Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 29, 2009

A Systematic Failure, Certainly

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

Four days after an al-Qaeda-supported Islamic terrorist nearly butchered 278 people, two days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked,” and a day after a slovenly and disengaged performance in which Obama told us that the Christmas Day bomber was really an “isolated extremist,” Obama emerged once again to assure us that, well, okay, we had a “catastrophic breach” of security and a “systematic failure.”

As more details trickle out, we learn that the bomber was likely aided by al-Qaeda and inspired by the same imam who was Major Nadal Hassan’s e-mail pal. Not isolated at all, was he. And now we learn just how catastrophic was the failure:

The father of terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, according to the CIA.The initial meeting Nov. 19 led to a broader gathering of multiple U.S. agencies the next day, including representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the CIA, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.

With no hint of irony, some hapless official tells us (on background, of course) that “it is unclear whether intelligence officials in Washington effectively collected and analyzed all the relevant information gathered in Nigeria, pointing toward a possible lapse that could have helped prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab getting on the plane he attempted to bomb.” Let me take a stab at that one: they didn’t effectively collect and analyze all the relevant information because Abdulmutallab got on the plane and almost incinerated hundreds of people. So what were Napolitano and the president talking about up until now? Were they trying to flim-flam us or were they grossly and inexcusably unprepared and ill-informed?

This is a scandal of the first order. On this one there is no George W. Bush to blame. There is only the president and his tragically clueless administration. Unlike the  pre-9/11 bits of data, which never wound up in the right hands, in this case we had a specific bomber, a specific tip, and the imam was literally in our gun-sights (reports say he escaped the predator attack). And the intelligence community was given it all on a silver platter. This is the quintessential failure to connect dots. Had the detonator not failed or an alert passenger not intervened, we would have had not a catastrophic failure but a catastrophe.

Two suggestions for the president: end the vacation and fire some people. And if he wants to show that he isn’t cowering from an increasingly infuriated public, he would do well to hold a press conference and answer each and every question put to him. If he chooses not to, the scandal may turn into Obama’s political hurricane, akin to Katrina. Perhaps it already has.

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What Happened to “Defensible Borders”?

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

The Jerusalem Post reports that George Mitchell will return to the Middle East in early January and quotes an Arab diplomat saying that Mitchell will present “two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority” as a basis for renewing negotiations. The Post reports that a senior Israeli diplomatic source said “the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble [Hillary Clinton’s] statement” last month, which read as follows:

We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Letters of assurance have previously played an important part in the peace process. In 1997, Secretary of State Christopher wrote to Israel to assure it that the U.S. supported “defensible borders” for Israel as the conclusion of the peace process. In 2004, President Bush reassured Israel of the “steadfast commitment” of the U.S. to defensible borders. In his “Let Me Be Clear” address to AIPAC in 2008, Barack Obama stated that “any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders,” reflecting the longstanding U.S. commitment.

The absence of any reference to “defensible borders” in Secretary Clinton’s statement is thus both conspicuous and troubling, particularly because the administration has repeatedly refused this year to answer whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter. Even the reference to “secure and recognized” borders is expressed in Clinton’s statement simply as an Israeli “goal” rather than as a U.S. commitment.

There is a significant difference between the prior letters given to Israel and the new “letter of guarantees” that may be given to the Palestinians. The letters to Israel were provided in exchange for tangible concessions: withdrawals from significant territories in Hebron and Gaza. They were parts of negotiated deals; they were not mere statements of policy subject to change. The possible “letter of guarantee” for the Palestinians, on the other hand, is simply for an agreement to resume negotiations, with no Palestinian concession on any issue – and on a basis that omits any reference to defensible borders.

Some have argued that (a) borders are secure only if they are recognized; (b) the Palestinians will recognize only the 1967 lines with minor adjustments; and (c) Israel can thus only have secure and recognized borders if it acquiesces in the Palestinian demand for indefensible ones — and relies for peace on the resulting peace agreement (perhaps with a “binding” UN resolution and blue helmets on the borders). The Palestinians have already rejected offers of a state (after land swaps) on 92 percent of the West Bank (at Camp David), 97 percent (in the Clinton Parameters), and 100 percent (in Olmert’s Annapolis Process offer). The borders they have in mind are not defensible ones, and the Obama administration appears to have deleted “defensible borders” as one of the guarantees of the process — unless there is some other explanation for the obvious reluctance of the administration to use the term, much less commit itself to the concept.

