Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 6, 2009

Annals of Smart Diplomacy

Both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing several thousand people next week in Washington at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, and there has been an assumption that the two leaders would meet during Netanyahu’s visit. But the Jerusalem Post reports that several American Jewish leaders say their optimism about a meeting is waning as Netanyahu’s arrival approaches with no meeting announced. Haaretz has a similar report.

The Jewish leaders told the Post that “the White House wanted to be assured it would be receiving something from Netanyahu in return.” Meetings without preconditions are apparently for adversaries, not allies.

Holding a meeting with the prime minister of Israel would be a useful signal to Iran, as the latter continues its rope-a-dope strategy of precondition-less meetings with Obama, that U.S. patience is waning. The signal would be even clearer if it were accompanied by leaks that the longest discussion was devoted to Iran.

But smart diplomacy may not be that smart.

Both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing several thousand people next week in Washington at the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, and there has been an assumption that the two leaders would meet during Netanyahu’s visit. But the Jerusalem Post reports that several American Jewish leaders say their optimism about a meeting is waning as Netanyahu’s arrival approaches with no meeting announced. Haaretz has a similar report.

The Jewish leaders told the Post that “the White House wanted to be assured it would be receiving something from Netanyahu in return.” Meetings without preconditions are apparently for adversaries, not allies.

Holding a meeting with the prime minister of Israel would be a useful signal to Iran, as the latter continues its rope-a-dope strategy of precondition-less meetings with Obama, that U.S. patience is waning. The signal would be even clearer if it were accompanied by leaks that the longest discussion was devoted to Iran.

But smart diplomacy may not be that smart.

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Not Quick Enough?

It seems as though the Democratic leadership in the House doesn’t have the votes to pass the health-care bill tomorrow and it may have to be postponed until Sunday or even later. The longer the delay, the less the chance of its passing, so every delay is very good news.

It seems as though the Democratic leadership in the House doesn’t have the votes to pass the health-care bill tomorrow and it may have to be postponed until Sunday or even later. The longer the delay, the less the chance of its passing, so every delay is very good news.

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Web Exclusive: Tragedy at Fort Hood

It wasn’t obvious from his demeanor in the press conference at Fort Hood last night, but November 5, 2009, was probably the worst day of Lieut. General Robert Cone’s life. A commander takes every death personally, but senseless deaths of this kind hit especially hard. Administrative duties are the way ahead on this tragedy: tend to the wounded and families, honor the dead, clean up, investigate, assess. Cone will be glad of such preoccupations in the days to come.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

It wasn’t obvious from his demeanor in the press conference at Fort Hood last night, but November 5, 2009, was probably the worst day of Lieut. General Robert Cone’s life. A commander takes every death personally, but senseless deaths of this kind hit especially hard. Administrative duties are the way ahead on this tragedy: tend to the wounded and families, honor the dead, clean up, investigate, assess. Cone will be glad of such preoccupations in the days to come.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Gaza, According to Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright wrote The Looming Tower and is generally considered to be a reasonable journalistic voice. His piece in the current New Yorker should tarnish his reputation for seriousness.

It is a long and credulous recitation of stories he heard on a trip to Gaza. It is at turns deceptive, inaccurate, incomplete, and downright mendacious. He calls Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, “a Fatah loyalist.” Fayyad is a member of the Third Way party, not Fatah. But that’s a nitpick. Here is a good example of one of Wright’s many more serious distortions:

We drove past the site of a former Jewish settlement. Across the road were the remains of the greenhouses that the settlers had left behind, intact, with the understanding that Gaza farmers would take them over. The greenhouses were meant to become an important part of the agricultural economy. Gaza’s main exports were strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and carnations, destined mainly for Israel and Europe. But then the borders clamped shut and the fruit rotted. The carnations were fed to livestock. Now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames, their tattered plastic roofing fluttering in the sea breeze.

So, there were nice greenhouses, but then “the borders clamped shut” and “now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames” — just one more example of Israeli cruelty and collective punishment. But how, exactly, did the greenhouses become bare frames? How can border closings physically destroy buildings? Isn’t this a bizarre and confusing way to describe a series of events?

It is written this way because Wright is trying to deceive his readers. He wants to leave the impression that Israeli border closures starved the Gaza economy so completely that the Palestinians had to let perfectly good greenhouses fall into decrepitude.

But that’s not what happened — not even close. Here is an AP report dated September 13, 2005 — days after the disengagement:

Looters strip Gaza greenhouses

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. …

Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.

This is a well-known story — one of the best-known stories of the disengagement, in fact. It has been reported and discussed extensively. Why would Wright lament the greenhouses without pointing out that the Palestinians themselves destroyed them? When you read the piece, you’ll understand why.

Lawrence Wright wrote The Looming Tower and is generally considered to be a reasonable journalistic voice. His piece in the current New Yorker should tarnish his reputation for seriousness.

It is a long and credulous recitation of stories he heard on a trip to Gaza. It is at turns deceptive, inaccurate, incomplete, and downright mendacious. He calls Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, “a Fatah loyalist.” Fayyad is a member of the Third Way party, not Fatah. But that’s a nitpick. Here is a good example of one of Wright’s many more serious distortions:

We drove past the site of a former Jewish settlement. Across the road were the remains of the greenhouses that the settlers had left behind, intact, with the understanding that Gaza farmers would take them over. The greenhouses were meant to become an important part of the agricultural economy. Gaza’s main exports were strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and carnations, destined mainly for Israel and Europe. But then the borders clamped shut and the fruit rotted. The carnations were fed to livestock. Now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames, their tattered plastic roofing fluttering in the sea breeze.

So, there were nice greenhouses, but then “the borders clamped shut” and “now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames” — just one more example of Israeli cruelty and collective punishment. But how, exactly, did the greenhouses become bare frames? How can border closings physically destroy buildings? Isn’t this a bizarre and confusing way to describe a series of events?

It is written this way because Wright is trying to deceive his readers. He wants to leave the impression that Israeli border closures starved the Gaza economy so completely that the Palestinians had to let perfectly good greenhouses fall into decrepitude.

But that’s not what happened — not even close. Here is an AP report dated September 13, 2005 — days after the disengagement:

Looters strip Gaza greenhouses

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. …

Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.

This is a well-known story — one of the best-known stories of the disengagement, in fact. It has been reported and discussed extensively. Why would Wright lament the greenhouses without pointing out that the Palestinians themselves destroyed them? When you read the piece, you’ll understand why.

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Brilliant Conversation, Deep Insight, Gorgeous Scenery

This is what you are promised, and what you will get, if you attend the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator. Join me, former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams, CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin, writer and talk-show host Michael Medved, the marvelous Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, and the First Couple of Neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and a great many fellow thinkers for panel discussions, speeches, cocktail parties, dinner with the speakers, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world: the waters and shores of Alaska in summer. You can find out all about the COMMENTARY cruise by clicking here.

