Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 15, 2010

Is the Connecticut Senate Front-runner “Martha Coakley in Pants”?

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

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RE: Lauder Takes On Obama

Well, the floodgates might not be wide open yet, but the drip, drip of criticism from Jewish organizations is starting. The ADL releases the following statement from Abe Foxman concerning Obama’s new approach to Israel:

The significant shift in U.S. policy toward Israel and the peace process, which has been evident in comments from various members of the Obama Administration and has now been confirmed by the president himself in his press conference at the Nuclear Security Summit, is deeply distressing.  Saying that the absence of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines U.S. interests in the broader Middle East and the larger issue of resolving other conflicts is a faulty strategy. It is an incorrect approach on which to base America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and its relationship with its longtime friend and ally, Israel.

ADL has long expressed its concern from the very beginning of the Obama Administration about advisers to the president who see the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major impediment to achieving the administration’s foreign policy and military goals in the wider region.  The net effect of this dangerous thinking is to shift responsibility for success of American foreign policy away from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and directly onto Israel.  It is particularly disturbing in light of the blatantly disproportionate number and the nature of statements issued by this administration criticizing Israel as compared to what has been said about the Palestinians.

The best way to move the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward is for all parties to demand that the Palestinians abandon their tactic of “just saying no” and insist that the rest of the Arab world move toward normalization relations with Israel.

Obama, by choosing to acknowledge the obvious — that he sees the U.S.-Israel relationship in fundamentally different terms than his predecessors — has allowed Jewish leaders to do the same. The notion that American Jewish leaders are buying access or influence with the Obami by staying mum has been blown to smithereens. It has only, it seems, emboldened the president to turn up the heat on Bibi and pursue his turn toward the “Muslim World.”

Obama last year said Middle East diplomacy was lacking honesty — that we should say in public and private what we mean. That’s good advice for American Jewish leaders — be honest, be clear, and be emphatic. Obama’s not hiding his contempt for Bibi, for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and for Jewish American leaders. They should be equally uncensored in their views of his policies. We’ll see if others follow Lauder and Foxman.

Well, the floodgates might not be wide open yet, but the drip, drip of criticism from Jewish organizations is starting. The ADL releases the following statement from Abe Foxman concerning Obama’s new approach to Israel:

The significant shift in U.S. policy toward Israel and the peace process, which has been evident in comments from various members of the Obama Administration and has now been confirmed by the president himself in his press conference at the Nuclear Security Summit, is deeply distressing.  Saying that the absence of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines U.S. interests in the broader Middle East and the larger issue of resolving other conflicts is a faulty strategy. It is an incorrect approach on which to base America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and its relationship with its longtime friend and ally, Israel.

ADL has long expressed its concern from the very beginning of the Obama Administration about advisers to the president who see the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major impediment to achieving the administration’s foreign policy and military goals in the wider region.  The net effect of this dangerous thinking is to shift responsibility for success of American foreign policy away from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and directly onto Israel.  It is particularly disturbing in light of the blatantly disproportionate number and the nature of statements issued by this administration criticizing Israel as compared to what has been said about the Palestinians.

The best way to move the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward is for all parties to demand that the Palestinians abandon their tactic of “just saying no” and insist that the rest of the Arab world move toward normalization relations with Israel.

Obama, by choosing to acknowledge the obvious — that he sees the U.S.-Israel relationship in fundamentally different terms than his predecessors — has allowed Jewish leaders to do the same. The notion that American Jewish leaders are buying access or influence with the Obami by staying mum has been blown to smithereens. It has only, it seems, emboldened the president to turn up the heat on Bibi and pursue his turn toward the “Muslim World.”

Obama last year said Middle East diplomacy was lacking honesty — that we should say in public and private what we mean. That’s good advice for American Jewish leaders — be honest, be clear, and be emphatic. Obama’s not hiding his contempt for Bibi, for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and for Jewish American leaders. They should be equally uncensored in their views of his policies. We’ll see if others follow Lauder and Foxman.

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UK: Don’t Say Western Wall or Jerusalem is in Israel

In recent years, Israel-bashing has become one of the United Kingdom’s favorite sports. Academic and trade-union boycotts of the Jewish state have flourished while anti-Israeli plays such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie” have been hits on London’s West End stages. Ironically, the growth of anti-Zionist extremism there has made the British government’s increasing hostility toward Israel looked moderate by comparison. Indeed, in a country where Israel’s right to exist is denied by most of the intelligentsia, politicians such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron are seen as “pro-Israel” because they oppose the state’s destruction even while consistently opposing its right of self-defense as well as Jewish claims to Jerusalem.

