Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 6, 2010

Obama’s Empty Nuclear Posturing

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

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Obama’s Iran Policy: A Dead End

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, Danielle Pletka of AEI, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations held a lively discussion, moderated by Bob Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Foreign Policy Initiative, at the FPI’s Iran program. It was, to say the least, a sobering discussion.

Takeyh led off by explaining that the Obama team has not yet given up on negotiations and sees sanctions now as means of getting the Iranians back to the bargaining table. However, Takeyh, like the other panelists, thinks that there is “no sanctions solution” to the problem of Iranian nuclear ambitions. And even if Iran returns to the table, at best we will have an inconclusive result. The ability of economic sanctions, especially of the modest type currently being contemplated, he contends, will not affect the calculation of the regime’s self-interest. Pletka concurred, “At this point sanctions are not going to deliver.”

She pointed out that rather than preparing for the Iranians’ inevitable rejection of our negotiating efforts, we seemingly frittered away the time. We are now “gobsmacked” that the Iranians have said no to our bargaining offers, and we are only now trying to cobble together a sanctions effort. Abrams pointed out that a sanctions approach might have made sense last Labor Day — our original deadline, when Obama was still fresh on the scene. But now the “U.S. position has been diminished,” and our relations with Britain, France, and India are worse, making a cohesive effort harder. As for unilateral sanctions, Pletka reports that the administration is putting pressure on “skeptics” in Congress to slow down the reconciliation process between the House and Senate sanctions bills. She doubts Congress is “willing to take on the administration,” which is adverse to a unilateral effort. The U.N. is where the action is for the administration.

The consensus of the group was that the watered-down sanctions, for which we are struggling to obtain Russian and Chinese agreement, will have no effect on the Iranians’ nuclear plans. Would a ban on importation of Iranian oil and on export to Iran of refined gasoline? Takeyh says yes, but the “international community won’t do it.”

Likewise, the panelists agreed that containment is a nonstarter. Abrams pointed out that the difference between deterrence before Iran gets the bomb and containment after is critical. (“Containment doesn’t guarantee anything, ” he noted.) After five years of saying a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, any containment policy, which would by necessity require use of force or threat of force to deter aggressive Iranian action, Abrams explained, would certainly lack credibility. Kagan summed up: “If they don’t want to use [military force] now, why would they use it when Iran has the bomb?”

Pletka argued that the acquisition of a nuclear weapon would enhance the regime’s staying power and deter efforts to undermine the regime. As for the Green Movement, Abrams noted allowing the regime to get the bomb would have a huge impact on morale. “The world would have been defeated,” he explains, and the regime would have achieved a great victory.

Abrams made several key points. First, he notes Israel desperately would prefer not to launch a military strike, but only if “there is another way to keep Iran from getting the bomb.” He notes that the Israelis are amazed at “how stupid” the U.S. has been in taking the military option off the table. “What leverage do you have?” he asked. “Even if you don’t believe it [that force would be used], why isn’t he saying” a military option would be no big deal? He imagines that some in the administration do not want to see the entire Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system break down and would be willing to employ force, but this is not a view shared by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or the U.S. military.

Second, he notes that by inaction both under the Bush and Obama administrations, we have conveyed to Iran that there “is no price to be paid for killing Americans.” He said that despite Iranians killing Americans directly and indirectly in Iraq, “there was absolute insistence by the U.S. military” not to act against Iran, presumably on the theory that “there was already too much on the table.” The lesson learned by the Iranians, therefore, was that they can impose a price on the U.S. without brining any suffering on themselves.

Finally, he argues that we should be making an “all-fronts” effort to contest Iranian behavior in all international bodies — whether on the mullahs’ arming of Hezbollah, human rights atrocities, or violation of nuclear agreements. We should urge European parliaments to denounce the regime. “Put the regime on the defensive everywhere. Make it a pariah state,” he argues, noting ruefully that instead, Israel has become the pariah nation.

The conclusion one draws from the panel is not an optimistic one. The Obama team wasted a year on engagement, only serving to undermine the Green Movement’s effort to delegitimize the regime. The sanctions currently contemplated are too puny and too late. The administration has disclaimed use of force. So while the administration is not officially stating that its policy is to accept the “unacceptable,” the inevitable result of its policy decision is precisely that. We now face what was thought to be unimaginable: a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. That will be the legacy of the Obama administration — a world infinitely more dangerous and unstable.

