Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 19, 2010

Re: Tim Pawlenty’s Classless Comment

Pete, I want to echo your remarks. This is not an isolated instance for Pawlenty, unfortunately. One senses that he is bizarrely using Mitt Romney, circa 2008, as his role model. In his CPAC speech: “Pawlenty also made a strong pitch for the support of the religious right. ‘God is in charge,’ he said, criticizing the ‘naysayers who try to crowd out God.’ If God is ‘good enough for the Founding Fathers, it should be good enough for us.’” He sure is trying real hard. And in his earnestness to ingratiate himself with social conservatives, he risks precisely the problem that plagued Romney in 2008: coming across as inauthentic.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Mitt Romney, according to Ben Smith, “is a more constant, seasoned, and comfortable figure, one whose applause lines match up more closely with his record, and whose protégé – Senator Scott Brown – is his party’s hottest star.” (Wait, that’s not right… Marco Rubio is plainly the party’s hottest star.) The lesson here seems to be that you can’t successfully run for president by trying to be somebody you aren’t, or by trying to turbocharge rhetoric that doesn’t come to you naturally.

In a Purple state, Pawlenty has been a successful governor with compelling ideas on everything from health care to deficit control. Focusing on that is his best bet. It’s early, very early in the pre-campaign jockeying, and now is the time to make mistakes. But if this is his game plan for 2012, he should rethink it.

Pete, I want to echo your remarks. This is not an isolated instance for Pawlenty, unfortunately. One senses that he is bizarrely using Mitt Romney, circa 2008, as his role model. In his CPAC speech: “Pawlenty also made a strong pitch for the support of the religious right. ‘God is in charge,’ he said, criticizing the ‘naysayers who try to crowd out God.’ If God is ‘good enough for the Founding Fathers, it should be good enough for us.’” He sure is trying real hard. And in his earnestness to ingratiate himself with social conservatives, he risks precisely the problem that plagued Romney in 2008: coming across as inauthentic.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Mitt Romney, according to Ben Smith, “is a more constant, seasoned, and comfortable figure, one whose applause lines match up more closely with his record, and whose protégé – Senator Scott Brown – is his party’s hottest star.” (Wait, that’s not right… Marco Rubio is plainly the party’s hottest star.) The lesson here seems to be that you can’t successfully run for president by trying to be somebody you aren’t, or by trying to turbocharge rhetoric that doesn’t come to you naturally.

In a Purple state, Pawlenty has been a successful governor with compelling ideas on everything from health care to deficit control. Focusing on that is his best bet. It’s early, very early in the pre-campaign jockeying, and now is the time to make mistakes. But if this is his game plan for 2012, he should rethink it.

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The ADL Is Wrong: Boycotts Can Be Kosher

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

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Finally, an IAEA Report That Pulls No Punches

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

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Tim Pawlenty’s Classless Comment

During his speech at CPAC earlier today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said this:

I think we should take a page out of her playbook [Elin Woods, wife of Tiger] and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.

I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.

He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.

During his speech at CPAC earlier today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said this:

I think we should take a page out of her playbook [Elin Woods, wife of Tiger] and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.

I’m told from those who know Governor Pawlenty that he is an impressive and decent person, and he certainly has a fine record as governor. But this kind of talk is pretty classless — and strikes me as inauthentic to Pawlenty, as an effort to throw some “red meat” to a conservative crowd.

He doesn’t need to do that. It undermines his appeal. He should speak in an intelligent, mature, serious way to his audience. These are, after all, serious times. Humor is fine and I’m all for tough-minded criticism. But grace and class are important, too. And we don’t need to pull down our political culture with stuff like this.

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The Dream That Never Dies

Don’t miss today’s Washington Post editorial pouring cold water on the return of a U.S. ambassador to Syria. Money quote:

Anyone who thinks the Obama administration has come up with a way to change the Middle East through detente with Syria would do well to study the history of Mr. Assad’s decade in power. That gambit has been tried, by more Western diplomats and politicians than can be counted, and the results are clear: It doesn’t work.

Don’t miss today’s Washington Post editorial pouring cold water on the return of a U.S. ambassador to Syria. Money quote:

Anyone who thinks the Obama administration has come up with a way to change the Middle East through detente with Syria would do well to study the history of Mr. Assad’s decade in power. That gambit has been tried, by more Western diplomats and politicians than can be counted, and the results are clear: It doesn’t work.

