Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 8, 2010

The Next Defense Crunch in Britain

Contracting out in defense is an important public and political issue in both the United States and Britain. When based on the proper principles, contracting out allows the government to draw on private-sector skills and resources to deliver services more efficiently. But in Britain, Labour’s sketchy accounting methods for the cost of these contracts has created another snare for Britain’s defenses.

These contracts, of course, commit the government to future costs. But because Labour has played accounting games that put these contracts on the department books but not the national ones, Britain’s total future obligations  will be larger than those shown on the country’s overall accounts.

Defense isn’t the only department that’s contracted out, of course. Health has done the same thing.  But all the major political parties in Britain are committed to ring-fencing expenditure on health. But the big future obligations certain to show up on defense departmental accounts ensure that when it comes time to examine which departments need to scale back their future spending, the weight will fall even more heavily on defense.

In essence, the Labour government has created another affordability crisis in defense – one that it can now use as yet one more reason to reduce defense spending even further.  Already, over the past few months, the case – a largely spurious one – has been made by Bernard Gray’s report on procurement for imposing more cuts on the Ministry of Defense, on the grounds that its future spending plans are unaffordable.

Even on its own merits, this is a painful confession of governmental incompetence: Labour has been in power since 1997, and yet it now argues that the Ministry has somehow, mysteriously, developed plans it cannot afford to fund.  It’s now setting itself up to play the same game all over again: use the contract spending to which it had once agreed to accuse the Ministry of unaffordable future profligacy.  That would be a bad move at any time, but it’s particularly unbearable when British forces are operating alongside U.S. ones in Afghanistan.

Could it happen here?  Well, not easily.  U.S. policy requires programs to be fully funded up front, so the costs are on the books. The purpose of the U.S.’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative – to improve military housing – is similar to some of Britain’s deals, but by and large the MHPI has been well-administered, successful, and properly accounted for.

Still, in an era of justified unhappiness about the size of the federal deficit, coupled with the administration’s desire to spend, the attraction of taking costs off the books is obvious.  If the Obama administration starts to question the “on the books” requirement in a major way, the British experience suggests we should start worrying.

Contracting out in defense is an important public and political issue in both the United States and Britain. When based on the proper principles, contracting out allows the government to draw on private-sector skills and resources to deliver services more efficiently. But in Britain, Labour’s sketchy accounting methods for the cost of these contracts has created another snare for Britain’s defenses.

These contracts, of course, commit the government to future costs. But because Labour has played accounting games that put these contracts on the department books but not the national ones, Britain’s total future obligations  will be larger than those shown on the country’s overall accounts.

Defense isn’t the only department that’s contracted out, of course. Health has done the same thing.  But all the major political parties in Britain are committed to ring-fencing expenditure on health. But the big future obligations certain to show up on defense departmental accounts ensure that when it comes time to examine which departments need to scale back their future spending, the weight will fall even more heavily on defense.

In essence, the Labour government has created another affordability crisis in defense – one that it can now use as yet one more reason to reduce defense spending even further.  Already, over the past few months, the case – a largely spurious one – has been made by Bernard Gray’s report on procurement for imposing more cuts on the Ministry of Defense, on the grounds that its future spending plans are unaffordable.

Even on its own merits, this is a painful confession of governmental incompetence: Labour has been in power since 1997, and yet it now argues that the Ministry has somehow, mysteriously, developed plans it cannot afford to fund.  It’s now setting itself up to play the same game all over again: use the contract spending to which it had once agreed to accuse the Ministry of unaffordable future profligacy.  That would be a bad move at any time, but it’s particularly unbearable when British forces are operating alongside U.S. ones in Afghanistan.

Could it happen here?  Well, not easily.  U.S. policy requires programs to be fully funded up front, so the costs are on the books. The purpose of the U.S.’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative – to improve military housing – is similar to some of Britain’s deals, but by and large the MHPI has been well-administered, successful, and properly accounted for.

Still, in an era of justified unhappiness about the size of the federal deficit, coupled with the administration’s desire to spend, the attraction of taking costs off the books is obvious.  If the Obama administration starts to question the “on the books” requirement in a major way, the British experience suggests we should start worrying.

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Who Is the Enemy: Islamists or the Global-Warming Scare?

Yesterday, President Obama acknowledged that “We are at war,” though he’s still a bit sketchy about exactly whom we are fighting, since nobody in Washington is allowed to use the “I” word. (It may, however, be possible to say the “T” word every once in a while.) But though the failed airliner attack over Detroit may have concentrated the administration’s collective mind on the task of fighting Islamist terrorists, even if we aren’t allowed to call them that, our overburdened and often confused intelligence services are also being asked to track another deadly enemy: global warming.

Last month, NPR reported that: “For the first time, Pentagon planners in 2010 will include climate change among the security threats identified in the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Congress-mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. The reference to climate change follows the establishment in October of a new Center for the Study of Climate Change at the Central Intelligence Agency.”

This decision was rightly lampooned in an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily. They point out that a group that hasn’t been able to focus with accuracy on the threat from Iranian nukes (as demonstrated by the fallacious National Intelligence Estimate on that subject released in late 2007, which had to be repudiated within months) ought not to be wasting valuable resources worrying about the supposed threat to the polar bears. Recent intelligence failures have highlighted an attitude of complacency about the potent threat from Islamist terror. But instead, the CIA is going to be squandering its efforts playing to the Al Gore environmental alarmist crowd. They seem to be forgetting, as IBD points out, “hijacked airliners, not rogue icebergs, brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.”

IBD’s conclusion is right on target: “We disagree that a purely hypothetical and thoroughly discredited threat to our planet, attributed to our use of carbon-based energy, is as serious as the threat posed by Islamofascism. When the al-Qaeda threat recedes, we’ll start worrying about the glaciers.”

Yesterday, President Obama acknowledged that “We are at war,” though he’s still a bit sketchy about exactly whom we are fighting, since nobody in Washington is allowed to use the “I” word. (It may, however, be possible to say the “T” word every once in a while.) But though the failed airliner attack over Detroit may have concentrated the administration’s collective mind on the task of fighting Islamist terrorists, even if we aren’t allowed to call them that, our overburdened and often confused intelligence services are also being asked to track another deadly enemy: global warming.

Last month, NPR reported that: “For the first time, Pentagon planners in 2010 will include climate change among the security threats identified in the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Congress-mandated report that updates Pentagon priorities every four years. The reference to climate change follows the establishment in October of a new Center for the Study of Climate Change at the Central Intelligence Agency.”

