Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 18, 2009

A Debtor’s Strategy?

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

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Eric Holder Testifies

One can understand how the Obami may have reached this decision to ship KSM and other 9/11 conspirators off to New York (or wherever the change-of-venue motions take them) for a civilian trial. First, as Andy McCarthy details, Eric Holder and his Justice Department minions play fast and loose with the facts. Second, the Obama spinners conveniently misrepresent the facts, claiming that no one raised concerns that Zacharias Moussaoui was not prosecuted before a military commission. Actually, many conservative commentators and Republicans did so, as did two Democratic senators. And third, Holder relies on bluster in lieu of cogent legal argument. (As Sen. Jon Kyl asked, “How could you be more likely to get a conviction in federal court when [KSM] has already asked to plead guilty to military commission?”)

I spent some time today with two former Justice Department lawyers who have a wealth of relevant experience, and their observations are worth taking to heart. First, in a military commission, the evidence could be restricted to the lawyers representing the al-Qaeda members. But in federal court, KSM can be his own lawyer and would have direct access to all manner of classified material. How’s that going to work? Second, the trial will take years. A complex white-collar conspiracy trial may be a multiyear affair, so the KSM could still be tying up the federal prosecutors when the 2012 election rolls around. Hmmm. Third, KSM has a right to be present at trial and for all significant pretrial hearings, which means he is coming to New York City. Where are they going to put him? Fourth, the Justice Department has not yet revealed the result of its investigation of Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who authored the interrogation memos. Why wouldn’t KSM use that material to accuse his captors of torture and to exclude all evidence? Seems like that will be his first order of business.

In short, the list of complications and dangers to American interests is long. Satisfactory answers are lacking. Will Congress step in to blow the whistle and defund the three-ring circus before it gets up and running? The alternative is to let this play out over years and let the voters judge for themselves whether the Obama administration and its Democratic enablers in Congress really were looking out for American security or instead were caught up in some ideologically driven fantasy that we were going to get brownie points by setting KSM and his cohorts up in a federal courtroom. For years to come.

One can understand how the Obami may have reached this decision to ship KSM and other 9/11 conspirators off to New York (or wherever the change-of-venue motions take them) for a civilian trial. First, as Andy McCarthy details, Eric Holder and his Justice Department minions play fast and loose with the facts. Second, the Obama spinners conveniently misrepresent the facts, claiming that no one raised concerns that Zacharias Moussaoui was not prosecuted before a military commission. Actually, many conservative commentators and Republicans did so, as did two Democratic senators. And third, Holder relies on bluster in lieu of cogent legal argument. (As Sen. Jon Kyl asked, “How could you be more likely to get a conviction in federal court when [KSM] has already asked to plead guilty to military commission?”)

I spent some time today with two former Justice Department lawyers who have a wealth of relevant experience, and their observations are worth taking to heart. First, in a military commission, the evidence could be restricted to the lawyers representing the al-Qaeda members. But in federal court, KSM can be his own lawyer and would have direct access to all manner of classified material. How’s that going to work? Second, the trial will take years. A complex white-collar conspiracy trial may be a multiyear affair, so the KSM could still be tying up the federal prosecutors when the 2012 election rolls around. Hmmm. Third, KSM has a right to be present at trial and for all significant pretrial hearings, which means he is coming to New York City. Where are they going to put him? Fourth, the Justice Department has not yet revealed the result of its investigation of Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who authored the interrogation memos. Why wouldn’t KSM use that material to accuse his captors of torture and to exclude all evidence? Seems like that will be his first order of business.

In short, the list of complications and dangers to American interests is long. Satisfactory answers are lacking. Will Congress step in to blow the whistle and defund the three-ring circus before it gets up and running? The alternative is to let this play out over years and let the voters judge for themselves whether the Obama administration and its Democratic enablers in Congress really were looking out for American security or instead were caught up in some ideologically driven fantasy that we were going to get brownie points by setting KSM and his cohorts up in a federal courtroom. For years to come.

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The Saturday Night Live Iran Sketch

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

Twenty years ago on “Saturday Night Live,” a sketch set in 1947 Hollywood was aired featuring Jon Lovitz as a hardboiled movie-studio chief and the late Phil Hartman as a vain actor. It went something like this:

LOVITZ: I’m lettin ya go, Johnny.

HARTMAN: Tell it to me straight, Harry.

LOVITZ: You’re washed up, I tell ya, you’re through.

HARTMAN: I can take it, Harry, you just lay it on me.

LOVITZ: You stink, Johnny, you’re the worst actor on the lot, you’ll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don’t leave me hangin’ by a thread, I gotta know where I stand!

Today, for about the 300th time in the past three weeks, Iran has let the world know in no uncertain terms that it is not going to assent to the cockamamie scheme dreamed up by some UN dupe to ship its weapons-grade uranium out of the country in exchange for uranium that can be used for peaceful purposes — a plan then sold to the Obama administration, which scarfed it up like the band instruments  peddled to the good people of River City by the conman Harold Hill in The Music Man. And for about the 300th time, the media are reporting the fact breathlessly, as though the 299 other times the Iranians have made it clear they are keeping their uranium for their would-be bomb never happened. You can read this right now, on the website of the New York Times:

Iran’s foreign minister said in remarks reported Wednesday that he opposes sending the country’s enriched uranium abroad under a tentative deal negotiated with the United States and other big powers last month. The foreign minister’s remarks cast further doubt on the deal, which the Obama administration had hoped would defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, told the student news agency ISNA that Iran would consider a simultaneous swap of its nuclear fuel for other uranium. But he told ISNA, “Definitely, Iran will not send its 3.5 percent-enriched fuel out.”

Mr. Mottaki is the highest-ranking Iranian official to openly reject the deal…

By the time, this farce is over, there is sure to be a conversation that goes something like this:

AHMADINEJAD: I tell ya, Barack, there’s no deal.