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Klein of Arabia

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

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Mishandling Karzai

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

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Brooks: Elites Are Letting Us Down

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example – swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

David Brooks observes, “As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower. It’s not even clear that society is better led.” He finds a number of reasons for this, the first (and I think most critical) has some bearing on the current predicament in which the country finds itself. He explains:

The meritocracy is based on an overly narrow definition of talent. Our system rewards those who can amass technical knowledge. But this skill is only marginally related to the skill of being sensitive to context. It is not related at all to skills like empathy. Over the past years, we’ve seen very smart people make mistakes because they didn’t understand the context in which they were operating.

Or “very smart” people lack real-world experience in leading other people. Or they lack core qualities like resoluteness and decisiveness. Or they delegate too much responsibility and blame others for their failings. You see where I’m heading, right?

We elected a president who was indisputably a member of the educated elite in America. It matters not at all that he wasn’t rich growing up. He spent his adult life at Ivy League institutions, chalked up the résumé entries (Harvard Law Review), and thoroughly adopted the intellectual bent and attributes of the academic Left in America.

What did all this have to do with being president? It turns out not all that much. But other elites — New York Times columnists, for example – swooned and vouched for him. They confused literary finesse with presidential timber. They mistook fluency in philosophy with grounding in common sense, moderation, and wisdom.

In looking for other reasons why elites are doing so badly these days, Brooks writes:

To leave a mark in a fast, competitive world, leaders seek to hit grandiose home runs. Clinton tried to transform health care. Bush tried to transform the Middle East. Obama has tried to transform health care, energy and much more. There’s less emphasis on steady, gradual change and more emphasis on the big swing. This produces more spectacular failures and more uncertainty. Many Americans, not caught up on the romance of this sort of heroism, are terrified.

Well, that sounds like a particular kind of elite leader working on a short time frame before voters have a chance to put a halt to his august plans. But not all leaders operate this way. There are many successful governors, business professionals, and others who set modest goals and work competently toward them. No one is compelled to achieve grandiose objectives unless he has a grandiose conception of himself, a messiah complex, if you will. For those who come to believe they represent the “New Politics” and have the ability to lay a “new foundation” (i.e., radically restructure the country), then, yes, they’re going to run into trouble when the rest of us freak out and don’t want to be restructured out of the health care we enjoy and the economic system we’re rather fond of.

Next time around, voters may want to assess the credentials of the presidential candidates more closely. Elite degrees may be evidence of a sharp mind and keen intellect. But they also teach a lot of foolish things at Ivy League institutions, and it behooves voters to consider which ones a graduate has adopted. Moreover, voters would also do well to look for a candidate’s accomplishments — evidence — of intellectual prowess and personal character. If the candidate hasn’t done much other than run for office, make speeches, and extol his own greatness, that should be a red flag.

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Democratic Candidates Stay Local if They Hope to Win

Yesterday in the Washington Post was a story that didn’t get much attention — but that is the kind of story that causes Democratic politicos in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in the political establishment to lose sleep. According to the Post:

The anger at Washington that is seeping across the country registered a while back in the high ridges of Appalachia, a once-indomitable Democratic stronghold where voters turned away from President Obama in 2008 just as overwhelmingly as they embraced him most everywhere else. Voters in Virginia’s 9th Congressional District are mad that the government has spent hundreds of billions to fix an economy that seems only to deteriorate around them. They’re fearful of a federal takeover of health care. They’re petrified that proposed emissions limits would destroy the coal industry that provides most of the region’s jobs. And they want no part of a president they view as elitist and unlike them.

That anger, combined with the area’s traditional Democratic ties, makes this mountainous region — and a wider, rural arc from southern Ohio to Arkansas — a prime battleground in this year’s congressional elections. …

Even Rep. Rick Boucher, a 14-term incumbent who hasn’t faced a strong challenger since the Reagan years, is in peril, prompting him to shift into campaign mode months earlier than usual and before Republicans have chosen his opponent. Whether he — and other Democrats like him — can hold on will probably determine whether his party can continue to control Congress. In the “Fightin’ 9th,” Boucher’s support of the coal industry and efforts to modernize the local economy give Democrats their best chance to hold a seat they can’t afford to lose.

Democratic seats that have been safe for decades are now vulnerable. Republicans are trying to nationalize their races; Democratic incumbents are trying to localize them.

Developments like these are significant straws in the wind. They are the kinds of things you see when an epic election is in the making.

