Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 10, 2010

RE: RE: Lawyers Should Cheer

I totally agree with Jennifer about Jan Crawford’s put down of the Obami for trying to make the Supreme Court a political issue. Perhaps they should remember that even FDR got his head handed to him when he tried to adjust the political balance on the Court in 1937. And that was just after the greatest presidential landslide in American history up to that time, when Roosevelt’s political capital was at its peak. (Memo to the Obama political team: your boss tied his all-time low today in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll — minus 21.) The American people, it seems, just don’t like politicians — even great ones — mucking about with the Court.

I was also struck by what Robert Gibbs actually said: “What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections — drowning out the voices of average Americans.” That simply is not true, as Justice Alito so eloquently and silently pointed out at the State of the Union speech.

And what is really troubling is that the President’s press secretary doesn’t seem to know what the Supreme Court does in the American system of government. It doesn’t decide cases on the basis of what it prefers (at least it’s not supposed to), as the political branches do, but on what it thinks the Constitution requires.  Does Gibbs really think the Court should have chucked the Constitution to do the Administration’s bidding?

Yeah, come to think of it, he probably does.

I totally agree with Jennifer about Jan Crawford’s put down of the Obami for trying to make the Supreme Court a political issue. Perhaps they should remember that even FDR got his head handed to him when he tried to adjust the political balance on the Court in 1937. And that was just after the greatest presidential landslide in American history up to that time, when Roosevelt’s political capital was at its peak. (Memo to the Obama political team: your boss tied his all-time low today in the Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll — minus 21.) The American people, it seems, just don’t like politicians — even great ones — mucking about with the Court.

I was also struck by what Robert Gibbs actually said: “What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections — drowning out the voices of average Americans.” That simply is not true, as Justice Alito so eloquently and silently pointed out at the State of the Union speech.

And what is really troubling is that the President’s press secretary doesn’t seem to know what the Supreme Court does in the American system of government. It doesn’t decide cases on the basis of what it prefers (at least it’s not supposed to), as the political branches do, but on what it thinks the Constitution requires.  Does Gibbs really think the Court should have chucked the Constitution to do the Administration’s bidding?

Yeah, come to think of it, he probably does.

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“Traditionally” Ill-Informed Times Slants News on Jerusalem

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

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Endgame

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes today about a reported shift in the Obama administration’s strategic approach to Iran. According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama may be embracing the hope of undermining the radical regime by supporting Iran’s reformist opposition. To Emanuele’s well-developed outline of factors and conclusions about the utility of sanctions, I would add another factor that has been changing irrevocably in the past 18 months — and narrowing our options along the way.

The factor is Iran’s progress with processing uranium outside its declared network of facilities. If Iran can do that, from the raw mineral stage to weapons-grade material, then IAEA inspections of the declared facilities are increasingly irrelevant. Trying to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapons program through military attack becomes a different problem as well. Military attack isn’t rendered infeasible, but the scope and character of the problem become more challenging. This matters especially to the operational limitations that would govern an Israeli air strike.

The signs are emerging that Iran may indeed already be processing uranium in a separate, undeclared network. The extended case is laid out here, here, and here; I won’t reiterate it point by point. The salient fact is that the IAEA inspection process is not designed to resolve questions about what the Iranians are doing with all the additional uranium they have been mining — from a wholly uninspected site in southern Iran — since mid-2008. IAEA’s only accountability is on the existing uranium stockpile at the declared facilities.

Two years ago, military planners would have emphasized attacking the uranium-processing facilities at Esfahan and Natanz, particularly in an air strike of limited scope and duration (in other words, what Israel is capable of mounting). These facilities are “critical nodes” if they perform unique functions. But if they don’t — if Iran can process uranium at undeclared facilities elsewhere — then optimizing a limited strike requires identifying a bottleneck at another step in the process. The only real bottleneck left is the process of weaponization itself: developing a warhead that will detonate and mating it to a delivery platform. Interdicting the research and development for that is a task for which kinetic strike is less suited and would entail a higher political cost, in part because the Iranians have their weaponization laboratories in heavily populated areas of Tehran.

An American-scale air strike could still destroy Iran’s current facilities sufficiently to set the program back by a factor of years. But the time has passed when we could achieve something useful — say, setting the program back for 18-24 months — with a “surgical strike” against the declared uranium-processing facilities. If we wanted to be sure of taking out the uranium now, we would probably enlarge any existing strike concept to use Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) against multiple underground facilities. In combination with attacks on R&D facilities in Tehran, this would mean more destruction and loss of Iranian life than achieving the same effect would have required two years ago.

The political cost of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program was always going to be high. But we have almost certainly reached the point at which there is no useful effect to be achieved with a limited, “surgical” strike. A massive, comprehensive attack, on the other hand, would impose such political cost that its objective might as well be regime change anyway. Even Israel still has some viable attack options, but the prospective effects are not what they would have been two years ago. We’re down to the stark alternatives we were always going to face in the end: a regime-changed Iran or a nuclear-armed one.

Emanuele Ottolenghi writes today about a reported shift in the Obama administration’s strategic approach to Iran. According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama may be embracing the hope of undermining the radical regime by supporting Iran’s reformist opposition. To Emanuele’s well-developed outline of factors and conclusions about the utility of sanctions, I would add another factor that has been changing irrevocably in the past 18 months — and narrowing our options along the way.

The factor is Iran’s progress with processing uranium outside its declared network of facilities. If Iran can do that, from the raw mineral stage to weapons-grade material, then IAEA inspections of the declared facilities are increasingly irrelevant. Trying to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapons program through military attack becomes a different problem as well. Military attack isn’t rendered infeasible, but the scope and character of the problem become more challenging. This matters especially to the operational limitations that would govern an Israeli air strike.

The signs are emerging that Iran may indeed already be processing uranium in a separate, undeclared network. The extended case is laid out here, here, and here; I won’t reiterate it point by point. The salient fact is that the IAEA inspection process is not designed to resolve questions about what the Iranians are doing with all the additional uranium they have been mining — from a wholly uninspected site in southern Iran — since mid-2008. IAEA’s only accountability is on the existing uranium stockpile at the declared facilities.

Two years ago, military planners would have emphasized attacking the uranium-processing facilities at Esfahan and Natanz, particularly in an air strike of limited scope and duration (in other words, what Israel is capable of mounting). These facilities are “critical nodes” if they perform unique functions. But if they don’t — if Iran can process uranium at undeclared facilities elsewhere — then optimizing a limited strike requires identifying a bottleneck at another step in the process. The only real bottleneck left is the process of weaponization itself: developing a warhead that will detonate and mating it to a delivery platform. Interdicting the research and development for that is a task for which kinetic strike is less suited and would entail a higher political cost, in part because the Iranians have their weaponization laboratories in heavily populated areas of Tehran.