This decision was rightly lampooned in an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily. They point out that a group that hasn’t been able to focus with accuracy on the threat from Iranian nukes (as demonstrated by the fallacious National Intelligence Estimate on that subject released in late 2007, which had to be repudiated within months) ought not to be wasting valuable resources worrying about the supposed threat to the polar bears. Recent intelligence failures have highlighted an attitude of complacency about the potent threat from Islamist terror. But instead, the CIA is going to be squandering its efforts playing to the Al Gore environmental alarmist crowd. They seem to be forgetting, as IBD points out, “hijacked airliners, not rogue icebergs, brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.”

IBD’s conclusion is right on target: “We disagree that a purely hypothetical and thoroughly discredited threat to our planet, attributed to our use of carbon-based energy, is as serious as the threat posed by Islamofascism. When the al-Qaeda threat recedes, we’ll start worrying about the glaciers.”

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More on Obama Becoming More Transparent Every Day

As Pete and I compile what seems like a very long list of “things wrong with Obama,” we should include the descent in tone and the crumbling of Obama’s inspirational rhetoric that characterized his campaign. Many conservatives (including me) didn’t care much for the somewhat inane “we are the world” campaign talk. How could we really be the change we were waiting for? Did he really think oceans would fall once he was in office? But at least he was aiming high and talking in sweeping terms meant to uplift the public. And lots of people felt good about politics. It was something.

Now we get bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Here is what Charles Krauthammer observed of the president’s appearance yesterday afternoon:

I find it mind-numbingly bureaucratic, flat, bloodless. It was almost inside baseball describing how bureaucracies work. And his conclusions? Directive # 1 is: High-priority intelligence will now have to be treated urgently not just some of the time, but all of the time. That’s a remarkable advance!! … A, he said the buck stops here, because it looked as if he was detached and blaming everybody else. Secondly, he said we are at war, which is a concession, because people are complaining about the fact, rightly so, that he gave the bomber over Detroit a defense lawyer and treated him as a civilian defendant.

Others have picked up on it too. Politico’s report explains:

In the case of terrorism, Obama recognizes too that he must be more out front, responding to the public’s gut fears and anger after the attempted attack on a U.S. airliner Christmas Day. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. As a candidate, Obama’s cool was never fatal because so many voters simply imposed their own dreams on him. But wrapped in the bubble of the Oval Office and surrounded by Ivy-educated budget and economic advisers, this detachment is magnified and hurts him with lawmakers and voters alike, looking for more of a connection amid tough times.

Think about that: he realizes he has to be more out front when it comes to responding to a terror attack. It doesn’t apparently come instinctively to jump to the fore and rally the crowd. He doesn’t have anything he really wants to say to us? Indeed, he suggests that all that emotion and all the press conferences (the 24/7 news cycle he disparages) are beneath him. Suddenly it’s ice-water-in-the-veins time.

That inspirational candidate from 2008 is nowhere to be found now. He’s reduced to mouthing bureaucratic platitudes. Is it part of the gambit to de-escalate, once again, the war on Islamic terrorists? Or has he simply lost the rhetorical touch, run out of things to say? Maybe his “eloquence” wasn’t eloquence at all but a short list of buzzwords and New Age window dressing meant to disguise a candidate with a thin resume and limited repertoire of executive skills. Just wondering.

As Pete and I compile what seems like a very long list of “things wrong with Obama,” we should include the descent in tone and the crumbling of Obama’s inspirational rhetoric that characterized his campaign. Many conservatives (including me) didn’t care much for the somewhat inane “we are the world” campaign talk. How could we really be the change we were waiting for? Did he really think oceans would fall once he was in office? But at least he was aiming high and talking in sweeping terms meant to uplift the public. And lots of people felt good about politics. It was something.

Now we get bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Here is what Charles Krauthammer observed of the president’s appearance yesterday afternoon:

I find it mind-numbingly bureaucratic, flat, bloodless. It was almost inside baseball describing how bureaucracies work. And his conclusions? Directive # 1 is: High-priority intelligence will now have to be treated urgently not just some of the time, but all of the time. That’s a remarkable advance!! … A, he said the buck stops here, because it looked as if he was detached and blaming everybody else. Secondly, he said we are at war, which is a concession, because people are complaining about the fact, rightly so, that he gave the bomber over Detroit a defense lawyer and treated him as a civilian defendant.

Others have picked up on it too. Politico’s report explains:

In the case of terrorism, Obama recognizes too that he must be more out front, responding to the public’s gut fears and anger after the attempted attack on a U.S. airliner Christmas Day. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. As a candidate, Obama’s cool was never fatal because so many voters simply imposed their own dreams on him. But wrapped in the bubble of the Oval Office and surrounded by Ivy-educated budget and economic advisers, this detachment is magnified and hurts him with lawmakers and voters alike, looking for more of a connection amid tough times.

Think about that: he realizes he has to be more out front when it comes to responding to a terror attack. It doesn’t apparently come instinctively to jump to the fore and rally the crowd. He doesn’t have anything he really wants to say to us? Indeed, he suggests that all that emotion and all the press conferences (the 24/7 news cycle he disparages) are beneath him. Suddenly it’s ice-water-in-the-veins time.

That inspirational candidate from 2008 is nowhere to be found now. He’s reduced to mouthing bureaucratic platitudes. Is it part of the gambit to de-escalate, once again, the war on Islamic terrorists? Or has he simply lost the rhetorical touch, run out of things to say? Maybe his “eloquence” wasn’t eloquence at all but a short list of buzzwords and New Age window dressing meant to disguise a candidate with a thin resume and limited repertoire of executive skills. Just wondering.

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They Were “Aspirational”

There seemed to be both a bureaucratic and an analytical “disconnect” in the posture communicated by the Obama administration yesterday on the Christmas airliner bombing. On the bureaucratic side, we heard a lot about processing intelligence faster and better, but nothing about executive accountability or improved criteria for the “no-fly list” except the promise of further review. Even more disquieting was the chief analytical point made both in the published White House report and in the oral comments of Obama’s officials: that our intelligence community had not realized the extent to which al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had graduated from an “aspirational” to an “operational” terrorist group.

Forget, for the moment, whether the intelligence community ought to have realized it. The more fundamental question is why keeping a traveler with known terrorist associations off a passenger jet should have been contingent on intelligence believing his specific group to have gone beyond the “aspirational” level. In the simplest analytical terms, the main way in which we figure out which groups have become operational, as opposed to aspirational, is seeing them mount attacks. Waiting on that level of proof, rather than acting earlier and on more general suspicion, is a very dangerous approach.

There is no indication from the White House, however, of an intention to change that approach. Our analytical delay in recognizing AQAP as operational is instead being offered as a central reason for the failure – as if there were no impetus to act, in a given situation, without such recognition. The nature of the threat should convince us otherwise, of course: terrorist activity will never be so distinctive and detectable that we can afford to dismiss as definitive the absence of indicators. We must acknowledge, moreover, that in Abdulmutallab’s case, there was no absence of indicators; rather, there was a ridiculously comprehensive list of indicators.  Apparently the only thing missing was the intelligence community’s judgment that AQAP had become operational.

