Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 17, 2009

In a Tizzy Again

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

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How’s the Dithering Going?

Obama’s overall approval rating in the latest CBS poll is down 3 points from the previous month, but the slide in his numbers on Afghanistan are dramatic. In April, 58 percent approved and 21 percent disapproved of his handling of the war. Now 38 percent approve and 43 disapprove. The biggest change is among independents: “Last month, 44% of independents approved and 36% disapproved of the job President Obama was doing on Afghanistan. Now, more independents disapprove than approve: 49% disapprove, and just 30% approve.”

This follows months of White House seminars and a battle of the leakers. Because the president has yet to make up his mind, we also haven’t heard a robust explanation of what we are doing and how we are going to achieve our aims. In addition, since April, Obama’s overall foreign-policy approval has slid from 59 to 50 percent.

Could it be that indecision isn’t playing well at home? Possibly. Public opinion can be fickle, especially on foreign policy. But the president and his spinners are kidding themselves if they think there is no price to be paid among voters for angst-ridden decision making. The president is expected to choose and to lead. He is doing neither. The voters are starting to fret.

Obama’s overall approval rating in the latest CBS poll is down 3 points from the previous month, but the slide in his numbers on Afghanistan are dramatic. In April, 58 percent approved and 21 percent disapproved of his handling of the war. Now 38 percent approve and 43 disapprove. The biggest change is among independents: “Last month, 44% of independents approved and 36% disapproved of the job President Obama was doing on Afghanistan. Now, more independents disapprove than approve: 49% disapprove, and just 30% approve.”

This follows months of White House seminars and a battle of the leakers. Because the president has yet to make up his mind, we also haven’t heard a robust explanation of what we are doing and how we are going to achieve our aims. In addition, since April, Obama’s overall foreign-policy approval has slid from 59 to 50 percent.

Could it be that indecision isn’t playing well at home? Possibly. Public opinion can be fickle, especially on foreign policy. But the president and his spinners are kidding themselves if they think there is no price to be paid among voters for angst-ridden decision making. The president is expected to choose and to lead. He is doing neither. The voters are starting to fret.

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China on Bended Knee

The New York Times reports:

Whether by White House design or Chinese insistence, President Obama has steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even ordinary Chinese during his first visit to China, showing deference to the Chinese leadership’s aversions to such interactions that is unusual for a visiting American president.

Mr. Obama held a “town hall” meeting with students on Monday. But they were carefully vetted and prepped for the event by the government, participants said.

And we are reminded that in contrast to his predecessors’ far less cringey performances, Obama has bent over backward to be innocuous. “Bland” and “rather humble” is how Chinese students described him. The Times explained that “Mr. Obama’s nuanced references to rights have shied from citing China’s spotty record, even when offered the chance. Asked Monday in Shanghai to discuss China’s censorship of the Internet, the president replied by talking about America’s robust political debates.” And worse yet, it seems that the Obami have snubbed democracy dissidents (“the administration rejected proposals for brief meetings in Beijing with Chinese political activists, and then with lawyers”) for fear of annoying their hosts.

Since the video love letter to the Supreme Leader at the start of his presidency, we have seen a string of signals and actions designed to make America appear more contrite and more accommodating to the world’s despots. This visit is not the only shabby and embarrassing display of timidity by this president, nor I suspect will it be the last. Obama’s unwillingness to assert with strength and conviction American interests and to challenge the atrocious human-rights records of thuggish regimes around the world has not gone unnoticed by his Chinese hosts and, no doubt, by other nations noting how they, too, might receive such kid-glove treatment. The Obami are convinced that this is the way to endear ourselves to our adversaries. History teaches us that the world doesn’t work that way.

The New York Times reports:

Whether by White House design or Chinese insistence, President Obama has steered clear of public meetings with Chinese liberals, free press advocates and even ordinary Chinese during his first visit to China, showing deference to the Chinese leadership’s aversions to such interactions that is unusual for a visiting American president.

Mr. Obama held a “town hall” meeting with students on Monday. But they were carefully vetted and prepped for the event by the government, participants said.

And we are reminded that in contrast to his predecessors’ far less cringey performances, Obama has bent over backward to be innocuous. “Bland” and “rather humble” is how Chinese students described him. The Times explained that “Mr. Obama’s nuanced references to rights have shied from citing China’s spotty record, even when offered the chance. Asked Monday in Shanghai to discuss China’s censorship of the Internet, the president replied by talking about America’s robust political debates.” And worse yet, it seems that the Obami have snubbed democracy dissidents (“the administration rejected proposals for brief meetings in Beijing with Chinese political activists, and then with lawyers”) for fear of annoying their hosts.

Since the video love letter to the Supreme Leader at the start of his presidency, we have seen a string of signals and actions designed to make America appear more contrite and more accommodating to the world’s despots. This visit is not the only shabby and embarrassing display of timidity by this president, nor I suspect will it be the last. Obama’s unwillingness to assert with strength and conviction American interests and to challenge the atrocious human-rights records of thuggish regimes around the world has not gone unnoticed by his Chinese hosts and, no doubt, by other nations noting how they, too, might receive such kid-glove treatment. The Obami are convinced that this is the way to endear ourselves to our adversaries. History teaches us that the world doesn’t work that way.

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Re: Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony’s and Rick’s posts on the now interrupted effort to recreate the Big Bang reminded me immediately of two things: Dr. Strangelove, and recent developments in climate science. Anthony’s “Dr. [THREE NAMES]” sounds, for one thing, eerily like Peter Sellers’s turn as Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous 1964 movie. For another, Rick’s quotation from the Lederman and Teresi book evokes — inevitably, once Dr. Strangelove is in view — the mushroom clouds with which the movie concludes, and the voice of Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.”

These images, with their overtones of surreal Cold War irony, are a reminder that politics is incapable of infinite sweet sadness. Politics is all about definite and identifiable causes, and effects crying out for “management.” That’s why politics can’t be entrusted with speculative cosmology — or with speculative climatology.

It now turns out that there is some French bread gumming up our effort to understand, and attach cosmological import to, the behavior of our climate. What we might call the “butter” on the French bread is this eye-opening conclusion, from a 2009 study of 15 years’ worth of satellite data by MIT scientists: that the “greenhouse effect” does not behave as predicted by climatology models. When carbon and temperatures increase, the earth releases more heat energy as opposed to trapping more of it.