But in a country where so much of the academic and artistic community as well as a large number of mainstream politicians are so fervently opposed to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising when such attitudes leach into government proceedings. Thus, while outrageous, it can hardly be considered a great surprise that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad by the Israel Government’s Tourist Office depicting sites from Jerusalem’s Old City on the grounds that it is fraudulent since it claimed that viewers of the ad were likely to think the places featured in its pictures were actually in the State of Israel. Since Britain doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, let alone the Old City, the agency dubbed the ad misleading.

This is, of course, nonsense. The politics of the Middle East conflict notwithstanding, anyone who visits Israel will quickly learn that, contrary to the fiction maintained by London (and other Western governments), a united Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and visitors to the country have free and easy access to all the holy sites, including Christian and Muslim shrines. Even if future “peace” deals might attempt to divide the city and rebuild the walls that divided it between 1949 and 1967 (when Jordan illegally occupied those areas now misleadingly termed “East Jerusalem”), the Old City is now firmly under Israeli jurisdiction. Any ad that attempted to portray these places as currently being under the control of any country but Israel would be misleading, not the IGTO’s inoffensive appeal to tourists. What’s going on here is a blatant attempt to inject an anti-Zionist political agenda into the business of monitoring misleading advertising. As Israel’s Tourism Ministry said in its reply, “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.”

Moreover, there is something profoundly offensive about a foreign government claiming that the most sacred shrine in Judaism — the Western Wall — is part of what the Guardian calls “the Palestinian occupied territories.”  Though this UK pronouncement will do little damage to Israel, it does represent the lengths to which Israel’s enemies will go in their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the entire country. If Britain thinks Jews have no right to call the Kotel their own, then what hope is there of convincing it that Jews have a right to live anywhere in their country?

In recent years, Israel-bashing has become one of the United Kingdom’s favorite sports. Academic and trade-union boycotts of the Jewish state have flourished while anti-Israeli plays such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie” have been hits on London’s West End stages. Ironically, the growth of anti-Zionist extremism there has made the British government’s increasing hostility toward Israel looked moderate by comparison. Indeed, in a country where Israel’s right to exist is denied by most of the intelligentsia, politicians such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron are seen as “pro-Israel” because they oppose the state’s destruction even while consistently opposing its right of self-defense as well as Jewish claims to Jerusalem.

But in a country where so much of the academic and artistic community as well as a large number of mainstream politicians are so fervently opposed to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising when such attitudes leach into government proceedings. Thus, while outrageous, it can hardly be considered a great surprise that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad by the Israel Government’s Tourist Office depicting sites from Jerusalem’s Old City on the grounds that it is fraudulent since it claimed that viewers of the ad were likely to think the places featured in its pictures were actually in the State of Israel. Since Britain doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, let alone the Old City, the agency dubbed the ad misleading.

This is, of course, nonsense. The politics of the Middle East conflict notwithstanding, anyone who visits Israel will quickly learn that, contrary to the fiction maintained by London (and other Western governments), a united Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and visitors to the country have free and easy access to all the holy sites, including Christian and Muslim shrines. Even if future “peace” deals might attempt to divide the city and rebuild the walls that divided it between 1949 and 1967 (when Jordan illegally occupied those areas now misleadingly termed “East Jerusalem”), the Old City is now firmly under Israeli jurisdiction. Any ad that attempted to portray these places as currently being under the control of any country but Israel would be misleading, not the IGTO’s inoffensive appeal to tourists. What’s going on here is a blatant attempt to inject an anti-Zionist political agenda into the business of monitoring misleading advertising. As Israel’s Tourism Ministry said in its reply, “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.”

Moreover, there is something profoundly offensive about a foreign government claiming that the most sacred shrine in Judaism — the Western Wall — is part of what the Guardian calls “the Palestinian occupied territories.”  Though this UK pronouncement will do little damage to Israel, it does represent the lengths to which Israel’s enemies will go in their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the entire country. If Britain thinks Jews have no right to call the Kotel their own, then what hope is there of convincing it that Jews have a right to live anywhere in their country?

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Tax Day

“Can I deduct the cost of marijuana if it’s for medical use?”

“Only if you’re filing a joint return.”

The Cato Institute has an excellent short film on all that is wrong with the federal tax system. In short, that system violates all four principles of taxation described by Adam Smith:

1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

As Warren Buffett complained, his effective tax rate is half that of his secretary.

