Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 1, 2009

Taxes Are Taxes

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

Democrats wary of pushing for a “surtax” for the war in Afghanistan are tiptoeing into an argument that they may want to avoid. Steny Hoyer was the most recent example:

Hoyer said he is generally in favor of legislation that would institute a surtax to pay for congressionally mandated war efforts. But he pointed to the sagging economy as a primary reason not to levy new taxes on Americans.

Sen. Evan Bayh made the same argument over the weekend.

Well, it’s nice to see that Democrats appreciate the link between tax hikes and the recession. But wait: they’re considering hundreds of billions of new taxes as part of health-care reform. There’s no difference from an economic standpoint whether you’re “paying” for health-care subsidies for your neighbor or salaries for troops in Afghanistan. Taxes are taxes. If it’s a dumb idea to pass a surtax to pay for a war, then it’s equally dumb to pass taxes as part of ObamaCare. And come to think of it, until we’re out of the economic woods, it would be equally dumb to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

I’m not sure why Democrats have wandered into this minefield. But those opposed to hundreds of billions in new taxes — for whatever purpose — might want to collect these quotes. They may come in handy — if not in a debate, then in the 2010 elections.

UPDATE: Another Democrat joins the “Don’t raise taxes in a recession!” chorus: “House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt on Tuesday (D-S.C.) said he could not support a proposed ‘war surtax’ to fund troop increases in Afghanistan. Spratt said that the measure introduced by Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would raise taxes during a recession, an uptick he believes the country cannot afford.”

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Making the Wish List

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

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Recruitment Is a Leading Indicator

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

The weekend before the Virginia gubernatorial election, I spoke with former Rep. Tom Davis. Sensing a victory in the offing, he told me that an immediate effect of a big GOP win would be recruiting for 2010. In 1994, a majority of the GOP’s successful recruiting, which enabled the Republicans to regain the House, took place after gubernatorial wins that year in New Jersey and Virginia.

It seems that Davis is right. The GOP victories in Virginia and New Jersey are accelerating a trend that was already well under way. As this report notes:

Several Democratic candidates have decided to drop out of tough races, while Democratic members of Congress who rarely face serious challenges are finding themselves with their toughest re-elections in years. … But in 2010, defense is the name of the game for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is defending several dozens vulnerable freshmen and second-term members, while also protecting veteran members who could find themselves in newfound trouble. It will be a lot more challenging for a first-time candidate running in a tough district to get financial support from the DCCC when the party is worried about defending its own.

Meanwhile, Republican recruiting is turning up challengers to Democrats who haven’t had significant challenges in the past. David Wasserman at Cook Report explains:

This is not to say that highly influential and venerated fixtures such as Reps. Ike Skelton (MO-04), John Spratt (SC-05), Bart Gordon (TN-06), John Tanner (TN-08) and Rick Boucher (VA-09) are goners next year. Their eventual vulnerability is highly dependent on the quality of GOP nominees and the discipline of their “time for change” messages. But if these party elders decide to seek reelection rather than retire, the underlying dynamics of their districts suggest at least several will need to fight to survive.

All this suggests that 2010 is shaping up to be a potential “wave” year in which there are more opportunities for pickups than in a run-of-the-mill year. If we learned anything in the past year, it’s that political prognostication is a dicey business. The GOP is now challenging in places it was considered dead (e.g. New England) and has recaptured momentum on key issues. But much can change, and the Democrats — if they can figure out what to do with it — have the power of incumbency.

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New York Senate Race

You know things aren’t going well for Democrats when Blue States like New York, Illinois, and Connecticut become real pick-up opportunities for Republicans in 2010 Senate races. In New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may be in trouble, either from a Democratic primary challenger or a Republican opponent. The chairman of the state’s Conservative party remarks: “Clearly she is unknown, that’s No. 1. No. 2, she has flipped on every given issue so I think she’s weakened herself upstate where initially that was her strength.” But there is something else as well — that “trial of the century.”

After all, she hasn’t opposed the administration’s gambit to try terrorists in the U.S. She and her fellow Democrats had the chance to block funds for terrorist trials and again to cut off funds for refurbishing Supermax prisons to house them here. But instead, the Democratic Senate enabled the Obama administration’s decision, one that is overwhelmingly unpopular. In the general election, Gillibrand may face Rudy Giuliani, who would make this a top issue. But what about New Yorker Debra Burlingame? No sign that she is yet interested in running. But she and her grassroots organization may make Gillibrand’s campaign dicey. Why is it that Gillibrand didn’t do what she could to block KSM’s trial? Well, she’ll need to answer that — if she makes it to the general election.

