantial Shia representation, voted to prohibit all contact by Bahrainis with Israel.

Within days of the Bahraini vote, an al-Shabaab militant across the region in Somalia was issuing that group’s first known threats to attack Israel. This should be no surprise; al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked group but has a long association with Iran through its parentage in the Islamic Courts Union, which seized control of southern Somalia in 2006. That was also the year Iran reportedly sponsored 700 Somali jihadists operating in Lebanon.

Bear in mind that this is what revolutionary Iran does without nuclear weapons. For now, a tougher and more reassuring posture by the U.S. could bolster the confidence regional leaders need to oppose these proxy threats. But an Iran with the bomb will have a shield behind which to act even more aggressively through its proxies. Every sign says that’s exactly what it will do.

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How to Expand the Base

Bob McDonnell, according to the latest batch of polls, is heading for a runaway win tomorrow. One point of interest will be whether McDonnell was able to recapture nonwhite voters who fled the GOP in 2008. After the 2008 election, the pundits said that demographics were killing the GOP. Everyone had a radical idea to change the party or the message.

But after that election, McDonnell had the luxury of some time to address that issue and show that he wanted to reach out beyond white, male social conservatives. So he spoke to business leaders and local Republicans in many ethnic communities, often in small gatherings. (I saw some of these, which late in 2008 had only a dozen or so attendees.) The message was the same: conservative economic ideas work, and the party erred in alienating minority voters (by appearing anti-immigrant instead of anti–illegal immigration).

The McDonnell campaign understood the problem of a shrinking base in an increasingly diverse state. As one Virginia Republican confided to me recently, “Republicans tried running against Hispanics. It doesn’t work.” Sergio Rodriguera Jr., a young party activist and veteran of the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, had urged McDonnell back in December to reach out to minorities. He told me last week that he is pleased with McDonnell’s efforts, citing charter schools as a significant draw for minorities: “McDonnell has been a good listener, and his Hispanic-outreach events have not been token events with chips and salsa. He understands that Hispanics, like other minorities, want to live the American dream of building a small business and owning their own home.”

Over the weekend, I spoke to a northern Virginia McDonnell adviser who reeled off the Asian-American groups that McDonnell spent time cultivating. His message was not different, but it was pointed: low taxes, low regulation, and good education were key for entrepreneurs in the minority community. Creigh Deeds, on the other hand, never made the sale. McDonnell’s adviser recalls going to the Eden Center, a huge Vietnamese-American merchant center in northern Virginia, the day after Deeds had been there. “Not a single Deeds sign was up,” she said.

Among the lessons Republicans will try to extract from McDonnell’s race will be how he succeeded, if his numbers hold, with nonwhite voters. It’s really not brain surgery: show up and explain why the conservative platform works for them. Whether they follow that message and execute it remains to be seen.

Bob McDonnell, according to the latest batch of polls, is heading for a runaway win tomorrow. One point of interest will be whether McDonnell was able to recapture nonwhite voters who fled the GOP in 2008. After the 2008 election, the pundits said that demographics were killing the GOP. Everyone had a radical idea to change the party or the message.

But after that election, McDonnell had the luxury of some time to address that issue and show that he wanted to reach out beyond white, male social conservatives. So he spoke to business leaders and local Republicans in many ethnic communities, often in small gatherings. (I saw some of these, which late in 2008 had only a dozen or so attendees.) The message was the same: conservative economic ideas work, and the party erred in alienating minority voters (by appearing anti-immigrant instead of anti–illegal immigration).

The McDonnell campaign understood the problem of a shrinking base in an increasingly diverse state. As one Virginia Republican confided to me recently, “Republicans tried running against Hispanics. It doesn’t work.” Sergio Rodriguera Jr., a young party activist and veteran of the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, had urged McDonnell back in December to reach out to minorities. He told me last week that he is pleased with McDonnell’s efforts, citing charter schools as a significant draw for minorities: “McDonnell has been a good listener, and his Hispanic-outreach events have not been token events with chips and salsa. He understands that Hispanics, like other minorities, want to live the American dream of building a small business and owning their own home.”

Over the weekend, I spoke to a northern Virginia McDonnell adviser who reeled off the Asian-American groups that McDonnell spent time cultivating. His message was not different, but it was pointed: low taxes, low regulation, and good education were key for entrepreneurs in the minority community. Creigh Deeds, on the other hand, never made the sale. McDonnell’s adviser recalls going to the Eden Center, a huge Vietnamese-American merchant center in northern Virginia, the day after Deeds had been there. “Not a single Deeds sign was up,” she said.

Among the lessons Republicans will try to extract from McDonnell’s race will be how he succeeded, if his numbers hold, with nonwhite voters. It’s really not brain surgery: show up and explain why the conservative platform works for them. Whether they follow that message and execute it remains to be seen.

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Mentoring Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai is by no means a great statesman, but his return to office for another term does bring with it two salutary consequences. First, it will force the Obama administration to stop dragging its feet and make a decision at long last about U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan. That vital decision has been delayed reportedly because the president wanted to see who the next leader of Afghanistan would be — as if there were any serious doubt that Karzai would emerge on top. No matter who runs Afghanistan, we can’t afford to write off the country, because we are there in our own self-interest, not as a favor to Hamid Karzai or anyone else.

Second, it will force the administration to start figuring out how to improve Afghan governance rather than hoping that some deus ex machina would remove Karzai from office and magically install a new president who would dramatically improve the performance of the government. In reality, no such candidate exists or could exist. The problems are so deeply rooted and systemic that they will require years of hard, concerted effort at both the national and local levels. Focusing so much on Karzai’s future has been a distraction. Now the hard work of mentoring Afghan officials should begin. A good start would be to assign Western officials to act as full-time advisers to governors in eastern and southern Afghanistan, in much the same way that military officers are assigned as mentors to Afghan military leaders. At the moment, the job of improving governance is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Teams, but they are project-focused, not official-focused, which means that no Western officials are in constant face-to-face interactions with the governors, who are the key intermediaries between Kabul and the people.

It would also make sense for the current U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, and other senior officials to play a similar mentoring role with Karzai — offering tough love, but only in private. In public they should refrain from the temptation to criticize Karzai, which only feeds his insecurities and drives him deeper into the arms of unsavory warlords. Karzai is not an evil man — at least not that I can tell. If anything, he is a bit weak and disorganized and plagued with predatory relatives, but those faults can be rectified or at least ameliorated with close coaching. He got that kind of attention at one time when Zal Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador, but in more recent years he has been allowed to drift. Now, perhaps, we can strive to improve governance by trying to work with Karzai rather than against him.

Hamid Karzai is by no means a great statesman, but his return to office for another term does bring with it two salutary consequences. First, it will force the Obama administration to stop dragging its feet and make a decision at long last about U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan. That vital decision has been delayed reportedly because the president wanted to see who the next leader of Afghanistan would be — as if there were any serious doubt that Karzai would emerge on top. No matter who runs Afghanistan, we can’t afford to write off the country, because we are there in our own self-interest, not as a favor to Hamid Karzai or anyone else.

