Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2010

Sarah Palin’s Breasts and Andrew Sullivan

Matthew Continetti, among others, aptly detailed in his book The Persection of Sarah Palin the media’s Sarah Palin hate-fest, which raged throughout the campaign. That campaign — the media’s, not Palin’s — included not a small amount of hyper-sexualized language and imagery. Her reappearance at the Tea Party Convention has set off a new round of such slobbery commentary. Andrew Sullivan, for one — who gained much notoriety for his his gynecological scavenger hunt during the campaign — has left off where he began with what should be, but no longer is, shockingly offensive droolery about the former governor and Republican vice presidential nominee. He bellows:

It was the most electrifying speech I have heard from a leader of the GOP since Reagan.

She can electrify a crowd. She has the kind of charisma that appeals to the sub-rational. and she has crafted a Peronist identity – utterly fraudulent, of course – that is political dynamite in a recession with populism roiling everyone and everything. She is Coughlin with boobs – except with a foreign policy agenda to expand Israel and unite with it in a war against Islam.

Do not under-estimate the appeal of a beautiful, big breasted, divinely chosen warrior-mother as a military leader in a global religious war.

Clearly he is a man obsessed with Palin and her physique and who cannot resist the urge to degrade and reduce her to a sexual object. For those who portend to offer serious criticism of Palin, and there is legitimate criticism to be had, this should serve as a blinking red light: Go Back! Don’t do it! Don’t humilate yourself in the process, nor reveal yourself to be in the grip of some misogynistic thrall. Stick to what she says and how she says it, not the size of her breasts. For the sane and serious commentator, that should be easy enough advice to follow. But then not all bloggers fit that description.

Matthew Continetti, among others, aptly detailed in his book The Persection of Sarah Palin the media’s Sarah Palin hate-fest, which raged throughout the campaign. That campaign — the media’s, not Palin’s — included not a small amount of hyper-sexualized language and imagery. Her reappearance at the Tea Party Convention has set off a new round of such slobbery commentary. Andrew Sullivan, for one — who gained much notoriety for his his gynecological scavenger hunt during the campaign — has left off where he began with what should be, but no longer is, shockingly offensive droolery about the former governor and Republican vice presidential nominee. He bellows:

It was the most electrifying speech I have heard from a leader of the GOP since Reagan.

She can electrify a crowd. She has the kind of charisma that appeals to the sub-rational. and she has crafted a Peronist identity – utterly fraudulent, of course – that is political dynamite in a recession with populism roiling everyone and everything. She is Coughlin with boobs – except with a foreign policy agenda to expand Israel and unite with it in a war against Islam.

Do not under-estimate the appeal of a beautiful, big breasted, divinely chosen warrior-mother as a military leader in a global religious war.

Clearly he is a man obsessed with Palin and her physique and who cannot resist the urge to degrade and reduce her to a sexual object. For those who portend to offer serious criticism of Palin, and there is legitimate criticism to be had, this should serve as a blinking red light: Go Back! Don’t do it! Don’t humilate yourself in the process, nor reveal yourself to be in the grip of some misogynistic thrall. Stick to what she says and how she says it, not the size of her breasts. For the sane and serious commentator, that should be easy enough advice to follow. But then not all bloggers fit that description.

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John Murtha, R.I.P.

Rep. John Murtha has died at the age of 77. After a career as U.S. Marine and pro-defense Democrat in recent years he became the champion of the netroot Left and its anti-Iraq War crusade. Like all politicians he will be judged on the totality of his career.

He, of course, has been in the center of ethics scandals that have swirled around his cottage industry in pork for his district. His passing, to be blunt, may have one of two results: It may either help clear the decks for Nancy Pelosi to finally “drain the swamp” and root out those members who have misused their positions on key committees, or his passing may lead to a series of embarrassing revelations concerning the way he and colleagues conducted business. Time will tell.

Rep. John Murtha has died at the age of 77. After a career as U.S. Marine and pro-defense Democrat in recent years he became the champion of the netroot Left and its anti-Iraq War crusade. Like all politicians he will be judged on the totality of his career.

He, of course, has been in the center of ethics scandals that have swirled around his cottage industry in pork for his district. His passing, to be blunt, may have one of two results: It may either help clear the decks for Nancy Pelosi to finally “drain the swamp” and root out those members who have misused their positions on key committees, or his passing may lead to a series of embarrassing revelations concerning the way he and colleagues conducted business. Time will tell.

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Israel Lobby Author Compares Pro-Israel Pastor to Hitler

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

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Only the Broadest Brush

Ross Douthat explains the wishful thinking behind the Left’s insistence on nuclear disarmament:

It’s precisely because the proliferation problem is so difficult, though, that the “Global Zero” movement can feel superficially appealing. . . . By making the issue bigger, long-term, and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Douthat is exactly right. The Left has, in fact, developed an across-the-board dependence on the Brobdingnagian solution in the sky. Health-care woes? Seize the whole system and cover everyone. A recession? Throw nearly a trillion dollars at the economy and hope for the best. Climate change? Ask the entire planet to alter its behavior.  Dangerous regimes acting up? Offer a blanket apology. All-inclusive responses to specific challenges.

You can’t blame them, in a sense. We’ve seen how the Democrats handle intricacies. Remember the president’s attempts to articulate the nuances of Obamacare?

