Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2010

UN “Peace” Coordinator: Jewish Heritage an Invalid Concept

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

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Ridiculous Writings on Totalitarian Countries

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

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RE: The Latest Same ObamaCare Bill

I certainly agree with Jennifer that the latest iteration of a health-care bill out of the White House is same-old same-old.

There is basically just one new idea, and it’s a terrible one — the Health Insurance Rate Authority. This board would have the power to roll back health-insurance-premium hikes that were “unreasonable.” Needless to say, the definition of “unreasonable” would be determined by politicians, who would take political considerations (there are a lot more health-care buyers than sellers), not economic ones, into account. That’s why rent controls have been everywhere and always a disaster. The result will be that every health-insurance company in the country will go broke (which is probably what the Obama administration has in mind anyway, come to think of it).

Worse, health-insurance companies can’t compete in terms of price anyway, thanks to state price-fixing. (Thought experiment: If you watch television, you can’t get through an hour without seeing six automobile-insurance commercials, because auto-insurance companies compete fiercely in terms of price. But how many health-insurance commercials do you see? The only ones are for Medicare supplemental insurance, which is not price controlled, at least as of now.)

The people have spoken just as clearly as they can about what they think of the health-care bills that have already, if barely, passed the House and Senate. Many members of each chamber will have to be willing to commit political suicide to pass this one.  Like Jennifer, I’d be surprised. Very surprised.

I certainly agree with Jennifer that the latest iteration of a health-care bill out of the White House is same-old same-old.

There is basically just one new idea, and it’s a terrible one — the Health Insurance Rate Authority. This board would have the power to roll back health-insurance-premium hikes that were “unreasonable.” Needless to say, the definition of “unreasonable” would be determined by politicians, who would take political considerations (there are a lot more health-care buyers than sellers), not economic ones, into account. That’s why rent controls have been everywhere and always a disaster. The result will be that every health-insurance company in the country will go broke (which is probably what the Obama administration has in mind anyway, come to think of it).

Worse, health-insurance companies can’t compete in terms of price anyway, thanks to state price-fixing. (Thought experiment: If you watch television, you can’t get through an hour without seeing six automobile-insurance commercials, because auto-insurance companies compete fiercely in terms of price. But how many health-insurance commercials do you see? The only ones are for Medicare supplemental insurance, which is not price controlled, at least as of now.)

The people have spoken just as clearly as they can about what they think of the health-care bills that have already, if barely, passed the House and Senate. Many members of each chamber will have to be willing to commit political suicide to pass this one.  Like Jennifer, I’d be surprised. Very surprised.

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How Does Israel Survive?

When others, from the safety of distant shores, contemplate what risks Israel should incur on behalf of innocents, or when others tut-tut the assassination of a terrorist, there is a tendency to dance around the central dilemma for the Jewish state—namely, that it is fighting against a “cult of death”:

How are the citizens of the Jewish State—for whom, as for all Jews, the essential (if difficult to fulfill) demand from God is Choose Life And Be Grateful For It; who’d desperately love to be sending their children off to grapple with literature, or physics, or even macramé after high school, but must send them off to grapple instead with an adversary that hides in hospitals and mosques and uses women and children as shields; who mourn as a nation every child of Israel killed in action; who cherish every drop of shed Jewish blood as if it were the living breathing person; whose enemies slosh through the blood of their own fallen brothers as if it were so much rain water—how are Israelis ever going to make peace with people whose death-worship is so wide and so deep that they’ve turned mothers—who’ve felt unborn life fluttering, hiccuping, kicking; and later the indescribable pleasure of the scent and feel of their babies heavy with sleep in their arms; the first enthralling toothless smiles; the first glorious infant belly laughs; heard the أمي, “Ommy!” for the first thrilling time; wiped away the first tears of hurt—into zombies who seek and celebrate the deaths of their own children?

When that asymmetry is resolved, there will be plenty of peace to process. Not before.

When others, from the safety of distant shores, contemplate what risks Israel should incur on behalf of innocents, or when others tut-tut the assassination of a terrorist, there is a tendency to dance around the central dilemma for the Jewish state—namely, that it is fighting against a “cult of death”:

How are the citizens of the Jewish State—for whom, as for all Jews, the essential (if difficult to fulfill) demand from God is Choose Life And Be Grateful For It; who’d desperately love to be sending their children off to grapple with literature, or physics, or even macramé after high school, but must send them off to grapple instead with an adversary that hides in hospitals and mosques and uses women and children as shields; who mourn as a nation every child of Israel killed in action; who cherish every drop of shed Jewish blood as if it were the living breathing person; whose enemies slosh through the blood of their own fallen brothers as if it were so much rain water—how are Israelis ever going to make peace with people whose death-worship is so wide and so deep that they’ve turned mothers—who’ve felt unborn life fluttering, hiccuping, kicking; and later the indescribable pleasure of the scent and feel of their babies heavy with sleep in their arms; the first enthralling toothless smiles; the first glorious infant belly laughs; heard the أمي, “Ommy!” for the first thrilling time; wiped away the first tears of hurt—into zombies who seek and celebrate the deaths of their own children?

When that asymmetry is resolved, there will be plenty of peace to process. Not before.

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What an Economist Thinks Poetry Is

There’s an eye-opening profile of Paul Krugman, the economist and lickspittle New York Times columnist, in the New Yorker this week. (Among its revelations: He became an economist owing to a character in an Isaac Asimov novel; his future wife was so angry when Ronald Reagan was elected president that she left the country for England; and he thought his life was in danger because people wrote him angry e-mails about some columns after 9/11.)

The most interesting detail in the piece has to do with Krugman’s academic work, which won him a Nobel Prize. Evidently, it is actually entirely commonsensical and not all that surprising in its exploration of the reasons why some businesses develop in certain places — but it was outside the norm for academic economists and so it blew them away. His particular gift, according to the piece, was his ability to translate lucid ideas into mathematical formulae; you would think the reverse would be the case for a genuinely significant contribution to the world of ideas, but never mind. Here is the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff describing Krugman’s accomplishment:

“It’s poetry,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard, says. “I mean, you go back to his first book and there was this beautiful chart about what the Volcker contraction did to output that swept aside so much—he just drew this little graph which really cleared the air. I’ve heard economists use the word ‘poet’ in describing him for decades.”

