Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 18, 2010

The Other Side of the “Peace” Process

While most of the world rattles on about how Israel’s impudent decision to build apartments for Jews in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem will harm the peace process, the real obstacles to peace staged yet another demonstration of Middle East realities. In the last two days, Palestinian terrorists fired three rockets into southern Israel. Two landed near the town of Sderot in Southern Israel on Wednesday. One adult and a child suffered from shock from that blast. Then today, a rocket hit nearby Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, killing a worker from Thailand. Thirty such rockets have landed in southern Israel since the beginning of 2010.

Apologists for the Hamas terrorists, who run Gaza as a private fiefdom, were quick to blame the attacks on splinter groups beyond the control of the supposedly responsible thugs of Hamas. Two such groups claimed responsibility. One is an al-Qaeda offshoot, and the other is none other than the al-Asqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of the supposedly moderate and peace-loving Fatah Party that controls the West Bank.

The rockets were an appropriate welcome to the Dame Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, who was in Gaza for a visit. Though Ashton won’t meet with Hamas officials, her trip to Gaza is seen as helping the ongoing campaign to lift the limited blockade of the terrorist-run enclave even though Israel allows food and medical supplies into the Strip, so there is no humanitarian crisis. Those who would like to see this Hamasistan freed from all constraints say that the “humanitarian” issues should take precedence over “politics.” But their humanitarianism takes no notice of Israelis who still live under the constant threat of terrorist missile attacks. Nor do they think Hamas should be forced to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for an end to the blockade.

Such “humanitarianism” is also blind to why Israelis are leery of any further territorial concessions to the Palestinians – because they rightly fear that the ordeal of Sderot could easily be repeated in any part of Central Israel, as well as in Jerusalem, once Israel’s forces are forced to completely withdraw from the West Bank. Gaza is not just a symbol of the failures of Palestinian nationalism, as the welfare of over a million Arabs has been ignored as Hamas pursues its pathologically violent agenda of hostility to Israel. It is also a symbol of the failure of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal policy, which Americans once hoped would allow the area to become a zone of peace and prosperity.

For all of the recent emphasis on Israel’s behavior, Gaza stands as both a lesson and a warning to those who heedlessly urge further concessions on Israel on behalf of a peace process in which the Palestinians have no real interest.

While most of the world rattles on about how Israel’s impudent decision to build apartments for Jews in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem will harm the peace process, the real obstacles to peace staged yet another demonstration of Middle East realities. In the last two days, Palestinian terrorists fired three rockets into southern Israel. Two landed near the town of Sderot in Southern Israel on Wednesday. One adult and a child suffered from shock from that blast. Then today, a rocket hit nearby Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, killing a worker from Thailand. Thirty such rockets have landed in southern Israel since the beginning of 2010.

Apologists for the Hamas terrorists, who run Gaza as a private fiefdom, were quick to blame the attacks on splinter groups beyond the control of the supposedly responsible thugs of Hamas. Two such groups claimed responsibility. One is an al-Qaeda offshoot, and the other is none other than the al-Asqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of the supposedly moderate and peace-loving Fatah Party that controls the West Bank.

The rockets were an appropriate welcome to the Dame Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, who was in Gaza for a visit. Though Ashton won’t meet with Hamas officials, her trip to Gaza is seen as helping the ongoing campaign to lift the limited blockade of the terrorist-run enclave even though Israel allows food and medical supplies into the Strip, so there is no humanitarian crisis. Those who would like to see this Hamasistan freed from all constraints say that the “humanitarian” issues should take precedence over “politics.” But their humanitarianism takes no notice of Israelis who still live under the constant threat of terrorist missile attacks. Nor do they think Hamas should be forced to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for an end to the blockade.

Such “humanitarianism” is also blind to why Israelis are leery of any further territorial concessions to the Palestinians – because they rightly fear that the ordeal of Sderot could easily be repeated in any part of Central Israel, as well as in Jerusalem, once Israel’s forces are forced to completely withdraw from the West Bank. Gaza is not just a symbol of the failures of Palestinian nationalism, as the welfare of over a million Arabs has been ignored as Hamas pursues its pathologically violent agenda of hostility to Israel. It is also a symbol of the failure of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal policy, which Americans once hoped would allow the area to become a zone of peace and prosperity.

For all of the recent emphasis on Israel’s behavior, Gaza stands as both a lesson and a warning to those who heedlessly urge further concessions on Israel on behalf of a peace process in which the Palestinians have no real interest.

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Don’t Try This at Home. No, Seriously.

So this guy, this North Korean financial-guru guy, was put in front of a firing squad because his fiscal policy was goofy.

Mr Pak Nam Ki was responsible for revaluing the communist regime’s currency last November, but his attempts to curb inflation caused nationwide misery — and leader Kim Jong Ill was not amused.

It is understood the execution is an attempt to contain civil unrest.

His last words?

What the –? We’re a Communist dictatorship. H-e-e-e-e-el-l-l-o-o-o-o. Our economy is SUPPOSED TO COLLAPSE. I thought you guys wanted massive inflation and a worthless currency — and so delivered same in a timely fashion. Had anyone seriously suggested that I revive our economy, I would have said, “First, shoot the little dimwit with the Golf Channel sunglasses.” Wait — you told me I could have cigarette first … What do I care if it causes cancer? … Secondhand smoke? Are you kidding me with the secondhand smoke? The entire country is enveloped in a cloud of toxic waste and you’re worried about secondhand smo–

Now why all of  sudden can’t I get this out of me head?

So this guy, this North Korean financial-guru guy, was put in front of a firing squad because his fiscal policy was goofy.

Mr Pak Nam Ki was responsible for revaluing the communist regime’s currency last November, but his attempts to curb inflation caused nationwide misery — and leader Kim Jong Ill was not amused.

It is understood the execution is an attempt to contain civil unrest.

His last words?

What the –? We’re a Communist dictatorship. H-e-e-e-e-el-l-l-o-o-o-o. Our economy is SUPPOSED TO COLLAPSE. I thought you guys wanted massive inflation and a worthless currency — and so delivered same in a timely fashion. Had anyone seriously suggested that I revive our economy, I would have said, “First, shoot the little dimwit with the Golf Channel sunglasses.” Wait — you told me I could have cigarette first … What do I care if it causes cancer? … Secondhand smoke? Are you kidding me with the secondhand smoke? The entire country is enveloped in a cloud of toxic waste and you’re worried about secondhand smo–

Now why all of  sudden can’t I get this out of me head?

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CAIR Seeks to Censor Books on Radical Islam

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations came into existence in the early 1990s as a political front for the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money in the United States for Hamas terrorists and their network of “charitable” institutions. Since then, the Holy Land Foundation was shut down and prosecuted by the federal government. But its CAIR spin-off has survived and prospered as both government agencies and the media have accepted its pose as a Muslim civil-liberties group as well as its rationalizations of terrorism and opposition to the struggle against Islamist extremists.

