Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 15, 2010

Next Up: Cap-and-Trade?

Every time you think the Obama administration’s chutzpah has maxed out, you read another story that teaches you that this is a quality that should never be underestimated. According to the Daily Beast, senior aides are telling the press that once they are finished ramming an unpopular health-care package down a reluctant Congress’s throat, they will begin the same process with a raft of legislation aimed at further depressing the American economy and increasing Washington’s control of what will be left: cap-and-trade carbon laws aimed at reducing the threat of global warming.

Though last week some of the same sources were claiming that a long overdue immigration-reform package (a goal that George W. Bush tried and failed to achieve due to resistance from his own party) would be the next step, it makes sense that Obama would be more interested in cap-and-trade, since it reflects his own ideological predilections about increasing government power and deferring to international opinion.

Yet even the sympathetic Daily Beast can’t quite fathom how Obama thinks he will force-feed such a dubious proposal to Congress or the American public. As Richard Wolffe writes of the administration’s hubris: “Obama is even taking up climate change — an issue on which, after an anticlimactic summit in Copenhagen and a scandal that raised questions about whether advocates were skewing the research, the president would appear to be swimming entirely upstream. ‘We were never going to go small,’ said one senior Obama aide, referring to the Clinton strategy after his party’s defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections.”

How do we account for such a lack of realism on the part of the White House? The chances of passing cap-and-trade were already quite small even before the revelation of statistical fraud at the crucial Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University and of false claims made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Does the White House relish being linked to dubious research about melting glaciers in the Himalayas or misleading hockey-stick diagrams purporting to show temperature increases that aren’t there? Does Obama really want to spend the months before the midterm elections watching environmental extremists take center stage as cap-and-trade is debated in Congress? Is he willing to play Sancho Panza to Al Gore as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate jousts with windmills in what would be an obviously futile effort to get Democrats to go along? (Forget about the Republicans ever backing such legislation — especially if they get the opportunity to hand Obama another major defeat before November.)

Perhaps the “senior aides” dishing this story are just blowing smoke at the press, but if true, the idea that global warming is next for Obama shows just how divorced from political reality this administration has become.

Every time you think the Obama administration’s chutzpah has maxed out, you read another story that teaches you that this is a quality that should never be underestimated. According to the Daily Beast, senior aides are telling the press that once they are finished ramming an unpopular health-care package down a reluctant Congress’s throat, they will begin the same process with a raft of legislation aimed at further depressing the American economy and increasing Washington’s control of what will be left: cap-and-trade carbon laws aimed at reducing the threat of global warming.

Though last week some of the same sources were claiming that a long overdue immigration-reform package (a goal that George W. Bush tried and failed to achieve due to resistance from his own party) would be the next step, it makes sense that Obama would be more interested in cap-and-trade, since it reflects his own ideological predilections about increasing government power and deferring to international opinion.

Yet even the sympathetic Daily Beast can’t quite fathom how Obama thinks he will force-feed such a dubious proposal to Congress or the American public. As Richard Wolffe writes of the administration’s hubris: “Obama is even taking up climate change — an issue on which, after an anticlimactic summit in Copenhagen and a scandal that raised questions about whether advocates were skewing the research, the president would appear to be swimming entirely upstream. ‘We were never going to go small,’ said one senior Obama aide, referring to the Clinton strategy after his party’s defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections.”

How do we account for such a lack of realism on the part of the White House? The chances of passing cap-and-trade were already quite small even before the revelation of statistical fraud at the crucial Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University and of false claims made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Does the White House relish being linked to dubious research about melting glaciers in the Himalayas or misleading hockey-stick diagrams purporting to show temperature increases that aren’t there? Does Obama really want to spend the months before the midterm elections watching environmental extremists take center stage as cap-and-trade is debated in Congress? Is he willing to play Sancho Panza to Al Gore as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate jousts with windmills in what would be an obviously futile effort to get Democrats to go along? (Forget about the Republicans ever backing such legislation — especially if they get the opportunity to hand Obama another major defeat before November.)

Perhaps the “senior aides” dishing this story are just blowing smoke at the press, but if true, the idea that global warming is next for Obama shows just how divorced from political reality this administration has become.

Read Less

The U.S. and Somalia: Who, Us?

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

Read Less

Year Two of Obama Means More of the Same Hostility on Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

Read Less

Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman on Israel

Friends and colleagues John McCain and Joe Lieberman went to the floor of the U.S. Senate to discuss the Obama offensive against Israel. McCain kicked things off asking (from a rough transcript) if it really helps to “have public disparagement by the secretary of state, by the president’s political adviser on the Sunday shows,” and whether it wouldn’t be better to “lower the dialogue, talk quietly among friends, and work together towards the mutual goals that we share.” Lieberman responded:

[The U.S.-Israel relationship is] one of the strongest, most important, most steadfast bilateral alliances we have in the world because it is not based on the temporal, that is matters that come and go, or politics and diplomacy. It’s based on shared values, shared strategic interests in the world and unfortunately now on the fact that the United States and the Israelis are also targets of the Islamic extremists, the terrorists who threaten the security of so much of the world.