An American-scale air strike could still destroy Iran’s current facilities sufficiently to set the program back by a factor of years. But the time has passed when we could achieve something useful — say, setting the program back for 18-24 months — with a “surgical strike” against the declared uranium-processing facilities. If we wanted to be sure of taking out the uranium now, we would probably enlarge any existing strike concept to use Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) against multiple underground facilities. In combination with attacks on R&D facilities in Tehran, this would mean more destruction and loss of Iranian life than achieving the same effect would have required two years ago.

The political cost of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program was always going to be high. But we have almost certainly reached the point at which there is no useful effect to be achieved with a limited, “surgical” strike. A massive, comprehensive attack, on the other hand, would impose such political cost that its objective might as well be regime change anyway. Even Israel still has some viable attack options, but the prospective effects are not what they would have been two years ago. We’re down to the stark alternatives we were always going to face in the end: a regime-changed Iran or a nuclear-armed one.

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The Big Bang Bust

Last year I conveyed the news that the Big Bang redux had been delayed due to a naughty Frenchman from the future. Well, the Large Hadron Collider, which will smash atoms with such tremendous force that, well, I’ll let the BBC tell it (everything sounds better with a British accent anyway):

The ultimate aim is to collide particles head on at 14TeV to recreate the conditions in the moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists hope they will see new subatomic particles in the debris and gain insights into how the universe came into being, billions of years ago.

By the way, “14TeV” is scientific notation for “one more thing I have to look up on Wikipedia.”

Anyway, the collider thingee is on the fritz again, and will be taken off-line or off-bang at the end of 2011, delaying the project at least two more years.

As every German schoolchild knows, the universe is 13.75 billion years old, and is a Scorpio. Now had the real big bang been so clumsily handled by chance, it would have taken twice as long just to cook up a decent listeria monocytogenes, never mind Cleveland.

In other news, a South Korean man has married his pillow.

Don’t judge.

I think some intrepid reporter should ask President Obama just where he stands on the man-bedding marriage issue. I mean, it’s 2010 already. Free your mind! Is the love that dare not speak its name to be kept in the linen closet forever?

And yes, I agree, semaphore would have been more useful than those subtitles…

Last year I conveyed the news that the Big Bang redux had been delayed due to a naughty Frenchman from the future. Well, the Large Hadron Collider, which will smash atoms with such tremendous force that, well, I’ll let the BBC tell it (everything sounds better with a British accent anyway):

The ultimate aim is to collide particles head on at 14TeV to recreate the conditions in the moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists hope they will see new subatomic particles in the debris and gain insights into how the universe came into being, billions of years ago.

By the way, “14TeV” is scientific notation for “one more thing I have to look up on Wikipedia.”

Anyway, the collider thingee is on the fritz again, and will be taken off-line or off-bang at the end of 2011, delaying the project at least two more years.

As every German schoolchild knows, the universe is 13.75 billion years old, and is a Scorpio. Now had the real big bang been so clumsily handled by chance, it would have taken twice as long just to cook up a decent listeria monocytogenes, never mind Cleveland.

In other news, a South Korean man has married his pillow.

Don’t judge.

I think some intrepid reporter should ask President Obama just where he stands on the man-bedding marriage issue. I mean, it’s 2010 already. Free your mind! Is the love that dare not speak its name to be kept in the linen closet forever?

And yes, I agree, semaphore would have been more useful than those subtitles…

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RE: Lawyers Should Cheer

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

Jan Crawford (h/t Glenn Reynolds), among the best of the mainstream media Supreme Court reporters, socks it to the White House for its juvenile insistence on getting the last word on its running spat with the Court. After Chief Justice John Roberts made the fine suggestion that the Court should abstain from the State of the Union, Robert Gibbs seemed to make Roberts’ point for him by replaying the president’s slap at the Court. (“What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.”) Crawford thinks this is ridiculous:

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond — it’s now getting ridiculous. Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it’s flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It’s like my 6-year-old: “I don’t LIKE your idea. I like MY idea.”

She continues:

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I’m not suggesting they won’t get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point — and I’d say that point is now — the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They’d do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, “I don’t LIKE your idea; I like MY idea,” the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

This is par for the course at this White House. It’s the perpetual rat-tat-tat, the quintessential campaign quick-response mode. There is no respect for the Chief Justice or the Court as an institution, nor for the point the Chief Justice was making: that it’s unseemly for the Court to appear and to get dragged into partisan brawls. In their partisan vitriol, the Obami, of course, proved the Chief Justice’s case. But then, self-awareness was never the White House’s strong suit.

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RE: Other Than That, Mr. Biden

Joe Biden’s trip to Israel isn’t getting any better. The New York Times cites an unknown “Western diplomat” — it seems George Mitchell or whoever is churning out the Israel-bashing today wouldn’t even permit “American” to be affixed to the blind quote — as saying that the Israelis’ housing announcement put a “damper” on the visit. Yes, when things were going so swimmingly! The Israelis have no problem with on-the-record statements:

Yuli Edelstein, minister of public affairs for Israel, said in an interview that the timing of the housing announcement was not aimed at harming the visit by Mr. Biden. “But it is also very important to make things clear and not to play make-believe,” he said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and others have been saying loud and clear that according to Israeli law Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory, so no special commissions are needed to build within the municipal borders of Jerusalem. There will not be in the foreseeable future an Israeli government willing to divide Jerusalem. Normally our friends in Washington understand that.”

Meanwhile, the predictable J Street and Peace Now crowd is piling on the Obami’s undiplomatic diplomacy, nervous that the spat might interfere with the proximity talks. (At this rate, we might need another party to go back and forth between the U.S. and Israel.) Meanwhile, JTA points out:

On Thursday, according to Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Authority is planning to go through with plans to name a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led a 1978 bus hijacking in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were killed. Thursday is the 32nd anniversary of the attack. Biden will still be in town. So it’ll be interesting to see if he wieghs in, as he did on the Israeli housing starts.

Any word from J Street on that one? From Foggy Bottom? Morton Klein from the Zionist Organization of America doesn’t mince words: “The record shows that within the PA, few opportunities are missed to glorify a terrorist, celebrate a suicide bomber, or inculcate Palestinian youth into worshipping cold-blooded murderers. The record also shows that all aspects of PA life — the schools, youth movements, sports teams, newspapers, TV, even the names of streets — are made vehicles for honoring and praising terrorism. This in turn breeds more terrorists and bloodshed.” But the Obami think the problem is apartment buildings.

Makes one miss the days when Israel’s “friends in Washington” understood what the nub of the problem was, and, as a spirited reader put it, when there was no “mistaking where Israel stands on its eternal and undivided capital.”

Joe Biden’s trip to Israel isn’t getting any better. The New York Times cites an unknown “Western diplomat” — it seems George Mitchell or whoever is churning out the Israel-bashing today wouldn’t even permit “American” to be affixed to the blind quote — as saying that the Israelis’ housing announcement put a “damper” on the visit. Yes, when things were going so swimmingly! The Israelis have no problem with on-the-record statements:

Yuli Edelstein, minister of public affairs for Israel, said in an interview that the timing of the housing announcement was not aimed at harming the visit by Mr. Biden. “But it is also very important to make things clear and not to play make-believe,” he said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and others have been saying loud and clear that according to Israeli law Jerusalem is sovereign Israeli territory, so no special commissions are needed to build within the municipal borders of Jerusalem. There will not be in the foreseeable future an Israeli government willing to divide Jerusalem. Normally our friends in Washington understand that.”