Yes. A beautiful chart about the Volcker contraction. That’s just what I think of when I see the word poetry.

There’s an eye-opening profile of Paul Krugman, the economist and lickspittle New York Times columnist, in the New Yorker this week. (Among its revelations: He became an economist owing to a character in an Isaac Asimov novel; his future wife was so angry when Ronald Reagan was elected president that she left the country for England; and he thought his life was in danger because people wrote him angry e-mails about some columns after 9/11.)

The most interesting detail in the piece has to do with Krugman’s academic work, which won him a Nobel Prize. Evidently, it is actually entirely commonsensical and not all that surprising in its exploration of the reasons why some businesses develop in certain places — but it was outside the norm for academic economists and so it blew them away. His particular gift, according to the piece, was his ability to translate lucid ideas into mathematical formulae; you would think the reverse would be the case for a genuinely significant contribution to the world of ideas, but never mind. Here is the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff describing Krugman’s accomplishment:

“It’s poetry,” Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard, says. “I mean, you go back to his first book and there was this beautiful chart about what the Volcker contraction did to output that swept aside so much—he just drew this little graph which really cleared the air. I’ve heard economists use the word ‘poet’ in describing him for decades.”

Yes. A beautiful chart about the Volcker contraction. That’s just what I think of when I see the word poetry.

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The Latest Same ObamaCare Bill

Obama has put forth another version of ObamaCare, but it’s not even sufficient to be scored by the CBO. The CBO website explains:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

We do have some idea what’s in it, however. Matt Continetti explains: “Obama’s new, improved plan is more expensive than the Senate bill, does not address the concerns of pro-life House Democrats over the Senate’s abortion language, maintains the tax exemption for the Democrats’ union friends, and will effectively turn insurance companies into heavily regulated public utilities.”

What we do know is that under ObamaCare’s latest incarnation, you really don’t get to keep your existing health-care plan. And we know that it seeks to federalize the regulation of the health-insurance industry. (“The big new idea in the president’s plan is to federalize regulation of health insurance, creating a Health Insurance Rate Authority to conduct ‘reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.’ This reflects the overall strategy to give more and more control over the health sector to Washington.”) And it seems that there are $136B worth of new taxes to be imposed on the people Obama said he’d never tax, namely those families making less than $250,000.

What we don’t know is why anyone who opposed the last version(s) of ObamaCare would accept this one. It is still a mammoth tax-and-spend bill and still seeks to federalize health care. If Nancy Pelosi has 218 votes for this, I’d be surprised. If Senate Democrats want to walk the plank for a retread of the bill that voters in Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate to oppose, I’d be surprised. But I suppose we’ll find out.

Obama has put forth another version of ObamaCare, but it’s not even sufficient to be scored by the CBO. The CBO website explains:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

We do have some idea what’s in it, however. Matt Continetti explains: “Obama’s new, improved plan is more expensive than the Senate bill, does not address the concerns of pro-life House Democrats over the Senate’s abortion language, maintains the tax exemption for the Democrats’ union friends, and will effectively turn insurance companies into heavily regulated public utilities.”

What we do know is that under ObamaCare’s latest incarnation, you really don’t get to keep your existing health-care plan. And we know that it seeks to federalize the regulation of the health-insurance industry. (“The big new idea in the president’s plan is to federalize regulation of health insurance, creating a Health Insurance Rate Authority to conduct ‘reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.’ This reflects the overall strategy to give more and more control over the health sector to Washington.”) And it seems that there are $136B worth of new taxes to be imposed on the people Obama said he’d never tax, namely those families making less than $250,000.

What we don’t know is why anyone who opposed the last version(s) of ObamaCare would accept this one. It is still a mammoth tax-and-spend bill and still seeks to federalize health care. If Nancy Pelosi has 218 votes for this, I’d be surprised. If Senate Democrats want to walk the plank for a retread of the bill that voters in Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate to oppose, I’d be surprised. But I suppose we’ll find out.

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Defending the Gaza 54

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

J Street and Peace Now rush to the pages of the Jerusalem Post to defend the letter sent by 54 Democratic congressmen (one subsequently fell off the Israel-bashing bandwagon) calling on the lifting of the Gaza blockade. It’s what we have come to expect from those who find Israel’s reasoned self-defense measures to be gross violations of human rights. It is also deeply misleading. As others have noted:

Note that for the Jerusalem Post, J Street and APN argue that first they were concerned for “Israel’s security,” but the text of the letter indicates that Israel’s security is of little concern. More than 90 percent of the letter deals with the “collective punishment of the Palestinian residents” of Gaza and easing their plight. This accusation of Israel’s “collection punishment” helps explain why J Street failed to condemn the Goldstone Report. This is not a letter from “pro-Israel” sources, but from “pro-Gaza” sources. And in the case of Hamas-occupied Gaza, the two are mutually exclusive.

There always seem to be those — the Gaza-letter brigade and their boosters at J Street, most prominently — who offer themselves as true friends of Israel, knowing better than the Israelis what sacrifices are to be taken. Lift the blockade, they say from the cozy confines of New York, waving off the notion that more Israeli children will die from the bombs smuggled among the “construction supplies” they seek to allow into Gaza.

As if to hammer this home, the Jerusalem Post also offers up the remarks of an actual pro-Israel congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel. He comments on the Israeli government’s decision not to meet with the J Street delegation:

“It’s up to Israeli officials to decide who they will meet with, and who not to meet with,” he said.

He pointed out that a number of the congressmen that J Street brought over vote against Israel on resolutions that generally carry massive support on the House floor.

For instance, two of those congressman – California Democrats Lois Capps and Bob Filner – voted against House Resolution 867 that slammed the Goldstone Report and re-affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense.

Another member of the delegation, Bill Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), voted “present,” while Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) did not vote. The only member of the delegation to back the resolution, deemed in Jerusalem an important pro-Israel resolution, was Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio).

The resolution passed 344-36, with another 22 voting “present,” and 20 not voting.