2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary.

The system is so complex that not even professionals can be sure what people owe. Send out the tax information of a middle-class couple with children to six tax accountants and they will come up with six different sums owed. That experiment has been run numerous times. The advice the IRS itself gives out is frequently wrong.

3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it.

Most people never see the money, as it never gets into their paychecks. Those with incomes not subject to withholding must estimate in January, April, July, and October, regardless of whether those months are convenient.

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state.

Well over 50 percent of filers hire people to fill out the forms because they can’t understand them. The corporate income tax is even worse. As the Wall Street Journal explains today, the cost of complying with the corporate income tax this year will equal 89 percent of the revenues received by the government. General Electric’s tax return, filed electronically, will be the equivalent of 24,000 pages long.

The current tax system benefits two groups: the rich and powerful, who are able to lobby Congress for loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc., and the 535 members of Congress, who sell those loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc. Yes, sell. They are traded for campaign contributions. It’s as legal as it is disgraceful.

There is no reforming the current system, as it is permeated with corruption. But Congress is utterly unable to write a new tax code from scratch. If this country is to ever get out from under a tax code that has become a clear and present danger to American prosperity and power, it will have to be done using a means similar to the military base closings after the Cold War: in secret, with Congress voting up or down, no amendments.

Only overwhelming pressure will make that happen. That’s another reason why the 2010 election might turn out to be the most consequential midterm election in American history.

“Can I deduct the cost of marijuana if it’s for medical use?”

“Only if you’re filing a joint return.”

The Cato Institute has an excellent short film on all that is wrong with the federal tax system. In short, that system violates all four principles of taxation described by Adam Smith:

1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

As Warren Buffett complained, his effective tax rate is half that of his secretary.

2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary.

The system is so complex that not even professionals can be sure what people owe. Send out the tax information of a middle-class couple with children to six tax accountants and they will come up with six different sums owed. That experiment has been run numerous times. The advice the IRS itself gives out is frequently wrong.

3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it.

Most people never see the money, as it never gets into their paychecks. Those with incomes not subject to withholding must estimate in January, April, July, and October, regardless of whether those months are convenient.

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state.

Well over 50 percent of filers hire people to fill out the forms because they can’t understand them. The corporate income tax is even worse. As the Wall Street Journal explains today, the cost of complying with the corporate income tax this year will equal 89 percent of the revenues received by the government. General Electric’s tax return, filed electronically, will be the equivalent of 24,000 pages long.

The current tax system benefits two groups: the rich and powerful, who are able to lobby Congress for loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc., and the 535 members of Congress, who sell those loopholes, subsidies, tax credits, etc. etc. Yes, sell. They are traded for campaign contributions. It’s as legal as it is disgraceful.

There is no reforming the current system, as it is permeated with corruption. But Congress is utterly unable to write a new tax code from scratch. If this country is to ever get out from under a tax code that has become a clear and present danger to American prosperity and power, it will have to be done using a means similar to the military base closings after the Cold War: in secret, with Congress voting up or down, no amendments.

Only overwhelming pressure will make that happen. That’s another reason why the 2010 election might turn out to be the most consequential midterm election in American history.

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Jews Wake Up?

The last poll of American Jewry, taken just as the Obama assault on Israel was materializing, suggested that Jews had not clued into — or didn’t care — about the Obami’s turn against the Jewish state. A new poll today suggests that something really is afoot. Six hundred Jews were polled on April 7-8 and the results suggest that grave doubts about Obama are setting in. 42 percent still would vote to re-elect Obama but 46 percent would consider someone else for president. The percentage of Jews who oppose Obama’s handling of U.S. relations with Israel is up to 39 percent. As the pollsters note, “This rating is not good for a group of voters who are 59% Democratic to only 16% Republican.”  By a wide margin — 52 to 28 percent — Jews disapprove of the idea of imposing a peace deal on the parties regardless of whether Israel agrees. 64 percent think Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel, while only 13 percent say that some of it should be handed over to the Palestinians. 62 percent say the Palestinians would continue terrorism even if given their own state. 73 percent say Israel should insist on its recognition as a Jewish state as a precondition to further negotiations.