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The Green Movement: A Work in Progress

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

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Priorities

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

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Moderation

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

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Enron Accounting, Obama-Style

James Klein of the American Benefits Council writes in opposition to the attacks by the administration and Rep. Henry Waxman that corporations’ write-downs of losses due to ObamaCare are some sort of political scare tactics:

The new health-care law contains two sentences that change the tax treatment of a subsidy originally crafted in 2003 when Congress established the Medicare prescription drug program. As a result, companies must now impose on their financial statements the present value of their entire new future tax liability. The Obama administration’s position is a) that the original tax provision was actually a “loophole,” and b) that companies are acting irresponsibly by refusing to acknowledge the overall cost savings associated with the new law.

Notwithstanding the unusual tax treatment in the original provision, the bottom line is indisputable: The subsidy exists for the express purpose of saving the government money by keeping retirees on company prescription drug plans rather than having them enroll in the Medicare drug plan. Now that Congress has reversed the policy, corporations must report eye-popping charges on their financial statements.

As Klein notes, it is the frenzied ObamaCare defenders who are playing politics with the tax code, and worse — berating corporations to defraud shareholders. (“As for the government’s assertion that companies are failing to adequately account for all the savings they will enjoy from health-care reform, isn’t that exactly the kind of “creative” accounting that got Enron in trouble?”)

This is the administration that promised to take the politics out of science and the ideology out of foreign policy. But in fact everything — including the tax code — is merely part of the Chicago machine, which threatens to mow down any rule, any entity, and any critic standing in its way. Lacking internal restraint and humility, this administration and the country would surely benefit from some robust legislative scrutiny and oversight. The voters in November will have an opportunity to check the voracious power of an administration of bullies.

James Klein of the American Benefits Council writes in opposition to the attacks by the administration and Rep. Henry Waxman that corporations’ write-downs of losses due to ObamaCare are some sort of political scare tactics:

The new health-care law contains two sentences that change the tax treatment of a subsidy originally crafted in 2003 when Congress established the Medicare prescription drug program. As a result, companies must now impose on their financial statements the present value of their entire new future tax liability. The Obama administration’s position is a) that the original tax provision was actually a “loophole,” and b) that companies are acting irresponsibly by refusing to acknowledge the overall cost savings associated with the new law.

Notwithstanding the unusual tax treatment in the original provision, the bottom line is indisputable: The subsidy exists for the express purpose of saving the government money by keeping retirees on company prescription drug plans rather than having them enroll in the Medicare drug plan. Now that Congress has reversed the policy, corporations must report eye-popping charges on their financial statements.

As Klein notes, it is the frenzied ObamaCare defenders who are playing politics with the tax code, and worse — berating corporations to defraud shareholders. (“As for the government’s assertion that companies are failing to adequately account for all the savings they will enjoy from health-care reform, isn’t that exactly the kind of “creative” accounting that got Enron in trouble?”)

This is the administration that promised to take the politics out of science and the ideology out of foreign policy. But in fact everything — including the tax code — is merely part of the Chicago machine, which threatens to mow down any rule, any entity, and any critic standing in its way. Lacking internal restraint and humility, this administration and the country would surely benefit from some robust legislative scrutiny and oversight. The voters in November will have an opportunity to check the voracious power of an administration of bullies.

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America Is Not on Autopilot

David Brooks surveys the American scene and finds the future bright — a population boom to produce young  workers, immigration to attract skilled workers, a dynamic economy to satisfy the world’s ever-growing demand for U.S. products, and a thriving popular culture. He concludes:

The U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.

That’s a comforting thought, but, of course, the political culture – and the policy choices it produces – can retard or shut off the very trends and phenomena that Brooks praises. Immigration could be choked off  — as it was in previous eras of economic uncertainty. That economic dynamism that Brooks touts is not impervious to the regulatory, tax, and legal framework that political elites produce. In fact, it is the enormous uptick in debt, the growth of the public sector, the tax hikes, and the financial micromanagement that the Obama administration is pushing that threaten to make America a less productive, less dynamic, and less wealthy nation. That “decentralized community-building” that Brooks likes can be subverted by an overreaching federal government that seeks to regulate everything from the type of health insurance we must buy to the emissions that the local electric company can put out to the sorts of infrastructure projects that are funded.