Lieberman then went on to explain that a “bureaucratic mistake” was allowed to become a “major, for the moment, source of division” between the U.S. and Israel. He continued that this is “an area of Jerusalem that is today mostly Jewish” and that while the Israeli government contends that Jews have the right to build and live anywhere in its eternal capital, “this particular part of Jerusalem is in most anybody’s vision of a possible peace settlement going to be part of Israel.”

Lieberman then questioned why the initial flap was allowed to continue on the Sunday talk shows. Singling out David Axelrod, he noted that calling it an “affront” serves nobody’s interests. From there, McCain said the escalation “may be giving the impression to the wrong people, the neighbors of Israel have stated time after time that they are bent on Israel’s extinction.” McCain then praised Hillary Clinton – who, he says, knows all of this too well. (Hmm, are there some Obami tensions to be exploited?) After some niceties about Clinton and Biden, Lieberman was not about to let the State Department off the hook, noting that the Friday news conference in which the Clinton-Bibi conversation was related to the public only served to “dredge up again something that had been calmed and ought to be calmed.” McCain then criticized the administration’s focus on a unilateral settlement freeze, and Lieberman concurred, noting that the focus should be on peace negotiations without preconditions and on the Iran nuclear threat. Lieberman concluded: “It’s time to lower our voices, get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interest but out enemies.”

It was as compelling and informed a discussion on the subject as you’re going to hear in Washington. But the question remains: why did Obama feel compelled to do this, and who is really running foreign policy? Perhaps these are good subjects for congressional oversight hearings.

Friends and colleagues John McCain and Joe Lieberman went to the floor of the U.S. Senate to discuss the Obama offensive against Israel. McCain kicked things off asking (from a rough transcript) if it really helps to “have public disparagement by the secretary of state, by the president’s political adviser on the Sunday shows,” and whether it wouldn’t be better to “lower the dialogue, talk quietly among friends, and work together towards the mutual goals that we share.” Lieberman responded:

[The U.S.-Israel relationship is] one of the strongest, most important, most steadfast bilateral alliances we have in the world because it is not based on the temporal, that is matters that come and go, or politics and diplomacy. It’s based on shared values, shared strategic interests in the world and unfortunately now on the fact that the United States and the Israelis are also targets of the Islamic extremists, the terrorists who threaten the security of so much of the world.

Lieberman then went on to explain that a “bureaucratic mistake” was allowed to become a “major, for the moment, source of division” between the U.S. and Israel. He continued that this is “an area of Jerusalem that is today mostly Jewish” and that while the Israeli government contends that Jews have the right to build and live anywhere in its eternal capital, “this particular part of Jerusalem is in most anybody’s vision of a possible peace settlement going to be part of Israel.”

Lieberman then questioned why the initial flap was allowed to continue on the Sunday talk shows. Singling out David Axelrod, he noted that calling it an “affront” serves nobody’s interests. From there, McCain said the escalation “may be giving the impression to the wrong people, the neighbors of Israel have stated time after time that they are bent on Israel’s extinction.” McCain then praised Hillary Clinton – who, he says, knows all of this too well. (Hmm, are there some Obami tensions to be exploited?) After some niceties about Clinton and Biden, Lieberman was not about to let the State Department off the hook, noting that the Friday news conference in which the Clinton-Bibi conversation was related to the public only served to “dredge up again something that had been calmed and ought to be calmed.” McCain then criticized the administration’s focus on a unilateral settlement freeze, and Lieberman concurred, noting that the focus should be on peace negotiations without preconditions and on the Iran nuclear threat. Lieberman concluded: “It’s time to lower our voices, get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interest but out enemies.”

It was as compelling and informed a discussion on the subject as you’re going to hear in Washington. But the question remains: why did Obama feel compelled to do this, and who is really running foreign policy? Perhaps these are good subjects for congressional oversight hearings.

Read Less

Tom Ricks’s Quote

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

Tom Ricks is upset because I wrote this:

Those like Joe Klein and Tom Ricks, who claimed the Iraq war was “probably the biggest foreign policy mistake in American history” (Klein’s words) and “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy” (Ricks’s words), were wrong. Ricks went so far as to say in 2009 that “I think staying in Iraq is immoral.”

Commenting on my post, Ricks went on to say, “The rest of my comment, of course, was that, ‘but I think leaving Iraq is even more immoral.’” Ricks then added this:

On the other hand, it is good for a journalist (or recent journalist, which is what I am) to be misrepresented on occasion, to remind one of how it feels. And I think we have an answer as to how intellectually honest Pete Wehner is. Or maybe he’ s just sloppy, because I recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about why I think we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for many years to come.

All of this, you see, qualifies as a “world class bogus quote job.”

Here’s the problem for Mr. Ricks: he said precisely what I quote him as saying. He did in fact say, “staying in Iraq is immoral” — which is (to be generous) a really foolish statement to make. The fact that Ricks added that leaving Iraq is even more immoral doesn’t rectify his reckless use of words. In fact, I was happy to link to Ricks’s original comments since I’m sure people might wonder whether a recent journalist who professes knowledge of Iraq could say such a ridiculous thing. But he did.