OBAMA: Give it to me straight, Mahmoud.

AHMADINEJAD: It’s finished, ya get me? It’s through.

OBAMA: Don’t beat around the bush, Mr. President.

AHMADINEJAD: We’re building a bomb, Obama! We’re building a bomb and if you don’t strike our facilities and destroy them we are going to nuclearize the Middle East!

OBAMA: I can take it, Mahmoud! Say what you gotta say!

(Yes, for the record, my beloved wife works at Saturday Night Live. She bears no responsibility for this post.)

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Obama’s KSM Gamble

If you want to understand just one reason why the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court is reckless and irresponsible, watch Senator Lindsey Graham grill Attorney General Eric Holder over Miranda rights on Osama bin Laden. Graham is excellent; Holder is not. The attorney general is evasive, unable to offer a coherent rationale for his decision. The closer this decision is examined, the worse it looks. It should cost, and I suspect it will cost, the administration a great deal politically.

If you want to understand just one reason why the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court is reckless and irresponsible, watch Senator Lindsey Graham grill Attorney General Eric Holder over Miranda rights on Osama bin Laden. Graham is excellent; Holder is not. The attorney general is evasive, unable to offer a coherent rationale for his decision. The closer this decision is examined, the worse it looks. It should cost, and I suspect it will cost, the administration a great deal politically.

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NIAC’s PR Offensive

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com calls NIAC’s attackers “neocon character assassins.”

As part of our Truth in 2010 Campaign, we are providing a Facts vs Myths section on our website. It’s a great resource to find out the truth about NIAC’s work. Make sure you study it and tell your friends — nothing is more effective in fighting smear than the truth!

Your loyalty and support is what has gotten our community this far — so, please don’t stop now. Please continue to support NIAC by donating $20.10 or more to the 2010 Campaign — and remember, all your donations are tax-deductible.

But don’t just donate. Make sure you email the Huffington Post article and this email to all your friends. Post it on your Facebook status. Tweet about it. And talk to your friends about the work NIAC is doing!

Momentum is building in our favor, but that doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to continue our offensive in order to meet our commitment to you of dispelling myths and falsehoods by 2010.

As always, thank you for your support. We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the near future!

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi, PhD

Weeks before the story actually broke, the  groundwork for the defense was being laid. And it is interesting that just after the story did break, Andrew Sullivan rushed forward with the very same “dual loyalty” argument. Luban stepped up to smear a Parsi critic as a terrorist. And so it went as some in the Left blogosphere struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same). That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude, and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team

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Helping the Palestinians Falsify History

For sheer gall, Barack Obama’s labeling half of Israel’s capital a “settlement,” as Jonathan has pointed out, may be hard to beat. But a New York Times report of a new book about the Temple Mount is definitely in the running. Seeking to give readers some background, the report offered the following gem: “The lack of archaeological evidence of the ancient temples has led many Palestinians to deny any real Jewish attachment or claim to the plateau.”

We’ll ignore the fact that the Second Temple is actually well-documented in extant writings from the period, and that several sections of the Temple compound’s outer walls, as described in these writings, have been uncovered (the Western Wall being one of them).

Instead, let’s discuss why there is a dearth of findings from the Temples themselves. (1) There happens to be a mosque on the exact site where, according to tradition, the Temples once stood. (2) Israel, contrary to Palestinian propaganda, is not out to “destroy al-Aqsa”; indeed, it scrupulously avoids any action that might endanger the mosque. (3) Israel is so deferential to Muslim sensibilities that, after capturing the Mount in 1967, it handed control of the site back to the Muslim waqf. Which brings us to (4): for all these reasons, Israel has never excavated the only place in the world where remnants of the Temple could possibly be found. Nor were any digs conducted there before 1967: al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock have stood undisturbed for hundreds of years. And yes, it is hard to produce archaeological evidence if you never even conduct a dig.

What is outrageous about this report is not just the way it abets Palestinian falsifications of history, though it certainly does that: since the reader isn’t told that this “lack of evidence” stems from the fact that nobody ever looked, he naturally assumes that archaeologists did, in fact, look and found nothing.

Even more outrageous, however, is the way Israel’s generosity is being used against it: its very restraint in eschewing excavations on the Mount — its concern, again, for Muslim sensibilities, its desire to avoid even the appearance of harm to the mosques — has been twisted into “evidence” that no Jewish connection to the Mount ever existed.

This is a standard Palestinian tactic: Israel’s refusal to let Jews pray on the Mount, also in deference to Muslim sensibilities, is similarly used as “proof” that Jews have no connection to the site. After all, Muslims pray there; Jews don’t; QED. And this tactic has been wildly successful: most of the world is completely convinced that Israel lacks any rights on the Mount.

But if Israel’s generosity is being exploited in this fashion, perhaps Jerusalem needs to rethink its tactics — and start demonstrating the Jewish connection to the Mount in actions rather than words. Excavating under al-Aqsa would be too drastic a first step. But letting Jews pray on a designated section of the Mount devoid of mosques would be an excellent place to begin.

For sheer gall, Barack Obama’s labeling half of Israel’s capital a “settlement,” as Jonathan has pointed out, may be hard to beat. But a New York Times report of a new book about the Temple Mount is definitely in the running. Seeking to give readers some background, the report offered the following gem: “The lack of archaeological evidence of the ancient temples has led many Palestinians to deny any real Jewish attachment or claim to the plateau.”

We’ll ignore the fact that the Second Temple is actually well-documented in extant writings from the period, and that several sections of the Temple compound’s outer walls, as described in these writings, have been uncovered (the Western Wall being one of them).

