Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 5, 2009

Obama’s Pet-Goat Moment

We still don’t know what was behind the killings at Fort Hood this afternoon, in which 11 soldiers and the killer died, but President Obama’s rushed press conference was surprising in its flippancy nonetheless. Before he got to the issue on everyone’s mind — namely the deaths of Americans in uniform — the president gave a “shout-out” to government bureaucrats gathered for a previously scheduled conference at the Interior Department, complete with appreciative chuckles. He treated the event like a pep rally rather than a tragic occasion with a wider audience than those gathered in the room. I wonder how many media outlets will compare Obama’s performance to President Bush’s “Pet Goat” moment on 9/11. I won’t hold my breath.

We still don’t know what was behind the killings at Fort Hood this afternoon, in which 11 soldiers and the killer died, but President Obama’s rushed press conference was surprising in its flippancy nonetheless. Before he got to the issue on everyone’s mind — namely the deaths of Americans in uniform — the president gave a “shout-out” to government bureaucrats gathered for a previously scheduled conference at the Interior Department, complete with appreciative chuckles. He treated the event like a pep rally rather than a tragic occasion with a wider audience than those gathered in the room. I wonder how many media outlets will compare Obama’s performance to President Bush’s “Pet Goat” moment on 9/11. I won’t hold my breath.

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Giving Up

The Obami have finally, it seems, figured out who is boss in Honduras. When last we left the Obama foreign-policy mavens, they were crowing about a deal to restore Hugo Chavez’s ally to the presidency. But they did allow the Honduran Congress to vote on Manuel Zelaya’s reinstatement. Belatedly, the Obama team (after designating the removal of Zelaya with the consent of the very Honduran Congress a “coup”) seemed willing to grant the Hondurans some say in their own affairs. How magnanimous. But the Honduran Congress doesn’t want Zelaya back; they ousted him, after all.

So there is no deadline on the vote to decide Zelaya’s reinstatement. And now Zelaya is miffed. The State Department is sympathetic but unalarmed:

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that the United States considers what happened in Honduras a coup and that Zelaya should be reinstated, but he said the focus now should be on implementing last week’s deal between the ousted president’s representatives and the interim government of Roberto Micheletti.

“We’ve made our position on President Zelaya and his restitution clear. We believe he should be restored to power,” Kelly said. “Our focus now is on implementing this process and creating an environment wherein Hondurans themselves can address the issue of restitution and resolve for themselves this Honduran problem.”

The reactions are enlightening. A college professor sneers that “the U.S. negotiators may have underestimated the sheer nutso chaos of Honduran politics.” “Nutso” to oust Chavez’s pawn before he could effect his power grab and “nutso” to refuse taking him back? Hmm. Others have a different take:

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, project coordinator for Latin America at Washington-based Cato Institute, said he doesn’t expect Hondurans to be swayed by U.S. pressure. “If Congress doesn’t reinstate Zelaya, it certainly will be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States since they pressured so much for his reinstatement and even threatened to not recognize the election results,” said Hidalgo. “But not recognizing a popular vote was a dead-end road for the U.S. and they knew it.”

The bottom line: the Obama team picked the wrong horse, found itself in a diplomatic dead end, found a mechanism to abandon its failed gambit, and now supports elections — the very position that the Honduran interim government and the administration’s critics have been urging from the beginning. Well, in fairness, it is a display of diplomatic genius compared with Obama’s Middle East policy.

The Obami have finally, it seems, figured out who is boss in Honduras. When last we left the Obama foreign-policy mavens, they were crowing about a deal to restore Hugo Chavez’s ally to the presidency. But they did allow the Honduran Congress to vote on Manuel Zelaya’s reinstatement. Belatedly, the Obama team (after designating the removal of Zelaya with the consent of the very Honduran Congress a “coup”) seemed willing to grant the Hondurans some say in their own affairs. How magnanimous. But the Honduran Congress doesn’t want Zelaya back; they ousted him, after all.

So there is no deadline on the vote to decide Zelaya’s reinstatement. And now Zelaya is miffed. The State Department is sympathetic but unalarmed:

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that the United States considers what happened in Honduras a coup and that Zelaya should be reinstated, but he said the focus now should be on implementing last week’s deal between the ousted president’s representatives and the interim government of Roberto Micheletti.

“We’ve made our position on President Zelaya and his restitution clear. We believe he should be restored to power,” Kelly said. “Our focus now is on implementing this process and creating an environment wherein Hondurans themselves can address the issue of restitution and resolve for themselves this Honduran problem.”

The reactions are enlightening. A college professor sneers that “the U.S. negotiators may have underestimated the sheer nutso chaos of Honduran politics.” “Nutso” to oust Chavez’s pawn before he could effect his power grab and “nutso” to refuse taking him back? Hmm. Others have a different take:

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, project coordinator for Latin America at Washington-based Cato Institute, said he doesn’t expect Hondurans to be swayed by U.S. pressure. “If Congress doesn’t reinstate Zelaya, it certainly will be a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States since they pressured so much for his reinstatement and even threatened to not recognize the election results,” said Hidalgo. “But not recognizing a popular vote was a dead-end road for the U.S. and they knew it.”

The bottom line: the Obama team picked the wrong horse, found itself in a diplomatic dead end, found a mechanism to abandon its failed gambit, and now supports elections — the very position that the Honduran interim government and the administration’s critics have been urging from the beginning. Well, in fairness, it is a display of diplomatic genius compared with Obama’s Middle East policy.

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Mechanisms, Paths, and Whatever

With the administration’s Middle East policy pronounced a failure by all but the Kool-Aid inebriated, Hillary Clinton is left to spin the unspinnable and cheerlead the car crash:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrapping up a week-long mission to Pakistan and the Middle East, shrugged off criticism of her diplomatic tactics and said she made important advances in her efforts to broker Arab-Israeli peace and promote stronger U.S. ties with the Islamic world.

It seems as though Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak thinks there’s progress on settlements. But the real problem, his foreign minister declares, is Israel. Well, that clears up that issue. Can’t you just feel a deal getting closer? Granted, it’s been a tough week for Hillary:

Her trip was marked by public attacks on U.S. foreign policy and charges she backtracked on a key U.S. commitment to its Arab allies on the settlement issue. Her public praise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday was widely seen as a diplomatic gaffe that undercut the Obama administration’s hopes of being seen as an honest broker between the Arabs and Israelis.

But now things are back on track: “The secretary and her advisers said they will continue pushing the Arabs and Israelis to return to peace talks — and also explore new mechanisms to better define the diplomatic path.” Explore new mechanisms. Better define the diplomatic path. Got it? Because if you don’t explore the mechanisms, you might not define the path correctly. And then you might wander off and get lost.

Yes, this is blather, even for the Obami. You’d think in the interests of reducing the carbon footprint, they’d stop flying about the Middle East wasting airline fuel. And embarrassing themselves.

With the administration’s Middle East policy pronounced a failure by all but the Kool-Aid inebriated, Hillary Clinton is left to spin the unspinnable and cheerlead the car crash:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrapping up a week-long mission to Pakistan and the Middle East, shrugged off criticism of her diplomatic tactics and said she made important advances in her efforts to broker Arab-Israeli peace and promote stronger U.S. ties with the Islamic world.

It seems as though Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak thinks there’s progress on settlements. But the real problem, his foreign minister declares, is Israel. Well, that clears up that issue. Can’t you just feel a deal getting closer? Granted, it’s been a tough week for Hillary:

Her trip was marked by public attacks on U.S. foreign policy and charges she backtracked on a key U.S. commitment to its Arab allies on the settlement issue. Her public praise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday was widely seen as a diplomatic gaffe that undercut the Obama administration’s hopes of being seen as an honest broker between the Arabs and Israelis.

But now things are back on track: “The secretary and her advisers said they will continue pushing the Arabs and Israelis to return to peace talks — and also explore new mechanisms to better define the diplomatic path.” Explore new mechanisms. Better define the diplomatic path. Got it? Because if you don’t explore the mechanisms, you might not define the path correctly. And then you might wander off and get lost.

Yes, this is blather, even for the Obami. You’d think in the interests of reducing the carbon footprint, they’d stop flying about the Middle East wasting airline fuel. And embarrassing themselves.

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Where’s the Anger?

While his Middle East gambit grinds to a halt and the Iranians declare themselves unwilling to be engaged, the president still has yet to announce a decision on the Afghanistan-war strategy. His former campaign opponent has had it:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he is “angry” and “disappointed” with President Barack Obama for delaying his decision on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. “The fact is we already have men and women over there, and the longer we delay in sending them the needed resources they need the greater danger they are in,” McCain said during an interview on Fox News’ Fox & Friends program. “That’s just a fundamental fact of warfare and so I’m past being a bit angry.”

