Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 5, 2010

Sometimes It’s Best to Say Nothing

Sigh. After suggesting this morning that the Obama administration should not react to Hamid Karzai’s provocative, anti-Western rhetoric, I am dismayed to see that this is precisely what happened today. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rose to the bait. As this Washington Post account notes:

Press secretary Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s statements “genuinely troubling” but said the U.S. government would continue to work with Karzai and others in his government as they seek to secure the country.

Gibbs said, “It was disturbing on Friday. Obviously it didn’t get any better.”

Asked directly whether Obama still has faith in Karzai, Gibbs pointedly did not say yes. Instead, he repeated that U.S. officials would work with their Afghan counterparts.

What is Gibbs trying to achieve? If anything? Why couldn’t he just say something along the lines of: “Karzai is the elected leader of his country. We won’t always see eye to eye with him, but he is a brave man who has been on the frontlines of the fight against the Taliban. We respect him and support him notwithstanding occasional differences of opinion”?

The administration carefully modulates its rhetoric when dealing with states like Iran, Russia, and China — our strategic competitors. But when dealing with leaders of friendly countries, whether in Afghanistan or Israel, the administration has a tendency to haul out the rhetorical heavy artillery. At least Gibbs didn’t “condemn” Karzai, the way he did Netanyahu. Perhaps that’s coming tomorrow.

Sigh. After suggesting this morning that the Obama administration should not react to Hamid Karzai’s provocative, anti-Western rhetoric, I am dismayed to see that this is precisely what happened today. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rose to the bait. As this Washington Post account notes:

Press secretary Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s statements “genuinely troubling” but said the U.S. government would continue to work with Karzai and others in his government as they seek to secure the country.

Gibbs said, “It was disturbing on Friday. Obviously it didn’t get any better.”

Asked directly whether Obama still has faith in Karzai, Gibbs pointedly did not say yes. Instead, he repeated that U.S. officials would work with their Afghan counterparts.

What is Gibbs trying to achieve? If anything? Why couldn’t he just say something along the lines of: “Karzai is the elected leader of his country. We won’t always see eye to eye with him, but he is a brave man who has been on the frontlines of the fight against the Taliban. We respect him and support him notwithstanding occasional differences of opinion”?

The administration carefully modulates its rhetoric when dealing with states like Iran, Russia, and China — our strategic competitors. But when dealing with leaders of friendly countries, whether in Afghanistan or Israel, the administration has a tendency to haul out the rhetorical heavy artillery. At least Gibbs didn’t “condemn” Karzai, the way he did Netanyahu. Perhaps that’s coming tomorrow.

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Reid Heading for Defeat

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid remains in deep trouble:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attracts just 39% to 42% of the Nevada vote when matched against three Republican opponents. Two of his potential opponents now top the 50% level of support.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey in the state also shows that 62% of Nevada’s voters support repealing the recently passed health care law. That’s a bit higher than support for repeal naitonally.

It is hard enough for the average Senate Democrat who rubber-stamped ObamaCare to escape the ire of voters, but it’s simply impossible for Reid, who steamrolled the bill through the Senate, to put any distance between himself and all the noxious elements of the bill that have enraged voters. He is, in some sense, the poster boy for the Democrats who lurched Left, facilitated the extreme Obama agenda, ran up the tab, and forgot that their constituents are considerably less liberal than agenda the Obami is pushing.

No wonder, then, that Nevada has become the target of a massive Tea Party effort to unseat Reid. As the New York Times explains:

In a matter of weeks, this state has become ground zero for Tea Party members, who understand that as a symbol of the movement’s power, you cannot get much bigger than beating the Senate’s top Democrat. … There is no doubting the anti-Reid sentiment here. Above Searchlight looms a billboard almost as big as some nearby homes reading “Will Rogers never met Harry Reid,” a play on a famous saying by Rogers that he never met a man he did not like.

Yes, there is the potential for vote-splitting with tea party activists and other independent candidates, but make no mistake: Reid has a mountain of opposition to overcome. It is not easy to hold your seat when only 23 percent of the voters have a favorable opinion of you.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid remains in deep trouble:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attracts just 39% to 42% of the Nevada vote when matched against three Republican opponents. Two of his potential opponents now top the 50% level of support.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey in the state also shows that 62% of Nevada’s voters support repealing the recently passed health care law. That’s a bit higher than support for repeal naitonally.

It is hard enough for the average Senate Democrat who rubber-stamped ObamaCare to escape the ire of voters, but it’s simply impossible for Reid, who steamrolled the bill through the Senate, to put any distance between himself and all the noxious elements of the bill that have enraged voters. He is, in some sense, the poster boy for the Democrats who lurched Left, facilitated the extreme Obama agenda, ran up the tab, and forgot that their constituents are considerably less liberal than agenda the Obami is pushing.

No wonder, then, that Nevada has become the target of a massive Tea Party effort to unseat Reid. As the New York Times explains:

In a matter of weeks, this state has become ground zero for Tea Party members, who understand that as a symbol of the movement’s power, you cannot get much bigger than beating the Senate’s top Democrat. … There is no doubting the anti-Reid sentiment here. Above Searchlight looms a billboard almost as big as some nearby homes reading “Will Rogers never met Harry Reid,” a play on a famous saying by Rogers that he never met a man he did not like.

Yes, there is the potential for vote-splitting with tea party activists and other independent candidates, but make no mistake: Reid has a mountain of opposition to overcome. It is not easy to hold your seat when only 23 percent of the voters have a favorable opinion of you.

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Characterizing Republicans

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes this:

In the short term, Democrats can argue reasonably that raising taxes or slashing programs before the economy has recovered would be bad policy. And they can assert that the commission Obama has named to grapple with the deficit will clarify the trade-offs between tax increases and program cuts. This, in turn, will open the way for a more rational argument about deficits.