Instead, let’s discuss why there is a dearth of findings from the Temples themselves. (1) There happens to be a mosque on the exact site where, according to tradition, the Temples once stood. (2) Israel, contrary to Palestinian propaganda, is not out to “destroy al-Aqsa”; indeed, it scrupulously avoids any action that might endanger the mosque. (3) Israel is so deferential to Muslim sensibilities that, after capturing the Mount in 1967, it handed control of the site back to the Muslim waqf. Which brings us to (4): for all these reasons, Israel has never excavated the only place in the world where remnants of the Temple could possibly be found. Nor were any digs conducted there before 1967: al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock have stood undisturbed for hundreds of years. And yes, it is hard to produce archaeological evidence if you never even conduct a dig.

What is outrageous about this report is not just the way it abets Palestinian falsifications of history, though it certainly does that: since the reader isn’t told that this “lack of evidence” stems from the fact that nobody ever looked, he naturally assumes that archaeologists did, in fact, look and found nothing.

Even more outrageous, however, is the way Israel’s generosity is being used against it: its very restraint in eschewing excavations on the Mount — its concern, again, for Muslim sensibilities, its desire to avoid even the appearance of harm to the mosques — has been twisted into “evidence” that no Jewish connection to the Mount ever existed.

This is a standard Palestinian tactic: Israel’s refusal to let Jews pray on the Mount, also in deference to Muslim sensibilities, is similarly used as “proof” that Jews have no connection to the site. After all, Muslims pray there; Jews don’t; QED. And this tactic has been wildly successful: most of the world is completely convinced that Israel lacks any rights on the Mount.

But if Israel’s generosity is being exploited in this fashion, perhaps Jerusalem needs to rethink its tactics — and start demonstrating the Jewish connection to the Mount in actions rather than words. Excavating under al-Aqsa would be too drastic a first step. But letting Jews pray on a designated section of the Mount devoid of mosques would be an excellent place to begin.

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Gilo and Diplomatic Dismay

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look –

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense –

MR. KELLY: Obviously –

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look –

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense –

MR. KELLY: Obviously –

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

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Why All This Fuss Over Sarah Palin?

For someone who is closely involved in politics, I guess I am a rarity: I don’t find Sarah Palin to be particularly interesting. I will be surprised if she runs for the GOP nomination in 2012; I would be more surprised if she wins it; and I would be shocked if she won the presidency. I have written before about why I don’t think she is the future of the GOP, including the fact that rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose. Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Governor Jeb Bush are the kinds of figures we need, and the campaign by Governor-elect Bob McDonnell are the kind Republicans should run.

With that said, the degree to which Palin evokes fury, contempt, and anger among her critics is nothing short of amazing. It is visceral and almost clinical. And it cannot be based on what she has done (which as governor of Alaska is fairly limited and not terribly controversial), on the views she holds (which are mainstream conservative), or on her relative lack of experience when McCain picked her as his vice-presidential choice (Palin’s experience was comparable to Barack Obama’s, who after all was running for president). What explains the fierce reaction to her is, in part, I think, her affect, the way she talks (and winks), the background she has emerged from, the populism she seems to embody. Palinism, as I understand it, is less a coherent philosophy or set of ideas and more an attitude and spirit. In that sense, she is a cultural figure much more than a political one.

If you believe, as I do, that the GOP once again needs to become the “party of ideas” — as it did under Ronald Reagan — then Palin is not the solution to what ails it. At this stage, based on the interviews I have seen with her, she doesn’t seem able to articulate the case for conservatism in a manner that is compelling or even particularly persuasive. She is nothing like, to take three individuals I would hold up as public models, Margaret Thatcher, William Bennett, and Antonin Scalia — people brimming with ideas, knowledgeable and formidable, intellectually well-grounded, and impossible to dismiss. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Palin doesn’t have a role to play in the Republican party or contributions to make to it. And what Palin has revealed about some of her critics is, in the words of my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, “the unfortunate and unattractive propensity of the American cultural elite to treat those who are not deemed part of the elect with condescension and contumely.”

The intensity of feelings Sarah Palin evokes from almost all sides is remarkable — and for me, a bit puzzling. I don’t think she has earned either adoration or contempt. But as we’re seeing, she elicits plenty of both.

For someone who is closely involved in politics, I guess I am a rarity: I don’t find Sarah Palin to be particularly interesting. I will be surprised if she runs for the GOP nomination in 2012; I would be more surprised if she wins it; and I would be shocked if she won the presidency. I have written before about why I don’t think she is the future of the GOP, including the fact that rebuilding its reputation depends on emerging public figures who are conservative and principled, who radiate intellectual depth and calmness of purpose. Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Governor Jeb Bush are the kinds of figures we need, and the campaign by Governor-elect Bob McDonnell are the kind Republicans should run.

With that said, the degree to which Palin evokes fury, contempt, and anger among her critics is nothing short of amazing. It is visceral and almost clinical. And it cannot be based on what she has done (which as governor of Alaska is fairly limited and not terribly controversial), on the views she holds (which are mainstream conservative), or on her relative lack of experience when McCain picked her as his vice-presidential choice (Palin’s experience was comparable to Barack Obama’s, who after all was running for president). What explains the fierce reaction to her is, in part, I think, her affect, the way she talks (and winks), the background she has emerged from, the populism she seems to embody. Palinism, as I understand it, is less a coherent philosophy or set of ideas and more an attitude and spirit. In that sense, she is a cultural figure much more than a political one.

If you believe, as I do, that the GOP once again needs to become the “party of ideas” — as it did under Ronald Reagan — then Palin is not the solution to what ails it. At this stage, based on the interviews I have seen with her, she doesn’t seem able to articulate the case for conservatism in a manner that is compelling or even particularly persuasive. She is nothing like, to take three individuals I would hold up as public models, Margaret Thatcher, William Bennett, and Antonin Scalia — people brimming with ideas, knowledgeable and formidable, intellectually well-grounded, and impossible to dismiss. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Palin doesn’t have a role to play in the Republican party or contributions to make to it. And what Palin has revealed about some of her critics is, in the words of my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, “the unfortunate and unattractive propensity of the American cultural elite to treat those who are not deemed part of the elect with condescension and contumely.”