Yesterday in the Washington Post was a story that didn’t get much attention — but that is the kind of story that causes Democratic politicos in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in the political establishment to lose sleep. According to the Post:

The anger at Washington that is seeping across the country registered a while back in the high ridges of Appalachia, a once-indomitable Democratic stronghold where voters turned away from President Obama in 2008 just as overwhelmingly as they embraced him most everywhere else. Voters in Virginia’s 9th Congressional District are mad that the government has spent hundreds of billions to fix an economy that seems only to deteriorate around them. They’re fearful of a federal takeover of health care. They’re petrified that proposed emissions limits would destroy the coal industry that provides most of the region’s jobs. And they want no part of a president they view as elitist and unlike them.

That anger, combined with the area’s traditional Democratic ties, makes this mountainous region — and a wider, rural arc from southern Ohio to Arkansas — a prime battleground in this year’s congressional elections. …

Even Rep. Rick Boucher, a 14-term incumbent who hasn’t faced a strong challenger since the Reagan years, is in peril, prompting him to shift into campaign mode months earlier than usual and before Republicans have chosen his opponent. Whether he — and other Democrats like him — can hold on will probably determine whether his party can continue to control Congress. In the “Fightin’ 9th,” Boucher’s support of the coal industry and efforts to modernize the local economy give Democrats their best chance to hold a seat they can’t afford to lose.

Democratic seats that have been safe for decades are now vulnerable. Republicans are trying to nationalize their races; Democratic incumbents are trying to localize them.

Developments like these are significant straws in the wind. They are the kinds of things you see when an epic election is in the making.

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Was There a Fort Jackson Cover-Up?

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

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Times Off-Base on U.S. Airpower in Afghanistan

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

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Liberal Legal Pundit Behaving Badly?

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

It’s not quite John Edwards territory, but it’s close. The New York Daily News (h/t Glenn Reynolds) reports:

One of the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals went public Wednesday when married CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin squared off with a woman who says he’s the father of her baby. Yale-educated lawyer Casey Greenfield — the daughter of eminent CBS News analyst Jeff Greenfield — had a chilly faceoff with Toobin in Manhattan Family Court. … Toobin, who glumly sat several rows away from Casey Greenfield before the hearing, is said to have privately admitted to fathering the child, believed to have been born last summer, sources said. A friend of Greenfield’s said the outspoken Toobin has resisted putting his name on the infant’s birth certificate and hasn’t given his former lover the child support she’s requested.

(Toobin is married to his “college sweetheart,” we are told, and has two teenage daughters.) Well this is a little embarrassing for someone who opines on others’ legal obligations.

And then there is the deliciously revealing suggestion (“One of  the media elite’s most whispered-about scandals”) that the media, again, were not reporting a sex scandal that the media would rather not report on. Is this a protect-their-own racket or just the run-of-the-mill “give liberals a break” rule? Hard to say. I’m sure the Gray Lady’s Clark Hoyt and the rest of the mainstream media ombudspeople will get on it right away. Because, after all, they have no problem reporting on Republican sex scandals, no matter how sketchy the sourcing.

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Re: Re: Iran Strike, Out

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

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Could Democrats Save Themselves?

Douglas Schoen, a Democratic pollster and adviser, has a heretical idea: the Democrats should co-opt the Tea Party movement. That’s right — don’t mock or ignore or deride the Tea Party activists. Join ‘em! He explains why radical action is needed: “The Democratic brand is in trouble—big trouble. There are at least eight Senate seats up for grabs, and another two or three potentially in play, putting control of the Senate in play.” So what to do? For starters:

They need pro-growth, fiscally conservative policies. The tea party movement is not a Republican movement, and anyone who sees it as such is making a mistake. Rather, the tea party movement is a reaffirmation of a trend that has long been happening in American politics since 1964, with the move away from liberal, big-spending and big-taxing policies. It played out with California’s Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited property taxes there and inspired nationwide tax revolts just two years before Ronald Reagan was elected. It was evident when the Republicans won control of the House and Senate in 1994. And it certainly contributed to George W. Bush’s election and re-election in 2000 and 2004.

Well, that’s going to go over like a lead balloon in the Democratic party and among liberal pundits. They’ve been calling the Tea Partiers wackos and urging the passage of the leftist agenda. Schoen says this is nuts. (“It is a profound mistake to believe that the Democratic resurgence and President Barack Obama’s election were a validation or an endorsement of a return to big government and Democratic liberalism.”) No more ObamaCare, he says. Forget it. The voters have rejected it. Instead, focus on jobs and — tax cuts. Yeah, wow. He argues:

These policies include a broad-based payroll tax holiday, building from the one Sens. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) have embraced, an extension of the Bush tax cuts, educational initiatives to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, and tax policies that provide clear incentives to small businesses to get started and to hire new employees.