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Comic Book Hate: a New Chapter in Anti-Israel Bias at the New York Times

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

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Obama’s Missed Moment

Obama’s initial reaction to the Fort Hood attack was odd, as many remarked. He seemed unwilling to depart from his Interior Department script and strangely disconnected from the gravity of the situation. This time, Obama had several days to prepare after a domestic terror attempt. But again, his delivery was not compelling. As Charles Hurt remarked: “It was three days late and Obama mailed it in. Unaided by his trusty TelePrompTers, the president read through his statement like a schoolkid dutifully treading through his book report.”

The explanations for the latest laconic offering vary.  Obama was miffed about having to interrupt his vacation. He doesn’t really like all this national-security stuff (As Rich Lowry noted, “the administration’s body language says it would prefer to keep counterterrorism on a back-burner while it engages in the more important work of nationalizing health care and fighting global warming.”).  And then it didn’t help that after vowing to get the terror plotters, Obama jumped into the golf cart and was back to the links.

His spinners suggested he was trying to prevent panic or project an aura of cool determination. But if there are unsteady nerves out there, I would suggest they stem from the queasy realization that the president does not comprehend the rhetorical and atmospheric requirements of being commander in chief. He didn’t seem to understand that months of public dithering over the Afghanistan war strategy took a toll on both his image and our country. He didn’t grasp the fact that the West Point speech was detached, unemotional, and unduly equivocal at the very moment our troops, allies, and enemies were watching for a hint of steely determination from the president. And when terror strikes the homeland, there is no compelling moment, no grab-the-bullhorn-on the-rubble occasion, in which we sense that he knows we are in a war and intends to persevere against enemies determined to attack the U.S. and, more broadly, Western civilization. There is no emotional core to emerge.

After a year in office, Obama either doesn’t grasp the nature of the war we are in (and the necessity to show our resolve to our enemies) or he lacks the ability to project the qualities that Americans look for in a commander in chief. Either way, it is deeply troubling and a reminder of the risk the country takes when it elects someone with no national-security, no military, and no executive-leadership experience.

Obama’s initial reaction to the Fort Hood attack was odd, as many remarked. He seemed unwilling to depart from his Interior Department script and strangely disconnected from the gravity of the situation. This time, Obama had several days to prepare after a domestic terror attempt. But again, his delivery was not compelling. As Charles Hurt remarked: “It was three days late and Obama mailed it in. Unaided by his trusty TelePrompTers, the president read through his statement like a schoolkid dutifully treading through his book report.”

The explanations for the latest laconic offering vary.  Obama was miffed about having to interrupt his vacation. He doesn’t really like all this national-security stuff (As Rich Lowry noted, “the administration’s body language says it would prefer to keep counterterrorism on a back-burner while it engages in the more important work of nationalizing health care and fighting global warming.”).  And then it didn’t help that after vowing to get the terror plotters, Obama jumped into the golf cart and was back to the links.

His spinners suggested he was trying to prevent panic or project an aura of cool determination. But if there are unsteady nerves out there, I would suggest they stem from the queasy realization that the president does not comprehend the rhetorical and atmospheric requirements of being commander in chief. He didn’t seem to understand that months of public dithering over the Afghanistan war strategy took a toll on both his image and our country. He didn’t grasp the fact that the West Point speech was detached, unemotional, and unduly equivocal at the very moment our troops, allies, and enemies were watching for a hint of steely determination from the president. And when terror strikes the homeland, there is no compelling moment, no grab-the-bullhorn-on the-rubble occasion, in which we sense that he knows we are in a war and intends to persevere against enemies determined to attack the U.S. and, more broadly, Western civilization. There is no emotional core to emerge.

After a year in office, Obama either doesn’t grasp the nature of the war we are in (and the necessity to show our resolve to our enemies) or he lacks the ability to project the qualities that Americans look for in a commander in chief. Either way, it is deeply troubling and a reminder of the risk the country takes when it elects someone with no national-security, no military, and no executive-leadership experience.

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Pirate Payoff

Am I the only one outraged upon reading that a Singapore-based shipping line has just paid a $4 million ransom to Somali pirates for the release of one of its container ships, the Kota Wajar? The world barely notices; the news is relegated to a minor paragraph buried on the inside pages of the newspapers in the usual “world news” roundups. We ought to be more concerned because the waters off East Africa are an important transit point for global shipping, and every ransom paid makes it more likely that ships will be hijacked in future. In fact, the very day that the Kota Wajar was released, two more vessels were seized — a British-flagged chemical tanker and a Panama-flagged bulk cargo ship. Not surprising, paying off pirates encourages more piracy.