Now that’s a big pat of butter. But the “French bread” itself is more informative still: an acknowledgment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that when it comes to the actual processes of climate feedback — the processes that create (or mitigate) the greenhouse effect — we have no accepted way to measure or directly analyze them. Climate scientist Roy W. Spencer calls this admission “amazing.” Citing the relevant passage in the IPCC report, he puts the inconvenient truth as follows:

Despite the fact that the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming depends mostly upon the strengths of feedbacks in the climate system, there is no known way to actually measure those feedbacks from observational data.

I’d agree that that’s amazing, particularly in light of the certainty with which global-warming proponents assert that we can not only understand but also predict those feedbacks.

It’s good to be reminded at such a time that even supercollider scientists can come off, in expressing the idea of there being a parsable algorithm at work in the universe, just like ancient Greeks explaining their cosmos through Promethean myth. Faith that there are systemic explanations for big things, if we can only demonstrate them, is a key element of scientific inquiry. We shouldn’t disdain such lines of thought.

But it’s also a relief to know about the French bread. Until the proposition of the “God particle attacking us” can be measured and tested, the “French bread in the collider” explanation will do, for the human purposes that matter. When it comes to the politics of climate science, we should keep our eyes on the French bread as well.

Anthony’s and Rick’s posts on the now interrupted effort to recreate the Big Bang reminded me immediately of two things: Dr. Strangelove, and recent developments in climate science. Anthony’s “Dr. [THREE NAMES]” sounds, for one thing, eerily like Peter Sellers’s turn as Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous 1964 movie. For another, Rick’s quotation from the Lederman and Teresi book evokes — inevitably, once Dr. Strangelove is in view — the mushroom clouds with which the movie concludes, and the voice of Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.”

These images, with their overtones of surreal Cold War irony, are a reminder that politics is incapable of infinite sweet sadness. Politics is all about definite and identifiable causes, and effects crying out for “management.” That’s why politics can’t be entrusted with speculative cosmology — or with speculative climatology.

It now turns out that there is some French bread gumming up our effort to understand, and attach cosmological import to, the behavior of our climate. What we might call the “butter” on the French bread is this eye-opening conclusion, from a 2009 study of 15 years’ worth of satellite data by MIT scientists: that the “greenhouse effect” does not behave as predicted by climatology models. When carbon and temperatures increase, the earth releases more heat energy as opposed to trapping more of it.

Now that’s a big pat of butter. But the “French bread” itself is more informative still: an acknowledgment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that when it comes to the actual processes of climate feedback — the processes that create (or mitigate) the greenhouse effect — we have no accepted way to measure or directly analyze them. Climate scientist Roy W. Spencer calls this admission “amazing.” Citing the relevant passage in the IPCC report, he puts the inconvenient truth as follows:

Despite the fact that the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming depends mostly upon the strengths of feedbacks in the climate system, there is no known way to actually measure those feedbacks from observational data.

I’d agree that that’s amazing, particularly in light of the certainty with which global-warming proponents assert that we can not only understand but also predict those feedbacks.

It’s good to be reminded at such a time that even supercollider scientists can come off, in expressing the idea of there being a parsable algorithm at work in the universe, just like ancient Greeks explaining their cosmos through Promethean myth. Faith that there are systemic explanations for big things, if we can only demonstrate them, is a key element of scientific inquiry. We shouldn’t disdain such lines of thought.

But it’s also a relief to know about the French bread. Until the proposition of the “God particle attacking us” can be measured and tested, the “French bread in the collider” explanation will do, for the human purposes that matter. When it comes to the politics of climate science, we should keep our eyes on the French bread as well.

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Vacation Stimulation—A Conference and Alaskan Cruise in One

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

As America heads into the 2010 elections, with unprecedented turmoil and possibly revolutionary change, COMMENTARY will be convening its first Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it sets sail from Anchorage and takes a week-long journey through the waters of Alaska. There will be daily sessions, speeches, meals, a chance to meet some of your favorite writers and thinkers, a chance to dine with them as well, and an unparalleled opportunity to meet fellow thinkers and readers from across the country. With us on the cruise will be Wall Street Journal global-affairs columnist Bret Stephens; COMMENTARY’s power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; talk-show host and author Michael Medved; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams. We’ll talk Obama, Israel, Iran, the GOP, the Democrats, 2010, 2012, the state of the culture, the state of Western civilization, and the prospects for American recovery. I’ll be there too, playing traffic cop. And all of it will take place amid the most dramatic scenery in the Western Hemisphere, on a small and luxurious craft that is one of the jewels in the Regent fleet. Please consider joining us. You can learn more about the cruise here.

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What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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Re: They Don’t Like It

More evidence that they don’t like ObamaCare comes from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which George Stephanopoulos sums up:

The poll shows that public skepticism is hardening.  Most Americans believe that reform will make their own health care worse – especially on the key issue of cost – with 54 percent fearing their own costs will rise, and 56 percent believing the costs to the country will increase. … [The administration's] hope: once the bill is signed into law, the public will reward them for delivering on a big promise. But can they deliver on the details?

I don’t recall politicians ever being so openly disdainful of the public. The poor dears don’t understand what is good for them, are befuddled, and will like it once they see our handiwork. That’s what the Democrats are telling themselves — and the voters.

Other little nuggets from the poll: 41 percent “strongly” disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, and 60 percent think the public option will push private employers out of the market. By a 37-to-19 margin, people think the quality of their own health care will get worse. And more people say they’d oppose a candidate (29 percent, and 20 percent would “strongly” oppose) who backed ObamaCare than one who supported it (25 percent).

It’s quite a gamble that ObamaCare supporters are taking: they’re rolling the dice, hoping that voters don’t really mean what they say and that they’ll be rewarded for defying the public’s wishes, enacting new taxes, and slashing Medicare. I guess anything in politics is possible. But congressmen and senators facing elections may have their doubts, as well they should.

More evidence that they don’t like ObamaCare comes from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which George Stephanopoulos sums up:

The poll shows that public skepticism is hardening.  Most Americans believe that reform will make their own health care worse – especially on the key issue of cost – with 54 percent fearing their own costs will rise, and 56 percent believing the costs to the country will increase. … [The administration's] hope: once the bill is signed into law, the public will reward them for delivering on a big promise. But can they deliver on the details?

