Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 17, 2010

Climbing Down

What to do? Hmmm. The Obami are in a box. The Israelis are not knuckling under. There’s been a domestic blowback. So how to get out of the dead end in which they find themselves after the make-a-huge-fuss-out-of-nothing-to-bully-Israel gambit has run its course?

First, the administration — oh, this is rich — calls for the whole incident to be put in “perspective.” Excuse me? I think it was the Obami who took a bureaucratic announcement concerning an expansion of an apartment complex in an area of Jerusalem not considered an “Arab neighborhood” (one can only marvel at the widespread acceptance of the notion that Jews shouldn’t be living in certain areas of the their own capital), inflated it into a confrontation, and extended the fight through a nasty phone call from Hillary Clinton, to be followed by new demands on Israel and a Sunday bash-a-thon by the well-known foreign policy maven David Axelrod. But now we need “perspective.”

Second, both sides are beginning to deny press reports of the most egregious comments. Now Joe Biden, we are told, didn’t really say that troops would be endangered by the Israeli apartment-complex expansion. (Yes, it’s hard to recite the allegation with a straight face.) And Ambassador Michael Oren is putting out the word that he did not contend that we are at a low point in U.S.-Israeli relations. (We are, but he’s saying he didn’t say it.) Well, this is one way to climb down but the damage is frankly done and everyone — especially the Palestinians and the Iranians — can’t help noticing the sorry state of U.S.-Israeli relations.

The incident, however, will not be forgotten anytime soon. It’s more than a specific comment that one side or the other uttered. If that was all, as many a marital spat it, it could be easily put aside. No, the nasty bit of truth revealed in this incident is the degree to which the Obami’s perceptions differ from the Israelis’ and the extent to which the Obami are willing to injure the relationship with Israel for the sake of ingratiating themselves with their friends in the Muslim World. Really, that’s the larger perspective to be noted. And it’s not a pleasing one for those who support a robust and intimate relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

What to do? Hmmm. The Obami are in a box. The Israelis are not knuckling under. There’s been a domestic blowback. So how to get out of the dead end in which they find themselves after the make-a-huge-fuss-out-of-nothing-to-bully-Israel gambit has run its course?

First, the administration — oh, this is rich — calls for the whole incident to be put in “perspective.” Excuse me? I think it was the Obami who took a bureaucratic announcement concerning an expansion of an apartment complex in an area of Jerusalem not considered an “Arab neighborhood” (one can only marvel at the widespread acceptance of the notion that Jews shouldn’t be living in certain areas of the their own capital), inflated it into a confrontation, and extended the fight through a nasty phone call from Hillary Clinton, to be followed by new demands on Israel and a Sunday bash-a-thon by the well-known foreign policy maven David Axelrod. But now we need “perspective.”

Second, both sides are beginning to deny press reports of the most egregious comments. Now Joe Biden, we are told, didn’t really say that troops would be endangered by the Israeli apartment-complex expansion. (Yes, it’s hard to recite the allegation with a straight face.) And Ambassador Michael Oren is putting out the word that he did not contend that we are at a low point in U.S.-Israeli relations. (We are, but he’s saying he didn’t say it.) Well, this is one way to climb down but the damage is frankly done and everyone — especially the Palestinians and the Iranians — can’t help noticing the sorry state of U.S.-Israeli relations.

The incident, however, will not be forgotten anytime soon. It’s more than a specific comment that one side or the other uttered. If that was all, as many a marital spat it, it could be easily put aside. No, the nasty bit of truth revealed in this incident is the degree to which the Obami’s perceptions differ from the Israelis’ and the extent to which the Obami are willing to injure the relationship with Israel for the sake of ingratiating themselves with their friends in the Muslim World. Really, that’s the larger perspective to be noted. And it’s not a pleasing one for those who support a robust and intimate relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

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Bibi’s Real Mistake

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

The Israelis’ error was not in announcing a housing-complex addition, writes John Bolton. It was in trying to play ball with an American administration that seeks to dictate negotiations with intransigent Palestinians and has little interest in stopping the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bolton explains:

Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.

On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu has faithfully supported Mr. Obama’s diplomacy, hoping to build credibility with the president against the day when Israel might have to strike Iran’s weapons program preemptively. . . As time passes, Israel’s military option grows more difficult and the chances for success shrink as Iran seeks new air-defense systems and further buries and hardens nuclear facilities.