This is what you are promised, and what you will get, if you attend the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator. Join me, former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams, CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin, writer and talk-show host Michael Medved, the marvelous Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, and the First Couple of Neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and a great many fellow thinkers for panel discussions, speeches, cocktail parties, dinner with the speakers, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world: the waters and shores of Alaska in summer. You can find out all about the COMMENTARY cruise by clicking here.

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Revisiting Liberalism’s Moment

The slide that Barack Obama and Democrats are experiencing would be notable under any circumstances; it is doubly so given the enormous expectations liberals had in the aftermath of the Obama election. I was reminded of this when I came across the May 6 issue of the New Republic, whose cover story, “Liberalism’s Moment: Barack Obama’s New Theory of the State,” was written by Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber. The essay concludes this way:

Obama has groped toward a form of liberal activism that is eminently saleable in this country–both with the average voter, easily spooked by charges of creeping statism, and the constellation of political interests in Washington. Any economic program that lays out ambitious goals and actually has a chance of achieving them would have much to recommend it on those grounds alone. Better still, it may be the bold, persistent experimentation that the moment demands.

That eminently salable brand of liberal activism doesn’t look so eminently salable now in the wake of the staggering Democratic losses in Virginia and New Jersey — elections that have capped a year that has seen a historic loss of support for Mr. Obama.

Six months ago progressives were talking about “liberalism’s moment.” Silly books with silly titles — The Death of Conservatism comes to mind — were being published. Today liberals are unnerved. They see the country becoming more conservative, their agenda becoming more unpopular, Democrats losing races in states they normally own, Republican candidates winning independents by a 2-to-1 margin, and all the ingredients combining for a disastrous midterm election.

The intensity of the opposition to what Obama, Reid, and Pelosi want to do is as great and widespread as many of us have seen in politics — and it will only increase, especially if Democrats succeed in passing their terrible and unpopular health-care legislation. It will be akin to adding kindling wood and kerosene to a bonfire. I don’t think most of the political class yet understands this.

Things can, of course, change again. But there’s no question that this has been a brutal year for the hopes of liberals. Reality has shattered the mythology surrounding Barack Obama. And liberals must wonder what has brought them to this pass so quickly, after so much hope was invested in their young, elegant prince.

The slide that Barack Obama and Democrats are experiencing would be notable under any circumstances; it is doubly so given the enormous expectations liberals had in the aftermath of the Obama election. I was reminded of this when I came across the May 6 issue of the New Republic, whose cover story, “Liberalism’s Moment: Barack Obama’s New Theory of the State,” was written by Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber. The essay concludes this way:

Obama has groped toward a form of liberal activism that is eminently saleable in this country–both with the average voter, easily spooked by charges of creeping statism, and the constellation of political interests in Washington. Any economic program that lays out ambitious goals and actually has a chance of achieving them would have much to recommend it on those grounds alone. Better still, it may be the bold, persistent experimentation that the moment demands.

That eminently salable brand of liberal activism doesn’t look so eminently salable now in the wake of the staggering Democratic losses in Virginia and New Jersey — elections that have capped a year that has seen a historic loss of support for Mr. Obama.

Six months ago progressives were talking about “liberalism’s moment.” Silly books with silly titles — The Death of Conservatism comes to mind — were being published. Today liberals are unnerved. They see the country becoming more conservative, their agenda becoming more unpopular, Democrats losing races in states they normally own, Republican candidates winning independents by a 2-to-1 margin, and all the ingredients combining for a disastrous midterm election.

The intensity of the opposition to what Obama, Reid, and Pelosi want to do is as great and widespread as many of us have seen in politics — and it will only increase, especially if Democrats succeed in passing their terrible and unpopular health-care legislation. It will be akin to adding kindling wood and kerosene to a bonfire. I don’t think most of the political class yet understands this.

Things can, of course, change again. But there’s no question that this has been a brutal year for the hopes of liberals. Reality has shattered the mythology surrounding Barack Obama. And liberals must wonder what has brought them to this pass so quickly, after so much hope was invested in their young, elegant prince.

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Quick, Before the Suckers — Sorry, Voters — Find Out

As Jennifer pointed out, Nancy Pelosi has broken her pledge to have the final health bill posted on the Web for 72 hours before a vote. The Rules Committee has not yet produced a rule, which legislation in the House needs before it can move to the floor. The rule sets the terms of debate and what amendments can be brought forward for an up-or-down vote. This time, the rule itself is likely to contain a series of substantive amendments, which are automatically adopted if the rule itself is.

One can see why the Speaker has broken her word. The longer the time before her members vote, the more difficult it will be to force them to vote her way. The election returns on Tuesday and the unemployment figures just out this morning are very bad news for members who want to keep their jobs after next November.

But an even more important reason for Pelosi to rush the vote at all costs is the fact that more and more items, hidden in the 2,000 pages of the bill, are being revealed.

The latest is that neither the surtax on those with incomes above $500,000 nor the 8 percent payroll tax on companies that don’t provide health insurance to employees will be indexed for inflation.

Politicians love unindexed tax rates because as compensation rises to offset inflation, the taxes on that compensation rise even faster, thanks to the progressive income tax (another reason for a flat tax, of course). That gives the government more money — in real terms — to spend without members of Congress having to vote to raise taxes. Of course the public, not being stupid, caught on to this sleight of hand in the inflation-ridden 1970s, and Ronald Reagan rode the issue right into the White House.

So if the health-care bill passes as now written, the surcharge will hit not only the rich but also, like the nonindexed alternative minimum tax, slowly but surely more and more of the middle class. Meanwhile, the 8 percent payroll tax will hit everyone who works for firms that pay it, as that tax will be paid for with lower wages and fewer jobs created.

So it is not only Nancy Pelosi who is breaking her word to the American people but Barack Obama as well, who pledged that no one earning less than $250,000 a year would pay a dime in more taxes.

As Jennifer pointed out, Nancy Pelosi has broken her pledge to have the final health bill posted on the Web for 72 hours before a vote. The Rules Committee has not yet produced a rule, which legislation in the House needs before it can move to the floor. The rule sets the terms of debate and what amendments can be brought forward for an up-or-down vote. This time, the rule itself is likely to contain a series of substantive amendments, which are automatically adopted if the rule itself is.

One can see why the Speaker has broken her word. The longer the time before her members vote, the more difficult it will be to force them to vote her way. The election returns on Tuesday and the unemployment figures just out this morning are very bad news for members who want to keep their jobs after next November.

But an even more important reason for Pelosi to rush the vote at all costs is the fact that more and more items, hidden in the 2,000 pages of the bill, are being revealed.

The latest is that neither the surtax on those with incomes above $500,000 nor the 8 percent payroll tax on companies that don’t provide health insurance to employees will be indexed for inflation.

Politicians love unindexed tax rates because as compensation rises to offset inflation, the taxes on that compensation rise even faster, thanks to the progressive income tax (another reason for a flat tax, of course). That gives the government more money — in real terms — to spend without members of Congress having to vote to raise taxes. Of course the public, not being stupid, caught on to this sleight of hand in the inflation-ridden 1970s, and Ronald Reagan rode the issue right into the White House.