Engel is also not buying J Street’s “pro-Israel” moniker (well, neither does the J Street gang, as its college group prefers not to use that label):

Engel, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch supporter of Israel in the House, said J Street takes “positions in Washington I have difficulty with.”

Engel said J Street’s statements “over-emphasize” what the organization feels Israel is not doing, “rather than putting the blame squarely where I think it belongs – the Palestinian attitude of denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state.”

He continued, “If you look at some of the votes we had in the US Congress pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, there are some people on that [J Street] trip who the government would be unhappy with regarding their votes – and that would be understandable. They probably feel that if people are going to criticize them, they don’t have to facilitate the criticism.”

Yes, what an odd thing indeed for a government to decide for itself how best to defend its population and to decide for itself whether those claiming to have its best interests at heart really do. In the meantime, those who profess to place Israel’s security first might forgo, for starters, the embrace of the Hamas position on Gaza and the aversion to crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime, which would like to eradicate the Jewish state rather than to nibble away at its edges.

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Another Jab at Campbell

Chuck DeVore, the other contender in the California Senate race, has joined Carly Fiorina in taking a swing at Tom Campbell. In an e-mail to California media, his spokesman writes:

As you know, President Obama’s proposed envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conferemce, Rashad Hussain, is under fire for having misled the public about his past statements. Among them is his defense of Sami Al-Arian, convicted conspirator for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as a victim of “politically motivated persecutions.”

This is a timely issue for those of us in the California Senate race, as one of the contenders for the Republican nomination also has a history with Sami Al-Arian — having received his support, written letters in his defense, and even visited his brother-in-law (also a Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure) in prison. That contender is Tom Campbell.

Campbell now professes to be a great supporter of Israel and to favor stringent sanctions against Iran. Fair enough, but his opponents have raised serious questions about his past record. It stands out among mainstream Republicans, both in his voting record opposing aid to Israel and in his cozy relationship with CAIR. California voters will have to decide whether they believe his current campaign rhetoric or whether his past record is a more telling reflection of his actual views. One thing is certain: the Democrats will use each and every vote of Campbell’s and each and every campaign donation and association with Muslim fundamentalists as fodder in the general election, should Campbell be the nominee.

Chuck DeVore, the other contender in the California Senate race, has joined Carly Fiorina in taking a swing at Tom Campbell. In an e-mail to California media, his spokesman writes:

As you know, President Obama’s proposed envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conferemce, Rashad Hussain, is under fire for having misled the public about his past statements. Among them is his defense of Sami Al-Arian, convicted conspirator for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as a victim of “politically motivated persecutions.”

This is a timely issue for those of us in the California Senate race, as one of the contenders for the Republican nomination also has a history with Sami Al-Arian — having received his support, written letters in his defense, and even visited his brother-in-law (also a Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure) in prison. That contender is Tom Campbell.

Campbell now professes to be a great supporter of Israel and to favor stringent sanctions against Iran. Fair enough, but his opponents have raised serious questions about his past record. It stands out among mainstream Republicans, both in his voting record opposing aid to Israel and in his cozy relationship with CAIR. California voters will have to decide whether they believe his current campaign rhetoric or whether his past record is a more telling reflection of his actual views. One thing is certain: the Democrats will use each and every vote of Campbell’s and each and every campaign donation and association with Muslim fundamentalists as fodder in the general election, should Campbell be the nominee.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A World-Historic Find in Jerusalem

The greatest threat to the hopes of those who think parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up in the city, but rather when Jews start digging into the ground of East Jerusalem. Because the more the history of the city is uncovered, the less credible becomes the charge that Jews are alien colonists in what the media sometimes wrongly refer to as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab” Jerusalem.

That’s the upshot from the release of an amazing archeological dig conducted just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The excavations conducted by archeologist Eilat Mazar in the Ophel area, which were made public today, revealed a section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem. According to the press release from the Hebrew University, under whose auspices the project was carried out, the dig uncovered the wall as well as an inner gatehouse for entry into the royal quarter of the ancient city and an additional royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse as well as a corner tower. While ancient buildings are not uncommon in the city, the significance of this discovery is the fact that these edifices can be dated to the 10th century before the Common Era — the time of King Solomon, credited by the Bible for the construction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Pottery found at the lowest levels of the dig is dated to this era.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The greatest threat to the hopes of those who think parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up in the city, but rather when Jews start digging into the ground of East Jerusalem. Because the more the history of the city is uncovered, the less credible becomes the charge that Jews are alien colonists in what the media sometimes wrongly refer to as “traditionally Palestinian” or “Arab” Jerusalem.

That’s the upshot from the release of an amazing archeological dig conducted just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The excavations conducted by archeologist Eilat Mazar in the Ophel area, which were made public today, revealed a section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem. According to the press release from the Hebrew University, under whose auspices the project was carried out, the dig uncovered the wall as well as an inner gatehouse for entry into the royal quarter of the ancient city and an additional royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse as well as a corner tower. While ancient buildings are not uncommon in the city, the significance of this discovery is the fact that these edifices can be dated to the 10th century before the Common Era — the time of King Solomon, credited by the Bible for the construction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Pottery found at the lowest levels of the dig is dated to this era.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Personal Popularity ≠ Effectiveness

I would think that his first year in office has been a chastening one for Barack Obama, who has had to learn the limits of the politics of personality — specifically the limits of his personality to change the world.

Lesson No. 1,043 comes today courtesy of the Dutch government, which is pulling its forces out of Afghanistan despite Obama’s pleas that they stay. As the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, observed: “When President Bush asked us to extend our activities we said yes and when President Obama, who has a lot of support in the Netherlands, made such a request, we say no.”

I am sure that Obama still remains popular in the Netherlands — as he does in many other places around the world. But once again, his personal popularity is not translating into an ability to carry out his agenda.

I would think that his first year in office has been a chastening one for Barack Obama, who has had to learn the limits of the politics of personality — specifically the limits of his personality to change the world.

Lesson No. 1,043 comes today courtesy of the Dutch government, which is pulling its forces out of Afghanistan despite Obama’s pleas that they stay. As the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, observed: “When President Bush asked us to extend our activities we said yes and when President Obama, who has a lot of support in the Netherlands, made such a request, we say no.”