Meanwhile, the predictable J Street and Peace Now crowd is piling on the Obami’s undiplomatic diplomacy, nervous that the spat might interfere with the proximity talks. (At this rate, we might need another party to go back and forth between the U.S. and Israel.) Meanwhile, JTA points out:

On Thursday, according to Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Authority is planning to go through with plans to name a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led a 1978 bus hijacking in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were killed. Thursday is the 32nd anniversary of the attack. Biden will still be in town. So it’ll be interesting to see if he wieghs in, as he did on the Israeli housing starts.

Any word from J Street on that one? From Foggy Bottom? Morton Klein from the Zionist Organization of America doesn’t mince words: “The record shows that within the PA, few opportunities are missed to glorify a terrorist, celebrate a suicide bomber, or inculcate Palestinian youth into worshipping cold-blooded murderers. The record also shows that all aspects of PA life — the schools, youth movements, sports teams, newspapers, TV, even the names of streets — are made vehicles for honoring and praising terrorism. This in turn breeds more terrorists and bloodshed.” But the Obami think the problem is apartment buildings.

Makes one miss the days when Israel’s “friends in Washington” understood what the nub of the problem was, and, as a spirited reader put it, when there was no “mistaking where Israel stands on its eternal and undivided capital.”

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George W. Bush Gets His Due

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war — the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war — the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

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No Up or Down Vote?

To its credit, the Washington Post‘s editorial board has been after Obama and the Democratic Congress over their unseemly effort to sink the D.C. school-voucher program, which allows thousands of poor kids to go to the same schools that the president and many members of Congress send their children to. They write that that the Democratic Senate leadership doesn’t want a vote taken — because that would reveal just how atrocious the effort is to let the popular and effective scholarship program die:

For months, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), leader of a bipartisan coalition seeking to continue the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, has been trying to get floor time. He’s reminded Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) that a commitment was made to allow a vote, and he tried to cooperate with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, who said he was open to finding a way to let the program proceed. Both efforts came to naught, so Mr. Lieberman Tuesday tried to offer an amendment to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act. That effort, too, was thwarted: “Not germane” is the explanation offered to us by spokesmen for Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin.

An up or down vote — why not? The president says he likes those when it comes to health care. But don’t hold your breath. As the editors note: “What possible explanation could Democrats devise for killing something that has been so crucial in the lives of thousands of poor D.C. children? How would it look? No, better to do nothing and hope the issue goes away.”

Lieberman and others can attach the measure as an amendment to a variety of bills. He and the other senators who put the education of D.C. schoolchildren above the interests of Big Labor (in maintaining their near monopoly on education, even after decades of putrid results) should keep at it.

To its credit, the Washington Post‘s editorial board has been after Obama and the Democratic Congress over their unseemly effort to sink the D.C. school-voucher program, which allows thousands of poor kids to go to the same schools that the president and many members of Congress send their children to. They write that that the Democratic Senate leadership doesn’t want a vote taken — because that would reveal just how atrocious the effort is to let the popular and effective scholarship program die:

For months, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), leader of a bipartisan coalition seeking to continue the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, has been trying to get floor time. He’s reminded Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) that a commitment was made to allow a vote, and he tried to cooperate with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, who said he was open to finding a way to let the program proceed. Both efforts came to naught, so Mr. Lieberman Tuesday tried to offer an amendment to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act. That effort, too, was thwarted: “Not germane” is the explanation offered to us by spokesmen for Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin.

An up or down vote — why not? The president says he likes those when it comes to health care. But don’t hold your breath. As the editors note: “What possible explanation could Democrats devise for killing something that has been so crucial in the lives of thousands of poor D.C. children? How would it look? No, better to do nothing and hope the issue goes away.”

Lieberman and others can attach the measure as an amendment to a variety of bills. He and the other senators who put the education of D.C. schoolchildren above the interests of Big Labor (in maintaining their near monopoly on education, even after decades of putrid results) should keep at it.

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Whither Iran Policy?

Could it be true? According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. administration may have changed its mind on the virtues of engaging Iran’s regime while giving the cold shoulder to its street opposition. As Paul Richter reports,

After keeping a careful distance for the last year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Iranian opposition movement has staying power and has embraced it as a central element in the U.S.-led campaign to pressure the country’s clerical government.

Clearly, the administration is not about to embrace the rhetoric of regime change. Nor is it going to send an expeditionary force to oust the tyrants in Tehran. But perhaps there is a growing realization that something unprecedented has happened in Iran since June 12, 2009, and that the best hope American interests have rests on a change of regime carried out from the inside.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Could it be true? According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. administration may have changed its mind on the virtues of engaging Iran’s regime while giving the cold shoulder to its street opposition. As Paul Richter reports,

After keeping a careful distance for the last year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Iranian opposition movement has staying power and has embraced it as a central element in the U.S.-led campaign to pressure the country’s clerical government.

Clearly, the administration is not about to embrace the rhetoric of regime change. Nor is it going to send an expeditionary force to oust the tyrants in Tehran. But perhaps there is a growing realization that something unprecedented has happened in Iran since June 12, 2009, and that the best hope American interests have rests on a change of regime carried out from the inside.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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A Lesson for the Future in Abbas’s Retreat on Refusing to Talk

That Israel and the Palestinians, after 16 years of direct talks, are now back to indirect talks is an undeniable retreat. But in a must-read analysis, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, points out that this may nevertheless be one of the most hopeful moments of the entire peace process — because for the first time, “the Palestinians gave in on something.”

“Israelis, Palestinians and the world have become accustomed to Israel setting red lines, and then moving them,” Keinon wrote. “The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean.” For instance, they have never budged from their demand for “all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” or for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.”

But after months of proclaiming that he would not resume talks with Israel without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed down. And this offers a crucial lesson for the future.

“The reason Abbas was willing to move his red line was because he came under intense pressure from the US, certain elements inside the EU, and from Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to start talks, even though all his conditions were not met,” Keinon noted. “The valuable lesson here: The Palestinians, too, and not only Israel, are susceptible to pressure.”

In the rest of the article, Keinon focuses on the short term — primarily, whether the U.S., EU, Egypt, and Jordan will learn this lesson well enough to pressure Abbas to continue talks after his self-imposed four-month deadline expires.

But the truly significant implications are for the long term. Until now, the U.S., EU, and Arab states have devoted all their efforts to pressuring Israel to change its positions — with great success. Israel’s “red lines” on borders and Jerusalem, for instance, have steadily retreated, to the point where former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, large chunks of East Jerusalem, international Muslim control over the Temple Mount, and even a symbolic absorption of Palestinian refugees. Yet there are limits beyond which no Israeli government will ever go.