You know things aren’t going well for Democrats when Blue States like New York, Illinois, and Connecticut become real pick-up opportunities for Republicans in 2010 Senate races. In New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may be in trouble, either from a Democratic primary challenger or a Republican opponent. The chairman of the state’s Conservative party remarks: “Clearly she is unknown, that’s No. 1. No. 2, she has flipped on every given issue so I think she’s weakened herself upstate where initially that was her strength.” But there is something else as well — that “trial of the century.”

After all, she hasn’t opposed the administration’s gambit to try terrorists in the U.S. She and her fellow Democrats had the chance to block funds for terrorist trials and again to cut off funds for refurbishing Supermax prisons to house them here. But instead, the Democratic Senate enabled the Obama administration’s decision, one that is overwhelmingly unpopular. In the general election, Gillibrand may face Rudy Giuliani, who would make this a top issue. But what about New Yorker Debra Burlingame? No sign that she is yet interested in running. But she and her grassroots organization may make Gillibrand’s campaign dicey. Why is it that Gillibrand didn’t do what she could to block KSM’s trial? Well, she’ll need to answer that — if she makes it to the general election.

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Pirates Are Still at It

Pirates aren’t front-page news anymore, but they continue their predations. The latest news: Somalian desperados ventured 800 miles off the coast of Africa to seize a tanker loaded with $20 million of Saudi oil headed for the United States. The New York Times report notes: “The Somali pirate business appears to be back in full swing after a brief lull this summer that some attributed to increased naval patrols but that may have had more to do with the monsoon season. Now that the seas are calm, the pirates have resumed operations, acting with even greater sophistication.”

The increase in piratical activity is hardly surprising considering how poor most Somalis are and how much money they can make in this lucrative racket. As the Times further notes: “The vast ransoms paid for commercial vessels seem to be drawing more and more Somalis. Piracy used to be dominated by two clans, the Saleban, based in Xarardheere, and the Majeerten, who brought hijacked ships back to a small beach town called Eyl. Now, according to witnesses in Somalia, many other clans are involved, even Bantus, a minority group best known as farmers. ”

The underlying problem here is the toothless response of the international community, which won’t give orders to its warships to sink suspected pirate vessels on sight and won’t pursue the pirates into their onshore lairs. Nor will Western nations give pirates the kind of quick and merciless justice meted out by our ancestors in prior centuries. As I argued in this Foreign Affairs article, there is no secret solution to combating piracy. Western states defeated the pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a variety of tried and true measures. Our failure to heed those lessons today means that the piratical plague will continue to grow — and could wind up helping to finance the Islamist groups who are attempting to take over Somalia.

Pirates aren’t front-page news anymore, but they continue their predations. The latest news: Somalian desperados ventured 800 miles off the coast of Africa to seize a tanker loaded with $20 million of Saudi oil headed for the United States. The New York Times report notes: “The Somali pirate business appears to be back in full swing after a brief lull this summer that some attributed to increased naval patrols but that may have had more to do with the monsoon season. Now that the seas are calm, the pirates have resumed operations, acting with even greater sophistication.”

The increase in piratical activity is hardly surprising considering how poor most Somalis are and how much money they can make in this lucrative racket. As the Times further notes: “The vast ransoms paid for commercial vessels seem to be drawing more and more Somalis. Piracy used to be dominated by two clans, the Saleban, based in Xarardheere, and the Majeerten, who brought hijacked ships back to a small beach town called Eyl. Now, according to witnesses in Somalia, many other clans are involved, even Bantus, a minority group best known as farmers. ”

The underlying problem here is the toothless response of the international community, which won’t give orders to its warships to sink suspected pirate vessels on sight and won’t pursue the pirates into their onshore lairs. Nor will Western nations give pirates the kind of quick and merciless justice meted out by our ancestors in prior centuries. As I argued in this Foreign Affairs article, there is no secret solution to combating piracy. Western states defeated the pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a variety of tried and true measures. Our failure to heed those lessons today means that the piratical plague will continue to grow — and could wind up helping to finance the Islamist groups who are attempting to take over Somalia.

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Iraq: Good News, Bad News

The deadlock over Iraq’s election law, which is making an election by the end of January increasingly unlikely, is bad news. It raises the prospect of political gridlock, a government holding power past the period prescribed by the constitution, and ultimately a deterioration of security conditions. But there are also positive signs emanating from Iraq. Civilian casualties continue to fall, now down to the lowest levels since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Reuters reports: “Eighty-eight civilians were killed this month in violence, Health Ministry data showed, the first time the monthly bodycount has dropped below 100.” That’s especially good news because there was a horrific bombing in Baghdad on October 25. In the past, that might have sparked sectarian violence. This time, it hasn’t happened.