The intensity of feelings Sarah Palin evokes from almost all sides is remarkable — and for me, a bit puzzling. I don’t think she has earned either adoration or contempt. But as we’re seeing, she elicits plenty of both.

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Obama’s Stand on Gilo Gives Palestinian Snipers a Moral Victory

Apologists for the Obama administration have been arguing that there is no real difference between his stand opposing Jewish settlements and that of George W. Bush. There was some truth to this when it came to settlements in the West Bank, though this assertion ignores the fact that the Bush administration publicly acknowledged that some of the larger settlement blocs would be retained by Israel in any peace agreement and that building within them was not really an issue. But even the most ardent fans of Obama must understand that there is a major difference between the two presidents when it comes to Jerusalem. Granted, the United States has never formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or formally accepted the unification of the city that was made possible by the Six-Day War. As much as the U.S. routinely protested settlement-building in the West Bank, it never made a stink about building homes in Jerusalem. And that’s where Obama parts company with his predecessors.

Though the administration has backed off a bit on its determination to pressure Israel into a total settlement freeze — a policy that only incited Palestinians to be even more intransigent than before — Obama made a point of personally opposing the construction of 900 new apartment units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. Obama condemned the new housing in an interview with Fox News during which he stated that the apartments could embitter Palestinians in a way that was “very dangerous.”

The president’s decision to speak as if this part of Jerusalem was a “settlement” where Jews had no right to live and build is not just a provocative escalation of the administration’s hostile attitude toward Israel. It also gives the Palestinian terrorists who made the apartment complexes in this neighborhood their personal shooting gallery throughout the second intifada an unexpected boost. Palestinian Authority–backed snipers based in the neighboring Arab village of Beit Jala regularly shot into Gilo during that conflict. Gilo also became more than just a middle-class Jerusalem neighborhood. It assumed the role of a symbol of Israeli tenacity and courage, and the area became a regular stop for visitors to the city. At the time, the United States condemned the attacks on Gilo. The presence of Jewish homes there was not an issue. Even media outlets that were far from supportive of Israel, such as the New York Times, were wont to describe it as a Jerusalem neighborhood, as this report from 2001 by Clyde Haberman during the height of the fighting illustrates. The word settlement is never used once in the article. Today, however, the Times used that word to describe Gilo in the headline of the story about Obama’s broadside.

Though I doubt the White House even thought of it in this context, Obama’s decision to treat as illegitimate Gilo’s existence as a Jewish community is, in a very real sense, a moral victory for those al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade killers whose goal was to make the neighborhood a place where Jews could no longer live. So just as visitors who wanted to bear witness to the determination of Israelis to not yield to terror needed to go to Gilo in 2001, anyone wishing to see just how far the United States has drifted from a position of support for the Jewish state must today go to the same place.

Apologists for the Obama administration have been arguing that there is no real difference between his stand opposing Jewish settlements and that of George W. Bush. There was some truth to this when it came to settlements in the West Bank, though this assertion ignores the fact that the Bush administration publicly acknowledged that some of the larger settlement blocs would be retained by Israel in any peace agreement and that building within them was not really an issue. But even the most ardent fans of Obama must understand that there is a major difference between the two presidents when it comes to Jerusalem. Granted, the United States has never formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or formally accepted the unification of the city that was made possible by the Six-Day War. As much as the U.S. routinely protested settlement-building in the West Bank, it never made a stink about building homes in Jerusalem. And that’s where Obama parts company with his predecessors.

Though the administration has backed off a bit on its determination to pressure Israel into a total settlement freeze — a policy that only incited Palestinians to be even more intransigent than before — Obama made a point of personally opposing the construction of 900 new apartment units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. Obama condemned the new housing in an interview with Fox News during which he stated that the apartments could embitter Palestinians in a way that was “very dangerous.”

The president’s decision to speak as if this part of Jerusalem was a “settlement” where Jews had no right to live and build is not just a provocative escalation of the administration’s hostile attitude toward Israel. It also gives the Palestinian terrorists who made the apartment complexes in this neighborhood their personal shooting gallery throughout the second intifada an unexpected boost. Palestinian Authority–backed snipers based in the neighboring Arab village of Beit Jala regularly shot into Gilo during that conflict. Gilo also became more than just a middle-class Jerusalem neighborhood. It assumed the role of a symbol of Israeli tenacity and courage, and the area became a regular stop for visitors to the city. At the time, the United States condemned the attacks on Gilo. The presence of Jewish homes there was not an issue. Even media outlets that were far from supportive of Israel, such as the New York Times, were wont to describe it as a Jerusalem neighborhood, as this report from 2001 by Clyde Haberman during the height of the fighting illustrates. The word settlement is never used once in the article. Today, however, the Times used that word to describe Gilo in the headline of the story about Obama’s broadside.

Though I doubt the White House even thought of it in this context, Obama’s decision to treat as illegitimate Gilo’s existence as a Jewish community is, in a very real sense, a moral victory for those al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade killers whose goal was to make the neighborhood a place where Jews could no longer live. So just as visitors who wanted to bear witness to the determination of Israelis to not yield to terror needed to go to Gilo in 2001, anyone wishing to see just how far the United States has drifted from a position of support for the Jewish state must today go to the same place.

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Jobs? Feh!

This isn’t going to help the White House spin effort:

President Barack Obama says creating jobs isn’t the goal of a coming White House forum on jobs and economic growth.