Thus, no agreement will ever be possible unless the Palestinians, too, change some of their positions – which, as Keinon noted, has yet to happen. And it never will happen without concerted pressure from the U.S., EU, and Arab world.

If these countries learn the lesson and in fact begin pressuring Abbas to start educating his people about what an agreement will really entail, Barack Obama might someday justly claim credit for having fomented the turnabout that ultimately led to an agreement. But if they instead fall back into the old familiar pattern of endlessly pressuring Israel for more concessions, the current round of talks will be just one more link in an unbroken chain of peace-process failures.

That Israel and the Palestinians, after 16 years of direct talks, are now back to indirect talks is an undeniable retreat. But in a must-read analysis, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, points out that this may nevertheless be one of the most hopeful moments of the entire peace process — because for the first time, “the Palestinians gave in on something.”

“Israelis, Palestinians and the world have become accustomed to Israel setting red lines, and then moving them,” Keinon wrote. “The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean.” For instance, they have never budged from their demand for “all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” or for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.”

But after months of proclaiming that he would not resume talks with Israel without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed down. And this offers a crucial lesson for the future.

“The reason Abbas was willing to move his red line was because he came under intense pressure from the US, certain elements inside the EU, and from Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to start talks, even though all his conditions were not met,” Keinon noted. “The valuable lesson here: The Palestinians, too, and not only Israel, are susceptible to pressure.”

In the rest of the article, Keinon focuses on the short term — primarily, whether the U.S., EU, Egypt, and Jordan will learn this lesson well enough to pressure Abbas to continue talks after his self-imposed four-month deadline expires.

But the truly significant implications are for the long term. Until now, the U.S., EU, and Arab states have devoted all their efforts to pressuring Israel to change its positions — with great success. Israel’s “red lines” on borders and Jerusalem, for instance, have steadily retreated, to the point where former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, large chunks of East Jerusalem, international Muslim control over the Temple Mount, and even a symbolic absorption of Palestinian refugees. Yet there are limits beyond which no Israeli government will ever go.

Thus, no agreement will ever be possible unless the Palestinians, too, change some of their positions – which, as Keinon noted, has yet to happen. And it never will happen without concerted pressure from the U.S., EU, and Arab world.

If these countries learn the lesson and in fact begin pressuring Abbas to start educating his people about what an agreement will really entail, Barack Obama might someday justly claim credit for having fomented the turnabout that ultimately led to an agreement. But if they instead fall back into the old familiar pattern of endlessly pressuring Israel for more concessions, the current round of talks will be just one more link in an unbroken chain of peace-process failures.

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Glenn Beck Wastes Our Time. Again.

Before his interview with Democratic Representative Eric Massa, who is embroiled in an ugly sexual-harassment scandal, FOX’s Glenn Beck said that Massa may “decide the course of this nation.” How understated. Near the end of the interview, Beck declared, America, I’ve got to shoot straight with you. I think I’ve wasted your time. I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of your time. And I apologize for that.”

I would take issue with the claim that this is the first time Beck has wasted America’s time, but it was a train wreck of an interview. Mr. Massa comes across as creepy and unstable. And the interview is a reminder of why, if conservatives were to embrace Mr. Beck as a leader and a spokesman for their cause, it would do substantial damage.

Glenn Beck is a man with some real talent and some serious drawbacks. But whatever he is, he is not what conservatives should want to be or what conservatism is all about.

Before his interview with Democratic Representative Eric Massa, who is embroiled in an ugly sexual-harassment scandal, FOX’s Glenn Beck said that Massa may “decide the course of this nation.” How understated. Near the end of the interview, Beck declared, America, I’ve got to shoot straight with you. I think I’ve wasted your time. I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of your time. And I apologize for that.”

I would take issue with the claim that this is the first time Beck has wasted America’s time, but it was a train wreck of an interview. Mr. Massa comes across as creepy and unstable. And the interview is a reminder of why, if conservatives were to embrace Mr. Beck as a leader and a spokesman for their cause, it would do substantial damage.

Glenn Beck is a man with some real talent and some serious drawbacks. But whatever he is, he is not what conservatives should want to be or what conservatism is all about.

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Other than That, Mr. Biden, How’d You Like Your Trip?

Joe Biden’s Israel trip has turned into a semi-fiasco, as David has noted. He was a poor substitute, the Israelis thought, for Obama. Then he condemned the Israelis’ decision to build 1,600 homes in their nation’s capital:

“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden, currently in Israel, said in a statement. “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden continued. “This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”

Biden showed up an hour and a half late for dinner tonight at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, the pool reporter Janine Zacharia reported, suggesting the reason was U.S. consultations over the Interior Ministry’s housing announcement today. Biden and Netanyahu “took no questions,” Zacharia wrote. “In fact nobody took any questions all day.”

Well, that’s pretty much par for the course. Obama wanted to focus on settlements? Well, that’s what the U.S. and Israel are now discussing at high decibels in a very public way — during what was supposed to be a fence-mending visit.

And notice the language Biden employed: “condemn.” A Capitol Hill Republican leadership adviser sends this keen observation:

What kind of language is this?  Isn’t “condemn” reserved for things like beating dissidents, or even terror attacks? Whatever you think of the decision, the Obama administration couldn’t have said they felt it undermined the peace process, were “very disappointed,” saw it as “a step backward” or something like that?

A quick search of the White House website shows that in June, Gibbs said Obama “condemned the violence” in Iran.

In May, Obama released a statement on Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, “I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.”

The same month, Obama “strongly condemn[ed]” a North Korean nuclear test and missile launch.

In July, Obama said, “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta.”

The October bombings in Baghdad prompted Obama to say, “I strongly condemn these outrageous attacks on the Iraqi people…”

Last month, we had this: “The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election.”

The adviser wonders whether Obama and company really think a housing complex is “on the same plane as all these things that rightly deserved condemnation.” In Obama’s skewed vision, it seems so. For this crowd, allies are fair game for vitriol, but diplomatic niceties take priority over criticism of despots.

Bashing Israel, frequently and publicly, is what passes for smart diplomacy by the Obami — as is sending the VP in the president’s place (in contrast to Obama’s visits to the “Muslim World” to deliver his fractured version of Middle East history) and converting a housing issue into a nasty public spat.

In this, Biden and the rest of the Obama team have made clear, in case there were any doubt, that there is little reason why Israelis should rely on, or have confidence in, the American negotiating team. And if “proximity talks” require the presence of a trusted interlocutor to visit with both sides and probe for common agreement, we can imagine those talks will be perfectly useless, and indeed, another counterproductive exercise in raising expectations and deflecting attention from the real issue. That, by the way, is not housing complexes. It is the refusal of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, and until the Palestinians definitively repudiate terrorism and establish a state with functioning institutions, the smart diplomats are spinning their wheels. When they aren’t inflaming the situation, that is.