The lesson from Abdulmutallab’s bombing attempt is that our own criteria for action are creating a serious vulnerability for us. I am far less interested in which counterterrorism officials took vacation time after the Christmas Day attack than in the dangerous implications of this complacent security posture. This basic confusion about the urgency our suspicion ought to have – this, right here – is what needs to be corrected. If it is not, American lives will remain hostage to an overly bureaucratic approach to national security.

There seemed to be both a bureaucratic and an analytical “disconnect” in the posture communicated by the Obama administration yesterday on the Christmas airliner bombing. On the bureaucratic side, we heard a lot about processing intelligence faster and better, but nothing about executive accountability or improved criteria for the “no-fly list” except the promise of further review. Even more disquieting was the chief analytical point made both in the published White House report and in the oral comments of Obama’s officials: that our intelligence community had not realized the extent to which al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had graduated from an “aspirational” to an “operational” terrorist group.

Forget, for the moment, whether the intelligence community ought to have realized it. The more fundamental question is why keeping a traveler with known terrorist associations off a passenger jet should have been contingent on intelligence believing his specific group to have gone beyond the “aspirational” level. In the simplest analytical terms, the main way in which we figure out which groups have become operational, as opposed to aspirational, is seeing them mount attacks. Waiting on that level of proof, rather than acting earlier and on more general suspicion, is a very dangerous approach.

There is no indication from the White House, however, of an intention to change that approach. Our analytical delay in recognizing AQAP as operational is instead being offered as a central reason for the failure – as if there were no impetus to act, in a given situation, without such recognition. The nature of the threat should convince us otherwise, of course: terrorist activity will never be so distinctive and detectable that we can afford to dismiss as definitive the absence of indicators. We must acknowledge, moreover, that in Abdulmutallab’s case, there was no absence of indicators; rather, there was a ridiculously comprehensive list of indicators.  Apparently the only thing missing was the intelligence community’s judgment that AQAP had become operational.

The lesson from Abdulmutallab’s bombing attempt is that our own criteria for action are creating a serious vulnerability for us. I am far less interested in which counterterrorism officials took vacation time after the Christmas Day attack than in the dangerous implications of this complacent security posture. This basic confusion about the urgency our suspicion ought to have – this, right here – is what needs to be corrected. If it is not, American lives will remain hostage to an overly bureaucratic approach to national security.

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Once-Triumphalist Democrats Face Bleak Election Outlook

The widely respected political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in the wake of political developments throughout the last week, says this:

In the world of economics, a virtuous circle is created when a series of positive events triggers a self-perpetuating pattern of other good occurrences — a positive feedback loop, in other words. A vicious circle, of course, is just the opposite and appears to be what Democrats are caught in these days.

Cook goes on to say that in the House, he is still forecasting that Democrats will lose “only” 20 to 30 seats (when Republicans lost 30 seats in 2006, it was said to be a landslide). But he adds:

Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats’ chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either “Solid Democratic” or “Likely Democratic,” meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their “Solid” and “Likely” columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs.

The political troubles for Obama and the Democrats continue to mount, so much so that many people would not be surprised by a repeat of what happened in the 1994 mid-term elections, where Democrats lost more than 50 House seats and control of the House of Representatives. Today’s Democratic Party is in worse shape — and arguably considerably worse shape — now than it was then.

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville not all that long ago, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Strange Death of Republican America, declared, “No one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.” And Michael Lind added this: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.”

If so, the Fourth Republic of the United States — unlike the French Fourth Republic – will not have lasted long or turned out well.

Republicans should not succumb to the same intoxication that Democrats did in 2008. Politics is a fluid business; a lot can change in a hurry. But right now there is no question that Obamaism and the Democratic Party are in very dangerous territory — and if present trends continue, 2010 will be a monumentally bad year for both.

The widely respected political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in the wake of political developments throughout the last week, says this:

In the world of economics, a virtuous circle is created when a series of positive events triggers a self-perpetuating pattern of other good occurrences — a positive feedback loop, in other words. A vicious circle, of course, is just the opposite and appears to be what Democrats are caught in these days.

Cook goes on to say that in the House, he is still forecasting that Democrats will lose “only” 20 to 30 seats (when Republicans lost 30 seats in 2006, it was said to be a landslide). But he adds:

Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats’ chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either “Solid Democratic” or “Likely Democratic,” meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their “Solid” and “Likely” columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs.

The political troubles for Obama and the Democrats continue to mount, so much so that many people would not be surprised by a repeat of what happened in the 1994 mid-term elections, where Democrats lost more than 50 House seats and control of the House of Representatives. Today’s Democratic Party is in worse shape — and arguably considerably worse shape — now than it was then.

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville not all that long ago, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Strange Death of Republican America, declared, “No one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.” And Michael Lind added this: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.”

If so, the Fourth Republic of the United States — unlike the French Fourth Republic – will not have lasted long or turned out well.

Republicans should not succumb to the same intoxication that Democrats did in 2008. Politics is a fluid business; a lot can change in a hurry. But right now there is no question that Obamaism and the Democratic Party are in very dangerous territory — and if present trends continue, 2010 will be a monumentally bad year for both.

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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Margins Matter

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reports on a major ad buy by a third-party group, The American Future Fund, on behalf of GOP senate candidate Scott Brown:

“Call Martha Coakley and tell her we can’t afford more taxes,” urges the ad’s narrator. The commercial, which will cost the group $400,000 for a five-day statewide buy, is the first of several planned ads hitting Coakley in advance of her Jan. 19 special election race against state Sen. Scott Brown, according to a source familiar with AFF’s strategy. The ad buy is welcome news for Brown who has been drastically outraised by Coakley and will be outspent badly on television in the closing days of the campaign. The AFF ads land as the race has begun to draw some national attention for the fact that some within the GOP believe Brown might be able to win.

Well, yes he might. If the margin is really only two points among those certain to vote, this is hardly in the bag for Coakley. And in fact, she’s had to go on the air with her own ads, a sign that those polls are narrowing. Cillizza remains skeptical that Brown can win, and in a Massachusetts race to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, there is good reason to be so. But then he gives away the game: “Margin may matter here; Republicans will almost certainly declare victory if Brown loses by single digits.” Indeed they will, given that Obama won the state in 2008 by a 62 to 37 percent margin.