(This, by the way, is how you know Evan Bayh wasn’t a moderate or centrist; he never said any of this.) Schoen’s formula for success is, in effect, “not Obama” — “deficit reduction and spending cuts, as well as a willingness to consider a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for another year until growth is stimulated.” And on health care, he counsels that the Democrats need to “start over and embrace ideas that have broad-based support, like insurance reform, cost control, affordability, eliminating denials of insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and electronic record-keeping.”

Republicans reading this may get nervous. What if the Democrats listen to him? They needn’t fear. The chances are quite slim that Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership would accept all this reasoned advice, for it would be a massive admission of error and a validation of what Republicans have been saying for over a year.

After the November election, the Democrats may have no choice. But for now, I think they’ll go right on trekking over that “precipice.” Schoen’s got the right idea — just the wrong audience.

Douglas Schoen, a Democratic pollster and adviser, has a heretical idea: the Democrats should co-opt the Tea Party movement. That’s right — don’t mock or ignore or deride the Tea Party activists. Join ‘em! He explains why radical action is needed: “The Democratic brand is in trouble—big trouble. There are at least eight Senate seats up for grabs, and another two or three potentially in play, putting control of the Senate in play.” So what to do? For starters:

They need pro-growth, fiscally conservative policies. The tea party movement is not a Republican movement, and anyone who sees it as such is making a mistake. Rather, the tea party movement is a reaffirmation of a trend that has long been happening in American politics since 1964, with the move away from liberal, big-spending and big-taxing policies. It played out with California’s Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited property taxes there and inspired nationwide tax revolts just two years before Ronald Reagan was elected. It was evident when the Republicans won control of the House and Senate in 1994. And it certainly contributed to George W. Bush’s election and re-election in 2000 and 2004.

Well, that’s going to go over like a lead balloon in the Democratic party and among liberal pundits. They’ve been calling the Tea Partiers wackos and urging the passage of the leftist agenda. Schoen says this is nuts. (“It is a profound mistake to believe that the Democratic resurgence and President Barack Obama’s election were a validation or an endorsement of a return to big government and Democratic liberalism.”) No more ObamaCare, he says. Forget it. The voters have rejected it. Instead, focus on jobs and — tax cuts. Yeah, wow. He argues:

These policies include a broad-based payroll tax holiday, building from the one Sens. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) have embraced, an extension of the Bush tax cuts, educational initiatives to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, and tax policies that provide clear incentives to small businesses to get started and to hire new employees.

(This, by the way, is how you know Evan Bayh wasn’t a moderate or centrist; he never said any of this.) Schoen’s formula for success is, in effect, “not Obama” — “deficit reduction and spending cuts, as well as a willingness to consider a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for another year until growth is stimulated.” And on health care, he counsels that the Democrats need to “start over and embrace ideas that have broad-based support, like insurance reform, cost control, affordability, eliminating denials of insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and electronic record-keeping.”

Republicans reading this may get nervous. What if the Democrats listen to him? They needn’t fear. The chances are quite slim that Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership would accept all this reasoned advice, for it would be a massive admission of error and a validation of what Republicans have been saying for over a year.

After the November election, the Democrats may have no choice. But for now, I think they’ll go right on trekking over that “precipice.” Schoen’s got the right idea — just the wrong audience.

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Are Democrats Cooked?

The Cook Political Report explains (subscription required):

Now that Bayh’s seat is open, we moved the race from the Lean Democratic to the Lean Republican column. As a result, we now rate eight Democratic-held seats either in the Toss Up column, or tilting in varying degrees toward Republicans. The open seat in North Dakota where Sen. Byron Dorgan is retiring is in the Solid Republican column as Democrats struggle to recruit a candidate who can compete with popular GOP Gov. John Hoeven. The open seat in Delaware, which is a special election to finish the remainder of Vice President Joe Biden’s Senate term, is now in the Likely Republican column. There are five Democratic-held seats in the Toss Up column: Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Michael Bennet in Colorado, Harry Reid in Nevada, and Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, as well as the open seat in Illinois. Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and the open seat in Connecticut are in the Lean Democratic column, bringing the total to 10 seats.