I don’t recall politicians ever being so openly disdainful of the public. The poor dears don’t understand what is good for them, are befuddled, and will like it once they see our handiwork. That’s what the Democrats are telling themselves — and the voters.

Other little nuggets from the poll: 41 percent “strongly” disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, and 60 percent think the public option will push private employers out of the market. By a 37-to-19 margin, people think the quality of their own health care will get worse. And more people say they’d oppose a candidate (29 percent, and 20 percent would “strongly” oppose) who backed ObamaCare than one who supported it (25 percent).

It’s quite a gamble that ObamaCare supporters are taking: they’re rolling the dice, hoping that voters don’t really mean what they say and that they’ll be rewarded for defying the public’s wishes, enacting new taxes, and slashing Medicare. I guess anything in politics is possible. But congressmen and senators facing elections may have their doubts, as well they should.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
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As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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More Revelations from the IAEA Report

Among the treasure trove to be found in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports on Iran and Syria, there are two slightly underreported elements. Inspectors stumbled upon 600 “50-litre drums” of heavy water at the Isfahan conversion facility. As for Syria, the Syrians explained traces of anthropogenic natural uranium as deriving from “domestically produced yellowcake” and “imported, but previously undeclared, commercial uranyl nitrate.”

To recap: Iran has undeclared heavy water, and Syria has undeclared commercial uranyl nitrate.

Heavy water is needed to bypass uranium enrichment if one wants to build nuclear weapons. It is not produced widely — there are only a few countries in the world that produce and sell heavy water. Uranyl Nitrate is a substance needed in the process to convert natural uranium to green salt, a precursor of UF6. In short, it is a necessary component in the enrichment process and one that NPT signatories are meant to declare to the IAEA.

Taken together, the two reports make an astounding revelation: both Iran and Syria have been procuring material for nuclear-related activities without reporting it to the IAEA. Not a shocker for readers of this blog — but certainly one more piece of incriminating evidence about the two programs both countries have worked so hard to pursue and to conceal from the rest of the world.

Among the treasure trove to be found in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports on Iran and Syria, there are two slightly underreported elements. Inspectors stumbled upon 600 “50-litre drums” of heavy water at the Isfahan conversion facility. As for Syria, the Syrians explained traces of anthropogenic natural uranium as deriving from “domestically produced yellowcake” and “imported, but previously undeclared, commercial uranyl nitrate.”

To recap: Iran has undeclared heavy water, and Syria has undeclared commercial uranyl nitrate.

Heavy water is needed to bypass uranium enrichment if one wants to build nuclear weapons. It is not produced widely — there are only a few countries in the world that produce and sell heavy water. Uranyl Nitrate is a substance needed in the process to convert natural uranium to green salt, a precursor of UF6. In short, it is a necessary component in the enrichment process and one that NPT signatories are meant to declare to the IAEA.

Taken together, the two reports make an astounding revelation: both Iran and Syria have been procuring material for nuclear-related activities without reporting it to the IAEA. Not a shocker for readers of this blog — but certainly one more piece of incriminating evidence about the two programs both countries have worked so hard to pursue and to conceal from the rest of the world.

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Beyond Farce

Thank goodness we have a president who is willing to “listen” to foreign governments, to “create space” for conflict resolution, to break America’s habit of “dictating” to those with whom it disagrees, to invite international institutions to “share” in the process of mitigating the world’s dangers. Without persistent Dr. Phil-diplomacy, we never could have achieved this:

United Nations and Iranian officials have been secretly negotiating a deal to persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Tehran to retain the bulk of its nuclear programme in return for co-operation with UN inspectors.

According to a draft document seen by The Times, the 13-point agreement was drawn up in September by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an effort to break the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme before he stands down at the end of this month.

Forget the cooperation of Russia; forget the cooperation of Iran. The most benign and internationally beloved president in modern history can’t keep the intermediary bodies from secretly plotting against us. It’s useful to keep today’s revelation in mind when people go on about how George W. Bush spurned international bodies or about how the U.S. can’t be the world’s police. Perhaps Obama will get tough on the IAEA and register one of his bone-chilling warnings about his patience not being endless.

There are a slew of synonyms for the kind of popularity Obama has conferred upon America: adoration, affection, favor, and so on. But there is no usable replacement for respect. Respect comes when you draw a line. For this administration, there is no line. The uncooperativeness (forget evil) of bad actors never gets fully recognized. Because there is no line, the administration’s claims of progress are unfalsifiable. That is, they can never be disproved. Everything is endlessly encouraging.

Hey, you can’t blame ElBaradei for wanting to secure his legacy. You know what they say: You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Nobel Peace Prizes.

Thank goodness we have a president who is willing to “listen” to foreign governments, to “create space” for conflict resolution, to break America’s habit of “dictating” to those with whom it disagrees, to invite international institutions to “share” in the process of mitigating the world’s dangers. Without persistent Dr. Phil-diplomacy, we never could have achieved this:

United Nations and Iranian officials have been secretly negotiating a deal to persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Tehran to retain the bulk of its nuclear programme in return for co-operation with UN inspectors.

According to a draft document seen by The Times, the 13-point agreement was drawn up in September by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an effort to break the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme before he stands down at the end of this month.

Forget the cooperation of Russia; forget the cooperation of Iran. The most benign and internationally beloved president in modern history can’t keep the intermediary bodies from secretly plotting against us. It’s useful to keep today’s revelation in mind when people go on about how George W. Bush spurned international bodies or about how the U.S. can’t be the world’s police. Perhaps Obama will get tough on the IAEA and register one of his bone-chilling warnings about his patience not being endless.

There are a slew of synonyms for the kind of popularity Obama has conferred upon America: adoration, affection, favor, and so on. But there is no usable replacement for respect. Respect comes when you draw a line. For this administration, there is no line. The uncooperativeness (forget evil) of bad actors never gets fully recognized. Because there is no line, the administration’s claims of progress are unfalsifiable. That is, they can never be disproved. Everything is endlessly encouraging.

Hey, you can’t blame ElBaradei for wanting to secure his legacy. You know what they say: You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Nobel Peace Prizes.