I am sure that Obama still remains popular in the Netherlands — as he does in many other places around the world. But once again, his personal popularity is not translating into an ability to carry out his agenda.

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Re: More on Yoo and Bybee

In response to the news of Yoo and Bybee’s exoneration and of the shoddiness of the Justice Department’s investigation, a smart reader writes to me, “As for the Holder Justice Department, it’s a perfect reflection of the Obama White House.” I think this is precisely right and important to keep in mind.

There is a tendency in reporting and punditry, fostered by the Obama spin machine, to treat Eric Holder as an independent agent, and his Department’s ill-advised policy decisions as larks, discrete from and unrelated to the Obami’s agenda. But this is wrong. First, none of the policy calls or the investigations, including the Yoo/Bybee witch hunt, were at odds with Obama’s own views and public utterances. It is not as if the Justice Department came up with the idea of closing Guantanamo, treating terrorists as ordinary criminals, or engaging in a vendetta against the Bush administration. These ideas were all part of Obama’s campaign rhetoric and his professed agenda from the earliest days of his administration. So rather than a rogue Justice Department, we have one that facilitates and enables the Obami’s worst instincts.

But the Yoo/Bybee investigation is illustrative of the Obama White House in other ways: the hyper-partisanship, the disregard for facts and careful analysis, the tendency to ignore critics and blindly follow a predetermined course of action, and the need to make an embarrassing about-face when it all comes crumbling down. That’s what happened in the OPR investigation and what we’ve seen in many other contexts as well — from Iran policy to health-care reform. Hillary Clinton’s “ideology is so yesterday” statement was meant as a slur on the Bush administration. But it is Obama and also his intensely politicized Justice Department who are blinded by ideology and, frankly, by a fixation on repudiating Obama’s predecessor. These things never end well, as we saw with the OPR investigation, for those caught in the snare of revenge.

The Democrats want a hearing on the Yoo/Bybee investigation? I say, bring it on! A full discussion and exploration of all of this and more would be enlightening.

In response to the news of Yoo and Bybee’s exoneration and of the shoddiness of the Justice Department’s investigation, a smart reader writes to me, “As for the Holder Justice Department, it’s a perfect reflection of the Obama White House.” I think this is precisely right and important to keep in mind.

There is a tendency in reporting and punditry, fostered by the Obama spin machine, to treat Eric Holder as an independent agent, and his Department’s ill-advised policy decisions as larks, discrete from and unrelated to the Obami’s agenda. But this is wrong. First, none of the policy calls or the investigations, including the Yoo/Bybee witch hunt, were at odds with Obama’s own views and public utterances. It is not as if the Justice Department came up with the idea of closing Guantanamo, treating terrorists as ordinary criminals, or engaging in a vendetta against the Bush administration. These ideas were all part of Obama’s campaign rhetoric and his professed agenda from the earliest days of his administration. So rather than a rogue Justice Department, we have one that facilitates and enables the Obami’s worst instincts.

But the Yoo/Bybee investigation is illustrative of the Obama White House in other ways: the hyper-partisanship, the disregard for facts and careful analysis, the tendency to ignore critics and blindly follow a predetermined course of action, and the need to make an embarrassing about-face when it all comes crumbling down. That’s what happened in the OPR investigation and what we’ve seen in many other contexts as well — from Iran policy to health-care reform. Hillary Clinton’s “ideology is so yesterday” statement was meant as a slur on the Bush administration. But it is Obama and also his intensely politicized Justice Department who are blinded by ideology and, frankly, by a fixation on repudiating Obama’s predecessor. These things never end well, as we saw with the OPR investigation, for those caught in the snare of revenge.

The Democrats want a hearing on the Yoo/Bybee investigation? I say, bring it on! A full discussion and exploration of all of this and more would be enlightening.

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The System Is Working Exactly as Planned

Attorneys David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey rebut the punditocracy’s favorite theme these days: Washington is “broken.” Those annoyed with the failure to jam through controversial legislation bemoan the “gridlock” and urge all manner of parliamentary tricksterism to get what they want — the passage of Obama’s radical agenda. But Rivkin and Casey remind us that this is precisely how the system is supposed to work. It was designed to make swift passage of ill-conceived measures difficult, by “generally requiring a high level of consensus in support of governmental action.” The Constitution sets up an intricate framework of checks and balances and the Senate “did the framers one better” with the filibuster, which the Left wants now to abolish. The result, the attorneys explain, is that “the government established by the U.S. Constitution, as well as the document itself, is ‘conservative.’ Its default is the status quo, unless and until the advocates of change can secure a sufficient consensus to support their idea.”

The failure then is not of the “system,” but rather of the Obami and of the congressional Democrats — in eschewing the center and trying to push through a far-reaching agenda with no popular consensus, and, indeed, in the face of a great deal of opposition.

But the critics claim that we are then “doomed” to do “nothing.” Well, sometimes nothing is better than something horrible. But there are two obvious responses. First, come up with a shortlist of reforms that does enjoy bipartisan support. And second, look to the states. In addition to federal checks and balances, the Framers set up a federal system with power reserved to state governments, which until recently had primary responsibility for issues such as education, health care, and public safety.

As this report explains:

Some governors, frustrated by halted federal efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system, are introducing their own changes at the state level. “Most of what’s called health-care reform can be done at the state level,” Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, said on Sunday on the sidelines of an annual winter gathering of the National Governors Association here. . . A few states, such as Massachusetts, have sought their own solutions to address problems with the health-care system. More states appear to be pushing to take the initiative now, however, as they grapple with continued budget shortfalls, a big part of which is due to rising health-care costs, and as federal efforts to overhaul the country’s health-care system have faltered.

There are lots of good ideas and some bad ones out there. But let the states try these out, and figure out which work and which don’t. Pennsylvania is looking into requiring “medical facilities operate 24-hour non-emergency treatment centers that would offer services such as stitches for cuts. Mr. Rendell said he expected that savings generated from the operation of these centers could help pay for the new initiative.” Is he right? Who knows, but he and others can try out dozens of ideas. (“Other governors also suggested that the savings recouped from changes to the health-care system could help pay for new measures.”)