Ross Douthat explains the wishful thinking behind the Left’s insistence on nuclear disarmament:

It’s precisely because the proliferation problem is so difficult, though, that the “Global Zero” movement can feel superficially appealing. . . . By making the issue bigger, long-term, and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Douthat is exactly right. The Left has, in fact, developed an across-the-board dependence on the Brobdingnagian solution in the sky. Health-care woes? Seize the whole system and cover everyone. A recession? Throw nearly a trillion dollars at the economy and hope for the best. Climate change? Ask the entire planet to alter its behavior.  Dangerous regimes acting up? Offer a blanket apology. All-inclusive responses to specific challenges.

You can’t blame them, in a sense. We’ve seen how the Democrats handle intricacies. Remember the president’s attempts to articulate the nuances of Obamacare?

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What Is the Size of the Debt?

With the national debt shaping up as a major issue in this year’s election, its size should be clear.

As of February 4th, the national debt amounted to $12,346,427,470,024.01, roughly 87 percent of GDP. This is a higher percentage than it has been since 1950, in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Bureau of the Public Debt, however, makes a distinction between “debt held by the public,” which is $7,840,400,752,727.59 (55 percent of GDP) and “intragovernmental debt” ($4,506,026,717,296.42 — 32 percent of GDP), which is held by various branches of the federal government, principally the Social Security Trust Fund.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday, in an otherwise spot-on editorial, dismisses the intragovernmental debt as not really debt at all. “We use the debt-held-by-the-public figure because that is the amount the U.S. government has borrowed from others. The total debt is larger, but that includes Social Security IOUs that are promises that politicians have made to taxpayers and can repudiate. You can’t repudiate public debt except at great cost, as Greece is discovering.”

I disagree. The bonds that constitute the assets of the Social Security Trust Fund and other trust funds are federal bonds, just like those held by the public, except they cannot be sold in the bond market. Instead they must be redeemed by the Treasury on demand. Social Security has been running large surpluses for almost thirty years in order to build up funds to meet the demands of the baby-boomers’ generation (those born between 1946 and 1964). As the boomers begin to retire, the surplus will disappear. It is currently estimated that Social Security will cease to be in surplus in 2017 or sooner if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

When Social Security begins operating in deficit, the Social Security Administrationwill begin taking those bonds to the Treasury and asking for the money. To be sure, at that point Congress could slash the size of Social Security checks to keep Social Security in surplus, thus obviating the need to redeem the bonds. The sun will rise in the west before that happens, however. So Congress will either have to cut spending elsewhere, raise taxes, or borrow the money with which to redeem the Social Security bonds.

Unless Congress mends it profligate ways very soon, the last option is the one they will choose. Thus over the next thirty years or so, the intragovernmental debt will be slowly transformed into public debt as the trust fund is depleted.

So the intragovernmental debt is just as real as the public debt and the country is just as burdened by it.

With the national debt shaping up as a major issue in this year’s election, its size should be clear.

As of February 4th, the national debt amounted to $12,346,427,470,024.01, roughly 87 percent of GDP. This is a higher percentage than it has been since 1950, in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Bureau of the Public Debt, however, makes a distinction between “debt held by the public,” which is $7,840,400,752,727.59 (55 percent of GDP) and “intragovernmental debt” ($4,506,026,717,296.42 — 32 percent of GDP), which is held by various branches of the federal government, principally the Social Security Trust Fund.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday, in an otherwise spot-on editorial, dismisses the intragovernmental debt as not really debt at all. “We use the debt-held-by-the-public figure because that is the amount the U.S. government has borrowed from others. The total debt is larger, but that includes Social Security IOUs that are promises that politicians have made to taxpayers and can repudiate. You can’t repudiate public debt except at great cost, as Greece is discovering.”

I disagree. The bonds that constitute the assets of the Social Security Trust Fund and other trust funds are federal bonds, just like those held by the public, except they cannot be sold in the bond market. Instead they must be redeemed by the Treasury on demand. Social Security has been running large surpluses for almost thirty years in order to build up funds to meet the demands of the baby-boomers’ generation (those born between 1946 and 1964). As the boomers begin to retire, the surplus will disappear. It is currently estimated that Social Security will cease to be in surplus in 2017 or sooner if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

When Social Security begins operating in deficit, the Social Security Administrationwill begin taking those bonds to the Treasury and asking for the money. To be sure, at that point Congress could slash the size of Social Security checks to keep Social Security in surplus, thus obviating the need to redeem the bonds. The sun will rise in the west before that happens, however. So Congress will either have to cut spending elsewhere, raise taxes, or borrow the money with which to redeem the Social Security bonds.

Unless Congress mends it profligate ways very soon, the last option is the one they will choose. Thus over the next thirty years or so, the intragovernmental debt will be slowly transformed into public debt as the trust fund is depleted.

So the intragovernmental debt is just as real as the public debt and the country is just as burdened by it.

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Did John Brennan Lie?

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

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Why the Truth Constitutes “Incitement”

As Noah noted, the New Israel Fund controversy is laying bare just how warped the “human rights” community’s definition of human rights is. But it has also showcased two particularly Israeli variants of this disease: that freedom of information constitutes “incitement,” and that freedom of speech requires financing speech you oppose. The NIF’s Israeli president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, demonstrated both in response to the Im Tirtzu organization’s report that 92 percent of the anti-Israel information in the Goldstone Report came from Israeli groups funded by the NIF.

Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thus it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.

As Noah noted, the New Israel Fund controversy is laying bare just how warped the “human rights” community’s definition of human rights is. But it has also showcased two particularly Israeli variants of this disease: that freedom of information constitutes “incitement,” and that freedom of speech requires financing speech you oppose. The NIF’s Israeli president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, demonstrated both in response to the Im Tirtzu organization’s report that 92 percent of the anti-Israel information in the Goldstone Report came from Israeli groups funded by the NIF.

Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thus it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.

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Re: You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

As Rick notes, think-tank scholars, international diplomats, and ordinary people can all see that Iran engagement has been a bust. Just as Hillary Clinton was touting Iran engagement — despite its failure to unclench any fists – the Iranian mullahs were delivering another slap in the face of the Obami suitors:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country’s atomic agency on Sunday to begin the production of higher enriched uranium, a move that’s likely to deepen international skepticism about the country’s real intentions on the crucial issue of enriched uranium.

While Clinton prattles on about an open door, and the Foggy Bottom spokesmen reference vague consequences to befall the Iranians if they don’t start demonstrating their desire to “join the community of nations” (or something like that), the resident grown-up in the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was signaling that the jig is up for engagement. (“Speaking to reporters during a weeklong European tour, Mr. Gates said that ‘if the international community will stand together and bring pressure’ on Iran, ‘I believe there is still time for sanctions to work.'”) But even Gibbs is compelled to  parrot the Obama line that those crippling sanctions can’t be too crippling because the Iranian people might get mad at us. (Really, do supporters of the administration’s policy suppose that the democracy advocates marching and dying in the streets have not figured out the source of their oppression?)

The latest development follows only a week after the Iranians were seen trying to lure us back to the bargaining table. Well, never mind that. Another week and another threat:

In what was interpreted to be a possible shift of policy on a major issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad said last week he was ready to export his country’s low-enriched uranium for higher enrichment abroad, saying Iran had “no problem” with the plan. Sunday’s comments, however, appeared to justify the skepticism with which his Tuesday’s comments were met by world leaders.

Mr. Salehi, the head of the Iranian atomic energy agency, later appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments. He told the official IRNA news agency the president was giving a “preparedness order” so Iran would be ready to enrich its uranium if the exchange with the West fails to take place.

He said the higher enrichment would be carried out in facilities in the central Iranian town of Natanz.

It takes a lot of foot-dragging and indifference to all available evidence for the Obami to maintain their fixation on negotiation and to delay imposition of any serious sanctions that might impact the regime’s nuclear ambitions. You would think a full month after the self-imposed end-of-year deadline, which followed the self-imposed September deadline, the Obama team would finally get serious. But no.

As a sharp Capitol Hill adviser described Clinton’s embarrassing outing on Sunday: “I’m sure that she has a sure fire containment strategy ready.” That, unfortunately, is where I suspect they are heading — having frittered a year away, whittled down sanctions, and disparaged any military option. After all, Clinton told us the nuclear threat from Iran really isn’t our primary consideration. We’ll see if Obama goes down in history as the president who allowed the revolutionary Islamic regime to go nuclear and who let the Iranian democracy movement die on the vine. Quite a legacy that would be.

As Rick notes, think-tank scholars, international diplomats, and ordinary people can all see that Iran engagement has been a bust. Just as Hillary Clinton was touting Iran engagement — despite its failure to unclench any fists – the Iranian mullahs were delivering another slap in the face of the Obami suitors:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered his country’s atomic agency on Sunday to begin the production of higher enriched uranium, a move that’s likely to deepen international skepticism about the country’s real intentions on the crucial issue of enriched uranium.

While Clinton prattles on about an open door, and the Foggy Bottom spokesmen reference vague consequences to befall the Iranians if they don’t start demonstrating their desire to “join the community of nations” (or something like that), the resident grown-up in the Obama administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was signaling that the jig is up for engagement. (“Speaking to reporters during a weeklong European tour, Mr. Gates said that ‘if the international community will stand together and bring pressure’ on Iran, ‘I believe there is still time for sanctions to work.'”) But even Gibbs is compelled to  parrot the Obama line that those crippling sanctions can’t be too crippling because the Iranian people might get mad at us. (Really, do supporters of the administration’s policy suppose that the democracy advocates marching and dying in the streets have not figured out the source of their oppression?)

The latest development follows only a week after the Iranians were seen trying to lure us back to the bargaining table. Well, never mind that. Another week and another threat:

In what was interpreted to be a possible shift of policy on a major issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad said last week he was ready to export his country’s low-enriched uranium for higher enrichment abroad, saying Iran had “no problem” with the plan. Sunday’s comments, however, appeared to justify the skepticism with which his Tuesday’s comments were met by world leaders.

Mr. Salehi, the head of the Iranian atomic energy agency, later appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments. He told the official IRNA news agency the president was giving a “preparedness order” so Iran would be ready to enrich its uranium if the exchange with the West fails to take place.

He said the higher enrichment would be carried out in facilities in the central Iranian town of Natanz.

It takes a lot of foot-dragging and indifference to all available evidence for the Obami to maintain their fixation on negotiation and to delay imposition of any serious sanctions that might impact the regime’s nuclear ambitions. You would think a full month after the self-imposed end-of-year deadline, which followed the self-imposed September deadline, the Obama team would finally get serious. But no.

As a sharp Capitol Hill adviser described Clinton’s embarrassing outing on Sunday: “I’m sure that she has a sure fire containment strategy ready.” That, unfortunately, is where I suspect they are heading — having frittered a year away, whittled down sanctions, and disparaged any military option. After all, Clinton told us the nuclear threat from Iran really isn’t our primary consideration. We’ll see if Obama goes down in history as the president who allowed the revolutionary Islamic regime to go nuclear and who let the Iranian democracy movement die on the vine. Quite a legacy that would be.