The latest instance of CAIR’s duplicitous behavior is the campaign being conducted by its Philadelphia branch to censor a series of textbooks on The World of Islam for young readers, produced by Mason Crest Published in partnership with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. They are particularly angry with one of the ten books in the set titled Radical Islam, which deals with the threat from Islamist groups. CAIR wants the books to be withdrawn from public libraries and schools. Although the books are respectful of Islam and acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor engaged in spreading hate, they still note the existence of terrorists and Islamists hate groups. While CAIR’s charges of the books being inaccurate are clearly false, their objective is to simply remove all mentions of Muslim terrorism and Islamist ideology from the public square.

For example, the group objects to this line in one the books, Muslims in America: “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” As FPRI director Harvey Sicherman told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Well, yes, some people did come to the United States to commit terrorism, and I don’t know how one can quarrel with that sentence.”

While Sicherman and FPRI’s Alan Luxenberg, who wrote Radical Islam, are right to complain that the examples cited by CAIR take their books out of context and unfairly tar a respected and valuable institution with a false charge of religious prejudice, the Muslim group’s agenda isn’t accuracy or tolerance. They regard all mentions of Islamist terrorism — a phenomenon that has become a growing homegrown threat to Americans — as a slur on every Muslim. What they want is to simply remove the conflict with radical Islam from the national conversation.

While it is to be hoped that librarians will reject this call for censorship, CAIR’s Philadelphia branch has demonstrated in the past that it has some friends in high places. In 2007, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak and Governor Ed Rendell appeared at a CAIR fundraiser in Philadelphia, setting off a firestorm of criticism from friends of Israel. Neither Sestak nor Rendell apologized for their support of the group — though the congressman, who is now running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate against incumbent political turncoat Arlen Specter, has tried to distance himself from the incident. But whether or not this comes back to haunt Sestak at the ballot box, the lesson here is the way a dangerous extremist group has been able to whitewash its past and insinuate itself into the mainstream political debate.

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How an Internet Myth Is Born

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

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Re: Did We Really Condemn the Palestinian Call to Violence?

I e-mailed White House spokesman Tommy Vietor this morning, asking for the basis for Obama’s claim that “we condemned them [the Palestinians, about their call to violence] in the same way” the administration did with Israel, concerning the housing-complex announcement. He replied this afternoon, citing the very same language I recited in my earlier post. He added: “So are we using our leverage? We are using our leverage. But we also recognize that these are difficult issues for both sides. So we are using our leverage, but we have to be realistic at the same time.” I’m not sure what that means — that it’s not “realistic” to condemn Palestinian violence?

But, wait — none of those statements, which both Vietor and I are looking at, use the word “condemn.” I have asked Vietor again: “So what was the President referring to when he said to Baier ‘we condemned them in the same way’?” Let’s see what the White House has to say.

We all know what is going on here: The White House doesn’t hold the Palestinians to any standard remotely akin to that employed for Israel, which, after all, is our ally. The president only made that point even more apparent by not accurately conveying our recent statements.

I e-mailed White House spokesman Tommy Vietor this morning, asking for the basis for Obama’s claim that “we condemned them [the Palestinians, about their call to violence] in the same way” the administration did with Israel, concerning the housing-complex announcement. He replied this afternoon, citing the very same language I recited in my earlier post. He added: “So are we using our leverage? We are using our leverage. But we also recognize that these are difficult issues for both sides. So we are using our leverage, but we have to be realistic at the same time.” I’m not sure what that means — that it’s not “realistic” to condemn Palestinian violence?

But, wait — none of those statements, which both Vietor and I are looking at, use the word “condemn.” I have asked Vietor again: “So what was the President referring to when he said to Baier ‘we condemned them in the same way’?” Let’s see what the White House has to say.

We all know what is going on here: The White House doesn’t hold the Palestinians to any standard remotely akin to that employed for Israel, which, after all, is our ally. The president only made that point even more apparent by not accurately conveying our recent statements.

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A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

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Could We Get Rid of It?

Reader Renee asks me whether ObamaCare can be repealed if signed into law. The short answer is yes. First off, if they utilize the ” deem and pass” Slaughter Rule, there will be court challenges. And those states that pass prohibitions on the requirement for citizens to buy insurance will challenge the law as well. There will also be other legal challenges. But really, all it would take is a new law.

But what about those “you can’t repeal this” provisions and “supermajority requirements” snuck into the nooks and crannies of ObamaCare? They really are meaningless. Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies of the Heritage Foundation, confirms the adage that “One Congress cannot bind a future Congress.” He explains:

The only question is whether the new statute itself meets the requirements of bicameralism and presentment (ahh, something that until recently we have rather taken for granted). If it does, then it must be given effect unless it is unconstitutional — and there is nothing unconstitutional about repealing a prior bill. While the courts will give the prior statute’s language its maximum effect, the new statute would be just as much the “law of the land,” and thus a statement in the new statute that “notwithstanding the supermajority or ‘no repeal’ requirement in the health care bill, HR XXXX is hereby repealed” would have to be given effect by the courts.

Now what’s needed for that is a new Congress willing to repeal a prior Congress’s handiwork and a president willing to sign the repeal. (Or a congressional majority so large as to override a presidential veto.)  That, as Obama keeps telling us, is what elections are for.

Reader Renee asks me whether ObamaCare can be repealed if signed into law. The short answer is yes. First off, if they utilize the ” deem and pass” Slaughter Rule, there will be court challenges. And those states that pass prohibitions on the requirement for citizens to buy insurance will challenge the law as well. There will also be other legal challenges. But really, all it would take is a new law.

But what about those “you can’t repeal this” provisions and “supermajority requirements” snuck into the nooks and crannies of ObamaCare? They really are meaningless. Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies of the Heritage Foundation, confirms the adage that “One Congress cannot bind a future Congress.” He explains:

The only question is whether the new statute itself meets the requirements of bicameralism and presentment (ahh, something that until recently we have rather taken for granted). If it does, then it must be given effect unless it is unconstitutional — and there is nothing unconstitutional about repealing a prior bill. While the courts will give the prior statute’s language its maximum effect, the new statute would be just as much the “law of the land,” and thus a statement in the new statute that “notwithstanding the supermajority or ‘no repeal’ requirement in the health care bill, HR XXXX is hereby repealed” would have to be given effect by the courts.

Now what’s needed for that is a new Congress willing to repeal a prior Congress’s handiwork and a president willing to sign the repeal. (Or a congressional majority so large as to override a presidential veto.)  That, as Obama keeps telling us, is what elections are for.

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Fomenting a Crisis Was Obama’s Choice, Not Israel’s

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

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Numbers

Steny Hoyer notwithstanding, CBO didn’t actually, finally score the bill. CBO says it “completed a preliminary estimate.” Hoyer, of course, would like to lock down wavering Democrats, but CBO cautions: “Although CBO completed a preliminary review of legislative language prior to its release, the agency has not thoroughly examined the reconciliation proposal to verify its consistency with the previous draft. This estimate is therefore preliminary, pending a review of the language of the reconciliation proposal, as well as further review and refinement of the budgetary projections.” Well, if we aren’t exactly going to vote on the bill, then I guess we don’t exactly need a firm CBO estimate.