Second, it will force the administration to start figuring out how to improve Afghan governance rather than hoping that some deus ex machina would remove Karzai from office and magically install a new president who would dramatically improve the performance of the government. In reality, no such candidate exists or could exist. The problems are so deeply rooted and systemic that they will require years of hard, concerted effort at both the national and local levels. Focusing so much on Karzai’s future has been a distraction. Now the hard work of mentoring Afghan officials should begin. A good start would be to assign Western officials to act as full-time advisers to governors in eastern and southern Afghanistan, in much the same way that military officers are assigned as mentors to Afghan military leaders. At the moment, the job of improving governance is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Teams, but they are project-focused, not official-focused, which means that no Western officials are in constant face-to-face interactions with the governors, who are the key intermediaries between Kabul and the people.

It would also make sense for the current U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, and other senior officials to play a similar mentoring role with Karzai — offering tough love, but only in private. In public they should refrain from the temptation to criticize Karzai, which only feeds his insecurities and drives him deeper into the arms of unsavory warlords. Karzai is not an evil man — at least not that I can tell. If anything, he is a bit weak and disorganized and plagued with predatory relatives, but those faults can be rectified or at least ameliorated with close coaching. He got that kind of attention at one time when Zal Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador, but in more recent years he has been allowed to drift. Now, perhaps, we can strive to improve governance by trying to work with Karzai rather than against him.

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Frank Rich’s Paranoid Style

Here’s a stunning development: the New York Times’s theater-critic-turned-political-columnist Frank Rich is foot-stompin’ mad. The cause for Mr. Rich’s latest outburst is the race in New York’s 23rd District, in which the liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava was challenged by the Conservative party’s Doug Hoffman, forcing Scozzafava to withdraw. (She subsequently endorsed the Democrat Bill Owens.) For most people, this is an interesting intra-party skirmish with some potentially important political ramifications. But for Mr. Rich, it’s so much more than that. It’s going to set off a “riotous and bloody national G.O.P. civil war.” The northern district in New York “could become a G.O.P. killing field.” What’s going on there is evidence that “the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama.” And conservatives are “Jacobins” who are “re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.” And in case that was too subtle, they are “the Stalinists of the right.”

This is what passes for stylish and temperate discourse on the Left — references to the Civil War and to Cambodian genocide, to the French Revolution and to one of the greatest mass murders in history – all in the context of a congressional race in New York’s 23rd District, mind you.

This also comes from a man who in August wrote a column — without irony — warning about the rise of what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” and who earlier this summer castigated conservatives for their “toxic” rhetoric that is “getting louder each day of the Obama presidency.” It could lead, Rich has warned several times, to political violence. Conservatives, you see, are so terribly uncivil and so terribly indecent in their rhetoric. Coming from Rich, it is all rather comical.

But Mr. Rich’s latest tantrum is an indication that conservatism, rather than being “dead,” is actually doing quite well. After all, if conservatism were as moribund as we’re told by Sam Tanenhaus and others – and if the Left was in the ascendancy – then the latter would presumably be in a relatively cheerful and celebratory mood, ignoring conservatives because they were irrelevant. Instead Rich and others on the Left are going around the twist because they sense that the political ground is shifting beneath their feet. Their political Messiah is turning out not only to be mortal but also deeply flawed. His policies are generating widespread and intense opposition. The public seems to be rejecting what Mr. Obama is offering; and what he is offering may well cost Democrats politically.

For liberals, Barack Obama was supposed to be (take your pick) our new FDR, our new Lincoln, or “sort of God.” It wasn’t supposed to be this hard — and now that it is, people like Frank Rich are lashing out in desperation. It will only get worse. When thinking about what this all might do to poor Mr. Rich, it’s worth recalling the children’s folk rhyme and the fate of one of the three geese in a flock. One flew East, one flew West, and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Here’s a stunning development: the New York Times’s theater-critic-turned-political-columnist Frank Rich is foot-stompin’ mad. The cause for Mr. Rich’s latest outburst is the race in New York’s 23rd District, in which the liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava was challenged by the Conservative party’s Doug Hoffman, forcing Scozzafava to withdraw. (She subsequently endorsed the Democrat Bill Owens.) For most people, this is an interesting intra-party skirmish with some potentially important political ramifications. But for Mr. Rich, it’s so much more than that. It’s going to set off a “riotous and bloody national G.O.P. civil war.” The northern district in New York “could become a G.O.P. killing field.” What’s going on there is evidence that “the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama.” And conservatives are “Jacobins” who are “re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.” And in case that was too subtle, they are “the Stalinists of the right.”

This is what passes for stylish and temperate discourse on the Left — references to the Civil War and to Cambodian genocide, to the French Revolution and to one of the greatest mass murders in history – all in the context of a congressional race in New York’s 23rd District, mind you.

This also comes from a man who in August wrote a column — without irony — warning about the rise of what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” and who earlier this summer castigated conservatives for their “toxic” rhetoric that is “getting louder each day of the Obama presidency.” It could lead, Rich has warned several times, to political violence. Conservatives, you see, are so terribly uncivil and so terribly indecent in their rhetoric. Coming from Rich, it is all rather comical.

But Mr. Rich’s latest tantrum is an indication that conservatism, rather than being “dead,” is actually doing quite well. After all, if conservatism were as moribund as we’re told by Sam Tanenhaus and others – and if the Left was in the ascendancy – then the latter would presumably be in a relatively cheerful and celebratory mood, ignoring conservatives because they were irrelevant. Instead Rich and others on the Left are going around the twist because they sense that the political ground is shifting beneath their feet. Their political Messiah is turning out not only to be mortal but also deeply flawed. His policies are generating widespread and intense opposition. The public seems to be rejecting what Mr. Obama is offering; and what he is offering may well cost Democrats politically.

For liberals, Barack Obama was supposed to be (take your pick) our new FDR, our new Lincoln, or “sort of God.” It wasn’t supposed to be this hard — and now that it is, people like Frank Rich are lashing out in desperation. It will only get worse. When thinking about what this all might do to poor Mr. Rich, it’s worth recalling the children’s folk rhyme and the fate of one of the three geese in a flock. One flew East, one flew West, and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

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No Good Dede in NY-23

Despite her best efforts to exact revenge, Dede Scozzafava, it seems, has been unable to convince very many voters to follow her advice. A new poll shows Doug Hoffman leading by 5 percent. I am not one to place much weight on endorsements. By and large, voters ignore them. But occasionally they can backfire on the endorser and the endorsee.

Those Republicans who gave her the nod, most visibly Newt Gingrich, are now going to be lambasted for poor judgment. And the good-housekeeping stamp of approval from an establishment candidate who first swore her allegiance to the GOP and then to the GOP’s opponents isn’t, I suspect, going to move a lot of votes, unless it gets the last outraged conservative out to the polls tomorrow.