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Electing a Nanny

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.'”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

One 2012 Republican contender described Obama like this:

The messages are not being received by Barack Obama. So I think instead of lecturing, he needs to stop and he needs to listen on health care issues. On national security, this perceived lackadaisical approach that he has to dealing with the terrorists. We’re saying that concerns us and we’re going to speak up about it and please don’t allow this persona to continue where you do try to make us feel like we need to just sit down, shut up and accept what you’re doing to us.

Others agree:

At the very moment he’s trying to recover his declining popularity and revive his party heading into the November elections, even some Democrats worry that he risks coming off not as the inspirational figure who galvanized the electorate in 2008 but as the embodiment of a dour Democrat that turns off some voters.

The first take is from Sarah Palin, the second from Politico. Remarkable how Obama is drawing everyone together, I know. But what is different lately is not Obama but the widespread reaction to his hectoring. Remember, during the campaign, he was scolding us, too. Mary Katharine Ham made a whole video about it. And Michelle Obama warned us:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Turns out all the finger-wagging and nagging doesn’t sit well with the American people. They have spouses, parents, and bosses telling them what to do much of the time, and they don’t need the president bossing them around, too, treating them like recalcitrant children who need perpetual instruction. Even Democrats are nervous:

Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, pointed out that, while Obama has long promised to tell people the truth even when it hurts, he needs to strike a balance.“Part of what people liked about him during the campaign is that he talks to the American people like they’re grown-ups — you don’t have to pretend that you can eat ice cream and lose weight in order to be president,” Myers said. “He did that during the campaign by appealing to hope. … I think little of that has been lost.”

Added Democratic strategist Paul Begala, another Clinton veteran, “You got to be careful about that stuff, or you become a scold.”

Republicans who have long remarked on his condescending tone and message — be it on Gatesgate or ObamaCare — are amused by the newfound consensus. (“‘Nobody wants a national nanny,’ said Republican strategist John Feehery. ‘It’s really annoying, and people don’t want to hear it.'”) Of course, it fits with Obama’s general philosophy that Americans are too dim to run their own lives and need government to guide, monitor, mandate, and regulate everything from health care to carbon emissions. That he lacks age or life experience to dispense such advice is not lost on media skeptics: “Age hasn’t stopped the president, who, at 48, is at ease urging the Obama way — on a range of issues — onto those a lot more experienced than he is. He is at once Americans’ president and their additional dad, teacher, preacher, nutritionist, life coach and financial adviser.”

This seems to be part of the growing realization that what was acceptable or cool during the campaign — including that personal remoteness — does not serve Obama well as president. It is what comes, I suppose, from electing someone we knew so little about and who had so little time on the national stage. Not all blind dates work out.

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Obama’s Whining About the Media Continues

Don Surber (h/t John Stossel) writes of Obama’s perpetual whining about the media:

How un-Bushlike. For most of his 8 years, President Bush 43 took a drubbing in the press. Honeymoon? Every story about him seemed to carry an obligatory Florida paragraph up until 9/11. I don’t recall Bush complaining. At least publicly.

Whining about bad press has been unpresidential since John Adams and his Alien and Sedition Act.

Adams did not get a second term.

So our president told Senate Democrats: “If we could just — excuse the press — turn off the cameras. Turn off your CNN, your Fox, your MSNBC, your blogs, turn off this echo chamber … where the topic is politics. … We’ve got to get out of the echo chamber. That was a mistake I made last year — not getting out of here.”

And don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh.

It is predictable that the president once virtually carried on the shoulders of the cheering media throughout his candidacy should be peeved when even a tad of objectivity creeps into the coverage. But at times, it seems just the fact of the media annoys Obama. He frequently grouses about the 24/7 news cycle. He was obviously annoyed that media focus on the Christmas Day bomber forced him out of his vacation routine. For a guy who insists on appearing on five talk shows a day, the Super Bowl and World Series, and every magazine cover, he really doesn’t have much patience for the news-gathering process. He is content only when the media simply relates the administration’s spin of the day or hands the microphone to him at a preset time.

After all the softball interviews and the leg-tingling commentary received during the campaign, the Obami may have a skewed notion of what the media does. They have, after all, overinterpreted Obama’s election as not only a broad ideological mandate but also an excuse to ignore the minority party. (“We won,” summed up the president.) Obama and the Democrats seem to treat whatever minimal media scrutiny as illegitimate, a violation of the we-won edict, which assumes that because of their election victory, their decisions and decision-making are not open to examination.

When CNBC anchors criticize the bailout plans, they are “uninformed.” When pollsters bear bad news, they are “children” or shills for conservatives. When Fox carries stories unfavorable to the administration and ignored by the rest of the media, Fox is not a “real news network.”  In all these cases, the recalcitrant entities upset the normal state of affairs — “normal” being the 2007-2008 coverage of Obama the candidate who could do no wrong and who received kid-glove treatment.

But even the media moves on. And the president should, too. His petulant attitude toward media coverage is one of his least attractive habits and least effective tactics. It’s time he bucked up like his predecessor and remembered that media criticism not only comes with the territory but is also an essential check on the power and the hubris of the president.

Don Surber (h/t John Stossel) writes of Obama’s perpetual whining about the media:

How un-Bushlike. For most of his 8 years, President Bush 43 took a drubbing in the press. Honeymoon? Every story about him seemed to carry an obligatory Florida paragraph up until 9/11. I don’t recall Bush complaining. At least publicly.