Given the sentiments about the components of Obama’s approach to Israel, it is still remarkable that a full 50 percent approve of his handling of relations with Israel. This suggests, as did the AJC poll, that Jews still can’t quite break the habit of agreeing with whatever Obama is up to. But this is a sign, a significant one, I think, that the Jews’ views are not fixed and that the policies and tone of the administration do impact Jewish support. The movement in Jewish public opinion may in turn spur Jewish leaders to step forward, as Lauder did. After all, they wouldn’t want to be seen as lagging behind their members, or worse yet, as irrelevant.

The last poll of American Jewry, taken just as the Obama assault on Israel was materializing, suggested that Jews had not clued into — or didn’t care — about the Obami’s turn against the Jewish state. A new poll today suggests that something really is afoot. Six hundred Jews were polled on April 7-8 and the results suggest that grave doubts about Obama are setting in. 42 percent still would vote to re-elect Obama but 46 percent would consider someone else for president. The percentage of Jews who oppose Obama’s handling of U.S. relations with Israel is up to 39 percent. As the pollsters note, “This rating is not good for a group of voters who are 59% Democratic to only 16% Republican.”  By a wide margin — 52 to 28 percent — Jews disapprove of the idea of imposing a peace deal on the parties regardless of whether Israel agrees. 64 percent think Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel, while only 13 percent say that some of it should be handed over to the Palestinians. 62 percent say the Palestinians would continue terrorism even if given their own state. 73 percent say Israel should insist on its recognition as a Jewish state as a precondition to further negotiations.

Given the sentiments about the components of Obama’s approach to Israel, it is still remarkable that a full 50 percent approve of his handling of relations with Israel. This suggests, as did the AJC poll, that Jews still can’t quite break the habit of agreeing with whatever Obama is up to. But this is a sign, a significant one, I think, that the Jews’ views are not fixed and that the policies and tone of the administration do impact Jewish support. The movement in Jewish public opinion may in turn spur Jewish leaders to step forward, as Lauder did. After all, they wouldn’t want to be seen as lagging behind their members, or worse yet, as irrelevant.

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Playing with Fire in the Levant

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

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The Most Transparent Administ . . . Oh, Never Mind

The Hill reports:

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Thursday threatened the Obama administration with subpoenas if it doesn’t release information on the Fort Hood shootings sought by the committee by next Monday (April 19).

Lieberman said he and ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) “do not reach this decision lightly,” but felt forced after five months of “foot-dragging, very little assistance and changing reasons” for withholding information on the shootings.

The rest of the report delves into Lieberman’s disputes with fellow Democrats. But what’s the possible rationale for denying the committee the information? This is, of course, par for the course for the Obami. The names of Justice Department lawyers who represented terrorists? Not disclosing. Information on the dismissed New Black Panther voter intimidation case? Not giving it up. It is only because Congress is controlled by the Democrats that the administration has been able to stonewall even minimal efforts at oversight. That may change after the November elections, if Republicans take back one or both houses of Congress. But in the meantime, Lieberman remains the exceptional chairman — one who actually demands some accountability by the Obama administration, which seems to regard inquiries – by opponents, the Congress, or the media – as annoyances to be swatted away.

The Hill reports:

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Thursday threatened the Obama administration with subpoenas if it doesn’t release information on the Fort Hood shootings sought by the committee by next Monday (April 19).

Lieberman said he and ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) “do not reach this decision lightly,” but felt forced after five months of “foot-dragging, very little assistance and changing reasons” for withholding information on the shootings.

The rest of the report delves into Lieberman’s disputes with fellow Democrats. But what’s the possible rationale for denying the committee the information? This is, of course, par for the course for the Obami. The names of Justice Department lawyers who represented terrorists? Not disclosing. Information on the dismissed New Black Panther voter intimidation case? Not giving it up. It is only because Congress is controlled by the Democrats that the administration has been able to stonewall even minimal efforts at oversight. That may change after the November elections, if Republicans take back one or both houses of Congress. But in the meantime, Lieberman remains the exceptional chairman — one who actually demands some accountability by the Obama administration, which seems to regard inquiries – by opponents, the Congress, or the media – as annoyances to be swatted away.

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Obama Tied with GOP Contenders

Public Policy Polling reports:

Our monthly look ahead to the 2012 Presidential race finds Barack Obama more or less tied with all four of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination. He trails Mike Huckabee 47-45 and Mitt Romney 45-44, ties Newt Gingrich at 45-45, and leads Sarah Palin 47-45. This is the weakest performance Obama’s posted in these 13 monthly surveys and a pretty clear indication that passing health care has not done anything to enhance his political standing, at least in the short term.