In sum, the American social and economic culture that has produced tremendous wealth, upward mobility, and opportunity can be eroded by foolish policies. Similarly, our national security — which is a prerequisite for that blissful domestic environment — can be imperiled by a reckless approach that ignores looming threats, imagines our foes share common values, and alienates allies.

America is not a nation on autopilot. It remains to be seen whether we can prosper and remain safe despite the misguided domestic and foreign-policy agenda of a president who lacks a fundamental understanding of how wealth is created and how America projects its strength and defends its vital interests.

David Brooks surveys the American scene and finds the future bright — a population boom to produce young  workers, immigration to attract skilled workers, a dynamic economy to satisfy the world’s ever-growing demand for U.S. products, and a thriving popular culture. He concludes:

The U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.

That’s a comforting thought, but, of course, the political culture – and the policy choices it produces – can retard or shut off the very trends and phenomena that Brooks praises. Immigration could be choked off  — as it was in previous eras of economic uncertainty. That economic dynamism that Brooks touts is not impervious to the regulatory, tax, and legal framework that political elites produce. In fact, it is the enormous uptick in debt, the growth of the public sector, the tax hikes, and the financial micromanagement that the Obama administration is pushing that threaten to make America a less productive, less dynamic, and less wealthy nation. That “decentralized community-building” that Brooks likes can be subverted by an overreaching federal government that seeks to regulate everything from the type of health insurance we must buy to the emissions that the local electric company can put out to the sorts of infrastructure projects that are funded.

In sum, the American social and economic culture that has produced tremendous wealth, upward mobility, and opportunity can be eroded by foolish policies. Similarly, our national security — which is a prerequisite for that blissful domestic environment — can be imperiled by a reckless approach that ignores looming threats, imagines our foes share common values, and alienates allies.

America is not a nation on autopilot. It remains to be seen whether we can prosper and remain safe despite the misguided domestic and foreign-policy agenda of a president who lacks a fundamental understanding of how wealth is created and how America projects its strength and defends its vital interests.

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Crist’s Disastrous Career Move

It’s not a good sign for Charlie Crist when the discussion moves from “Can he win the GOP primary?” to “Is he really going to run as an independent?” But that’s where the discussion is moving as poll after poll shows Marco Rubio clobbering the incumbent governor in the Republican Senate primary. Stuart Rothenberg probably does Crist no favors by writing that he is so out to lunch he doesn’t see a coming defeat:

One insider said, Crist doesn’t yet believe that he will lose the Republican race.

“Charlie still doesn’t think he’s in trouble. He thinks this is just a phase in the race, and he and his people believe that with the stuff they have [on Rubio], they can turn it around.”

Though everyone acknowledges that the GOP primary is still almost five months away and that Crist has resources and ammunition to use against Rubio, Crist and his loyal supporters seem to be the only ones who believe that a comeback is realistic.

Veteran state observers note the trendlines of a long list of polls favor Rubio, and they comment that “nothing that Crist is throwing at Rubio is sticking,” an ominous sign for the governor.

Nor is it clear that Crist would do any better with the voters as an independent because polls show that Rubio would still win handily in a three-way race. Rothenberg notes:

Insiders seem to agree that a Crist Independent bid would damage the governor’s credibility and rob him of much of the Republican and Democratic support he currently has in hypothetical ballot tests, certainly putting him at great risk of a third-place finish.

Running as an Independent would confirm the line of attack that Crist’s critics have leveled at him — that he is an opportunist who will do or say anything that he needs to in order to further his personal goals. And that would peel Republican and Democratic supporters away from him quickly.

There seems to be no good option for Crist, who went from popular governor and rising star to a maligned insider and the object of derision by the conservative base. (You’d have to go back to McLean Stevenson’s ill-conceived decision to leave the cast of the M*A*S*H TV series to find a worse career move.) Politics is treacherous business, especially for those who lack a sense of the political environment and of their own limitations.