Mr. Netanyahu’s mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The rub will come, as Bolton notes, when Israel determines that it must take military action and when the Obami do all they can to prevent the Jewish state’s preemptive strike, or to punish it after the fact (“if Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities, the president will likely withhold critical replenishments of destroyed Israeli aircraft and other weapons systems”). Bolton’s advice to Bibi is to stop trying to gain chits with Obama and strike while it is still possible. He argues:

The prime minister should recalibrate his approach, and soon. Israel’s deference on Palestinian issues will not help it with Mr. Obama after a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a mistake to think that further delays in such a strike will materially change the toxic political response Israel can expect from the White House. Israel’s support will come from Congress and the American people, as opinion polls show, not from the president.

It is quite a dilemma, unlike nearly any an Israeli prime minister has faced so far. But that is because we have never had a president quite so openly dismissive of Israel’s interests. The Obami keep repeating mantras that sound increasingly insincere. There is no space between us on national security. The Americans understand the existential threat to Israel. Our bond with Israel is unshakable. But none of it rings true judging by the behavior and tactics of the Obami. Bully-boy tactics on peace talks and foot-dragging on the Iranian nuclear threat say just the opposite.

Bolton is right that Israel’s greatest aid in this remains Congress and the American public. But let’s not kid ourselves. The president matters and is indispensible both in his prerogative to cooperate or not with an Israeli strike and to react rhetorically and otherwise after the fact. Counting on Congress to check the poor instincts of a commander in chief who lacks any visceral connection to the Jewish state (and, indeed, sees it as a provocateur) is dicey at best. There simply isn’t any substitute for a president who sees American interests aligned with Israel’s and correctly perceives which parties are the problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a president right now.

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Pelosi: “We Will Do What Is Necessary”

Nancy Pelosi said in a news conference yesterday, while discussing use of the extra-constitutional “deeming rule” that would allow skittish members to avoid actually voting on the Senate health-care bill, that “we will do what is necessary to pass a health care bill.”

Ordinarily that would be simply political rhetoric. But in this situation, in which President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi seem determine to ram through a deeply unpopular bill despite ever mounting political cost to themselves and their party, one has to wonder. As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal put it yesterday regarding the 2,700-page bill, “Democrats are in danger of passing what amounts to the longest suicide note in history. Their own pollsters are telling them the public has rebelled against their tactics. So their response is to press their foot down even harder on the gas pedal.”

If they are willing to sacrifice their majorities in the House and Senate and whatever is left of President Obama’s political capital, use whatever parliamentary sleight-of-hand is needed, accept whatever street demonstrations are sure to follow, as well as a serious backlash from state governments around the country, where will they draw the line?

Will they, if necessary, resort to a latter-day version of Pride’s Purge in order to get the bill through the House?

I don’t think so. The American military is hardly analogous to the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell. But it is, perhaps, a measure of the Democrats’ desperation and determination that the thought crossed my mind last night as I listened to a clip from the speaker’s news conference.

Nancy Pelosi said in a news conference yesterday, while discussing use of the extra-constitutional “deeming rule” that would allow skittish members to avoid actually voting on the Senate health-care bill, that “we will do what is necessary to pass a health care bill.”

Ordinarily that would be simply political rhetoric. But in this situation, in which President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi seem determine to ram through a deeply unpopular bill despite ever mounting political cost to themselves and their party, one has to wonder. As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal put it yesterday regarding the 2,700-page bill, “Democrats are in danger of passing what amounts to the longest suicide note in history. Their own pollsters are telling them the public has rebelled against their tactics. So their response is to press their foot down even harder on the gas pedal.”

If they are willing to sacrifice their majorities in the House and Senate and whatever is left of President Obama’s political capital, use whatever parliamentary sleight-of-hand is needed, accept whatever street demonstrations are sure to follow, as well as a serious backlash from state governments around the country, where will they draw the line?

Will they, if necessary, resort to a latter-day version of Pride’s Purge in order to get the bill through the House?

I don’t think so. The American military is hardly analogous to the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell. But it is, perhaps, a measure of the Democrats’ desperation and determination that the thought crossed my mind last night as I listened to a clip from the speaker’s news conference.