If Tom Ricks wants to try to justify his comment that America’s presence in Iraq, which is an act of selflessness and great sacrifice by our nation, is “immoral,” he should do so. And if he wants to elaborate on why he believes our young men and women, who are fighting and dying for the liberation of the Iraqi people, are instruments of immorality — which is the logical conclusion of Ricks’s statement — then he should make that case, too. If he does, you can be sure I’ll respond to him again.

There is, of course, another alternative. Ricks could apologize for his words and admit that he made a mistake.

Read Less

Social Security’s Surplus: Gone in 2010, Not 2019

Washington loves 10-year projections like the CBO’s, which said the health-care bill will actually save $120 billion or so in the next decade.

Unfortunately, 10-year economic predictions are as worthless as 10-year meteorological ones, and for the same reason: too many variables interacting in too many unpredictable ways. The CBO might as well sacrifice a chicken and read its entrails to determine what things will look like 10 years out.

A good example of this is Social Security. Since the mid-1980s, Social Security has been running huge surpluses to build up a reserve to care for the baby boomers as they start to retire. The first baby boomers were born in 1946 and are already increasingly retiring. The surplus has been invested in special, non-marketable federal bonds.

In 2008 — only two years ago – the CBO predicted that the Social Security surplus would disappear in 2019, and the Treasury would have to start redeeming those bonds then. But the surplus is disappearing this year, not nine years from now, thanks to the recession, which has caused FICA revenues to fall as unemployment rose, and the number of people applying for Social Security rose, as well.

The CBO predicts that for fiscal 2010, Social Security will run a surplus of $92 billion. But that is an accounting illusion because the government will be paying it interest of $120 billion on the bonds held in the trust fund (not in cash, of course, but in still more federal IOUs). That means that the treasury will have to come up with real money — $28 billion — to make up the difference. It will do this by, of course, selling more bonds to the public.

If the economy comes roaring back, Social Security will go back into surplus for a few years. But as more and more baby boomers retire, it will soon go into permanent deficit (unless it is reformed), and the surplus will be gone by — according to the latest predictions — 2037.  That, of course, is a 28-year prediction. It would require reading the entrails of two chickens to come up with a prediction as reliable as that.

Washington loves 10-year projections like the CBO’s, which said the health-care bill will actually save $120 billion or so in the next decade.

Unfortunately, 10-year economic predictions are as worthless as 10-year meteorological ones, and for the same reason: too many variables interacting in too many unpredictable ways. The CBO might as well sacrifice a chicken and read its entrails to determine what things will look like 10 years out.

A good example of this is Social Security. Since the mid-1980s, Social Security has been running huge surpluses to build up a reserve to care for the baby boomers as they start to retire. The first baby boomers were born in 1946 and are already increasingly retiring. The surplus has been invested in special, non-marketable federal bonds.

In 2008 — only two years ago – the CBO predicted that the Social Security surplus would disappear in 2019, and the Treasury would have to start redeeming those bonds then. But the surplus is disappearing this year, not nine years from now, thanks to the recession, which has caused FICA revenues to fall as unemployment rose, and the number of people applying for Social Security rose, as well.

The CBO predicts that for fiscal 2010, Social Security will run a surplus of $92 billion. But that is an accounting illusion because the government will be paying it interest of $120 billion on the bonds held in the trust fund (not in cash, of course, but in still more federal IOUs). That means that the treasury will have to come up with real money — $28 billion — to make up the difference. It will do this by, of course, selling more bonds to the public.

If the economy comes roaring back, Social Security will go back into surplus for a few years. But as more and more baby boomers retire, it will soon go into permanent deficit (unless it is reformed), and the surplus will be gone by — according to the latest predictions — 2037.  That, of course, is a 28-year prediction. It would require reading the entrails of two chickens to come up with a prediction as reliable as that.

Read Less

Run Away! (Apologies to Monty Python)

Obama keeps telling his fellow Democrats that ObamaCare will cure what ails them. But the facts — polls and the behavior of candidates – tell us otherwise.  As this reports explains (h/t Mark Hemingway): “Representative John Boccieri, Democrat of Ohio, whose vote on major health care legislation could be crucial to the outcome, will not be attending President Obama’s health care rally on Monday in Strongsville, Ohio, not far from Mr. Boccieri’s own district, a spokeswoman said.” We’ve seen this before, as Democrats in swing states steer clear of Obama. And given the polling data in Ohio, it isn’t surprising that a Democrat would want to evade the president. A Quinnipiac poll recently reported:

President Obama’s negative 44-52 percent job approval is down slightly from 45-50 percent November 12, led by a big drop among independent voters, who approve 38-57 percent, down from 45-49 percent in November. Republicans are negative 11-87 percent, while Democrats approve 81-13 percent. Ohio voters give Obama a negative 39-57 percent approval for handling the economy, and a negative 34-58 on his handling of health care. Voters approve 55-39 percent of Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Voters mostly disapprove 56-33 percent of the current health care reform plan, but say 53-44 percent that Obama and Congress should keep trying to pass reform legislation. “Given that President Obama carried the state with more than 51 percent of the vote, these numbers mean many Ohioans who were in his corner have now deserted him,” said [polling director Peter] Brown.