Joe Biden’s Israel trip has turned into a semi-fiasco, as David has noted. He was a poor substitute, the Israelis thought, for Obama. Then he condemned the Israelis’ decision to build 1,600 homes in their nation’s capital:

“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden, currently in Israel, said in a statement. “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden continued. “This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”

Biden showed up an hour and a half late for dinner tonight at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, the pool reporter Janine Zacharia reported, suggesting the reason was U.S. consultations over the Interior Ministry’s housing announcement today. Biden and Netanyahu “took no questions,” Zacharia wrote. “In fact nobody took any questions all day.”

Well, that’s pretty much par for the course. Obama wanted to focus on settlements? Well, that’s what the U.S. and Israel are now discussing at high decibels in a very public way — during what was supposed to be a fence-mending visit.

And notice the language Biden employed: “condemn.” A Capitol Hill Republican leadership adviser sends this keen observation:

What kind of language is this?  Isn’t “condemn” reserved for things like beating dissidents, or even terror attacks? Whatever you think of the decision, the Obama administration couldn’t have said they felt it undermined the peace process, were “very disappointed,” saw it as “a step backward” or something like that?

A quick search of the White House website shows that in June, Gibbs said Obama “condemned the violence” in Iran.

In May, Obama released a statement on Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, “I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.”

The same month, Obama “strongly condemn[ed]” a North Korean nuclear test and missile launch.

In July, Obama said, “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta.”

The October bombings in Baghdad prompted Obama to say, “I strongly condemn these outrageous attacks on the Iraqi people…”

Last month, we had this: “The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election.”

The adviser wonders whether Obama and company really think a housing complex is “on the same plane as all these things that rightly deserved condemnation.” In Obama’s skewed vision, it seems so. For this crowd, allies are fair game for vitriol, but diplomatic niceties take priority over criticism of despots.

Bashing Israel, frequently and publicly, is what passes for smart diplomacy by the Obami — as is sending the VP in the president’s place (in contrast to Obama’s visits to the “Muslim World” to deliver his fractured version of Middle East history) and converting a housing issue into a nasty public spat.

In this, Biden and the rest of the Obama team have made clear, in case there were any doubt, that there is little reason why Israelis should rely on, or have confidence in, the American negotiating team. And if “proximity talks” require the presence of a trusted interlocutor to visit with both sides and probe for common agreement, we can imagine those talks will be perfectly useless, and indeed, another counterproductive exercise in raising expectations and deflecting attention from the real issue. That, by the way, is not housing complexes. It is the refusal of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, and until the Palestinians definitively repudiate terrorism and establish a state with functioning institutions, the smart diplomats are spinning their wheels. When they aren’t inflaming the situation, that is.

Read Less

Jerusalem: It’s All in the Timing

The New York Times has taken the plunge. In a report today about the Israeli government’s decision to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood — which, like most of Jerusalem, lies across the “Green Line” separating pre- and post-1967 territory, the NYT headline proudly refers to the “new settlements” that are, according to another NYT headline about the responses to the declaration, “clouding” the visit of Vice President Biden to the Middle East, who had arrived to announce the renewal of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. An earlier version of the piece, which has since been edited, described Jerusalem as home to “thousands of settlers.” This whole terminology is fairly new, but we can hardly blame the Times. It is, after all, the official position of the U.S. government.

Netanyahu is denying that he knew of the decision, and the NYT piece takes him at his word. Many commentators in Israel are not so quick to believe it, seeing in his denial a classic Bibi move to fake Left, go Right, deny and obfuscate whenever it serves his purposes. Assuming he really did know about the decision, why did he do it? And if he didn’t, why doesn’t he intervene to stop it?

The NYT puts the blame on his coalition partners: “when he formed his coalition a year ago,” we are told, “he joined forces with several right-wing parties, and has since found it hard to keep them in line.” This is, of course, a bizarre distortion: Netanyahu chose his coalition partners as a product of their strength, which in turn reflects what the voters actually wanted on issues like these. It’s also a distortion because the left-wing Labor party, which is in the coalition, doesn’t seem to be pulling out any time soon. And it’s a distortion because the Kadima party, the leading opposition party and the only alternative to Netanyahu’s coalition partners, was founded on a platform that included the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

What Netanyahu knows, and Biden apparently does not, is that the vast majority of Israelis, including those who favor a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, do not, and will never, look at Jerusalem as a settlement or at residents of its neighborhoods as “settlers.” We can fully understand why Biden might have thought the move to be “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” At a time when he’s trying to show the American public that he and the president are capable of bringing a new era of peace in the region, such an announcement certainly does not make his job easier. But unlike the U.S., Israel is an actual party to the negotiations and has a right to draw red lines. One such line that must not be crossed is undoing the unification of Jerusalem that happened in 1967 and that still captures the imagination and commitment of both the great majority of Israelis and a very large number of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem is home to more than 700,000 citizens, of whom two-thirds are Jews. It has granted far greater and more liberal access to non-Jews worshiping at its shrines than the Palestinians have ever done with regard to Jewish (and Christian) freedom in the territories it controls. This is a great deal to ask in time of ongoing war.

One of the worst things about the Oslo Accords was the logic that said, “Let’s take care of the easy things first, and wait on the hard issues until later.” And so, while the Palestinians were allowed to create a heavily armed, ideologically belligerent, terror-supporting government in the territories Israel vacated, Israel gained nothing in terms of security, while the “hard issues” like Jerusalem and the repatriation of millions of Palestinians remained up in the air, not as questions to be resolved, but as threats hanging over Israelis’ heads: You can give us these, and face demographic and symbolic decimation; or you can refuse, and face a renewal of violence. When it became clear to Arafat that Israel had no intention of giving in on these core issues, all the “trust” that had been built was suddenly meaningless. He launched the second intifada, and the rest is too well known.

In making the move on Jerusalem, the Israeli government is trying to avoid the ambiguities that were the undoing of Oslo. Anyone hoping for a successful negotiation leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they are saying, had better forget about the division of Jerusalem. Sometimes, it’s the timing that drives the point home.

The New York Times has taken the plunge. In a report today about the Israeli government’s decision to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood — which, like most of Jerusalem, lies across the “Green Line” separating pre- and post-1967 territory, the NYT headline proudly refers to the “new settlements” that are, according to another NYT headline about the responses to the declaration, “clouding” the visit of Vice President Biden to the Middle East, who had arrived to announce the renewal of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. An earlier version of the piece, which has since been edited, described Jerusalem as home to “thousands of settlers.” This whole terminology is fairly new, but we can hardly blame the Times. It is, after all, the official position of the U.S. government.

Netanyahu is denying that he knew of the decision, and the NYT piece takes him at his word. Many commentators in Israel are not so quick to believe it, seeing in his denial a classic Bibi move to fake Left, go Right, deny and obfuscate whenever it serves his purposes. Assuming he really did know about the decision, why did he do it? And if he didn’t, why doesn’t he intervene to stop it?