But there are some numbers that should alarm the fence-sitters. Rasmussen tells us: “Fifty percent (50%) of U.S. voters say they are less likely to vote for their representative in Congress this November if he or she votes for the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. … 51% of voters not affiliated with either major party are less likely to support someone who votes for the legislation. Just 32% of unaffiliateds are more likely to vote for someone who supports the bill.”

So you can see why Hoyer is so desperate to grab on to a CBO number, anything, to divert members away from political realities and their own nagging sense that this is all a Ponzi scheme. And if you think there’s any doubt about that, consider this exchange between Obama and Bret Baier, where it becomes obvious what a fiscal flimflam is going on here:

BAIER: The CBO has said specifically that the $500 billion that you say that you’re going to save from Medicare is not being spent in Medicare. That this bill spends it elsewhere outside of Medicare. So you can’t have both.

OBAMA: Right.

BAIER: You either spend it on expenditures or you make Medicare more solvent. So which is it?

OBAMA: Here’s what it does. On the one hand what you’re doing is you’re eliminating insurance subsidies within Medicare that aren’t making anybody healthier but are fattening the profits of insurance companies. Everybody agrees that that is not a wise way to spend money. Now, most of those savings go right back into helping seniors, for example, closing the donut hole.

When the previous Congress passed the prescription drug bill, what they did was they left a situation which after seniors had spent a certain amount of money, suddenly they got no help and they were stuck with the bill. Now that’s a pretty expensive proposition fixing that. It wasn’t paid for at the time that that bill was passed. So that money goes back into Medicare, both to fix the donut hole, lower premiums.

All those things are important, but what’s also happening is each year we’re spending less on Medicare overall and as consequence, that lengthens the trust fund and it’s availability for seniors.

BAIER: Your chief actuary for Medicare said this, that cuts in Medicare: “cannot be simultaneously used to finance other federal outlays and extend the trust fund.” That’s your guy.

OBAMA: No — and what is absolutely true is that this will not solve our whole Medicare problem. We’re still going to have to fix Medicare over the long term.

BAIER: But it’s $38 trillion in the hole.

OBAMA: Absolutely, and that’s the reason that we’re going to have to — that’s the reason I put forward a fiscal commission based on Republicans and Democratic proposals, to make sure that we have a long-term fix for the system. The key is that this proposal doesn’t weaken Medicare, it makes it stronger for seniors currently who are receiving it. It doesn’t solve that big structural problem, Bret. Nobody’s claiming that this piece of legislation is going to solve every problem that’s been there for decades. What it does do is make sure that the trust fund is not going to be going bankrupt in seven years, according to their accounting rules —

BAIER: So you don’t buy —

OBAMA: — and in the meantime —

BAIER: — the CBO or the actuary that you can’t have it both ways?

OBAMA: No —

BAIER: That you can’t spend the money twice?

OBAMA: — no, what is absolutely true and what I do agree with is that you can’t say that you are saving on Medicare and then spend the money twice. What you can say is that we are going to take these savings, put them back to make sure that seniors are getting help on the prescription drug bill instead of that money going to, for example, insurance reform, and —

It’s embarrassing, really. And it’s a reminder of why it’s really hard to get members to vote for something that not even the president can adequately justify as fiscally honest.

Steny Hoyer notwithstanding, CBO didn’t actually, finally score the bill. CBO says it “completed a preliminary estimate.” Hoyer, of course, would like to lock down wavering Democrats, but CBO cautions: “Although CBO completed a preliminary review of legislative language prior to its release, the agency has not thoroughly examined the reconciliation proposal to verify its consistency with the previous draft. This estimate is therefore preliminary, pending a review of the language of the reconciliation proposal, as well as further review and refinement of the budgetary projections.” Well, if we aren’t exactly going to vote on the bill, then I guess we don’t exactly need a firm CBO estimate.

But there are some numbers that should alarm the fence-sitters. Rasmussen tells us: “Fifty percent (50%) of U.S. voters say they are less likely to vote for their representative in Congress this November if he or she votes for the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. … 51% of voters not affiliated with either major party are less likely to support someone who votes for the legislation. Just 32% of unaffiliateds are more likely to vote for someone who supports the bill.”

So you can see why Hoyer is so desperate to grab on to a CBO number, anything, to divert members away from political realities and their own nagging sense that this is all a Ponzi scheme. And if you think there’s any doubt about that, consider this exchange between Obama and Bret Baier, where it becomes obvious what a fiscal flimflam is going on here:

BAIER: The CBO has said specifically that the $500 billion that you say that you’re going to save from Medicare is not being spent in Medicare. That this bill spends it elsewhere outside of Medicare. So you can’t have both.

OBAMA: Right.

BAIER: You either spend it on expenditures or you make Medicare more solvent. So which is it?

OBAMA: Here’s what it does. On the one hand what you’re doing is you’re eliminating insurance subsidies within Medicare that aren’t making anybody healthier but are fattening the profits of insurance companies. Everybody agrees that that is not a wise way to spend money. Now, most of those savings go right back into helping seniors, for example, closing the donut hole.

When the previous Congress passed the prescription drug bill, what they did was they left a situation which after seniors had spent a certain amount of money, suddenly they got no help and they were stuck with the bill. Now that’s a pretty expensive proposition fixing that. It wasn’t paid for at the time that that bill was passed. So that money goes back into Medicare, both to fix the donut hole, lower premiums.

All those things are important, but what’s also happening is each year we’re spending less on Medicare overall and as consequence, that lengthens the trust fund and it’s availability for seniors.

BAIER: Your chief actuary for Medicare said this, that cuts in Medicare: “cannot be simultaneously used to finance other federal outlays and extend the trust fund.” That’s your guy.

OBAMA: No — and what is absolutely true is that this will not solve our whole Medicare problem. We’re still going to have to fix Medicare over the long term.

BAIER: But it’s $38 trillion in the hole.

OBAMA: Absolutely, and that’s the reason that we’re going to have to — that’s the reason I put forward a fiscal commission based on Republicans and Democratic proposals, to make sure that we have a long-term fix for the system. The key is that this proposal doesn’t weaken Medicare, it makes it stronger for seniors currently who are receiving it. It doesn’t solve that big structural problem, Bret. Nobody’s claiming that this piece of legislation is going to solve every problem that’s been there for decades. What it does do is make sure that the trust fund is not going to be going bankrupt in seven years, according to their accounting rules —

BAIER: So you don’t buy —

OBAMA: — and in the meantime —

BAIER: — the CBO or the actuary that you can’t have it both ways?

OBAMA: No —

BAIER: That you can’t spend the money twice?