It would be nice if things worked out this way. But between now and then lies an election campaign likely to be characterized more by anger than reason, and in which the opposition has the advantage of not being in charge at a moment of great discontent. Sisyphus would understand. And Obama will have to get used to it.

Here you will find, in two brief paragraphs, a nice embodiment of the attitude of modern-day liberals, whose frustration at the public’s intensifying unhappiness with Mr. Obama and his agenda has to be explained some way or another. What on earth to do? Why, here’s an idea: let’s frame the coming election campaign as one that is “likely to be characterized more by anger than reason.”

Funny how that happens, isn’t it? So often when Republicans and conservatives make political inroads, it’s fueled by irrational emotions, the product – let’s read between the lines, shall we? – of slightly unhinged people, being driven off the rails by “great discontent.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. The reality is that the opposition to Obama is based on a fairly reasonable understanding of what he and his agenda are doing to our country. The Left can continue to pretend it is opposition anchored in obscurantism, but this form of self-delusion will come at a high political cost.

In his column today, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes this:

In the short term, Democrats can argue reasonably that raising taxes or slashing programs before the economy has recovered would be bad policy. And they can assert that the commission Obama has named to grapple with the deficit will clarify the trade-offs between tax increases and program cuts. This, in turn, will open the way for a more rational argument about deficits.

It would be nice if things worked out this way. But between now and then lies an election campaign likely to be characterized more by anger than reason, and in which the opposition has the advantage of not being in charge at a moment of great discontent. Sisyphus would understand. And Obama will have to get used to it.

Here you will find, in two brief paragraphs, a nice embodiment of the attitude of modern-day liberals, whose frustration at the public’s intensifying unhappiness with Mr. Obama and his agenda has to be explained some way or another. What on earth to do? Why, here’s an idea: let’s frame the coming election campaign as one that is “likely to be characterized more by anger than reason.”

Funny how that happens, isn’t it? So often when Republicans and conservatives make political inroads, it’s fueled by irrational emotions, the product – let’s read between the lines, shall we? – of slightly unhinged people, being driven off the rails by “great discontent.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. The reality is that the opposition to Obama is based on a fairly reasonable understanding of what he and his agenda are doing to our country. The Left can continue to pretend it is opposition anchored in obscurantism, but this form of self-delusion will come at a high political cost.

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Look Who Cares About Civility Now

Here’s a very effective video montage of Rep. Maxine Waters decrying incivility today – and helping to contribute to it during the Bush years. Now, I’ll admit that Rep. Waters is hard to take very seriously because she is so far on the fringe of American politics. But in this instance, she is emblematic of the hypocrisy among many liberals and Democrats these days, who have suddenly discovered they have very delicate sensibilities when it comes to public discourse. For many of them, the issue has never really been about civility in political debate in the first place; it has been how to advance the cause of liberalism. In this case – not for every liberal, but for more than a few – civility is a pawn in a larger ideological struggle. And if they want their concerns to be taken seriously now, it would have helped if they had spoken up in the past.

Here’s a very effective video montage of Rep. Maxine Waters decrying incivility today – and helping to contribute to it during the Bush years. Now, I’ll admit that Rep. Waters is hard to take very seriously because she is so far on the fringe of American politics. But in this instance, she is emblematic of the hypocrisy among many liberals and Democrats these days, who have suddenly discovered they have very delicate sensibilities when it comes to public discourse. For many of them, the issue has never really been about civility in political debate in the first place; it has been how to advance the cause of liberalism. In this case – not for every liberal, but for more than a few – civility is a pawn in a larger ideological struggle. And if they want their concerns to be taken seriously now, it would have helped if they had spoken up in the past.

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Cuban Democracy on Hold

It’s getting hard to remember the days when liberals like the late Rep. Tom Lantos took human rights and democracy promotion seriously. This report tells us that Sen. John Kerry — the often unofficial secretary of state — “has put a temporary hold on U.S. Cuba democracy assistance programs, aides confirm, while the State Department conducts a review of the programs and the committee investigates their effectiveness.” The ostensible trigger for all of this and the cessation of our democracy efforts was the Cubans’ snatching of Alan Gross, detained and held in Cuba for distributing “telecommunications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.” It remains unclear why this has prompted a soul-searching about whether democracy promotion, conducted by administrations of both parties, should come to a halt. But the Leftist antipathy to such efforts is revealed by a blind quote from a “former official” (who sounds rather like Wayne S. Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who now has a cottage industry in hawking for full normalization without any democratizing by the Castro regime):

“These are counterproductive programs,” said one former senior State Department official who managed Cuba policy. “The best way for the U.S. government to help the Castro government is to be seen both within Cuba and internationally as trying to subvert it.”

Such programs “are completely ineffective coming from the U.S.,” the former official said. They are done in a “ham-handed” way that is ineffectual and causes a backlash against the civil society activists they intend to support.

Yes, heavens forbid we should seek to undermine a loathsome Communist dictatorship. One wonders if democracy advocates rotting in Cuban prisons share this former official’s disdain for subverting the thugocracy. We’ll see what the review turns up, but given the Obami’s general distaste for rocking the boat of any dictatorship, don’t be surprised if these programs vanish for good — or until a new administration less disdainful of our role in democracy and human-rights promotion and less enamored of engaging the world’s bullies takes office.

It’s getting hard to remember the days when liberals like the late Rep. Tom Lantos took human rights and democracy promotion seriously. This report tells us that Sen. John Kerry — the often unofficial secretary of state — “has put a temporary hold on U.S. Cuba democracy assistance programs, aides confirm, while the State Department conducts a review of the programs and the committee investigates their effectiveness.” The ostensible trigger for all of this and the cessation of our democracy efforts was the Cubans’ snatching of Alan Gross, detained and held in Cuba for distributing “telecommunications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.” It remains unclear why this has prompted a soul-searching about whether democracy promotion, conducted by administrations of both parties, should come to a halt. But the Leftist antipathy to such efforts is revealed by a blind quote from a “former official” (who sounds rather like Wayne S. Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who now has a cottage industry in hawking for full normalization without any democratizing by the Castro regime):

“These are counterproductive programs,” said one former senior State Department official who managed Cuba policy. “The best way for the U.S. government to help the Castro government is to be seen both within Cuba and internationally as trying to subvert it.”