Yes, “job creation” is a touchy subject since the stimulus plan’s numbers went kaplooey. And it’s clear whose fault that is. As Rick Klein of ABC remarks: “The administration asked for this — dare we say, literally asked for this — with promises of actual job totals and new accountability and oversight mechanisms, all with Sheriff Joe Biden at the helm.” Indeed they did.

So what about the non-job-creating job summit? They want to find out “how to encourage hiring by businesses still reluctant to do so.” That’s a tough one. Hmm. Maybe not raise taxes on employers but cut them? Perhaps not slap new health-care mandates on businesses? One thing is for certain: the Obami need help with this problem. Plainly they are stumped when it comes to job growth.

This isn’t going to help the White House spin effort:

President Barack Obama says creating jobs isn’t the goal of a coming White House forum on jobs and economic growth.

Yes, “job creation” is a touchy subject since the stimulus plan’s numbers went kaplooey. And it’s clear whose fault that is. As Rick Klein of ABC remarks: “The administration asked for this — dare we say, literally asked for this — with promises of actual job totals and new accountability and oversight mechanisms, all with Sheriff Joe Biden at the helm.” Indeed they did.

So what about the non-job-creating job summit? They want to find out “how to encourage hiring by businesses still reluctant to do so.” That’s a tough one. Hmm. Maybe not raise taxes on employers but cut them? Perhaps not slap new health-care mandates on businesses? One thing is for certain: the Obami need help with this problem. Plainly they are stumped when it comes to job growth.

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One Down

Well, well — it seems that reality has poked its head into the U.S. Senate. This report explains:

Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday they would put off debate on a big climate-change bill until spring, in a sign of weakening political will to tackle a long-term environmental issue at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

And if they can’t get a massive tax and regulatory bill through now, how are they going to get it passed in an election year? One suspects they won’t and it’s dead. But this was a top Obama priority (“The climate-bill delay sidetracks one of President Barack Obama’s top domestic priorities. Mr. Obama has said action to curb greenhouse gases would unleash investment in clean-energy technology and create jobs”). Couldn’t he use his power of persuasion to get this through? Apparently not. While Nancy Pelosi could force her troops to walk the plank (for nothing, it turned out), the ensuing backlash has cooled whatever enthusiasm there was for this. And 10.2 percent unemployment didn’t help either:

Momentum for a climate bill has been undermined by fears that capping carbon-dioxide emissions — the inevitable product of burning oil and coal — would slow economic growth, raise energy costs and compel changes in the way Americans live.

“It’s really big, really, really hard, and is going to make a lot of people mad,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.).

Democrats looking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections are concerned about a backlash from voters in industrial and heartland states dependent on coal. Republicans are portraying Democrats’ “cap and trade” proposals, which call for capping overall U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and allowing companies to buy and trade permits to emit those gases, as a “cap and tax” scheme.

You don’t suppose a similar sentiment might take hold on health-care reform, do you? Stay tuned.

Well, well — it seems that reality has poked its head into the U.S. Senate. This report explains:

Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday they would put off debate on a big climate-change bill until spring, in a sign of weakening political will to tackle a long-term environmental issue at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

And if they can’t get a massive tax and regulatory bill through now, how are they going to get it passed in an election year? One suspects they won’t and it’s dead. But this was a top Obama priority (“The climate-bill delay sidetracks one of President Barack Obama’s top domestic priorities. Mr. Obama has said action to curb greenhouse gases would unleash investment in clean-energy technology and create jobs”). Couldn’t he use his power of persuasion to get this through? Apparently not. While Nancy Pelosi could force her troops to walk the plank (for nothing, it turned out), the ensuing backlash has cooled whatever enthusiasm there was for this. And 10.2 percent unemployment didn’t help either:

Momentum for a climate bill has been undermined by fears that capping carbon-dioxide emissions — the inevitable product of burning oil and coal — would slow economic growth, raise energy costs and compel changes in the way Americans live.

“It’s really big, really, really hard, and is going to make a lot of people mad,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.).

Democrats looking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections are concerned about a backlash from voters in industrial and heartland states dependent on coal. Republicans are portraying Democrats’ “cap and trade” proposals, which call for capping overall U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and allowing companies to buy and trade permits to emit those gases, as a “cap and tax” scheme.

You don’t suppose a similar sentiment might take hold on health-care reform, do you? Stay tuned.

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Re: How’s the Dithering Going?

Another poll confirms that Obama’s overall approval ratings are slipping and that voters are increasingly disturbed by his handling of the Afghanistan war:

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating is 48 – 42 percent, the first time he has slipped below the 50 percent threshold nationally, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Support for the war in Afghanistan and approval of President Obama’s handling of the war also is down in the last month, and Republican support for the war is more than twice as strong as Democratic support. American voters say 48 – 41 percent that fighting the war in Afghanistan is the right thing to do, down from 52 – 37 percent in an October 7 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. Voters disapprove 49 – 38 percent of the President’s handling of the war there, down from 42 – 40 percent approval in October.

An overwhelming majority says eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal, while a plurality backs McChrystal’s recommendation. The pollster dryly observes, “One reason the President’s approval for his handling of the Afghanistan situation may be falling is the criticism he is not deciding on troop levels quickly enough.”

The dithering has arguably done two things. First, it has allowed Americans’ natural and understandable aversion to long-term military commitments to build (“55 percent say the U.S. should keep troops in Afghanistan for two years or less, up from 49 percent last month. Only 27 percent of voters say keep troops there as long as it takes, down from 30 percent. And 35 percent say the U.S. is getting into a situation like Vietnam, up from 32 percent last month”). In the absence of a robust case for the war, Americans begin to lose patience. Second, the dithering itself has likely eroded confidence in the president, whether they favor the McChrystal plan or not. Decide, already.

Whoever convinced the president that this process was going to increase confidence, not only in the end result but also in him, was wrong. Now the question is, once he makes a decision, can the president convince Americans and our enemies that he is serious about carrying it out?