Another bit of good news: Western oil companies are beginning to invest in Iraq. That’s a benefit of improved security, and as long as the situation remains stable, we can expect more investment, more oil production, and a healthier Iraqi economy, which in turn will reinforce the trend toward stability.

A lot can still go wrong, especially with American troops scheduled for reduction from 116,000 today to just 50,000 by August; but notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement so far on an election law, most of the trends in Iraq are moving in the right direction. That’s just as well, because even if the situation were to deteriorate markedly, there is scant chance that President Obama would delay the pullout of American forces.

The deadlock over Iraq’s election law, which is making an election by the end of January increasingly unlikely, is bad news. It raises the prospect of political gridlock, a government holding power past the period prescribed by the constitution, and ultimately a deterioration of security conditions. But there are also positive signs emanating from Iraq. Civilian casualties continue to fall, now down to the lowest levels since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Reuters reports: “Eighty-eight civilians were killed this month in violence, Health Ministry data showed, the first time the monthly bodycount has dropped below 100.” That’s especially good news because there was a horrific bombing in Baghdad on October 25. In the past, that might have sparked sectarian violence. This time, it hasn’t happened.

Another bit of good news: Western oil companies are beginning to invest in Iraq. That’s a benefit of improved security, and as long as the situation remains stable, we can expect more investment, more oil production, and a healthier Iraqi economy, which in turn will reinforce the trend toward stability.

A lot can still go wrong, especially with American troops scheduled for reduction from 116,000 today to just 50,000 by August; but notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement so far on an election law, most of the trends in Iraq are moving in the right direction. That’s just as well, because even if the situation were to deteriorate markedly, there is scant chance that President Obama would delay the pullout of American forces.

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The EU’s New Effort to Thwart Israeli-Palestinian Peace

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

For a body that prides itself on its “soft power,” the European Union has a remarkable capacity to stymie its own diplomatic goals through inept diplomacy.

A classic example was the UN-brokered agreement to reunify Cyprus in 2004, when the EU promised to admit Greek Cyprus regardless of whether it accepted the agreement, whereas Turkish Cyprus would be admitted only if both sides accepted the plan. The results were predictable: Greek Cypriots, their reward assured regardless of their behavior, had no reason to make even the minimal concessions the plan entailed, so they rejected it. But Turkish Cypriots, who approved it, were penalized: even the minor economic benefits the EU pledged after the vote never materialized, because Greek Cyprus used its shiny new EU veto to block them. Five years later, the negotiations drag on, and the island remains divided.

The EU is now poised to make the same mistake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, via a draft document proposed by its rotating president, Sweden, that Israeli diplomats say EU foreign ministers look certain to adopt on December 7. The document reportedly details every concession the EU expects Israel to make to the Palestinians but specifies no reciprocal Palestinian concessions. And it thereby feeds Palestinian illusions that they need not make any concessions; the international community will simply force Israel to accept all their demands.

Specifically, the document says that East Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state and that the 1967 lines must be its borders, unless the Palestinians choose otherwise. It also implies that the EU would recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in these borders “at the appropriate time.”

But it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians give up their dream of resettling millions of descendants of refugees in Israel — something everyone recognizes as a sine qua non of any agreement.

It doesn’t demand border adjustments to account for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live over the Green Line, especially in Jerusalem, though everyone knows this is necessary: no agreement that entailed evicting hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes would ever pass the Knesset.

It doesn’t demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state or acknowledge Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. It doesn’t require any security arrangements. It doesn’t even call for recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Normally, these issues would be resolved during negotiations. But if the EU has already “given” the Palestinians East Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, the Palestinians have no need to make concessions on, say, the “right of return” in exchange. Nor need they make such concessions in exchange for anything else, because once borders and Jerusalem are off the table, Israel has nothing left to give. In short, Israel will have no means of extracting the concessions it needs for a viable deal. Therefore, there will be no deal.

Adopting this document would thus kill any chance of achieving one of the EU’s own stated top priorities: Israeli-Palestinian peace. Evidently, some diplomats never learn.