It’s not a good sign for Charlie Crist when the discussion moves from “Can he win the GOP primary?” to “Is he really going to run as an independent?” But that’s where the discussion is moving as poll after poll shows Marco Rubio clobbering the incumbent governor in the Republican Senate primary. Stuart Rothenberg probably does Crist no favors by writing that he is so out to lunch he doesn’t see a coming defeat:

One insider said, Crist doesn’t yet believe that he will lose the Republican race.

“Charlie still doesn’t think he’s in trouble. He thinks this is just a phase in the race, and he and his people believe that with the stuff they have [on Rubio], they can turn it around.”

Though everyone acknowledges that the GOP primary is still almost five months away and that Crist has resources and ammunition to use against Rubio, Crist and his loyal supporters seem to be the only ones who believe that a comeback is realistic.

Veteran state observers note the trendlines of a long list of polls favor Rubio, and they comment that “nothing that Crist is throwing at Rubio is sticking,” an ominous sign for the governor.

Nor is it clear that Crist would do any better with the voters as an independent because polls show that Rubio would still win handily in a three-way race. Rothenberg notes:

Insiders seem to agree that a Crist Independent bid would damage the governor’s credibility and rob him of much of the Republican and Democratic support he currently has in hypothetical ballot tests, certainly putting him at great risk of a third-place finish.

Running as an Independent would confirm the line of attack that Crist’s critics have leveled at him — that he is an opportunist who will do or say anything that he needs to in order to further his personal goals. And that would peel Republican and Democratic supporters away from him quickly.

There seems to be no good option for Crist, who went from popular governor and rising star to a maligned insider and the object of derision by the conservative base. (You’d have to go back to McLean Stevenson’s ill-conceived decision to leave the cast of the M*A*S*H TV series to find a worse career move.) Politics is treacherous business, especially for those who lack a sense of the political environment and of their own limitations.

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What Comes from Israel-Bashing

In the list of foreseeable consequences from the Obami’s assault on Israel is the radicalization of  more moderate Arab leaders, who can’t be seen as less aggressive than the Obama team in insisting on unilateral concessions by Israel. As this report explains:

Jordan’s leader also delivered in an interview Monday with The Wall Street Journal a rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, charging that his policy of building homes for Jewish families in East Jerusalem has pushed Jordanian-Israeli relations to their lowest point since a 1994 peace treaty.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he will push the Obama administration next week to impose on Israel the terms and time-line for new peace talks with the Palestinians, as concerns mount inside his government that the stalled dialogue could fuel a new round of violence in the Middle East that targets moderate Arab states…

King Abdullah’s calls for Mr. Obama to essentially dictate the terms for Israeli-Palestinian talks is feeding into a policy debate in Washington over how hard to push Mr. Netanyahu.

So to review: the Obami picked a fight over an issue on which no Israeli government can relent, and that in the past has never risen to the level of public confrontation between the two nations, let alone necessitated a “condemnation” by the U.S. The Palestinians have reacted by taking to the streets. The Arab states are demanding Obama turn up the heat even further. The Israelis have told the Obama team they aren’t about to knuckle under to its demands on building in Jerusalem. Are we closer to peace? Or have the Obami managed to inflame and aggravate  the situation, raising Palestinian expectations and increasing Israeli anxiety? And meanwhile, the signal is unmistakable — to the mullahs in Tehran, to Iran’s Arab neighbors, and to Israel — that the U.S. is an unpredictable, flaky ally. It is a recipe for violence and instability.

In the list of foreseeable consequences from the Obami’s assault on Israel is the radicalization of  more moderate Arab leaders, who can’t be seen as less aggressive than the Obama team in insisting on unilateral concessions by Israel. As this report explains:

Jordan’s leader also delivered in an interview Monday with The Wall Street Journal a rebuke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, charging that his policy of building homes for Jewish families in East Jerusalem has pushed Jordanian-Israeli relations to their lowest point since a 1994 peace treaty.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he will push the Obama administration next week to impose on Israel the terms and time-line for new peace talks with the Palestinians, as concerns mount inside his government that the stalled dialogue could fuel a new round of violence in the Middle East that targets moderate Arab states…

King Abdullah’s calls for Mr. Obama to essentially dictate the terms for Israeli-Palestinian talks is feeding into a policy debate in Washington over how hard to push Mr. Netanyahu.