Democrats can avoid Obama on the stump, but there will be no avoiding the consequences of their votes — no matter how disguised or fuzzed up. Democrats, as Obama told us, need to vote up or down and live with the aftermath. So far it seems like those most at risk have good reason to stay as far from the president’s agenda as they can.

Obama keeps telling his fellow Democrats that ObamaCare will cure what ails them. But the facts — polls and the behavior of candidates – tell us otherwise.  As this reports explains (h/t Mark Hemingway): “Representative John Boccieri, Democrat of Ohio, whose vote on major health care legislation could be crucial to the outcome, will not be attending President Obama’s health care rally on Monday in Strongsville, Ohio, not far from Mr. Boccieri’s own district, a spokeswoman said.” We’ve seen this before, as Democrats in swing states steer clear of Obama. And given the polling data in Ohio, it isn’t surprising that a Democrat would want to evade the president. A Quinnipiac poll recently reported:

President Obama’s negative 44-52 percent job approval is down slightly from 45-50 percent November 12, led by a big drop among independent voters, who approve 38-57 percent, down from 45-49 percent in November. Republicans are negative 11-87 percent, while Democrats approve 81-13 percent. Ohio voters give Obama a negative 39-57 percent approval for handling the economy, and a negative 34-58 on his handling of health care. Voters approve 55-39 percent of Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Voters mostly disapprove 56-33 percent of the current health care reform plan, but say 53-44 percent that Obama and Congress should keep trying to pass reform legislation. “Given that President Obama carried the state with more than 51 percent of the vote, these numbers mean many Ohioans who were in his corner have now deserted him,” said [polling director Peter] Brown.

Democrats can avoid Obama on the stump, but there will be no avoiding the consequences of their votes — no matter how disguised or fuzzed up. Democrats, as Obama told us, need to vote up or down and live with the aftermath. So far it seems like those most at risk have good reason to stay as far from the president’s agenda as they can.

Read Less

RE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

To add to John’s piece, there are probably a couple more layers of political foolishness here.

One is the timing. All the pro-Israel heavies are coming to D.C. in a few days for the AIPAC policy conference, the single most important event of the year for the pro-Israel community. And now Obama has set it up so that pretty much the only thing people are going to be talking about is this crisis — and not just talking, but planning how to push back.

He has also given Democrats in Congress yet another reason to distance themselves from the administration in the immediate runup to the health-care vote. You’d think he would have wanted still waters during this, of all weeks. But no: Laura Rozen reports that congressional Democrats are in the dark and wondering what the administration is up to — what the next steps are, what the end game is, what happens if Netanyahu cannot, or will not, meet Obama’s new demands, and so on. You know it’s bad when even an old peace-processor such as Aaron David Miller says about the administration, “The tree they’re up on this one is very tall.”

To add to John’s piece, there are probably a couple more layers of political foolishness here.

One is the timing. All the pro-Israel heavies are coming to D.C. in a few days for the AIPAC policy conference, the single most important event of the year for the pro-Israel community. And now Obama has set it up so that pretty much the only thing people are going to be talking about is this crisis — and not just talking, but planning how to push back.

He has also given Democrats in Congress yet another reason to distance themselves from the administration in the immediate runup to the health-care vote. You’d think he would have wanted still waters during this, of all weeks. But no: Laura Rozen reports that congressional Democrats are in the dark and wondering what the administration is up to — what the next steps are, what the end game is, what happens if Netanyahu cannot, or will not, meet Obama’s new demands, and so on. You know it’s bad when even an old peace-processor such as Aaron David Miller says about the administration, “The tree they’re up on this one is very tall.”

Read Less

A Weather Vane Shifts in Lebanon

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

Read Less

RE: The Fallout

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

Read Less

The Fallout

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

Read Less

One More Thing

Those of you lucky enough to have found yourselves on the White House’s propaganda e-mail list have, of late, been subject to something called the “Health Reform by the Numbers” campaign. Each e-mail in the campaign features a number and a bunch of associated facts intended “to raise awareness about why we just can’t wait any longer for health insurance reform.” Needless to say, the whole effort is as scolding and tone-deaf as everything else the president has cooked up since calling some Massachusetts police officers stupid for doing their jobs.

Today’s number is one:

1 — in every six dollars in the U.S. economy is spent on health care today.

If we do nothing, in 30 years, 1 out of every three dollars in our economy will be tied up in the health care system.

You get the idea.

Well, here’s a factoid regarding the No. 1 that I find a bit more persuasive. The World Health Organization ranks the United States’ health-care system as No. 1 in responsiveness. That really screams, “overhaul now!” huh?

We can certainly kiss our top position goodbye if socialized medicine comes to pass. Just look around at the wait times and patient lotteries of the systems that we’ll be emulating.

It’s actually kind of funny that the White House doesn’t include this statistic in today’s e-mail. After all, with this crowd American predominance is itself the greatest offence.

Those of you lucky enough to have found yourselves on the White House’s propaganda e-mail list have, of late, been subject to something called the “Health Reform by the Numbers” campaign. Each e-mail in the campaign features a number and a bunch of associated facts intended “to raise awareness about why we just can’t wait any longer for health insurance reform.” Needless to say, the whole effort is as scolding and tone-deaf as everything else the president has cooked up since calling some Massachusetts police officers stupid for doing their jobs.