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Disarming Unilateralism

Palestinian hopes for a unilaterally declared state suffered another setback today as the EU announced it would not recognize such a move. This comes on the heels of a similar declaration by the U.S. Both cited their commitment to a “negotiated” solution between Israel and the Palestinians. This followed an unequivocal statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that “there is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

The whole bit about waiting for a negotiated settlement rings a little hollow, of course. Many of the world’s most successful countries achieved internationally recognized independence without the benefit of a negotiated agreement between conflicted parties, the United States and Israel being two obvious cases. If Palestinian national aspirations were so legitimate and a two-state solution the only answer, why wouldn’t the great powers recognize this much? And in such a scenario, what unilateral retaliation could Israel reasonably get away with?

Rather, the real problem with Palestinian independence — the elephant in the room, if you will — is that there is no viable Palestinian regime that can claim to run a sovereign country. Right now, the Palestinian territories are divided, ruled by two different Palestinian regimes. The one in Gaza is led by an internationally recognized terror organization supported by Iran and dedicated to war against Israel and violent conflict with the West. The other, in the West Bank, is led by a revolutionary-style regime that is deeply corrupt and still fosters and harbors terrorist groups like the Fatah-Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Efforts to negotiate a unification between the two sides have consistently failed, and one gets the sense that the only thing preventing an all-out civil war between Hamas and Fatah is the sliver of land that divides them (Israel, that is).

So the problem, it seems, is not between Israel and the Palestinians so much as among the Palestinians themselves. That this is the real trouble seems to be hinted at by none other than the Palestinian prime minister, Saleem Fayad. According to Fayad, a declaration of independence is really just a “formality” — or at least, it will be, once the institutions of statehood are established. It is not too hard to glean from Fayad’s statement, however, the hidden assumption that such institutions are not yet in place and may not be for the foreseeable future.

One wonders what would happen if the Palestinians really were to replicate the Zionist movement’s means of establishing a homeland: to build systems of government aimed at improving the Palestinians’ lives rather than channeling them toward endless conflict; to build an economy that emphasizes good business rather than corruption; to craft an educational system and public culture that fosters a positive, life-affirming vision of Palestinian identity and coexistence with Israelis rather than one built entirely on “resistance” to the “occupation.” If that were to happen, wouldn’t Israeli and world leaders have a much harder time denying Palestinian statehood? On the other hand, would they even want to? Should they?

Palestinian hopes for a unilaterally declared state suffered another setback today as the EU announced it would not recognize such a move. This comes on the heels of a similar declaration by the U.S. Both cited their commitment to a “negotiated” solution between Israel and the Palestinians. This followed an unequivocal statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that “there is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

The whole bit about waiting for a negotiated settlement rings a little hollow, of course. Many of the world’s most successful countries achieved internationally recognized independence without the benefit of a negotiated agreement between conflicted parties, the United States and Israel being two obvious cases. If Palestinian national aspirations were so legitimate and a two-state solution the only answer, why wouldn’t the great powers recognize this much? And in such a scenario, what unilateral retaliation could Israel reasonably get away with?

Rather, the real problem with Palestinian independence — the elephant in the room, if you will — is that there is no viable Palestinian regime that can claim to run a sovereign country. Right now, the Palestinian territories are divided, ruled by two different Palestinian regimes. The one in Gaza is led by an internationally recognized terror organization supported by Iran and dedicated to war against Israel and violent conflict with the West. The other, in the West Bank, is led by a revolutionary-style regime that is deeply corrupt and still fosters and harbors terrorist groups like the Fatah-Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Efforts to negotiate a unification between the two sides have consistently failed, and one gets the sense that the only thing preventing an all-out civil war between Hamas and Fatah is the sliver of land that divides them (Israel, that is).

So the problem, it seems, is not between Israel and the Palestinians so much as among the Palestinians themselves. That this is the real trouble seems to be hinted at by none other than the Palestinian prime minister, Saleem Fayad. According to Fayad, a declaration of independence is really just a “formality” — or at least, it will be, once the institutions of statehood are established. It is not too hard to glean from Fayad’s statement, however, the hidden assumption that such institutions are not yet in place and may not be for the foreseeable future.

One wonders what would happen if the Palestinians really were to replicate the Zionist movement’s means of establishing a homeland: to build systems of government aimed at improving the Palestinians’ lives rather than channeling them toward endless conflict; to build an economy that emphasizes good business rather than corruption; to craft an educational system and public culture that fosters a positive, life-affirming vision of Palestinian identity and coexistence with Israelis rather than one built entirely on “resistance” to the “occupation.” If that were to happen, wouldn’t Israeli and world leaders have a much harder time denying Palestinian statehood? On the other hand, would they even want to? Should they?

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The Fullest Extent of the Law

Peter, your post “Alice in Wonderland Justice” reminds me of the old Marx Brothers routine in which Chico is standing trial and discovers that Groucho will be the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer. Chico asks how there can be such a procedure, and Groucho answers: “That way we can prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Obama administration is presumably bringing terrorists to trial in New York on an assumption that not only is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but also that even if the defendants were acquitted, or the jury hung, or subpoenaed Bush administration officials refused to testify, or a judge ruled that the trial cannot continue after the prosecution refuses to disclose national-security secrets, the defendants will still not be allowed to go free — hence Democratic Sen. Jack Reed’s confident assertion that “international law” will permit the defendants’ continued detention after trial, regardless of its result.

If the trial turns into a soap box — with a worldwide megaphone — to castigate the Bush administration for its wartime detention policies, or to illustrate the dark night of America before Obama, it will be a fringe benefit (or perhaps even the main purpose) of the fail-safe legal proceeding — an opportunity effectively to place officials of the Bush administration in the dock and to apologize again for what came before Hope and Change.

It will be a (Groucho) Marxist procedure for the defendants (because they will not go free no matter what the verdict) and a show trial for Obama’s political opponents, conducted in order to satisfy his “base.” It will be cynical political process masquerading as the fullest extent of the law.

Peter, your post “Alice in Wonderland Justice” reminds me of the old Marx Brothers routine in which Chico is standing trial and discovers that Groucho will be the judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer. Chico asks how there can be such a procedure, and Groucho answers: “That way we can prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Obama administration is presumably bringing terrorists to trial in New York on an assumption that not only is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but also that even if the defendants were acquitted, or the jury hung, or subpoenaed Bush administration officials refused to testify, or a judge ruled that the trial cannot continue after the prosecution refuses to disclose national-security secrets, the defendants will still not be allowed to go free — hence Democratic Sen. Jack Reed’s confident assertion that “international law” will permit the defendants’ continued detention after trial, regardless of its result.