So if the health-care bill passes as now written, the surcharge will hit not only the rich but also, like the nonindexed alternative minimum tax, slowly but surely more and more of the middle class. Meanwhile, the 8 percent payroll tax will hit everyone who works for firms that pay it, as that tax will be paid for with lower wages and fewer jobs created.

So it is not only Nancy Pelosi who is breaking her word to the American people but Barack Obama as well, who pledged that no one earning less than $250,000 a year would pay a dime in more taxes.

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Health-Bill Alternatives

Yesterday, the key elements of the congressional health-care bills were outlined by Tevi Troy, COMMENTARY contributor and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Speaking at the Hudson Institute luncheon, he noted that all versions of the bill have this in common: new regulations for insurance companies and the health-care industry; mandated health insurance for all citizens; subsidies to help pay for that health insurance; taxes to pay for those subsidies; and cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office — which has been refreshingly honest about the skyrocketing expenses — already projects that the cost of health care will soar. And much of the cost is backloaded. (Whoever is president in 2013 and 2014 could have a golden opportunity to blame his predecessor.)

True to the spirit of the age, business-friendly and consumer-friendly measures are being ignored. That’s a pity — some of them are a real bargain. Jeffrey Anderson of the Pacific Research Institute put together his “Small Bill” last month, which would accomplish many of the same goals at a fraction of the cost. Anderson puts special focus on making the health-insurance market more flexible through lifting existing regulations. Such ideas are worth examining, but it’s doubtful Congress will have the courage to give them second thought.

President Obama seeks to increase access to health care, insuring everyone. But at the same time, he wants to decrease costs. As Troy pointed out, these goals are nonaligned at best, contradictory at worst. And they’re laughable if Congress continues aspiring to micromanagement.

Yesterday, the key elements of the congressional health-care bills were outlined by Tevi Troy, COMMENTARY contributor and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Speaking at the Hudson Institute luncheon, he noted that all versions of the bill have this in common: new regulations for insurance companies and the health-care industry; mandated health insurance for all citizens; subsidies to help pay for that health insurance; taxes to pay for those subsidies; and cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office — which has been refreshingly honest about the skyrocketing expenses — already projects that the cost of health care will soar. And much of the cost is backloaded. (Whoever is president in 2013 and 2014 could have a golden opportunity to blame his predecessor.)

True to the spirit of the age, business-friendly and consumer-friendly measures are being ignored. That’s a pity — some of them are a real bargain. Jeffrey Anderson of the Pacific Research Institute put together his “Small Bill” last month, which would accomplish many of the same goals at a fraction of the cost. Anderson puts special focus on making the health-insurance market more flexible through lifting existing regulations. Such ideas are worth examining, but it’s doubtful Congress will have the courage to give them second thought.

President Obama seeks to increase access to health care, insuring everyone. But at the same time, he wants to decrease costs. As Troy pointed out, these goals are nonaligned at best, contradictory at worst. And they’re laughable if Congress continues aspiring to micromanagement.

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Modesty, Not Miracles, Mr. President

David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s top aides, was quoted earlier this week as saying that Obama is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” Mr. Axelrod is quite right about that. It’s a shame, then, that his boss gave the impression during the campaign that he was a figure with almost God-like powers. Talking about his ascension to the presidency it was Obama who said that he was —

absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment, this was the time, when we came together to remake this great nation.

Most voters don’t want the president to pretend he is King Canute or Healer of Planets. They would settle for something a bit more modest, like getting unemployment (now over 10 percent) and the deficit and debt to go down instead of up.

David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s top aides, was quoted earlier this week as saying that Obama is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” Mr. Axelrod is quite right about that. It’s a shame, then, that his boss gave the impression during the campaign that he was a figure with almost God-like powers. Talking about his ascension to the presidency it was Obama who said that he was —

absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment, this was the time, when we came together to remake this great nation.

Most voters don’t want the president to pretend he is King Canute or Healer of Planets. They would settle for something a bit more modest, like getting unemployment (now over 10 percent) and the deficit and debt to go down instead of up.

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Maybe They Should Have Voted Yesterday

The latest economic news is bleak:

Nonfarm payrolls dropped by a seasonally adjusted 190,000 in October, bringing to total number of jobs lost in the recession to 7.3 million. It was the 22nd straight decline in payrolls. Large losses were seen in manufacturing, construction and retail. Health care and temporary-help agencies added jobs. The report was worse than expected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were forecasting a rise in the unemployment rate to 10%, with 150,000 lost payroll jobs.

The numbers are staggering in the aggregate: “Unemployment rose by 558,000 to 15.7 million, the government said. Of those, 5.6 million had been out of work longer than six months, representing a record 35.6% of the unemployed.” And the outlook is for continued unemployment at elevated levels, “barring a policy response, for several years into the future.”

But the Democrats have a policy response: they are about to vote on hundreds of billions in new taxes, a regimen of new fines and mandates for businesses, and a takeover of  the health-care industry. That might make things worse, you say? Indeed. The notion that the Democratic Congress would even contemplate such a vote at this point says volume about the degree to which they are unaware of or simply don’t care about the concerns of voters — and the likely backlash that will ensue.

The latest economic news is bleak:

Nonfarm payrolls dropped by a seasonally adjusted 190,000 in October, bringing to total number of jobs lost in the recession to 7.3 million. It was the 22nd straight decline in payrolls. Large losses were seen in manufacturing, construction and retail. Health care and temporary-help agencies added jobs. The report was worse than expected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch were forecasting a rise in the unemployment rate to 10%, with 150,000 lost payroll jobs.

The numbers are staggering in the aggregate: “Unemployment rose by 558,000 to 15.7 million, the government said. Of those, 5.6 million had been out of work longer than six months, representing a record 35.6% of the unemployed.” And the outlook is for continued unemployment at elevated levels, “barring a policy response, for several years into the future.”

But the Democrats have a policy response: they are about to vote on hundreds of billions in new taxes, a regimen of new fines and mandates for businesses, and a takeover of  the health-care industry. That might make things worse, you say? Indeed. The notion that the Democratic Congress would even contemplate such a vote at this point says volume about the degree to which they are unaware of or simply don’t care about the concerns of voters — and the likely backlash that will ensue.

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Voting to Move Terrorists to the U.S.

Judge and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, writing the day after Senate Democrats voted funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial (the timing is perhaps unfortunate, given yesterday’s events and the revived attention to the potential consequences for civilians of willful blindness), explains:

The very transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to this country has consequences. The question of what constitutional rights may apply to aliens in government custody is unsettled, but it is clear from existing jurisprudence that physical presence in the United States would be a significant, if not a decisive, factor. That presence would generate serious security concerns for any person or place associated with their prosecution or confinement, would facilitate the torrent of lawsuits that several lawyers have promised to bring on detainees’ behalf once they come within the jurisdiction of any federal court, and would present those in custody and those yet at large with a cornucopia of valuable information disclosed as part of discovery in criminal cases and during the trial — all of this notwithstanding the availability of a congressionally created forum in a location that is remote, secure and (agitprop to the contrary notwithstanding) humane.