The NYT puts the blame on his coalition partners: “when he formed his coalition a year ago,” we are told, “he joined forces with several right-wing parties, and has since found it hard to keep them in line.” This is, of course, a bizarre distortion: Netanyahu chose his coalition partners as a product of their strength, which in turn reflects what the voters actually wanted on issues like these. It’s also a distortion because the left-wing Labor party, which is in the coalition, doesn’t seem to be pulling out any time soon. And it’s a distortion because the Kadima party, the leading opposition party and the only alternative to Netanyahu’s coalition partners, was founded on a platform that included the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

What Netanyahu knows, and Biden apparently does not, is that the vast majority of Israelis, including those who favor a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, do not, and will never, look at Jerusalem as a settlement or at residents of its neighborhoods as “settlers.” We can fully understand why Biden might have thought the move to be “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” At a time when he’s trying to show the American public that he and the president are capable of bringing a new era of peace in the region, such an announcement certainly does not make his job easier. But unlike the U.S., Israel is an actual party to the negotiations and has a right to draw red lines. One such line that must not be crossed is undoing the unification of Jerusalem that happened in 1967 and that still captures the imagination and commitment of both the great majority of Israelis and a very large number of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem is home to more than 700,000 citizens, of whom two-thirds are Jews. It has granted far greater and more liberal access to non-Jews worshiping at its shrines than the Palestinians have ever done with regard to Jewish (and Christian) freedom in the territories it controls. This is a great deal to ask in time of ongoing war.

One of the worst things about the Oslo Accords was the logic that said, “Let’s take care of the easy things first, and wait on the hard issues until later.” And so, while the Palestinians were allowed to create a heavily armed, ideologically belligerent, terror-supporting government in the territories Israel vacated, Israel gained nothing in terms of security, while the “hard issues” like Jerusalem and the repatriation of millions of Palestinians remained up in the air, not as questions to be resolved, but as threats hanging over Israelis’ heads: You can give us these, and face demographic and symbolic decimation; or you can refuse, and face a renewal of violence. When it became clear to Arafat that Israel had no intention of giving in on these core issues, all the “trust” that had been built was suddenly meaningless. He launched the second intifada, and the rest is too well known.

In making the move on Jerusalem, the Israeli government is trying to avoid the ambiguities that were the undoing of Oslo. Anyone hoping for a successful negotiation leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they are saying, had better forget about the division of Jerusalem. Sometimes, it’s the timing that drives the point home.

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Too Deep a Hole for Tom Campbell?

The California media have certainly latched on to the controversy over Tom Campbell’s Sami Al-Arian connection. The question they’re now raising is whether the self-inflicted wound is fatal. First, it was the Los Angeles Times. Now the San Jose Mercury News focuses on Campbell’s letter written on behalf of the terrorist, as well as Campbell’s inability to get his story straight:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell is facing a potentially crippling controversy over his past defense of a fired Florida professor with ties to terrorists and his inconsistent statements regarding what he knew and when about the man’s actions.

Dogged for weeks by criticism over his defense of Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to aiding terrorists, Campbell has denied knowing about the man’s incendiary past, which included nods to Islamic jihad and calls for “death to Israel.” He also said that his dealings with Al-Arian occurred before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

But Campbell, who was then a Stanford law professor, wrote a letter on Al-Arian’s behalf months after the Sept. 11 attacks that casts doubt on his claims of ignorance about Al-Arian’s radicalism.

“His inconsistent statements are particularly damaging because it creates a credibility problem,” said John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

It’s hard to square his recent campaign defense, offered up in last Friday’s debate, and the written evidence:

Campbell has deflected campaign attacks by saying he did not know about the O’Reilly interview at the time and that he wrote the letter before the Sept. 11 attacks. But it turns out neither is true.

Campbell stated in his letter that he “read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn” but said in a separate passage that he never heard Al-Arian “say anything anti-Semitic, or racist, or religionist, against any group.”

As he did with the Los Angeles Times, Campbell tries some damage control:

Asked to clarify the discrepancy, Campbell said in an interview Tuesday that he could not recall whether all or part of the O’Reilly interview had been read to him or whether he had seen a copy before penning the letter. Whatever the case, though, he insisted that he did not see or hear the “death to Israel” passage.

“I did not hear, I did not read, I was not aware of statements Sami Al-Arian had made relative to Israel,” Campbell said in the interview. “And I would not have written the letter had I known about those. … To say ‘Death to Israel’ is abhorrent, it’s horrible.” He repeated that he erred in not researching Al-Arian more thoroughly before coming to his defense. … “I hope that the fact I did not remember precisely because of the passage of years is understood.”

Well, suffice it to say, it’s not understood. Was he lying about the letter or inexcusably careless? Either way, he now has a burgeoning controversy that is not likely to abate. His opponents are certainly going in for the kill. Chuck DeVore’s communications director, Joshua Trevino, says to me of the latest: “Tom Campbell’s credibility is eroded when his statements about his past with Islamic radicals are proven false. But what really erodes his credibility is the plain existence of a past with Islamic radicals. Campbell’s inconsistencies are a handy news hook — but the underlying problem is his lack of judgment in ever having affiliated with anti-American, pro-terror Islamists.”

There are moments in a campaign when a tipping point is reached — can the candidate extract himself from the crisis or has he, by his own words, dug himself a hole too deep? Right now, it seems, Campbell’s explanations aren’t helping his cause, and the media smell blood in the water. We’ll see how voters react.

The California media have certainly latched on to the controversy over Tom Campbell’s Sami Al-Arian connection. The question they’re now raising is whether the self-inflicted wound is fatal. First, it was the Los Angeles Times. Now the San Jose Mercury News focuses on Campbell’s letter written on behalf of the terrorist, as well as Campbell’s inability to get his story straight:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell is facing a potentially crippling controversy over his past defense of a fired Florida professor with ties to terrorists and his inconsistent statements regarding what he knew and when about the man’s actions.

Dogged for weeks by criticism over his defense of Sami Al-Arian, who later pleaded guilty to aiding terrorists, Campbell has denied knowing about the man’s incendiary past, which included nods to Islamic jihad and calls for “death to Israel.” He also said that his dealings with Al-Arian occurred before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

But Campbell, who was then a Stanford law professor, wrote a letter on Al-Arian’s behalf months after the Sept. 11 attacks that casts doubt on his claims of ignorance about Al-Arian’s radicalism.

“His inconsistent statements are particularly damaging because it creates a credibility problem,” said John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

It’s hard to square his recent campaign defense, offered up in last Friday’s debate, and the written evidence:

Campbell has deflected campaign attacks by saying he did not know about the O’Reilly interview at the time and that he wrote the letter before the Sept. 11 attacks. But it turns out neither is true.

Campbell stated in his letter that he “read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn” but said in a separate passage that he never heard Al-Arian “say anything anti-Semitic, or racist, or religionist, against any group.”