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Glengarry Glen (Cong)Ress

This is very, very foul-mouthed, so be warned, but the Internet’s leading humorist,  Iowahawk, has brilliantly conflated the health-care debate and David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross in a screamingly funny post you can read here.

This is very, very foul-mouthed, so be warned, but the Internet’s leading humorist,  Iowahawk, has brilliantly conflated the health-care debate and David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross in a screamingly funny post you can read here.

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And What If It Passes?

Dana Milbank writes on the Slaughter Rule fight (which, to the Democrats’ dismay, is now transforming the final week’s health-care debate into a nationwide argument over the Democrats’ desperation tactics):

Republicans are demanding an up-or-down vote in the House on the full bill — never mind that they spent the better part of a year opposing an up-or-down vote on that very measure in the Senate. Democrats have come up with the inelegantly named Slaughter Solution of “deeming” and “self-executing rules” — never mind that they once argued (unsuccessfully) that such a technique was unconstitutional.

Oh, puhleez. Certainly Milbank and the Washington Post‘s readers know the difference between the Senate, where the norm is to require that legislation get by the filibuster, and the House, where the norm is to actually vote on the bill. But the false equivalence disguises just how unprincipled and unsustainable is the Democratic tricksterism. Milbank contends that the hue and cry raised by Republicans is just more gamesmanship and political obstructionism. He cracks in conclusion: “Slaughtering the rules? Well, maybe. But you think that will stop Democrats from finally getting health-care reform passed? You must be deeming.”

Well, maybe. But the problem for the Democrats is twofold. First, they have to pass the bill. The parliamentary stunt is proving embarrassing for the very members who must cast the decisive votes. But more important, if it passes, the Slaughter Rule is going to join the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase in the pantheon of disreputable deals and gambits that Republicans will run against — this year and until the whole shebang is repealed. The public proved exceptionally interested — contrary to the Democrats’ back-of-the-hand denial that voters care about “process” — in those backroom special deals. It was after all a central theme in Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts.

Why have the Democrats become ensnared in process and legitimacy questions all over again? Well, the “merits” of the bill aren’t sufficient to persuade the Democratic caucus of this legislation’s desirability or political utility in helping them keep their seats. So they resort to the same sleights of hand that helped lift Scott Brown into the Senate. The Slaughter Rule might help pass the bill, but its stench will greatly aid the Republicans’ argument that this is a noxious piece of legislation, arrived at by illegitimate means.

Dana Milbank writes on the Slaughter Rule fight (which, to the Democrats’ dismay, is now transforming the final week’s health-care debate into a nationwide argument over the Democrats’ desperation tactics):

Republicans are demanding an up-or-down vote in the House on the full bill — never mind that they spent the better part of a year opposing an up-or-down vote on that very measure in the Senate. Democrats have come up with the inelegantly named Slaughter Solution of “deeming” and “self-executing rules” — never mind that they once argued (unsuccessfully) that such a technique was unconstitutional.

Oh, puhleez. Certainly Milbank and the Washington Post‘s readers know the difference between the Senate, where the norm is to require that legislation get by the filibuster, and the House, where the norm is to actually vote on the bill. But the false equivalence disguises just how unprincipled and unsustainable is the Democratic tricksterism. Milbank contends that the hue and cry raised by Republicans is just more gamesmanship and political obstructionism. He cracks in conclusion: “Slaughtering the rules? Well, maybe. But you think that will stop Democrats from finally getting health-care reform passed? You must be deeming.”

Well, maybe. But the problem for the Democrats is twofold. First, they have to pass the bill. The parliamentary stunt is proving embarrassing for the very members who must cast the decisive votes. But more important, if it passes, the Slaughter Rule is going to join the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase in the pantheon of disreputable deals and gambits that Republicans will run against — this year and until the whole shebang is repealed. The public proved exceptionally interested — contrary to the Democrats’ back-of-the-hand denial that voters care about “process” — in those backroom special deals. It was after all a central theme in Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts.

Why have the Democrats become ensnared in process and legitimacy questions all over again? Well, the “merits” of the bill aren’t sufficient to persuade the Democratic caucus of this legislation’s desirability or political utility in helping them keep their seats. So they resort to the same sleights of hand that helped lift Scott Brown into the Senate. The Slaughter Rule might help pass the bill, but its stench will greatly aid the Republicans’ argument that this is a noxious piece of legislation, arrived at by illegitimate means.