If the trial turns into a soap box — with a worldwide megaphone — to castigate the Bush administration for its wartime detention policies, or to illustrate the dark night of America before Obama, it will be a fringe benefit (or perhaps even the main purpose) of the fail-safe legal proceeding — an opportunity effectively to place officials of the Bush administration in the dock and to apologize again for what came before Hope and Change.

It will be a (Groucho) Marxist procedure for the defendants (because they will not go free no matter what the verdict) and a show trial for Obama’s political opponents, conducted in order to satisfy his “base.” It will be cynical political process masquerading as the fullest extent of the law.

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Defenders of NIAC

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith – which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

Since Eli Lake’s blockbuster story and the follow-up by Ben Smith – which revealed, among other things, that the NIAC has been seeking to dislodge Dennis Ross, working to defund Iranian democratic activists, misrepresenting itself as the broad-based representative of the American Iranian community, and actively lobbying the U.S. government without registering as a foreign agent — a curious phenomenon has occurred. The Left and those self-proclaimed non-Leftists who nevertheless uphold each and every one of the Left’s positions have come rushing to the defense of the NIAC and of the now embattled Trita Parsi (who turns out not to be an Iranian-American at all, although that’s been part of his spiel).

Weren’t these the folks painting their websites green and crying crocodile tears over the mullahs’ brutality? Why are they now in the business of flaking for the mullahs’ flak? Take one point: the accusation that the man being sued by the NIAC is a terrorist, Hassan Daioleslam. (The litigation has, it seems, provided the documents that now are the source of the NIAC scandal.) Daniel Luban breathlessly asserts: “Daioleslam is an unsavory character, said by multiple sources to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK, or MKO) — a terrorist group (classified as such by the State Department) with close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.” Now that’s a serious charge. Where is the proof that this man is a terrorist, and who are these multiple sources? Did Luban check with Daioleslam, as Eli Lake meticulously checked with each source in his account? Or is this another element in the Leftist smear-fest? And the “our critics are MEK terrorists” line is, surprise, surprise, right out of the NIAC playbook.

But because the story involved no gynecological intrigue, Andrew Sullivan — who surely seemed to be on the side of the democracy protesters whom Parsi conspired to defund — decided that there was no story there at all. And he seems to be very, very confused regarding who’s on the side of the Greens here (“Smearing the non-neocon Green opposition as essentially pro-Khamenei solidifies the neoconservative war project.”) Uh, actually it is Parsi and his J Street friends who were in the business of fending off opposition to the Iranian regime and depriving the Greens and democracy organizations of funds and support. He really thinks the Green movement and its American supporters look upon Parsi as their ally? (As Lake details, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian filmmaker and defender of the Green Movement abroad, explained: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”) Well, if Sullivan can get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s faked pregnancy, then anything is possible, I suppose.

This hue and cry, the mimicking of the NIAC line, and the utter absence of facts to rebut Lake’s account suggest that the name of the game here is distraction. For after all, what can they say — that Parsi really represents the American-Iranian community? Well, 2,500-3,000 members isn’t much. That he’s not been pushing the mullahs’ line to further their uranium-enrichment ambitions? But he has, as he assures us:

The current nuclear impasse is partly rooted in the questionable assumption that zero enrichment is the only route to avoid an Iranian bomb. While the optimal situation is one in which Iran does not enrich, this goal is no longer possible. . . But that does not mean that a small-scale Iranian enrichment program is tantamount to a nuclear bomb. According to nuclear experts like Bruno Pellaud, former deputy director general and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards, intrusive inspections is the best tool to ensure that Iran doesn’t divert its civilian program into a military one. Yet these inspections can only take place as part of a package deal with Iran that includes some level of enrichment. This makes reassessment of the zero-enrichment objective all the more important.

At some point the NIAC, Parsi, and those who consorted with them to influence U.S. policy, to oust Dennis Ross, to cut off funds to the democracy dissidents, and to push the mullahs’ propaganda line will have to face tough questions. And so will those who went out on a limb to defend them with nothing more than smears against those who exposed them.

UPDATE: Beyond whether the NIAC registered as a foreign agent is the more glaring issue as to why the group and its officials were not not registered as lobbyists. As Ben Smith wrote, the documents that have come to light “bolster the notion that the group works to change U.S. policy, part of the definition of lobbying.”

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RE: Why Isn’t He Better at Being President?

Jennifer asks a good question that is more and more on the minds of citizens and the punditocracy alike. Obama is so smart and so eloquent, and yet he has not, at least yet, succeeded as president domestically or in foreign affairs.

One answer, perhaps, is that being a successful president requires skills and attributes that Obama simply does not possess. Being “smart” is not among those attributes. Everyone who gets elected president is smart, for anyone who wasn’t could never make it through the world’s longest and most difficult political obstacle course. George Romney — no dummy by a long shot — came a cropper with a single ill-considered remark about having been brainwashed regarding Vietnam.

But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.)

And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.”

One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents.

So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And both had that indispensable handmaiden of greatness — luck.

How many of those attributes does Barack Obama have?

Jennifer asks a good question that is more and more on the minds of citizens and the punditocracy alike. Obama is so smart and so eloquent, and yet he has not, at least yet, succeeded as president domestically or in foreign affairs.

One answer, perhaps, is that being a successful president requires skills and attributes that Obama simply does not possess. Being “smart” is not among those attributes. Everyone who gets elected president is smart, for anyone who wasn’t could never make it through the world’s longest and most difficult political obstacle course. George Romney — no dummy by a long shot — came a cropper with a single ill-considered remark about having been brainwashed regarding Vietnam.

But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.)

And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.”

One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents.

So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And both had that indispensable handmaiden of greatness — luck.

How many of those attributes does Barack Obama have?

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How the IAEA Encourages Proliferation

The International Atomic Energy Agency is, as Jonathan noted, deeply disturbed by its latest findings on Iran. It is also deeply disturbed by its latest findings on Syria, which it detailed in another report released this week. Syria’s explanation of the uranium traces found at a Damascus research reactor did not fit the facts, the report said, nor did these traces match Syria’s declared uranium inventory. Moreover, Syria is still refusing IAEA requests for both a return visit to Dair Alzour, the site Israel bombed in September 2007, and initial visits to three military sites whose appearance was altered after inspectors asked to see them.