Brown has made the race a referendum on Obama’s policies; the Democrats are having a run of retirements; the GOP is basking in reports of good recruitment; and the media seem poised for a new storyline (“Is Obama in trouble?”). This means a close race is likely to be read as one more data point in the trend – further evidence of the Democrats’ political meltdown. (Cillizza notes Charlie Cook now puts the chances at 50-50 of the Democrats’ numbers sinking to 55 in the Senate.) So, yes, Brown could in fact win – and the GOP can win by losing.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reports on a major ad buy by a third-party group, The American Future Fund, on behalf of GOP senate candidate Scott Brown:

“Call Martha Coakley and tell her we can’t afford more taxes,” urges the ad’s narrator. The commercial, which will cost the group $400,000 for a five-day statewide buy, is the first of several planned ads hitting Coakley in advance of her Jan. 19 special election race against state Sen. Scott Brown, according to a source familiar with AFF’s strategy. The ad buy is welcome news for Brown who has been drastically outraised by Coakley and will be outspent badly on television in the closing days of the campaign. The AFF ads land as the race has begun to draw some national attention for the fact that some within the GOP believe Brown might be able to win.

Well, yes he might. If the margin is really only two points among those certain to vote, this is hardly in the bag for Coakley. And in fact, she’s had to go on the air with her own ads, a sign that those polls are narrowing. Cillizza remains skeptical that Brown can win, and in a Massachusetts race to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, there is good reason to be so. But then he gives away the game: “Margin may matter here; Republicans will almost certainly declare victory if Brown loses by single digits.” Indeed they will, given that Obama won the state in 2008 by a 62 to 37 percent margin.

Brown has made the race a referendum on Obama’s policies; the Democrats are having a run of retirements; the GOP is basking in reports of good recruitment; and the media seem poised for a new storyline (“Is Obama in trouble?”). This means a close race is likely to be read as one more data point in the trend – further evidence of the Democrats’ political meltdown. (Cillizza notes Charlie Cook now puts the chances at 50-50 of the Democrats’ numbers sinking to 55 in the Senate.) So, yes, Brown could in fact win – and the GOP can win by losing.

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Re: Re: Obama Becoming More Transparent Every Day

Thanks, Jen, for your good post. I’ll add an additional point to the ones you make. Both of the other presidents you cite — Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan — benefited from being seen as successful presidents who governed when the economy was going strong. If external circumstances had been different, and worse, both men would have paid a much higher political price. The public is willing to overlook a lot if the country seems to be humming along.

Obama’s problem — one of many — is that not only is he breaking a bond of trust with the American public; it’s that he increasingly looks like a president overmatched by events — and his policies are making a difficult economic situation worse rather than better.

Will the bank of dark clouds soon break for Obama? Will he and his party reassert themselves in the next year and in the years to come? It’s possible, of course; Bill Clinton started slowly and recovered. So have others. But it seems to me that Obama’s actions have begun a chain of events that will hurt him, and perhaps haunt him, for some time to come.

Thanks, Jen, for your good post. I’ll add an additional point to the ones you make. Both of the other presidents you cite — Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan — benefited from being seen as successful presidents who governed when the economy was going strong. If external circumstances had been different, and worse, both men would have paid a much higher political price. The public is willing to overlook a lot if the country seems to be humming along.

Obama’s problem — one of many — is that not only is he breaking a bond of trust with the American public; it’s that he increasingly looks like a president overmatched by events — and his policies are making a difficult economic situation worse rather than better.

Will the bank of dark clouds soon break for Obama? Will he and his party reassert themselves in the next year and in the years to come? It’s possible, of course; Bill Clinton started slowly and recovered. So have others. But it seems to me that Obama’s actions have begun a chain of events that will hurt him, and perhaps haunt him, for some time to come.

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Everything You Need to Know About Jewish-Arab Dialogue in America

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

It is a staple of well-meaning community-relations work as well as journalism: the tale of two people from clashing groups who are rising above their differences to forge a friendship on behalf of a common goal. The New York Times provides a classic example in today’s sports section, which tells the story of two members of Princeton University’s women’s basketball team: “Princeton Duo, Palestinian-American and Jewish, Puts Aside Politics.” It’s a feel-good feature about Niveen Rasheed and Lauren Polansky, who are close friends and teammates on a good Tiger hoops squad.

But while the friendship seems genuine, the premise of the piece, that the two have “put aside politics,” isn’t even close to being true. While Rasheed is a fervent supporter of Palestinian nationalism and a critic of the “Israeli government,” Polansky has no such commitment to the other side of that argument. She is merely the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. She was, we are told, “raised Jewish.” But whatever that means, it didn’t include any strong feelings about the State of Israel or Zionism. “None of that political stuff that is going on the other side of the world is that important to me,” Polansky says. That’s all well and good. Rasheed has the right to enthusiastically support her relatives’ political cause; and Lauren Polansky has the right not to give a hoot about the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their historic homeland or their right of self-defense against Palestinians who wish to destroy that state for the sake of their own conception of a just solution to the conflict.  Just don’t tell us this is a tale of two people who have risen above a conflict to make friends — because there is clearly no conflict between the two on this issue. Rasheed cares about her cause, and Polansky is indifferent to it.  The piece is clearly imbalanced — the Palestinian mother is allowed to pose as tolerant because she claims to “love” Polansky despite the fact that she is Jewish — but that is almost unimportant, as there is really no dialogue about the conflict going on here to rise above.

This is, of course, all too familiar to observers of more formal attempts at Jewish-Arab dialogue in this country. Inevitably, they consist of Arabs who are passionately opposed to Israel alongside Jews who either completely agree with the Arabs or, as is the case with Lauren Polansky, have no strong convictions about the issues. Such exchanges do nothing to enhance the cause of community relations or peace because they merely reinforce the Arabs’ conviction that they are in the right without causing them to question any of their own premises. That so many American Jews play this game to enhance their own sense of themselves as broad-minded and pro-peace is absurd and another testament to the truth of Edward Alexander’s dictum that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”

A better example of a story of Jews and Arabs rising above their differences was printed in the Times last week. In it, Times Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner wrote about two families whose children were wounded in the fighting around Gaza who have bonded while spending time alongside each other in the hospital. Its virtue lies not only in its recounting of two tragedies — a little Israeli boy critically wounded by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza and a Palestinian girl paralyzed by a missile fired at the Hamas terrorists — but also in that it mercifully eschews the sort of political cant and smarmy writing that was on display in the story about the Princeton students.

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Re: Obama Becoming More Transparent Every Day

Pete, I concur with your smart take on the bone-crushing disappointment that those who took Obama’s message so seriously must now feel. There is an additional factor, I think, that’s working against him.