So to review: the Obami picked a fight over an issue on which no Israeli government can relent, and that in the past has never risen to the level of public confrontation between the two nations, let alone necessitated a “condemnation” by the U.S. The Palestinians have reacted by taking to the streets. The Arab states are demanding Obama turn up the heat even further. The Israelis have told the Obama team they aren’t about to knuckle under to its demands on building in Jerusalem. Are we closer to peace? Or have the Obami managed to inflame and aggravate  the situation, raising Palestinian expectations and increasing Israeli anxiety? And meanwhile, the signal is unmistakable — to the mullahs in Tehran, to Iran’s Arab neighbors, and to Israel — that the U.S. is an unpredictable, flaky ally. It is a recipe for violence and instability.

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Obama’s Incomprehensible Nuclear Posture Review

It’s sometimes hard to fathom what Obama is up to. What possible rationale would there be for “revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons, even in self-defense”? Why would we want to announce a new posture that “eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war”? It seems absurd to be “explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.” All of this only reinforces the perception that Obama is dangerously obsessed with unilateral gestures and disarmament. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the United States would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

And while we are signaling to potential foes that they can take a potshot at the U.S. without risking a nuclear blowback, Obama makes crystal clear just how unserious he is about taking out Iran’s nuclear capability:

Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”

In other words, the nuclear-free world that Obama is envisioning had better prepare itself to include Iran in the nuclear club because Obama sees no “switch” (certainly not any military action) to forestall a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state.

I imagine that the average American looking at this would recoil. Why foreswear defensive use of nuclear force? Why remove strategic ambiguity? Why give the signal that crippling sanctions aren’t in the cards? These are the questions lawmakers and voters should and will be asking themselves. If this is really the course Obama intends to pursue, Americans may well conclude he is making them and our allies less safe and the world more vulnerable to aggressors.

It’s sometimes hard to fathom what Obama is up to. What possible rationale would there be for “revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons, even in self-defense”? Why would we want to announce a new posture that “eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war”? It seems absurd to be “explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.” All of this only reinforces the perception that Obama is dangerously obsessed with unilateral gestures and disarmament. Even the New York Times concedes:

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the United States would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

And while we are signaling to potential foes that they can take a potshot at the U.S. without risking a nuclear blowback, Obama makes crystal clear just how unserious he is about taking out Iran’s nuclear capability:

Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”

In other words, the nuclear-free world that Obama is envisioning had better prepare itself to include Iran in the nuclear club because Obama sees no “switch” (certainly not any military action) to forestall a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state.

I imagine that the average American looking at this would recoil. Why foreswear defensive use of nuclear force? Why remove strategic ambiguity? Why give the signal that crippling sanctions aren’t in the cards? These are the questions lawmakers and voters should and will be asking themselves. If this is really the course Obama intends to pursue, Americans may well conclude he is making them and our allies less safe and the world more vulnerable to aggressors.

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Tea Party Movement Points the Way

James Taranto, reviewing the recent polling data and rather favorable mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party movement, concludes:

It all adds up to a remarkably broad-based and nonideological movement–one that has gained strength as the Democrats who currently run Washington have proved themselves to be narrow and ideological. Had President Obama governed from the center–above all, had he heeded public opinion and abandoned his grandiose plans to transform America, he might well have held the allegiance of many of the people who now sympathize with the tea party.

It is also worth examining why the Tea Party movement polls more favorably than the president. Well, for starters, the Tea Party activists are advancing broadly popular, fiscally conservative ideas — reduce the debt, end the bailouts, don’t increase taxes, etc. In a Center-Right country, lo and behold, these are popular themes. And, of course, the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a single figure, a devisive character leading it, who may rub people the wrong way or condescend to those who disagree with its precepts. The benefit of being an ideas movement, as opposed to a cult of personality, is that the movement doesn’t wither once the leader proves to be less than advertised.