Indeed it suggests the opposite — that it has cemented opposition to Obama and elevated candidates thought to be “unelectable” to parity with the sitting president. We’re years away from the presidential election and even the primary season, but it’s a far cry from where we were 15 months ago. It is remarkable how far Obama’s stock has fallen. Could the economy come roaring back and unemployment sink to low single digits? Perhaps. Could the deficit be significantly lowered, calming the fears of independent voters? Unlikely. In short, it’s far from certain that Obama’s political fortunes will necessarily improve over the next few years.

Public Policy Polling reports:

Our monthly look ahead to the 2012 Presidential race finds Barack Obama more or less tied with all four of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination. He trails Mike Huckabee 47-45 and Mitt Romney 45-44, ties Newt Gingrich at 45-45, and leads Sarah Palin 47-45. This is the weakest performance Obama’s posted in these 13 monthly surveys and a pretty clear indication that passing health care has not done anything to enhance his political standing, at least in the short term.

Indeed it suggests the opposite — that it has cemented opposition to Obama and elevated candidates thought to be “unelectable” to parity with the sitting president. We’re years away from the presidential election and even the primary season, but it’s a far cry from where we were 15 months ago. It is remarkable how far Obama’s stock has fallen. Could the economy come roaring back and unemployment sink to low single digits? Perhaps. Could the deficit be significantly lowered, calming the fears of independent voters? Unlikely. In short, it’s far from certain that Obama’s political fortunes will necessarily improve over the next few years.

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Lauder Takes On Obama

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has taken out ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to lambast the president’s Israel policy. It reads, in part:

Jews around the world are concerned today.  We are concerned about the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that brags about its genocidal intentions against Israel.  We are concerned that the Jewish state is being isolated and delegitimized.

Mr. President, we are concerned about the dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel.

The Israeli housing bureaucracy made a poorly timed announcement and your Administration branded it an “insult.”  This diplomatic faux pas was over the fourth stage of a seven stage planning permission process – a plan to build homes years from now in a Jewish area of Jerusalem that under any peace agreement would remain an integral part of Israel.

Our concern grows to alarm as we consider some disturbing questions.  Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate.

Israel has made unprecedented concessions.  It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history.

Israel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution.  Conversely, many Palestinians continue their refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The conflict’s root cause has always been the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.  Every American President who has tried to broker a peace agreement has collided with that Palestinian intransigence, sooner or later.  Recall President Clinton’s anguish when his peace proposals were bluntly rejected by the Palestinians in 2000.  Settlements were not the key issue then.

They are not the key issue now.

Another important question is this:  what is the Administration’s position on Israel’s borders in any final status agreement?  Ambiguity on this matter has provoked a wave of rumors and anxiety.  Can it be true that America is no longer committed to a final status agreement that provides defensible borders for Israel? Is a new course being charted that would leave Israel with the indefensible borders that invited invasion prior to 1967?

There are significant moves from the Palestinian side to use those indefensible borders as the basis for a future unilateral declaration of independence.  How would the United States respond to such a reckless course of action?

And what are America’s strategic ambitions in the broader Middle East?  The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known.  But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy?  Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?  History is clear on the matter:  appeasement does not work.  It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.

And what about the most dangerous player in the region?  Shouldn’t the United States remain focused on the single biggest threat that confronts the world today? That threat is a nuclear armed Iran.  Israel is not only America’s closest ally in the Middle East, it is the one most committed to this Administration’s declared aim of ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

He closes by asking Obama to take into “consideration the concerns expressed above.” As others have observed, Lauder revealed to the New York Times that he discussed the letter with Bibi and received support before running the ad.

There are several noteworthy points here. First, this is by far the most detailed and pointed objection from a prominent Jewish leader to the series of moves by the president to shift from the U.S.-Israel alliance, which has remained dominant in the Middle East, to something different. Unlike Democratic lawmakers who tend to skate by with generalities, Lauder makes his case with some detail. Second, I suspect this may unleash similarly candid responses. The sentiments Lauder expresses are not uncommon among Jewish activists, who may wonder why it is that their own organizations are being less forthright than Lauder’s. In other words, Lauder may well open up the floodgates for a new, frankly less genial relationship between the official Jewish community and the administration.