To be blunt, he’s not likable. His cool reserve comes across as condescension or insensitivity. He shows none of the self-deprecating humor that Ronald Reagan used to good effect. Unlike Bill Clinton, he doesn’t seem to relish the job of being president. He lashes out at critics, displays peevishness toward the media, which is far more sympathetic to him than nearly all his predecessors, and seems to resent inconveniences that are part and parcel of the job (e.g., the terrorist attack that interrupted his vacation).

Being liked isn’t everything, but the president needs an ongoing connection with the American people if he is to be successful and weather storms. When Clinton was going through impeachment proceedings, you had the sense he was going to survive, in large part because Americans, as exasperated as they were with him, were willing to cut him a lot of slack, as they would a relative who tried their patience but was part of the family nevertheless. During Iran-Contra, Americans stuck with Reagan, having forged a relationship of trust and affection with their president. Obama will regret not bonding with the American people and holding himself at such a distance from his fellow citizens. He will need their indulgence, and yes their affection, in tough times. Unless he works at cultivating that relationship with the American people and puts aside a level of snootiness that slipped out from time to time during the campaign (e.g., deriding those who clung to religion and guns), he may find himself without support when he needs it most.

Pete, I concur with your smart take on the bone-crushing disappointment that those who took Obama’s message so seriously must now feel. There is an additional factor, I think, that’s working against him.

To be blunt, he’s not likable. His cool reserve comes across as condescension or insensitivity. He shows none of the self-deprecating humor that Ronald Reagan used to good effect. Unlike Bill Clinton, he doesn’t seem to relish the job of being president. He lashes out at critics, displays peevishness toward the media, which is far more sympathetic to him than nearly all his predecessors, and seems to resent inconveniences that are part and parcel of the job (e.g., the terrorist attack that interrupted his vacation).

Being liked isn’t everything, but the president needs an ongoing connection with the American people if he is to be successful and weather storms. When Clinton was going through impeachment proceedings, you had the sense he was going to survive, in large part because Americans, as exasperated as they were with him, were willing to cut him a lot of slack, as they would a relative who tried their patience but was part of the family nevertheless. During Iran-Contra, Americans stuck with Reagan, having forged a relationship of trust and affection with their president. Obama will regret not bonding with the American people and holding himself at such a distance from his fellow citizens. He will need their indulgence, and yes their affection, in tough times. Unless he works at cultivating that relationship with the American people and puts aside a level of snootiness that slipped out from time to time during the campaign (e.g., deriding those who clung to religion and guns), he may find himself without support when he needs it most.

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Still Shedding Jobs

The job news is not good — still :

U.S. job losses resumed in December after revisions showed payrolls rose in November for the first time in nearly two years, the Labor Department estimated Friday. Nonfarm payrolls fell by a seasonally adjusted 85,000 in December following a revised 4,000 gain in November. During 2009, payrolls fell by 4.2 million. Since the recession began two years ago, payrolls have fallen by 7.3 million. Next month, the government will incorporate annual benchmark revisions that will likely push the total job loss to more than 8 million. The official unemployment rate remained at 10% in December. Details of the report were weak, with few signs of further improvement in labor conditions. One bright spot: temporary help jobs rose by 46,500, a leading indicator of permanent employment.

However, fewer industries were hiring in December than in October, and the number of discouraged workers rose by 287,000 to 929,000. The employment participation rate fell to 64.6% from 64.9%. Total hours worked in the economy were unchanged. The average workweek was unchanged at 33.2 hours.

The prospect of long-term, sky-high unemployment is a daunting one for Americans, as well as for those in office. As the White House persists in its dogged pursuit of ObamaCare, looks forward to the day when it can raise taxes by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, and insists that climate-change legislation is still on the table, the public may come to see the Obami as increasingly out to lunch. The insistence by the president on pursuing anti-growth and anti-jobs policies while sprinkling in small-beans jobs initiatives (another one is set to be announced today on “clean technology manufacturing jobs”) suggests that he really doesn’t grasp the fact that job producers in the private sector need more than dog-and-pony shows to get them to jump-start their hiring. The administration might start with “doing no harm” — committing to raising no taxes on any American until the economy recovers. Now that would be a change we could believe in.

The job news is not good — still :

U.S. job losses resumed in December after revisions showed payrolls rose in November for the first time in nearly two years, the Labor Department estimated Friday. Nonfarm payrolls fell by a seasonally adjusted 85,000 in December following a revised 4,000 gain in November. During 2009, payrolls fell by 4.2 million. Since the recession began two years ago, payrolls have fallen by 7.3 million. Next month, the government will incorporate annual benchmark revisions that will likely push the total job loss to more than 8 million. The official unemployment rate remained at 10% in December. Details of the report were weak, with few signs of further improvement in labor conditions. One bright spot: temporary help jobs rose by 46,500, a leading indicator of permanent employment.

However, fewer industries were hiring in December than in October, and the number of discouraged workers rose by 287,000 to 929,000. The employment participation rate fell to 64.6% from 64.9%. Total hours worked in the economy were unchanged. The average workweek was unchanged at 33.2 hours.

The prospect of long-term, sky-high unemployment is a daunting one for Americans, as well as for those in office. As the White House persists in its dogged pursuit of ObamaCare, looks forward to the day when it can raise taxes by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, and insists that climate-change legislation is still on the table, the public may come to see the Obami as increasingly out to lunch. The insistence by the president on pursuing anti-growth and anti-jobs policies while sprinkling in small-beans jobs initiatives (another one is set to be announced today on “clean technology manufacturing jobs”) suggests that he really doesn’t grasp the fact that job producers in the private sector need more than dog-and-pony shows to get them to jump-start their hiring. The administration might start with “doing no harm” — committing to raising no taxes on any American until the economy recovers. Now that would be a change we could believe in.

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Obama Becoming More ‘Transparent’ Every Day

Sometimes in the life of a politician, a particular moment, word, or act defines them — and badly damages them. This much-viewed montage of comments by Barack Obama, repeatedly promising that he would allow C-SPAN to broadcast health-care negotiations, may well qualify. The reason is that it requires no commentary or interpretation by others; it is Barack Obama in his own words — words we now know to be false, cynical, and (quite literally) unbelievable. My hunch is that this episode will do considerable harm to Obama’s standing with the public, in part because it annihilates what had been at the core of the Obama campaign and the Obama appeal: the belief that he embodied a new, uplifting kind of politics; that transparency would be a watchword of his presidency; that he would “turn the page” on the practice of cynical politics. It is not simply that the negotiations will not appear on C-SPAN; it is that the process itself has been a model of payoffs and backroom deals, of dishonest arguments and false claims, of secrecy and cynicism.