Such programs “are completely ineffective coming from the U.S.,” the former official said. They are done in a “ham-handed” way that is ineffectual and causes a backlash against the civil society activists they intend to support.

Yes, heavens forbid we should seek to undermine a loathsome Communist dictatorship. One wonders if democracy advocates rotting in Cuban prisons share this former official’s disdain for subverting the thugocracy. We’ll see what the review turns up, but given the Obami’s general distaste for rocking the boat of any dictatorship, don’t be surprised if these programs vanish for good — or until a new administration less disdainful of our role in democracy and human-rights promotion and less enamored of engaging the world’s bullies takes office.

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Is Organic Food Just Marketing Hype?

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (April 13) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether organic food is just marketing hype. Arguing that indeed it is will be Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues; Blake Hurst, writer and farmer; and John Krebs, former chairman of the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Defending the merits of organic food will be Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center; Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy for the Consumers Union; and Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue magazine food critic.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website.

COMMENTARY readers in the New York area are welcomed to participate in an impassioned live debate next Tuesday (April 13) in Manhattan. The topic of contention will be whether organic food is just marketing hype. Arguing that indeed it is will be Dennis Avery, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues; Blake Hurst, writer and farmer; and John Krebs, former chairman of the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Defending the merits of organic food will be Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center; Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy for the Consumers Union; and Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue magazine food critic.

For more information about the live event, visit its organizers’ website.

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Sanctions That Barely Nibble

As this report makes clear, financial sanctions on Iran may be less than they are cracked up to be:

In its latest proposed set of tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is again relying on asset freezes as one tool to pressure the country not to build nuclear weapons. But a close look at how much Iranian money has been frozen to date in the U.S. under existing sanctions shows that the total amount is surprisingly small, less than $43 million, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in oil revenue in a single day. . .

“It’s peanuts,” says Jeremy P. Carver, a British attorney who has advised governments on implementing sanctions. “It’s not going to really change a thing.”

U.S. officials do not dispute that current amounts of frozen Iranian assets seem small. In some cases, Iran has shifted the money outside the U.S. or EU to avoid sanctions. The officials emphasize that their strategy is not to seize many assets, but to pressure Iran to change its ways by making it extremely difficult for it to do business.

But how difficult are we really making business for the mullahs? After all — reset or no reset — the Russians are helping to build their nuclear reactor. And as the report notes, we aren’t even sure what assets are being frozen and what impact it is having, if at all, on Iran’s nuclear program. Nor is it clear we are really seizing much of anything:

Adding new Iranian entities to the U.S. list of firms or individuals subject to freezing doesn’t necessarily mean any money actually gets seized, even though news accounts often report that funds were frozen. Most Iranian businesses or individuals haven’t kept money in the U.S. for years because of past sanctions and the strained relations between the two countries. “It would be very surprising to see very large amounts of blocked assets in a recent designation of an Iranian entity,” says Mr. Szubin.

And all of this is what we are largely relying on to dissuade the mullahs from doing what they very dearly want to do — become a nuclear power. Needless to say, the means seem grossly inadequate to the ends. After all, round after round of UN sanctions have had no measurable impact on the mullahs. So naturally we order up another batch of sanctions. (“As the Iranian government has not ceased its nuclear activities, and defiantly has been enriching uranium, the U.S. has been pressing Security Council members for a new set of sanctions that, among other things, include additional asset freezes.”)

The Obami have been promising to move from engagement to crippling sanctions, but there is substantial reason to question what, if anything, is to be gained by sanctions so limited that they are virtually irrelevant to the mullahs’ calculated self-interest. Absent something far more meaningful than the measures currently contemplated by the Obami, the mullahs will simply gain more time and more breathing room to acquire their nuclear weapons.

As this report makes clear, financial sanctions on Iran may be less than they are cracked up to be:

In its latest proposed set of tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is again relying on asset freezes as one tool to pressure the country not to build nuclear weapons. But a close look at how much Iranian money has been frozen to date in the U.S. under existing sanctions shows that the total amount is surprisingly small, less than $43 million, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in oil revenue in a single day. . .

“It’s peanuts,” says Jeremy P. Carver, a British attorney who has advised governments on implementing sanctions. “It’s not going to really change a thing.”

U.S. officials do not dispute that current amounts of frozen Iranian assets seem small. In some cases, Iran has shifted the money outside the U.S. or EU to avoid sanctions. The officials emphasize that their strategy is not to seize many assets, but to pressure Iran to change its ways by making it extremely difficult for it to do business.

But how difficult are we really making business for the mullahs? After all — reset or no reset — the Russians are helping to build their nuclear reactor. And as the report notes, we aren’t even sure what assets are being frozen and what impact it is having, if at all, on Iran’s nuclear program. Nor is it clear we are really seizing much of anything:

Adding new Iranian entities to the U.S. list of firms or individuals subject to freezing doesn’t necessarily mean any money actually gets seized, even though news accounts often report that funds were frozen. Most Iranian businesses or individuals haven’t kept money in the U.S. for years because of past sanctions and the strained relations between the two countries. “It would be very surprising to see very large amounts of blocked assets in a recent designation of an Iranian entity,” says Mr. Szubin.