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The Escalation of U.S.-Israel Tensions Continues

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

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Dump ObamaCare, Win the Wars

The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reaffirms the bad news the Obama administration so dearly wishes Democratic House members would ignore:

The survey found that opinions have solidified around the health-care legislation, with 48% calling it a “bad idea” and 36% viewing it as a “good idea” when presented with a choice between those two. That gap is consistent with surveys dating to the fall.

That 48 percent is up two points from last month and up one from December, the previous high, which is when we last focused intently on ObamaCare’s passage. The more attention paid to the bill, the more intense the opposition becomes.

And indeed there seems to be a related “enthusiasm” gap: “The survey found a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats.” Democrats conclude that the solution is to rev up their base by passing a health-care bill that everyone else hates quite a lot. (“Democratic voters strongly favor the legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama, particularly constituencies such as blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals. Those groups mobilized in 2008 to help elect Mr. Obama, but are far less enthusiastic than core Republicans about voting in this year’s midterm elections.”)

There are two problems with this notion. First, it does not persuade the relevant individual House members in specific swing districts who can’t win purely on the turnout of “blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals.” In fact, as we saw in Massachusetts, it’s hard in many locales to win purely with the liberal base. (When turn-out-the-base Republican strategy was all the rage, liberal pundits had no trouble debunking the idea that a party could be successful without capturing the vast center of the political spectrum.) The problem for House members in Ohio and Pennsylvania is that independent voters and conservative activists have forged an alliance in opposition to ObamaCare. Knowing that Nancy Pelosi’s base will be tickled by the passage of the bill is small consolation for these House members.

Second, passing ObamaCare, especially with the jaw-dropping procedural stunts, will quite likely drive anti-Obama voters to the polls in even greater numbers. And in a midterm election, many of those newly mobilized 2008 Obama voters aren’t going to show up. They simply aren’t that interested in voting for their local congressman. (Anti-Obama activists and independents determined to “send a message” are a different story.)

The bottom line: wavering House Democrats should be skeptical that a vote for Obama’s health-care scheme makes political sense.

There is another set of polling data of which Obama might want to take note. A robust foreign policy appeals to the American voters. Where Obama has continued and bolstered his predecessor’s policies — Iraq and Afghanistan — he gets his highest approval ratings (53 percent). And on Iran, “a 51%-38% majority in the survey supported initiating military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons if Tehran continues its nuclear program and is close to developing a weapon. Thirty-nine percent said they strongly supported military action.”

The message from this may be that Obama’s path to political success will come not from pursuing his radical domestic agenda but in successfully fighting  the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Yes, it is ironic.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reaffirms the bad news the Obama administration so dearly wishes Democratic House members would ignore:

The survey found that opinions have solidified around the health-care legislation, with 48% calling it a “bad idea” and 36% viewing it as a “good idea” when presented with a choice between those two. That gap is consistent with surveys dating to the fall.

That 48 percent is up two points from last month and up one from December, the previous high, which is when we last focused intently on ObamaCare’s passage. The more attention paid to the bill, the more intense the opposition becomes.

And indeed there seems to be a related “enthusiasm” gap: “The survey found a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats.” Democrats conclude that the solution is to rev up their base by passing a health-care bill that everyone else hates quite a lot. (“Democratic voters strongly favor the legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama, particularly constituencies such as blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals. Those groups mobilized in 2008 to help elect Mr. Obama, but are far less enthusiastic than core Republicans about voting in this year’s midterm elections.”)

There are two problems with this notion. First, it does not persuade the relevant individual House members in specific swing districts who can’t win purely on the turnout of “blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals.” In fact, as we saw in Massachusetts, it’s hard in many locales to win purely with the liberal base. (When turn-out-the-base Republican strategy was all the rage, liberal pundits had no trouble debunking the idea that a party could be successful without capturing the vast center of the political spectrum.) The problem for House members in Ohio and Pennsylvania is that independent voters and conservative activists have forged an alliance in opposition to ObamaCare. Knowing that Nancy Pelosi’s base will be tickled by the passage of the bill is small consolation for these House members.