We will see tomorrow what this swing district (which, we are reminded, was carried by Obama by 5 points in 2008) tells us about the political mood of the country. And perhaps we’ll learn that endorsements can be more trouble than they are worth.

Despite her best efforts to exact revenge, Dede Scozzafava, it seems, has been unable to convince very many voters to follow her advice. A new poll shows Doug Hoffman leading by 5 percent. I am not one to place much weight on endorsements. By and large, voters ignore them. But occasionally they can backfire on the endorser and the endorsee.

Those Republicans who gave her the nod, most visibly Newt Gingrich, are now going to be lambasted for poor judgment. And the good-housekeeping stamp of approval from an establishment candidate who first swore her allegiance to the GOP and then to the GOP’s opponents isn’t, I suspect, going to move a lot of votes, unless it gets the last outraged conservative out to the polls tomorrow.

We will see tomorrow what this swing district (which, we are reminded, was carried by Obama by 5 points in 2008) tells us about the political mood of the country. And perhaps we’ll learn that endorsements can be more trouble than they are worth.

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Looking Out for the Future

Sen. Joe Lieberman pens an impassioned plea against the public option, concluding that we should do something else instead:

We can all agree on health care delivery reforms that will make our system much more cost-effective, on health insurance market reforms that will make insurance more affordable and more accessible for millions of Americans, and on reaching out to the millions of Americans who qualify for existing government programs like Medicaid yet are not enrolled.

Like those pesky Republicans, Lieberman suggests that Congress really doesn’t have to go down the Obama-PelosiCare avenue. While Lieberman focuses on defeating the public option, the Democrats’ other provisions — barring state tort reform, slapping new taxes on businesses and individuals, proposing deep and frankly unsustainable cuts in Medicare — are equally noxious. Where is the public support for this? There isn’t much. It’s dropped 3 points since PelosiCare was released.

Maybe Democrats will bravely line up to cast their votes for a government takeover of health care, just as they did in favor of cap-and-trade. But now opposition to cap-and-trade is a big applause line for Bob McDonnell, and the Senate can’t muster enough votes to pass it. Do we think congressmen haven’t noticed?

Pelosi has many tools at her disposal, but getting her entire caucus to pass a mammoth tax bill with huge cuts in Medicare is tantamount to asking many of her members to endanger their future in Congress. The country’s future too. But it is members’ concern about their own fortunes that is most likely to undermine Pelosi’s efforts.

Sen. Joe Lieberman pens an impassioned plea against the public option, concluding that we should do something else instead:

We can all agree on health care delivery reforms that will make our system much more cost-effective, on health insurance market reforms that will make insurance more affordable and more accessible for millions of Americans, and on reaching out to the millions of Americans who qualify for existing government programs like Medicaid yet are not enrolled.

Like those pesky Republicans, Lieberman suggests that Congress really doesn’t have to go down the Obama-PelosiCare avenue. While Lieberman focuses on defeating the public option, the Democrats’ other provisions — barring state tort reform, slapping new taxes on businesses and individuals, proposing deep and frankly unsustainable cuts in Medicare — are equally noxious. Where is the public support for this? There isn’t much. It’s dropped 3 points since PelosiCare was released.

Maybe Democrats will bravely line up to cast their votes for a government takeover of health care, just as they did in favor of cap-and-trade. But now opposition to cap-and-trade is a big applause line for Bob McDonnell, and the Senate can’t muster enough votes to pass it. Do we think congressmen haven’t noticed?

Pelosi has many tools at her disposal, but getting her entire caucus to pass a mammoth tax bill with huge cuts in Medicare is tantamount to asking many of her members to endanger their future in Congress. The country’s future too. But it is members’ concern about their own fortunes that is most likely to undermine Pelosi’s efforts.

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Presto – a Government to Work With

There is a certain Gilbert & Sullivan — or is it Monty Python? — quality to our position on the Afghan elections. As the Obami grew increasingly nervous about committing troops to fulfill the mission it had outlined in the spring, they set upon the elections and concerns about fraud to bide time and argue against a robust counterinsurgency approach.

So we pressured and cajoled the Afghan government into conducting a runoff. The challenger backed out. President Hamid Karzai is declared the winner. And we are delighted! The report notes:

Despite lingering questions over the commission’s impartiality, foreign officials welcomed the announcement and said it appeared to have a constitutional basis. U.S. officials here said that even if the decision were legally challenged, the Afghan high court would probably uphold it within a short time.

Within two hours of the announcement, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying, “We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him, his new administration, the Afghan people and our partners in the international community to support Afghanistan’s progress toward institution reforms, security and prosperity.”

For this we have, one supposes, delayed a decision and implementation of a new strategy. This is not the work of serious foreign-policy gurus, the sort of team of geniuses we were told were going to raise the bar on our international diplomacy. Instead we have low farce.

There is a certain Gilbert & Sullivan — or is it Monty Python? — quality to our position on the Afghan elections. As the Obami grew increasingly nervous about committing troops to fulfill the mission it had outlined in the spring, they set upon the elections and concerns about fraud to bide time and argue against a robust counterinsurgency approach.

So we pressured and cajoled the Afghan government into conducting a runoff. The challenger backed out. President Hamid Karzai is declared the winner. And we are delighted! The report notes:

Despite lingering questions over the commission’s impartiality, foreign officials welcomed the announcement and said it appeared to have a constitutional basis. U.S. officials here said that even if the decision were legally challenged, the Afghan high court would probably uphold it within a short time.

Within two hours of the announcement, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying, “We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him, his new administration, the Afghan people and our partners in the international community to support Afghanistan’s progress toward institution reforms, security and prosperity.”

For this we have, one supposes, delayed a decision and implementation of a new strategy. This is not the work of serious foreign-policy gurus, the sort of team of geniuses we were told were going to raise the bar on our international diplomacy. Instead we have low farce.

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They’ve Noticed

The Washington Post reviews the Obama foreign-policy results and finds, unlike the Nobelists, not much to praise. The report pronounces that “he is struggling to translate his own popularity into American influence, even with allies that have celebrated his break from the Bush administration’s emphasis on military strength, unilateral action and personal chemistry.” The Obami are big on the notion of “shared” interests, but it turns out that other nations have different interests. And the big problems are still big, and getting bigger:

In Afghanistan, his efforts to reinvigorate the relationships neglected by the previous administration have yielded few tangible results on the battlefield. In Iran, months of careful, culturally sensitive diplomacy have met with a recalcitrance that U.S. conservatives say will never change.

But the Obami assure us that there is no naiveté here. So what accounts for the notion, proved faulty again and again, that the mere invocation of sweet-sounding phrases will melt the hearts of our adversaries and extract help from our friends?

And there’s Obama’s abysmal record on mentioning human rights, which not even Human Rights Watch can defend, despite a mandatory slam at the Bush administration for allegedly displaying “moral superiority.”

Then there’s the tendency to ingratiate ourselves with foes at the expense of our friends. (“But in reaching out to adversaries, Obama has unsettled allies, particularly in parts of the world where the United States has few other friends.”) Colombia hasn’t gotten a free-trade agreement; Israel has gotten a lot of daylight.