OBAMA: — no, what is absolutely true and what I do agree with is that you can’t say that you are saving on Medicare and then spend the money twice. What you can say is that we are going to take these savings, put them back to make sure that seniors are getting help on the prescription drug bill instead of that money going to, for example, insurance reform, and —

It’s embarrassing, really. And it’s a reminder of why it’s really hard to get members to vote for something that not even the president can adequately justify as fiscally honest.

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Re: Don’t Be Morose! Get Even!

Jen, the best part of Brooks’s V8 moment is the line about how Obama really could have changed Washington if the poor, innocent creature didn’t get “so sucked into the system…”

This is a misreading of reality on at least two fronts. First, Obama didn’t get sucked into anything. Upon taking office he decided to put health-care reform in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They’d do all the boring process work and he would make the dazzling prime-time pitches. Second, once that plan failed, the president threw his weight behind a campaign that seeks to subvert the “system.” The misuse of reconciliation and the Slaughter Rule don’t represent Washington business as usual. The president’s anti-comprehension of the bill’s contents is not just how things always work in D.C. Collectively, it all constitutes a hijacking of the system.

The much-derided system was about to halt this runaway train. Yet, here we are. The system is imperfect; what’s happening now is obscene.

Jen, the best part of Brooks’s V8 moment is the line about how Obama really could have changed Washington if the poor, innocent creature didn’t get “so sucked into the system…”

This is a misreading of reality on at least two fronts. First, Obama didn’t get sucked into anything. Upon taking office he decided to put health-care reform in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They’d do all the boring process work and he would make the dazzling prime-time pitches. Second, once that plan failed, the president threw his weight behind a campaign that seeks to subvert the “system.” The misuse of reconciliation and the Slaughter Rule don’t represent Washington business as usual. The president’s anti-comprehension of the bill’s contents is not just how things always work in D.C. Collectively, it all constitutes a hijacking of the system.

The much-derided system was about to halt this runaway train. Yet, here we are. The system is imperfect; what’s happening now is obscene.

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Making It Hard for His Side

If ObamaCare passes, it will be in spite of and not because of Obama. Let’s review what he has contributed to the effort in the last day. First, there was his appallingly weak interview with Bret Baier, in which he seemed at odds to explain his own bill. And what “facts” he offered seemed to be made up.

Second, Pew is out with another poll showing the president’s approval dropping to 46 percent. By a 48-to-38 percent margin, voters oppose ObamaCare. A huge 71 percent of those polled say that the cost of health care will go up under the bill. The Center Right coalition is amassing: “Fully 81% of Republicans generally oppose the current bills while 62% of Democrats generally favor them. Far more independents still oppose (56%) than favor (32%) the health care bills.”

Third, Obama once again made this issue all about him. He is now pleading with House members to save his presidency. After all, what is really important here is that he not be disgraced. I’m sure members will be delighted to know that such is the rationale for casting potentially career-ending votes.

Now — all is not lost, of course, for the Democrats. Not by a long shot. CBO has coughed up its scoring, showing that the bill will cost $940B over ten years. Minus the Doc Fix. And with the accounting gimmicks, of course. If a House Democrat was inclined to help the president, this may help give cover. For those who have long stopped buying the funny numbers, this will be a yawn.

So it comes down to this for on-the-fence House Democrats: take one for the team (i.e., to save Obama) or save themselves from the wrath of the voters? We’ll find out if and when they vote, as Steny Hoyer promised, on Sunday.

If ObamaCare passes, it will be in spite of and not because of Obama. Let’s review what he has contributed to the effort in the last day. First, there was his appallingly weak interview with Bret Baier, in which he seemed at odds to explain his own bill. And what “facts” he offered seemed to be made up.

Second, Pew is out with another poll showing the president’s approval dropping to 46 percent. By a 48-to-38 percent margin, voters oppose ObamaCare. A huge 71 percent of those polled say that the cost of health care will go up under the bill. The Center Right coalition is amassing: “Fully 81% of Republicans generally oppose the current bills while 62% of Democrats generally favor them. Far more independents still oppose (56%) than favor (32%) the health care bills.”

Third, Obama once again made this issue all about him. He is now pleading with House members to save his presidency. After all, what is really important here is that he not be disgraced. I’m sure members will be delighted to know that such is the rationale for casting potentially career-ending votes.

Now — all is not lost, of course, for the Democrats. Not by a long shot. CBO has coughed up its scoring, showing that the bill will cost $940B over ten years. Minus the Doc Fix. And with the accounting gimmicks, of course. If a House Democrat was inclined to help the president, this may help give cover. For those who have long stopped buying the funny numbers, this will be a yawn.

So it comes down to this for on-the-fence House Democrats: take one for the team (i.e., to save Obama) or save themselves from the wrath of the voters? We’ll find out if and when they vote, as Steny Hoyer promised, on Sunday.

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Did We Really Condemn the Palestinian Call to Violence?

In his interview with Bret Baier on Fox News yesterday, Obama said: “And what we’ve said is we need both sides to take steps to make sure that we can rebuild trust, and yesterday when there were riots by the Palestinians against a synagogue that had reopened, we condemned them in the same way because what we need right now is both sides to recognize that is in their interests to move this peace process forward” (emphasis added).

But did we really condemn the Palestinian violence? On March 16 (the day to which the president refers), the State Department spokesman had this to say: “As we said yesterday, we are concerned about statements that could potentially risk incitement because we recognize that there’s a great deal of tension in the region right now. Today, you had Hamas say ‘Call for a day of rage.’ This is irresponsible.” No use of the word condemn.

At the White House, Robert Gibbs had this to say: “Well, again, as I said earlier today and as I said last week when asked about this, there are actions that each side takes that hurt the trust needed to bring these two sides together. The State Department reiterated — or I will reiterate what the State Department said yesterday about the deep concern that we have around inflammatory rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem. That’s not helpful on that side of the ledger.” And later there was this exchange:

Q: You partially answered this, but Israel claims over the years it’s tried to protect holy sites — Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites. Have you ever discussed this with the Palestinians and asked them to refrain from attacks on either people’s holy sites?

MR. GIBBS: We have — I would say — I’m taking this a little bit broader — I would say the types of things that you’ve heard us and, quite frankly, administrations in the past discuss as unhelpful to moving this process along are — is any call for the incitement of violence. Again, I mentioned the State Department — reiterated the State Department’s guidance on what we believed was unhelpful rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem as a real-time example of the type of action and rhetoric that is not in any way productive and undermines the trust that’s needed for both of these sides to sit down and directly address their issues and move forward on peace.

So where has the U.S. “condemned” the Palestinian violence? Not in any public briefing or statement so far.

Even if we did hold the Palestinians to the same standard as we do Israel, is a housing announcement concerning the Israeli capital really equivalent to a call to violence? That’s the question being ignored. Israel and its supporters would find such a notion preposterous. The Obami do not. But we’ve yet to see — despite the president’s comments — that they are even willing to extend the same condemnation language to their Palestinian friends.