It’s important to recall that Obama was not elected because of his record or personal achievements or the power of his ideas; by those standards, Obama offered very little. His appeal was to the aesthetic side of politics; his supporters spoke of him, and at times Obama spoke of himself, in almost mythical terms. He would not only govern well, they believed; he would transform the way politics was practiced. Mr. Obama was so good, so pure, so very nearly perfect that, as one liberal person I correspond with wrote me, our country did not deserve him. (I responded that I agreed our country did not deserve Obama as president — but for the opposite reasons.)

It turns out it was all an elaborate, beautifully packaged, wonderfully choreographed, and deeply dishonest game. Before this concern was inchoate; now, thanks to the “these negotiations will be on C-SPAN” video, it is metastasizing. (It cannot be reassuring to the White House that Jon Stewart ridiculed Obama last night on his program; see the link to “Stealth Care Reform” here.)

One of the most precious qualities a president is granted by citizenry is trust, the belief that even if one disagrees with the president, his word is good, his integrity intact. When that is squandered — whether in drips and drabs or because of a single incident — there is often no way to get it back. And then, almost in the blink of an eye, things change. Without him realizing it, Mr. Obama may be reaching that point with the American public. They don’t like to be played for fools.

The health-care debate has involved pushing through massive, extremely unpopular, and incoherent legislation. In the process Mr. Obama has shattered the most appealing aspects of his image. The direct and collateral political damage of this entire enterprise on Mr. Obama and his party will be almost incalculable.

Sometimes in the life of a politician, a particular moment, word, or act defines them — and badly damages them. This much-viewed montage of comments by Barack Obama, repeatedly promising that he would allow C-SPAN to broadcast health-care negotiations, may well qualify. The reason is that it requires no commentary or interpretation by others; it is Barack Obama in his own words — words we now know to be false, cynical, and (quite literally) unbelievable. My hunch is that this episode will do considerable harm to Obama’s standing with the public, in part because it annihilates what had been at the core of the Obama campaign and the Obama appeal: the belief that he embodied a new, uplifting kind of politics; that transparency would be a watchword of his presidency; that he would “turn the page” on the practice of cynical politics. It is not simply that the negotiations will not appear on C-SPAN; it is that the process itself has been a model of payoffs and backroom deals, of dishonest arguments and false claims, of secrecy and cynicism.

It’s important to recall that Obama was not elected because of his record or personal achievements or the power of his ideas; by those standards, Obama offered very little. His appeal was to the aesthetic side of politics; his supporters spoke of him, and at times Obama spoke of himself, in almost mythical terms. He would not only govern well, they believed; he would transform the way politics was practiced. Mr. Obama was so good, so pure, so very nearly perfect that, as one liberal person I correspond with wrote me, our country did not deserve him. (I responded that I agreed our country did not deserve Obama as president — but for the opposite reasons.)

It turns out it was all an elaborate, beautifully packaged, wonderfully choreographed, and deeply dishonest game. Before this concern was inchoate; now, thanks to the “these negotiations will be on C-SPAN” video, it is metastasizing. (It cannot be reassuring to the White House that Jon Stewart ridiculed Obama last night on his program; see the link to “Stealth Care Reform” here.)

One of the most precious qualities a president is granted by citizenry is trust, the belief that even if one disagrees with the president, his word is good, his integrity intact. When that is squandered — whether in drips and drabs or because of a single incident — there is often no way to get it back. And then, almost in the blink of an eye, things change. Without him realizing it, Mr. Obama may be reaching that point with the American public. They don’t like to be played for fools.

The health-care debate has involved pushing through massive, extremely unpopular, and incoherent legislation. In the process Mr. Obama has shattered the most appealing aspects of his image. The direct and collateral political damage of this entire enterprise on Mr. Obama and his party will be almost incalculable.

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Stuck in Oslo with George Mitchell

Yes, the man has an impossible job. But making himself complicit in the Palestinian Authority’s desire to have it both ways on terrorism — talk up PA security cooperation in English but celebrate terrorism in Arabic — isn’t going to make it any easier.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, one of the Obama administration’s diplomatic rules appears to be that the Palestinians will never be publicly criticized. Israel, of course, gets publicly criticized by the administration on a near weekly basis. Predictably, this has given the PA room to engage in its favorite double game.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PA leadership has repeatedly lauded Fatah terrorists and their acts of murder. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have personally engaged in the celebrations. This finally provoked the Israeli PM’s office to protest to the Americans that

the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are engaging in incitement by honoring a woman responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, and calling the men who killed Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai last month martyrs. …

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, said in response that “those Palestinian terrorists are murderers, not martyrs. We expect the PA to prepare the Palestinian people to live in peace with Israel and not glorify killers and name public squares after them.”

What was Mitchell’s reaction? Could he muster the kind of moral outrage that the Obama administration routinely reserves, say, for Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem? Well, no. He went on the Charlie Rose show and lauded Fayyad as an “impressive leader” and declared that the Fayyad-Abbas team represents “strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people.” This will not end well.

Yes, the man has an impossible job. But making himself complicit in the Palestinian Authority’s desire to have it both ways on terrorism — talk up PA security cooperation in English but celebrate terrorism in Arabic — isn’t going to make it any easier.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, one of the Obama administration’s diplomatic rules appears to be that the Palestinians will never be publicly criticized. Israel, of course, gets publicly criticized by the administration on a near weekly basis. Predictably, this has given the PA room to engage in its favorite double game.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PA leadership has repeatedly lauded Fatah terrorists and their acts of murder. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad have personally engaged in the celebrations. This finally provoked the Israeli PM’s office to protest to the Americans that

the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are engaging in incitement by honoring a woman responsible for the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, and calling the men who killed Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai last month martyrs. …

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy director, Ron Dermer, said in response that “those Palestinian terrorists are murderers, not martyrs. We expect the PA to prepare the Palestinian people to live in peace with Israel and not glorify killers and name public squares after them.”

What was Mitchell’s reaction? Could he muster the kind of moral outrage that the Obama administration routinely reserves, say, for Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem? Well, no. He went on the Charlie Rose show and lauded Fayyad as an “impressive leader” and declared that the Fayyad-Abbas team represents “strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people.” This will not end well.

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The Inactive President

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the “Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

It’s been quite a week. Democrats are fleeing for retirement. The president has spent days in meetings with national-security advisers and fending off claims that he does not take his job as commander in chief seriously. The Republican Senate candidate in Massachusetts has the momentum. And C-SPAN, joined by the rest of the media, is bashing the Obami for reneging on their promise to televise the health-care negotiations. Who’d have thought that this is what the Obama presidency would look like?

Obama and his party seem to be careering from one political debacle to the next, waiting for the next high-profile incumbent to drop out and bracing themselves for the next round of criticism, which is sure to follow another in a series of damage-control statements. The “No Drama Obama” has been replaced by the Perils of Pauline presidency. (Or is it the Keystone Kops?) The aura of competence has been shattered, replaced by the realization that the president finds governance very, very hard and has accomplished quite little despite large congressional majorities.