So we come back to the central query: what is the Democrats’ purpose in all this? Certainly it cannot be the security of their fellow citizens. We have a facility — safe, distant, and secure — to process those who seek to kill Americans. If national security were the top priority, there would be no thought of moving them. So we are left to consider their motives. Do they really hope to obtain approval from international elites or influence the thinking of those who might — oh but for the location of their potential trial if captured — be dissuaded from slaughtering Americans? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is the price one pays to keep MoveOn.org on your side.

Whatever the rationale, it seems that a substantial contingent of our elected officials — a majority in the Senate, in fact — is content to play roulette with our national security. The voters, I suspect, will notice.

Judge and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, writing the day after Senate Democrats voted funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for trial (the timing is perhaps unfortunate, given yesterday’s events and the revived attention to the potential consequences for civilians of willful blindness), explains:

The very transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to this country has consequences. The question of what constitutional rights may apply to aliens in government custody is unsettled, but it is clear from existing jurisprudence that physical presence in the United States would be a significant, if not a decisive, factor. That presence would generate serious security concerns for any person or place associated with their prosecution or confinement, would facilitate the torrent of lawsuits that several lawyers have promised to bring on detainees’ behalf once they come within the jurisdiction of any federal court, and would present those in custody and those yet at large with a cornucopia of valuable information disclosed as part of discovery in criminal cases and during the trial — all of this notwithstanding the availability of a congressionally created forum in a location that is remote, secure and (agitprop to the contrary notwithstanding) humane.

So we come back to the central query: what is the Democrats’ purpose in all this? Certainly it cannot be the security of their fellow citizens. We have a facility — safe, distant, and secure — to process those who seek to kill Americans. If national security were the top priority, there would be no thought of moving them. So we are left to consider their motives. Do they really hope to obtain approval from international elites or influence the thinking of those who might — oh but for the location of their potential trial if captured — be dissuaded from slaughtering Americans? Perhaps. Or perhaps this is the price one pays to keep MoveOn.org on your side.

Whatever the rationale, it seems that a substantial contingent of our elected officials — a majority in the Senate, in fact — is content to play roulette with our national security. The voters, I suspect, will notice.

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Any Takers Left for Obama’s Iran Policy?

It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer range of people who publicly lost patience with Barack Obama’s Iran policy this week.

Most noteworthy, of course, was the Iranian opposition, whose activists chanted, as Jennifer noted, “Obama: either with the murderers or with us” during a demonstration in Tehran on Wednesday. By siding with a brutal regime against its most serious democratic challengers in 30 years, Obama is not only betraying American ideals and squandering America’s best shot at effecting real change in Iran since 1979; he is also destroying a priceless asset. Currently, Iran is the only Mideast Muslim country whose public is generally pro-American rather than rabidly anti-American. That is unlikely to last long if America is seen siding with the regime against the people.

That same day, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told journalists in Paris that the Security Council will not even discuss new sanctions against Iran before the end of the year, at Washington’s request. He then proceeded to bluntly dissociate himself from that policy: “Our American friends ask us to wait until the end of the year,” he said. “It’s not us.”

Then, lest his listeners miss the point, he reiterated it: the Obama administration wants to wait and see whether Iran will respond to its offer of negotiations, he explained, so “we’re waiting for talks. But where are the talks?”

That’s truly impressive. Anyone remember the last time a veteran French leftist thought America was carrying appeasement too far?

The Democratic-controlled Congress sent the same message in subtler fashion on Tuesday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a joint session. “She drew her most resounding applause,” the New York Times reported, when she declared that “zero tolerance needs to be shown when there is a risk of weapons of mass destruction falling, for example, into the hands of Iran. … A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable.”

It’s not that Merkel didn’t mention other issues dear to Obama’s heart, like climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s just that Congress, unlike the administration, has its priorities straight. Last week, National Security Adviser James Jones told the J Street conference that if the administration could solve only one international problem, it would be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Congress understands that stopping thugs from getting the bomb is more important.

Finally, the Guardian reported this morning that previously unpublished International Atomic Energy Agency documents reveal that Iran may have tested components of a “two-point implosion” device, a highly sophisticated (and highly classified) technology that enables the production of smaller nuclear warheads, thus making it easier to mount one on a missile. This development, which “was described by nuclear experts as ‘breathtaking’ … has added urgency to the effort” to find a solution to the crisis, it said. So even an ultra-Left British newspaper has noticed that time is running out. Isn’t it time Obama did the same?

It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer range of people who publicly lost patience with Barack Obama’s Iran policy this week.

Most noteworthy, of course, was the Iranian opposition, whose activists chanted, as Jennifer noted, “Obama: either with the murderers or with us” during a demonstration in Tehran on Wednesday. By siding with a brutal regime against its most serious democratic challengers in 30 years, Obama is not only betraying American ideals and squandering America’s best shot at effecting real change in Iran since 1979; he is also destroying a priceless asset. Currently, Iran is the only Mideast Muslim country whose public is generally pro-American rather than rabidly anti-American. That is unlikely to last long if America is seen siding with the regime against the people.

That same day, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told journalists in Paris that the Security Council will not even discuss new sanctions against Iran before the end of the year, at Washington’s request. He then proceeded to bluntly dissociate himself from that policy: “Our American friends ask us to wait until the end of the year,” he said. “It’s not us.”

Then, lest his listeners miss the point, he reiterated it: the Obama administration wants to wait and see whether Iran will respond to its offer of negotiations, he explained, so “we’re waiting for talks. But where are the talks?”

That’s truly impressive. Anyone remember the last time a veteran French leftist thought America was carrying appeasement too far?

The Democratic-controlled Congress sent the same message in subtler fashion on Tuesday, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a joint session. “She drew her most resounding applause,” the New York Times reported, when she declared that “zero tolerance needs to be shown when there is a risk of weapons of mass destruction falling, for example, into the hands of Iran. … A nuclear bomb in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable.”

It’s not that Merkel didn’t mention other issues dear to Obama’s heart, like climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s just that Congress, unlike the administration, has its priorities straight. Last week, National Security Adviser James Jones told the J Street conference that if the administration could solve only one international problem, it would be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Congress understands that stopping thugs from getting the bomb is more important.

Finally, the Guardian reported this morning that previously unpublished International Atomic Energy Agency documents reveal that Iran may have tested components of a “two-point implosion” device, a highly sophisticated (and highly classified) technology that enables the production of smaller nuclear warheads, thus making it easier to mount one on a missile. This development, which “was described by nuclear experts as ‘breathtaking’ … has added urgency to the effort” to find a solution to the crisis, it said. So even an ultra-Left British newspaper has noticed that time is running out. Isn’t it time Obama did the same?