And all of this is what we are largely relying on to dissuade the mullahs from doing what they very dearly want to do — become a nuclear power. Needless to say, the means seem grossly inadequate to the ends. After all, round after round of UN sanctions have had no measurable impact on the mullahs. So naturally we order up another batch of sanctions. (“As the Iranian government has not ceased its nuclear activities, and defiantly has been enriching uranium, the U.S. has been pressing Security Council members for a new set of sanctions that, among other things, include additional asset freezes.”)

The Obami have been promising to move from engagement to crippling sanctions, but there is substantial reason to question what, if anything, is to be gained by sanctions so limited that they are virtually irrelevant to the mullahs’ calculated self-interest. Absent something far more meaningful than the measures currently contemplated by the Obami, the mullahs will simply gain more time and more breathing room to acquire their nuclear weapons.

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Maybe He Should Just Move on

There is reason to question whether Obama should even try to sell ObamaCare to the public. There is little evidence he is able to persuade voters of the merits of the legislation:

Now that his health care initiative has passed, President Barack Obama has hit the campaign trail to sell it to voters. Early indications are that despite all the spin from both sides, hardly anybody is changing their mind.

Currently, two weeks after passage, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal. Those numbers virtually unchanged from last week and the week before. They include 43% who Strongly Favor repeal and 32% who Strongly Oppose it.

The public remains strongly opposed to the bill – seemingly indifferent to how historic it was. And if their own experience — cuts in Medicare Advantage and rising premium costs — is negative, that aversion is likely to solidify, just as the negative view of the stimulus plan became entrenched as it failed to deliver on its promised job creation/savings. Perhaps Obama is pumping up the base, but by talking endlessly about a bill that a large majority of conservatives and independents despises, one wonders if he is doing his congressional allies any favors. The more Obama focuses on his “historic” achievement, the more he emphasizes that ObamaCare — not the economic recovery and job creation — has been his obsession. And that inconvenient truth will be a weight around the ankles of every Democrat on the ballot.

There is reason to question whether Obama should even try to sell ObamaCare to the public. There is little evidence he is able to persuade voters of the merits of the legislation:

Now that his health care initiative has passed, President Barack Obama has hit the campaign trail to sell it to voters. Early indications are that despite all the spin from both sides, hardly anybody is changing their mind.

Currently, two weeks after passage, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal. Those numbers virtually unchanged from last week and the week before. They include 43% who Strongly Favor repeal and 32% who Strongly Oppose it.

The public remains strongly opposed to the bill – seemingly indifferent to how historic it was. And if their own experience — cuts in Medicare Advantage and rising premium costs — is negative, that aversion is likely to solidify, just as the negative view of the stimulus plan became entrenched as it failed to deliver on its promised job creation/savings. Perhaps Obama is pumping up the base, but by talking endlessly about a bill that a large majority of conservatives and independents despises, one wonders if he is doing his congressional allies any favors. The more Obama focuses on his “historic” achievement, the more he emphasizes that ObamaCare — not the economic recovery and job creation — has been his obsession. And that inconvenient truth will be a weight around the ankles of every Democrat on the ballot.

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Obama’s Financial Failure

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

It’s impossible to know with certainty at this point because we’re only about 30 percent through President Obama’s first term, but I suspect he will be judged quite harshly by history and his countrymen for not simply avoiding but dramatically accelerating the major domestic concern facing the United States: our unsustainable and soon-to-be debilitating deficit and debt.

I don’t lay all, or even most, of the blame on President Obama for the debt he faced upon taking office. While his party, like the GOP, was clearly complicit in the situation, and Obama’s own actions in the Senate (especially blocking reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which played a role in the collapse of the housing market) contributed to what went wrong, much of the river of red ink he inherited was due to a financial and credit implosion for which he wasn’t chiefly responsible.

What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.

What the president should have done, in the wake of market collapse, was to create his own Nixon-to-China moment: trimming and reforming our middle-class-welfare state. It is the type of thing that a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress have much greater latitude to do than a Republican president and a Republican Congress. Instead, Obama used this moment to create a new middle-class entitlement, ObamaCare, at precisely the moment when our other ones are falling into bankruptcy. On top of that, of course, was the president’s $860 billion-plus stimulus package, his $410 billion omnibus spending bill, and his decision to spend hundreds of billions of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) repayment dollars rather than to pay down the deficit.

Consider where we are and where we are headed. The deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion — the equivalent of 10 percent of the nation’s economic output and the highest percentage since the end of World War II. The president’s 2011 budget will generate a combined $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade. Our publicly held debt, which was $6.3 trillion when Obama entered office, now totals $8.2 trillion. According to the CBO, it’s headed to more than $20 trillion in 2020, equaling 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product that year. (As a reference point, nations that comprise the European Union are required to keep their debt levels below 60 percent.) Interest rates alone would consume some $900 billion per year, almost five times what they were last year. In addition, the total unfunded liability (the gap between projected assets and benefit obligations) for Medicare and Social Security is $43 trillion; in five years, the total is estimated to grow to $57 trillion. (For more, see this, this, and this.

Confronting figures like this, Mr. Obama should have made spending restraint and entitlement reform his top domestic priority. And yet the president has taken us in exactly the opposite direction, engineering the passage of ObamaCare (over its first ten years of full implementation, it will cost at least $2 trillion). That is the equivalent of dropping plane loads of lighter fluid onto a fire that is raging out of control.

Why Mr. Obama made this fateful decision is hard to tell. He is a person of unusual ideological rigidity. The president is undeniably committed to expanding the size, scope, and reach of government. Like any 21st century Man of the Left, his ambition is to make more and more citizens wards of the state, to create greater dependency on the federal government. That, at least, is what Obama’s actions indicate his intentions to be. But whatever his motivations, the results are what matter. Whether or not we can ever undo the fiscal damage that is being inflicted on us is an open question. It will require us to take steps that we as a society have been exceedingly reluctant to take, including means-testing entitlements and increasing the retirement age. It will require fiscal self-discipline, restraint, and what Adam Smith called “self-command.” (For an enlightening analysis of Smith, see this essay by Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague and National Affairs Yuval Levin.