That used to be the call from the Left in the Iraq war — the body armor, the troop levels, and the quagmire were all fodder for the Left to claim that the Bush administration was delinquent in its duty. But to his credit, and under grave political pressure to do otherwise, President  Bush took on conventional wisdom (rather than capitulate to it) and insisted that we commit the resources and strategy needed to achieve victory. The Left was angry then too and ginned up its base to oppose the surge.

So where is the “give the troops what they need” crowd now? Silent. They want health-care reform now. They’ve got the Congress and the White House; no anger — feigned or otherwise — is evident. The troops? Oh, Gen. Joe Biden is cult hero to the Left for chiseling on the request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The war isn’t so “good” anymore and the troops can get by with what the Biden/Emanuel/Axelrod brain trust decide. Anger is only for winning elections, it seems.

While his Middle East gambit grinds to a halt and the Iranians declare themselves unwilling to be engaged, the president still has yet to announce a decision on the Afghanistan-war strategy. His former campaign opponent has had it:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that he is “angry” and “disappointed” with President Barack Obama for delaying his decision on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. “The fact is we already have men and women over there, and the longer we delay in sending them the needed resources they need the greater danger they are in,” McCain said during an interview on Fox News’ Fox & Friends program. “That’s just a fundamental fact of warfare and so I’m past being a bit angry.”

That used to be the call from the Left in the Iraq war — the body armor, the troop levels, and the quagmire were all fodder for the Left to claim that the Bush administration was delinquent in its duty. But to his credit, and under grave political pressure to do otherwise, President  Bush took on conventional wisdom (rather than capitulate to it) and insisted that we commit the resources and strategy needed to achieve victory. The Left was angry then too and ginned up its base to oppose the surge.

So where is the “give the troops what they need” crowd now? Silent. They want health-care reform now. They’ve got the Congress and the White House; no anger — feigned or otherwise — is evident. The troops? Oh, Gen. Joe Biden is cult hero to the Left for chiseling on the request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The war isn’t so “good” anymore and the troops can get by with what the Biden/Emanuel/Axelrod brain trust decide. Anger is only for winning elections, it seems.

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Dore Gold vs. Richard Goldstone

Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, is debating the author of the Goldstone report today at 5 p.m. at Brandeis. The matchup can be streamed live here. I have a feeling this event won’t go so well for Goldstone. Maybe after the pummeling is over, he can write a report condemning Dore Gold’s illegal and disproportionate debating tactics.

Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, is debating the author of the Goldstone report today at 5 p.m. at Brandeis. The matchup can be streamed live here. I have a feeling this event won’t go so well for Goldstone. Maybe after the pummeling is over, he can write a report condemning Dore Gold’s illegal and disproportionate debating tactics.

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Re: The Wrecking Crew

Jennifer Rubin has already commented on the Washington Post‘s analysis of the Obama administration’s failures in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. The tactical miscalculations that Glenn Kessler lays out are real enough and show a lack of savvy on the part of this administration that is, unfortunately, distressingly similar to the blunders made by many previous administrations. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams has a wonderful description of what the administration has been up to — “nine months of nonsense.”

But even if the administration had eschewed the nonsense (e.g., calls for a complete Israeli settlement freeze) and been more tactically adroit, is there any reason to assume it would have succeeded in its goal of a “final status” accord between Israelis and Palestinians? Of course not. The difference between what most Israelis will give up and what even Fatah will accept — to say nothing of Hamas — is simply too wide. To take just one example, the Palestinians have never shown themselves willing to surrender the “right to return,” which, if implemented, would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

This doesn’t mean that American intervention is hopeless. Some of the small, limited steps taken during the Bush years — notably pushing for financial reform in the Palestinian Authority and for the creation of a more professional police force — have borne some fruit. But it is the height of hubris for any American policymaker to think that he or she can bring these age-old enemies into accord, to assume that the only thing standing in the way of agreement was the ineptitude of the previous administration. This, alas, is the illusion to which not only Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Mitchell have fallen prey. It is also the illusion that gripped Condoleezza Rice in the second Bush term when she dreamed of settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by the end of 2008. Similar grandiose visions have afflicted Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Jim Baker, Warren Christopher, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and a long line of American statesmen dating back to the 1940s. Perhaps it’s time for someone in a position of authority to admit the obvious — no final settlement is in the offing and American attempts to force one can easily result in more harm than good. There are simply certain problems so intractable that they have to be managed rather than “solved.”

Jennifer Rubin has already commented on the Washington Post‘s analysis of the Obama administration’s failures in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. The tactical miscalculations that Glenn Kessler lays out are real enough and show a lack of savvy on the part of this administration that is, unfortunately, distressingly similar to the blunders made by many previous administrations. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams has a wonderful description of what the administration has been up to — “nine months of nonsense.”

But even if the administration had eschewed the nonsense (e.g., calls for a complete Israeli settlement freeze) and been more tactically adroit, is there any reason to assume it would have succeeded in its goal of a “final status” accord between Israelis and Palestinians? Of course not. The difference between what most Israelis will give up and what even Fatah will accept — to say nothing of Hamas — is simply too wide. To take just one example, the Palestinians have never shown themselves willing to surrender the “right to return,” which, if implemented, would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

This doesn’t mean that American intervention is hopeless. Some of the small, limited steps taken during the Bush years — notably pushing for financial reform in the Palestinian Authority and for the creation of a more professional police force — have borne some fruit. But it is the height of hubris for any American policymaker to think that he or she can bring these age-old enemies into accord, to assume that the only thing standing in the way of agreement was the ineptitude of the previous administration. This, alas, is the illusion to which not only Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Mitchell have fallen prey. It is also the illusion that gripped Condoleezza Rice in the second Bush term when she dreamed of settling the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by the end of 2008. Similar grandiose visions have afflicted Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Jim Baker, Warren Christopher, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and a long line of American statesmen dating back to the 1940s. Perhaps it’s time for someone in a position of authority to admit the obvious — no final settlement is in the offing and American attempts to force one can easily result in more harm than good. There are simply certain problems so intractable that they have to be managed rather than “solved.”

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And One in New Jersey

The Virginia Four — the vulnerable Democratic incumbents whose districts went heavily for Bob McDonnell — are not the only nervous House members this week. There is also John Adler from New Jersey. Politico reports:

Christie dominated Gov. Jon Corzine in the two main counties that make up most of Adler’s southern New Jersey district – Ocean and Burlington Counties. In fast-growing Ocean County, the most Republican part of the district, he absolutely crushed Corzine by 37 points, 66 to 29 percent. The intensity of GOP enthusiasm should also be concerning to Adler. Republican turnout was high in Ocean County – over 50 percent. … That suggests that electorate in this senior-heavy county (29 percent of voters are over 60) was angry with the Democratic status quo.

In Democratic-leaning Burlington County, which Obama carried by 18 points in last year’s presidential election, Christie managed a comfortable 49 to 46 percent over Corzine.

It is also worth remembering that Adler won a close race — 52 to 48 percent in an election that had Obama at the top of the ticket winning by margins of 19 to 37 percent in the counties encompassed by Adler’s district. In other words, he rode Obama’s coattails — barely — into office. And now? Ocean County went 65.7 to 28.5 percent for Christie, who also won narrowly in Burlington, and turnout in heavily Democratic Camden was down to 41 percent.

That formula — depressed Democratic turnout and large suburban support for the Republicans — is a deadly combination for Adler in 2010. How’s he going to vote on the big-government agenda items and tax increases pushed by his liberal leadership? We’ll find out.

The Virginia Four — the vulnerable Democratic incumbents whose districts went heavily for Bob McDonnell — are not the only nervous House members this week. There is also John Adler from New Jersey. Politico reports:

Christie dominated Gov. Jon Corzine in the two main counties that make up most of Adler’s southern New Jersey district – Ocean and Burlington Counties. In fast-growing Ocean County, the most Republican part of the district, he absolutely crushed Corzine by 37 points, 66 to 29 percent. The intensity of GOP enthusiasm should also be concerning to Adler. Republican turnout was high in Ocean County – over 50 percent. … That suggests that electorate in this senior-heavy county (29 percent of voters are over 60) was angry with the Democratic status quo.

In Democratic-leaning Burlington County, which Obama carried by 18 points in last year’s presidential election, Christie managed a comfortable 49 to 46 percent over Corzine.

It is also worth remembering that Adler won a close race — 52 to 48 percent in an election that had Obama at the top of the ticket winning by margins of 19 to 37 percent in the counties encompassed by Adler’s district. In other words, he rode Obama’s coattails — barely — into office. And now? Ocean County went 65.7 to 28.5 percent for Christie, who also won narrowly in Burlington, and turnout in heavily Democratic Camden was down to 41 percent.

That formula — depressed Democratic turnout and large suburban support for the Republicans — is a deadly combination for Adler in 2010. How’s he going to vote on the big-government agenda items and tax increases pushed by his liberal leadership? We’ll find out.