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Cheney Once Again

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Leslie Gelb are on the same page regarding the president’s foreign-policy performance – specifically his meandering, irresolute first year, in which he has proved his toughest critics right. In an interview with Politico, Cheney gives voice to what a broad range of observers (both domestic and foreign) now think of Obama’s no-longer-new presidency:

“I begin to get nervous when I see the commander in chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society,” Cheney said. “Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they’ve been asked to do?” … Those folks … begin to look for ways to accommodate their enemies. … They’re worried the United States isn’t going to be there much longer and the bad guys are.”

In Cheney’s view, this is an inexperienced president who is simply not up for the job (“Sometimes I have the feeling that they’re just figuring that out,” he says of Afghanistan war planning and the lessons of Iraq) and who embraces a radical worldview that rejects American exceptionalism (“I am increasingly convinced that he’s not as committed to or as wedded to that concept as most of the presidents I’ve known, Republican or Democrat”).

It is December, and in less than a year Cheney now represents a good deal of mainstream thinking, both in the Beltway and among ordinary Americans. That’s how far we’ve come. Meanwhile, Obama is increasingly seen as ideologically misguided and temperamentally at a loss to deal with the plethora of international challenges, which will only increase as a worldwide audience takes in his haphazard performance.

Whether it is the mullahs in Iran or democracy advocates living in despotic regimes, Obama has projected an image that he must, if his presidency is to be successful, reverse. Where he has appeared naive, he must now show that he is savvy. Where he has shown aversion to hard power, he must now demonstrate his bona fides as a wartime commander. And it is harder, terribly so, now that he must convince players on the world stage (both friends and foes) that he really, honestly, after all does mean it.

Cheney has consistently called out the administration for its poor judgment (e.g., on Guantanamo, the CIA) and lousy execution. Other conservatives who wish to lead the opposition have followed suit and will, I suspect, continue the lines of attack Cheney has outlined. But the real issue is whether the administration has internalized the substance of what Cheney is saying (echoed by columnists and pundits whom the administration may find more palatable). If so, there is perhaps time to reverse the trajectory of this presidency, and specifically the entire Obama approach to foreign policy. If not, it will be a very rocky three years.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Leslie Gelb are on the same page regarding the president’s foreign-policy performance – specifically his meandering, irresolute first year, in which he has proved his toughest critics right. In an interview with Politico, Cheney gives voice to what a broad range of observers (both domestic and foreign) now think of Obama’s no-longer-new presidency:

“I begin to get nervous when I see the commander in chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society,” Cheney said. “Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they’ve been asked to do?” … Those folks … begin to look for ways to accommodate their enemies. … They’re worried the United States isn’t going to be there much longer and the bad guys are.”

In Cheney’s view, this is an inexperienced president who is simply not up for the job (“Sometimes I have the feeling that they’re just figuring that out,” he says of Afghanistan war planning and the lessons of Iraq) and who embraces a radical worldview that rejects American exceptionalism (“I am increasingly convinced that he’s not as committed to or as wedded to that concept as most of the presidents I’ve known, Republican or Democrat”).

It is December, and in less than a year Cheney now represents a good deal of mainstream thinking, both in the Beltway and among ordinary Americans. That’s how far we’ve come. Meanwhile, Obama is increasingly seen as ideologically misguided and temperamentally at a loss to deal with the plethora of international challenges, which will only increase as a worldwide audience takes in his haphazard performance.

Whether it is the mullahs in Iran or democracy advocates living in despotic regimes, Obama has projected an image that he must, if his presidency is to be successful, reverse. Where he has appeared naive, he must now show that he is savvy. Where he has shown aversion to hard power, he must now demonstrate his bona fides as a wartime commander. And it is harder, terribly so, now that he must convince players on the world stage (both friends and foes) that he really, honestly, after all does mean it.

Cheney has consistently called out the administration for its poor judgment (e.g., on Guantanamo, the CIA) and lousy execution. Other conservatives who wish to lead the opposition have followed suit and will, I suspect, continue the lines of attack Cheney has outlined. But the real issue is whether the administration has internalized the substance of what Cheney is saying (echoed by columnists and pundits whom the administration may find more palatable). If so, there is perhaps time to reverse the trajectory of this presidency, and specifically the entire Obama approach to foreign policy. If not, it will be a very rocky three years.

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Nervously Waiting

Anticipating Obama’s speech at West Point, David Brooks writes:

What’s emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy — shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration’s direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another.

Others are concerned that there will be too much “exit strategy talk.” Tom Ricks observes:

Perhaps most importantly, is his heart in it, and can he bring along a good portion of the American people, especially part of his base? Or is he gonna say we’re giving it 12 months and then we’re outta here? … If he uses the phrase “exit strategy,” or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president. In other words, file under “Jimmy Carter,” not “Abe Lincoln.”