Whining about bad press has been unpresidential since John Adams and his Alien and Sedition Act.

Adams did not get a second term.

So our president told Senate Democrats: “If we could just — excuse the press — turn off the cameras. Turn off your CNN, your Fox, your MSNBC, your blogs, turn off this echo chamber … where the topic is politics. … We’ve got to get out of the echo chamber. That was a mistake I made last year — not getting out of here.”

And don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh.

It is predictable that the president once virtually carried on the shoulders of the cheering media throughout his candidacy should be peeved when even a tad of objectivity creeps into the coverage. But at times, it seems just the fact of the media annoys Obama. He frequently grouses about the 24/7 news cycle. He was obviously annoyed that media focus on the Christmas Day bomber forced him out of his vacation routine. For a guy who insists on appearing on five talk shows a day, the Super Bowl and World Series, and every magazine cover, he really doesn’t have much patience for the news-gathering process. He is content only when the media simply relates the administration’s spin of the day or hands the microphone to him at a preset time.

After all the softball interviews and the leg-tingling commentary received during the campaign, the Obami may have a skewed notion of what the media does. They have, after all, overinterpreted Obama’s election as not only a broad ideological mandate but also an excuse to ignore the minority party. (“We won,” summed up the president.) Obama and the Democrats seem to treat whatever minimal media scrutiny as illegitimate, a violation of the we-won edict, which assumes that because of their election victory, their decisions and decision-making are not open to examination.

When CNBC anchors criticize the bailout plans, they are “uninformed.” When pollsters bear bad news, they are “children” or shills for conservatives. When Fox carries stories unfavorable to the administration and ignored by the rest of the media, Fox is not a “real news network.”  In all these cases, the recalcitrant entities upset the normal state of affairs — “normal” being the 2007-2008 coverage of Obama the candidate who could do no wrong and who received kid-glove treatment.

But even the media moves on. And the president should, too. His petulant attitude toward media coverage is one of his least attractive habits and least effective tactics. It’s time he bucked up like his predecessor and remembered that media criticism not only comes with the territory but is also an essential check on the power and the hubris of the president.

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Wanted: Realism in Nuclear-Arms Policy

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

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Liberals Hope to Do Better than Sotomayor

The quiet buzz of anticipation is bubbling up into news accounts: one or more Supreme Court justices may step down this year. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not been in good health, and Justice John Paul Stevens will be 90 in June. With a wave election anticipated and more Republicans on the way to the Senate, now may be the time for “liberal” judges to step down in hopes of having their spots filled by equally “liberal” justices.

What is interesting in all the buzz is the candor with which the Left now admits that Sonia Sotomayor was a dud. This report is typical:

Some liberals lamented that she lacked the provocative philosophical profile that Republican administrations have sought in some of their most important judicial nominees, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, a Reagan appointee who has popularized a conservative approach to legal interpretation.

Some liberals complain that she isn’t liberal enough. Others delicately put it that she is not a “trailblazer” or a “Scalia of the Left.” Translation: she lacks the intellectual firepower to go toe-to-toe with justices who rely on judicial originalism and to sway Justice Anthony Kennedy to their side. She was Latina but not very wise, they now concede.

So the battle is on between Democrats who want a liberal firebrand and those who’d like someone easily confirmable who won’t set off a titanic fight over abortion, guns, and other losing issues for Democrats in an election year. Conservatives would do well to stay mum at this point. It’s never a good idea to get in the middle of the opposition’s  internal spat.

The quiet buzz of anticipation is bubbling up into news accounts: one or more Supreme Court justices may step down this year. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not been in good health, and Justice John Paul Stevens will be 90 in June. With a wave election anticipated and more Republicans on the way to the Senate, now may be the time for “liberal” judges to step down in hopes of having their spots filled by equally “liberal” justices.

What is interesting in all the buzz is the candor with which the Left now admits that Sonia Sotomayor was a dud. This report is typical:

Some liberals lamented that she lacked the provocative philosophical profile that Republican administrations have sought in some of their most important judicial nominees, such as Justice Antonin Scalia, a Reagan appointee who has popularized a conservative approach to legal interpretation.

Some liberals complain that she isn’t liberal enough. Others delicately put it that she is not a “trailblazer” or a “Scalia of the Left.” Translation: she lacks the intellectual firepower to go toe-to-toe with justices who rely on judicial originalism and to sway Justice Anthony Kennedy to their side. She was Latina but not very wise, they now concede.

So the battle is on between Democrats who want a liberal firebrand and those who’d like someone easily confirmable who won’t set off a titanic fight over abortion, guns, and other losing issues for Democrats in an election year. Conservatives would do well to stay mum at this point. It’s never a good idea to get in the middle of the opposition’s  internal spat.

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You Know What’s a Human-Rights Violation?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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You Don’t Have to Be a Harvard Think Tank

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding —

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

In a significant paper at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Jeffrey White and Loring White discuss the results of war games on the Iranian nuclear program conducted by three think tanks — at Harvard, Tel Aviv University, and the Brookings Institute — all of which ended in defeats for the U.S. and Israel. The common results were:

  • The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
  • Sanctions did not seem to work.
  • The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
  • U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
  • Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability.

The paper concludes that the U.S. needs to “play” much differently in the coming months if it wants to avoid those results, and time “is running out.”