Another poll confirms that Obama’s overall approval ratings are slipping and that voters are increasingly disturbed by his handling of the Afghanistan war:

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating is 48 – 42 percent, the first time he has slipped below the 50 percent threshold nationally, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Support for the war in Afghanistan and approval of President Obama’s handling of the war also is down in the last month, and Republican support for the war is more than twice as strong as Democratic support. American voters say 48 – 41 percent that fighting the war in Afghanistan is the right thing to do, down from 52 – 37 percent in an October 7 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. Voters disapprove 49 – 38 percent of the President’s handling of the war there, down from 42 – 40 percent approval in October.

An overwhelming majority says eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal, while a plurality backs McChrystal’s recommendation. The pollster dryly observes, “One reason the President’s approval for his handling of the Afghanistan situation may be falling is the criticism he is not deciding on troop levels quickly enough.”

The dithering has arguably done two things. First, it has allowed Americans’ natural and understandable aversion to long-term military commitments to build (“55 percent say the U.S. should keep troops in Afghanistan for two years or less, up from 49 percent last month. Only 27 percent of voters say keep troops there as long as it takes, down from 30 percent. And 35 percent say the U.S. is getting into a situation like Vietnam, up from 32 percent last month”). In the absence of a robust case for the war, Americans begin to lose patience. Second, the dithering itself has likely eroded confidence in the president, whether they favor the McChrystal plan or not. Decide, already.

Whoever convinced the president that this process was going to increase confidence, not only in the end result but also in him, was wrong. Now the question is, once he makes a decision, can the president convince Americans and our enemies that he is serious about carrying it out?

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Who Are They Gonna Believe?

This report from Politico neatly sums up the looming collision between reality and White House spin:

Mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats is prompting a debate among party officials about what rhetorical and substantive changes are needed to halt the damage. Following serious setbacks with independents in off-year elections earlier this month, White House officials attributed the defeats to local factors and said President Barack Obama sees no need to reposition his own image or the Democratic message.

Democrats who must face the voters next year can read the polls. They see not simply a falling away of support by independents but also the underlying unease with the liberal big-government, big-spending agenda. Lawmakers may not be geniuses but they are smart enough to see that their own political future is at risk and that the likely culprit is Obamaism. The fear extends to the state level as they recognize the impact of Obama’s agenda on the elections in Virginia and New Jersey. One Democratic pollster observes: “The perception of what’s happening in Congress is polluting what’s happening down below.” And the problem isn’t regional:

Democrats are anxious about the prospects of five-term Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut, who trails one of his GOP opponents by 28 percentage points among independents in a prospective head-to-head matchup, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, two Democratic incumbents with shrinking approval ratings among independent voters. A Des Moines Register poll released this weekend showed the first-term Culver trailing the GOP front-runner among independents by nearly 30 percentage points.

Hmm. Democrats had assured themselves that the Republicans were becoming a regional, all-Southern party. But that was before Obama and the Democrats in Congress spent nearly a year in control.

The Obami and the Democratic leadership in Congress, on the other hand, are putting their fingers in their ears to block out the sound of stampeding independents and to ignore the obvious explanation — the public does not share their zeal to remake America and reorder the relationship between government and citizenry, and between the public and private sectors. They have a leftward lurch to complete, and they aren’t about to let the voters get in the way. Their answer: more of the same! A government health-care takeover tops the list, which of course is increasingly unpopular among these same independents.

Democrats in Congress will have to decide whether they believe the polls and election results or the self-serving spin from the White House and their leadership, which is desperate to ram home ObamaCare before the 2010 election exacts its toll. Apparently, the Obama team is not going to adjust course to save their congressional allies, so the latter will have to fend for themselves. We’ll see if Step One in the “save their skins” program is to refashion ObamaCare from a monstrous government power grab to something voters might actually like.

This report from Politico neatly sums up the looming collision between reality and White House spin:

Mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats is prompting a debate among party officials about what rhetorical and substantive changes are needed to halt the damage. Following serious setbacks with independents in off-year elections earlier this month, White House officials attributed the defeats to local factors and said President Barack Obama sees no need to reposition his own image or the Democratic message.

Democrats who must face the voters next year can read the polls. They see not simply a falling away of support by independents but also the underlying unease with the liberal big-government, big-spending agenda. Lawmakers may not be geniuses but they are smart enough to see that their own political future is at risk and that the likely culprit is Obamaism. The fear extends to the state level as they recognize the impact of Obama’s agenda on the elections in Virginia and New Jersey. One Democratic pollster observes: “The perception of what’s happening in Congress is polluting what’s happening down below.” And the problem isn’t regional:

Democrats are anxious about the prospects of five-term Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut, who trails one of his GOP opponents by 28 percentage points among independents in a prospective head-to-head matchup, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, two Democratic incumbents with shrinking approval ratings among independent voters. A Des Moines Register poll released this weekend showed the first-term Culver trailing the GOP front-runner among independents by nearly 30 percentage points.

Hmm. Democrats had assured themselves that the Republicans were becoming a regional, all-Southern party. But that was before Obama and the Democrats in Congress spent nearly a year in control.

The Obami and the Democratic leadership in Congress, on the other hand, are putting their fingers in their ears to block out the sound of stampeding independents and to ignore the obvious explanation — the public does not share their zeal to remake America and reorder the relationship between government and citizenry, and between the public and private sectors. They have a leftward lurch to complete, and they aren’t about to let the voters get in the way. Their answer: more of the same! A government health-care takeover tops the list, which of course is increasingly unpopular among these same independents.

Democrats in Congress will have to decide whether they believe the polls and election results or the self-serving spin from the White House and their leadership, which is desperate to ram home ObamaCare before the 2010 election exacts its toll. Apparently, the Obama team is not going to adjust course to save their congressional allies, so the latter will have to fend for themselves. We’ll see if Step One in the “save their skins” program is to refashion ObamaCare from a monstrous government power grab to something voters might actually like.