Yet Western nations refuse to sanction shipping lines for their amoral policy or to undertake a more robust response — such as ordering naval ships to fire on suspected pirates or hauling captured pirates into their own courts. Keep in mind that these seizures occur in the Gulf of Aden near the coast not only of Somalia but also of Yemen, two countries emerging as major al-Qaeda bases. No doubt some of the piratical proceeds will find their way into the terrorists’ pockets, if they haven’t already. Where’s the outrage?

Am I the only one outraged upon reading that a Singapore-based shipping line has just paid a $4 million ransom to Somali pirates for the release of one of its container ships, the Kota Wajar? The world barely notices; the news is relegated to a minor paragraph buried on the inside pages of the newspapers in the usual “world news” roundups. We ought to be more concerned because the waters off East Africa are an important transit point for global shipping, and every ransom paid makes it more likely that ships will be hijacked in future. In fact, the very day that the Kota Wajar was released, two more vessels were seized — a British-flagged chemical tanker and a Panama-flagged bulk cargo ship. Not surprising, paying off pirates encourages more piracy.

Yet Western nations refuse to sanction shipping lines for their amoral policy or to undertake a more robust response — such as ordering naval ships to fire on suspected pirates or hauling captured pirates into their own courts. Keep in mind that these seizures occur in the Gulf of Aden near the coast not only of Somalia but also of Yemen, two countries emerging as major al-Qaeda bases. No doubt some of the piratical proceeds will find their way into the terrorists’ pockets, if they haven’t already. Where’s the outrage?

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An Isolated Extremist?

In his remarkably unenthusiastic and perfunctory appearance yesterday (couldn’t he at least have shaved or put on a tie?), Obama uttered this line: “This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.” Huh? Is he really an isolated extremist? (An extremist what, by the way? The word the president dares not speak except in praise: “Islamic.”) An avalanche of news reports suggests that the bomber has some connection to al-Qaeda.

While cautioning against speculation about the exact role of released Guantanamo detainees, Tom Joscelyn explains that “we know the following: [the al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula] has claimed responsibility for the attack and this is consistent with other evidence, including Abdulmutallab’s own admissions. Some of AQAP’s most senior positions are held by former Gitmo detainees, so there is a strong possibility that they played a role in this attack.” In its statement, AQAP suggests this was anything but an “isolated extremist” and promises more attacks on Americans.

So why is the president spouting the “isolated extremist” line? Well, it fits nicely with the criminal-justice model upon which the president is fixated — lone suspect, read him his rights, try him in civilian court, etc. But does this line bear any resemblance to reality? Increasingly, Obama’s utterances seem divorced from facts readily available to the public. The public must be wondering what the president is talking about and why he keeps saying things that just aren’t so.

In his remarkably unenthusiastic and perfunctory appearance yesterday (couldn’t he at least have shaved or put on a tie?), Obama uttered this line: “This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.” Huh? Is he really an isolated extremist? (An extremist what, by the way? The word the president dares not speak except in praise: “Islamic.”) An avalanche of news reports suggests that the bomber has some connection to al-Qaeda.

While cautioning against speculation about the exact role of released Guantanamo detainees, Tom Joscelyn explains that “we know the following: [the al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula] has claimed responsibility for the attack and this is consistent with other evidence, including Abdulmutallab’s own admissions. Some of AQAP’s most senior positions are held by former Gitmo detainees, so there is a strong possibility that they played a role in this attack.” In its statement, AQAP suggests this was anything but an “isolated extremist” and promises more attacks on Americans.

So why is the president spouting the “isolated extremist” line? Well, it fits nicely with the criminal-justice model upon which the president is fixated — lone suspect, read him his rights, try him in civilian court, etc. But does this line bear any resemblance to reality? Increasingly, Obama’s utterances seem divorced from facts readily available to the public. The public must be wondering what the president is talking about and why he keeps saying things that just aren’t so.

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A Conference That Only Makes Sense

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

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Liberals Wake Up: ObamaCare Stinks

Bob Herbert has discovered an unpleasant fact about the Senate’s “historic” health-care legislation:

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care. The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care. . . In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

How could Democrats come up with such a scheme? Well, as Herbert points out, the idea is that those “Cadillac” plans will get slashed and changed, thereby avoiding the excise tax. But alas, “it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.” And if the the “Cadillac” plans become Kia plans after they’ve been cut down to size, what happens to the planned $150B in revenue the excise tax was supposed to generate? It gets fuzzy at that point. Herbert suggests that most of that revenue was supposed to come “from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans. Can you believe it?” In a word, no.