In his interview with Bret Baier on Fox News yesterday, Obama said: “And what we’ve said is we need both sides to take steps to make sure that we can rebuild trust, and yesterday when there were riots by the Palestinians against a synagogue that had reopened, we condemned them in the same way because what we need right now is both sides to recognize that is in their interests to move this peace process forward” (emphasis added).

But did we really condemn the Palestinian violence? On March 16 (the day to which the president refers), the State Department spokesman had this to say: “As we said yesterday, we are concerned about statements that could potentially risk incitement because we recognize that there’s a great deal of tension in the region right now. Today, you had Hamas say ‘Call for a day of rage.’ This is irresponsible.” No use of the word condemn.

At the White House, Robert Gibbs had this to say: “Well, again, as I said earlier today and as I said last week when asked about this, there are actions that each side takes that hurt the trust needed to bring these two sides together. The State Department reiterated — or I will reiterate what the State Department said yesterday about the deep concern that we have around inflammatory rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem. That’s not helpful on that side of the ledger.” And later there was this exchange:

Q: You partially answered this, but Israel claims over the years it’s tried to protect holy sites — Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites. Have you ever discussed this with the Palestinians and asked them to refrain from attacks on either people’s holy sites?

MR. GIBBS: We have — I would say — I’m taking this a little bit broader — I would say the types of things that you’ve heard us and, quite frankly, administrations in the past discuss as unhelpful to moving this process along are — is any call for the incitement of violence. Again, I mentioned the State Department — reiterated the State Department’s guidance on what we believed was unhelpful rhetoric around the rededication of a synagogue in Jerusalem as a real-time example of the type of action and rhetoric that is not in any way productive and undermines the trust that’s needed for both of these sides to sit down and directly address their issues and move forward on peace.

So where has the U.S. “condemned” the Palestinian violence? Not in any public briefing or statement so far.

Even if we did hold the Palestinians to the same standard as we do Israel, is a housing announcement concerning the Israeli capital really equivalent to a call to violence? That’s the question being ignored. Israel and its supporters would find such a notion preposterous. The Obami do not. But we’ve yet to see — despite the president’s comments — that they are even willing to extend the same condemnation language to their Palestinian friends.

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Mexico Needs a Sound Counterinsurgency Strategy

Here’s a conundrum: last year President Felipe Calderon deployed almost 10,000 troops to Ciudad Juarez, the city that sits across the border from El Paso, in response to a plague of drug-related violence. The result: more murder, not less. How bad has it gotten? The Wall Street Journal noted at the end of last year: “In 2008, 1,600 people were killed in drug-related hits. This year, more than 2,500 have died. By some estimates, Juárez’s approximately 165 deaths per 100,000 residents make it the murder capital of the world. That compares with 48 violent deaths per 100,000 residents of Baghdad.” The situation isn’t improving this year. Among the recent victims are a pregnant employee of the U.S. consulate and her husband, and the husband of another consulate worker.

Why isn’t the army getting the job done? It’s possible to point to deficiencies in training, doctrine, and equipment among Mexico’s conscript forces. Under the Merida Initiative, signed in 2007, the U.S. agreed to provide substantial aid and equipment to the Mexican armed forces, but the supplies have been slow to arrive. But there is a more fundamental problem lurking in plain sight: the Mexican army’s rotation policies. As the Journal notes, “Most troops rotate out after two-month assignments.” Two months? Give me a break. No wonder the Mexican army can’t get a handle on Juarez or other violence-plagued areas. The key to successful counterinsurgency — and that’s what is required here — is knowledge of the local area. You can’t acquire that knowledge in two months even if you’re operating in your own country. Bad guys who don’t wear uniforms find it easy to give the slip to clumsy security forces that lack good intelligence on their movements. That’s a lesson the U.S. armed forces learned the hard way in Iraq, and that the Mexican military is now learning in its own cities.

The good news is that failure isn’t an option. While it’s quite possible that the U.S. could have left Iraq unpacified, it’s inconceivable that the Mexican government could allow major parts of its own territory to spin out of control indefinitely. Sooner or later a more effective response will have to be formulated. It should begin with an end to the revolving door for troops. If the army is going to be effective, units have to be deployed for extended periods. Oh, and lose the reliance on conscripts. They’re not as effective as professional volunteers.

Here’s a conundrum: last year President Felipe Calderon deployed almost 10,000 troops to Ciudad Juarez, the city that sits across the border from El Paso, in response to a plague of drug-related violence. The result: more murder, not less. How bad has it gotten? The Wall Street Journal noted at the end of last year: “In 2008, 1,600 people were killed in drug-related hits. This year, more than 2,500 have died. By some estimates, Juárez’s approximately 165 deaths per 100,000 residents make it the murder capital of the world. That compares with 48 violent deaths per 100,000 residents of Baghdad.” The situation isn’t improving this year. Among the recent victims are a pregnant employee of the U.S. consulate and her husband, and the husband of another consulate worker.

Why isn’t the army getting the job done? It’s possible to point to deficiencies in training, doctrine, and equipment among Mexico’s conscript forces. Under the Merida Initiative, signed in 2007, the U.S. agreed to provide substantial aid and equipment to the Mexican armed forces, but the supplies have been slow to arrive. But there is a more fundamental problem lurking in plain sight: the Mexican army’s rotation policies. As the Journal notes, “Most troops rotate out after two-month assignments.” Two months? Give me a break. No wonder the Mexican army can’t get a handle on Juarez or other violence-plagued areas. The key to successful counterinsurgency — and that’s what is required here — is knowledge of the local area. You can’t acquire that knowledge in two months even if you’re operating in your own country. Bad guys who don’t wear uniforms find it easy to give the slip to clumsy security forces that lack good intelligence on their movements. That’s a lesson the U.S. armed forces learned the hard way in Iraq, and that the Mexican military is now learning in its own cities.

The good news is that failure isn’t an option. While it’s quite possible that the U.S. could have left Iraq unpacified, it’s inconceivable that the Mexican government could allow major parts of its own territory to spin out of control indefinitely. Sooner or later a more effective response will have to be formulated. It should begin with an end to the revolving door for troops. If the army is going to be effective, units have to be deployed for extended periods. Oh, and lose the reliance on conscripts. They’re not as effective as professional volunteers.

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Don’t Be Morose! Get Even!

David Brooks says he’s out on the ledge, morose, and about to have a “Howard Beale” moment. Just last week he was telling us that Obama was a misunderstood moderate. Now he confesses that Obama is aiding and abetting unlawfulness of the worst kind. He explains:

Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.
Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?

Not very moderate. Not even defensible. Brooks is left, as many of us are, blinking in disbelief:

It’s unbelievable that people even talk about this with a straight face. Do they really think the American people are going to stand for this? Do they think it will really fool anybody if a Democratic House member goes back to his district and says, “I didn’t vote for the bill. I just voted for the amendments.” Do they think all of America is insane? … It’s just Democrats wanting to pass a bill, any bill, and shredding anything they have to in order to get it done.