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U -Turn Time?

Michael Gerson observes that Obama repudiated his carefully constructed campaign persona, a decision that has now proved to be disastrous for his party’s electoral fortunes. Gone is the soothing moderation:

By creating deficits unequaled as a percentage of the economy since World War II, by proposing to nearly triple the national debt in the next 10 years, by using the economic crisis as an excuse for the massive expansion of government authority over health care, Obama has become a polarizing figure.

Reverting to the worst statist inclinations of the Left, Obama has alienated independents and sent them scurrying into the arms of Republicans: “Obama’s tax-and-spend ambitions have united Republicans of every stripe in opposition, put fiscally conservative Democrats in an impossible bind and ceded the economic center to Republican candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.”

And now the White House and Democratic congressmen and senators face a choice. Plainly, their far-Left agenda is at odds with the wishes of the public. (We know this from polling on the issues and from the Election Day returns.) So will they jam it through anyway, aware that the public won’t likely return enough of them in 2010 to try it again? Or do they pause, reverse course, and try to regain the support of independents? Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are bent on the former. The White House has until 2012 (and plenty of hubris), so they heartily concur. The fate of the party, not to mention their own electoral prospects, rests with a few dozen House and Senate Democrats. Drive over the cliff or slam on the breaks — it’s up to them.

Michael Gerson observes that Obama repudiated his carefully constructed campaign persona, a decision that has now proved to be disastrous for his party’s electoral fortunes. Gone is the soothing moderation:

By creating deficits unequaled as a percentage of the economy since World War II, by proposing to nearly triple the national debt in the next 10 years, by using the economic crisis as an excuse for the massive expansion of government authority over health care, Obama has become a polarizing figure.

Reverting to the worst statist inclinations of the Left, Obama has alienated independents and sent them scurrying into the arms of Republicans: “Obama’s tax-and-spend ambitions have united Republicans of every stripe in opposition, put fiscally conservative Democrats in an impossible bind and ceded the economic center to Republican candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.”

And now the White House and Democratic congressmen and senators face a choice. Plainly, their far-Left agenda is at odds with the wishes of the public. (We know this from polling on the issues and from the Election Day returns.) So will they jam it through anyway, aware that the public won’t likely return enough of them in 2010 to try it again? Or do they pause, reverse course, and try to regain the support of independents? Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are bent on the former. The White House has until 2012 (and plenty of hubris), so they heartily concur. The fate of the party, not to mention their own electoral prospects, rests with a few dozen House and Senate Democrats. Drive over the cliff or slam on the breaks — it’s up to them.

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How Will They Vote on Saturday?

When they vote tomorrow, the four potentially vulnerable Virginia congressmen will each have to decide whether to roll the dice with Nancy Pelosi on  the government takeover of health care. Gerry Connolly in Fairfax County has declared his support and has already walked the plank for/with Pelosi on cap-and-trade. He’s been tying himself to the Obama agenda, apparently convinced that his district is solidly Blue and that his upscale constituents have unlimited tolerance for tax hikes. (On Tuesday, however, his district voted for Bob McDonnell by a 55 to 44 percent margin.)

Glenn Nye in the 2nd is a less certain vote, although he was smart enough to vote no on cap-and-trade. Tom Perriello, whose 5th district McDonnell carried by 23 points, and Rick Boucher in the 9th, which McDonnell won 66 to 34 percent, also have seats that are up for grabs. These two voted for cap-and-trade, which took out a Democrat incumbent in a House of Delegates race Tuesday. Will they double-down with Pelosi or look to put some distance between themselves and the liberal agenda that McDonnell successfully railed against?

It is worth noting that Democrats’ health-care plans are very unpopular in Virginia. There is a reason McDonnell brought it up everywhere he went. Before the election, Chris Cillizza focused on the number 53:

That’s the percentage of likely Virginia voters who oppose the proposed changes to the health care system, according to new data in a Washington Post poll on the Commonwealth’s governor’s race. Of that 53 percent, 44 percent strongly oppose the changes. There is significantly less intensity among the 43 percent of likely voters who support the changes with just 29 percent supporting them strongly. Given Virginia’s primacy in the electoral math of President Barack Obama — he was the first Democrat to carry the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson — and its status as an emerging swing state, these numbers should give Democrats some pause about the potential political effects of the legislation.

And earlier in October, the Mason-Dixon poll found that Virginians opposed the Democrats’ health-care plan by a 49 to 39 percent margin. What’s more:

  • 57 percent oppose a public-option, government-run insurance program as part of health-care reform, while 30 percent favor it, and 13 percent are undecided.
  • 48 percent oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, while 39 percent believe coverage should be mandatory. Thirteen percent are undecided.
  • 81 percent say health-care reform will lead to higher taxes to cover its estimated 10-year, $1 trillion cost. Seven percent say the initiative will not push up taxes, and 12 percent are not sure.
  • 52 percent believe health-care reform will result in the rationing of health care, while 29 percent think otherwise. Nineteen percent are not sure.
  • 51 percent say health-care reform will force major cuts in Medicare, a federal program that provides health and medical service for seniors. Thirty-one percent say it will not cause reductions in Medicare, and 18 percent don’t know.

We’ll see how the Virginia Four vote and whether they’ve bought the White House spin that Tuesday’s election means nothing, nothing at all. I suspect one or two of them will be smart enough to hop off the Pelosi express.

When they vote tomorrow, the four potentially vulnerable Virginia congressmen will each have to decide whether to roll the dice with Nancy Pelosi on  the government takeover of health care. Gerry Connolly in Fairfax County has declared his support and has already walked the plank for/with Pelosi on cap-and-trade. He’s been tying himself to the Obama agenda, apparently convinced that his district is solidly Blue and that his upscale constituents have unlimited tolerance for tax hikes. (On Tuesday, however, his district voted for Bob McDonnell by a 55 to 44 percent margin.)

Glenn Nye in the 2nd is a less certain vote, although he was smart enough to vote no on cap-and-trade. Tom Perriello, whose 5th district McDonnell carried by 23 points, and Rick Boucher in the 9th, which McDonnell won 66 to 34 percent, also have seats that are up for grabs. These two voted for cap-and-trade, which took out a Democrat incumbent in a House of Delegates race Tuesday. Will they double-down with Pelosi or look to put some distance between themselves and the liberal agenda that McDonnell successfully railed against?

It is worth noting that Democrats’ health-care plans are very unpopular in Virginia. There is a reason McDonnell brought it up everywhere he went. Before the election, Chris Cillizza focused on the number 53:

That’s the percentage of likely Virginia voters who oppose the proposed changes to the health care system, according to new data in a Washington Post poll on the Commonwealth’s governor’s race. Of that 53 percent, 44 percent strongly oppose the changes. There is significantly less intensity among the 43 percent of likely voters who support the changes with just 29 percent supporting them strongly. Given Virginia’s primacy in the electoral math of President Barack Obama — he was the first Democrat to carry the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson — and its status as an emerging swing state, these numbers should give Democrats some pause about the potential political effects of the legislation.