But once again we see that the wonders of ObamaCare seem not so wonderful to liberals. They don’t like the idea of consumers being forced to buy health-insurance policies from big, bad insurance companies. They don’t like the idea of smacking middle-class employees who managed to obtain generous health-care plans from their employers. And you don’t hear too many of them cheering for the massive cuts in Medicare. (Liberals always told us our society was to be judged by how generously we treat the old and sick.)  So why did all those Democrats vote for this thing? Ah, it was historic!

Only rare pieces of legislation attract opponents as diverse as does ObamaCare. But this is what comes from passing something, anything, in a mad holiday rush with the purpose of delivering a political “win” for the White House and avoiding a humiliating failure for the Democratic congressional leadership. But as the Left and Right discover what’s in that legislation, there may in fact be a broad consensus building over the need to just start over. There has got to be something that makes more sense than this.

Bob Herbert has discovered an unpleasant fact about the Senate’s “historic” health-care legislation:

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care. The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care. . . In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

How could Democrats come up with such a scheme? Well, as Herbert points out, the idea is that those “Cadillac” plans will get slashed and changed, thereby avoiding the excise tax. But alas, “it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.” And if the the “Cadillac” plans become Kia plans after they’ve been cut down to size, what happens to the planned $150B in revenue the excise tax was supposed to generate? It gets fuzzy at that point. Herbert suggests that most of that revenue was supposed to come “from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans. Can you believe it?” In a word, no.

But once again we see that the wonders of ObamaCare seem not so wonderful to liberals. They don’t like the idea of consumers being forced to buy health-insurance policies from big, bad insurance companies. They don’t like the idea of smacking middle-class employees who managed to obtain generous health-care plans from their employers. And you don’t hear too many of them cheering for the massive cuts in Medicare. (Liberals always told us our society was to be judged by how generously we treat the old and sick.)  So why did all those Democrats vote for this thing? Ah, it was historic!

Only rare pieces of legislation attract opponents as diverse as does ObamaCare. But this is what comes from passing something, anything, in a mad holiday rush with the purpose of delivering a political “win” for the White House and avoiding a humiliating failure for the Democratic congressional leadership. But as the Left and Right discover what’s in that legislation, there may in fact be a broad consensus building over the need to just start over. There has got to be something that makes more sense than this.

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A Good Way to Start the New Year

If the recent rallies in Iran have been noteworthy for their large turnout, another rally this week was noteworthy for its lack of turnout: A mere 3,000 Gaza residents turned out in Jabalya on Sunday for a Hamas rally marking the first anniversary of its war with Israel.

What makes this so surprising is that just two weeks earlier, Hamas succeeded in getting 100,000 Gazans into the streets for a rally marking the 22nd anniversary of its founding. Hence Sunday’s low turnout was not a protest against Hamas in general; it was a protest aimed specifically at Hamas’s claim that “Gaza was victorious” in the war. Gaza residents know better.

And so do the Israelis across the border. In the year since the war — a year of global recession, rising unemployment, and falling salaries — housing prices in communities within rocket range of Gaza have risen an incredible 40 to 50 percent due to surging demand. A year ago, apartments in towns like Sderot went begging. Today, there is scarcely an empty apartment to be had, and Gaza-area communities are frantically building new housing to accommodate the demand.

What makes this housing boom particularly remarkable is that everyone in Israel knows last year’s victory was only temporary. Hamas’s grip on Gaza has only grown stronger since the war. And not only has Hamas rapidly replenished its arsenal, but according to Israeli intelligence, it now has more sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range rockets, than it did a year ago. Hence the next round is only a matter of time.

But the war nevertheless accomplished something more than a mere hiatus in the rocket fire: It convinced southern Israelis that their government was both willing and able to defend them. That belief had vanished over the previous three years, as Hamas rained almost 6,000 rockets and mortars on southern Israel with impunity, and the inevitable result was an exodus from the south. Now, with restored faith in their government’s willingness and ability to protect them, they are willing to risk round two.

And that, ultimately, may be the war’s greatest accomplishment. Deterrence is important, and Sunday’s rally shows that the war in fact achieved it: By staying away en masse, Gaza residents made it clear that they know they lost, and are anything but eager for a repeat. And since Hamas is not immune to public opinion, that means it will probably be some time before it tries again.