The signals sent by the State Department since the expiration of Obama’s “deadline” have only reinforced the sense that the administration has no Plan B. On January 12, the department spokesman emphasized that recourse to the “pressure track” would be “a very long process,” starting with discussions of “ideas that any of the [P-5+1] partners have on how we can get Iran to live up its international obligations.” The “discussions” have largely been phone calls, since the administration cannot get the Chinese to send their political director to a meeting.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley announced that Under Secretary William Burns had a 90-minute conference call with his P-5+1 “counterparts” that discussed “both the pressure track and the negotiation track; discussed next steps in the process, both in terms of negotiation, took stock of the recent comments by Iran, but also continue to evaluate potential actions on the pressure track as well.” His statement produced this colloquy:

QUESTION: When you said counterparts, did that include the Chinese political director, or was it, in fact, the sous chef at the Embassy? (Laughter) …

QUESTION: Did they — I’m sorry if I missed it, but did they actually agree on any additional sanctions or language regarding —

MR. CROWLEY: That wasn’t the intent of the call. … It’s hard to characterize it other than they had a detailed discussion of where we are in the process and shared ideas on both tracks.

Discussions were supposed to have occurred long before this. On April 22, 2009, Hillary Clinton assured the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the administration was laying the groundwork for crippling sanctions if engagement failed:

BERMAN: … I can’t get away from the fact that Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability keep going ahead, and — and that this engagement can’t be so-open-ended that we essentially pass the threshold that we’re seeking to avoid by virtue of the engagement. … Are we pursuing the — the default position, the — the leverage that I think will make the engagement more likely as we deal with key members of the international community and the Security Council?

CLINTON: … As the president said in his inaugural address, we’ll hold out our hand. They have to unclench their fist. But we are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough — I think you said crippling — sanctions that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.

Nine months past Clinton’s assurance, two months past the “deadline,” it is apparent that no groundwork has been laid. The discussions are just beginning; it will be a “very long process”; the administration is unenthusiastic about pending legislation authorizing “crippling” sanctions.

You don’t have to be part of a Harvard think tank to see where this is headed.

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Not Just Any Candidate or Message Will Do

Stuart Rothenberg warns against Republican overconfidence:

“We certainly have the wind at our backs now,” one veteran Republican consultant told me recently. “But as Scott Brown proved, two or three weeks is a lifetime in politics. Eight months is several political lifetimes.”

Polls, pollsters are fond of pointing out, are nothing but snapshots of current sentiment. Right now, those snapshots look excellent for the GOP. But does anyone really believe that Republicans aren’t capable of screwing things up?

Well, he’s got a point there. As he observes, a dramatic uptick in the economy and employment, eccentric primary choices (e.g., Rand Paul in Kentucky, endorsed by Sarah Palin, but favoring his father’s extreme isolationism on foreign policy), and an arrogant tone can all impede Republican gains. But let’s be frank: when a party is warned about “overconfidence,” things are going pretty well. It is a rare election season when Republicans lead in the generic congressional polling. And at least two Senate seats (Delaware and North Dakota) have all but been written off as losses by the Democrats.

Republicans would do well to keep in mind what worked and what didn’t in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In all three, the candidates ran on a conservative economic platform that opposed big-government legislation and the backroom deals that begat that legislation. But not one of these candidates engaged in harsh personal attacks on Obama himself. All three were rather polished debaters who could parry and thrust with their opponents and who were able to pin them down on specific positions on taxes and, in the case of Scott Brown, the war against Islamic fascists. Two were pro-life candidates who did not hide their records, and all three refused to be drawn into divisive, distracting arguments over hot-button issues by both their opponents and their opponents’ handmaidens in the media. And frankly, all three were cheery, likable candidates. Curmudgeons and yellers make for good cable-TV and radio talk shows, but rarely do they make effective candidates, especially in states where it is essential to draw from independents and Democrats to form a winning coalition of support.

So Rothenberg is right: there is plenty of time for Republicans to blow it. If they fail to field adept candidates or get distracted from an effective Center-Right message, Republicans will find the wave election of 2010 to be little more than a ripple.

Stuart Rothenberg warns against Republican overconfidence:

“We certainly have the wind at our backs now,” one veteran Republican consultant told me recently. “But as Scott Brown proved, two or three weeks is a lifetime in politics. Eight months is several political lifetimes.”

Polls, pollsters are fond of pointing out, are nothing but snapshots of current sentiment. Right now, those snapshots look excellent for the GOP. But does anyone really believe that Republicans aren’t capable of screwing things up?

Well, he’s got a point there. As he observes, a dramatic uptick in the economy and employment, eccentric primary choices (e.g., Rand Paul in Kentucky, endorsed by Sarah Palin, but favoring his father’s extreme isolationism on foreign policy), and an arrogant tone can all impede Republican gains. But let’s be frank: when a party is warned about “overconfidence,” things are going pretty well. It is a rare election season when Republicans lead in the generic congressional polling. And at least two Senate seats (Delaware and North Dakota) have all but been written off as losses by the Democrats.

Republicans would do well to keep in mind what worked and what didn’t in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In all three, the candidates ran on a conservative economic platform that opposed big-government legislation and the backroom deals that begat that legislation. But not one of these candidates engaged in harsh personal attacks on Obama himself. All three were rather polished debaters who could parry and thrust with their opponents and who were able to pin them down on specific positions on taxes and, in the case of Scott Brown, the war against Islamic fascists. Two were pro-life candidates who did not hide their records, and all three refused to be drawn into divisive, distracting arguments over hot-button issues by both their opponents and their opponents’ handmaidens in the media. And frankly, all three were cheery, likable candidates. Curmudgeons and yellers make for good cable-TV and radio talk shows, but rarely do they make effective candidates, especially in states where it is essential to draw from independents and Democrats to form a winning coalition of support.