So I think we can agree that this is not moderate, not thoughtful, and not Burkean. (And it turns out that a perfectly creased pants leg was not a sign that “he’ll be a very good president.”) What we have learned is that Obama is willing to use radical means to defy the popular will and enact a massive expansion of government. Maybe the rubes understand Obama fairly well, after all. They figured out quite some time ago that the entire campaign message — change, hope, post-partisanship, nonideological, fiscally sober — was a ruse. And they understand how immoderate both his methods and his aims are.

I personally am not out on a ledge. (But then I never bought the whole Obama campaign whoop-de-do.) Should this pass, I have infinite faith that the American people will deliver a mortal electoral blow to those politicians who thought they could shred anything to get their way. And then bit by bit — or in one fell swoop — the elected replacements for the shredders will rip out ObamaCare. So there’s no reason to be morose. Elections are great corrective exercises, and one is just around the corner.

David Brooks says he’s out on the ledge, morose, and about to have a “Howard Beale” moment. Just last week he was telling us that Obama was a misunderstood moderate. Now he confesses that Obama is aiding and abetting unlawfulness of the worst kind. He explains:

Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via “deem and pass” — a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.
Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?

Not very moderate. Not even defensible. Brooks is left, as many of us are, blinking in disbelief:

It’s unbelievable that people even talk about this with a straight face. Do they really think the American people are going to stand for this? Do they think it will really fool anybody if a Democratic House member goes back to his district and says, “I didn’t vote for the bill. I just voted for the amendments.” Do they think all of America is insane? … It’s just Democrats wanting to pass a bill, any bill, and shredding anything they have to in order to get it done.

So I think we can agree that this is not moderate, not thoughtful, and not Burkean. (And it turns out that a perfectly creased pants leg was not a sign that “he’ll be a very good president.”) What we have learned is that Obama is willing to use radical means to defy the popular will and enact a massive expansion of government. Maybe the rubes understand Obama fairly well, after all. They figured out quite some time ago that the entire campaign message — change, hope, post-partisanship, nonideological, fiscally sober — was a ruse. And they understand how immoderate both his methods and his aims are.

I personally am not out on a ledge. (But then I never bought the whole Obama campaign whoop-de-do.) Should this pass, I have infinite faith that the American people will deliver a mortal electoral blow to those politicians who thought they could shred anything to get their way. And then bit by bit — or in one fell swoop — the elected replacements for the shredders will rip out ObamaCare. So there’s no reason to be morose. Elections are great corrective exercises, and one is just around the corner.

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Oren Explains, We Translate

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

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Health-Care Larceny

In a perfectly crafted paragraph, Michael Gerson sums up where we are on health-care “reform” (more about that later):

The most visible Democratic domestic priority of the past 40 years must be smuggled into law, lest too many Americans notice. Politicians claiming the idealism of saints have adopted the tactics of burglars. Victory, if it comes, will seem less like a parade than a heist.

Why the need for the lawlessness? Because the president has failed to persuade the country of its merits, and he and Nancy Pelosi have their hands full trying to wrestle the final House Democrats to the mat.

The bill is in no meaningful sense “reform,” which was the premise of the entire undertaking. For example, it was going to slow the increase in premiums. But even the AP acknowledges, “Premiums are likely to keep going up even if the health care bill passes, experts say. If cost controls work as advertised, annual increases would level off with time. But don’t look for a rollback. Instead, the main reason premiums would be more affordable is that new government tax credits would help cover the cost for millions of people.” Hmm. This was precisely the point Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Paul Ryan made at the health-care summit.

And what about budget neutrality or entitlement “reform”? Gerson says that’s not happening:

The problem here is not only accounting tricks and the assumption of unprecedented courage on the part of future Congresses when it comes to Medicare cuts — though these are bad enough. The main source of irresponsibility is that the revenue-gaining measures in the health bill — particularly Medicare cuts and taxing “Cadillac” health plans — would be used to create a new entitlement instead of repairing an existing one. …

The unfunded liability of America’s current entitlements is more than $100 trillion. Medicare will eventually require a massive infusion of cash under a congressional entitlement fix. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare actuary have pressed the point that Medicare savings can be used to pay future Medicare benefits or to finance new spending outside Medicare — not both. When the entitlement crisis arrives, Obama will have already spent much of the resources required to meet it, leaving growth-killing new taxes as the main remaining option.

So you can see why we’re down to parliamentary larceny. It’s probably what we should have expected from a bunch of Chicago pols. But it’s certainly not very hope-n-changey. It’s probably not even constitutional.

In a perfectly crafted paragraph, Michael Gerson sums up where we are on health-care “reform” (more about that later):

The most visible Democratic domestic priority of the past 40 years must be smuggled into law, lest too many Americans notice. Politicians claiming the idealism of saints have adopted the tactics of burglars. Victory, if it comes, will seem less like a parade than a heist.

Why the need for the lawlessness? Because the president has failed to persuade the country of its merits, and he and Nancy Pelosi have their hands full trying to wrestle the final House Democrats to the mat.

The bill is in no meaningful sense “reform,” which was the premise of the entire undertaking. For example, it was going to slow the increase in premiums. But even the AP acknowledges, “Premiums are likely to keep going up even if the health care bill passes, experts say. If cost controls work as advertised, annual increases would level off with time. But don’t look for a rollback. Instead, the main reason premiums would be more affordable is that new government tax credits would help cover the cost for millions of people.” Hmm. This was precisely the point Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Paul Ryan made at the health-care summit.

And what about budget neutrality or entitlement “reform”? Gerson says that’s not happening:

The problem here is not only accounting tricks and the assumption of unprecedented courage on the part of future Congresses when it comes to Medicare cuts — though these are bad enough. The main source of irresponsibility is that the revenue-gaining measures in the health bill — particularly Medicare cuts and taxing “Cadillac” health plans — would be used to create a new entitlement instead of repairing an existing one. …

The unfunded liability of America’s current entitlements is more than $100 trillion. Medicare will eventually require a massive infusion of cash under a congressional entitlement fix. Both the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare actuary have pressed the point that Medicare savings can be used to pay future Medicare benefits or to finance new spending outside Medicare — not both. When the entitlement crisis arrives, Obama will have already spent much of the resources required to meet it, leaving growth-killing new taxes as the main remaining option.

So you can see why we’re down to parliamentary larceny. It’s probably what we should have expected from a bunch of Chicago pols. But it’s certainly not very hope-n-changey. It’s probably not even constitutional.