And earlier in October, the Mason-Dixon poll found that Virginians opposed the Democrats’ health-care plan by a 49 to 39 percent margin. What’s more:

  • 57 percent oppose a public-option, government-run insurance program as part of health-care reform, while 30 percent favor it, and 13 percent are undecided.
  • 48 percent oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, while 39 percent believe coverage should be mandatory. Thirteen percent are undecided.
  • 81 percent say health-care reform will lead to higher taxes to cover its estimated 10-year, $1 trillion cost. Seven percent say the initiative will not push up taxes, and 12 percent are not sure.
  • 52 percent believe health-care reform will result in the rationing of health care, while 29 percent think otherwise. Nineteen percent are not sure.
  • 51 percent say health-care reform will force major cuts in Medicare, a federal program that provides health and medical service for seniors. Thirty-one percent say it will not cause reductions in Medicare, and 18 percent don’t know.

We’ll see how the Virginia Four vote and whether they’ve bought the White House spin that Tuesday’s election means nothing, nothing at all. I suspect one or two of them will be smart enough to hop off the Pelosi express.

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The Security Vacuum in Afghanistan

The New York Times highlights on its front page some damning assessments of the Afghan National Security Forces. In the words of the Times reporters, “the internal reviews, written by officials directly involved in the training program or charged with keeping it on track, describe an overstretched enterprise struggling to nurse along the poorly led, largely illiterate and often corrupt Afghan forces.”

The indictment is accurate as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go very far. A lot of the problems plaguing the ANSF have to do with chronic underinvestment since 2001. The U.S. and its NATO allies have never made the kind of commitment needed to produce an ANSF that could truly secure its own territory. Successive foreign commanders have limited spending on the ANSF because they wanted a force small enough that Afghans could pay for it on their own. That has produced a force far too small to take on a powerful, entrenched insurgency. The entire ANSF numbers only 180,000, and only about 100,000 of those soldiers and police are actually in the field at any one time. The Iraqi Security Forces, by contrast, number 620,000 — and Iraq is smaller than Afghanistan. As one sign of the underinvestment, soldiers and police get paid considerably less (usually under $160 a month) than do the Taliban (around $300 a month). No wonder corruption and desertion are endemic, especially among the police, when those on the front lines have trouble supporting their families and are in constant mortal peril.

Nevertheless the Afghan National Army, in particular, has performed well. Its soldiers fight hard and have made their force the most trusted institution in Afghanistan. The police lag further behind, but elements of the Afghan National Police have also performed capably. Expanding their ranks won’t be easy, because of many of the problems listed in the Times article, in particular this problem: “The most significant challenge to rapidly expanding the Afghan National Security Forces is a lack of competent and professional leadership at all levels, and the inability to generate it rapidly.”

But does that mean that it’s impossible to grow the ANSF or that we should not even bother trying? That is not the right conclusion to draw. If we devote more resources to the problem — not only more money but also more American trainers — there is little doubt that we can grow both the size and effectiveness of the ANSF. While U.S. forces are not great at building civilian governmental capacity, they do have a proven track record of generating effective military forces — often from very unpromising materials. They have been doing it as long ago as the turn-of-the-century Philippines and as recently as Iraq. They can do it in Afghanistan, too, but the Times is right to raise questions about how quickly the process can be accomplished without compromising the quality of the forces. That is precisely why we need to send more American troops as a stopgap to fill the security vacuum that exists in much of the Afghan countryside until Afghan soldiers are ready to take over on their own –which won’t happen for a number of years.

The New York Times highlights on its front page some damning assessments of the Afghan National Security Forces. In the words of the Times reporters, “the internal reviews, written by officials directly involved in the training program or charged with keeping it on track, describe an overstretched enterprise struggling to nurse along the poorly led, largely illiterate and often corrupt Afghan forces.”

The indictment is accurate as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go very far. A lot of the problems plaguing the ANSF have to do with chronic underinvestment since 2001. The U.S. and its NATO allies have never made the kind of commitment needed to produce an ANSF that could truly secure its own territory. Successive foreign commanders have limited spending on the ANSF because they wanted a force small enough that Afghans could pay for it on their own. That has produced a force far too small to take on a powerful, entrenched insurgency. The entire ANSF numbers only 180,000, and only about 100,000 of those soldiers and police are actually in the field at any one time. The Iraqi Security Forces, by contrast, number 620,000 — and Iraq is smaller than Afghanistan. As one sign of the underinvestment, soldiers and police get paid considerably less (usually under $160 a month) than do the Taliban (around $300 a month). No wonder corruption and desertion are endemic, especially among the police, when those on the front lines have trouble supporting their families and are in constant mortal peril.

Nevertheless the Afghan National Army, in particular, has performed well. Its soldiers fight hard and have made their force the most trusted institution in Afghanistan. The police lag further behind, but elements of the Afghan National Police have also performed capably. Expanding their ranks won’t be easy, because of many of the problems listed in the Times article, in particular this problem: “The most significant challenge to rapidly expanding the Afghan National Security Forces is a lack of competent and professional leadership at all levels, and the inability to generate it rapidly.”

But does that mean that it’s impossible to grow the ANSF or that we should not even bother trying? That is not the right conclusion to draw. If we devote more resources to the problem — not only more money but also more American trainers — there is little doubt that we can grow both the size and effectiveness of the ANSF. While U.S. forces are not great at building civilian governmental capacity, they do have a proven track record of generating effective military forces — often from very unpromising materials. They have been doing it as long ago as the turn-of-the-century Philippines and as recently as Iraq. They can do it in Afghanistan, too, but the Times is right to raise questions about how quickly the process can be accomplished without compromising the quality of the forces. That is precisely why we need to send more American troops as a stopgap to fill the security vacuum that exists in much of the Afghan countryside until Afghan soldiers are ready to take over on their own –which won’t happen for a number of years.

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Fort Hood Massacre

Maj. Nidal M. Hasan’s murderous rampage at Fort Hood leaves us horrified and bewildered. And also very angry. We learn from the Washington Post that the perpetrator of this bloodbath was not merely a “very devout” worshiper at a local Muslim community center:

A co-worker identified as Col. Terry Lee told Fox News that Hasan opposed the U.S. role in Iraq and Afghanistan and told others that “we should not be in the war in the first place.” He said Hasan acknowledged that soldiers have a duty to follow the commander in chief’s orders, but was hoping that President Obama would order a pullout from the conflicts.

“When things weren’t going that way,” Lee said, “he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there.”

And that is not all:

The Associated Press reported that Hasan attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in recent months after an Internet posting under the screen name “NidalHasan” compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikaze pilots. “To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate,” the posting read. “It’s more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause.”

He steered clear of female colleagues, co-workers said, and despite devout religious practices, listed himself in Army records as having no religious preference.

A longtime Walter Reed colleague who referred patients to psychiatrists said co-workers avoided sending service members to Hasan because of his unusual manner and solitary work habits.