So Rothenberg is right: there is plenty of time for Republicans to blow it. If they fail to field adept candidates or get distracted from an effective Center-Right message, Republicans will find the wave election of 2010 to be little more than a ripple.

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The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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Fire the Health-Care Contractors

E.J. Dionne eggs on the Democrats to finish the job on health-care reform. He chides them:

But if Democrats are that intimidated by Republicans, they should just give up their majority. And this fear is politically shortsighted. Right now, every Democrat in the Senate has to defend a vote for the health-care bill anyway, with nothing to show for it — and this includes defending the Nebraska deal.

He analogizes health-care reform to a kitchen remodeling job where the choice is between finishing the job and leaving a mess with all the wires hanging down. Even for Dionne, this is poppycock. No one’s kitchen has been torn up, the old microwave is working fine, and the homeowners have decided that the old kitchen looks swell after all — especially after seeing the price tag and the hideous “new and improved” kitchen the rogue contractor has in mind. And what’s more, every time the homeowner/voter tells the contractor he hates the new design, he gets a condescending answer like, “You really don’t understand. After we put it in, you’ll love it.” See?

Well, Dionne exemplifies much of the thinking on the Left — including that of the president and Nancy Pelosi. They all persist in the belief that virtue is on their side (regardless of the bill’s indefensible details and despite polls and elections registering overwhelming public disapproval). They consider the masses to be an impediment to be ignored or misguided souls to be sold on the merits after the deal is rammed through. What the pundits won’t admit (and what Obama and Pelosi, I think, cynically accept) is that if the deal is finished, the voters will in a fit of rage fire everyone associated with a remodeling of one-sixth of the economy — one that raises taxes, places a host of new mandates and fines on small businesses, hacks Medicare without any real reform, and punches another hole in the budget, which already is hemorrhaging red ink.

Dionne, from the safe distance of his pundit’s perch, is free to dole out advice to lawmakers. Democratic lawmakers who remain on the brink of a wave election will, I suspect, have other ideas.

E.J. Dionne eggs on the Democrats to finish the job on health-care reform. He chides them:

But if Democrats are that intimidated by Republicans, they should just give up their majority. And this fear is politically shortsighted. Right now, every Democrat in the Senate has to defend a vote for the health-care bill anyway, with nothing to show for it — and this includes defending the Nebraska deal.

He analogizes health-care reform to a kitchen remodeling job where the choice is between finishing the job and leaving a mess with all the wires hanging down. Even for Dionne, this is poppycock. No one’s kitchen has been torn up, the old microwave is working fine, and the homeowners have decided that the old kitchen looks swell after all — especially after seeing the price tag and the hideous “new and improved” kitchen the rogue contractor has in mind. And what’s more, every time the homeowner/voter tells the contractor he hates the new design, he gets a condescending answer like, “You really don’t understand. After we put it in, you’ll love it.” See?

Well, Dionne exemplifies much of the thinking on the Left — including that of the president and Nancy Pelosi. They all persist in the belief that virtue is on their side (regardless of the bill’s indefensible details and despite polls and elections registering overwhelming public disapproval). They consider the masses to be an impediment to be ignored or misguided souls to be sold on the merits after the deal is rammed through. What the pundits won’t admit (and what Obama and Pelosi, I think, cynically accept) is that if the deal is finished, the voters will in a fit of rage fire everyone associated with a remodeling of one-sixth of the economy — one that raises taxes, places a host of new mandates and fines on small businesses, hacks Medicare without any real reform, and punches another hole in the budget, which already is hemorrhaging red ink.

Dionne, from the safe distance of his pundit’s perch, is free to dole out advice to lawmakers. Democratic lawmakers who remain on the brink of a wave election will, I suspect, have other ideas.

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Iran’s Nuclear Clock Moves Ahead Another Hour

Thirty-eight days past Washington’s January 1 deadline for Iran to respond to frequent calls for negotiations on its nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again thumbed his nose at Barack Obama. Speaking on live TV, the Iranian president told the country’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, to “please start 20 percent enrichment” of uranium into nuclear fuel. While both Ahmadinejad and Salehi spoke of the move as part of previously failed negotiations in which the West would accept the continuance of the Iranian program as long as it agreed to exchange its own nuclear material for enriched uranium from another country, the point of the announcement was to force the West to back away from sanctions on Iran. But given the ignominious failure of previous attempts to work out such a deal and, as even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out this weekend, Iran’s clear unwillingness to abide by any such rules, there is no point to talks along these lines.

But Iran’s announcement has a double meaning. While clearly provocative, a New York Times report speculates that it also intended to serve as cover for China and Russia to continue to support further negotiations about fuel exchange so as to avoid United Nations sanctions. The Obama administration wasted much of the past year trying to prove that the president’s belief in “engagement” with rogue regimes was smarter than attempts to confront or isolate them. All that has accomplished is to give the Iranians another year to plan, build, and scheme while undermining the notion that there is anything like an international consensus that will stop them.