In sum, the system is far from broken. We simply have leaders who have failed in their jobs to garner popular support for reasonable reforms. If they can’t do it, maybe the states will, and then in the process remind us of the benefits of federalism and of the excessive reliance we have come to place on Washington to solve our problems with one-size-fits-all solutions.

Attorneys David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey rebut the punditocracy’s favorite theme these days: Washington is “broken.” Those annoyed with the failure to jam through controversial legislation bemoan the “gridlock” and urge all manner of parliamentary tricksterism to get what they want — the passage of Obama’s radical agenda. But Rivkin and Casey remind us that this is precisely how the system is supposed to work. It was designed to make swift passage of ill-conceived measures difficult, by “generally requiring a high level of consensus in support of governmental action.” The Constitution sets up an intricate framework of checks and balances and the Senate “did the framers one better” with the filibuster, which the Left wants now to abolish. The result, the attorneys explain, is that “the government established by the U.S. Constitution, as well as the document itself, is ‘conservative.’ Its default is the status quo, unless and until the advocates of change can secure a sufficient consensus to support their idea.”

The failure then is not of the “system,” but rather of the Obami and of the congressional Democrats — in eschewing the center and trying to push through a far-reaching agenda with no popular consensus, and, indeed, in the face of a great deal of opposition.

But the critics claim that we are then “doomed” to do “nothing.” Well, sometimes nothing is better than something horrible. But there are two obvious responses. First, come up with a shortlist of reforms that does enjoy bipartisan support. And second, look to the states. In addition to federal checks and balances, the Framers set up a federal system with power reserved to state governments, which until recently had primary responsibility for issues such as education, health care, and public safety.

As this report explains:

Some governors, frustrated by halted federal efforts to overhaul the U.S. health-care system, are introducing their own changes at the state level. “Most of what’s called health-care reform can be done at the state level,” Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, a Republican, said on Sunday on the sidelines of an annual winter gathering of the National Governors Association here. . . A few states, such as Massachusetts, have sought their own solutions to address problems with the health-care system. More states appear to be pushing to take the initiative now, however, as they grapple with continued budget shortfalls, a big part of which is due to rising health-care costs, and as federal efforts to overhaul the country’s health-care system have faltered.

There are lots of good ideas and some bad ones out there. But let the states try these out, and figure out which work and which don’t. Pennsylvania is looking into requiring “medical facilities operate 24-hour non-emergency treatment centers that would offer services such as stitches for cuts. Mr. Rendell said he expected that savings generated from the operation of these centers could help pay for the new initiative.” Is he right? Who knows, but he and others can try out dozens of ideas. (“Other governors also suggested that the savings recouped from changes to the health-care system could help pay for new measures.”)

In sum, the system is far from broken. We simply have leaders who have failed in their jobs to garner popular support for reasonable reforms. If they can’t do it, maybe the states will, and then in the process remind us of the benefits of federalism and of the excessive reliance we have come to place on Washington to solve our problems with one-size-fits-all solutions.

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The Israeli Punditry’s Own Goal

Though Barack Obama bears primary responsibility for fumbling the ball on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli punditry has played a non-negligible supporting role.

Even before Hillary Clinton openly disavowed the possibility last week, U.S. military action against Iran was never a very credible threat, given Obama’s visible distaste for the idea. That left Israel as the only credible military threat. And without such a threat, no nonmilitary solution is possible — something even the Obama administration now tacitly acknowledges. As the New York Times reported this month, the administration’s main argument in trying to persuade China to back tough sanctions is that otherwise Israel is likely to bomb Iran, and the resultant instability in a major oil-producing region would be far worse for Chinese business than sanctions would. Thus, everyone who favors a nonmilitary solution to the Iranian problem has a vested interest in keeping the Israeli threat as credible as possible.

Incredibly, Obama has been doing the exact opposite. It’s hard for administration officials to persuade either Tehran or Beijing to take the Israeli threat seriously while simultaneously proclaiming Obama’s determination to stop Israel from carrying it out. But that makes it all the more important for Israel to project willingness and ability to strike Iran whether Washington likes it or not — which Israel has tried to do.

Unfortunately, Israel’s efforts have been undercut by a string of academic and media pundits proclaiming that Israel cannot possibly strike Iran without U.S. permission. A typical example is the editorial Haaretz published last Tuesday, reprinted by the International Herald Tribune two days later. Explaining why Israel has “no better option” than to sit quietly and hope Obama’s efforts succeed, it declared: “Israel will need full American support for any actions it may decide to take against the Iranian threat. If Israel goes to war, it will need intelligence help, prior warning, military equipment and diplomatic support from the United States.” The obvious corollary is that Israel cannot go to war without American support.

Such assessments are almost certainly wrong: Israeli governments have rarely heeded American vetoes when they felt a vital Israeli security interest was at stake, and it’s hard to imagine a more vital Israeli interest than keeping Iran from getting the bomb. But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Haaretz is widely viewed by overseas journalists and diplomats as a credible interpreter of the Israeli scene. And therefore, such assertions lead Iran and China to believe that as long as Obama remains unalterably opposed to an Israeli strike, they need not fear one. Hence, Iran can safely continue its nuclear program, and China can safely continue stymieing international sanctions.

Those who make such statements generally believe an Israeli strike would be disastrous and seek to prevent it. But by making the Iranians and Chinese feel they have nothing to fear, these pundits actually make it more likely that nonmilitary efforts will fail, leaving Israel with no choice but military action. Thus their ill-considered words may end up bringing about the very scenario they dread most.

Though Barack Obama bears primary responsibility for fumbling the ball on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli punditry has played a non-negligible supporting role.

Even before Hillary Clinton openly disavowed the possibility last week, U.S. military action against Iran was never a very credible threat, given Obama’s visible distaste for the idea. That left Israel as the only credible military threat. And without such a threat, no nonmilitary solution is possible — something even the Obama administration now tacitly acknowledges. As the New York Times reported this month, the administration’s main argument in trying to persuade China to back tough sanctions is that otherwise Israel is likely to bomb Iran, and the resultant instability in a major oil-producing region would be far worse for Chinese business than sanctions would. Thus, everyone who favors a nonmilitary solution to the Iranian problem has a vested interest in keeping the Israeli threat as credible as possible.