It’s ironic that Obama most likely sealed his election win during those fateful days in September 2008 when the financial sector seemed to melt before our eyes. Sen. John McCain was the frantic one then. (The campaign is off! It’s on!) Obama did virtually nothing – merely staging thoughtful meetings with Paul Volker and Warren Buffett and saying rather little. That, with the help of a fawning media, was enough to convince a majority of voters that he was good in a crisis, calm and reflective. What he wasn’t then — and what he has not been since taking office — was assertive, bold, decisive, or innovative. He just had a lot of meetings.

And that’s what he does now — have meetings (endlessly) on Afghanistan, the Christmas Day bombing, jobs, and the rest. There is a professorial or perhaps bureaucratic quality to it, as if the meetings themselves were the solution or the appearance of thoughtful discussion would soothe the public. But that’s what gets you through a campaign. Now, when he’s invested with the full power and responsibility of the presidency, he doesn’t appear to be leading or setting policy. Rather, he’s buffeted by one or another crisis.

His policies may be wrongheaded and may have put off many voters. Certainly that’s part of what ails him and what’s caused his poll numbers to plummet. But it’s his persona that is especially disconcerting. There is a void, an absence of resolute leadership. It’s not enough to seem calm and have meetings. He needs to do something. Right now, what he’s doing mainly is reacting to events and hoping the public and media will calm down. And that’s not what we expect of our president.

George W. Bush was mocked when he referred to himself as the “Decider.” But come to think of it, that’s what we could use — a no-nonsense and decisive leader who can (as Bush did on the Iraq war) see when policy has gone awry, fire advisers, and communicate complete determination to achieve his aims. We could use some of that now. And fewer meetings.

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Is Obama Really Shaken?

David Broder, like many pundits more conservative in outlook who have hoped for an Obama “Ah ha!” moment, seems to think that Obama will have an epiphany in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing plot. He contends:

The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last.

Really? It’s hard to discern. Obama has not ordered a review and reconsideration of his fundamental policy decisions. He has not declared that classifying terrorists as criminal defendants may require a second look. He’s still bent on closing Guantanamo. Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers still reign supreme at the Justice Department, and KSM is headed for trial. And so far, not a single Obama official has been fired for what the president concedes was an abominable screwup. We have no new declaration of U.S. policy. How shocked could he be?

Broder divines that the “Christmas plot appears to have shaken Obama like nothing else that happened in his first year.” But how can we tell? This seems, frankly, to be a bit of wishful thinking, just as observers listening to the Nobel Peace Prize speech saw glimmers of a tougher Iran policy or a more robust assertion of American exceptionalism. Certainly we’ve come a long way since the Hawaii performance, when the president proclaimed the Christmas Day bombing plot the work of an “isolated extremist,” but the reaction has been a flurry of incremental, bureaucratic adjustments. Former 9/11 commission member John Lehman let it rip, deriding the Obama response:

President Obama just doesn’t get it. … I don’t think he has a clue. It’s all pure spin. He’s ignoring key issues and taking respectable professionals like John Brennan and turning them into hacks and shills. It’s beyond contempt. The president has ignored the 9/11 Commission’s report. … This whole idea that we can fix things by jumping higher and faster is ridiculous. The fact is that the system worked just like we said it would work if the president failed to give the Director of National Intelligence the tools he needs: it’s bloated, bureaucratic, layered, and stultified.

President Obama continues to totally ignore one of the important thrusts of our 9/11 recommendations, which is that you have to approach counterterrorism as a multiagency intelligence issue, and not as a law-enforcement issue.

Obama and his political gurus have figured out that the president’s national-security stance — downplaying the war against Islamic fundamentalists, hyper-legalistic rhetoric, a refusal to recognize jihadist attacks as part of a concerted war on the West, etc. — is a political loser. The public, Congress, and the media recoiled in horror when they saw the president’s ho-hum reaction to an attempt to incinerate nearly 300 people. But understanding the political peril does not signify a commitment to rethink policy assumptions. That would require a fundamental reorientation away from the “not Bush” policies, including the decision to classify terrorists captured in the U.S. as criminal defendants and to try them in civilian courts. Even the Washington Post editors sense that the response is somehow not commensurate with the gravity of the intelligence failure:

Mr. Obama’s solutions have the air of the small bore: a “training course” for the National Security Agency; a “dedicated capability responsible for enhancing record information on possible terrorists … for watchlisting purposes.” Perhaps a series of individual tweaks will do the job. But the administration report suggests that the problem is less tractable than Mr. Obama has acknowledged. His depiction Thursday of the shortcomings was admirably honest and more frightening than previously portrayed. His proposed fixes did not entirely reassure.

The fixes do not reassure because they do not begin to address the most basic errors of the Obama administration and its odd predilection, made odder by mismatched rhetoric, to see the war against Islamic fundamentalists as peripheral to its agenda. We will know that Obama has really been “shaken” when the war on Islamic terrorists is identified as such, when that becomes the core mission of the administration and when the president’s policies and not just his rhetoric changes.

David Broder, like many pundits more conservative in outlook who have hoped for an Obama “Ah ha!” moment, seems to think that Obama will have an epiphany in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing plot. He contends:

The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last.

Really? It’s hard to discern. Obama has not ordered a review and reconsideration of his fundamental policy decisions. He has not declared that classifying terrorists as criminal defendants may require a second look. He’s still bent on closing Guantanamo. Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers still reign supreme at the Justice Department, and KSM is headed for trial. And so far, not a single Obama official has been fired for what the president concedes was an abominable screwup. We have no new declaration of U.S. policy. How shocked could he be?

Broder divines that the “Christmas plot appears to have shaken Obama like nothing else that happened in his first year.” But how can we tell? This seems, frankly, to be a bit of wishful thinking, just as observers listening to the Nobel Peace Prize speech saw glimmers of a tougher Iran policy or a more robust assertion of American exceptionalism. Certainly we’ve come a long way since the Hawaii performance, when the president proclaimed the Christmas Day bombing plot the work of an “isolated extremist,” but the reaction has been a flurry of incremental, bureaucratic adjustments. Former 9/11 commission member John Lehman let it rip, deriding the Obama response:

President Obama just doesn’t get it. … I don’t think he has a clue. It’s all pure spin. He’s ignoring key issues and taking respectable professionals like John Brennan and turning them into hacks and shills. It’s beyond contempt. The president has ignored the 9/11 Commission’s report. … This whole idea that we can fix things by jumping higher and faster is ridiculous. The fact is that the system worked just like we said it would work if the president failed to give the Director of National Intelligence the tools he needs: it’s bloated, bureaucratic, layered, and stultified.