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Here’s a Housing-Freeze Idea

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse asks a marvelous question: “How about an Arab ‘Settlement Freeze’?” Her point is a cogent one:

Of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael currently occupy at least 800 times more land than descendants of Isaac. The 21 states of the Arab League routinely announce plans of building expansion. Saudi Arabia estimates that 555,000 housing units were built over the past several years. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced during a meeting in Baghdad last year that “Some 10,000 units will be built in each province [of Iraq] with 100 square meters per unit” to accommodate citizens whose housing needs have not been met for a long time. Egypt has established 10 new cities since 1996. They are Tenth of Ramadan, Sixth of October, Al Sadat, Al Shurouq, Al Obour, New Damietta, New Beni Sueif, New Assiut, New Luxor, and New Cairo.

In 2006 the Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammad Naji Atri, announced a new five-year development plan that aims to supply 687,000 housing units. Kuwait expects to have a demand for approximately 100,000 private housing units by 2010. Last year Jordan’s King Abdullah launched a National Housing Initiative, which aims to build 120,000 properties for low-income Jordanians.

And the litany of housing goes on, as does the history of Arab rejectionism, which seeks to displace the Jewish state — housing units and all — from the region. As Wisse argues, “It is unfortunate that Arabs obsess about building in Israel rather than aiming for the development of their own superabundant lands. But why should America encourage their hegemonic ambitions?”

So why focus on the tiny Jewish state and 5,000 units in the undefined “East Jerusalem”? (By the way, the capitalization of “East” now employed by every journalistic outfit on the planet is misleading. There is east or eastern Jerusalem; there is no legal entity “East Jerusalem.”) We return then to her query:

Why does the White House take issue with the construction of housing for Jewish citizens within the boundaries of their own country? The same White House raised no objection when Jordan recently began systematically stripping citizenship from thousands of its Palestinian citizens rather than providing new housing units for them in a land much larger than Israel.

Perhaps Israel has been at fault for not doggedly insisting on unconditional acceptance of its sovereign existence, and for not demanding that Arab rulers adhere to the U.N. Charter’s guarantee of “equal rights of . . . nations large and small.” Preposterous as they would have thought it, perhaps Israelis ought to have called for a freeze on Arab settlements to correspond to unreasonable Arab demands on them.

It is a measure of how cockeyed our thinking has become that there is only a single country in the region — the one that affords its Arab minority more civil liberties than in the surrounding Arab states — that must play “Mother-may-I?” when it comes to housing its own population. Now there’s an “affront.”

COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse asks a marvelous question: “How about an Arab ‘Settlement Freeze’?” Her point is a cogent one:

Of the children of Abraham, the descendants of Ishmael currently occupy at least 800 times more land than descendants of Isaac. The 21 states of the Arab League routinely announce plans of building expansion. Saudi Arabia estimates that 555,000 housing units were built over the past several years. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced during a meeting in Baghdad last year that “Some 10,000 units will be built in each province [of Iraq] with 100 square meters per unit” to accommodate citizens whose housing needs have not been met for a long time. Egypt has established 10 new cities since 1996. They are Tenth of Ramadan, Sixth of October, Al Sadat, Al Shurouq, Al Obour, New Damietta, New Beni Sueif, New Assiut, New Luxor, and New Cairo.

In 2006 the Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammad Naji Atri, announced a new five-year development plan that aims to supply 687,000 housing units. Kuwait expects to have a demand for approximately 100,000 private housing units by 2010. Last year Jordan’s King Abdullah launched a National Housing Initiative, which aims to build 120,000 properties for low-income Jordanians.

And the litany of housing goes on, as does the history of Arab rejectionism, which seeks to displace the Jewish state — housing units and all — from the region. As Wisse argues, “It is unfortunate that Arabs obsess about building in Israel rather than aiming for the development of their own superabundant lands. But why should America encourage their hegemonic ambitions?”

So why focus on the tiny Jewish state and 5,000 units in the undefined “East Jerusalem”? (By the way, the capitalization of “East” now employed by every journalistic outfit on the planet is misleading. There is east or eastern Jerusalem; there is no legal entity “East Jerusalem.”) We return then to her query:

Why does the White House take issue with the construction of housing for Jewish citizens within the boundaries of their own country? The same White House raised no objection when Jordan recently began systematically stripping citizenship from thousands of its Palestinian citizens rather than providing new housing units for them in a land much larger than Israel.

Perhaps Israel has been at fault for not doggedly insisting on unconditional acceptance of its sovereign existence, and for not demanding that Arab rulers adhere to the U.N. Charter’s guarantee of “equal rights of . . . nations large and small.” Preposterous as they would have thought it, perhaps Israelis ought to have called for a freeze on Arab settlements to correspond to unreasonable Arab demands on them.

It is a measure of how cockeyed our thinking has become that there is only a single country in the region — the one that affords its Arab minority more civil liberties than in the surrounding Arab states — that must play “Mother-may-I?” when it comes to housing its own population. Now there’s an “affront.”

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America in Retreat

Lee Smith writes that Obama’s Israel bash-a-thon is precisely the wrong strategic move:

Of course, Washington shaming Israel will please the Arabs—even U.S. allies like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, Egypt, that cheered on Jerusalem when it took on Iran’s assets Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, the Arabs have been compelled by the American strong horse to swallow their pride for decades. But given that Arabs do not air their own dirty laundry for fear it will make them look weak, our public humiliation of an ally will earn us only contempt.

But here’s the most important thing: Even if you discount the centrality of shame and honor as operative principles in the Middle East, the Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel’s stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that’s exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

So the danger here is not that the nonexistent peace process will be imperiled but that this sends the wrong signal to Iran. We are not standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel but are moving toward a “containment” policy that imagines we can defend allies beneath our nuclear umbrella but not deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons. In this light we see that “in rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran.” And the result, as we dump Israel and abandon efforts to stymie Iran’s ambitions, Smith says, is that “the American order of the region will be superseded by a new order in which we will play a secondary role at best. More likely, as Ahmadinejad and Assad say, it will mean a Middle East without American influence.”

If Smith is correct, then it is inaccurate to say that the last week is a dangerous distraction from our Iran policy. Rather, this is our Iran policy. Hobble and humiliate an ally, embolden adversaries, provide breathing space to the mullahs (did someone say something about sanctions at the end of 2009?), and hope that allowing the revolutionary Islamic state to acquire nuclear weapons will not come to be seen as the most dangerous foreign-policy calculation since the Munich Agreement.

How deliberate all this all is may be a matter of debate. What’s less in dispute is the inevitable result of a series of misguided moves by the Obama administration — each reinforcing the notion that we stand not with our allies or for our own national interests but merely for the proposition that conflict avoidance is the highest ideal. Obama intended to address “our standing in the world”. Little did we imagine where this was heading — a more innocuous and less reliable America, which is fast becoming an easier mark for despotic regimes.

Lee Smith writes that Obama’s Israel bash-a-thon is precisely the wrong strategic move:

Of course, Washington shaming Israel will please the Arabs—even U.S. allies like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, Egypt, that cheered on Jerusalem when it took on Iran’s assets Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, the Arabs have been compelled by the American strong horse to swallow their pride for decades. But given that Arabs do not air their own dirty laundry for fear it will make them look weak, our public humiliation of an ally will earn us only contempt.