“Essentially, no progress has been made since the last report to clarify any of the outstanding issues,” the agency concluded.

The real mystery, however, is why the IAEA seems to find this behavior eternally surprising — because its own behavior positively demands such stonewalling.

The IAEA has been investigating Syria for more than two years now. During this time, it has issued numerous reports expressing its concern over suspicious findings that Damascus failed to adequately explain and over Syria’s refusal to let it make the inspections necessary to answer its questions. Yet it has refused to refer the case to the Security Council for sanctions, because, says agency director Mohamed ElBaradei, there is no proof of Syrian wrongdoing.

Well, of course there isn’t. That’s the whole point of Syria’s stonewalling — to prevent the agency from getting such proof!

Damascus, needless to say, is merely copying the lessons learned from the agency’s handling of Iran. After discovering in 2003 that Tehran had been lying about its nuclear program for 18 years, the agency spent the next three years refusing to turn the file over to the Security Council, saying there was no proof Iran’s secret nuclear program was aimed at producing weapons. And when the case finally did reach the Security Council, ElBaradei lobbied vehemently against sanctions, citing the lack of a “smoking gun” that would justify punishment.

Thus all Iran had to do was ensure that there never would be a smoking gun — by steadfastly refusing to comply with inspectors’ requests.

ElBaradei thereby made noncooperation the optimum strategy. Had either Syria or Iran cooperated, the agency might have obtained sufficient evidence to justify severe sanctions. But as long as they refuse to cooperate, the agency has little chance of obtaining such proof, ensuring that any repercussions will be mild. Therefore, they are free to develop nuclear weapons with impunity.

To be effective, IAEA policy would have to be the exact opposite — one of imposing stringent penalties for noncooperation, to encourage suspect countries to “come clean” and prove their innocence. And that, of course, would require suspect regimes to actually be innocent, creating a strong disincentive to secret weapons programs.

In short, under ElBaradei, the IAEA has brilliantly hit on the strategy most likely to facilitate nuclear proliferation. Is it any wonder he and the agency won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005?

The International Atomic Energy Agency is, as Jonathan noted, deeply disturbed by its latest findings on Iran. It is also deeply disturbed by its latest findings on Syria, which it detailed in another report released this week. Syria’s explanation of the uranium traces found at a Damascus research reactor did not fit the facts, the report said, nor did these traces match Syria’s declared uranium inventory. Moreover, Syria is still refusing IAEA requests for both a return visit to Dair Alzour, the site Israel bombed in September 2007, and initial visits to three military sites whose appearance was altered after inspectors asked to see them.

“Essentially, no progress has been made since the last report to clarify any of the outstanding issues,” the agency concluded.

The real mystery, however, is why the IAEA seems to find this behavior eternally surprising — because its own behavior positively demands such stonewalling.

The IAEA has been investigating Syria for more than two years now. During this time, it has issued numerous reports expressing its concern over suspicious findings that Damascus failed to adequately explain and over Syria’s refusal to let it make the inspections necessary to answer its questions. Yet it has refused to refer the case to the Security Council for sanctions, because, says agency director Mohamed ElBaradei, there is no proof of Syrian wrongdoing.

Well, of course there isn’t. That’s the whole point of Syria’s stonewalling — to prevent the agency from getting such proof!

Damascus, needless to say, is merely copying the lessons learned from the agency’s handling of Iran. After discovering in 2003 that Tehran had been lying about its nuclear program for 18 years, the agency spent the next three years refusing to turn the file over to the Security Council, saying there was no proof Iran’s secret nuclear program was aimed at producing weapons. And when the case finally did reach the Security Council, ElBaradei lobbied vehemently against sanctions, citing the lack of a “smoking gun” that would justify punishment.

Thus all Iran had to do was ensure that there never would be a smoking gun — by steadfastly refusing to comply with inspectors’ requests.

ElBaradei thereby made noncooperation the optimum strategy. Had either Syria or Iran cooperated, the agency might have obtained sufficient evidence to justify severe sanctions. But as long as they refuse to cooperate, the agency has little chance of obtaining such proof, ensuring that any repercussions will be mild. Therefore, they are free to develop nuclear weapons with impunity.

To be effective, IAEA policy would have to be the exact opposite — one of imposing stringent penalties for noncooperation, to encourage suspect countries to “come clean” and prove their innocence. And that, of course, would require suspect regimes to actually be innocent, creating a strong disincentive to secret weapons programs.

In short, under ElBaradei, the IAEA has brilliantly hit on the strategy most likely to facilitate nuclear proliferation. Is it any wonder he and the agency won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005?

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They Don’t Like It

You knew this was coming: the American people really don’t like the idea of trying terrorists in a civilian court. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 64 percent want a military trial and only 34 percent a civilian proceeding:

“The decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a civilian court is universally unpopular — even a majority of Democrats and liberals say that he should be tried by military authorities,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Despite that, most Americans say that he will get a fair trial in the U.S.”

Yes, it will be “fair” to him and quite inimical to the national security of the United States.

As the American people observe the raft of incomprehensible decisions (closing Guantanamo, ceasing enhanced interrogations, trying KSM in federal court), the floundering “engagement” gambit in Iran, and the non-decision on Afghanistan-war policy, they may come to a nerve-racking conclusion: the Obami don’t take national security seriously and are systematically making us less safe. Dick Cheney warned us of this months ago, but many pooh-poohed that observation. It turns out to have been on the money.

You knew this was coming: the American people really don’t like the idea of trying terrorists in a civilian court. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 64 percent want a military trial and only 34 percent a civilian proceeding:

“The decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a civilian court is universally unpopular — even a majority of Democrats and liberals say that he should be tried by military authorities,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Despite that, most Americans say that he will get a fair trial in the U.S.”

Yes, it will be “fair” to him and quite inimical to the national security of the United States.

As the American people observe the raft of incomprehensible decisions (closing Guantanamo, ceasing enhanced interrogations, trying KSM in federal court), the floundering “engagement” gambit in Iran, and the non-decision on Afghanistan-war policy, they may come to a nerve-racking conclusion: the Obami don’t take national security seriously and are systematically making us less safe. Dick Cheney warned us of this months ago, but many pooh-poohed that observation. It turns out to have been on the money.