How is it possible that all this was overlooked or excused? The entire country will be asking this, first in stunned, hushed voices, then, as the shock subsides, with rising fury. Many today already have a nagging sense that we are still collectively sleepwalking through the imminent and ongoing danger of Islamic fundamentalism, unable or unwilling to focus on what is before our eyes for fear of recrimination or causing offense. And 13 are dead and 30 are injured. It defies comprehension.

UPDATE: From this morning: “Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander at Fort Hood, said on NBC’s Today Show that witnesses heard Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shout ‘Allahu Akbar!’ before opening fire. The phrase means ‘God is great!’ in Arabic.”

Maj. Nidal M. Hasan’s murderous rampage at Fort Hood leaves us horrified and bewildered. And also very angry. We learn from the Washington Post that the perpetrator of this bloodbath was not merely a “very devout” worshiper at a local Muslim community center:

A co-worker identified as Col. Terry Lee told Fox News that Hasan opposed the U.S. role in Iraq and Afghanistan and told others that “we should not be in the war in the first place.” He said Hasan acknowledged that soldiers have a duty to follow the commander in chief’s orders, but was hoping that President Obama would order a pullout from the conflicts.

“When things weren’t going that way,” Lee said, “he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there.”

And that is not all:

The Associated Press reported that Hasan attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in recent months after an Internet posting under the screen name “NidalHasan” compared Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese kamikaze pilots. “To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate,” the posting read. “It’s more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause.”

He steered clear of female colleagues, co-workers said, and despite devout religious practices, listed himself in Army records as having no religious preference.

A longtime Walter Reed colleague who referred patients to psychiatrists said co-workers avoided sending service members to Hasan because of his unusual manner and solitary work habits.

How is it possible that all this was overlooked or excused? The entire country will be asking this, first in stunned, hushed voices, then, as the shock subsides, with rising fury. Many today already have a nagging sense that we are still collectively sleepwalking through the imminent and ongoing danger of Islamic fundamentalism, unable or unwilling to focus on what is before our eyes for fear of recrimination or causing offense. And 13 are dead and 30 are injured. It defies comprehension.

UPDATE: From this morning: “Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander at Fort Hood, said on NBC’s Today Show that witnesses heard Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shout ‘Allahu Akbar!’ before opening fire. The phrase means ‘God is great!’ in Arabic.”

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Re: Giving Up

Sen. Jim DeMint, who has been leading the charge against the administration’s ill-fated attempt to bully Honduras into taking back Manuel Zelaya, declares victory. In a statement he explains:

“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” said Senator DeMint. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”

This seems to make clear that Zelaya has indeed been thrown under the bus, left to wait for a vote in the Honduran Congress that may never come. We’ll see if Hillary Clinton, as she has been wont to do in the Middle East, rushes forth to declare that this is not our intent at all. But one senses that the jig is up, everyone is moving on, and the Obami would really rather not have DeMint and others reminding everyone how badly they misread the situation and what grief they caused the Honduran people (cutting off aid, revoking visas).

In any other administration, this episode would win the prize for the most feckless and embarrassing initiative. Here, the Honduran policy becomes just one of many debacles (the settlement freeze, the withdrawal of missile-defense sites, Iranian engagement) in the young administration. One wonders whether any resignations or shake-ups are in store, or do the Obami foreign-policy gurus not notice they have become a laughingstock?

Sen. Jim DeMint, who has been leading the charge against the administration’s ill-fated attempt to bully Honduras into taking back Manuel Zelaya, declares victory. In a statement he explains:

“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” said Senator DeMint. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. I take our administration at their word that they will now side with the Honduran people and end their focus on the disgraced Zelaya.”

This seems to make clear that Zelaya has indeed been thrown under the bus, left to wait for a vote in the Honduran Congress that may never come. We’ll see if Hillary Clinton, as she has been wont to do in the Middle East, rushes forth to declare that this is not our intent at all. But one senses that the jig is up, everyone is moving on, and the Obami would really rather not have DeMint and others reminding everyone how badly they misread the situation and what grief they caused the Honduran people (cutting off aid, revoking visas).

In any other administration, this episode would win the prize for the most feckless and embarrassing initiative. Here, the Honduran policy becomes just one of many debacles (the settlement freeze, the withdrawal of missile-defense sites, Iranian engagement) in the young administration. One wonders whether any resignations or shake-ups are in store, or do the Obami foreign-policy gurus not notice they have become a laughingstock?

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So Many Good Excuses

Nancy Pelosi is working overtime to prevent Democratic “defections” on her health-care bill. This is sort of a lifeboat lottery. Who can get a pass to get off the sinking liberal juggernaut? Some have already jumped ship:

Some Democrats from more conservative districts, like Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, Representative Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Representative Jim Marshall of Georgia and Representative Bobby Bright of Alabama, made it clear they would oppose the measure.

“The worst thing we could do in a recession is raise taxes, and this bill does just that,” said Mr. Boren, who also said he feared the proposal would lead to a single-payer national health care system. “Finally, I do not believe that the possibility for taxpayer-funded abortion has been clearly and emphatically removed from this legislation.”

But Pelosi is twisting arms, trying to allay her members’ fears. You can imagine there are a lot of sob stories from Democrats pleading to be let off the hook. Maybe a congressman from Virginia whose district just voted overwhelmingly for Bob McDonnell? What about a Democrat whose district voted for John McCain in 2008? Those lawmakers need all the help they can get, especially the freshmen among them. Maybe a pro-life congressman who won’t fall for the accounting tricks and understands that taxpayers will be subsidizing abortions. What about the poor dupes from energy-producing states who already walked the plank on cap-and-trade — shouldn’t they get out of this one?

There are, no doubt, many hard-luck cases. But Pelosi needs her votes, and the White House faces humiliation if it can’t round up the necessary sacrificial lambs to vote for a mammoth tax increase and hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts. This question does remain, however: who is smart and tough enough to get out of a potential career-ending vote? We’ll find out Saturday.

Nancy Pelosi is working overtime to prevent Democratic “defections” on her health-care bill. This is sort of a lifeboat lottery. Who can get a pass to get off the sinking liberal juggernaut? Some have already jumped ship:

Some Democrats from more conservative districts, like Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, Representative Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Representative Jim Marshall of Georgia and Representative Bobby Bright of Alabama, made it clear they would oppose the measure.

“The worst thing we could do in a recession is raise taxes, and this bill does just that,” said Mr. Boren, who also said he feared the proposal would lead to a single-payer national health care system. “Finally, I do not believe that the possibility for taxpayer-funded abortion has been clearly and emphatically removed from this legislation.”

But Pelosi is twisting arms, trying to allay her members’ fears. You can imagine there are a lot of sob stories from Democrats pleading to be let off the hook. Maybe a congressman from Virginia whose district just voted overwhelmingly for Bob McDonnell? What about a Democrat whose district voted for John McCain in 2008? Those lawmakers need all the help they can get, especially the freshmen among them. Maybe a pro-life congressman who won’t fall for the accounting tricks and understands that taxpayers will be subsidizing abortions. What about the poor dupes from energy-producing states who already walked the plank on cap-and-trade — shouldn’t they get out of this one?