It seems then that the Obama foreign-policy gambit has been found wanting before that Nobel Peace prize is even pocketed. All the pleas for common goals and all the high-soaring rhetoric are rather meaningless, it turns out. And not only conservative critics, mainstream media outlets and allies are also taking note of the success deficit. The entire world is watching, to borrow a phrase. The French noted Obama’s dawdling on Iran, all the Europeans politely declined his Afghanistan troop request, and the missile defense giveaway hasn’t gotten us anything. They and others are calculating whether to rely on the U.S. or fend for themselves. And our foes are watching as well. They see a president who has a fanciful vision of the world, an aversion to hard power, a willingness to subvert U.S. interests for fuzzy aspirations, and little to show for all of it. They will act accordingly.

The Washington Post reviews the Obama foreign-policy results and finds, unlike the Nobelists, not much to praise. The report pronounces that “he is struggling to translate his own popularity into American influence, even with allies that have celebrated his break from the Bush administration’s emphasis on military strength, unilateral action and personal chemistry.” The Obami are big on the notion of “shared” interests, but it turns out that other nations have different interests. And the big problems are still big, and getting bigger:

In Afghanistan, his efforts to reinvigorate the relationships neglected by the previous administration have yielded few tangible results on the battlefield. In Iran, months of careful, culturally sensitive diplomacy have met with a recalcitrance that U.S. conservatives say will never change.

But the Obami assure us that there is no naiveté here. So what accounts for the notion, proved faulty again and again, that the mere invocation of sweet-sounding phrases will melt the hearts of our adversaries and extract help from our friends?

And there’s Obama’s abysmal record on mentioning human rights, which not even Human Rights Watch can defend, despite a mandatory slam at the Bush administration for allegedly displaying “moral superiority.”

Then there’s the tendency to ingratiate ourselves with foes at the expense of our friends. (“But in reaching out to adversaries, Obama has unsettled allies, particularly in parts of the world where the United States has few other friends.”) Colombia hasn’t gotten a free-trade agreement; Israel has gotten a lot of daylight.

It seems then that the Obama foreign-policy gambit has been found wanting before that Nobel Peace prize is even pocketed. All the pleas for common goals and all the high-soaring rhetoric are rather meaningless, it turns out. And not only conservative critics, mainstream media outlets and allies are also taking note of the success deficit. The entire world is watching, to borrow a phrase. The French noted Obama’s dawdling on Iran, all the Europeans politely declined his Afghanistan troop request, and the missile defense giveaway hasn’t gotten us anything. They and others are calculating whether to rely on the U.S. or fend for themselves. And our foes are watching as well. They see a president who has a fanciful vision of the world, an aversion to hard power, a willingness to subvert U.S. interests for fuzzy aspirations, and little to show for all of it. They will act accordingly.

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The Language of Republican Victory

I’ve noticed something in our political commentary that I suspect I’m not alone in. When Democrats and liberals making sweeping electoral gains, it’s based on “hope” and “change,” on “civic engagement” and reversing a “culture of corruption.” It’s all very positive, upbeat, and high-minded. They want to build up the village. But when Republicans and conservatives make sweeping gains, or appear to be on the cusp of them, it’s based on negative, downbeat, and low-minded sentiments. They want to burn down the village.

Conservative ascendancy is rooted in things like “rage” and “anger” and is driven by “angry white men,” as if the elections are the outworking of some kind of troubling psychological condition. The late Peter Jennings embodied this view perfectly when he described the 1994 elections as a “temper tantrum” and compared what voters did that year to what you’d see from “an angry two-year-old.” We’re seeing the same thing now, on the eve of tomorrow’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York’s 23rd District. We don’t know how those elections are going to turn out just yet — but we can tell by the coverage how much of the press thinks they’re going to turn out. Let’s just say they’re worried it’ll be a bad day for Obama and for Obamaism.

I’ve noticed something in our political commentary that I suspect I’m not alone in. When Democrats and liberals making sweeping electoral gains, it’s based on “hope” and “change,” on “civic engagement” and reversing a “culture of corruption.” It’s all very positive, upbeat, and high-minded. They want to build up the village. But when Republicans and conservatives make sweeping gains, or appear to be on the cusp of them, it’s based on negative, downbeat, and low-minded sentiments. They want to burn down the village.

Conservative ascendancy is rooted in things like “rage” and “anger” and is driven by “angry white men,” as if the elections are the outworking of some kind of troubling psychological condition. The late Peter Jennings embodied this view perfectly when he described the 1994 elections as a “temper tantrum” and compared what voters did that year to what you’d see from “an angry two-year-old.” We’re seeing the same thing now, on the eve of tomorrow’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York’s 23rd District. We don’t know how those elections are going to turn out just yet — but we can tell by the coverage how much of the press thinks they’re going to turn out. Let’s just say they’re worried it’ll be a bad day for Obama and for Obamaism.

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The Swine-Flu Moms

Soccer moms were all the rage in political punditry for a time. Their concerns and voting habits were endlessly picked over, and campaigns tried mightily to capture their votes. But perhaps we are headed for the era of the Swine-Flu Moms. Yes, Republicans are starting to make hay out of the Obami’s decision to give the vaccine to Guantanamo prisoners and the general ineptitude that characterizes the effort to make the vaccine available to the public. But it’s not politicians that the Obami need to be concerned about. A reader from Alexandria, Virginia, sends this vivid description of her encounter with the Obama swine-flu effort:

As I drove up to George Washington  Middle School and caught site of the 1,000-plus people waiting in line for the H1N1 vaccine, I was filled with only two thoughts.  “There is no way I am getting in that line” and “Is this how it is going to be for my daughter’s three-year-old check up under Obamacare?” Looking at the mass of parents and children, I suddenly wanted to go renew my driver’s license to lower my blood pressure.

Multiply that experience by a million moms and kids around the country. Then we’ll see if there is much toleration for a government takeover of health care.

Soccer moms were all the rage in political punditry for a time. Their concerns and voting habits were endlessly picked over, and campaigns tried mightily to capture their votes. But perhaps we are headed for the era of the Swine-Flu Moms. Yes, Republicans are starting to make hay out of the Obami’s decision to give the vaccine to Guantanamo prisoners and the general ineptitude that characterizes the effort to make the vaccine available to the public. But it’s not politicians that the Obami need to be concerned about. A reader from Alexandria, Virginia, sends this vivid description of her encounter with the Obama swine-flu effort:

As I drove up to George Washington  Middle School and caught site of the 1,000-plus people waiting in line for the H1N1 vaccine, I was filled with only two thoughts.  “There is no way I am getting in that line” and “Is this how it is going to be for my daughter’s three-year-old check up under Obamacare?” Looking at the mass of parents and children, I suddenly wanted to go renew my driver’s license to lower my blood pressure.

Multiply that experience by a million moms and kids around the country. Then we’ll see if there is much toleration for a government takeover of health care.