Incredibly, Obama has been doing the exact opposite. It’s hard for administration officials to persuade either Tehran or Beijing to take the Israeli threat seriously while simultaneously proclaiming Obama’s determination to stop Israel from carrying it out. But that makes it all the more important for Israel to project willingness and ability to strike Iran whether Washington likes it or not — which Israel has tried to do.

Unfortunately, Israel’s efforts have been undercut by a string of academic and media pundits proclaiming that Israel cannot possibly strike Iran without U.S. permission. A typical example is the editorial Haaretz published last Tuesday, reprinted by the International Herald Tribune two days later. Explaining why Israel has “no better option” than to sit quietly and hope Obama’s efforts succeed, it declared: “Israel will need full American support for any actions it may decide to take against the Iranian threat. If Israel goes to war, it will need intelligence help, prior warning, military equipment and diplomatic support from the United States.” The obvious corollary is that Israel cannot go to war without American support.

Such assessments are almost certainly wrong: Israeli governments have rarely heeded American vetoes when they felt a vital Israeli security interest was at stake, and it’s hard to imagine a more vital Israeli interest than keeping Iran from getting the bomb. But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Haaretz is widely viewed by overseas journalists and diplomats as a credible interpreter of the Israeli scene. And therefore, such assertions lead Iran and China to believe that as long as Obama remains unalterably opposed to an Israeli strike, they need not fear one. Hence, Iran can safely continue its nuclear program, and China can safely continue stymieing international sanctions.

Those who make such statements generally believe an Israeli strike would be disastrous and seek to prevent it. But by making the Iranians and Chinese feel they have nothing to fear, these pundits actually make it more likely that nonmilitary efforts will fail, leaving Israel with no choice but military action. Thus their ill-considered words may end up bringing about the very scenario they dread most.

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Israel Derangement Syndrome in the British Press

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

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Bennett vs. Beck

Jen, I wanted to second your praise for Bill Bennett’s critique of Glenn Beck’s CPAC address. Bennett’s comments strike me as on target, well said, and important to say. (I have weighed in previously on Beck here and here.)

As between the Ph.D. in political philosophy (for whom I once worked) and a self-described rodeo clown, I’ll go with the former every time. If Glenn Beck were the future of conservatism, it would become a discredited movement. Fortunately, though, he’s not, and it won’t.

Jen, I wanted to second your praise for Bill Bennett’s critique of Glenn Beck’s CPAC address. Bennett’s comments strike me as on target, well said, and important to say. (I have weighed in previously on Beck here and here.)

As between the Ph.D. in political philosophy (for whom I once worked) and a self-described rodeo clown, I’ll go with the former every time. If Glenn Beck were the future of conservatism, it would become a discredited movement. Fortunately, though, he’s not, and it won’t.

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Democratic Governors Upset with Obama

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

Reading the headline “Democrats worried about Obama track record,” one is tempted to say, “They should be.” Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write:

Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama’s track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy.

“It’s got to be better thought out,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said. “It’s got to be more proactive.” And, he said, Democrats must hit back just as hard as they are hit by Republicans.

Eight months before the first midterm elections of Obama’s presidency, most Americans are frustrated with — even angered by — persistent unemployment and gridlock in Washington. Democrats fear voters will punish the party in power.

Nor do they buy Obama’s doubling-down strategy on health-care reform. (“Several Democratic colleagues agreed, and lamented that voters thought Obama focused too much on overhauling the U.S. health care system. Others fretted that Obama may appear to be out of touch with the concerns of Americans.”) Sidoti and Fournier detail a meeting between Democratic governors and Obama in which the former plead with Obama to get focused on the economy:

Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas urged Obama to focus more on the economy and limit his actions on the health care system to changes that would bring down the cost of medical treatment in the United States. … While praising the White House’s communication’s efforts, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered this advice to Obama: “Rapidly decide what we’re doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy.” “We need a national economic strategy,” he added.

And not even Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, an Obama confidant, thinks much of the Obama communications strategy or the “tit for tat” battle to blame Republicans.

What’s remarkable is not only the widespread dismay with the president but also the willingness of these Democrats to make public their concerns. That tells us that the White House isn’t listening and isn’t receptive to their pleas. Maybe Obama will be more amenable after the November election.

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George Will Knocks One Out of the Park

The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathering this weekend included some odd moments, some odd speakers, and some odd outcomes. But it also included some fine moments and impressive speeches — especially one fantastic address by columnist George Will.

In his remarks, Will laid out the fundamental difference between conservatism and modern-day liberalism on the issue of equality of opportunity (which conservatives tend to support) vs. equality of outcomes (which liberals tend to support). This difference has led liberals to actively favor creating dependency on the state. Much of Will’s speech demonstrates why he believes this proposition is true.

For 35 years, George Will has been one of the finest writers and thinkers in American public life. This intelligent, witty speech is one more reminder of that fact.

The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) gathering this weekend included some odd moments, some odd speakers, and some odd outcomes. But it also included some fine moments and impressive speeches — especially one fantastic address by columnist George Will.

In his remarks, Will laid out the fundamental difference between conservatism and modern-day liberalism on the issue of equality of opportunity (which conservatives tend to support) vs. equality of outcomes (which liberals tend to support). This difference has led liberals to actively favor creating dependency on the state. Much of Will’s speech demonstrates why he believes this proposition is true.

For 35 years, George Will has been one of the finest writers and thinkers in American public life. This intelligent, witty speech is one more reminder of that fact.

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Obama’s Last Chance on Iran

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings – first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site – to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

There is reason to doubt whether at this late stage sanctions against Iran would be too little and too late to stop the revolutionary Islamic state from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz make the best case one can for sanctions, in the processing dispelling the notion that the newest Obami craze — targeted sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have any hope of success. They argue:

Gasoline and insurance sanctions are just about all we’ve really got left in the quiver. The Guard Corps elite, who oversee Iran’s nuclear program, are too well protected to be seriously hurt by financial and industrial sanctions. Targeted sanctions have increased the cost of Iranians doing business, but there is little evidence to suggest that sanctions so far have ever moderated the behavior of Iran’s rulers.