Today’s number is one:

1 — in every six dollars in the U.S. economy is spent on health care today.

If we do nothing, in 30 years, 1 out of every three dollars in our economy will be tied up in the health care system.

You get the idea.

Well, here’s a factoid regarding the No. 1 that I find a bit more persuasive. The World Health Organization ranks the United States’ health-care system as No. 1 in responsiveness. That really screams, “overhaul now!” huh?

We can certainly kiss our top position goodbye if socialized medicine comes to pass. Just look around at the wait times and patient lotteries of the systems that we’ll be emulating.

It’s actually kind of funny that the White House doesn’t include this statistic in today’s e-mail. After all, with this crowd American predominance is itself the greatest offence.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

In both politics and diplomacy, actors must think at least one move ahead. They need to be reasonably sure that when they say or do A, then the other party will say or do B. And they should want the other party to say or do B, otherwise it makes no sense to say A in the first place. The purpose of action isn’t just to act, in other words, but to make sure that the reaction you get advances your purposes and your interests.

Which is why the administration’s behavior in deepening and perpetuating its latest confrontation with Israel is actually rather bewildering. Let’s start out by acknowledging that what happened during Vice President Biden’s trip last week — the announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem — was an affront to the United States. I believe Israel has every right to do what it is doing, but the view of the visiting representative of the administration is that what it is doing is wrong and injurious to future prospects for peace, and this conflict of visions is not going to be resolved. Biden was embarrassed, his visit overshadowed, and expressions of diplomatic dismay appropriate as a result. The Israeli prime minister, who did not know about the announcement, apologized to the visitor, and was embarrassed as well by the way in which the dysfunctional Israeli political system was exposed to international view.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

In both politics and diplomacy, actors must think at least one move ahead. They need to be reasonably sure that when they say or do A, then the other party will say or do B. And they should want the other party to say or do B, otherwise it makes no sense to say A in the first place. The purpose of action isn’t just to act, in other words, but to make sure that the reaction you get advances your purposes and your interests.

Which is why the administration’s behavior in deepening and perpetuating its latest confrontation with Israel is actually rather bewildering. Let’s start out by acknowledging that what happened during Vice President Biden’s trip last week — the announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem — was an affront to the United States. I believe Israel has every right to do what it is doing, but the view of the visiting representative of the administration is that what it is doing is wrong and injurious to future prospects for peace, and this conflict of visions is not going to be resolved. Biden was embarrassed, his visit overshadowed, and expressions of diplomatic dismay appropriate as a result. The Israeli prime minister, who did not know about the announcement, apologized to the visitor, and was embarrassed as well by the way in which the dysfunctional Israeli political system was exposed to international view.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

Oren “Summoned” — but to What End?

It seems as though the Obami’s tactic here has been to bludgeon Israel — in small ways and large, in public and in private. JTA reports:

[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren’s spokesman, Jonathan Peled, confirmed to JTA that the ambassador indeed had been “summoned” for a meeting last Friday with James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state. The summons came as the controversy engendered by Israel’s announcement of new construction in eastern Jerusalem during last week’s visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden showed no sign of abating.

“It wasn’t a meeting,” Oren told the Washington Jewish Week in an interview at a fund-raiser for a Washington-area school on Sunday night. “It was a summoning. I was told it was the first time that any ambassador had been summoned at that level.”

Oren said he is “working hard to avert an escalation. We’re working very hard to get back to what we need to do to make peace and stop Iran from making the bomb. We have apologized publicly and privately profusely.”

But you see, an apology is not what the administration needs or wants. It wants a fight, a scene, a sign to its beloved Palestinian friends that it can be tough, tougher than on any other nation on the planet, with Israel. What we have here is a heartfelt desire to cozy up to the Palestinians; what’s missing is a cogent explanation for what this gets us. No Israeli prime minister has suspended or will suspend building in its capital. No amount of unilateral concessions, even if offered, would unlock the “peace process.” So the point of this is what then? To permanently shift American policy toward Israel? To create havoc and further uncertainty as to where the U.S. stands regarding Israeli security? We are seeing the full flowering of what many of us during the campaign suspected and what was revealed in the Cairo speech: Obama has a deep affinity with the victimology mythology of the Palestinians. We have never had such a president and never had such an Israel policy. This is precisely why “change” can be a very, very bad thing indeed.

It seems as though the Obami’s tactic here has been to bludgeon Israel — in small ways and large, in public and in private. JTA reports:

[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren’s spokesman, Jonathan Peled, confirmed to JTA that the ambassador indeed had been “summoned” for a meeting last Friday with James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state. The summons came as the controversy engendered by Israel’s announcement of new construction in eastern Jerusalem during last week’s visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden showed no sign of abating.

“It wasn’t a meeting,” Oren told the Washington Jewish Week in an interview at a fund-raiser for a Washington-area school on Sunday night. “It was a summoning. I was told it was the first time that any ambassador had been summoned at that level.”