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Worth Studying

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

Richard Cohen in a bile-filled column asserts, “The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.” Uh, not exactly. It seems the bile is flowing from one side these days. Clue: it’s the crowd that refers to her as Eva Perón, Madonna, and “the empty vessel,” as Cohen does. (As opposed to Barack Obama, who was the blank slate upon whom voters could project their every desire.)

Cohen’s column uses the conceit that former President George W. Bush should be setting up an Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin. Well, let’s stipulate that something is worth studying here.

For starters, how does Palin induce Cohen and crew to adopt such loopy, self-defeating arguments? When Cohen howls at the prospect of her “meeting with the Chinese or, for that matter, conducting a protracted policy review about Afghanistan,” he’s not helping his case. I am confident that months ago, she would have sized up Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation and given the go-ahead after observing that not a single military commander (domestic or allied) disagreed with McChrystal’s take and that “light footprint” alternatives had been tried and failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it’s safe to assume that she wouldn’t be in the unfortunate position of having snubbed the Dalai Lama before a China trip, thereby signaling our abject weakness.

Now in fairness to Cohen, he gets one thing right: he thinks the McCain camp, which picked her, is deserving of scorn for having imagined they’d bottle her up and then embarking on a campaign of character assassination. But the rest of Cohen’s tirade is something to behold. Her selection, he pronounces, was the “exact moment important Republicans gave up on democracy.” I bet that escaped your notice. (Or maybe you thought the moment some folks gave up on democracy might have been when a campaign adopted creepy iconography and devoted followers started referring to their leader as a deity, not a mortal running for a constitutionally circumscribed office.) Whatever causes Cohen to go around this bend is indeed worth a seminar or two.

Now here’s a killer argument: the fine folks who run the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal wouldn’t hire her as an editor but would want her as president, Cohen snorts. Yes, because we all know that what it takes to be a great president is exactly what it takes to put out a good magazine or newspaper. Really, if you can’t cut a 3,000-word column by a third, how are you going to balance the federal budget? (Cohen does know that politicians hire people to write things for them, right?) This is what happens when critics become irrational — they make arguments that confuse “editor” with “commander in chief.”

And then Cohen meanders over to the “death panels,” shouting “Demagogue!” Well, the provision for end-of-life-counseling panels was stripped from the bill once Palin issued her Facebook critique, and her argument on government-induced rationing was a prime mover in generating opposition to ObamaCare. But Cohen’s on the side of rationality, and Palin’s the demagogue, so let’s not let facts get in the way.

What’s important to keep in mind is that she’s a salesgirl, a celebrity starlet (“Like most celebrities, she is a vehicle for the sale of something: a book, a magazine, a TV program or a diet regime”). And this is why Cohen concludes that her popularity among Republicans is evidence of hatred: “What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate.”

Axes? Hate? My, it seems there is a group of the unhinged marauding around the political landscape. But it’s rather apparent that it isn’t the “Palin Movement.” (Does she have a movement all to herself?) Whatever you think of Palin, you do have to marvel at the frenzied antagonism she induces in her critics. And yes, that’s worth looking into as a political and social phenomenon — and, as people like Cohen’s colleague Kathleen Parker (another victim of Palin-induced rage) remind us, we really are short on civility these days.

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The Devil Is in the Details

The AP reports:

Americans are worried about hidden costs in the fine print of health care overhaul legislation, an Associated Press poll says. That’s creating new challenges for President Barack Obama as he tries to close the deal with a handful of Democratic doubters in the Senate.

For months the president held dog-and-pony shows at the White House, refused to talk about specifics, and declined (still has) to put forth his own health-care bill. We know why. When it gets down to the details, the public hates what he is selling:

For example, asked if everyone should be required to have at least some health insurance, 67 percent agreed and 27 percent said no. The responses flipped when people were asked about requiring everybody to carry insurance or face a federal penalty: 64 percent said they would be opposed, while 28 percent favored that. … “I think it’s crazy. I think it infringes on our rights as a citizen, forcing us to do these things,” said Eli Fuchs, 26, of Marietta, Ga.

Likewise, support for a ban on denial of insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions drops dramatically when people find out that their own insurance costs will go up, and support for mandates on employer coverage plunges when voters hear there are fines for employers who don’t comply.

No wonder the president wanted to avoid getting into the nitty-gritty specifics for so long. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news? But it’s not easy to pass legislation that is exceptionally controversial without getting into the weeds and confronting criticism head on. If Obama is such a great orator and so persuasive, why didn’t he tell the public about the “trade-offs” that are now proving to be a stumbling block?

Obama kept telling us during the campaign that politicians — those old-fashioned pols he was going to replace — didn’t treat voters like adults and deliver them tough medicine. But he’s done precious little of that since being elected. And by avoiding a full and thoughtful conversation on what he really wants — much higher taxes, a raft of new regulations with stiff penalties, and more government control of health care — he has left the heavy lifting to Harry Reid (never a good idea), and left the American people feeling like he’s tried to pull a fast one (also never a good idea).

The AP reports:

Americans are worried about hidden costs in the fine print of health care overhaul legislation, an Associated Press poll says. That’s creating new challenges for President Barack Obama as he tries to close the deal with a handful of Democratic doubters in the Senate.

For months the president held dog-and-pony shows at the White House, refused to talk about specifics, and declined (still has) to put forth his own health-care bill. We know why. When it gets down to the details, the public hates what he is selling:

For example, asked if everyone should be required to have at least some health insurance, 67 percent agreed and 27 percent said no. The responses flipped when people were asked about requiring everybody to carry insurance or face a federal penalty: 64 percent said they would be opposed, while 28 percent favored that. … “I think it’s crazy. I think it infringes on our rights as a citizen, forcing us to do these things,” said Eli Fuchs, 26, of Marietta, Ga.

Likewise, support for a ban on denial of insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions drops dramatically when people find out that their own insurance costs will go up, and support for mandates on employer coverage plunges when voters hear there are fines for employers who don’t comply.

No wonder the president wanted to avoid getting into the nitty-gritty specifics for so long. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news? But it’s not easy to pass legislation that is exceptionally controversial without getting into the weeds and confronting criticism head on. If Obama is such a great orator and so persuasive, why didn’t he tell the public about the “trade-offs” that are now proving to be a stumbling block?