This is what this moment demanded of this president and this Congress. Instead, we got the opposite. Rather than tapping the fiscal brakes and eventually nudging us into reverse, they have hit the accelerator and are leading us over a cliff. I suppose there are worse things for the political leadership of a nation to do, though it’s hard to come up with them just now.

I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.

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Soothing Karzai

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

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Stevens to Retire — a Deserving Nominee This Time?

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is giving interviews and advising us that he will be departing during Obama’s term. Although Justices often time their departures to coincide with a president whom they imagine would nominate a like-minded justice, none has been so bold as Stevens to directly proclaim that as his rationale. The only question is when exactly he’ll pack it in. He suggested in Sunday interviews with the New York Times and Washington Post that he might have another year to go, but why then give the retirement-predicting interviews now?

Sen. Arlen Specter, who may speak for no one other than Arlen Specter, suggested that it would be best to wait a year. He proclaimed: “I think the gridlock in the Senate might well produce a filibuster which would tie up the Senate about a Supreme Court nominee. I think if a year passes, there’s a much better chance we could come to a consensus.” Well, that might be desirable for Specter, who faces a dicey reelection and might not want to be caught up in a contentious Supreme Court fight. But the Democrats are almost certain to lose Senate seats this year — perhaps a great many — so it seems that waiting a year makes confirmation of an Obama nominee less, not more, certain.

What we do know is that Stevens’ retirement is unlikely to have much of an impact on the outcome of many of the Court’s decisions. The irascible and often quirky liberal will be replaced by another liberal, and the Court’s 5-4 split on most tough cases is likely to endure.  It also seems that Obama, to some extent, learned his lesson with the not-very-wise-at-all Sonia Sotomayor, who was selected for diversity or empathy reasons, the president boasted. The suggested short list of nominees — Solicitor General Elena Kagan (former dean of Harvard Law School), Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — are indisputably smart, capable, and qualified. They are there because they will be solidly dependable liberal votes and advance those arguments with intellectual vigor.  They may not be the ideal justices conservatives would have in mind, but this — losing Supreme Court seats – is what comes from losing the presidency.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is giving interviews and advising us that he will be departing during Obama’s term. Although Justices often time their departures to coincide with a president whom they imagine would nominate a like-minded justice, none has been so bold as Stevens to directly proclaim that as his rationale. The only question is when exactly he’ll pack it in. He suggested in Sunday interviews with the New York Times and Washington Post that he might have another year to go, but why then give the retirement-predicting interviews now?

Sen. Arlen Specter, who may speak for no one other than Arlen Specter, suggested that it would be best to wait a year. He proclaimed: “I think the gridlock in the Senate might well produce a filibuster which would tie up the Senate about a Supreme Court nominee. I think if a year passes, there’s a much better chance we could come to a consensus.” Well, that might be desirable for Specter, who faces a dicey reelection and might not want to be caught up in a contentious Supreme Court fight. But the Democrats are almost certain to lose Senate seats this year — perhaps a great many — so it seems that waiting a year makes confirmation of an Obama nominee less, not more, certain.

What we do know is that Stevens’ retirement is unlikely to have much of an impact on the outcome of many of the Court’s decisions. The irascible and often quirky liberal will be replaced by another liberal, and the Court’s 5-4 split on most tough cases is likely to endure.  It also seems that Obama, to some extent, learned his lesson with the not-very-wise-at-all Sonia Sotomayor, who was selected for diversity or empathy reasons, the president boasted. The suggested short list of nominees — Solicitor General Elena Kagan (former dean of Harvard Law School), Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — are indisputably smart, capable, and qualified. They are there because they will be solidly dependable liberal votes and advance those arguments with intellectual vigor.  They may not be the ideal justices conservatives would have in mind, but this — losing Supreme Court seats – is what comes from losing the presidency.

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Colorado Freshman at Risk Over ObamaCare

The Washington Post examines the plight of Colorado freshman Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey, who switched from no to yes on ObamaCare and is now, to say the least, at risk of losing her seat. (“Her vote left the endangered incumbent in an even more precarious position.”) Markey insists that all is well and that she’ll be rewarded for her vote. The Post dutifully digs up some constituents willing to praise her. But the signs are clear that this is just the sort of lawmaker likely to be sent packing by voters for following Nancy Pelosi and Obama over that precipice.

For starters, her rationale for vote-switching suggests she’s not all that bright — or thinks the voters aren’t. “She especially liked the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of how much the bill would reduce the deficit. ‘The clincher was the CBO score,’ she said.” Oh, good grief. Did she really believe a score that excluded the Doc Fix and ignored the phony double-counting was a clincher? Or was it the White House political spin — do it and the base will rally! — that pushed her to flip her vote?

A telltale sign of her predicament is that she seems not all that anxious to be associated with the president:

This year, Markey has the power of incumbency, but other factors work against her. She knows she will have to win reelection on her own. Would she like to have Obama back this fall?

“You know, if the president wanted to come, I would welcome him,” she said. Then she added: “I have not invited him. For me, this is going to be about what I’m doing in Congress.”

There’s good reason for that. In recent polling, Colorado voters disapprove of Obama’s performance by a 50 to 47 percent margin. Markey, after voting for Obama’s health-care monstrosity, will have her work cut out for her now as she must try to separate herself from the increasingly unpopular president. So it’s no wonder that Markey’s seat is now rated a toss-up by Charlie Cook’s Political Report (subscription required), which even before her health-care switcheroo explained:

Republicans will try to turn the tables on Markey by painting her as too liberal for the district and a foot soldier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Unlike some other freshman Democratic colleagues from districts carried by McCain, Markey has not broken from the Democratic line on many legislative items thus far. After unveiling her sponsorship of the Employee Free Choice Act, or “card check,” Markey voted for Democrats’ “cap and trade” energy bill.