Oren said he is “working hard to avert an escalation. We’re working very hard to get back to what we need to do to make peace and stop Iran from making the bomb. We have apologized publicly and privately profusely.”

But you see, an apology is not what the administration needs or wants. It wants a fight, a scene, a sign to its beloved Palestinian friends that it can be tough, tougher than on any other nation on the planet, with Israel. What we have here is a heartfelt desire to cozy up to the Palestinians; what’s missing is a cogent explanation for what this gets us. No Israeli prime minister has suspended or will suspend building in its capital. No amount of unilateral concessions, even if offered, would unlock the “peace process.” So the point of this is what then? To permanently shift American policy toward Israel? To create havoc and further uncertainty as to where the U.S. stands regarding Israeli security? We are seeing the full flowering of what many of us during the campaign suspected and what was revealed in the Cairo speech: Obama has a deep affinity with the victimology mythology of the Palestinians. We have never had such a president and never had such an Israel policy. This is precisely why “change” can be a very, very bad thing indeed.

Read Less

RE: This Is Not Progress

Emanuele, you may be right, sadly. But there is a point at which the administration does diminish the enthusiasm — both financial and electoral — that they have taken for granted. And then there is the broader political landscape. By taking on Israel, they have handed pro-Israel conservatives yet another national-security issue in the upcoming election. We have already seen Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk, two senate candidates, weighing in. And where are their opponents? Silent so far. Pat Toomey’s spokesman e-mails me with this: “If this Administration was nearly as tough on Iran as it is on Israel then our policies would have more credibility with both our friends and our enemies.” As national security rises in the public’s list of concerns, I think it’s entirely likely that Democrats and those Republicans with a record of antipathy toward Israel will be put on the spot: do they support Obama’s anti-Israel offensive? Chalk it up as one more problem Obama has foisted onto his fellow Democrats who struggling to stay in office.

And then there is the evangelical community, which remains stalwart in its support of Israel. Recall that the administration was going to make headway with this group. Well, now they are none too pleased. A representative of the pro-Israel Christian community expressed to me his concern that the administration was overreacting. “The timing of the announcement was a mistake,” he told me, “but by all accounts Netanyahu had nothing to do with this timing and has apologized for it. But the administration seems determined to use this diplomatic dust up as an excuse to apply even greater pressure on the one side willing to resume direct talks immediately — Israel. This is counter-productive.” The reaction of non-Jews, evangelical or otherwise, in an electorate overwhelmingly pro-Israel will be telling. The Obami may assume that only Jews care about this issue. They are wrong, I think.

But Emanuele, you are certainly correct that the proof will be at the ballot box and in the support afforded to Obama and those in his party who condone (either overtly or not) this newest line of attack. Is there a point at which American Jews cry “Enough!”? The Obami clearly think this is a cost-free gambit for them, domestically. We’ll have to see whether they are right.

Emanuele, you may be right, sadly. But there is a point at which the administration does diminish the enthusiasm — both financial and electoral — that they have taken for granted. And then there is the broader political landscape. By taking on Israel, they have handed pro-Israel conservatives yet another national-security issue in the upcoming election. We have already seen Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk, two senate candidates, weighing in. And where are their opponents? Silent so far. Pat Toomey’s spokesman e-mails me with this: “If this Administration was nearly as tough on Iran as it is on Israel then our policies would have more credibility with both our friends and our enemies.” As national security rises in the public’s list of concerns, I think it’s entirely likely that Democrats and those Republicans with a record of antipathy toward Israel will be put on the spot: do they support Obama’s anti-Israel offensive? Chalk it up as one more problem Obama has foisted onto his fellow Democrats who struggling to stay in office.

And then there is the evangelical community, which remains stalwart in its support of Israel. Recall that the administration was going to make headway with this group. Well, now they are none too pleased. A representative of the pro-Israel Christian community expressed to me his concern that the administration was overreacting. “The timing of the announcement was a mistake,” he told me, “but by all accounts Netanyahu had nothing to do with this timing and has apologized for it. But the administration seems determined to use this diplomatic dust up as an excuse to apply even greater pressure on the one side willing to resume direct talks immediately — Israel. This is counter-productive.” The reaction of non-Jews, evangelical or otherwise, in an electorate overwhelmingly pro-Israel will be telling. The Obami may assume that only Jews care about this issue. They are wrong, I think.

But Emanuele, you are certainly correct that the proof will be at the ballot box and in the support afforded to Obama and those in his party who condone (either overtly or not) this newest line of attack. Is there a point at which American Jews cry “Enough!”? The Obami clearly think this is a cost-free gambit for them, domestically. We’ll have to see whether they are right.

Read Less

This Is Not Progress

Jennifer, I may be wrong, but in the mounting fury of the Obama administration against Israel, the AIPAC factor will not loom that large after all. We all remember former Secretary of State’s James Baker famous quip: “F— the Jews, they didn’t vote for us.”

It looks to me that the current administration’s Israel policy is based on a variant of that quip—namely, “F— the Jews, they’ll vote for us anyway.”

Jennifer, I may be wrong, but in the mounting fury of the Obama administration against Israel, the AIPAC factor will not loom that large after all. We all remember former Secretary of State’s James Baker famous quip: “F— the Jews, they didn’t vote for us.”