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The Lesson of Honduras

In Honduras, there are T-shirts being sold on the streets that read “The Little Country That Could.” The San Francisco Examiner editorializes that the denouement there represents “the culmination of the administration’s mystifying diplomacy”:

Even if Zelaya returns to power for a meaningless month, Micheletti has won the battle. . . . [Micheletti] deprived Zelaya of power for five critical months and thus blocked his illegal attempt to seek another term, something that is definitively banned by the Honduran Constitution. Micheletti also guaranteed that constitutional elections will be held to replace Zelaya, no matter who is interim president. . . . Still, this happy ending in no way justifies Obama’s bone-headed interference in Honduran internal affairs, which destabilized that nation’s political institutions and caused totally unnecessary violence and deaths.

Obama converted the attempt by the Honduran Supreme Court and Honduran Congress to enforce the Honduran constitution into a “crisis” by declaring — less than 24 hours after it happened — that it was a “military coup.” But military coups rarely leave civilians in control, much less ones chosen by a democratically elected Congress. Even less often do such coups proceed with previously scheduled elections between candidates chosen prior to the “coup.”

The State Department lawyers, to their credit, found they could not conclude that there was a “military coup” in Honduras, and Hillary Clinton was left to announce that it was a “coup” of some undetermined kind. One of the “Senior Administration Officials” who briefed the press asserted that there were all kinds of coups. Asked for an example of a non-military one, he said he thought there had been a “legislative” coup back in Panama in the 1990s.

The Examiner argues that Obama did not understand that the threat to Latin American democracy these days emerges not from the guerrillas or generals but from presidents elected under one-term constitutional limits who then try to make themselves presidents for life. But the problem may rather have been a breakdown in the Obama administration foreign-policy decision-making system, which allowed the president to make an ill-informed judgment in 24 hours and then permitted him to stick with it months after it was apparent that it had been wrong.

It is the same system that allowed him to base his Middle East peace process on reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel and to continue in that vein for months after the entire Israeli public had been alienated. It is the same system that allowed him to continue with his Iran policy months after it became apparent that Iran had been hiding secret nuclear facilities and secretly shipping massive amounts of weaponry while he “engages.” It is the same system that is now approaching 100 days of seminars reviewing the “comprehensive new policy” for Afghanistan he announced on March 27 and no longer likes. It is the same system that treats allies as adversaries, or vice versa, and substitutes videos, buttons, private messages, feel-good speeches, and other emblems of goodwill for serious policy.

There is a very serious problem with the American foreign-policy decision-making process, and it needs to be corrected soon.

In Honduras, there are T-shirts being sold on the streets that read “The Little Country That Could.” The San Francisco Examiner editorializes that the denouement there represents “the culmination of the administration’s mystifying diplomacy”:

Even if Zelaya returns to power for a meaningless month, Micheletti has won the battle. . . . [Micheletti] deprived Zelaya of power for five critical months and thus blocked his illegal attempt to seek another term, something that is definitively banned by the Honduran Constitution. Micheletti also guaranteed that constitutional elections will be held to replace Zelaya, no matter who is interim president. . . . Still, this happy ending in no way justifies Obama’s bone-headed interference in Honduran internal affairs, which destabilized that nation’s political institutions and caused totally unnecessary violence and deaths.

Obama converted the attempt by the Honduran Supreme Court and Honduran Congress to enforce the Honduran constitution into a “crisis” by declaring — less than 24 hours after it happened — that it was a “military coup.” But military coups rarely leave civilians in control, much less ones chosen by a democratically elected Congress. Even less often do such coups proceed with previously scheduled elections between candidates chosen prior to the “coup.”

The State Department lawyers, to their credit, found they could not conclude that there was a “military coup” in Honduras, and Hillary Clinton was left to announce that it was a “coup” of some undetermined kind. One of the “Senior Administration Officials” who briefed the press asserted that there were all kinds of coups. Asked for an example of a non-military one, he said he thought there had been a “legislative” coup back in Panama in the 1990s.

The Examiner argues that Obama did not understand that the threat to Latin American democracy these days emerges not from the guerrillas or generals but from presidents elected under one-term constitutional limits who then try to make themselves presidents for life. But the problem may rather have been a breakdown in the Obama administration foreign-policy decision-making system, which allowed the president to make an ill-informed judgment in 24 hours and then permitted him to stick with it months after it was apparent that it had been wrong.

It is the same system that allowed him to base his Middle East peace process on reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel and to continue in that vein for months after the entire Israeli public had been alienated. It is the same system that allowed him to continue with his Iran policy months after it became apparent that Iran had been hiding secret nuclear facilities and secretly shipping massive amounts of weaponry while he “engages.” It is the same system that is now approaching 100 days of seminars reviewing the “comprehensive new policy” for Afghanistan he announced on March 27 and no longer likes. It is the same system that treats allies as adversaries, or vice versa, and substitutes videos, buttons, private messages, feel-good speeches, and other emblems of goodwill for serious policy.

There is a very serious problem with the American foreign-policy decision-making process, and it needs to be corrected soon.

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An Unfortunate International Consensus

From its newest poll, released this week, WorldPublicOpinion.org concluded that “publics around the world show a fairly strong internationalist orientation. Most favor subordinating national interest to international law and are ready to trust the World Court to be impartial.” Respondents from 21 countries were offered two statements to choose from:

The first statement said, “Our nation should consistently follow international laws. It is wrong to violate international laws, just as it is wrong to violate laws within a country”: the second said, “If our government thinks it is not in our nation’s interest, it should not feel obliged to abide by international laws.”

On average, across all nations polled, 57% said that their country should put a higher priority on international law than national interest.

Notably, the study showed that “support for abiding by international law is strongest in China.” Seventy-four percent of mainland-Chinese respondents prioritized international law over national interest.

But in China, domestic rule of law is often disregarded (as are international-law and international agreements). In fact, the domestic law is derived from a single-party dictatorship, hardly a recipe for legitimacy. And China often turns the law against its citizens, the very people it is supposed to protect. So it’s not shocking that the Chinese want a higher power to appeal to.

The poll respondents’ may have answered differently had they only known that, for example, international law has only minimally, if at all, affected China’s behavior — or that of any state loose on internal justice. International law is tough to establish in the first place because, while justice is universal, different countries have different criteria for legality. And even if a standard were agreed upon, pleas have little effect without enforceable consequences.

And the world is a dangerous neighborhood. A state’s primary responsibility — its “national interest,” if you prefer — is the well-being of its citizens. Above everything, the state must be able to protect its citizens when they can’t protect themselves. To be sure, sometimes international law can help a country serve its citizens. For example, treaties held in good faith, as required by international law, can better trade and security. But disregarding national interest in exchange for a feebly definable, often unenforceable international law is a dangerous idea.

From its newest poll, released this week, WorldPublicOpinion.org concluded that “publics around the world show a fairly strong internationalist orientation. Most favor subordinating national interest to international law and are ready to trust the World Court to be impartial.” Respondents from 21 countries were offered two statements to choose from:

The first statement said, “Our nation should consistently follow international laws. It is wrong to violate international laws, just as it is wrong to violate laws within a country”: the second said, “If our government thinks it is not in our nation’s interest, it should not feel obliged to abide by international laws.”

On average, across all nations polled, 57% said that their country should put a higher priority on international law than national interest.

Notably, the study showed that “support for abiding by international law is strongest in China.” Seventy-four percent of mainland-Chinese respondents prioritized international law over national interest.

But in China, domestic rule of law is often disregarded (as are international-law and international agreements). In fact, the domestic law is derived from a single-party dictatorship, hardly a recipe for legitimacy. And China often turns the law against its citizens, the very people it is supposed to protect. So it’s not shocking that the Chinese want a higher power to appeal to.

The poll respondents’ may have answered differently had they only known that, for example, international law has only minimally, if at all, affected China’s behavior — or that of any state loose on internal justice. International law is tough to establish in the first place because, while justice is universal, different countries have different criteria for legality. And even if a standard were agreed upon, pleas have little effect without enforceable consequences.

And the world is a dangerous neighborhood. A state’s primary responsibility — its “national interest,” if you prefer — is the well-being of its citizens. Above everything, the state must be able to protect its citizens when they can’t protect themselves. To be sure, sometimes international law can help a country serve its citizens. For example, treaties held in good faith, as required by international law, can better trade and security. But disregarding national interest in exchange for a feebly definable, often unenforceable international law is a dangerous idea.

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Taxes Become Important When Democrats Raise Them

We keep hearing that the tax issue has lost its oomph. So many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes (thanks to George Bush’s tax cuts, which eliminated millions from the federal-income-tax rolls), and marginal rates aren’t where they were before Ronald Reagan (until ObamaCare is passed, at least), so it’s not the issue it once was, the pundits sniff. Wrong.

There was no more potent issue in the two gubernatorial races on Tuesday. Bob McDonnell banged away at Creigh Deeds’s willingness to raise taxes. Deeds made it worse by trying to wriggle and equivocate, but by the end voters knew which candidate would hike taxes and which wouldn’t. And if they had any doubt, the Washington Post made it crystal clear. (Perhaps Karl Rove has infiltrated the editorial board.)