But nothing is more important to a country’s long-term health than its citizens’ faith in the willingness and ability of their government to fulfill its most basic obligation: to protect them from attack. In the three years preceding the war, that faith was badly eroded. The war, as the south’s housing boom shows, has restored it.

Thus Israel will begin the new year with renewed deterrence abroad and renewed faith in government at home. For all the problems it still faces, that’s a big improvement over where it stood this time last year.

If the recent rallies in Iran have been noteworthy for their large turnout, another rally this week was noteworthy for its lack of turnout: A mere 3,000 Gaza residents turned out in Jabalya on Sunday for a Hamas rally marking the first anniversary of its war with Israel.

What makes this so surprising is that just two weeks earlier, Hamas succeeded in getting 100,000 Gazans into the streets for a rally marking the 22nd anniversary of its founding. Hence Sunday’s low turnout was not a protest against Hamas in general; it was a protest aimed specifically at Hamas’s claim that “Gaza was victorious” in the war. Gaza residents know better.

And so do the Israelis across the border. In the year since the war — a year of global recession, rising unemployment, and falling salaries — housing prices in communities within rocket range of Gaza have risen an incredible 40 to 50 percent due to surging demand. A year ago, apartments in towns like Sderot went begging. Today, there is scarcely an empty apartment to be had, and Gaza-area communities are frantically building new housing to accommodate the demand.

What makes this housing boom particularly remarkable is that everyone in Israel knows last year’s victory was only temporary. Hamas’s grip on Gaza has only grown stronger since the war. And not only has Hamas rapidly replenished its arsenal, but according to Israeli intelligence, it now has more sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range rockets, than it did a year ago. Hence the next round is only a matter of time.

But the war nevertheless accomplished something more than a mere hiatus in the rocket fire: It convinced southern Israelis that their government was both willing and able to defend them. That belief had vanished over the previous three years, as Hamas rained almost 6,000 rockets and mortars on southern Israel with impunity, and the inevitable result was an exodus from the south. Now, with restored faith in their government’s willingness and ability to protect them, they are willing to risk round two.

And that, ultimately, may be the war’s greatest accomplishment. Deterrence is important, and Sunday’s rally shows that the war in fact achieved it: By staying away en masse, Gaza residents made it clear that they know they lost, and are anything but eager for a repeat. And since Hamas is not immune to public opinion, that means it will probably be some time before it tries again.

But nothing is more important to a country’s long-term health than its citizens’ faith in the willingness and ability of their government to fulfill its most basic obligation: to protect them from attack. In the three years preceding the war, that faith was badly eroded. The war, as the south’s housing boom shows, has restored it.

Thus Israel will begin the new year with renewed deterrence abroad and renewed faith in government at home. For all the problems it still faces, that’s a big improvement over where it stood this time last year.

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Re: More Than Words

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

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The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

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But What About the Jobs?

The Heritage Foundation has an informative guide to the differences between the Senate and House health-care bills. It includes this eye-catching explanation of the employer mandates:

The Senate bill imposes a $750 penalty per worker on employers of 50 or more who do not offer federally qualified coverage. Even if the employer does offer federally qualified coverage, if a worker obtains the federal subsidy to buy coverage in the health insurance exchange, the employer would have to pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each worker who obtains a subsidy (up to a maximum of $750 times the total number of full-time workers). The House bill imposes a direct requirement on employers to offer federally qualified health care coverage to their employees and pay a specified percentage for single and family premiums or pay a payroll tax of up to 8 percent.

Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have double-digit unemployment and widespread reluctance to hire new workers, because this is going to really make each new hire expensive. Oh, wait. Well, yes we do have a problem here. And this highlights the inanity of the president’s pitiful “jobs summit” and other small-potatoes measures to induce hiring. All of that — limited tax credits and weatherizing schemes, for example – pales in comparison to the expense we are adding to each additional hire and the incentive we are providing to either increase the workload of existing workers or use overseas labor (or both).

And then there are the tax provisions:

Financing for the House bill depends on a heavy new income tax targeted at “wealthy” income taxpayers and small businesses. The House-passed bill would impose a 5.4 percent tax on individuals with incomes above $500,000 and on families with incomes above $1 million, and would yield $461 billion in new revenues (according to CBO) over 10 years. As noted by analysts at The Heritage Foundation, the tax is structured in such a way that over time more and more Americans will be hit by this tax, and small business owners would be particularly affected.