It looks to me that the current administration’s Israel policy is based on a variant of that quip—namely, “F— the Jews, they’ll vote for us anyway.”

Read Less

No Way to Run a Foreign Policy

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

Read Less

The Substance Matters, or It Should

Politico reels off five impediments to passage of ObamaCare (e.g., reconciliation, abortion, Senate-House mistrust) but doesn’t get around to the two biggest problems: it’s a bad, irresponsible bill and the voters hate it. Oh yes, that. This bit of misdirection pleases Democratic leaders, who would like the discussion to be about anything but the substance of what members are being asked to vote on.

Rep. Paul Ryan, however, isn’t playing along. He takes to the Washington Post to explain precisely what’s wrong with the bill:

Through any analytical lens, the legislation will not address the central problem of skyrocketing health-care costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that families’ premiums could rise 10 to 13 percent; private-sector actuarial estimates top these already high numbers. The higher costs are driven by federalizing the regulation of insurance, narrowing consumers’ options and reducing competition among providers. The health-care market would be dominated by government programs and the largest insurance companies, operating as de facto government utilities.

Rather than tackle the drivers of health inflation, the legislation chases the ever-increasing premiums with huge new subsidies. Already, Washington has no idea how to pay for the unfunded promises in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — and creating this new entitlement would accelerate our path to fiscal ruin. When you strip away the double-counting, expose the hidden costs that must be funded and look at the price tag when the legislation is fully implemented, the claims of deficit reduction are as hollow as claims of cost containment.

In short, the cost-containment problem (otherwise we’ll bankrupt ourselves, the president once threatened) is made worse, dramatically so, by the bill. And when we add on “a range of job-killing tax hikes and controls on all Americans,” you have a truly destructive, ill-conceived piece of legislation. If members think hard about that, rather than the arm-twisting and bravado from the White House, what the leadership is up to will become apparent. They are not, it seems, in the business of passing anything remotely resembling “reform.” They are rather attempting to avoid humiliation and prevent a tidal wave of rage from their liberal base.

That’s small consolation to moderate Democrats, who, in their quieter moments of self-reflection, understand not only that their constituents intensely dislike the bill but also that such aversion is fully justified. It would be one thing to challenge public opinion for a noble and necessary bill; it’s quite another to walk the plank for what Ryan dubs “the Democrats’ health-care train wreck.” All the tricks — reconciliation, voting but not really voting on the Senate bill — are designed to encourage lawmakers to do something many know isn’t wise substantively or politically. If Republicans are smart, they’ll spend the week forcing Democrats to look at their handiwork and reminding them that voters will hold them fully accountable for their mischief.

Politico reels off five impediments to passage of ObamaCare (e.g., reconciliation, abortion, Senate-House mistrust) but doesn’t get around to the two biggest problems: it’s a bad, irresponsible bill and the voters hate it. Oh yes, that. This bit of misdirection pleases Democratic leaders, who would like the discussion to be about anything but the substance of what members are being asked to vote on.

Rep. Paul Ryan, however, isn’t playing along. He takes to the Washington Post to explain precisely what’s wrong with the bill:

Through any analytical lens, the legislation will not address the central problem of skyrocketing health-care costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that families’ premiums could rise 10 to 13 percent; private-sector actuarial estimates top these already high numbers. The higher costs are driven by federalizing the regulation of insurance, narrowing consumers’ options and reducing competition among providers. The health-care market would be dominated by government programs and the largest insurance companies, operating as de facto government utilities.

Rather than tackle the drivers of health inflation, the legislation chases the ever-increasing premiums with huge new subsidies. Already, Washington has no idea how to pay for the unfunded promises in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — and creating this new entitlement would accelerate our path to fiscal ruin. When you strip away the double-counting, expose the hidden costs that must be funded and look at the price tag when the legislation is fully implemented, the claims of deficit reduction are as hollow as claims of cost containment.

In short, the cost-containment problem (otherwise we’ll bankrupt ourselves, the president once threatened) is made worse, dramatically so, by the bill. And when we add on “a range of job-killing tax hikes and controls on all Americans,” you have a truly destructive, ill-conceived piece of legislation. If members think hard about that, rather than the arm-twisting and bravado from the White House, what the leadership is up to will become apparent. They are not, it seems, in the business of passing anything remotely resembling “reform.” They are rather attempting to avoid humiliation and prevent a tidal wave of rage from their liberal base.

That’s small consolation to moderate Democrats, who, in their quieter moments of self-reflection, understand not only that their constituents intensely dislike the bill but also that such aversion is fully justified. It would be one thing to challenge public opinion for a noble and necessary bill; it’s quite another to walk the plank for what Ryan dubs “the Democrats’ health-care train wreck.” All the tricks — reconciliation, voting but not really voting on the Senate bill — are designed to encourage lawmakers to do something many know isn’t wise substantively or politically. If Republicans are smart, they’ll spend the week forcing Democrats to look at their handiwork and reminding them that voters will hold them fully accountable for their mischief.