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Because Obama Wants Him To

Wanting to know how Eric Holder “become the most destructive member of Barack Obama’s Cabinet,” Michael Gerson recounts:

Holder launched his tenure by showing disdain for the work of career federal prosecutors when it fit his ideological predispositions. In 2004, a task force from the Eastern District of Virginia investigated allegations of misconduct against the CIA and found insufficient evidence of criminal conduct or intent. Holder ignored the views of these respected prosecutors and appointed his own special prosecutor, appeasing a political constituency that wanted the CIA to be hounded and punished. As a result, morale at a front-line agency in the war on terrorism has plunged. What possible reason could a bright, ambitious intelligence professional have to pursue a career in counterterrorism when the attorney general of the United States is stubbornly intent on exposing and undermining his colleagues?

Then he topped it off by shipping five of the 9/11 conspirators for civilian trial “in a circus atmosphere, with an uncertain chain of evidence (gathered on a battlefield), under a cloud of torture allegations that Holder himself has encouraged.” Rightly citing Holder’s rationale (some nonexistent PR benefit in exchange for risks to U.S. national security) as “memorable for its incoherence,” Gerson concludes: “Whatever his initial assurances, Holder does not believe America is at war with terrorists. Even worse, he seems determined to undermine those who do.”

I concur with every word, but let’s get real here. The way Holder got to be the “most destructive” member of the Cabinet is by Obama putting him there — it is the president who has allowed him to make this series of harebrained decisions. Do we really think Holder does all of this over the objections of the White House? Obama is entirely within his rights to call off Holder or fire him if he doesn’t like the war on the CIA and doesn’t want KSM and other terrorists to make a mockery of the U.S. Justice system. He can tell Holder not to make national-security policy by employing lawyers at the Justice Department who used to represent Guantanamo detainees (yes, he’s done that too). Obama could order heads to roll, including Holder’s, for dismissing an egregious case of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party (let’s not forget that one). And if Holder refuses? Obama is president and can replace him.

So the proper question is not whether Holder believes we are at war and seeks to undermine those who do, but whether the president does. Based on everything we’ve seen the answer is not reassuring.

Wanting to know how Eric Holder “become the most destructive member of Barack Obama’s Cabinet,” Michael Gerson recounts:

Holder launched his tenure by showing disdain for the work of career federal prosecutors when it fit his ideological predispositions. In 2004, a task force from the Eastern District of Virginia investigated allegations of misconduct against the CIA and found insufficient evidence of criminal conduct or intent. Holder ignored the views of these respected prosecutors and appointed his own special prosecutor, appeasing a political constituency that wanted the CIA to be hounded and punished. As a result, morale at a front-line agency in the war on terrorism has plunged. What possible reason could a bright, ambitious intelligence professional have to pursue a career in counterterrorism when the attorney general of the United States is stubbornly intent on exposing and undermining his colleagues?

Then he topped it off by shipping five of the 9/11 conspirators for civilian trial “in a circus atmosphere, with an uncertain chain of evidence (gathered on a battlefield), under a cloud of torture allegations that Holder himself has encouraged.” Rightly citing Holder’s rationale (some nonexistent PR benefit in exchange for risks to U.S. national security) as “memorable for its incoherence,” Gerson concludes: “Whatever his initial assurances, Holder does not believe America is at war with terrorists. Even worse, he seems determined to undermine those who do.”

I concur with every word, but let’s get real here. The way Holder got to be the “most destructive” member of the Cabinet is by Obama putting him there — it is the president who has allowed him to make this series of harebrained decisions. Do we really think Holder does all of this over the objections of the White House? Obama is entirely within his rights to call off Holder or fire him if he doesn’t like the war on the CIA and doesn’t want KSM and other terrorists to make a mockery of the U.S. Justice system. He can tell Holder not to make national-security policy by employing lawyers at the Justice Department who used to represent Guantanamo detainees (yes, he’s done that too). Obama could order heads to roll, including Holder’s, for dismissing an egregious case of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party (let’s not forget that one). And if Holder refuses? Obama is president and can replace him.

So the proper question is not whether Holder believes we are at war and seeks to undermine those who do, but whether the president does. Based on everything we’ve seen the answer is not reassuring.

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Apartments in Jerusalem, Now More Scandalizing than Ever

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the 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.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the 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.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

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The Killer Bow?

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not going well by the spring of 1979, but when on a fishing trip near his home Carter was forced to fend off what later became known as the “killer rabbit,” the fateful rodent rendezvous became a metaphor for his presidency. This report reminds us:

The Associated Press told it this way: “A ‘killer rabbit’ attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., penetrating Secret Service security and forcing the chief executive to beat back the beast with a canoe paddle. The rabbit, which the president later guessed was fleeing in panic from some predator, actually swam toward a canoe from which Carter was fishing in a pond. It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president.”

Mr. Carter escaped uninjured, but the same could not be said for his reputation. Two months after surviving the killer rabbit, the president made what came to be known as his “malaise speech,” in which he spoke about Americans’ “crisis of confidence.” A connection between those two events was never proved.

But the killer rabbit had taken its toll. Here was Carter under siege, inept and just plain ridiculous — and trying to smash a rabbit with a canoe paddle. Soon this incident was a punch line in many a late-night comic’s routine.

So, is “the bow” Obama’s “killer rabbit” moment — a silly and seemingly small event that comes to encapsulate growing unease with a president who hasn’t quite figured out that the world is a dangerous place and that it is his job to perceive dangers and act decisively to protect American interests? Time will tell. But “the bow” has all the makings of the sort of iconic event that can ensnare a president and come to crystallize his shortcomings. The dig on Obama, which is now gaining increasing credence beyond conservative pundits, is that he is insufficiently resolute, too deferential and naive about the ways in which adversaries perceive us.