As he did with the Los Angeles Times, Campbell tries some damage control:

Asked to clarify the discrepancy, Campbell said in an interview Tuesday that he could not recall whether all or part of the O’Reilly interview had been read to him or whether he had seen a copy before penning the letter. Whatever the case, though, he insisted that he did not see or hear the “death to Israel” passage.

“I did not hear, I did not read, I was not aware of statements Sami Al-Arian had made relative to Israel,” Campbell said in the interview. “And I would not have written the letter had I known about those. … To say ‘Death to Israel’ is abhorrent, it’s horrible.” He repeated that he erred in not researching Al-Arian more thoroughly before coming to his defense. … “I hope that the fact I did not remember precisely because of the passage of years is understood.”

Well, suffice it to say, it’s not understood. Was he lying about the letter or inexcusably careless? Either way, he now has a burgeoning controversy that is not likely to abate. His opponents are certainly going in for the kill. Chuck DeVore’s communications director, Joshua Trevino, says to me of the latest: “Tom Campbell’s credibility is eroded when his statements about his past with Islamic radicals are proven false. But what really erodes his credibility is the plain existence of a past with Islamic radicals. Campbell’s inconsistencies are a handy news hook — but the underlying problem is his lack of judgment in ever having affiliated with anti-American, pro-terror Islamists.”

There are moments in a campaign when a tipping point is reached — can the candidate extract himself from the crisis or has he, by his own words, dug himself a hole too deep? Right now, it seems, Campbell’s explanations aren’t helping his cause, and the media smell blood in the water. We’ll see how voters react.

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Waterloo Time?

Michael Gerson sums up the Democrats’ ObamaCare dilemma:

Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president’s public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, reengaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president’s ambitions.

It is quite an accomplishment. For the president, it must also be quite a shock, because he thought he was taking a reasonable, middle path on health reform.

Gerson contends we got here because Obama eschewed incrementalism in favor of transformation and failed to appreciate that there was little appetite for a new entitlement program. And it didn’t help that it seemed to be only one element in a series of big-government power grabs. These were not small tactical errors but huge errors of judgment and vision. In short, he got just about everything wrong.

Is there a way out? Well, after HillaryCare went down to defeat, Bill Clinton moved on to other things. There was no “Plan B” for mini-reforms. And Clinton lived to fight another day, win a second term, and benefit from the restraint imposed by a Republican Congress. Another option is to move away from a massive plan before a painful, if not humiliating, vote comes down. The murmurs in favor of “incrementalism” are being heard on the Democratic side. It would not be as stinging a defeat as a “no” vote on ObamaCare. But right now Obama, as he has done every time he’s been given a chance to turn back, is instead plunging ahead, trying to force a vote in a matter of days.

Obama seems oddly eager to create a make-or-break moment — to put his entire presidency and the congressional majority of his party on the line for the sake of a bill reviled by 2/3 of the country. The result may be bracing. And he will have no one to blame but himself if he fails, nor much, if any, political capital left to sustain him through the remainder of his term. He better know something the rest of us don’t about the House vote count, or this will, in fact, be his Waterloo.

Michael Gerson sums up the Democrats’ ObamaCare dilemma:

Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president’s public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, reengaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president’s ambitions.

It is quite an accomplishment. For the president, it must also be quite a shock, because he thought he was taking a reasonable, middle path on health reform.

Gerson contends we got here because Obama eschewed incrementalism in favor of transformation and failed to appreciate that there was little appetite for a new entitlement program. And it didn’t help that it seemed to be only one element in a series of big-government power grabs. These were not small tactical errors but huge errors of judgment and vision. In short, he got just about everything wrong.

Is there a way out? Well, after HillaryCare went down to defeat, Bill Clinton moved on to other things. There was no “Plan B” for mini-reforms. And Clinton lived to fight another day, win a second term, and benefit from the restraint imposed by a Republican Congress. Another option is to move away from a massive plan before a painful, if not humiliating, vote comes down. The murmurs in favor of “incrementalism” are being heard on the Democratic side. It would not be as stinging a defeat as a “no” vote on ObamaCare. But right now Obama, as he has done every time he’s been given a chance to turn back, is instead plunging ahead, trying to force a vote in a matter of days.

Obama seems oddly eager to create a make-or-break moment — to put his entire presidency and the congressional majority of his party on the line for the sake of a bill reviled by 2/3 of the country. The result may be bracing. And he will have no one to blame but himself if he fails, nor much, if any, political capital left to sustain him through the remainder of his term. He better know something the rest of us don’t about the House vote count, or this will, in fact, be his Waterloo.

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Tuning Obama Out

Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen explain why ObamaCare seems to be stalling. Apparently, the president can’t “move the numbers” — that is, the anti-ObamaCare polling results:

One reason may be that he keeps talking about details of the proposal while voters are looking at the issue in a broader context. Polling conducted earlier this week shows that 57% of voters believe that passage of the legislation would hurt the economy, while only 25% believe it would help. That makes sense in a nation where most voters believe that increases in government spending are bad for the economy.

When the president responds that the plan is deficit neutral, he runs into a pair of basic problems. The first is that voters think reducing spending is more important than reducing the deficit. So a plan that is deficit neutral with a big spending hike is not going to be well received.

Moreover, the public doesn’t believe Obama’s spin that the plan is deficit neutral. (“People in Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office, but 81% of voters say it’s likely the plan will end up costing more than projected. Only 10% say the official numbers are likely to be on target.”) It seems that none of what Obama is saying is penetrating to the voters. But then again, they really don’t want him to be focusing on this at all.

The bottom line is this:

The reason President Obama can’t move the numbers and build public support is because the fundamentals are stacked against him. Most voters believe the current plan will harm the economy, cost more than projected, raise the cost of care, and lead to higher middle-class taxes.

Thus, in a sense, the president’s spinners are right when they say the president has a “communications” problem. In spite of — or is it because of ? — his incessant hammering at the same points, the public doesn’t buy what he’s selling. It sounds better to call it a communications problem, as if there were a technical problem with the microphones and satellite dishes at the White House. But it’s more properly thought of as a credibility problem. Obama says X; the public thinks X isn’t true. The numbers don’t move.

Here’s the acid test for whether it’s the communications or the message that’s faulty: come up with another approach. If Obama scrapped his plan, came up with a bare bones set of reforms, and tried selling that, we’d see whether the real issue here is the communications or the massive tax-and-spend plan being foisted on the public.

Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen explain why ObamaCare seems to be stalling. Apparently, the president can’t “move the numbers” — that is, the anti-ObamaCare polling results:

One reason may be that he keeps talking about details of the proposal while voters are looking at the issue in a broader context. Polling conducted earlier this week shows that 57% of voters believe that passage of the legislation would hurt the economy, while only 25% believe it would help. That makes sense in a nation where most voters believe that increases in government spending are bad for the economy.

When the president responds that the plan is deficit neutral, he runs into a pair of basic problems. The first is that voters think reducing spending is more important than reducing the deficit. So a plan that is deficit neutral with a big spending hike is not going to be well received.