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New Jersey Democrats Run as if It Were Still 2008

Should the latest polls that show Chris Christie holding a small lead over incumbent Jon Corzine in the New Jersey gubernatorial race be vindicated by a victory for the Republican in tomorrow’s vote, we can expect Democrats to attribute it to the cycle of scandal and reform rather than as a referendum on their party. But as anyone who has spent much time in the state in the last few weeks can attest, New Jersey provides a test case for the Democrats’ strategy of running as if it were still 2008. Though Corzine’s nasty attacks on Christie’s weight and other purely negative tactics have drawn the most attention, a dominant theme has been the attempt to tie Christie to George W. Bush and Corzine to Barack Obama, a point reinforced by the president’s campaign swing through the state over the weekend. The image of George Bush looming above Christie and another showing Obama and Christie together was omnipresent.

Just as with so much of the national debate about the economy or even foreign policy, the Democrats appear to believe that the mere invocation of Bush and Obama effectively decides any argument. That was the case a year ago, as revulsion against an administration that was widely and not completely unfairly perceived as incompetent in many respects combined with enthusiasm for Obama to sweep the nation. But sooner or later, the Democrats are going to have to stop pretending that anything that goes wrong in 2009 is the fault of Bush and the Republicans. The question is when do we reach the tipping point when a still stagnant economy, a perilous situation in Afghanistan, and failed diplomacy on Iran can no longer be blamed on George W. Bush?

While local political issues and Corzine’s indifferent record are the main reasons Christie has a chance in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, if he does prevail tomorrow, it may also be time for Democrats to finally turn the page in their calendars and stop pretending as if it’s still 2008. While I don’t doubt that there will be races in next year’s midterm elections where Democrats will try the same trick, tomorrow’s New Jersey results may be the moment when they start to realize that voters understand that the party currently in power owns the problems afflicting the nation.

Should the latest polls that show Chris Christie holding a small lead over incumbent Jon Corzine in the New Jersey gubernatorial race be vindicated by a victory for the Republican in tomorrow’s vote, we can expect Democrats to attribute it to the cycle of scandal and reform rather than as a referendum on their party. But as anyone who has spent much time in the state in the last few weeks can attest, New Jersey provides a test case for the Democrats’ strategy of running as if it were still 2008. Though Corzine’s nasty attacks on Christie’s weight and other purely negative tactics have drawn the most attention, a dominant theme has been the attempt to tie Christie to George W. Bush and Corzine to Barack Obama, a point reinforced by the president’s campaign swing through the state over the weekend. The image of George Bush looming above Christie and another showing Obama and Christie together was omnipresent.

Just as with so much of the national debate about the economy or even foreign policy, the Democrats appear to believe that the mere invocation of Bush and Obama effectively decides any argument. That was the case a year ago, as revulsion against an administration that was widely and not completely unfairly perceived as incompetent in many respects combined with enthusiasm for Obama to sweep the nation. But sooner or later, the Democrats are going to have to stop pretending that anything that goes wrong in 2009 is the fault of Bush and the Republicans. The question is when do we reach the tipping point when a still stagnant economy, a perilous situation in Afghanistan, and failed diplomacy on Iran can no longer be blamed on George W. Bush?

While local political issues and Corzine’s indifferent record are the main reasons Christie has a chance in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, if he does prevail tomorrow, it may also be time for Democrats to finally turn the page in their calendars and stop pretending as if it’s still 2008. While I don’t doubt that there will be races in next year’s midterm elections where Democrats will try the same trick, tomorrow’s New Jersey results may be the moment when they start to realize that voters understand that the party currently in power owns the problems afflicting the nation.

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Moral Equivalence Run Amok

Following the Israeli police’s announcement on Sunday of the arrest of a Jewish terrorist, Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, the daily Haaretz published an editorial today that termed him “the Jewish counterpart of ‘The Engineer,’ Yahya Ayyash — Hamas’ expert bomb maker.” That analogy is as false as it is damaging. The two men may have shared an identical passion for killing, but there is a world of difference in their respective societies’ responses.

According to both the police and the Shin Bet security service, Teitel was a lone wolf, perpetrating his terrorist acts with no help from anyone. Moreover, when his deeds became known, he was unequivocally repudiated by his own society. Both the Yesha Council of settlements and the settlement where he lived issued condemnations. So did every settler-on-the-street that Haaretz reporters interviewed. Even on far-Right websites, the paper found very few statements of support for Teitel’s acts (and probably not for lack of trying; Haaretz usually likes nothing better than vilifying settlers). And of course, Israel arrested him itself.

Ayyash, in contrast, belonged to a large, well-funded group whose terrorist acts, far from being denounced, have consistently been lauded by Palestinian society. As leading Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad Sarraj told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, suicide bombers have “unparalleled” status among Palestinians. “Their pictures are plastered on public walls, their funerals are emotional celebrations, their families often receive visits from state officials. They become almost holy,” the LA Times report continued, “praised by imams at mosques or over loudspeakers at rallies, where children are often dressed as shrouded dead or as pint-sized suicide bombers.” Indeed, Palestinians value terror so highly that in 2006, they elected Hamas — a terrorist organization that not only holds the record for most Israelis killed in suicide bombings but flaunts its prowess in anti-Israel terror as its calling card — to run their government. Palestinians don’t arrest their terrorists; they make them cabinet ministers.

This different societal responses also explains the difference in the amount of mayhem the two men succeeded in perpetrating. In a terrorist career spanning a dozen years and about a dozen attacks, Teitel managed to kill two people. In contrast, Hamas suicide bombers killed 57 people in the two years before Ayyash met his death (at Israel’s hands) in December 1995; as the organization’s chief bomb maker, Ayyash presumably shares credit for most of these deaths. It’s not that Teitel was any less enamored of bombs; it’s just that it’s easier to perpetrate mass murder when you are backed by a large organization and a supportive society.

Haaretz’s false moral equivalence is unlikely to confuse Israelis, who have a clear grasp of the importance of this societal distinction. But it will undoubtedly be seized on by Israel’s enemies to support the canard that settlers are the Israeli equivalent of Hamas and that Israel is thus indistinguishable from the Palestinians when it comes to terror. And it will thereby deal another blow to Israel’s already battered good name.

Following the Israeli police’s announcement on Sunday of the arrest of a Jewish terrorist, Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, the daily Haaretz published an editorial today that termed him “the Jewish counterpart of ‘The Engineer,’ Yahya Ayyash — Hamas’ expert bomb maker.” That analogy is as false as it is damaging. The two men may have shared an identical passion for killing, but there is a world of difference in their respective societies’ responses.

According to both the police and the Shin Bet security service, Teitel was a lone wolf, perpetrating his terrorist acts with no help from anyone. Moreover, when his deeds became known, he was unequivocally repudiated by his own society. Both the Yesha Council of settlements and the settlement where he lived issued condemnations. So did every settler-on-the-street that Haaretz reporters interviewed. Even on far-Right websites, the paper found very few statements of support for Teitel’s acts (and probably not for lack of trying; Haaretz usually likes nothing better than vilifying settlers). And of course, Israel arrested him itself.