Likewise in New Jersey, taxes were critical. The Post (yes, the Post) concedes:

In the end, Republican Chris Christie was propelled into the New Jersey governorship by the same force that pushed him so far ahead in early polls in the year-long campaign: angry, widespread resentment over the state’s finances, especially the property taxes that incumbent Jon S. Corzine was elected promising to cut.

And it is with critical suburban voters that the issue has particular appeal. As the Post notes, in suburban Ocean County, Jon Corzine got crushed 65.7 to 28.5 percent:

“Ocean County is emblematic of the dissatisfaction with high property taxes, and dissatisfaction, really, with the definitive promises that Corzine made about taxes four years ago,” said Peter J. Woolley, director of polling at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “His entire mandate four years ago was based on the idea that he was a financial wizard, that he would straighten out the state’s finances, that he would attack the property tax problem,” Woolley said. “And the property tax problem was not abated, and he ended up raising the sales tax. And then the worst possible thing happened, and that was that the housing market went into a recession.”

What’s going to be on the minds of voters in 2010? Well, for one thing, expiration of the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. And, if the Democrats are so foolish, hundreds of billions in new PelosiCare taxes will also be up for debate, as Republicans will certainly vow to repeal the government health-care takeover should it have passed by then.

So it seems that the tax issue doesn’t matter until Democrats come along and decide to raise them. Then it becomes very, very important. Deeds, Corzine, and a bunch of former Virginia state delegates can tell you that.

We keep hearing that the tax issue has lost its oomph. So many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes (thanks to George Bush’s tax cuts, which eliminated millions from the federal-income-tax rolls), and marginal rates aren’t where they were before Ronald Reagan (until ObamaCare is passed, at least), so it’s not the issue it once was, the pundits sniff. Wrong.

There was no more potent issue in the two gubernatorial races on Tuesday. Bob McDonnell banged away at Creigh Deeds’s willingness to raise taxes. Deeds made it worse by trying to wriggle and equivocate, but by the end voters knew which candidate would hike taxes and which wouldn’t. And if they had any doubt, the Washington Post made it crystal clear. (Perhaps Karl Rove has infiltrated the editorial board.)

Likewise in New Jersey, taxes were critical. The Post (yes, the Post) concedes:

In the end, Republican Chris Christie was propelled into the New Jersey governorship by the same force that pushed him so far ahead in early polls in the year-long campaign: angry, widespread resentment over the state’s finances, especially the property taxes that incumbent Jon S. Corzine was elected promising to cut.

And it is with critical suburban voters that the issue has particular appeal. As the Post notes, in suburban Ocean County, Jon Corzine got crushed 65.7 to 28.5 percent:

“Ocean County is emblematic of the dissatisfaction with high property taxes, and dissatisfaction, really, with the definitive promises that Corzine made about taxes four years ago,” said Peter J. Woolley, director of polling at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “His entire mandate four years ago was based on the idea that he was a financial wizard, that he would straighten out the state’s finances, that he would attack the property tax problem,” Woolley said. “And the property tax problem was not abated, and he ended up raising the sales tax. And then the worst possible thing happened, and that was that the housing market went into a recession.”

What’s going to be on the minds of voters in 2010? Well, for one thing, expiration of the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. And, if the Democrats are so foolish, hundreds of billions in new PelosiCare taxes will also be up for debate, as Republicans will certainly vow to repeal the government health-care takeover should it have passed by then.

So it seems that the tax issue doesn’t matter until Democrats come along and decide to raise them. Then it becomes very, very important. Deeds, Corzine, and a bunch of former Virginia state delegates can tell you that.

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A Choice on Saturday

The House Republicans have offered an alternative to PelosiCare that eschews a big-government takeover of health care and works on the cost-control side of the equation:

The Congressional Budget Office Wednesday night released its cost analysis of the Republican health care plan and found that it would reduce health care premiums and cut the deficit by $68 billion over ten years.

The Republican plan does not call for a government insurance plan but rather attempts to reform the system by creating high-risk insurance pools, allowing people to purchase health insurance policies across state lines and instituting medical malpractice reforms.

And CBO agrees that it does, in fact, lower costs. (“According to CBO, the GOP bill would indeed lower costs, particularly for small businesses that have trouble finding affordable health-care policies for their employees. The report found that rates would drop by 7-to-10 percent for this group, and by 5-to-8 percent for the individual market, where it can also be difficult to find affordable policies.”) It cost only $61 billion versus the $1.05 trillion for PelosiCare. Plus, the “CBO found that the Republican provision to reform medical malpractice liability would result in $41 billion in savings and increase revenues by $13 billion by reducing the cost of private health insurance plans.”

What’s in it? Well, some popular, noncontroversial items:

The Republican plan has adopted some of the more modest Democratic provisions. It too would make it easier for young adults to remain on their parents’ health policies. It also would end the controversial insurance practices of imposing annual or lifetime limits on benefits and of canceling coverage after a policyholder becomes sick.

And rather than give more power to the federal government to address the nation’s healthcare problems, the Republican plan looks to states, market forces and individuals.

Their bill would provide aid to the states to form “high-risk” insurance pools that would cover people — including those with preexisting conditions — who cannot get coverage through their jobs or in the individual market. The GOP bill also would provide incentive grants for states that reduce premiums and the ranks of the uninsured.

Small businesses would be encouraged, but not required, to cover their employees under provisions that would make it easier to band together to get group rates.

And it would make it easier to buy insurance across state lines and expand health-savings accounts.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are grousing that it doesn’t do much to expand coverage. But that wasn’t the point. The aim was to look at the overwhelming majority of Americans who have insurance or who might want to (not be forced to) buy insurance and make it cheaper.

We’ll see if Pelosi allows a vote on it, or if she can even muster the 218 to pass her gargantuan measure. And after Tuesday, she might need some votes to make up for potential defections from Virginia. There are a couple Democrats who might want to preserve their re-election prospects.

The House Republicans have offered an alternative to PelosiCare that eschews a big-government takeover of health care and works on the cost-control side of the equation:

The Congressional Budget Office Wednesday night released its cost analysis of the Republican health care plan and found that it would reduce health care premiums and cut the deficit by $68 billion over ten years.

The Republican plan does not call for a government insurance plan but rather attempts to reform the system by creating high-risk insurance pools, allowing people to purchase health insurance policies across state lines and instituting medical malpractice reforms.

And CBO agrees that it does, in fact, lower costs. (“According to CBO, the GOP bill would indeed lower costs, particularly for small businesses that have trouble finding affordable health-care policies for their employees. The report found that rates would drop by 7-to-10 percent for this group, and by 5-to-8 percent for the individual market, where it can also be difficult to find affordable policies.”) It cost only $61 billion versus the $1.05 trillion for PelosiCare. Plus, the “CBO found that the Republican provision to reform medical malpractice liability would result in $41 billion in savings and increase revenues by $13 billion by reducing the cost of private health insurance plans.”

What’s in it? Well, some popular, noncontroversial items:

The Republican plan has adopted some of the more modest Democratic provisions. It too would make it easier for young adults to remain on their parents’ health policies. It also would end the controversial insurance practices of imposing annual or lifetime limits on benefits and of canceling coverage after a policyholder becomes sick.

And rather than give more power to the federal government to address the nation’s healthcare problems, the Republican plan looks to states, market forces and individuals.

Their bill would provide aid to the states to form “high-risk” insurance pools that would cover people — including those with preexisting conditions — who cannot get coverage through their jobs or in the individual market. The GOP bill also would provide incentive grants for states that reduce premiums and the ranks of the uninsured.

Small businesses would be encouraged, but not required, to cover their employees under provisions that would make it easier to band together to get group rates.

And it would make it easier to buy insurance across state lines and expand health-savings accounts.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are grousing that it doesn’t do much to expand coverage. But that wasn’t the point. The aim was to look at the overwhelming majority of Americans who have insurance or who might want to (not be forced to) buy insurance and make it cheaper.

We’ll see if Pelosi allows a vote on it, or if she can even muster the 218 to pass her gargantuan measure. And after Tuesday, she might need some votes to make up for potential defections from Virginia. There are a couple Democrats who might want to preserve their re-election prospects.

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Re: Will 2009 Wake Up Virginia Congressmen?

Well, Gerry Connolly, one of the potentially vulnerable Democrats in northern Virginia had this to say about Tuesday: “What the exit polls showed was real voter fatigue with how crowded the plate is. … We need to take a deep breath, step back and clean the plate before we add to it.” So do we put him down as a “no” on PelosiCare, or does he keep on voting down the line for the Obama agenda?