You would be hard pressed to come up with a better encapsulation of this sense than “the bow.” And unlike Carter’s case, Obama’s faux pas happened in a real-world diplomatic context. In that regard, the bow may have topped the rabbit (and even the last most embarrassing encounter between a Japanese official and a U.S. president, which, to be fair, was involuntary) in the annals of presidential embarrassments.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not going well by the spring of 1979, but when on a fishing trip near his home Carter was forced to fend off what later became known as the “killer rabbit,” the fateful rodent rendezvous became a metaphor for his presidency. This report reminds us:

The Associated Press told it this way: “A ‘killer rabbit’ attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., penetrating Secret Service security and forcing the chief executive to beat back the beast with a canoe paddle. The rabbit, which the president later guessed was fleeing in panic from some predator, actually swam toward a canoe from which Carter was fishing in a pond. It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president.”

Mr. Carter escaped uninjured, but the same could not be said for his reputation. Two months after surviving the killer rabbit, the president made what came to be known as his “malaise speech,” in which he spoke about Americans’ “crisis of confidence.” A connection between those two events was never proved.

But the killer rabbit had taken its toll. Here was Carter under siege, inept and just plain ridiculous — and trying to smash a rabbit with a canoe paddle. Soon this incident was a punch line in many a late-night comic’s routine.

So, is “the bow” Obama’s “killer rabbit” moment — a silly and seemingly small event that comes to encapsulate growing unease with a president who hasn’t quite figured out that the world is a dangerous place and that it is his job to perceive dangers and act decisively to protect American interests? Time will tell. But “the bow” has all the makings of the sort of iconic event that can ensnare a president and come to crystallize his shortcomings. The dig on Obama, which is now gaining increasing credence beyond conservative pundits, is that he is insufficiently resolute, too deferential and naive about the ways in which adversaries perceive us.

You would be hard pressed to come up with a better encapsulation of this sense than “the bow.” And unlike Carter’s case, Obama’s faux pas happened in a real-world diplomatic context. In that regard, the bow may have topped the rabbit (and even the last most embarrassing encounter between a Japanese official and a U.S. president, which, to be fair, was involuntary) in the annals of presidential embarrassments.

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It May Matter in 2010

The decision to try KSM in a civilian court may impact the 2010 elections, Politico explains:

“The narrative is playing out against the backdrop of the Illinois senate race — for the seat President Barack Obama once held — and the tri-state region surrounding New York City, where contentious campaigns are revisiting the politics of the post-Sept. 11 era, when GOP candidates regularly forced Democrats on the defensive by framing them as soft on terror.

In the wake of the Obama administration decision to try the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan and the announcement that the administration is considering housing additional Al Qaeda terrorists in an Illinois correctional facility, Republicans are claiming that Democrats are naively placing ideology ahead of national security and undermining the war on terrorism.

And turning up the heat, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is running for governor in Michigan, will try to bring to the House floor his Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which seeks to “slow Obama’s ability to bring terrorists to U.S. soil by forcing state legislatures and governors to approve the transfer.”

The decision to give KSM all the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen and then potentially house him and other terrorists in the U.S. may prove to be one of those few national-security issues that vaults to the top of the list of voters’ concerns and makes a difference (as the Iraq war did in the 2006 congressional elections). Not surprisingly, with initial polling showing that the decision is exceptionally unpopular, Republicans in multiple Senate and House races are making hay of the issue.

As a smart legal guru reminds me, Senate Democrats voted yesterday to provide funding for “new military facilities in the United States, or [to] modify existing ones here, to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States (rejecting Senator Inhofe’s amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds for this purpose).” Just 12 days ago the Senate Democrats voted on funding to bring terrorists to the U.S. for trial (rejecting Senator Graham’s amendment that would have kept them in a military commission). It will be hard for Senate Democrats in 2010 then to argue that they are not facilitators in what many regard as one of the worst national-security gambits in U.S. history. The voters will get to render their verdict.

The decision to try KSM in a civilian court may impact the 2010 elections, Politico explains:

“The narrative is playing out against the backdrop of the Illinois senate race — for the seat President Barack Obama once held — and the tri-state region surrounding New York City, where contentious campaigns are revisiting the politics of the post-Sept. 11 era, when GOP candidates regularly forced Democrats on the defensive by framing them as soft on terror.

In the wake of the Obama administration decision to try the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan and the announcement that the administration is considering housing additional Al Qaeda terrorists in an Illinois correctional facility, Republicans are claiming that Democrats are naively placing ideology ahead of national security and undermining the war on terrorism.

And turning up the heat, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who is running for governor in Michigan, will try to bring to the House floor his Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which seeks to “slow Obama’s ability to bring terrorists to U.S. soil by forcing state legislatures and governors to approve the transfer.”

The decision to give KSM all the constitutional rights of a U.S. citizen and then potentially house him and other terrorists in the U.S. may prove to be one of those few national-security issues that vaults to the top of the list of voters’ concerns and makes a difference (as the Iraq war did in the 2006 congressional elections). Not surprisingly, with initial polling showing that the decision is exceptionally unpopular, Republicans in multiple Senate and House races are making hay of the issue.

As a smart legal guru reminds me, Senate Democrats voted yesterday to provide funding for “new military facilities in the United States, or [to] modify existing ones here, to bring Guantanamo detainees to the United States (rejecting Senator Inhofe’s amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds for this purpose).” Just 12 days ago the Senate Democrats voted on funding to bring terrorists to the U.S. for trial (rejecting Senator Graham’s amendment that would have kept them in a military commission). It will be hard for Senate Democrats in 2010 then to argue that they are not facilitators in what many regard as one of the worst national-security gambits in U.S. history. The voters will get to render their verdict.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

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