Ayyash, in contrast, belonged to a large, well-funded group whose terrorist acts, far from being denounced, have consistently been lauded by Palestinian society. As leading Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad Sarraj told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, suicide bombers have “unparalleled” status among Palestinians. “Their pictures are plastered on public walls, their funerals are emotional celebrations, their families often receive visits from state officials. They become almost holy,” the LA Times report continued, “praised by imams at mosques or over loudspeakers at rallies, where children are often dressed as shrouded dead or as pint-sized suicide bombers.” Indeed, Palestinians value terror so highly that in 2006, they elected Hamas — a terrorist organization that not only holds the record for most Israelis killed in suicide bombings but flaunts its prowess in anti-Israel terror as its calling card — to run their government. Palestinians don’t arrest their terrorists; they make them cabinet ministers.

This different societal responses also explains the difference in the amount of mayhem the two men succeeded in perpetrating. In a terrorist career spanning a dozen years and about a dozen attacks, Teitel managed to kill two people. In contrast, Hamas suicide bombers killed 57 people in the two years before Ayyash met his death (at Israel’s hands) in December 1995; as the organization’s chief bomb maker, Ayyash presumably shares credit for most of these deaths. It’s not that Teitel was any less enamored of bombs; it’s just that it’s easier to perpetrate mass murder when you are backed by a large organization and a supportive society.

Haaretz’s false moral equivalence is unlikely to confuse Israelis, who have a clear grasp of the importance of this societal distinction. But it will undoubtedly be seized on by Israel’s enemies to support the canard that settlers are the Israeli equivalent of Hamas and that Israel is thus indistinguishable from the Palestinians when it comes to terror. And it will thereby deal another blow to Israel’s already battered good name.

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She’s Back!

We are told that Hillary Clinton is out to “reassert” herself in the Obama foreign-policy apparatus. Ten months into the administration, that’s an interesting decision for the secretary of state. She has been, as the report notes, a bit player until now:

Foreign governments have questioned what role Mrs. Clinton was playing in formulating strategy on pressing international issues like Iran, Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The White House has often dominated the State Department in the internal-policy debate, according to officials taking part in the process.

But her coming-out party isn’t going so well. The Middle East talks are stalled due to the bungled gambit on a settlement freeze, so even maintaining the illusion of progress is a strain. (“The secretary’s mission, however, was complicated by the Obama administration’s own earlier stance on the issue.”) Iran is running circles around our negotiators. So she is, as she is wont to do, talking gibberishy platitudes. She tells us she is looking to “work toward creative outcomes” with Iran. That’s the sort of stuff that makes the Nobelists swoon but convinces more sober observers that she hasn’t got a clue how to deal with the mullahs.

Clinton has presided over (or observed from the sidelines) a run of embarrassing and potentially harmful errors. Yanking the rug out from under our Eastern European allies, emboldening the Russians, letting the Iranian regime off the hook for Qom, big-footing Honduras, and moving two steps back in the Middle East. Hmm. If she wants to actually take control over foreign policy, she will have to climb out of some of the holes the Obami have been digging for themselves. On second thought, maybe obscurity wasn’t so bad after all.

We are told that Hillary Clinton is out to “reassert” herself in the Obama foreign-policy apparatus. Ten months into the administration, that’s an interesting decision for the secretary of state. She has been, as the report notes, a bit player until now:

Foreign governments have questioned what role Mrs. Clinton was playing in formulating strategy on pressing international issues like Iran, Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The White House has often dominated the State Department in the internal-policy debate, according to officials taking part in the process.

But her coming-out party isn’t going so well. The Middle East talks are stalled due to the bungled gambit on a settlement freeze, so even maintaining the illusion of progress is a strain. (“The secretary’s mission, however, was complicated by the Obama administration’s own earlier stance on the issue.”) Iran is running circles around our negotiators. So she is, as she is wont to do, talking gibberishy platitudes. She tells us she is looking to “work toward creative outcomes” with Iran. That’s the sort of stuff that makes the Nobelists swoon but convinces more sober observers that she hasn’t got a clue how to deal with the mullahs.

Clinton has presided over (or observed from the sidelines) a run of embarrassing and potentially harmful errors. Yanking the rug out from under our Eastern European allies, emboldening the Russians, letting the Iranian regime off the hook for Qom, big-footing Honduras, and moving two steps back in the Middle East. Hmm. If she wants to actually take control over foreign policy, she will have to climb out of some of the holes the Obami have been digging for themselves. On second thought, maybe obscurity wasn’t so bad after all.

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Is Obama’s Commitment to Israel’s Security “Unqualified”?

Henry Siegman asserts in “Israel and Obama” in this morning’s New York Times that President Obama’s “unqualified commitment to Israel’s security” is real. Indeed Siegman alleges that the White House is “about to set a new record” for reassuring Israel. But Siegman opposes a campaign to ingratiate Obama with the Israeli public, because the “unprecedented Israeli hostility” springs from Israel’s “pathological” rejection of a “return to the 1967 pre-conflict borders.”

At the risk of being accused of mental illness for doubting Obama’s unqualified commitment (and Siegman’s assertion that the 1967 borders were “pre-conflict” ones), here is an easy test to determine the quality of President Obama’s commitment: Does he stand by the 2004 Bush Letter to Israel, which reiterated the following “steadfast commitment:”

The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats. [Emphasis added.]

No responsible Israeli or American military person considers the 1967 borders “defensible.” It was their indefensible nature that led Arab states to prepare for what they announced in May 1967 would be a “total war which will put an end to Israel.” Israel’s ability to deter and defend itself, by itself, also depends on preservation of its ultimate deterrent — which the words “by itself” in the Bush Letter were intended to reaffirm.

The Obama State Department has declined, no less than 21 times, to pass this test. The administration’s continued silence about it leads to a certain amount of doubt about Obama’s commitment — a doubt increased by Hillary Clinton’s BBC interview on Friday. Asked about Israel’s settlements, she said this:

We continue to have very serious questions about the legitimacy of the settlements that Israel has promoted. We understand that to a large extent, it has to do with their security needs and fears about trying to have a defensible perimeter around Israel.

But we also are committed to a two-state solution. And as President Obama said, that two-state solution will take place in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967. The question is how we get to it. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

The paragraph-long “But” that follows Hillary’s asserted understanding of the need for a defensible perimeter undermines Obama’s allegedly “unqualified” commitment — particularly given the structure of her answer, which sets Israel’s desire for such a perimeter against what Obama is “trying to achieve.”

President Obama will speak next week to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, undoubtedly to assure Israel and American Jews once again of his “unwavering commitment” to Israeli security. But his speech will be simply rhetorical unless he uses it to end his administration’s silence about the Bush Letter. Without knowing whether Obama supports secure, defensible borders for Israel and its ability to deter and defend itself, by itself, we will not know if his commitment is unqualified. We will not even know what his commitment means.