Markey may learn the perils of  hewing too closely to the Obama far-Left agenda and of ignoring her Republican-leaning district. And if her voting record proves politically fatal, her replacement will no doubt be among those unpersuaded by the phony CBO scoring and fully committed to repealing ObamaCare. As Obama said, that’s what elections are for.

The Washington Post examines the plight of Colorado freshman Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey, who switched from no to yes on ObamaCare and is now, to say the least, at risk of losing her seat. (“Her vote left the endangered incumbent in an even more precarious position.”) Markey insists that all is well and that she’ll be rewarded for her vote. The Post dutifully digs up some constituents willing to praise her. But the signs are clear that this is just the sort of lawmaker likely to be sent packing by voters for following Nancy Pelosi and Obama over that precipice.

For starters, her rationale for vote-switching suggests she’s not all that bright — or thinks the voters aren’t. “She especially liked the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of how much the bill would reduce the deficit. ‘The clincher was the CBO score,’ she said.” Oh, good grief. Did she really believe a score that excluded the Doc Fix and ignored the phony double-counting was a clincher? Or was it the White House political spin — do it and the base will rally! — that pushed her to flip her vote?

A telltale sign of her predicament is that she seems not all that anxious to be associated with the president:

This year, Markey has the power of incumbency, but other factors work against her. She knows she will have to win reelection on her own. Would she like to have Obama back this fall?

“You know, if the president wanted to come, I would welcome him,” she said. Then she added: “I have not invited him. For me, this is going to be about what I’m doing in Congress.”

There’s good reason for that. In recent polling, Colorado voters disapprove of Obama’s performance by a 50 to 47 percent margin. Markey, after voting for Obama’s health-care monstrosity, will have her work cut out for her now as she must try to separate herself from the increasingly unpopular president. So it’s no wonder that Markey’s seat is now rated a toss-up by Charlie Cook’s Political Report (subscription required), which even before her health-care switcheroo explained:

Republicans will try to turn the tables on Markey by painting her as too liberal for the district and a foot soldier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Unlike some other freshman Democratic colleagues from districts carried by McCain, Markey has not broken from the Democratic line on many legislative items thus far. After unveiling her sponsorship of the Employee Free Choice Act, or “card check,” Markey voted for Democrats’ “cap and trade” energy bill.

Markey may learn the perils of  hewing too closely to the Obama far-Left agenda and of ignoring her Republican-leaning district. And if her voting record proves politically fatal, her replacement will no doubt be among those unpersuaded by the phony CBO scoring and fully committed to repealing ObamaCare. As Obama said, that’s what elections are for.

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Obama at Odds with Reality

Matt Welch writes:

The president, who promised in both word and style to usher in a “new era” of Washington “responsibility,” routinely says things that aren’t true and supports initiatives that break campaign promises. When called on it, he mostly keeps digging. And when obliged to explain why American voters are turning so sharply away from his party and his policies, Obama pins the blame not on his own deviations from verity but on his failure to “explain” things “more clearly to the American people.”

This is not an occasional phenomenon. It has become an ingrained habit. As Welch details, Obama has insisted that he’s excluded lobbyists from government. (There are more than 40.) His repeated misstatements on his own health-care bill seem to assume no one is paying attention or is audacious enough to point out he is making stuff up. “It will cut the deficit.” Well, not with the Doc Fix or with any reasonable accounting method. “Special interests are against it.” Except for AARP, AMA,  and Big Insurance. As Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito pointed out, Obama got the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United wrong, too.

And then there are the misdirections and twisted explanations on national security. He routinely says he “banned torture,” which, of course, was illegal long before he assumed office. (He should know this because John Yoo and Jay Bybee were hounded by a kangaroo Justice Department investigation for allegedly facilitating violation of torture prohibitions.) He pulls the rug out from the Czech Republic and Poland, denying the obvious — that it was meant as a sop to the Russians. In pursuing his Israel policy, he offers fractured history and denies the existence of past agreements by the U.S. on settlements.

Even when recounting his own actions, he strays from the truth. No, he really didn’t condemn Palestinian violence, as he claimed. No, he really hasn’t gone to bat for human rights, as he asserted in Oslo. And on it goes.

This was the president who was supposedly freed from ideology and who would operate on facts and evidence. The reality is that the Obami operate as if the president has no obligation to fact check and to adhere to a standard of accuracy worthy of the office. It’s just campaign time 24/7 — and the operating standard is whatever will fly. In a very real sense, Obama has never had his facts or his premises rebutted. He was treated with kid gloves during the campaign, where his garbled history was never questioned and his assumptions were rarely challenged by the mainstream media. And well into his first-year term, a probing interview taking on his facts is the exception, not the rule. He has grown accustomed to parroting liberal dogma with nary a concern that anyone might call him on it. And when someone does — at the health-care summit — he is peeved, condescending, and impatient.

The ultra-liberal president is at odds with the Center-Right country he is trying to lead. But more important, he is at odds with reality — with cold, hard facts. Neither is sustainable for very long. The voters and reality have a way of catching up with presidents who try to ignore both.

Matt Welch writes:

The president, who promised in both word and style to usher in a “new era” of Washington “responsibility,” routinely says things that aren’t true and supports initiatives that break campaign promises. When called on it, he mostly keeps digging. And when obliged to explain why American voters are turning so sharply away from his party and his policies, Obama pins the blame not on his own deviations from verity but on his failure to “explain” things “more clearly to the American people.”

This is not an occasional phenomenon. It has become an ingrained habit. As Welch details, Obama has insisted that he’s excluded lobbyists from government. (There are more than 40.) His repeated misstatements on his own health-care bill seem to assume no one is paying attention or is audacious enough to point out he is making stuff up. “It will cut the deficit.” Well, not with the Doc Fix or with any reasonable accounting method. “Special interests are against it.” Except for AARP, AMA,  and Big Insurance. As Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito pointed out, Obama got the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United wrong, too.