Second, passing ObamaCare, especially with the jaw-dropping procedural stunts, will quite likely drive anti-Obama voters to the polls in even greater numbers. And in a midterm election, many of those newly mobilized 2008 Obama voters aren’t going to show up. They simply aren’t that interested in voting for their local congressman. (Anti-Obama activists and independents determined to “send a message” are a different story.)

The bottom line: wavering House Democrats should be skeptical that a vote for Obama’s health-care scheme makes political sense.

There is another set of polling data of which Obama might want to take note. A robust foreign policy appeals to the American voters. Where Obama has continued and bolstered his predecessor’s policies — Iraq and Afghanistan — he gets his highest approval ratings (53 percent). And on Iran, “a 51%-38% majority in the survey supported initiating military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons if Tehran continues its nuclear program and is close to developing a weapon. Thirty-nine percent said they strongly supported military action.”

The message from this may be that Obama’s path to political success will come not from pursuing his radical domestic agenda but in successfully fighting  the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Yes, it is ironic.

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Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

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The Moral-Equivalence Trap

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag — at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag — at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Read Less

Is It Working Yet?

Rasmussen reports: “Republican candidates have now stretched their lead over Democrats to 10 points in the Generic Congressional Ballot, their biggest lead ever in nearly three years of weekly tracking. The GOP has been leading on the ballot for months.” Gosh, might it have something to do with the nonstop focus on a health-care bill the public intensely dislikes? Could it be that talk of passing the measure by not really voting on it is one more insult to the voters’ intelligence and sense of constitutional propriety? Could just be.

Obama keeps telling everyone who will listen that ObamaCare is the salvation of his party. But a vast array of polling data and the skittishness of both Democratic incumbents and challengers suggest that the reality is otherwise. The only question remains is whether Obama and Nancy Pelosi have enough carrots and sticks to prod congressmen into voting (or “deeming and passing” or whatever they call the extra-constitutional process) for a bill no one believes constitutes “reform” and that, as is becoming increasingly obvious, is a political dud.

It may just be that the gears are grinding to a halt. Democratic Whip James Clyburn is saying that this may take until Easter, that he needs 216 votes, and that it’s going to be closer than last time. It seems that the key Democrats needed to reach the 216-count majority are digging in their heels, resisting their plunge over the “precipice.” Unlike the president, they very much want another term.

Rasmussen reports: “Republican candidates have now stretched their lead over Democrats to 10 points in the Generic Congressional Ballot, their biggest lead ever in nearly three years of weekly tracking. The GOP has been leading on the ballot for months.” Gosh, might it have something to do with the nonstop focus on a health-care bill the public intensely dislikes? Could it be that talk of passing the measure by not really voting on it is one more insult to the voters’ intelligence and sense of constitutional propriety? Could just be.

Obama keeps telling everyone who will listen that ObamaCare is the salvation of his party. But a vast array of polling data and the skittishness of both Democratic incumbents and challengers suggest that the reality is otherwise. The only question remains is whether Obama and Nancy Pelosi have enough carrots and sticks to prod congressmen into voting (or “deeming and passing” or whatever they call the extra-constitutional process) for a bill no one believes constitutes “reform” and that, as is becoming increasingly obvious, is a political dud.

It may just be that the gears are grinding to a halt. Democratic Whip James Clyburn is saying that this may take until Easter, that he needs 216 votes, and that it’s going to be closer than last time. It seems that the key Democrats needed to reach the 216-count majority are digging in their heels, resisting their plunge over the “precipice.” Unlike the president, they very much want another term.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

All Republican challengers are within single digits of Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Dana Perino on the parliamentary hanky-panky Democrats may use to pass ObamaCare: “There is another way to win passage of legislation — the old-fashioned, bipartisan discussion, school-house rock kind of way. The Bush Administration managed that even at the lowest of approval ratings — FISA reauthorization in July of ’08 comes to mind. Imagine the hootin’ and hollerin’ if George W. Bush had tried to ram through a bill like health care reform using parliamentary tricks — the left would be screaming bloody murder.”

Among its foreign-policy debacles: “In the U.S., the Obama Administration’s Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration faces bipartisan criticism for his approach to the Khartoum government headed by Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Learn more if you are in the D.C. area at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s April 13 program.