But here’s the most important thing: Even if you discount the centrality of shame and honor as operative principles in the Middle East, the Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel’s stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that’s exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

So the danger here is not that the nonexistent peace process will be imperiled but that this sends the wrong signal to Iran. We are not standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel but are moving toward a “containment” policy that imagines we can defend allies beneath our nuclear umbrella but not deprive the mullahs of nuclear weapons. In this light we see that “in rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran.” And the result, as we dump Israel and abandon efforts to stymie Iran’s ambitions, Smith says, is that “the American order of the region will be superseded by a new order in which we will play a secondary role at best. More likely, as Ahmadinejad and Assad say, it will mean a Middle East without American influence.”

If Smith is correct, then it is inaccurate to say that the last week is a dangerous distraction from our Iran policy. Rather, this is our Iran policy. Hobble and humiliate an ally, embolden adversaries, provide breathing space to the mullahs (did someone say something about sanctions at the end of 2009?), and hope that allowing the revolutionary Islamic state to acquire nuclear weapons will not come to be seen as the most dangerous foreign-policy calculation since the Munich Agreement.

How deliberate all this all is may be a matter of debate. What’s less in dispute is the inevitable result of a series of misguided moves by the Obama administration — each reinforcing the notion that we stand not with our allies or for our own national interests but merely for the proposition that conflict avoidance is the highest ideal. Obama intended to address “our standing in the world”. Little did we imagine where this was heading — a more innocuous and less reliable America, which is fast becoming an easier mark for despotic regimes.

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Why Obama Got Everything Wrong

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No (except from the Obami): “Does anyone think that Iran would be shipping arms to terrorists or building nuclear weapons if it was a democracy?” asks Elliott Abrams.

Predictable (when you nominate Tony Rezko’s banker): “It could be a rough few months ahead for Alexi Giannoulias. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial will proceed on June 3, as scheduled. Blagojevich’s team had been seeking a postponement until November, saying they didn’t have enough time to prepare. … But that’s not all Giannoulias will be dealing with. By late April, the Giannoulias family bank must come up with $85 million in order to comply with a federal agreement and keep operating. Giannoulias has already said that he expects the bank to fail.”

Pathetic: “Rounding up the votes for health care has also proven difficult. House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy Newspapers that final consideration of the bill may not occur until Easter (April 4) or later. He is dealing with dozens of members who refuse to commit to a firm position in hopes their silence will force the leadership to pull the bill and move on to other issues. ‘Just say nothing,’ is how one Democratic staffer explained the strategy being taken by many members. ‘Maybe it will just go away, and we can avoid a tough vote this close to the election.’” Maybe it will just go away? Profiles in courage they aren’t.

Close: According to Byron York, “there are 209 votes against the bill at this moment, leaving opponents seven short of being able to defeat it. By the same count, there are 204 votes for the bill, leaving the Democratic leadership 12 short of being able to pass it. There are 18 votes thought to be undecided.” In other words, seven votes away from Obama’s Waterloo.

Cranky Big Labor bosses descend on the White House: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is headed into a meeting with President Obama this afternoon after the White House and Congressional leaders have begun to discuss a higher-than-expected excise tax on some health care plans, in order to maintain their claim that health care legislation will reduce the deficit, a source involved in health care talks said.” Remember that the overwhelming support of core Democrats in midterm elections is what’s supposed to counteract the tsunami of opposition to ObamaCare. But what if that support is only lukewarm?

Obvious who you want making national-security calls. “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, contradicted the attorney general on Wednesday when he said that actually, the military still wants to capture Osama bin Laden alive. ‘I think that is something that is understood by everyone,’ he said. But perhaps not by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who on Tuesday told a House subcommittee that the chances of capturing Mr. bin Laden alive were ‘infinitesimal’ and that he would either be killed by the United States or killed by his own people.”

Common, among many observers these days: “Arab world says hopes in Obama are dwindling.”

Picky, picky: “From Maine to Hawaii, Americans send people to Washington, D.C., to be their representatives — to cast votes that represent the will of the people who elected them to do the job. But now, as the House of Representatives moves toward approving one of the most sweeping pieces of domestic legislation in U.S. history, critics are fuming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to usher through a health care bill … without a vote.”

No (except from the Obami): “Does anyone think that Iran would be shipping arms to terrorists or building nuclear weapons if it was a democracy?” asks Elliott Abrams.

Predictable (when you nominate Tony Rezko’s banker): “It could be a rough few months ahead for Alexi Giannoulias. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s trial will proceed on June 3, as scheduled. Blagojevich’s team had been seeking a postponement until November, saying they didn’t have enough time to prepare. … But that’s not all Giannoulias will be dealing with. By late April, the Giannoulias family bank must come up with $85 million in order to comply with a federal agreement and keep operating. Giannoulias has already said that he expects the bank to fail.”

Pathetic: “Rounding up the votes for health care has also proven difficult. House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn told McClatchy Newspapers that final consideration of the bill may not occur until Easter (April 4) or later. He is dealing with dozens of members who refuse to commit to a firm position in hopes their silence will force the leadership to pull the bill and move on to other issues. ‘Just say nothing,’ is how one Democratic staffer explained the strategy being taken by many members. ‘Maybe it will just go away, and we can avoid a tough vote this close to the election.’” Maybe it will just go away? Profiles in courage they aren’t.

Close: According to Byron York, “there are 209 votes against the bill at this moment, leaving opponents seven short of being able to defeat it. By the same count, there are 204 votes for the bill, leaving the Democratic leadership 12 short of being able to pass it. There are 18 votes thought to be undecided.” In other words, seven votes away from Obama’s Waterloo.

Cranky Big Labor bosses descend on the White House: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is headed into a meeting with President Obama this afternoon after the White House and Congressional leaders have begun to discuss a higher-than-expected excise tax on some health care plans, in order to maintain their claim that health care legislation will reduce the deficit, a source involved in health care talks said.” Remember that the overwhelming support of core Democrats in midterm elections is what’s supposed to counteract the tsunami of opposition to ObamaCare. But what if that support is only lukewarm?

Obvious who you want making national-security calls. “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, contradicted the attorney general on Wednesday when he said that actually, the military still wants to capture Osama bin Laden alive. ‘I think that is something that is understood by everyone,’ he said. But perhaps not by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who on Tuesday told a House subcommittee that the chances of capturing Mr. bin Laden alive were ‘infinitesimal’ and that he would either be killed by the United States or killed by his own people.”

Common, among many observers these days: “Arab world says hopes in Obama are dwindling.”

Picky, picky: “From Maine to Hawaii, Americans send people to Washington, D.C., to be their representatives — to cast votes that represent the will of the people who elected them to do the job. But now, as the House of Representatives moves toward approving one of the most sweeping pieces of domestic legislation in U.S. history, critics are fuming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to usher through a health care bill … without a vote.”

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