President Obama continues to totally ignore one of the important thrusts of our 9/11 recommendations, which is that you have to approach counterterrorism as a multiagency intelligence issue, and not as a law-enforcement issue.

Obama and his political gurus have figured out that the president’s national-security stance — downplaying the war against Islamic fundamentalists, hyper-legalistic rhetoric, a refusal to recognize jihadist attacks as part of a concerted war on the West, etc. — is a political loser. The public, Congress, and the media recoiled in horror when they saw the president’s ho-hum reaction to an attempt to incinerate nearly 300 people. But understanding the political peril does not signify a commitment to rethink policy assumptions. That would require a fundamental reorientation away from the “not Bush” policies, including the decision to classify terrorists captured in the U.S. as criminal defendants and to try them in civilian courts. Even the Washington Post editors sense that the response is somehow not commensurate with the gravity of the intelligence failure:

Mr. Obama’s solutions have the air of the small bore: a “training course” for the National Security Agency; a “dedicated capability responsible for enhancing record information on possible terrorists … for watchlisting purposes.” Perhaps a series of individual tweaks will do the job. But the administration report suggests that the problem is less tractable than Mr. Obama has acknowledged. His depiction Thursday of the shortcomings was admirably honest and more frightening than previously portrayed. His proposed fixes did not entirely reassure.

The fixes do not reassure because they do not begin to address the most basic errors of the Obama administration and its odd predilection, made odder by mismatched rhetoric, to see the war against Islamic fundamentalists as peripheral to its agenda. We will know that Obama has really been “shaken” when the war on Islamic terrorists is identified as such, when that becomes the core mission of the administration and when the president’s policies and not just his rhetoric changes.

Read Less

The Opposition Coalition

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

From Fox News on your government at work: “The State Department is planning to welcome thousands of immigrants from terror-watch list countries into the United States this year through a ‘diversity visa’ lottery — a giant legal loophole some lawmakers say is a ‘serious national security threat’ that has gone unchecked for years. Ostensibly designed to increase ethnic diversity among immigrants, the program invites in thousands of poorly educated laborers with few job skills — and that’s only the beginning of its problems, according to lawmakers and government investigations.”

C-SPAN isn’t pleased with Obama’s reneging on his promise to televise the health-care debates: “C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb accused President Obama of using his network as a ‘political football’ during the presidential campaign, citing the president’s broken pledge to televise health care reform negotiations on the nonpartisan channel which is devoted to covering Washington.”

Harry Reid is trying to chase Harold Ford out of the New York Senate race.

Is Martha Coakley in trouble in Massachusetts? The New York Times frets: “The news that two senior Democratic senators will retire this year in the face of bleak re-election prospects has created anxiety and, even in this bluest of states, a sense that the balance of power has shifted dramatically from just a year ago. With the holidays over and public attention refocused on the race, Ms. Coakley’s insistence on debating her Republican opponent, Scott P. Brown, only with a third-party candidate present has drawn mounting criticism.” There is also that Rasmussen poll. The Gray Lady seems to be worrying that even a close race is bad news for the Democrats: “a tighter-than-expected margin in the closely watched race would still prompt soul-searching among Democrats nationally, since the outcome will be the first real barometer of whether problems facing the party will play out in tangible ways at the polls later this year.”

The Cook Report lists Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut as toss-up Senate races. North Dakota is “leans Republican.” Four GOP seats are listed as toss-up, but that includes New Hampshire, where the GOP candidate in the latest poll had a 7-point lead.

Max Baucus says health-care negotiations have “got a lot to cover.” Doesn’t sound like it’s a done deal yet.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama isn’t giving up his fixation on closing Guantanamo quite yet: “Obama will not change his determination to close Guantanamo. He is too politically committed. The only hope is that perhaps now he is offering his ‘recruiting’ rationale out of political expediency rather than real belief. With suicide bombers in the air, cynicism is far less dangerous to the country than naivete.”

But will anything really change? “The lesson of Abdulmuttalab is that rearranging the bureaucratic furniture is always the first resort of politicians who want to be seen ‘doing something’ about a problem, but it almost never works. A President has to drive the bureaucracy by making the fight against terrorism a daily, personal priority.” Yet one always senses that Obama has something else he’d rather be doing.

From Fox News on your government at work: “The State Department is planning to welcome thousands of immigrants from terror-watch list countries into the United States this year through a ‘diversity visa’ lottery — a giant legal loophole some lawmakers say is a ‘serious national security threat’ that has gone unchecked for years. Ostensibly designed to increase ethnic diversity among immigrants, the program invites in thousands of poorly educated laborers with few job skills — and that’s only the beginning of its problems, according to lawmakers and government investigations.”

C-SPAN isn’t pleased with Obama’s reneging on his promise to televise the health-care debates: “C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb accused President Obama of using his network as a ‘political football’ during the presidential campaign, citing the president’s broken pledge to televise health care reform negotiations on the nonpartisan channel which is devoted to covering Washington.”

Harry Reid is trying to chase Harold Ford out of the New York Senate race.

Is Martha Coakley in trouble in Massachusetts? The New York Times frets: “The news that two senior Democratic senators will retire this year in the face of bleak re-election prospects has created anxiety and, even in this bluest of states, a sense that the balance of power has shifted dramatically from just a year ago. With the holidays over and public attention refocused on the race, Ms. Coakley’s insistence on debating her Republican opponent, Scott P. Brown, only with a third-party candidate present has drawn mounting criticism.” There is also that Rasmussen poll. The Gray Lady seems to be worrying that even a close race is bad news for the Democrats: “a tighter-than-expected margin in the closely watched race would still prompt soul-searching among Democrats nationally, since the outcome will be the first real barometer of whether problems facing the party will play out in tangible ways at the polls later this year.”

The Cook Report lists Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut as toss-up Senate races. North Dakota is “leans Republican.” Four GOP seats are listed as toss-up, but that includes New Hampshire, where the GOP candidate in the latest poll had a 7-point lead.

Max Baucus says health-care negotiations have “got a lot to cover.” Doesn’t sound like it’s a done deal yet.

Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama isn’t giving up his fixation on closing Guantanamo quite yet: “Obama will not change his determination to close Guantanamo. He is too politically committed. The only hope is that perhaps now he is offering his ‘recruiting’ rationale out of political expediency rather than real belief. With suicide bombers in the air, cynicism is far less dangerous to the country than naivete.”

But will anything really change? “The lesson of Abdulmuttalab is that rearranging the bureaucratic furniture is always the first resort of politicians who want to be seen ‘doing something’ about a problem, but it almost never works. A President has to drive the bureaucracy by making the fight against terrorism a daily, personal priority.” Yet one always senses that Obama has something else he’d rather be doing.

Read Less




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