Read Less

All They’re Missing Are the Votes

As this report neatly sums up: “Democratic leaders scrambled Sunday to pull together enough support in the House for a make-or-break decision on health-care reform later this week, expressing optimism that a package will soon be signed into law by President Obama despite a lack of firm votes for passage.” Republicans are vowing to do all they can, but the problem is the Democrats, who are being asked to vote against their own principles and self-interest. (“Democratic leaders are struggling to assemble support amid opposition to the Senate legislation from conservative Democrats, who object to abortion-related language in the bill, and from liberals, who are disappointed about the lack of a public insurance option and other measures.”)

The White House is filled with bluster, ready to make health care the centerpiece of the 2010 race. That, I imagine, sends shivers up the spines of at-risk Democrats, who are going to have to not only run against Republicans but also defend themselves against votes for the “Cornhusker Kickback” and its ilk, as well as for the Medicare cuts, tax hikes, and small-business mandates and fines. And let’s be clear: the bill does virtually nothing positive for those who have insurance through their employers or through Medicare. Those would be the people most likely to turn out to vote.

The only way for Democrats to end a debate that’s dragging their president and them under is to vote no. If not, this week will be only the beginning, not the end, of an argument many of them don’t want to have, one that will spell the end of their political careers. That’s why getting those votes is proving to be so difficult.

As this report neatly sums up: “Democratic leaders scrambled Sunday to pull together enough support in the House for a make-or-break decision on health-care reform later this week, expressing optimism that a package will soon be signed into law by President Obama despite a lack of firm votes for passage.” Republicans are vowing to do all they can, but the problem is the Democrats, who are being asked to vote against their own principles and self-interest. (“Democratic leaders are struggling to assemble support amid opposition to the Senate legislation from conservative Democrats, who object to abortion-related language in the bill, and from liberals, who are disappointed about the lack of a public insurance option and other measures.”)

The White House is filled with bluster, ready to make health care the centerpiece of the 2010 race. That, I imagine, sends shivers up the spines of at-risk Democrats, who are going to have to not only run against Republicans but also defend themselves against votes for the “Cornhusker Kickback” and its ilk, as well as for the Medicare cuts, tax hikes, and small-business mandates and fines. And let’s be clear: the bill does virtually nothing positive for those who have insurance through their employers or through Medicare. Those would be the people most likely to turn out to vote.

The only way for Democrats to end a debate that’s dragging their president and them under is to vote no. If not, this week will be only the beginning, not the end, of an argument many of them don’t want to have, one that will spell the end of their political careers. That’s why getting those votes is proving to be so difficult.

Read Less

Not Happy to Have the Job?

I think Fred Hiatt is on to something. He muses “about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president.” Well, he certainly is snarly — toward the media, the public, his political opponents, Israel, and Democrats who want to be re-elected. The list is long. He and his staff seem to forever be whining. The Middle East is “hard.” No one understands them. The public has been duped. A happy warrior he is not.

It is, in part, understandable, since Obama doesn’t have any executive experience and seems uninterested or perhaps overwhelmed by the “doing the job” part of being president. Getting to be president — the sycophantic media coverage and the swooning crowds — was one thing. Sure, he had to put up with the gun-and-Bible huggers, as he confided to his San Francisco donors. But who doesn’t like adoring fans? At least he was good at the campaigning part. In office, however, there’s nonstop criticism. And then there are all those unpleasant facts (Paul Ryan’s, for one example; Climategate’s, for another) to which he seems ill-equipped to counter. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of legislation and doesn’t like to compromise (he only doubles down). The adoring fans have turned sullen. He’s not a practiced or skilled executive, so maybe the job is not what he imagined. Maybe it was the campaigning and winning that held the real attraction.

Hiatt remarks that “Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he’d show us, despite everything, that he’s happy we hired him.” But maybe he isn’t. He told us he’d be happy with one term. That sounded like someone not all that happy in his current job.

I think Fred Hiatt is on to something. He muses “about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn’t seem all that happy being president.” Well, he certainly is snarly — toward the media, the public, his political opponents, Israel, and Democrats who want to be re-elected. The list is long. He and his staff seem to forever be whining. The Middle East is “hard.” No one understands them. The public has been duped. A happy warrior he is not.

It is, in part, understandable, since Obama doesn’t have any executive experience and seems uninterested or perhaps overwhelmed by the “doing the job” part of being president. Getting to be president — the sycophantic media coverage and the swooning crowds — was one thing. Sure, he had to put up with the gun-and-Bible huggers, as he confided to his San Francisco donors. But who doesn’t like adoring fans? At least he was good at the campaigning part. In office, however, there’s nonstop criticism. And then there are all those unpleasant facts (Paul Ryan’s, for one example; Climategate’s, for another) to which he seems ill-equipped to counter. He doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of legislation and doesn’t like to compromise (he only doubles down). The adoring fans have turned sullen. He’s not a practiced or skilled executive, so maybe the job is not what he imagined. Maybe it was the campaigning and winning that held the real attraction.

Hiatt remarks that “Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he’d show us, despite everything, that he’s happy we hired him.” But maybe he isn’t. He told us he’d be happy with one term. That sounded like someone not all that happy in his current job.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.