Well, he is best at campaigning. Jeffrey Goldberg on Obama’s gambit: “I think it’s fair to say that Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government.”

Obama’s pollster says a plurality of voters oppose ObamaCare.

Charles Krauthammer on the Slaughter Rule: “You have an issue of democratic decency: It is rare enough, unusual enough, and really indecent enough to change a sixth of the American economy with a bill that has not a single support from Republicans. But to do it by a procedure which doesn’t even approve of the bill itself is simply staggering.”

Democrats are saying pretty much the same thing: “A plan that would allow House Democrats to bypass a direct vote on the Senate’s healthcare bill is causing ‘discomfort,’ a key centrist Democrat said Tuesday. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), a member of the Blue Dog and New Democrat Coalitions, said that the plan to pass the plan using the so-called ‘deem and pass’ procedure is ‘wrong’ and unpopular among his constituents. ‘There’s a lot of discomfort with the reconciliation process, the self-implementing rule, where you wouldn’t have a formal vote on maybe the most important policy of the past 40 years,’ he said on Fox Business Network. ‘I have a big issue with the way they’re doing the process. I think it’s wrong and my constituents don’t like it.'”

Oops. More bad news for the Democrats (subscription required): “House Democratic leaders are still struggling to produce a final health care overhaul bill at an acceptable official cost estimate, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday they continue to plan a final vote this week. House leaders were to huddle late Tuesday afternoon, following a noon session of the full Democratic Caucus. There were reports they are having trouble drafting a bill that meets their budgetary targets. … Rank-and-file Democrats did not talk about the details, but said that the CBO scores had come up short. ‘They were less than expected’ in terms of deficit reduction, said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who plans to vote for the bill.” (And he still plans to vote for it?) Sounds kinda chaotic.

All Republican challengers are within single digits of Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Dana Perino on the parliamentary hanky-panky Democrats may use to pass ObamaCare: “There is another way to win passage of legislation — the old-fashioned, bipartisan discussion, school-house rock kind of way. The Bush Administration managed that even at the lowest of approval ratings — FISA reauthorization in July of ’08 comes to mind. Imagine the hootin’ and hollerin’ if George W. Bush had tried to ram through a bill like health care reform using parliamentary tricks — the left would be screaming bloody murder.”

Among its foreign-policy debacles: “In the U.S., the Obama Administration’s Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration faces bipartisan criticism for his approach to the Khartoum government headed by Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Learn more if you are in the D.C. area at the Foreign Policy Initiative’s April 13 program.

Well, he is best at campaigning. Jeffrey Goldberg on Obama’s gambit: “I think it’s fair to say that Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government.”

Obama’s pollster says a plurality of voters oppose ObamaCare.

Charles Krauthammer on the Slaughter Rule: “You have an issue of democratic decency: It is rare enough, unusual enough, and really indecent enough to change a sixth of the American economy with a bill that has not a single support from Republicans. But to do it by a procedure which doesn’t even approve of the bill itself is simply staggering.”

Democrats are saying pretty much the same thing: “A plan that would allow House Democrats to bypass a direct vote on the Senate’s healthcare bill is causing ‘discomfort,’ a key centrist Democrat said Tuesday. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), a member of the Blue Dog and New Democrat Coalitions, said that the plan to pass the plan using the so-called ‘deem and pass’ procedure is ‘wrong’ and unpopular among his constituents. ‘There’s a lot of discomfort with the reconciliation process, the self-implementing rule, where you wouldn’t have a formal vote on maybe the most important policy of the past 40 years,’ he said on Fox Business Network. ‘I have a big issue with the way they’re doing the process. I think it’s wrong and my constituents don’t like it.'”

Oops. More bad news for the Democrats (subscription required): “House Democratic leaders are still struggling to produce a final health care overhaul bill at an acceptable official cost estimate, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday they continue to plan a final vote this week. House leaders were to huddle late Tuesday afternoon, following a noon session of the full Democratic Caucus. There were reports they are having trouble drafting a bill that meets their budgetary targets. … Rank-and-file Democrats did not talk about the details, but said that the CBO scores had come up short. ‘They were less than expected’ in terms of deficit reduction, said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who plans to vote for the bill.” (And he still plans to vote for it?) Sounds kinda chaotic.

Read Less




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