Neither does the Tea Party movement have the obligation to govern or formulate detailed policies. In that regard, it has an advantage that neither the governing party nor the opposition party enjoys. A debate has raged as to whether the Republicans need positive, specific alternatives to counter the Democrats in the midterm elections, or whether the Democrats have become so noxious that a “not the Democrats” or ” block Obama” message is sufficient to return the Republicans to the majority in the House and rack up big gains in the Senate. The answer, I think, is that there is a great risk for the Republicans in merely opposing without offering some comfort to voters as to what they will be getting should Republicans gain power.

The voters bought a pig in the poke with Obama. They may want some greater assurance this time around. That means, at the very least, that the Republicans may be obliged to go beyond the articulated critique of the Obama administration that has been ably advanced by the Tea Party activists. And after all, Republicans have workable ideas — from Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, and others on health care, for example. The Democrats have failed to advance a job-creation agenda, so Republicans who set forth their own proposals will certainly have a leg up on the party that has spent more than a year on everything but job growth.

The lesson of the Tea Party movement for conservative candidates is not that opposition alone is the key to popularity. It is that opposition to Obama can rally a broad-based coalition that may, if attractive candidates and a reasoned agenda are presented, be willing to vote for “change.” The country is largely dissatisfied, if not irate, with what has been offered by the Democrats; the Republicans, however, will need to close the deal if they are to wrest the reins of power back from those who sneered far too long at the popular uprising.

James Taranto, reviewing the recent polling data and rather favorable mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party movement, concludes:

It all adds up to a remarkably broad-based and nonideological movement–one that has gained strength as the Democrats who currently run Washington have proved themselves to be narrow and ideological. Had President Obama governed from the center–above all, had he heeded public opinion and abandoned his grandiose plans to transform America, he might well have held the allegiance of many of the people who now sympathize with the tea party.

It is also worth examining why the Tea Party movement polls more favorably than the president. Well, for starters, the Tea Party activists are advancing broadly popular, fiscally conservative ideas — reduce the debt, end the bailouts, don’t increase taxes, etc. In a Center-Right country, lo and behold, these are popular themes. And, of course, the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a single figure, a devisive character leading it, who may rub people the wrong way or condescend to those who disagree with its precepts. The benefit of being an ideas movement, as opposed to a cult of personality, is that the movement doesn’t wither once the leader proves to be less than advertised.

Neither does the Tea Party movement have the obligation to govern or formulate detailed policies. In that regard, it has an advantage that neither the governing party nor the opposition party enjoys. A debate has raged as to whether the Republicans need positive, specific alternatives to counter the Democrats in the midterm elections, or whether the Democrats have become so noxious that a “not the Democrats” or ” block Obama” message is sufficient to return the Republicans to the majority in the House and rack up big gains in the Senate. The answer, I think, is that there is a great risk for the Republicans in merely opposing without offering some comfort to voters as to what they will be getting should Republicans gain power.

The voters bought a pig in the poke with Obama. They may want some greater assurance this time around. That means, at the very least, that the Republicans may be obliged to go beyond the articulated critique of the Obama administration that has been ably advanced by the Tea Party activists. And after all, Republicans have workable ideas — from Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint, and others on health care, for example. The Democrats have failed to advance a job-creation agenda, so Republicans who set forth their own proposals will certainly have a leg up on the party that has spent more than a year on everything but job growth.

The lesson of the Tea Party movement for conservative candidates is not that opposition alone is the key to popularity. It is that opposition to Obama can rally a broad-based coalition that may, if attractive candidates and a reasoned agenda are presented, be willing to vote for “change.” The country is largely dissatisfied, if not irate, with what has been offered by the Democrats; the Republicans, however, will need to close the deal if they are to wrest the reins of power back from those who sneered far too long at the popular uprising.

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Don’t Wait for Obama’s Condemnation

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama loses to the movement ridiculed by the chattering class: “On major issues, 48% of voters say that the average Tea Party member is closer to their views than President Barack Obama. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 44% hold the opposite view and believe the president’s views are closer to their own.”

And the movement sort of looks like America, according to Gallup: “Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. … Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings. Also, compared with average Americans, supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income. … In several other respects, however — their age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.” In other words, they are pretty much like all the other voters Obama ignores.