The administration’s “smart-sanctions” approach perpetuates a myth about Iran’s politics that has crippled our analysis for years. Mr. Khamenei isn’t an economic rationalist. He wasn’t waiting for George W. Bush to depart to make peace with the United States. Men who talk about crushing the “enemies of God” won’t give up their enriched uranium because transaction costs have increased. The acquisition of the bomb is now probably inseparable from the ruling elite’s religious identity.

And so Gerecht and Dubowitz argue that sanctions have to be “crushing” to be a game changer. But contrary to the Obami’s excuse-mongering spin, it is the presence of the Green Revolution that should weigh in favor of touch sanctions. (“If sanctions are waged in the name of the Iranian people, we are much more likely to see Western opinion remain solidly behind them. These sentiments will likely be reinforced by prominent Iranian dissidents who’ve moved from adamant opposition to severe sanctions to hesitant acceptance of the idea [Nobel Prize winner Shireen Ebadi, for instance].”) The Obami, of course, argue that we can’t pursue the only reasonable means of stopping the regime, because we’ll offend and alienate the democracy advocates.

The Obami have, by a series of policy choices, made it more difficult to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. They lost a year in the folly of engagement. They failed to seize on the openings – first, the June 12 election, and then the revelation of the Qom enrichment site – to rally public opinion. They let deadline after deadline pass, signaling to the mullahs their unseriousness and lack of resolve. And now they’re going to great pains to water down serious sanctions, which may be the only chance, faint as it may be, to prevent the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons.

One can perceive in all this a lack of competence and judgment. Or one can cynically assume that they never intended to reach a point of confrontation with the regime and have banked all along on the hope of “containing” the regime after it obtained nuclear weapons. Either way, it’s a disaster for Israel and its neighbors, for the West, and for Obama’s own pipe dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

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More on Yoo and Bybee

As I and others noted over the weekend, the final report by the Justice Department on John Yoo and Jay Bybee leaves one wondering how this kangaroo proceeding lasted as long as it did. How did the Office of Professional Responsibility get so far offtrack, and why was the advice of respected attorneys, including that of outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey, not heeded well over a year ago? Incompetence collided with bias, it seems.

As to the incompetence, Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain:

We don’t mean to be insulting, but the plain fact is that OPR is not, and has never been, equipped to second-guess OLC. The office’s role is a limited one focused on ethical violations; it is not staffed with experts on constitutional law or national security. It would be preposterous to rely on OPR’s judgment about hard questions of constitutional and statutory law over that of OLC or the Solicitor General’s Office. As Andy McCarthy has said, “having OPR grade the scholarship of OLC is like having the Double-A batting coach critique Derek Jeter’s swing.”

Quoting Yoo’s attorney Miguel Estrada, Burck and Perino get at the root of the problem: “It is probably a three-way tie between stupidity, rank incompetence, and partisan malignancy.” And given the malicious leaking of OPR’s work during the investigation, it is hard to escape the conclusion that is was only innocent incompetence at work.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors name some names responsible for this travesty:

The rotten quality of the OPR efforts—and Mr. Margolis’s repudiation of them—raises real questions about the lawyers who produced this work. H. Marshall Jarrett, who supervised the first OPR draft, is a protégé of Mr. Holder who managed not to produce his draft report until the Bush Administration was preparing to leave office. After Mr. Mukasey “memorialized” his concerns, as his letter put it, the Jarrett draft was leaked without the Mukasey response. Mr. Holder reassigned Mr. Jarrett in April 2009 to lead the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, an arguably more powerful post. His OPR effort makes him unfit for such a job.

Mr. Holder replaced Mr. Jarrett at OPR with Mary Patrice Brown, who tried to salvage OPR’s original conclusions with a new but equally deficient argument. After abandoning OPR’s earlier specific allegations that Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had violated D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 to provide competent representation and rule 2.1 to exercise independent legal judgment, Mr. Margolis writes, Ms. Brown’s final report “did not specify the rule or rules of professional conduct that were violated.”

Instead, she added consideration of a “best practices” memo and guiding principles. Mr. Margolis writes that these documents raise several concerns, not least that “neither of them existed at the time Yoo and Bybee worked at OLC.”

As the editors remind us, Brown is up for a federal judgeship. Or was, until this travesty of incompetence came to light.

The editors rightly note that Margolis seemed compelled at the very end of the report to throw in some gratuitous jabs at Yoo. (“This is a matter of opinion—akin to writing an op-ed piece—unrelated to the question of whether they behaved unethically, and it is precisely the kind of judgment that Mr. Margolis says earlier in the report that he will not render.”) But as inappropriate as those swipes may have been, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Margolis prevented a grave miscarriage of justice and in the process revealed how biased and incompetent his colleagues are. That is no easy task. The question remains as to what Eric Holder is going to do about those whose work has now been revealed to be so lacking in merit and so bereft of careful analysis. A bar referral? Well, at least a housecleaning seems to be in order.

As I and others noted over the weekend, the final report by the Justice Department on John Yoo and Jay Bybee leaves one wondering how this kangaroo proceeding lasted as long as it did. How did the Office of Professional Responsibility get so far offtrack, and why was the advice of respected attorneys, including that of outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey, not heeded well over a year ago? Incompetence collided with bias, it seems.

As to the incompetence, Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain:

We don’t mean to be insulting, but the plain fact is that OPR is not, and has never been, equipped to second-guess OLC. The office’s role is a limited one focused on ethical violations; it is not staffed with experts on constitutional law or national security. It would be preposterous to rely on OPR’s judgment about hard questions of constitutional and statutory law over that of OLC or the Solicitor General’s Office. As Andy McCarthy has said, “having OPR grade the scholarship of OLC is like having the Double-A batting coach critique Derek Jeter’s swing.”

Quoting Yoo’s attorney Miguel Estrada, Burck and Perino get at the root of the problem: “It is probably a three-way tie between stupidity, rank incompetence, and partisan malignancy.” And given the malicious leaking of OPR’s work during the investigation, it is hard to escape the conclusion that is was only innocent incompetence at work.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors name some names responsible for this travesty:

The rotten quality of the OPR efforts—and Mr. Margolis’s repudiation of them—raises real questions about the lawyers who produced this work. H. Marshall Jarrett, who supervised the first OPR draft, is a protégé of Mr. Holder who managed not to produce his draft report until the Bush Administration was preparing to leave office. After Mr. Mukasey “memorialized” his concerns, as his letter put it, the Jarrett draft was leaked without the Mukasey response. Mr. Holder reassigned Mr. Jarrett in April 2009 to lead the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, an arguably more powerful post. His OPR effort makes him unfit for such a job.