In short, if the president really believes the private sector is where the jobs are, he should be concerned, because we are placing very significant financial obstacles in the way of those on whom we must depend to create jobs. When the president “pivots” to the issue of jobs in January, conservatives would do well to point out that his “historic” health-care bill is (now that cap-and-trade appears nearly dead) the single greatest legislative impediment to job creation.

The Heritage Foundation has an informative guide to the differences between the Senate and House health-care bills. It includes this eye-catching explanation of the employer mandates:

The Senate bill imposes a $750 penalty per worker on employers of 50 or more who do not offer federally qualified coverage. Even if the employer does offer federally qualified coverage, if a worker obtains the federal subsidy to buy coverage in the health insurance exchange, the employer would have to pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each worker who obtains a subsidy (up to a maximum of $750 times the total number of full-time workers). The House bill imposes a direct requirement on employers to offer federally qualified health care coverage to their employees and pay a specified percentage for single and family premiums or pay a payroll tax of up to 8 percent.

Well, it’s a good thing we don’t have double-digit unemployment and widespread reluctance to hire new workers, because this is going to really make each new hire expensive. Oh, wait. Well, yes we do have a problem here. And this highlights the inanity of the president’s pitiful “jobs summit” and other small-potatoes measures to induce hiring. All of that — limited tax credits and weatherizing schemes, for example – pales in comparison to the expense we are adding to each additional hire and the incentive we are providing to either increase the workload of existing workers or use overseas labor (or both).

And then there are the tax provisions:

Financing for the House bill depends on a heavy new income tax targeted at “wealthy” income taxpayers and small businesses. The House-passed bill would impose a 5.4 percent tax on individuals with incomes above $500,000 and on families with incomes above $1 million, and would yield $461 billion in new revenues (according to CBO) over 10 years. As noted by analysts at The Heritage Foundation, the tax is structured in such a way that over time more and more Americans will be hit by this tax, and small business owners would be particularly affected.

In short, if the president really believes the private sector is where the jobs are, he should be concerned, because we are placing very significant financial obstacles in the way of those on whom we must depend to create jobs. When the president “pivots” to the issue of jobs in January, conservatives would do well to point out that his “historic” health-care bill is (now that cap-and-trade appears nearly dead) the single greatest legislative impediment to job creation.

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Time to Distance From the White House?

One would think that responding to a terror attack with less moral clarity and forcefulness than that displayed after the Fort Hood attack would have taken some doing. But the Obami have managed to pull it off. Between Janet Napolitano and the president, they’ve managed to convey confusion, denial, and willful indifference to the nature of our enemies. So the trick then for Obama supporters is to make criticism of that dismal performance seem unseemly or “partisan.” The ever-helpful media isn’t wasting time on that front. A case in point is this gasping Politico account:

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity. The strategy — coming as the Republican leadership seeks to exploit Democratic weaknesses heading into the 2010 midterms — is in many ways a natural for a party that views protecting the U.S. homeland as its ideological raison d’etre and electoral franchise.

Well, I suppose we should be thankful that at least one party has as its “ideological raison d’etre” keeping Americans from being slaughtered by Islamic fanatics. The implication is that there is something nefarious about pointing out how badly the administration is responding to serious threats to Americans. Heaven forbid that elected officials should be concerned that the administration is (once again) not getting it when it comes to the war against Islamic fanatics.

But I would think that Democrats must be awfully nervous. They’ve spent years and years trying to live down the reputation as being “weak on defense” and then along comes a president who seems at best a reluctant commander in chief and at worst devoted to returning to a pre-9/11 mentality – which, after all, left us vulnerable on 9/11 in the first place. Nevertheless, it is up to a not-really Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, to sound serious:

“We were very lucky this time, but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened,” said committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a statement. “I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked.”

Where is the Democratic congressional leadership? Largely silent. Perhaps the reason why the criticism of the White House’s bungling seems to be coming almost entirely from one side of the political aisle is that the Democrats are largely mute, hoping (and no doubt praying) that the White House will get its act together. But that might not be wise. Many of them, after all, are going to be on the ballot and they might not want to concede that there is only one political party fully dedicated to preventing the murder of their fellow citizens.

They might start by re-examining and then putting a halt to some of the more egregiously irresponsible actions of the Obama administration, including the decision to proceed with a civilian trial for KSM. Certainly they don’t want to have to explain to the American people that they enabled an administration engaged in a deeply misguided effort to reject the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years.