It is worth noting that Bob McDonnell carried Connolly’s district by a 55.1 to 44.7 percent margin. Maybe Creigh Deeds wasn’t the greatest candidate, but is Connolly so certain that it is safe to vote for the very things that McDonnell railed against, including a government takeover of healthcare? We’ll find out on Saturday, when Connolly, it appears, will be forced by his leadership to cast a vote.

Well, Gerry Connolly, one of the potentially vulnerable Democrats in northern Virginia had this to say about Tuesday: “What the exit polls showed was real voter fatigue with how crowded the plate is. … We need to take a deep breath, step back and clean the plate before we add to it.” So do we put him down as a “no” on PelosiCare, or does he keep on voting down the line for the Obama agenda?

It is worth noting that Bob McDonnell carried Connolly’s district by a 55.1 to 44.7 percent margin. Maybe Creigh Deeds wasn’t the greatest candidate, but is Connolly so certain that it is safe to vote for the very things that McDonnell railed against, including a government takeover of healthcare? We’ll find out on Saturday, when Connolly, it appears, will be forced by his leadership to cast a vote.

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Moral Leadership, EU-Style

Jennifer wonders how 22 congressmen could be so incapable of making up their minds on the Goldstone report that they merely voted “present.” I’d say the answer is obvious: they’re applying to join the European Union.

As of this writing, EU representatives are still negotiating with Arab delegates over the wording of the pro-Goldstone resolution that the UN General Assembly began debating yesterday, hoping to find language that would let them vote in favor. But if no compromise is reached, they have threatened … to abstain. “There will be at least 60 abstentions, and only 120 votes in support,” Haaretz quoted an EU source “threatening” on Tuesday.

Now there’s a threat to strike terror into the hearts of Goldstone supporters: instead of the resolution passing by an overwhelming majority, with only Israel, the U.S., and a few others voting against, it will pass by … an overwhelming majority, with only Israel, the U.S., and a few others voting against.

Not that Arab delegates ever seriously feared that the EU might vote against: after all, when the UN Human Rights Council voted on the report last month, Britain and France could not even bring themselves to abstain; instead, they skipped the vote. And as the two EU countries with by far the most extensive military operations overseas, Britain and France are precisely the ones with most to lose should Goldstone actually become the new international bible for warfare. Thus, even though four EU states courageously bucked the party line by voting “no” in the HRC (Italy, The Netherlands, Hungary, and Slovakia), most will certainly fall in line behind Britain and France.

But the British-French hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. After the HRC vote, Haaretz reported, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assure him that, of course, Israel has the right to defend itself — but if it wants European support in keeping its officers and cabinet ministers out of international courts afterward, it must open the border crossings with the Gaza Strip, completely freeze construction in the settlements, and resume negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas (never mind that he refuses to do so) on the terms dictated by Barack Obama — namely, a full return to the 1967 lines.

In other words, Israel has no right to self-defense unless it bows to EU political dictates — and then it still doesn’t, because these dictates require it to abandon the ability to defend itself, by withdrawing to indefensible borders and ending an embargo that has at least impeded (though certainly not prevented) Hamas’s efforts to rebuild its arsenal.

And that, in a nutshell, is what abstention means: we fully support stripping Israel of its right to self-defense, but we want to keep our hands clean while doing it. So we’ll sit back and let other countries do the dirty work instead. That, apparently, is the EU’s idea of “moral leadership”: being the “good men” who let evil triumph by doing nothing.

Jennifer wonders how 22 congressmen could be so incapable of making up their minds on the Goldstone report that they merely voted “present.” I’d say the answer is obvious: they’re applying to join the European Union.

As of this writing, EU representatives are still negotiating with Arab delegates over the wording of the pro-Goldstone resolution that the UN General Assembly began debating yesterday, hoping to find language that would let them vote in favor. But if no compromise is reached, they have threatened … to abstain. “There will be at least 60 abstentions, and only 120 votes in support,” Haaretz quoted an EU source “threatening” on Tuesday.

Now there’s a threat to strike terror into the hearts of Goldstone supporters: instead of the resolution passing by an overwhelming majority, with only Israel, the U.S., and a few others voting against, it will pass by … an overwhelming majority, with only Israel, the U.S., and a few others voting against.

Not that Arab delegates ever seriously feared that the EU might vote against: after all, when the UN Human Rights Council voted on the report last month, Britain and France could not even bring themselves to abstain; instead, they skipped the vote. And as the two EU countries with by far the most extensive military operations overseas, Britain and France are precisely the ones with most to lose should Goldstone actually become the new international bible for warfare. Thus, even though four EU states courageously bucked the party line by voting “no” in the HRC (Italy, The Netherlands, Hungary, and Slovakia), most will certainly fall in line behind Britain and France.

But the British-French hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. After the HRC vote, Haaretz reported, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assure him that, of course, Israel has the right to defend itself — but if it wants European support in keeping its officers and cabinet ministers out of international courts afterward, it must open the border crossings with the Gaza Strip, completely freeze construction in the settlements, and resume negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas (never mind that he refuses to do so) on the terms dictated by Barack Obama — namely, a full return to the 1967 lines.

In other words, Israel has no right to self-defense unless it bows to EU political dictates — and then it still doesn’t, because these dictates require it to abandon the ability to defend itself, by withdrawing to indefensible borders and ending an embargo that has at least impeded (though certainly not prevented) Hamas’s efforts to rebuild its arsenal.

And that, in a nutshell, is what abstention means: we fully support stripping Israel of its right to self-defense, but we want to keep our hands clean while doing it. So we’ll sit back and let other countries do the dirty work instead. That, apparently, is the EU’s idea of “moral leadership”: being the “good men” who let evil triumph by doing nothing.

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Walloped

“We got walloped,” says Virginia Senator Mark Warner about Tuesday’s election. Hmm. Didn’t get the talking points from Rahm Emanuel? No, he’s from Virginia. The entire state — really every single congressional district but two — went for the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Those are Warner’s constituents and the people who just put him in office. Now they’re screaming, “Enough!” Warner is trying, albeit only rhetorically, to show that he “gets it.” But does he? In the end, will he still vote for the items that Bob McDonnell ran against — cap-and-trade, expiration of the Bush tax hikes, card check, and ObamaCare?

Warner is not alone is his assessment. Former Senator Bob Kerrey advises, “The electorate appears restless and angry. If they begin to ‘vote the bums out’ as they did in 1994, Democrats know that the next election is going to be extremely difficult.” And pollsters are sounding the alarm too:

Pollster Geoff Garin — who has worked extensively in Virginia and believes Obama’s broader political standing remains strong — said on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” Wednesday that the election results show the hazards of misreading the nation’s ideological mood. Voters “want the government on the playing field, but they have not lost their skepticism of government,” Garin said.

So what’s Warner going to do other than provide election analysis? He has been a quiet but loyal Democrat since his election. He hasn’t bucked the liberal leadership on a single issue of consequence. Will he now? He’s not up again until 2014, so chances are he’ll keep on voting just the way he has, banking on voters’ having long forgotten his votes in favor of more taxes, more regulation, and bigger government. But Warner might want to counsel some in his party who are up for re-election in 2010. After all, they too may get walloped.

“We got walloped,” says Virginia Senator Mark Warner about Tuesday’s election. Hmm. Didn’t get the talking points from Rahm Emanuel? No, he’s from Virginia. The entire state — really every single congressional district but two — went for the Republican gubernatorial candidate. Those are Warner’s constituents and the people who just put him in office. Now they’re screaming, “Enough!” Warner is trying, albeit only rhetorically, to show that he “gets it.” But does he? In the end, will he still vote for the items that Bob McDonnell ran against — cap-and-trade, expiration of the Bush tax hikes, card check, and ObamaCare?

Warner is not alone is his assessment. Former Senator Bob Kerrey advises, “The electorate appears restless and angry. If they begin to ‘vote the bums out’ as they did in 1994, Democrats know that the next election is going to be extremely difficult.” And pollsters are sounding the alarm too:

Pollster Geoff Garin — who has worked extensively in Virginia and believes Obama’s broader political standing remains strong — said on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” Wednesday that the election results show the hazards of misreading the nation’s ideological mood. Voters “want the government on the playing field, but they have not lost their skepticism of government,” Garin said.

So what’s Warner going to do other than provide election analysis? He has been a quiet but loyal Democrat since his election. He hasn’t bucked the liberal leadership on a single issue of consequence. Will he now? He’s not up again until 2014, so chances are he’ll keep on voting just the way he has, banking on voters’ having long forgotten his votes in favor of more taxes, more regulation, and bigger government. But Warner might want to counsel some in his party who are up for re-election in 2010. After all, they too may get walloped.

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Getting It Wrong, Still

In its election analysis, the Washington Post‘s editors subtitle their op-ed “The center holds.” But that’s not really accurate when it comes to the Virginia gubernatorial race. The editors, of all people, should know just how conservative a message Bob McDonnell ran on. He didn’t budge from his pro-life and gay-marriage stances (in fact, his social conservatism so scared the editors that they made particular mention of it in their endorsement of his opponent). Moreover, it is hard to think of a single non-conservative position he took on anything else: he opposed taxes and was in favor of charter schools and against cap-and-trade, card check, and ObamaCare. The Post, you will recall, didn’t like his no-tax stance one bit and waxed lyrical about his opponent’s tax-hike plans.