Henry Siegman asserts in “Israel and Obama” in this morning’s New York Times that President Obama’s “unqualified commitment to Israel’s security” is real. Indeed Siegman alleges that the White House is “about to set a new record” for reassuring Israel. But Siegman opposes a campaign to ingratiate Obama with the Israeli public, because the “unprecedented Israeli hostility” springs from Israel’s “pathological” rejection of a “return to the 1967 pre-conflict borders.”

At the risk of being accused of mental illness for doubting Obama’s unqualified commitment (and Siegman’s assertion that the 1967 borders were “pre-conflict” ones), here is an easy test to determine the quality of President Obama’s commitment: Does he stand by the 2004 Bush Letter to Israel, which reiterated the following “steadfast commitment:”

The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats. [Emphasis added.]

No responsible Israeli or American military person considers the 1967 borders “defensible.” It was their indefensible nature that led Arab states to prepare for what they announced in May 1967 would be a “total war which will put an end to Israel.” Israel’s ability to deter and defend itself, by itself, also depends on preservation of its ultimate deterrent — which the words “by itself” in the Bush Letter were intended to reaffirm.

The Obama State Department has declined, no less than 21 times, to pass this test. The administration’s continued silence about it leads to a certain amount of doubt about Obama’s commitment — a doubt increased by Hillary Clinton’s BBC interview on Friday. Asked about Israel’s settlements, she said this:

We continue to have very serious questions about the legitimacy of the settlements that Israel has promoted. We understand that to a large extent, it has to do with their security needs and fears about trying to have a defensible perimeter around Israel.

But we also are committed to a two-state solution. And as President Obama said, that two-state solution will take place in the territory occupied by Israel since 1967. The question is how we get to it. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

The paragraph-long “But” that follows Hillary’s asserted understanding of the need for a defensible perimeter undermines Obama’s allegedly “unqualified” commitment — particularly given the structure of her answer, which sets Israel’s desire for such a perimeter against what Obama is “trying to achieve.”

President Obama will speak next week to the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, undoubtedly to assure Israel and American Jews once again of his “unwavering commitment” to Israeli security. But his speech will be simply rhetorical unless he uses it to end his administration’s silence about the Bush Letter. Without knowing whether Obama supports secure, defensible borders for Israel and its ability to deter and defend itself, by itself, we will not know if his commitment is unqualified. We will not even know what his commitment means.

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New Jersey Too?

I spent the weekend in Virginia covering the upcoming election, which is shaping up to be an historic sweep for Republicans. A bit of trivia: keep your eye on the House of Delegates race in the third district, where the Republican challenger in coal country in southwest Virginia is running on cap-and-trade. Democratic handicappers are throwing in the towel on that one. (If that bill weren’t dead before, it will be. At least with the Virginia delegation and other similarly situated lawmakers, the race would turn almost solely on this issue.)

But everywhere I went, the question was the same: what do you hear about New Jersey? This is what happens when a blowout is coming — political observers begin to look for something of interest that isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The last few polls have shown an uptick for Chris Christie and a leveling off in support for Chris Daggett. Then Sunday night, the Democratic Public Policy Polling found Christie leading 47 to 41 percent, with 11 percent for Daggett. The explanation:

Christie’s advantage is due largely to his support from independents and because he has Republicans more unified around him than the Democrats are around Corzine. Christie leads Corzine 52-29 with indies, as Daggett’s support with that group has declined to 16%. Christie is getting 82% of Republicans to Corzine’s 72% of Democrats.

As the campaign concludes it seems like Daggett’s presence in the race has actually ended up hurting Corzine more than Christie, contrary to the earlier conventional wisdom. 45% of Daggett voters say the incumbent is their second choice to 36% for the challenger. Daggett’s backers report having voted for Barack Obama by a 67-23 margin last year.

As is the case around the country this year enthusiasm is on the Republicans’ side in New Jersey. 47% of Christie’s supporters say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting this fall to just 34% of Corzine’s. The electorate is also likely to be more Republican leaning this year with likely voters reporting that they voted for Obama by a 54-43 margin in 2008, a spread narrower than the actual 57-42 result in the state.

The pollsters concede that an exceptional turnout could lift Corzine, but that this is unlikely. If Corzine’s approval ratings are below 40 percent, how many voters are going to make the big effort to turn out? And this, after all, is not a presidential race, let alone a historic one.

Yes, this is New Jersey, where many a Republican has suffered from the huge Democratic advantage in voter registration. And yes, Obama pulled out the stops and lent his top political guru to Corzine. But sometimes, not even $22M of a pol’s own money can convince voters to re-elect him. We’ll see tomorrow night if New Jersey voters are content to keep Corzine in office.

I spent the weekend in Virginia covering the upcoming election, which is shaping up to be an historic sweep for Republicans. A bit of trivia: keep your eye on the House of Delegates race in the third district, where the Republican challenger in coal country in southwest Virginia is running on cap-and-trade. Democratic handicappers are throwing in the towel on that one. (If that bill weren’t dead before, it will be. At least with the Virginia delegation and other similarly situated lawmakers, the race would turn almost solely on this issue.)

But everywhere I went, the question was the same: what do you hear about New Jersey? This is what happens when a blowout is coming — political observers begin to look for something of interest that isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The last few polls have shown an uptick for Chris Christie and a leveling off in support for Chris Daggett. Then Sunday night, the Democratic Public Policy Polling found Christie leading 47 to 41 percent, with 11 percent for Daggett. The explanation:

Christie’s advantage is due largely to his support from independents and because he has Republicans more unified around him than the Democrats are around Corzine. Christie leads Corzine 52-29 with indies, as Daggett’s support with that group has declined to 16%. Christie is getting 82% of Republicans to Corzine’s 72% of Democrats.

As the campaign concludes it seems like Daggett’s presence in the race has actually ended up hurting Corzine more than Christie, contrary to the earlier conventional wisdom. 45% of Daggett voters say the incumbent is their second choice to 36% for the challenger. Daggett’s backers report having voted for Barack Obama by a 67-23 margin last year.

As is the case around the country this year enthusiasm is on the Republicans’ side in New Jersey. 47% of Christie’s supporters say they’re ‘very excited’ about voting this fall to just 34% of Corzine’s. The electorate is also likely to be more Republican leaning this year with likely voters reporting that they voted for Obama by a 54-43 margin in 2008, a spread narrower than the actual 57-42 result in the state.

The pollsters concede that an exceptional turnout could lift Corzine, but that this is unlikely. If Corzine’s approval ratings are below 40 percent, how many voters are going to make the big effort to turn out? And this, after all, is not a presidential race, let alone a historic one.

Yes, this is New Jersey, where many a Republican has suffered from the huge Democratic advantage in voter registration. And yes, Obama pulled out the stops and lent his top political guru to Corzine. But sometimes, not even $22M of a pol’s own money can convince voters to re-elect him. We’ll see tomorrow night if New Jersey voters are content to keep Corzine in office.