Obama kept telling us during the campaign that politicians — those old-fashioned pols he was going to replace — didn’t treat voters like adults and deliver them tough medicine. But he’s done precious little of that since being elected. And by avoiding a full and thoughtful conversation on what he really wants — much higher taxes, a raft of new regulations with stiff penalties, and more government control of health care — he has left the heavy lifting to Harry Reid (never a good idea), and left the American people feeling like he’s tried to pull a fast one (also never a good idea).

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Why Isn’t He Better at Being President?

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Conn Carroll at Heritage reminds us of Obama’s promises that his health care would “‘provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don’t; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and our government, while strengthening the financial health of Medicare.’ Quite a bold statement if true. But a report released Friday by the non-partisan and independent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency in charge of running Medicare and Medicaid, blows the lid off of every one of Obama’s claims.”

It is one thing to make up stimulus jobs, but the Obami are not beyond making up a congressional district.

It’s not over till it’s over: “Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman has ‘unconceded’ in New York’s special House election after reports that the vote margin between him and Rep. Bill Owens (D) has narrowed. Hoffman conceded the race on Election Night after learning he trailed Owens by 5,335 votes. But the Syracuse Post-Standard reported last week that the margin had shrunk to 3,026 votes after recanvassing.”

It seems that Obama was denied much access to the Chinese people by his hosts: “The net effect is that the trip, which isn’t expected to yield major substantive agreements, also isn’t likely to give Mr. Obama much of a symbolic victory either. Longtime observers say the visit, which ends Wednesday, is one of the most tightly controlled in recent memory, with Mr. Obama afforded none of the opportunities to reach Chinese people given to his two predecessors.” How could it be that he’s less effective than his predecessors? The smart diplomacy flops once again.

The Washington Post’s editors think Obama shouldn’t be “welcoming” cooperation with undemocratic China: “The United States has no choice but to recognize China’s rise as a great power, and Mr. Obama may be right that a policy of containment would be counterproductive. But ‘welcome’ a dictatorship to global influence? It’s hard to see why that is a necessary or sensible stance for the U.S. president.”

Bret Stephens reminds us of the track record of terrorist trials: “The Moussaoui trial wasn’t merely interminable. It was also incompetent. Moussaoui did everything he could to turn it into a circus, at various times entering contradictory pleas on the view, as he put it, that ‘you’re allowed to lie for jihad.’ Lawyers for the government were repeatedly accused of malfeasance. … The judge herself came close to dismissing the entire case, even as the Fourth Circuit had to step in to reverse one of her rulings.”

Democrats aren’t doing so well in Iowa: “A new Des Moines Register poll is great news for Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, as well as GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Terry Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats. It is very bad news for Iowa’s current Governor. The poll clearly shows Iowans are fed up with the inept management of Democrat Chet Culver. His overall approval rating sits at just 40 percent.”

Bill McGurn explains the unintended consequence of the decision to try KSM in a civilian court: “Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.”

Michael Goldfarb on the NIAC scandal and those whose first instinct is to run to the defense of the mullahs’ front man.

David Brody takes issue with the new Newsweek cover photo of Sarah Palin: “Where’s the sexy photo of Mitt Romney? Why not a picture of Tim Pawlenty with an unbuttoned shirt relaxing on a couch in the Twin Cities?” I suspect Romney and Pawlenty are wondering the same thing.

Conn Carroll at Heritage reminds us of Obama’s promises that his health care would “‘provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don’t; and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses, and our government, while strengthening the financial health of Medicare.’ Quite a bold statement if true. But a report released Friday by the non-partisan and independent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency in charge of running Medicare and Medicaid, blows the lid off of every one of Obama’s claims.”

It is one thing to make up stimulus jobs, but the Obami are not beyond making up a congressional district.

It’s not over till it’s over: “Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman has ‘unconceded’ in New York’s special House election after reports that the vote margin between him and Rep. Bill Owens (D) has narrowed. Hoffman conceded the race on Election Night after learning he trailed Owens by 5,335 votes. But the Syracuse Post-Standard reported last week that the margin had shrunk to 3,026 votes after recanvassing.”

It seems that Obama was denied much access to the Chinese people by his hosts: “The net effect is that the trip, which isn’t expected to yield major substantive agreements, also isn’t likely to give Mr. Obama much of a symbolic victory either. Longtime observers say the visit, which ends Wednesday, is one of the most tightly controlled in recent memory, with Mr. Obama afforded none of the opportunities to reach Chinese people given to his two predecessors.” How could it be that he’s less effective than his predecessors? The smart diplomacy flops once again.

The Washington Post’s editors think Obama shouldn’t be “welcoming” cooperation with undemocratic China: “The United States has no choice but to recognize China’s rise as a great power, and Mr. Obama may be right that a policy of containment would be counterproductive. But ‘welcome’ a dictatorship to global influence? It’s hard to see why that is a necessary or sensible stance for the U.S. president.”

Bret Stephens reminds us of the track record of terrorist trials: “The Moussaoui trial wasn’t merely interminable. It was also incompetent. Moussaoui did everything he could to turn it into a circus, at various times entering contradictory pleas on the view, as he put it, that ‘you’re allowed to lie for jihad.’ Lawyers for the government were repeatedly accused of malfeasance. … The judge herself came close to dismissing the entire case, even as the Fourth Circuit had to step in to reverse one of her rulings.”

Democrats aren’t doing so well in Iowa: “A new Des Moines Register poll is great news for Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, as well as GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Terry Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats. It is very bad news for Iowa’s current Governor. The poll clearly shows Iowans are fed up with the inept management of Democrat Chet Culver. His overall approval rating sits at just 40 percent.”

Bill McGurn explains the unintended consequence of the decision to try KSM in a civilian court: “Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free? With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil.”

Michael Goldfarb on the NIAC scandal and those whose first instinct is to run to the defense of the mullahs’ front man.

David Brody takes issue with the new Newsweek cover photo of Sarah Palin: “Where’s the sexy photo of Mitt Romney? Why not a picture of Tim Pawlenty with an unbuttoned shirt relaxing on a couch in the Twin Cities?” I suspect Romney and Pawlenty are wondering the same thing.

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