It is more accurate to say, then, that a conservative candidate held the center of the electorate. But he didn’t do it, as the Post suggests, by splitting the difference and running on mush. McDonnell didn’t run on raising taxes less than his opponent; he ran on no tax increase. He didn’t run on a modified cap-and-trade position or a tweaked version of ObamaCare; he ran on opposition to big government. It doesn’t sit well with the mainstream media and liberal pundits when this happens — as it suggests that conservative ideas have resonance beyond the right-wing base. It suggests that Olympia Snowe-ism, a pastel version of the liberal agenda, isn’t the way to rebuild a winning Republican coalition.

Before conservatives get too carried away with the 18-point victory of an unabashed conservative in a key swing state, they should also keep in mind an important feature to selling that very conservative agenda. McDonnell wasn’t an angry or tonally aggressive candidate. He was wonkish, controlled, and mild-mannered. When asked about running “against Obama,” his team is quick to correct that he ran against Obama’s policies, not the man. In the debates, he hardly registered any annoyance when his opponent went on jags or distorted his record. He was the model of decorum and the image of a suburban dad and businessman. And he carried the votes of a lot of suburban parents and business people.

It is also true that McDonnell spent nearly all his time talking about bread-and-butter issues, despite the Post‘s best efforts to distract him. (There is a somewhat amusing article by the Post recapping how the McDonnell camp wouldn’t go off-message during its darkest moment — the Post‘s thesis binge.) When questioned during the race as to why he wasn’t talking more about social issues, McDonnell always replied with the same answer: he wasn’t changing his position on issues and had a solid pro-life voting record, but he was going to talk about what the voters were interested in — transportation, schools, taxes, jobs, the budget, and energy.

It is deeply dishonest, of course, for the Post to have vilified McDonnell as a right-wing nut during the race in order to dissuade voters from supporting him, only to repaint him as a mushy moderate so as to shape the race’s narrative. Perhaps next time, both before and after, the press will stick to the real story: conservative candidates win if their tone and focus appeal to a broad coalition of conservative and independent voters.

In its election analysis, the Washington Post‘s editors subtitle their op-ed “The center holds.” But that’s not really accurate when it comes to the Virginia gubernatorial race. The editors, of all people, should know just how conservative a message Bob McDonnell ran on. He didn’t budge from his pro-life and gay-marriage stances (in fact, his social conservatism so scared the editors that they made particular mention of it in their endorsement of his opponent). Moreover, it is hard to think of a single non-conservative position he took on anything else: he opposed taxes and was in favor of charter schools and against cap-and-trade, card check, and ObamaCare. The Post, you will recall, didn’t like his no-tax stance one bit and waxed lyrical about his opponent’s tax-hike plans.

It is more accurate to say, then, that a conservative candidate held the center of the electorate. But he didn’t do it, as the Post suggests, by splitting the difference and running on mush. McDonnell didn’t run on raising taxes less than his opponent; he ran on no tax increase. He didn’t run on a modified cap-and-trade position or a tweaked version of ObamaCare; he ran on opposition to big government. It doesn’t sit well with the mainstream media and liberal pundits when this happens — as it suggests that conservative ideas have resonance beyond the right-wing base. It suggests that Olympia Snowe-ism, a pastel version of the liberal agenda, isn’t the way to rebuild a winning Republican coalition.

Before conservatives get too carried away with the 18-point victory of an unabashed conservative in a key swing state, they should also keep in mind an important feature to selling that very conservative agenda. McDonnell wasn’t an angry or tonally aggressive candidate. He was wonkish, controlled, and mild-mannered. When asked about running “against Obama,” his team is quick to correct that he ran against Obama’s policies, not the man. In the debates, he hardly registered any annoyance when his opponent went on jags or distorted his record. He was the model of decorum and the image of a suburban dad and businessman. And he carried the votes of a lot of suburban parents and business people.

It is also true that McDonnell spent nearly all his time talking about bread-and-butter issues, despite the Post‘s best efforts to distract him. (There is a somewhat amusing article by the Post recapping how the McDonnell camp wouldn’t go off-message during its darkest moment — the Post‘s thesis binge.) When questioned during the race as to why he wasn’t talking more about social issues, McDonnell always replied with the same answer: he wasn’t changing his position on issues and had a solid pro-life voting record, but he was going to talk about what the voters were interested in — transportation, schools, taxes, jobs, the budget, and energy.

It is deeply dishonest, of course, for the Post to have vilified McDonnell as a right-wing nut during the race in order to dissuade voters from supporting him, only to repaint him as a mushy moderate so as to shape the race’s narrative. Perhaps next time, both before and after, the press will stick to the real story: conservative candidates win if their tone and focus appeal to a broad coalition of conservative and independent voters.

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The Wrecking Crew

In yet another “My, how they messed it all up!” assessment of the Obami’s Middle East peace efforts, the Washington Post finds consensus: “the administration’s efforts have faltered in part because of its own missteps.” The reviews are in and they’re not pretty:

Daniel Levy, a veteran Israeli peace negotiator now at the Century Foundation in Washington, summed up the administration’s efforts in recent days as “amateur night at the Apollo Theater.” He said the administration did not game out the consequences of its demands on the parties — and then flinched. “They just dug deeper and deeper their own grave,” he said. “All of this talk of negotiations doesn’t cut the mustard in the region.”

Turns out, just as conservative critics argued, the key error was in adopting the Palestinian bargaining gambit as our own — namely, insisting on an unattainable absolute freeze on settlements. This of course encouraged Palestinian intransigence and Israeli mistrust. The amateur show reached its climax as Hillary Clinton, like a flighty teenager, first praised Israeli concessions as unprecedented and then rushed to soothe the scorned Palestinians, assuring them that the absolute settlement freeze was still the U.S.’s aim.

As they were knocking over the furniture, the Obami felt compelled to deny the Bush-era agreement with Israel for reduced settlement activity. Rather than spruce that up with a bit of self-serving rhetoric and garner some credit for advancing the “peace process,” the Obama brain trust embarked on its fruitless quest for a settlement freeze, ultimately alienating both sides. As Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, observed, “We had nine months of nonsense.” The Obami have earned the contempt of both sides and left the parties so estranged that face-to-face talks may no longer be in the offing.

This is the “smart diplomacy” set. This is Middle East strategy brought to us by Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, the sage gurus of international diplomacy who we are told egged Obama on and figured they might outfox Bibi Netanyahu or, better yet, orchestrate his downfall. For this they give the Nobel Peace Prize.

In many administrations, heads would roll. You’d see a shake-up of the advisers who presided over this debacle. But so sign of that yet. Emanuel and Axelrod have moved on to running the Afghanistan war, Clinton is “reasserting herself,” George Mitchell is racking up the frequent-flyer miles, and James Jones is doing whatever it is James Jones does. Should the mainstream American Jewish community be pleased with this display? Well, they’ve gone a bit mute, perhaps abiding by the advice that if you have nothing nice to say, better to be quiet. Nevertheless, those who vouched for the Obami’s brains and Zionist credentials were, we now know, duped.

As for the country as a whole and our allies, it is a sobering sight — the full extent of the Obami’s incompetence and arrogance and the results of both, that is. For those hoping to “restore America’s place in the world,” it’s about time to realize that our standing, at least in the Middle East, has never been lower. And let’s not forget: the same underachievers are supposed to be devising an Afghanistan-war plan and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Do you feel safer yet?

In yet another “My, how they messed it all up!” assessment of the Obami’s Middle East peace efforts, the Washington Post finds consensus: “the administration’s efforts have faltered in part because of its own missteps.” The reviews are in and they’re not pretty:

Daniel Levy, a veteran Israeli peace negotiator now at the Century Foundation in Washington, summed up the administration’s efforts in recent days as “amateur night at the Apollo Theater.” He said the administration did not game out the consequences of its demands on the parties — and then flinched. “They just dug deeper and deeper their own grave,” he said. “All of this talk of negotiations doesn’t cut the mustard in the region.”

Turns out, just as conservative critics argued, the key error was in adopting the Palestinian bargaining gambit as our own — namely, insisting on an unattainable absolute freeze on settlements. This of course encouraged Palestinian intransigence and Israeli mistrust. The amateur show reached its climax as Hillary Clinton, like a flighty teenager, first praised Israeli concessions as unprecedented and then rushed to soothe the scorned Palestinians, assuring them that the absolute settlement freeze was still the U.S.’s aim.