And then there are the misdirections and twisted explanations on national security. He routinely says he “banned torture,” which, of course, was illegal long before he assumed office. (He should know this because John Yoo and Jay Bybee were hounded by a kangaroo Justice Department investigation for allegedly facilitating violation of torture prohibitions.) He pulls the rug out from the Czech Republic and Poland, denying the obvious — that it was meant as a sop to the Russians. In pursuing his Israel policy, he offers fractured history and denies the existence of past agreements by the U.S. on settlements.

Even when recounting his own actions, he strays from the truth. No, he really didn’t condemn Palestinian violence, as he claimed. No, he really hasn’t gone to bat for human rights, as he asserted in Oslo. And on it goes.

This was the president who was supposedly freed from ideology and who would operate on facts and evidence. The reality is that the Obami operate as if the president has no obligation to fact check and to adhere to a standard of accuracy worthy of the office. It’s just campaign time 24/7 — and the operating standard is whatever will fly. In a very real sense, Obama has never had his facts or his premises rebutted. He was treated with kid gloves during the campaign, where his garbled history was never questioned and his assumptions were rarely challenged by the mainstream media. And well into his first-year term, a probing interview taking on his facts is the exception, not the rule. He has grown accustomed to parroting liberal dogma with nary a concern that anyone might call him on it. And when someone does — at the health-care summit — he is peeved, condescending, and impatient.

The ultra-liberal president is at odds with the Center-Right country he is trying to lead. But more important, he is at odds with reality — with cold, hard facts. Neither is sustainable for very long. The voters and reality have a way of catching up with presidents who try to ignore both.

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Obama’s Unacceptable Iran Policy

I am not alone in concluding that the Obami are fundamentally unserious about preventing the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal editors write:

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.” Thus did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seek to reassure the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee two weeks ago about the Obama Administration’s resolve on Iran. Three days later, this newspaper reported on its front page that “the U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran” in order to win Russian and Chinese support for one more U.N. sanctions resolution.

This fits the pattern we have seen across the 14 months of the Obama Presidency. Mrs. Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” no fewer than four times in a single paragraph in her AIPAC speech. But why should the Iranians believe her? President Obama set a number of deadlines last year for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear file, all of which Tehran ignored, and then Mr. Obama ignored them too…

We were told that engagement would gain us support for crippling sanctions. It hasn’t worked out that way. (“Yet a year later the U.S. finds itself begging for U.N. Security Council votes even from such nonpermanent members as Brazil and Turkey, both of which have noticeably improved their ties with Iran in recent months.”)

As the editors note, the Obami have thrown cold water on the notion that a military strike might be in the offing. ( “As for the potential threat of military strikes to assist diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his doubts about their efficacy very public.”) The unspoken suspicion whispered nervously by conservatives has now become the audible, and indeed, conventional wisdom — the administration is inching toward a containment strategy. The means that the administration has employed – engagement, downplaying the revelation of Qom enrichment site, indifference to regime change, pooh-poohing military action, and stalling passage of unilateral sanctions – bear no correlation to the ostensible Obama position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ( “unacceptable”). But they do go hand in hand with what appears to be an ill-conceived effort to accept the mullahs’ nuclear program as inevitable and regrettable, but not exactly unacceptable.

Among the Obami’s many ill-advised foreign-policy gambits and misjudgments, none would be so devastating as permitting the revolutionary Islamic regime to acquire nuclear weapons. But that is precisely where we are heading, absent a newfound determination by the international community to impose those crippling sanctions. And it may well be too late for that. We stand at a critical juncture — poised to see if Israel — a tiny, beleaguered nation — will spare the world from a nuclear-armed Iran. We reach this point because of a disgraceful lack of vision and will from the U.S. president, who has abdicated his role as leader of the West and protector of American security.

I am not alone in concluding that the Obami are fundamentally unserious about preventing the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal editors write:

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.” Thus did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seek to reassure the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee two weeks ago about the Obama Administration’s resolve on Iran. Three days later, this newspaper reported on its front page that “the U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran” in order to win Russian and Chinese support for one more U.N. sanctions resolution.

This fits the pattern we have seen across the 14 months of the Obama Presidency. Mrs. Clinton called a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable” no fewer than four times in a single paragraph in her AIPAC speech. But why should the Iranians believe her? President Obama set a number of deadlines last year for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear file, all of which Tehran ignored, and then Mr. Obama ignored them too…

We were told that engagement would gain us support for crippling sanctions. It hasn’t worked out that way. (“Yet a year later the U.S. finds itself begging for U.N. Security Council votes even from such nonpermanent members as Brazil and Turkey, both of which have noticeably improved their ties with Iran in recent months.”)

As the editors note, the Obami have thrown cold water on the notion that a military strike might be in the offing. ( “As for the potential threat of military strikes to assist diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made his doubts about their efficacy very public.”) The unspoken suspicion whispered nervously by conservatives has now become the audible, and indeed, conventional wisdom — the administration is inching toward a containment strategy. The means that the administration has employed – engagement, downplaying the revelation of Qom enrichment site, indifference to regime change, pooh-poohing military action, and stalling passage of unilateral sanctions – bear no correlation to the ostensible Obama position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ( “unacceptable”). But they do go hand in hand with what appears to be an ill-conceived effort to accept the mullahs’ nuclear program as inevitable and regrettable, but not exactly unacceptable.

Among the Obami’s many ill-advised foreign-policy gambits and misjudgments, none would be so devastating as permitting the revolutionary Islamic regime to acquire nuclear weapons. But that is precisely where we are heading, absent a newfound determination by the international community to impose those crippling sanctions. And it may well be too late for that. We stand at a critical juncture — poised to see if Israel — a tiny, beleaguered nation — will spare the world from a nuclear-armed Iran. We reach this point because of a disgraceful lack of vision and will from the U.S. president, who has abdicated his role as leader of the West and protector of American security.