Tom Goldstein’s reading the Supreme Court retirement tea leaves: “To clear up any remaining ambiguity, if you believe or hear anyone else say that Justice Ginsburg may retire this summer, this is the appropriate response: Will. Not. Happen. No other member of the Court has any reason to retire either. By all accounts, each of the Justices is in good health. All of them feel an obligation to serve. Although the Court is divided, it’s not Congress; none is going to pull an Evan Bayh and walk away. Justice Souter’s perspective on his role and tenure was unique. And it’s a good job, so few people want to give it up. (If offered it, you should take it.)”

Liberal reporters discover Obama is a phony.

Robert Gibbs finally says something both funny and true: “I think Michael Steele’s problem isn’t the race card; it’s the credit card.”

Obama vs. Bob McDonnell: “In Washington, President Obama is borrowing, taxing, and spending with abandon — with little apparent concern about the long-term consequences of his unprecedented expansion of government control of the economy and the claims it will make on future earnings of the American people. The president’s agenda relies on one-party power and minimal attempts at compromise. In Richmond, on the other hand, Gov. Bob McDonnell has just closed a $4 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. To do so, he made significant cuts in a budget that had expanded by more than 70 percent in a decade — better than 28 percent for every citizen in Virginia (in inflation-adjusted dollars).”

Gabriel Schoenfeld on Obama’s Iran policy: “The Obama administration is dithering. Bent upon getting a Security Council resolution rather than assembling a coalition of the willing, the White House and American policy is being held hostage by Russia and most of all by China. Here’s an informed prediction: if Beijing does come around and support a new round of sanctions, it will be hailed by the White House as a major breakthrough: peace in our time. But the actual sanctions will be weak to worthless. China has too much at stake in Iran as a source of energy. It also sees an opportunity to poke us in the eye. … One question that should be asked is what we will say the day after Iran tests its first nuclear device.”

Obama loses to the movement ridiculed by the chattering class: “On major issues, 48% of voters say that the average Tea Party member is closer to their views than President Barack Obama. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 44% hold the opposite view and believe the president’s views are closer to their own.”

And the movement sort of looks like America, according to Gallup: “Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. … Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings. Also, compared with average Americans, supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income. … In several other respects, however — their age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.” In other words, they are pretty much like all the other voters Obama ignores.

Tom Goldstein’s reading the Supreme Court retirement tea leaves: “To clear up any remaining ambiguity, if you believe or hear anyone else say that Justice Ginsburg may retire this summer, this is the appropriate response: Will. Not. Happen. No other member of the Court has any reason to retire either. By all accounts, each of the Justices is in good health. All of them feel an obligation to serve. Although the Court is divided, it’s not Congress; none is going to pull an Evan Bayh and walk away. Justice Souter’s perspective on his role and tenure was unique. And it’s a good job, so few people want to give it up. (If offered it, you should take it.)”

Liberal reporters discover Obama is a phony.

Robert Gibbs finally says something both funny and true: “I think Michael Steele’s problem isn’t the race card; it’s the credit card.”

Obama vs. Bob McDonnell: “In Washington, President Obama is borrowing, taxing, and spending with abandon — with little apparent concern about the long-term consequences of his unprecedented expansion of government control of the economy and the claims it will make on future earnings of the American people. The president’s agenda relies on one-party power and minimal attempts at compromise. In Richmond, on the other hand, Gov. Bob McDonnell has just closed a $4 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. To do so, he made significant cuts in a budget that had expanded by more than 70 percent in a decade — better than 28 percent for every citizen in Virginia (in inflation-adjusted dollars).”

Gabriel Schoenfeld on Obama’s Iran policy: “The Obama administration is dithering. Bent upon getting a Security Council resolution rather than assembling a coalition of the willing, the White House and American policy is being held hostage by Russia and most of all by China. Here’s an informed prediction: if Beijing does come around and support a new round of sanctions, it will be hailed by the White House as a major breakthrough: peace in our time. But the actual sanctions will be weak to worthless. China has too much at stake in Iran as a source of energy. It also sees an opportunity to poke us in the eye. … One question that should be asked is what we will say the day after Iran tests its first nuclear device.”

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