Getting to 10 and flipping control of the Senate is a bit dicier, and Cook cautions that to do that, Republicans would have to put more seats in play, avoid flaky primary choices who won’t play well in the general races, improve fundraising, and maintain the political momentum they’ve been building. The bottom line: “For now, while it is theoretically possible for Republicans to gain the 10 seats they need to win a majority, it remains a very difficult task.”

With so many seats in play, the question remains how this will affect Senate Democrats in the run-up to the November elections. If Obama has his way, they’ll double down and push through his agenda. But nervous incumbents can see the trends and read the polls. For those who still have a fighting chance, the trick will be to distance themselves from their prior voting records, show they’ve heard the voters, and cast some votes that demonstrate independence and fiscal sobriety. That, however, means resisting the entreaties of their leadership and managing to get votes on legislation that will help them.

It’s not clear that incumbent Democrats who have voted in lockstep with the the Obama-Reid agenda have the moxie or skill to do that. In fact, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet joined the double-down crowd by casting their lot with not only ObamaCare but also the jam-through-on-50-votes strategy (i.e., reconciliation). That seems certain to make their precarious situations even shakier.

Democrats might retain a bare majority, provided they stop voting for legislation their constituents hate, Obama’s popularity rebounds, and unemployment begins dropping. Not all that likely? Then you can conclude that control of the Senate really might slip from the Democrats’ grasp.

The Cook Political Report explains (subscription required):

Now that Bayh’s seat is open, we moved the race from the Lean Democratic to the Lean Republican column. As a result, we now rate eight Democratic-held seats either in the Toss Up column, or tilting in varying degrees toward Republicans. The open seat in North Dakota where Sen. Byron Dorgan is retiring is in the Solid Republican column as Democrats struggle to recruit a candidate who can compete with popular GOP Gov. John Hoeven. The open seat in Delaware, which is a special election to finish the remainder of Vice President Joe Biden’s Senate term, is now in the Likely Republican column. There are five Democratic-held seats in the Toss Up column: Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Michael Bennet in Colorado, Harry Reid in Nevada, and Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, as well as the open seat in Illinois. Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and the open seat in Connecticut are in the Lean Democratic column, bringing the total to 10 seats.

Getting to 10 and flipping control of the Senate is a bit dicier, and Cook cautions that to do that, Republicans would have to put more seats in play, avoid flaky primary choices who won’t play well in the general races, improve fundraising, and maintain the political momentum they’ve been building. The bottom line: “For now, while it is theoretically possible for Republicans to gain the 10 seats they need to win a majority, it remains a very difficult task.”

With so many seats in play, the question remains how this will affect Senate Democrats in the run-up to the November elections. If Obama has his way, they’ll double down and push through his agenda. But nervous incumbents can see the trends and read the polls. For those who still have a fighting chance, the trick will be to distance themselves from their prior voting records, show they’ve heard the voters, and cast some votes that demonstrate independence and fiscal sobriety. That, however, means resisting the entreaties of their leadership and managing to get votes on legislation that will help them.

It’s not clear that incumbent Democrats who have voted in lockstep with the the Obama-Reid agenda have the moxie or skill to do that. In fact, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet joined the double-down crowd by casting their lot with not only ObamaCare but also the jam-through-on-50-votes strategy (i.e., reconciliation). That seems certain to make their precarious situations even shakier.

Democrats might retain a bare majority, provided they stop voting for legislation their constituents hate, Obama’s popularity rebounds, and unemployment begins dropping. Not all that likely? Then you can conclude that control of the Senate really might slip from the Democrats’ grasp.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Uh oh: Eliot Spitzer is back in the political ring, “acting as an unofficial adviser to New York’s current governor, the hapless David Paterson, whose campaign for re-election is basically in the toilet.” But not to worry, he’s going through an intermediary, an arrangement with which the shameless Spitzer “has had rather a lot of experience.”

Uh oh: Cliff May reviews the troubling trends in Iraq and efforts by Iran to ban candidates and manipulate the Iraqi elections. “It would be a cruel irony — not to mention a terrible defeat — if the sacrifices Americans have made were, in the end, to produce an Iraq dominated by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad [sic], enemies of Iraq, freedom, and democracy — enemies sworn to bringing about a ‘world without America.’ Why don’t Biden and Obama recognize that? And why are their critics not more vocal about the fact that they do not?”

Uh oh: ” Both the number of workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance and producer prices unexpectedly surged, dealing a setback to hopes the economy was showing a strong recovery.Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000 in the week ended Feb. 13, up from an upwardly revised 442,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.”