Moreover, the public doesn’t believe Obama’s spin that the plan is deficit neutral. (“People in Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office, but 81% of voters say it’s likely the plan will end up costing more than projected. Only 10% say the official numbers are likely to be on target.”) It seems that none of what Obama is saying is penetrating to the voters. But then again, they really don’t want him to be focusing on this at all.

The bottom line is this:

The reason President Obama can’t move the numbers and build public support is because the fundamentals are stacked against him. Most voters believe the current plan will harm the economy, cost more than projected, raise the cost of care, and lead to higher middle-class taxes.

Thus, in a sense, the president’s spinners are right when they say the president has a “communications” problem. In spite of — or is it because of ? — his incessant hammering at the same points, the public doesn’t buy what he’s selling. It sounds better to call it a communications problem, as if there were a technical problem with the microphones and satellite dishes at the White House. But it’s more properly thought of as a credibility problem. Obama says X; the public thinks X isn’t true. The numbers don’t move.

Here’s the acid test for whether it’s the communications or the message that’s faulty: come up with another approach. If Obama scrapped his plan, came up with a bare bones set of reforms, and tried selling that, we’d see whether the real issue here is the communications or the massive tax-and-spend plan being foisted on the public.

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Lawyers Should Cheer

Following the flap over Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, I wrote that it would be a good idea for the justices to skip the event in the future, since it has become a partisan affair that needlessly embroils them in political matters. I am delighted to see that I am on the same wavelength as the chief justice:

Chief Justice John Roberts told students at the University of Alabama Tuesday that President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he singled out a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law for criticism, was “very troubling” and said the annual event has “degenerated into a political pep rally,” the A.P. reports.

Taking a question from a law school student, Roberts said anyone is welcome to criticize the court. “I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court – according the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. . . I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.

This is precisely the question raised by the president’s use of the justices as props for his showboating. Shouldn’t there be universal agreement that the Court should remove itself from partisan affairs? Let’s see how the media and legal elite greet this one. At least one thing is clear: this supposedly post-partisan president, who ran for office decrying old-style politics, has hyper-charged with partisanship nearly everything with which he comes in contact — the census, the Court, and the Justice Department, for starters. It’s good to see that not everyone is playing along. And it’s better still to see Chief Justice Roberts defend the dignity and apolitical nature of the Court. Obama may lose his props, but we should all benefit from the reminder that the justices are not in the business of cheerleading the president nor duty bound to perform the role of mute extras in his political drama.

Following the flap over Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, I wrote that it would be a good idea for the justices to skip the event in the future, since it has become a partisan affair that needlessly embroils them in political matters. I am delighted to see that I am on the same wavelength as the chief justice:

Chief Justice John Roberts told students at the University of Alabama Tuesday that President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he singled out a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law for criticism, was “very troubling” and said the annual event has “degenerated into a political pep rally,” the A.P. reports.

Taking a question from a law school student, Roberts said anyone is welcome to criticize the court. “I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court – according the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. . . I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.

This is precisely the question raised by the president’s use of the justices as props for his showboating. Shouldn’t there be universal agreement that the Court should remove itself from partisan affairs? Let’s see how the media and legal elite greet this one. At least one thing is clear: this supposedly post-partisan president, who ran for office decrying old-style politics, has hyper-charged with partisanship nearly everything with which he comes in contact — the census, the Court, and the Justice Department, for starters. It’s good to see that not everyone is playing along. And it’s better still to see Chief Justice Roberts defend the dignity and apolitical nature of the Court. Obama may lose his props, but we should all benefit from the reminder that the justices are not in the business of cheerleading the president nor duty bound to perform the role of mute extras in his political drama.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jay Cost thinks moderate Democrats need to take their party back from Obama: “If moderate House Democrats don’t stand up to him now, he’ll do it on cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and who knows what else. Sooner or later, their constituents will elect representatives who will stand up to the President. And those new representatives will probably be Republicans.”

Voters don’t think much of ObamaCare: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters say the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress will hurt the U.S. economy. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% think the plan will help the economy. But only seven percent (7%) say it will have no impact. Twelve percent (12%) aren’t sure. Two-out-of-three voters (66%) also believe the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats is likely to increase the federal deficit.”

Democrats have figured out that Nancy Pelosi is leading them off a political cliff. It’s not that Democrats don’t respect Pelosi. It’s just “every man for himself,” you see.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tells Robert Gibbs (and the president) to forget about that March 18 deadline. You getting the sense that no one’s really in charge anymore?

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner shares my view on David Axelrod’s kvetching: “Truth be told, it is an honor to play a role in shaping American politics, especially through governing, and especially through service in the White House. If out of disgust or disillusionment people want to return to Chicago or wherever else they came from, then they should do so, the sooner the better. What they shouldn’t do is to pretend to be repelled by what they have been captivated by.”

If Republicans are smart, they’ll stay out of this one: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says Rep. Eric Massa’s charge that he was pushed out of the House because of his opposition to the Democrats’ health care bill is ‘absurd’ and ‘absolutely untrue.'”

Ben Smith on Tom Campbell’s getting tangled up in his Sami Al-Arian misstatements: “When you go into Obama-campaign style ‘Fight the Smears’  mode, it’s generally a pretty good idea to be sure the charges against you are, in fact, not provably true.”

Jay Cost thinks moderate Democrats need to take their party back from Obama: “If moderate House Democrats don’t stand up to him now, he’ll do it on cap-and-trade, immigration reform, and who knows what else. Sooner or later, their constituents will elect representatives who will stand up to the President. And those new representatives will probably be Republicans.”

Voters don’t think much of ObamaCare: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters say the health care reform plan now working its way through Congress will hurt the U.S. economy. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% think the plan will help the economy. But only seven percent (7%) say it will have no impact. Twelve percent (12%) aren’t sure. Two-out-of-three voters (66%) also believe the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats is likely to increase the federal deficit.”

Democrats have figured out that Nancy Pelosi is leading them off a political cliff. It’s not that Democrats don’t respect Pelosi. It’s just “every man for himself,” you see.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tells Robert Gibbs (and the president) to forget about that March 18 deadline. You getting the sense that no one’s really in charge anymore?

CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner shares my view on David Axelrod’s kvetching: “Truth be told, it is an honor to play a role in shaping American politics, especially through governing, and especially through service in the White House. If out of disgust or disillusionment people want to return to Chicago or wherever else they came from, then they should do so, the sooner the better. What they shouldn’t do is to pretend to be repelled by what they have been captivated by.”

If Republicans are smart, they’ll stay out of this one: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says Rep. Eric Massa’s charge that he was pushed out of the House because of his opposition to the Democrats’ health care bill is ‘absurd’ and ‘absolutely untrue.'”

Ben Smith on Tom Campbell’s getting tangled up in his Sami Al-Arian misstatements: “When you go into Obama-campaign style ‘Fight the Smears’  mode, it’s generally a pretty good idea to be sure the charges against you are, in fact, not provably true.”

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