One would think that responding to a terror attack with less moral clarity and forcefulness than that displayed after the Fort Hood attack would have taken some doing. But the Obami have managed to pull it off. Between Janet Napolitano and the president, they’ve managed to convey confusion, denial, and willful indifference to the nature of our enemies. So the trick then for Obama supporters is to make criticism of that dismal performance seem unseemly or “partisan.” The ever-helpful media isn’t wasting time on that front. A case in point is this gasping Politico account:

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity. The strategy — coming as the Republican leadership seeks to exploit Democratic weaknesses heading into the 2010 midterms — is in many ways a natural for a party that views protecting the U.S. homeland as its ideological raison d’etre and electoral franchise.

Well, I suppose we should be thankful that at least one party has as its “ideological raison d’etre” keeping Americans from being slaughtered by Islamic fanatics. The implication is that there is something nefarious about pointing out how badly the administration is responding to serious threats to Americans. Heaven forbid that elected officials should be concerned that the administration is (once again) not getting it when it comes to the war against Islamic fanatics.

But I would think that Democrats must be awfully nervous. They’ve spent years and years trying to live down the reputation as being “weak on defense” and then along comes a president who seems at best a reluctant commander in chief and at worst devoted to returning to a pre-9/11 mentality – which, after all, left us vulnerable on 9/11 in the first place. Nevertheless, it is up to a not-really Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, to sound serious:

“We were very lucky this time, but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened,” said committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in a statement. “I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked.”

Where is the Democratic congressional leadership? Largely silent. Perhaps the reason why the criticism of the White House’s bungling seems to be coming almost entirely from one side of the political aisle is that the Democrats are largely mute, hoping (and no doubt praying) that the White House will get its act together. But that might not be wise. Many of them, after all, are going to be on the ballot and they might not want to concede that there is only one political party fully dedicated to preventing the murder of their fellow citizens.

They might start by re-examining and then putting a halt to some of the more egregiously irresponsible actions of the Obama administration, including the decision to proceed with a civilian trial for KSM. Certainly they don’t want to have to explain to the American people that they enabled an administration engaged in a deeply misguided effort to reject the policies that kept us safe for seven and a half years.

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More Than Words?

Bill McGurn writes:

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

McGurn argues that Obama would do well to take a break from his “not George W. Bush” approach to everything and back up his new rhetoric with some minimal action. He might, for example, actually meet with some dissidents as Bush did:

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Obama also might fund the Iranian dissidents, sign onto legislation to help the democracy advocates evade censorship, get working on those “crippling” sanctions, and make clear we’re done engaging a regime that lacks the support of its people. But it is far from clear that Obama means to do more than sprinkle in some complimentary words for those whom he has done nothing to aid and much to undercut since the June 12 election. Absent some concrete actions, those words lack meaning and sincerity.

Bill McGurn writes:

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

McGurn argues that Obama would do well to take a break from his “not George W. Bush” approach to everything and back up his new rhetoric with some minimal action. He might, for example, actually meet with some dissidents as Bush did:

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Obama also might fund the Iranian dissidents, sign onto legislation to help the democracy advocates evade censorship, get working on those “crippling” sanctions, and make clear we’re done engaging a regime that lacks the support of its people. But it is far from clear that Obama means to do more than sprinkle in some complimentary words for those whom he has done nothing to aid and much to undercut since the June 12 election. Absent some concrete actions, those words lack meaning and sincerity.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jamie Fly on Obama’s new expression of “deep admiration” for the Iranian protesters: “Now that the President seems so concerned about the events unfolding on Iran’s streets, perhaps someone should ask the White House whether the President believes that Sen. Kerry should even contemplate a visit to Tehran to meet with the very officials that are ordering the beatings and killings he has just condemned.  The answer might tell us how far he is really willing to go to ‘bear witness.’”

Stephen Hayes observes that Obama’s comments “fell so flat,” given the lack of any “action item” other than calling for the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations. It was a “silly statement,” he says. Charles Krauthammer adds: “Meaningless words. . . This is a hinge of history. . . This is a moment in history and he is missing it.”

It isn’t easy being a Democratic incumbent in the Obama era: “Political observers should expect more retirement announcements from centrist Democrats, according to Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), himself a centrist Democrat.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra blasts Obama: “After eleven months in office, the president is still sending contradictory messages on national security. . . He says he wants to address the threats yet look at how he has responded to this, how he responded to Fort Hood, how he’s open to prosecuting folks in the CIA, how he’s closing Guantanamo Bay, and how he’s bringing terror suspects to New York City.”