Mr. Holder replaced Mr. Jarrett at OPR with Mary Patrice Brown, who tried to salvage OPR’s original conclusions with a new but equally deficient argument. After abandoning OPR’s earlier specific allegations that Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had violated D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 to provide competent representation and rule 2.1 to exercise independent legal judgment, Mr. Margolis writes, Ms. Brown’s final report “did not specify the rule or rules of professional conduct that were violated.”

Instead, she added consideration of a “best practices” memo and guiding principles. Mr. Margolis writes that these documents raise several concerns, not least that “neither of them existed at the time Yoo and Bybee worked at OLC.”

As the editors remind us, Brown is up for a federal judgeship. Or was, until this travesty of incompetence came to light.

The editors rightly note that Margolis seemed compelled at the very end of the report to throw in some gratuitous jabs at Yoo. (“This is a matter of opinion—akin to writing an op-ed piece—unrelated to the question of whether they behaved unethically, and it is precisely the kind of judgment that Mr. Margolis says earlier in the report that he will not render.”) But as inappropriate as those swipes may have been, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Margolis prevented a grave miscarriage of justice and in the process revealed how biased and incompetent his colleagues are. That is no easy task. The question remains as to what Eric Holder is going to do about those whose work has now been revealed to be so lacking in merit and so bereft of careful analysis. A bar referral? Well, at least a housecleaning seems to be in order.

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What’s Their Excuse?

Colin Powell was an enthusiastic backer of Obama’s presidential candidacy. Asked on Face the Nation if he regrets it — the shared assumption being that he might, because Obama’s presidency has been a bust so far — Powell insisted that he didn’t regret a thing. But “I’m afraid he put too much on the plate for the American people to absorb at one time.” And on national security:

He admitted he was “surprised” by the lack of coordination among different agencies in dealing with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt of an airliner.

“Should he have been given his Miranda rights either after 90 minutes or 15 hours? The story kept changing,” Powell said. “I would have thought after all these years we would have had a process in place – either in the previous administration or in this administration – that when you get somebody like that, we all know how to respond and how to interrogate him, or not interrogate him. But he’s in jail. He’s facing trial. I don’t think it will be a difficult trial to handle. And also he’s still talking. They found other ways to interrogate him.”

Well, that’s Powell for you — as Max memorably said when the general endorsed Obama, a bit “incoherent” in his rationale. Powell’s reasons for endorsing Obama were never all that compelling. But now that Obama has proved to be none of the things Powell and his co-validators claimed (not moderate, not competent, not post-racial), what’s the general going to say?

Powell’s not alone, of course. There were those Republicans (Powell included) who claimed that they couldn’t vote for John McCain because his VP choice showed such poor judgment and they couldn’t bear the thought of such a person just a heartbeat from the Oval Office. Despite Biden’s gaffe-a-thon and Obama’s frequent disdain for his own VP, we’ve seen no mea culpas on that front. Then there were those who proclaimed Obama’s fiscal moderation and careful approach to governance. Despite the spending jag and the serial extremism of one left-wing agenda item after another, we haven’t heard many recantations on that front. And what of those who were convinced Obama would be a stalwart defender of Israel and tough on the mullahs? They sure went out on a limb, only to be proved tragically gullible. (Or are we to believe that “This was all predictable from the day Obama won the election. Only innocents thought otherwise.” Oh, really?)

The pundits and pols who vouched for Obama are in a bind. Maybe that’s why you hear such wailing that America is ungovernable and too partisan. It can’t be Obama’s fault, after all — that would mean that Obama’s supporters were badly snookered. It’s never easy to say you were wrong, especially when the stakes are so high.

Colin Powell was an enthusiastic backer of Obama’s presidential candidacy. Asked on Face the Nation if he regrets it — the shared assumption being that he might, because Obama’s presidency has been a bust so far — Powell insisted that he didn’t regret a thing. But “I’m afraid he put too much on the plate for the American people to absorb at one time.” And on national security:

He admitted he was “surprised” by the lack of coordination among different agencies in dealing with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt of an airliner.

“Should he have been given his Miranda rights either after 90 minutes or 15 hours? The story kept changing,” Powell said. “I would have thought after all these years we would have had a process in place – either in the previous administration or in this administration – that when you get somebody like that, we all know how to respond and how to interrogate him, or not interrogate him. But he’s in jail. He’s facing trial. I don’t think it will be a difficult trial to handle. And also he’s still talking. They found other ways to interrogate him.”

Well, that’s Powell for you — as Max memorably said when the general endorsed Obama, a bit “incoherent” in his rationale. Powell’s reasons for endorsing Obama were never all that compelling. But now that Obama has proved to be none of the things Powell and his co-validators claimed (not moderate, not competent, not post-racial), what’s the general going to say?

Powell’s not alone, of course. There were those Republicans (Powell included) who claimed that they couldn’t vote for John McCain because his VP choice showed such poor judgment and they couldn’t bear the thought of such a person just a heartbeat from the Oval Office. Despite Biden’s gaffe-a-thon and Obama’s frequent disdain for his own VP, we’ve seen no mea culpas on that front. Then there were those who proclaimed Obama’s fiscal moderation and careful approach to governance. Despite the spending jag and the serial extremism of one left-wing agenda item after another, we haven’t heard many recantations on that front. And what of those who were convinced Obama would be a stalwart defender of Israel and tough on the mullahs? They sure went out on a limb, only to be proved tragically gullible. (Or are we to believe that “This was all predictable from the day Obama won the election. Only innocents thought otherwise.” Oh, really?)

The pundits and pols who vouched for Obama are in a bind. Maybe that’s why you hear such wailing that America is ungovernable and too partisan. It can’t be Obama’s fault, after all — that would mean that Obama’s supporters were badly snookered. It’s never easy to say you were wrong, especially when the stakes are so high.

Read Less




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