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Oren Responds to the Obami’s Temper Tantrum

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

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Obama Economic Team Tied up in Spin

The Obama administration is lowering expectations and getting tangled up in its own spin. On one hand, the Obama economic team needs to prepare the public for a period of high unemployment:

The economy is growing again, but at a pace unlikely to quickly replace the 8.4 million jobs erased in the recession that began in late 2007. More than 11 million people are drawing unemployment insurance benefits.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. “We’ve inherited a terrible situation, the most pressing economic problems since the Great Depression in our country.” [In case you thought the Obama team was ever going to stop blaming George W. Bush, think again.]

Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said consumers still face “a lot of head winds” from the financial crisis. For example, debt and credit difficulties are hampering stronger job growth.

They were echoing the words of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said last week the administration was “very worried” about returning to a more normal jobless rate of around 5 percent.

Summers said Obama was preoccupied with creating jobs. “The trend has turned, but to get back to the surface, we’ve got a long way to go,” Summers said.

Preoccupied? Well, that can certainly be said of health-care reform, but what, precisely, has Obama been doing to promote job growth? Certainly raising billions and billions in new taxes in the guise of health-care “reform” and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire aren’t helping job creation. Nor will cap-and-trade, if the Obama team has its way.

And the job picture is likely to get worse, not better, as more workers return to the job market, as this report explains:

Some economists assert that the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.7 percent in March, is likely to be driven higher as many more such people are lured into looking for work by hopeful signs of recovery.

The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 in March compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute — and that’s a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created, and that they’re optimistic about their prospects.

But the supply of new jobs — 162,000 in March, the biggest monthly increase in three years — will accommodate only a fraction of the unemployed. Some economists say the jobless rate will not recede to pre-recession levels near 5 percent for four more years.

Meanwhile, the buckle-your-seat-belts-it’s-going-to-be-a-bumpy-ride warning runs headlong into the Obama team’s persistent defense of the original stimulus bill, which was supposed to keep unemployment at 8 percent. Christina Romer proclaimed, “I think it has done exactly what we would say it would do.” Uh… not really. Needless to say, Republicans are pouncing on the insistence that everything is going exactly according to plan. “Romer’s comments are likely to raise the ire of Republicans in Congress. On Friday, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a memo showing that the stimulus has failed to keep unemployment under 8 percent as the administration said it would do.”

In sum, job growth is anemic, and the Obama administration cannot identify  a single effective policy it has advanced to promote job creation. Instead, it has run up a mound of debt and pursued policies that are likely to hamper rather than to facilitate job growth. The administration’s spinners can’t quite decide — brag about their expertly designed stimulus or lower expectations for any relief in the near term from sky-high unemployment? Frankly, the Obama team can spin all it likes; the voters can see for themselves that Obama administration and Democratic Congress have failed in their own stated goal to keep unemployment below 8 percent and promote robust private-sector job growth.

The Obama administration is lowering expectations and getting tangled up in its own spin. On one hand, the Obama economic team needs to prepare the public for a period of high unemployment:

The economy is growing again, but at a pace unlikely to quickly replace the 8.4 million jobs erased in the recession that began in late 2007. More than 11 million people are drawing unemployment insurance benefits.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. “We’ve inherited a terrible situation, the most pressing economic problems since the Great Depression in our country.” [In case you thought the Obama team was ever going to stop blaming George W. Bush, think again.]

Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said consumers still face “a lot of head winds” from the financial crisis. For example, debt and credit difficulties are hampering stronger job growth.

They were echoing the words of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said last week the administration was “very worried” about returning to a more normal jobless rate of around 5 percent.

Summers said Obama was preoccupied with creating jobs. “The trend has turned, but to get back to the surface, we’ve got a long way to go,” Summers said.

Preoccupied? Well, that can certainly be said of health-care reform, but what, precisely, has Obama been doing to promote job growth? Certainly raising billions and billions in new taxes in the guise of health-care “reform” and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire aren’t helping job creation. Nor will cap-and-trade, if the Obama team has its way.

And the job picture is likely to get worse, not better, as more workers return to the job market, as this report explains:

Some economists assert that the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.7 percent in March, is likely to be driven higher as many more such people are lured into looking for work by hopeful signs of recovery.

The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 in March compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute — and that’s a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created, and that they’re optimistic about their prospects.

But the supply of new jobs — 162,000 in March, the biggest monthly increase in three years — will accommodate only a fraction of the unemployed. Some economists say the jobless rate will not recede to pre-recession levels near 5 percent for four more years.

Meanwhile, the buckle-your-seat-belts-it’s-going-to-be-a-bumpy-ride warning runs headlong into the Obama team’s persistent defense of the original stimulus bill, which was supposed to keep unemployment at 8 percent. Christina Romer proclaimed, “I think it has done exactly what we would say it would do.” Uh… not really. Needless to say, Republicans are pouncing on the insistence that everything is going exactly according to plan. “Romer’s comments are likely to raise the ire of Republicans in Congress. On Friday, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a memo showing that the stimulus has failed to keep unemployment under 8 percent as the administration said it would do.”

In sum, job growth is anemic, and the Obama administration cannot identify  a single effective policy it has advanced to promote job creation. Instead, it has run up a mound of debt and pursued policies that are likely to hamper rather than to facilitate job growth. The administration’s spinners can’t quite decide — brag about their expertly designed stimulus or lower expectations for any relief in the near term from sky-high unemployment? Frankly, the Obama team can spin all it likes; the voters can see for themselves that Obama administration and Democratic Congress have failed in their own stated goal to keep unemployment below 8 percent and promote robust private-sector job growth.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Read Less




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