There are those who argue that the Iranians are still bluffing with their talk of 20 percent enrichment. We don’t know whether that’s true, but given the way the regime has managed to brutally crush internal dissent, as well as foil Obama’s attempt to get China and Russia to join a sanctions coalition, Ahmadinejad has good reason to be feeling confident these days. At this point, the best the world can hope for is that after several more months of failed diplomacy, perhaps America, Britain, France, and Germany will announce some sort of less-than-crippling-sanctions plan that everyone knows Iran will be able to easily evade. Such a plan will, no doubt, be trumpeted by the administration as a triumph of Obama’s leadership. But the fact remains that his dithering has strengthened Iran’s belief that no one can stop it. All of which means that announcements such as Ahmadinejad’s talk on Iran TV mean that we are yet another day closer to an Iranian nuclear device, something that Barack Obama promised America he would never let happen.

Thirty-eight days past Washington’s January 1 deadline for Iran to respond to frequent calls for negotiations on its nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again thumbed his nose at Barack Obama. Speaking on live TV, the Iranian president told the country’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, to “please start 20 percent enrichment” of uranium into nuclear fuel. While both Ahmadinejad and Salehi spoke of the move as part of previously failed negotiations in which the West would accept the continuance of the Iranian program as long as it agreed to exchange its own nuclear material for enriched uranium from another country, the point of the announcement was to force the West to back away from sanctions on Iran. But given the ignominious failure of previous attempts to work out such a deal and, as even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out this weekend, Iran’s clear unwillingness to abide by any such rules, there is no point to talks along these lines.

But Iran’s announcement has a double meaning. While clearly provocative, a New York Times report speculates that it also intended to serve as cover for China and Russia to continue to support further negotiations about fuel exchange so as to avoid United Nations sanctions. The Obama administration wasted much of the past year trying to prove that the president’s belief in “engagement” with rogue regimes was smarter than attempts to confront or isolate them. All that has accomplished is to give the Iranians another year to plan, build, and scheme while undermining the notion that there is anything like an international consensus that will stop them.

There are those who argue that the Iranians are still bluffing with their talk of 20 percent enrichment. We don’t know whether that’s true, but given the way the regime has managed to brutally crush internal dissent, as well as foil Obama’s attempt to get China and Russia to join a sanctions coalition, Ahmadinejad has good reason to be feeling confident these days. At this point, the best the world can hope for is that after several more months of failed diplomacy, perhaps America, Britain, France, and Germany will announce some sort of less-than-crippling-sanctions plan that everyone knows Iran will be able to easily evade. Such a plan will, no doubt, be trumpeted by the administration as a triumph of Obama’s leadership. But the fact remains that his dithering has strengthened Iran’s belief that no one can stop it. All of which means that announcements such as Ahmadinejad’s talk on Iran TV mean that we are yet another day closer to an Iranian nuclear device, something that Barack Obama promised America he would never let happen.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

A must-read new blog, Bad Rachel, is off with a bang, examining a study of Pashtun men in the Afghan army. “If through the good offices of our military—especially our women soldiers—we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

Obama doubles down on his George W. Bush buck-passing, repeating Eric Holder’s line that the Obama administration is treating terrorists just as its predecessor did. (No mention of the terrorists who were treated as combatants under Bush, and no word on why Obama’s not using the military-tribunal system put into place since many of the Bush-era terror cases.) Then the real double-talk starts: we got “actionable intelligence” from the Christmas Day bomber, the president says. But then why was he telling the American people that this was an “isolated extremist” in the days after the bombing? Something sure doesn’t add up.

Bill Kristol reminds us: “Robert Gibbs said to you right here at this desk, right here in snowy Washington, D.C., Chris, where you’re — you seem to have escaped from and enjoying nice weather there in Nashville — Gibbs said to you, what, two days after the Christmas bomber, ‘We got everything we needed from him.’ Do you remember that? There’s no — 50 minutes of interrogation with the FBI. That was great. Now — that was their spin then. Their spin now is, ‘Oh, it’s great. He’s talking again. He’s giving us lots of useful information.’ Which is it? Robert Gibbs was not telling the truth one of those two times. … When you have a White House that’s spinning constantly, they’re going to be criticized and they deserve to be criticized.”

Bill Sammon explains: “And Kit Bond was pretty direct, the senator saying the FBI director personally told him, ‘Look, the guy is talking to us again after five weeks but we got to keep that quiet. If that gets out, that could compromise national security.’ Because, of course, the intelligence that you’re getting from the guy is perishable. It’s actionable. And you don’t want to be blabbing to the world that the guy’s talking. So what happens? Twenty-four hours later, you have this unseemly spectacle of the White House press operation hurriedly summoning reporters to the West Wing to trumpet, ‘Guess what? He’s talking again! He’s talking again!'”

In case you thought it was very hard to get the federal budget under control: “Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.”

Illinois Democrats had enough of this: “The ex-girlfriend who accused Democratic Lt. Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen of threatening her with a knife said Saturday she ‘does not believe he is fit to hold any public office.”” Only a week after the nomination: “Embattled Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen said Sunday night he’s dropping out of the race. ‘For the good of the people of [the] state of Illinois and the Democratic party I will resign,’ he said.”

Arlen Specter gets the endorsement of the  Pennsylvania Democratic party. But Democrats there don’t seem to like him all that much.

The Washington Post gives a blow-by-blow account of Sarah Palin’s appearance — her physical appearance, that is — at the Tea Party Convention. I can’t imagine them doing the same in the case of, say, Tim Pawlenty. One noteworthy observation: “In her lapel, a small pin with two flags — for Israel and the United States.”

Here’s a good bipartisan issue for conservatives to get behind: “The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to win support for free-trade policies that divide the party. The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to grow the U.S. economy.” If nothing else, it will annoy Big Labor.

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