As they were knocking over the furniture, the Obami felt compelled to deny the Bush-era agreement with Israel for reduced settlement activity. Rather than spruce that up with a bit of self-serving rhetoric and garner some credit for advancing the “peace process,” the Obama brain trust embarked on its fruitless quest for a settlement freeze, ultimately alienating both sides. As Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, observed, “We had nine months of nonsense.” The Obami have earned the contempt of both sides and left the parties so estranged that face-to-face talks may no longer be in the offing.

This is the “smart diplomacy” set. This is Middle East strategy brought to us by Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, the sage gurus of international diplomacy who we are told egged Obama on and figured they might outfox Bibi Netanyahu or, better yet, orchestrate his downfall. For this they give the Nobel Peace Prize.

In many administrations, heads would roll. You’d see a shake-up of the advisers who presided over this debacle. But so sign of that yet. Emanuel and Axelrod have moved on to running the Afghanistan war, Clinton is “reasserting herself,” George Mitchell is racking up the frequent-flyer miles, and James Jones is doing whatever it is James Jones does. Should the mainstream American Jewish community be pleased with this display? Well, they’ve gone a bit mute, perhaps abiding by the advice that if you have nothing nice to say, better to be quiet. Nevertheless, those who vouched for the Obami’s brains and Zionist credentials were, we now know, duped.

As for the country as a whole and our allies, it is a sobering sight — the full extent of the Obami’s incompetence and arrogance and the results of both, that is. For those hoping to “restore America’s place in the world,” it’s about time to realize that our standing, at least in the Middle East, has never been lower. And let’s not forget: the same underachievers are supposed to be devising an Afghanistan-war plan and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Do you feel safer yet?

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Will They Take the Hint?

In the immediate aftermath of the GOP victories on Tuesday, the question remains: will members of Congress buy the White House spin that none of it matters? If the White House is to be believed, the voters, including key independents, cast their votes without regard to what is occurring inside the Beltway. Nothing to see. Move along. Take the vote on PelosiCare (on a Saturday, yet). So how’s that playing? This report suggests not so well:

Democrats from the left, right and center saw a warning in Tuesday’s results, which saw independents — who’d backed Democrats in the 2006 congressional elections and President Barack Obama last year — switch their votes to help elect Republican governors in both states.

Democrats from swing states feel new pressure not to be perceived as too liberal. That may impede Democratic leaders’ efforts to pass a sweeping health care overhaul, especially one that includes a new government-run insurance plan, or climate change emissions-control legislation.

Blue Dogs are going public, pleading with their leaders and with the White House to slow down the Leftward juggernaut. (“‘The House leadership needs to pay attention to what happened in Virginia,’ said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., one of 52 Blue Dog conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives.”) Not surprisingly, two senators from Red states (Kent Conrad and Mary Landrieu) also are voicing concerns. It’s the lawmakers from places politically not that different from Virginia (or suburban New Jersey, for that matter) who are beginning to squirm. David Broder chimed in:

Despite White House efforts to discount the importance of the loss of the only two governorships on the off-year ballot, especially in New Jersey, where Obama had campaigned heavily for embattled Gov. Jon Corzine, the implications were clear to other Democrats.

Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a leader of the moderate-conservative “Blue Dogs,” called the result “a wake-up call for Congress. A tidal wave could be coming.”

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid nevertheless seem deaf to their pleas. They’ll force their members to vote and twist arms to get an increasingly unpopular bill passed. And then Harry Reid and others will, if they choose to ignore the warning of 2009, face an electorate in 2010 that may well be even more frustrated and more chagrined to find that Congress has ignored them. What will voters say to those bent on expanding government and raising their taxes? Ask Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds.

In the immediate aftermath of the GOP victories on Tuesday, the question remains: will members of Congress buy the White House spin that none of it matters? If the White House is to be believed, the voters, including key independents, cast their votes without regard to what is occurring inside the Beltway. Nothing to see. Move along. Take the vote on PelosiCare (on a Saturday, yet). So how’s that playing? This report suggests not so well:

Democrats from the left, right and center saw a warning in Tuesday’s results, which saw independents — who’d backed Democrats in the 2006 congressional elections and President Barack Obama last year — switch their votes to help elect Republican governors in both states.

Democrats from swing states feel new pressure not to be perceived as too liberal. That may impede Democratic leaders’ efforts to pass a sweeping health care overhaul, especially one that includes a new government-run insurance plan, or climate change emissions-control legislation.

Blue Dogs are going public, pleading with their leaders and with the White House to slow down the Leftward juggernaut. (“‘The House leadership needs to pay attention to what happened in Virginia,’ said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., one of 52 Blue Dog conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives.”) Not surprisingly, two senators from Red states (Kent Conrad and Mary Landrieu) also are voicing concerns. It’s the lawmakers from places politically not that different from Virginia (or suburban New Jersey, for that matter) who are beginning to squirm. David Broder chimed in:

Despite White House efforts to discount the importance of the loss of the only two governorships on the off-year ballot, especially in New Jersey, where Obama had campaigned heavily for embattled Gov. Jon Corzine, the implications were clear to other Democrats.

Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a leader of the moderate-conservative “Blue Dogs,” called the result “a wake-up call for Congress. A tidal wave could be coming.”

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid nevertheless seem deaf to their pleas. They’ll force their members to vote and twist arms to get an increasingly unpopular bill passed. And then Harry Reid and others will, if they choose to ignore the warning of 2009, face an electorate in 2010 that may well be even more frustrated and more chagrined to find that Congress has ignored them. What will voters say to those bent on expanding government and raising their taxes? Ask Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds.

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Cat’s Out of the Bag

Here’s a take that the White House won’t much like:

This election reminded us of a couple truths. One, that there are twice as many conservatives in this country as liberals, and only one-fifth of the people in the country considers themselves liberal. This means that 80 percent of the people are inclined to be skeptical of government and worried by federal haste and exploding debt.

It also reminded us that there are more independents than Democrats or Republicans, and that these independents have been shifting slightly rightward over the past year. They are more skeptical of government than they were when Barack Obama took office. They are more hostile to unions and other interest groups. They are more opposed to greater regulation. … All in all, politics is not brain science. The country is center-right. People who are center-right do well when a Democratic president is raising all sorts of fears and anxieties.

And they really won’t like it because it comes from David Brooks, who is not exactly unsympathetic to Obama. It used to be that the Obami buzzed like flies when such heresies were spoken. He is too a moderate! He is not exploding the debt. But all that spin sounds rather lame. Not only are the Democrats on a Left-leaning jag (you can tell because “trillions” sounds ho-hum and has ceased to be a shocking figure), but voters in two states — not just a bunch of Fox commentators — have fingered them. And so has Brooks.

It may not quite be the same as losing Walter Cronkite over Vietnam, but Brooks, unlike the misinterpreter of the Tet Offensive, actually has the facts and the analysis right. Obama really did suffer a big defeat. Independents really are running from the Obama coalition. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie really did win on fiscal conservative messages. And now we have some real-live election data, not simply punditry, to illuminate the political landscape.

The mainstream media were generally not kind to the White House in the wake of the elections. They can, after all, only carry so much water for so long. And unlike Robert Gibbs, political analysts and reporters outside the covens of MSNBC and the Left blogosphere may want to preserve a bit of credibility. The narrative has changed, and what was considered conservative carping is now quickly becoming conventional wisdom: Obama is an unabashed ultra-liberal and the voters don’t like it.

Here’s a take that the White House won’t much like:

This election reminded us of a couple truths. One, that there are twice as many conservatives in this country as liberals, and only one-fifth of the people in the country considers themselves liberal. This means that 80 percent of the people are inclined to be skeptical of government and worried by federal haste and exploding debt.

It also reminded us that there are more independents than Democrats or Republicans, and that these independents have been shifting slightly rightward over the past year. They are more skeptical of government than they were when Barack Obama took office. They are more hostile to unions and other interest groups. They are more opposed to greater regulation. … All in all, politics is not brain science. The country is center-right. People who are center-right do well when a Democratic president is raising all sorts of fears and anxieties.

And they really won’t like it because it comes from David Brooks, who is not exactly unsympathetic to Obama. It used to be that the Obami buzzed like flies when such heresies were spoken. He is too a moderate! He is not exploding the debt. But all that spin sounds rather lame. Not only are the Democrats on a Left-leaning jag (you can tell because “trillions” sounds ho-hum and has ceased to be a shocking figure), but voters in two states — not just a bunch of Fox commentators — have fingered them. And so has Brooks.

It may not quite be the same as losing Walter Cronkite over Vietnam, but Brooks, unlike the misinterpreter of the Tet Offensive, actually has the facts and the analysis right. Obama really did suffer a big defeat. Independents really are running from the Obama coalition. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie really did win on fiscal conservative messages. And now we have some real-live election data, not simply punditry, to illuminate the political landscape.