There are, no doubt, many hard-luck cases. But Pelosi needs her votes, and the White House faces humiliation if it can’t round up the necessary sacrificial lambs to vote for a mammoth tax increase and hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts. This question does remain, however: who is smart and tough enough to get out of a potential career-ending vote? We’ll find out Saturday.

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No? No?!

The Washington Post‘s editors are tapping their feet. It’s been five weeks, the Iranians have not accepted “the deal” (the inane arrangement by which we take an unverified portion of their uranium, enrich it for the mullahs, return it to them, and call it a “success”), and the Obama team is paralyzed. (Definitely not dithering — that’s what they are doing on Afghanistan.) The Supreme Leader quite publicly told us to forget it and threw in some insults along the way. The editors point out:

So far there has been no visible reaction to Tehran’s stance from the Obama administration, other than statements insisting that Iran go through with the uranium swap as originally agreed. The administration appears to be hoping that what officials believe is a debate inside the regime will be won by proponents of a rapprochement with the West. They also want to ensure that, if there is a breakdown in the negotiations, Iran is blamed by all concerned — including Russia and China, whose support would be needed for new U.N. sanctions.

Waiting for the internal divisions to resolve themselves, are we? And we certainly don’t want to be blamed by two countries that aren’t interested in sanctions anyway. Well, this is the Obama excuse-mongering at play, and it really doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

The Obami protested, when conservatives called into question the entire “engagement” lark, that they were not naive. But what have they done? They entered discussions (threw themselves at the Iranian negotiators, we are told) with no chance of success, no exit strategy, and no leverage (because sanctions would only make the mullahs mad). Like deer in the headlights, they are now frozen in place, no longer “negotiating” and unwilling to leave the room.

One wonders what the American negotiators are whispering to each other. The Iranians said “no,” but what is “no”? Perhaps “no” is “We need more time.” Perhaps “no” is “We just have these tough guys back home to convince.” “No” might mean “Now just isn’t a good time.”

Perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy can stage an intervention and shake the Obami from their self-delusion. “No” means “no.” So what’s the not-naive Obama game plan now? There is one, right?

The Washington Post‘s editors are tapping their feet. It’s been five weeks, the Iranians have not accepted “the deal” (the inane arrangement by which we take an unverified portion of their uranium, enrich it for the mullahs, return it to them, and call it a “success”), and the Obama team is paralyzed. (Definitely not dithering — that’s what they are doing on Afghanistan.) The Supreme Leader quite publicly told us to forget it and threw in some insults along the way. The editors point out:

So far there has been no visible reaction to Tehran’s stance from the Obama administration, other than statements insisting that Iran go through with the uranium swap as originally agreed. The administration appears to be hoping that what officials believe is a debate inside the regime will be won by proponents of a rapprochement with the West. They also want to ensure that, if there is a breakdown in the negotiations, Iran is blamed by all concerned — including Russia and China, whose support would be needed for new U.N. sanctions.

Waiting for the internal divisions to resolve themselves, are we? And we certainly don’t want to be blamed by two countries that aren’t interested in sanctions anyway. Well, this is the Obama excuse-mongering at play, and it really doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

The Obami protested, when conservatives called into question the entire “engagement” lark, that they were not naive. But what have they done? They entered discussions (threw themselves at the Iranian negotiators, we are told) with no chance of success, no exit strategy, and no leverage (because sanctions would only make the mullahs mad). Like deer in the headlights, they are now frozen in place, no longer “negotiating” and unwilling to leave the room.

One wonders what the American negotiators are whispering to each other. The Iranians said “no,” but what is “no”? Perhaps “no” is “We need more time.” Perhaps “no” is “We just have these tough guys back home to convince.” “No” might mean “Now just isn’t a good time.”

Perhaps Nicolas Sarkozy can stage an intervention and shake the Obami from their self-delusion. “No” means “no.” So what’s the not-naive Obama game plan now? There is one, right?

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He’s with Them

Robert Kagan observes the Iranian protesters decrying the regime’s brutality and chanting, “Obama, Obama — you’re either with them or you’re with us.” Well, this is a teachable moment about the abdication of America’s moral authority and what happens when we place a process — engagement — above all other substantive interests. Kagan writes:

The regime is using the Obama administration’s overweening desire to talk — and refusal to take “no” for an answer — as a way of deflecting any international pressure regarding its domestic crackdown. And the regime’s strategy is succeeding. The longer the Obama administration plays this game, the more time the regime will have to crush its opponents while the West looks on in self-imposed impotence.

Unpleasant as it may be for the president to hear, his policy is objectively aiding the Tehran regime and harming the opposition in their ongoing struggle.

The chanters are right. The United States can either be with them or against them. Right now, President Obama is against them. But it’s not too late for him to switch sides.

But I think it is too late. Not only does the Obama team lack any willingness to indulge in “self-reflection,” but even a more robust policy would be hobbled at this point. Our credibility is shot and our words of warning carry no weight. We have deprived ourselves of both the opportunity to foment regime change and a window of time (the revelation of the Qom site) in which to sidestep the morass of negotiations and move to other options. We have managed to anger the democratic protesters, bestow legitimacy on the regime, fritter away our own moral standing, provide another year of breathing room for the regime’s nuclear-arms development, and shown other would-be aggressors just how unserious we may be. And, yes, this is what garners a Nobel Peace Prize.

Robert Kagan observes the Iranian protesters decrying the regime’s brutality and chanting, “Obama, Obama — you’re either with them or you’re with us.” Well, this is a teachable moment about the abdication of America’s moral authority and what happens when we place a process — engagement — above all other substantive interests. Kagan writes:

The regime is using the Obama administration’s overweening desire to talk — and refusal to take “no” for an answer — as a way of deflecting any international pressure regarding its domestic crackdown. And the regime’s strategy is succeeding. The longer the Obama administration plays this game, the more time the regime will have to crush its opponents while the West looks on in self-imposed impotence.

Unpleasant as it may be for the president to hear, his policy is objectively aiding the Tehran regime and harming the opposition in their ongoing struggle.

The chanters are right. The United States can either be with them or against them. Right now, President Obama is against them. But it’s not too late for him to switch sides.

But I think it is too late. Not only does the Obama team lack any willingness to indulge in “self-reflection,” but even a more robust policy would be hobbled at this point. Our credibility is shot and our words of warning carry no weight. We have deprived ourselves of both the opportunity to foment regime change and a window of time (the revelation of the Qom site) in which to sidestep the morass of negotiations and move to other options. We have managed to anger the democratic protesters, bestow legitimacy on the regime, fritter away our own moral standing, provide another year of breathing room for the regime’s nuclear-arms development, and shown other would-be aggressors just how unserious we may be. And, yes, this is what garners a Nobel Peace Prize.

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