Uh oh: “The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit for January totaled $42.63 billion. That left the total of red ink so far this budget year at $430.69 billion, 8.8 percent higher than last year when the deficit soared to an unprecedented level of $1.42 trillion. Obama, in sending Congress a new budget plan on Feb. 1, projected that this year’s deficit would hit $1.56 trillion and would remain above $1 trillion for three consecutive years. He forecast the 2011 deficit, for the budget year that begins next Oct. 1, would total $1.27 trillion.”

Uh oh (for the Obami): A new low — only 24 percent of voters think health care is the most likely achievement for Obama.

Uh oh: Evan Bayh is going to lose his halo in the mainstream media. “Sen. Evan Bayh is throwing a wrench in the works of a signature administration initiative, expressing reservations about the plan for the government to eliminate private-sector middlemen and make student loans directly.” Translation: he’s against a government takeover of student loans.

Uh oh: Michael Bennet’s embrace of the public option and reconciliation isn’t playing well back home in Colorado: “Most Americans want Congress to start over on health care reform, but it seems Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet would rather jam it down our throats. Ignoring the message that voters sent in Massachusetts, and shedding any notion that he intends to be a moderate Democrat, Bennet is leading a pack of liberal senators who want to push through health-care reform using a process known as reconciliation. How is it possible that Sen. Bennet, yet to receive one vote from a Coloradan, has such a tin ear for what most Coloradans and Americans want?” Colorado is already rated a “toss-up” (subscription required), but recent polling had Bennet down by double digits.

Uh oh (for the Left): Politico runs a forum entitled “Liberals( progressives) are they finished?” Hard to say any major political movement is ever “finished,” but it isn’t a healthy sign when you have to ask.

Uh oh: Eliot Spitzer is back in the political ring, “acting as an unofficial adviser to New York’s current governor, the hapless David Paterson, whose campaign for re-election is basically in the toilet.” But not to worry, he’s going through an intermediary, an arrangement with which the shameless Spitzer “has had rather a lot of experience.”

Uh oh: Cliff May reviews the troubling trends in Iraq and efforts by Iran to ban candidates and manipulate the Iraqi elections. “It would be a cruel irony — not to mention a terrible defeat — if the sacrifices Americans have made were, in the end, to produce an Iraq dominated by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad [sic], enemies of Iraq, freedom, and democracy — enemies sworn to bringing about a ‘world without America.’ Why don’t Biden and Obama recognize that? And why are their critics not more vocal about the fact that they do not?”

Uh oh: ” Both the number of workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance and producer prices unexpectedly surged, dealing a setback to hopes the economy was showing a strong recovery.Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000 in the week ended Feb. 13, up from an upwardly revised 442,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.”

Uh oh: “The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit for January totaled $42.63 billion. That left the total of red ink so far this budget year at $430.69 billion, 8.8 percent higher than last year when the deficit soared to an unprecedented level of $1.42 trillion. Obama, in sending Congress a new budget plan on Feb. 1, projected that this year’s deficit would hit $1.56 trillion and would remain above $1 trillion for three consecutive years. He forecast the 2011 deficit, for the budget year that begins next Oct. 1, would total $1.27 trillion.”

Uh oh (for the Obami): A new low — only 24 percent of voters think health care is the most likely achievement for Obama.

Uh oh: Evan Bayh is going to lose his halo in the mainstream media. “Sen. Evan Bayh is throwing a wrench in the works of a signature administration initiative, expressing reservations about the plan for the government to eliminate private-sector middlemen and make student loans directly.” Translation: he’s against a government takeover of student loans.

Uh oh: Michael Bennet’s embrace of the public option and reconciliation isn’t playing well back home in Colorado: “Most Americans want Congress to start over on health care reform, but it seems Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet would rather jam it down our throats. Ignoring the message that voters sent in Massachusetts, and shedding any notion that he intends to be a moderate Democrat, Bennet is leading a pack of liberal senators who want to push through health-care reform using a process known as reconciliation. How is it possible that Sen. Bennet, yet to receive one vote from a Coloradan, has such a tin ear for what most Coloradans and Americans want?” Colorado is already rated a “toss-up” (subscription required), but recent polling had Bennet down by double digits.

Uh oh (for the Left): Politico runs a forum entitled “Liberals( progressives) are they finished?” Hard to say any major political movement is ever “finished,” but it isn’t a healthy sign when you have to ask.

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