The mainstream media were generally not kind to the White House in the wake of the elections. They can, after all, only carry so much water for so long. And unlike Robert Gibbs, political analysts and reporters outside the covens of MSNBC and the Left blogosphere may want to preserve a bit of credibility. The narrative has changed, and what was considered conservative carping is now quickly becoming conventional wisdom: Obama is an unabashed ultra-liberal and the voters don’t like it.

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Shipped in Plain Sight

As the tale of the “New Karine A” develops, one alarm bell it sets off concerns the ease with which the arms transshipment was brought off in plain sight. The ship the Israelis caught with the arms was M/V Francop, a freighter operated by Cyprus-based United Feeder Services. The crew onboard didn’t know what they were carrying, and didn’t carry it from Iran anyway: they picked their cargo up in Damietta, Egypt. The Israelis had tracked Francop from Beirut to Damietta and knew the cargo was loaded there. That means the arms themselves were shipped from Iran to Egypt by other means. Sounds like a story we’ve heard before about Port Sudan and overland convoys to Gaza, right?

Not really. The port of Damietta is neither a remote spot in the desert nor a sleepy Sudanese port. It’s one of Egypt’s premier seaports, located on the Mediterranean near the entrance to the Suez Canal. Damietta has some distinctive claims to fame: it’s in a heavily promoted Egyptian free-trade zone and is operated by DIPCO, an international consortium of private maritime-service companies whose pathbreaking development project at Damietta serves as a model for a global trend toward the private development and operation of ports.

Private administration of customs and cargo verification, the functions that might detect arms shipments, is not unusual. But under these conditions, transshipments of cargo through free-trade zones — shipments offloaded only to await further transportation to another country — are especially likely to receive a hand wave. The port operator’s priority is to tally containers and assess fees, not to break open containers and inspect their contents. Damietta’s convenient location in the eastern Mediterranean means that transshipments represent a large majority of its container traffic. Most of what stops there is merely waiting onward transportation and interests neither Egypt nor the port-services operator.

A big shipment from Iran, meanwhile, would raise no eyebrows in Damietta. Iran’s state shipping line, IRISL, was one of the first shipping companies to contract with DIPCO for services in Damietta, and two of IRISL’s subsidiaries make regular stops there. Containers bearing the IRISL logo are routinely present.

It would be hard to dream up a set of circumstances more conducive to perfunctory supervision of cargo. But these same circumstances represent a cash cow for Egypt. Private companies optimizing the profitability of port operations are a moneymaker, not only for growing economies but also for the Middle Eastern nations in which many of the companies (like DIPCO’s leader, Kuwait & Gulf Lines Ltd.) are based. The beneficiaries of this trend will kick hard against any inefficiency introduced by the administration of UN sanctions. Ultimately, intermediate transshipment ports aren’t going to represent effective pressure points for arms interdiction. The most effective pressure point would, as usual, be Iran itself, and that reality demands not so much administrative meticulousness as political will.

As the tale of the “New Karine A” develops, one alarm bell it sets off concerns the ease with which the arms transshipment was brought off in plain sight. The ship the Israelis caught with the arms was M/V Francop, a freighter operated by Cyprus-based United Feeder Services. The crew onboard didn’t know what they were carrying, and didn’t carry it from Iran anyway: they picked their cargo up in Damietta, Egypt. The Israelis had tracked Francop from Beirut to Damietta and knew the cargo was loaded there. That means the arms themselves were shipped from Iran to Egypt by other means. Sounds like a story we’ve heard before about Port Sudan and overland convoys to Gaza, right?

Not really. The port of Damietta is neither a remote spot in the desert nor a sleepy Sudanese port. It’s one of Egypt’s premier seaports, located on the Mediterranean near the entrance to the Suez Canal. Damietta has some distinctive claims to fame: it’s in a heavily promoted Egyptian free-trade zone and is operated by DIPCO, an international consortium of private maritime-service companies whose pathbreaking development project at Damietta serves as a model for a global trend toward the private development and operation of ports.

Private administration of customs and cargo verification, the functions that might detect arms shipments, is not unusual. But under these conditions, transshipments of cargo through free-trade zones — shipments offloaded only to await further transportation to another country — are especially likely to receive a hand wave. The port operator’s priority is to tally containers and assess fees, not to break open containers and inspect their contents. Damietta’s convenient location in the eastern Mediterranean means that transshipments represent a large majority of its container traffic. Most of what stops there is merely waiting onward transportation and interests neither Egypt nor the port-services operator.

A big shipment from Iran, meanwhile, would raise no eyebrows in Damietta. Iran’s state shipping line, IRISL, was one of the first shipping companies to contract with DIPCO for services in Damietta, and two of IRISL’s subsidiaries make regular stops there. Containers bearing the IRISL logo are routinely present.

It would be hard to dream up a set of circumstances more conducive to perfunctory supervision of cargo. But these same circumstances represent a cash cow for Egypt. Private companies optimizing the profitability of port operations are a moneymaker, not only for growing economies but also for the Middle Eastern nations in which many of the companies (like DIPCO’s leader, Kuwait & Gulf Lines Ltd.) are based. The beneficiaries of this trend will kick hard against any inefficiency introduced by the administration of UN sanctions. Ultimately, intermediate transshipment ports aren’t going to represent effective pressure points for arms interdiction. The most effective pressure point would, as usual, be Iran itself, and that reality demands not so much administrative meticulousness as political will.

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Will 2009 Wake Up Virginia Congressmen?

The rundown on the vulnerable Virginia House seats looks like this:

The conservative southwestern 9th District long held by Rep. Rick Boucher; the massive, mostly rural south central 5th District won in 2008 by Tom Perriello on the strength of turnout of college voters in Charlottesville and African Americans there and in other areas; the military-heavy coastal 2nd District held by freshman Rep. Glenn Nye; and the moderate, high-brow suburban Washington 11th District represented by freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly.

In the 9th, Republicans hope to snare Terry Kilgore, who was re-elected without opposition to the House of Delegates. Perriello in the 5th is vulnerable in part because of his vote on cap-and-trade, which instantly put him on the Republican target list. If 2009 is any indication, the African-American and youth turnout (which lifted him to victory over a popular incumbent in 2008) may have been an Obama-centric phenomenon that won’t be repeated until he is on the ballot again in 2012. In discussing the returns with me yesterday, Larry J. Sabato put it this way: “All Obama proved yesterday was that the new people who showed up to vote for him in ’08 were Obamacrats, not Democrats.” Or put differently, unless the Democrats can figure out how to convert the electorate to a 2008 model, some of them will go down to defeat, and one could well be Perriello.

Gerry Connolly in Fairfax County replaced Tom Davis, the longtime Republican congressman. Davis over the weekend told me that Connolly’s error has been in identifying himself too closely with the ultra-Left Obama agenda. Davis’s former and Connolly’s current constituents aren’t likely to look fondly on a major tax hike, and Connolly has done little to convince them that he understands their suspicion of big government.

Nye benefited from the 2008 Democratic wave as well, beating out Thelma Drake 52 to 47 percent. Without Obama on the ticket, the heavy contingent of military veterans may tip the electorate to a more Republican composition in 2010.

Will all four of these representatives march lock-step with the Obama agenda? It would seem foolhardy. But stay tuned.

The rundown on the vulnerable Virginia House seats looks like this:

The conservative southwestern 9th District long held by Rep. Rick Boucher; the massive, mostly rural south central 5th District won in 2008 by Tom Perriello on the strength of turnout of college voters in Charlottesville and African Americans there and in other areas; the military-heavy coastal 2nd District held by freshman Rep. Glenn Nye; and the moderate, high-brow suburban Washington 11th District represented by freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly.

In the 9th, Republicans hope to snare Terry Kilgore, who was re-elected without opposition to the House of Delegates. Perriello in the 5th is vulnerable in part because of his vote on cap-and-trade, which instantly put him on the Republican target list. If 2009 is any indication, the African-American and youth turnout (which lifted him to victory over a popular incumbent in 2008) may have been an Obama-centric phenomenon that won’t be repeated until he is on the ballot again in 2012. In discussing the returns with me yesterday, Larry J. Sabato put it this way: “All Obama proved yesterday was that the new people who showed up to vote for him in ’08 were Obamacrats, not Democrats.” Or put differently, unless the Democrats can figure out how to convert the electorate to a 2008 model, some of them will go down to defeat, and one could well be Perriello.

Gerry Connolly in Fairfax County replaced Tom Davis, the longtime Republican congressman. Davis over the weekend told me that Connolly’s error has been in identifying himself too closely with the ultra-Left Obama agenda. Davis’s former and Connolly’s current constituents aren’t likely to look fondly on a major tax hike, and Connolly has done little to convince them that he understands their suspicion of big government.

Nye benefited from the 2008 Democratic wave as well, beating out Thelma Drake 52 to 47 percent. Without Obama on the ticket, the heavy contingent of military veterans may tip the electorate to a more Republican composition in 2010.

Will all four of these representatives march lock-step with the Obama agenda? It would seem foolhardy. But stay tuned.

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