All this, of course, is what comes from months of public agonizing and a sense that domestic politics, and domestic political advisers, had overtaken the process of developing a winning war strategy. In a feverish effort to keep the unplacatable Left placated, Obama runs the risk of making his own job — leading us to victory — more difficult.

This is obviously not a role he relishes nor a process he has excelled at. There are choices to be made: McChrystal or not, exit-strategy limited or not. It is excruciating to watch the White House try to please this and that constituency as if this were an ag bill. But as Donald Rumsfeld once said of the Army, we fight wars with the president we have. This president has a chance to — for once — put aside pedestrian domestic concerns and demonstrate he understands both the nature of our enemy and the requirements of fighting a self-described critical war. If he does that, the politics will sort themselves out. If not, he’ll have far greater problems than keeping Nancy Pelosi happy.

Anticipating Obama’s speech at West Point, David Brooks writes:

What’s emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy — shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration’s direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another.

Others are concerned that there will be too much “exit strategy talk.” Tom Ricks observes:

Perhaps most importantly, is his heart in it, and can he bring along a good portion of the American people, especially part of his base? Or is he gonna say we’re giving it 12 months and then we’re outta here? … If he uses the phrase “exit strategy,” or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president. In other words, file under “Jimmy Carter,” not “Abe Lincoln.”

All this, of course, is what comes from months of public agonizing and a sense that domestic politics, and domestic political advisers, had overtaken the process of developing a winning war strategy. In a feverish effort to keep the unplacatable Left placated, Obama runs the risk of making his own job — leading us to victory — more difficult.

This is obviously not a role he relishes nor a process he has excelled at. There are choices to be made: McChrystal or not, exit-strategy limited or not. It is excruciating to watch the White House try to please this and that constituency as if this were an ag bill. But as Donald Rumsfeld once said of the Army, we fight wars with the president we have. This president has a chance to — for once — put aside pedestrian domestic concerns and demonstrate he understands both the nature of our enemy and the requirements of fighting a self-described critical war. If he does that, the politics will sort themselves out. If not, he’ll have far greater problems than keeping Nancy Pelosi happy.

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All the News Barely Fit to Post

Politico breathlessly explains:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent $2,993 in taxpayer money on flowers between June and October. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has a thing for Chantilly Donuts, spending about $265 at the Virginia shop in the past quarter. And Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a fiscal conservative, decided to give about $2,000 in unused office funds back to the government to help reduce the deficit.”

And guess what? She’s spent “$30,610 in food and beverage and about $2,740 on bottled water.” Oh, puleez. The woman has been leading the charge to spend trillions of our dollars on a liberal wish list, and the in-house paper for the Beltway is fixated on flowers, food, and bottled water for a grand total of less than $50,000? I haven’t done the math, but I suspect it’s equivalent to a teaspoon in the ocean of red ink she’s been spilling.

One has to read much of the way through this torrid account of beverages, magazine subscriptions, and donuts to learn that “most of the expenditures seem standard – everything from individual staff salaries to office supplies is listed.” Oh well, in that case. But you’ll be relieved to learn that there was a correction in the story: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amounts Nancy Pelosi’s office spent on flowers and James Clyburn’s office spent on donuts.” That’s a relief. You wouldn’t want to get the glazed-donut hole or daisy figures wrong.

Politico breathlessly explains:

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent $2,993 in taxpayer money on flowers between June and October. House Majority Whip James Clyburn has a thing for Chantilly Donuts, spending about $265 at the Virginia shop in the past quarter. And Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a fiscal conservative, decided to give about $2,000 in unused office funds back to the government to help reduce the deficit.”

And guess what? She’s spent “$30,610 in food and beverage and about $2,740 on bottled water.” Oh, puleez. The woman has been leading the charge to spend trillions of our dollars on a liberal wish list, and the in-house paper for the Beltway is fixated on flowers, food, and bottled water for a grand total of less than $50,000? I haven’t done the math, but I suspect it’s equivalent to a teaspoon in the ocean of red ink she’s been spilling.

One has to read much of the way through this torrid account of beverages, magazine subscriptions, and donuts to learn that “most of the expenditures seem standard – everything from individual staff salaries to office supplies is listed.” Oh well, in that case. But you’ll be relieved to learn that there was a correction in the story: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amounts Nancy Pelosi’s office spent on flowers and James Clyburn’s office spent on donuts.” That’s a relief. You wouldn’t want to get the glazed-donut hole or daisy figures wrong.

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A Losing Season

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.’” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.’” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

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