Rory Cooper of Heritage on Obama’s reaction to the Christmas Day bombing attack: “The overwhelming negative opinion of the President’s reaction is a result of Obama’s reckless complacency over the past year. President Obama spent the past 12 months beating up on the men and women of the CIA, on the soldiers who ably run Gitmo, campaigning against the Patriot Act (even though he now recognizes its importance), making terrorism a law enforcement issue, announcing a show trial for KSM in NYC, and cutting defense appropriations in favor of sweetheart stimulus deals. The first thing he did with Abdulmutallab was to read him his rights.”

Only a day before Obama spinmeister Marc Ambinder was praising the “strategy” of having Obama hide after a terrorist attack. Now he muses: “Did Obama, attempting to make a clean break from the Bush years vis-a-vis communicating to the public about terrorism, put too much faith in DHS Secretary Napolitano to serve as the front-line communicator?” Really, the obsession with being “not Bush” is getting to be pathological — Bush talked to the public directly about terrorism so Obama shouldn’t? Good grief.

You want horrifying? Ann Althouse takes us through the entire Janet Napolitano interview. The full interview is actually worse than the “system worked” snippet. Okay, she’s not the real problem but she’s a horrid Homeland Security Secretary and really should go.

Marc Thiessen warns us: “Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA. . . The problem with this approach is that dead terrorists cannot tell their plans. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told investigators there are ‘more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.’ Who are these terrorists? Where have they been deployed? We may not find out until it is too late because we launched a strike intended to kill the al-Qaeda leaders who could give us vital intelligence.”

Sobering: “A dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his underwear could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft if it had been detonated, according to two federal sources briefed on the investigation.”

Jamie Fly on Obama’s new expression of “deep admiration” for the Iranian protesters: “Now that the President seems so concerned about the events unfolding on Iran’s streets, perhaps someone should ask the White House whether the President believes that Sen. Kerry should even contemplate a visit to Tehran to meet with the very officials that are ordering the beatings and killings he has just condemned.  The answer might tell us how far he is really willing to go to ‘bear witness.’”

Stephen Hayes observes that Obama’s comments “fell so flat,” given the lack of any “action item” other than calling for the Iranian regime to meet its international obligations. It was a “silly statement,” he says. Charles Krauthammer adds: “Meaningless words. . . This is a hinge of history. . . This is a moment in history and he is missing it.”

It isn’t easy being a Democratic incumbent in the Obama era: “Political observers should expect more retirement announcements from centrist Democrats, according to Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), himself a centrist Democrat.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra blasts Obama: “After eleven months in office, the president is still sending contradictory messages on national security. . . He says he wants to address the threats yet look at how he has responded to this, how he responded to Fort Hood, how he’s open to prosecuting folks in the CIA, how he’s closing Guantanamo Bay, and how he’s bringing terror suspects to New York City.”

Rory Cooper of Heritage on Obama’s reaction to the Christmas Day bombing attack: “The overwhelming negative opinion of the President’s reaction is a result of Obama’s reckless complacency over the past year. President Obama spent the past 12 months beating up on the men and women of the CIA, on the soldiers who ably run Gitmo, campaigning against the Patriot Act (even though he now recognizes its importance), making terrorism a law enforcement issue, announcing a show trial for KSM in NYC, and cutting defense appropriations in favor of sweetheart stimulus deals. The first thing he did with Abdulmutallab was to read him his rights.”

Only a day before Obama spinmeister Marc Ambinder was praising the “strategy” of having Obama hide after a terrorist attack. Now he muses: “Did Obama, attempting to make a clean break from the Bush years vis-a-vis communicating to the public about terrorism, put too much faith in DHS Secretary Napolitano to serve as the front-line communicator?” Really, the obsession with being “not Bush” is getting to be pathological — Bush talked to the public directly about terrorism so Obama shouldn’t? Good grief.

You want horrifying? Ann Althouse takes us through the entire Janet Napolitano interview. The full interview is actually worse than the “system worked” snippet. Okay, she’s not the real problem but she’s a horrid Homeland Security Secretary and really should go.

Marc Thiessen warns us: “Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA. . . The problem with this approach is that dead terrorists cannot tell their plans. According to ABC News, Abdulmutallab has told investigators there are ‘more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.’ Who are these terrorists? Where have they been deployed? We may not find out until it is too late because we launched a strike intended to kill the al-Qaeda leaders who could give us vital intelligence.”

Sobering: “A dangerous explosive allegedly concealed by Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his underwear could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft if it had been detonated, according to two federal sources briefed on the investigation.”

Read Less




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