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Sunday Night on the Trail

Last night in Loudoun County, a northern Virginia county that has been trending Democratic, the GOP ticket wrapped up another day of campaigning. At this point in the race, the arguments have all been made and it’s become about pumping up the troops and getting out the vote. In a Leesburg campaign office, about 25 phones were all manned. It is easy to get volunteers on a Sunday night when the candidates are ahead in the polls.

Bob McDonnell had his closest brush with danger when the Washington Post ran its wall-to-wall thesis attack over a period of a few weeks. But the effort ultimately failed, and polls show McDonnell now leading among women. “Tamey,” a homeschooling mom whose husband owns his own business, called the issue “totally bogus.” The race, she said, was never about a 20-year-old thesis. We just “don’t like the road we’re on, ” she explained. A 34-year-old woman, “Wylie,” with a pink “Women for McDonnell” sign, said “We all write a whole lot of things in college.”

In the crowd there were a number of local politicians and a legion of volunteers, many of whom slogged through the low ebb in the party’s fortunes in the state over the past few years. They can sense they are on the verge of victory, perhaps an historic one. Ken Reed, a Leesburg city councilman, says the difference at a tactical level was the McDonnell camp’s “very practical, very pragmatic” emphasis on bread-and-butter issues. Reed says he was frankly “shocked” that, in contrast, Creigh Deeds, who had been in the state legislature for nearly 20 years, never came out with a detailed agenda. And there is also the sense that their Democratic friends and family members are short on “hope” and not thrilled with the “change.” A retired FBI agent dressed in a blue suit told me his family members and friends who couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t voted for Obama are now “disappointed.” He says, “It’s a short time to be disappointed.”

We will see the margins of victory and just how many Republicans are swept into office. The punditry will be in full swing. But these people and other conservatives in Virginia are already looking forward to 2010. They think the GOP will have the wind at their backs starting Tuesday.

Last night in Loudoun County, a northern Virginia county that has been trending Democratic, the GOP ticket wrapped up another day of campaigning. At this point in the race, the arguments have all been made and it’s become about pumping up the troops and getting out the vote. In a Leesburg campaign office, about 25 phones were all manned. It is easy to get volunteers on a Sunday night when the candidates are ahead in the polls.

Bob McDonnell had his closest brush with danger when the Washington Post ran its wall-to-wall thesis attack over a period of a few weeks. But the effort ultimately failed, and polls show McDonnell now leading among women. “Tamey,” a homeschooling mom whose husband owns his own business, called the issue “totally bogus.” The race, she said, was never about a 20-year-old thesis. We just “don’t like the road we’re on, ” she explained. A 34-year-old woman, “Wylie,” with a pink “Women for McDonnell” sign, said “We all write a whole lot of things in college.”

In the crowd there were a number of local politicians and a legion of volunteers, many of whom slogged through the low ebb in the party’s fortunes in the state over the past few years. They can sense they are on the verge of victory, perhaps an historic one. Ken Reed, a Leesburg city councilman, says the difference at a tactical level was the McDonnell camp’s “very practical, very pragmatic” emphasis on bread-and-butter issues. Reed says he was frankly “shocked” that, in contrast, Creigh Deeds, who had been in the state legislature for nearly 20 years, never came out with a detailed agenda. And there is also the sense that their Democratic friends and family members are short on “hope” and not thrilled with the “change.” A retired FBI agent dressed in a blue suit told me his family members and friends who couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t voted for Obama are now “disappointed.” He says, “It’s a short time to be disappointed.”

We will see the margins of victory and just how many Republicans are swept into office. The punditry will be in full swing. But these people and other conservatives in Virginia are already looking forward to 2010. They think the GOP will have the wind at their backs starting Tuesday.

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Not Europe Too!

Democrats may be going down in a sweep in Virginia. Obama might not be able to carry Jon Corzine across the finish line. But the real stunner: Obama is not so popular in Europe. Yeah, the Berlin “citizen of the world” rally seems like only yesterday. But times they are a’changing on the Continent. Sure, they still like him, but not so much as the New York Times reports:

Nine months into Mr. Obama’s presidency, trans-Atlantic relations are again clouded by doubts. Europe and the United States remain at least partly out of sync on Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and climate change. Many Europeans argue that Mr. Obama has not broken clearly enough with Bush administration policies that they dislike, while some Americans argue that the Europeans are too passive, watching Mr. Obama struggle with difficult issues, like Afghanistan and the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, without providing much substantive help.

Part of the problem is his wimpiness on Iran. (“On Iran, Europeans, and especially the French, are concerned that Mr. Obama could sacrifice the principle of preventing Tehran from enriching uranium — as demanded by the United Nations Security Council — to get what seems like an agreement for broad talks with Iran on regional and bilateral issues.”) And the Europeans complain that Obama doesn’t pay attention to them. (They never do after the courtship.)

Moreover, it seems Obama hasn’t been able to work his promised charm on the Europeans. They still neither want to solve the Guantanamo problem for us nor give us more troops for Afghanistan.

Hmm. This doesn’t seem all that changey. Actually, it sounds just like old times, but without a resolute American president. And the Times didn’t mention Poland and the Czech Republic, which “count” as Europe last time I checked. I think they’ve had a little too much change.

Once again, we see that all the talk about the Obama mystique and how he promised to redefine and improve our standing in the world and the relations with other powers haven’t amounted to much. Or to anything, to be exact.

Democrats may be going down in a sweep in Virginia. Obama might not be able to carry Jon Corzine across the finish line. But the real stunner: Obama is not so popular in Europe. Yeah, the Berlin “citizen of the world” rally seems like only yesterday. But times they are a’changing on the Continent. Sure, they still like him, but not so much as the New York Times reports:

Nine months into Mr. Obama’s presidency, trans-Atlantic relations are again clouded by doubts. Europe and the United States remain at least partly out of sync on Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and climate change. Many Europeans argue that Mr. Obama has not broken clearly enough with Bush administration policies that they dislike, while some Americans argue that the Europeans are too passive, watching Mr. Obama struggle with difficult issues, like Afghanistan and the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, without providing much substantive help.

Part of the problem is his wimpiness on Iran. (“On Iran, Europeans, and especially the French, are concerned that Mr. Obama could sacrifice the principle of preventing Tehran from enriching uranium — as demanded by the United Nations Security Council — to get what seems like an agreement for broad talks with Iran on regional and bilateral issues.”) And the Europeans complain that Obama doesn’t pay attention to them. (They never do after the courtship.)

Moreover, it seems Obama hasn’t been able to work his promised charm on the Europeans. They still neither want to solve the Guantanamo problem for us nor give us more troops for Afghanistan.

Hmm. This doesn’t seem all that changey. Actually, it sounds just like old times, but without a resolute American president. And the Times didn’t mention Poland and the Czech Republic, which “count” as Europe last time I checked. I think they’ve had a little too much change.

Once again, we see that all the talk about the Obama mystique and how he promised to redefine and improve our standing in the world and the relations with other powers haven’t amounted to much. Or to anything, to be exact.

Read Less




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