And finally, it remains to be seen what impact — if any — this has on the administration (which cares little for public opinion in general) and on Jewish support, be it electorally or financially, for Obama and his party. Given that Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Obama both on the Palestinian-Israel conflict and on Iran, it may be that there is little impact in the near-run. But 2012 is another story. Obama’s ability to maintain the facade that he is a great friend of Israel and of the American Jewish community may be coming to an end. If he is to pursue this course of action, he may well have to do it over increasing opposition from those who have been among his most loyal supporters.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has taken out ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to lambast the president’s Israel policy. It reads, in part:

Jews around the world are concerned today.  We are concerned about the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that brags about its genocidal intentions against Israel.  We are concerned that the Jewish state is being isolated and delegitimized.

Mr. President, we are concerned about the dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel.

The Israeli housing bureaucracy made a poorly timed announcement and your Administration branded it an “insult.”  This diplomatic faux pas was over the fourth stage of a seven stage planning permission process – a plan to build homes years from now in a Jewish area of Jerusalem that under any peace agreement would remain an integral part of Israel.

Our concern grows to alarm as we consider some disturbing questions.  Why does the thrust of this Administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks? After all, it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate.

Israel has made unprecedented concessions.  It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history.

Israel has publicly declared support for a two-state solution.  Conversely, many Palestinians continue their refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The conflict’s root cause has always been the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.  Every American President who has tried to broker a peace agreement has collided with that Palestinian intransigence, sooner or later.  Recall President Clinton’s anguish when his peace proposals were bluntly rejected by the Palestinians in 2000.  Settlements were not the key issue then.

They are not the key issue now.

Another important question is this:  what is the Administration’s position on Israel’s borders in any final status agreement?  Ambiguity on this matter has provoked a wave of rumors and anxiety.  Can it be true that America is no longer committed to a final status agreement that provides defensible borders for Israel? Is a new course being charted that would leave Israel with the indefensible borders that invited invasion prior to 1967?

There are significant moves from the Palestinian side to use those indefensible borders as the basis for a future unilateral declaration of independence.  How would the United States respond to such a reckless course of action?

And what are America’s strategic ambitions in the broader Middle East?  The Administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known.  But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy?  Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?  History is clear on the matter:  appeasement does not work.  It can achieve the opposite of what is intended.

And what about the most dangerous player in the region?  Shouldn’t the United States remain focused on the single biggest threat that confronts the world today? That threat is a nuclear armed Iran.  Israel is not only America’s closest ally in the Middle East, it is the one most committed to this Administration’s declared aim of ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

He closes by asking Obama to take into “consideration the concerns expressed above.” As others have observed, Lauder revealed to the New York Times that he discussed the letter with Bibi and received support before running the ad.

There are several noteworthy points here. First, this is by far the most detailed and pointed objection from a prominent Jewish leader to the series of moves by the president to shift from the U.S.-Israel alliance, which has remained dominant in the Middle East, to something different. Unlike Democratic lawmakers who tend to skate by with generalities, Lauder makes his case with some detail. Second, I suspect this may unleash similarly candid responses. The sentiments Lauder expresses are not uncommon among Jewish activists, who may wonder why it is that their own organizations are being less forthright than Lauder’s. In other words, Lauder may well open up the floodgates for a new, frankly less genial relationship between the official Jewish community and the administration.

And finally, it remains to be seen what impact — if any — this has on the administration (which cares little for public opinion in general) and on Jewish support, be it electorally or financially, for Obama and his party. Given that Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Obama both on the Palestinian-Israel conflict and on Iran, it may be that there is little impact in the near-run. But 2012 is another story. Obama’s ability to maintain the facade that he is a great friend of Israel and of the American Jewish community may be coming to an end. If he is to pursue this course of action, he may well have to do it over increasing opposition from those who have been among his most loyal supporters.

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It’s One Small Step for Man. Full Stop.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

So even Neil Armstrong has a beef with the president:

The first man on the Moon has teamed up with the last man, Gene Cernan, to confront President Obama over his “devastating” plans for Nasa’s $108 billion (£70 billion) Constellation programme. Mr Obama wants to scrap Constellation, which was meant to develop new space ships to replace the shuttle, take astronauts back to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

The death of the project would set America’s space programme on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”, Armstrong declared yesterday. “It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to re-create the equivalent of what we will have discarded,” he said in a statement.

Gizmodo, the fantabulously popular tech site, has a longish piece mourning the death of JFK’s dream (language alert — some people are very passionate about this).

NASA was the very first place I ever dreamed of working for. When I was a kid, the sci-fi of Star Trek was quickly becoming the sci-nonfi of July 21, 1969 — and I wanted to design spacecraft. In elementary school I could name all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions before I could name all the states’ capitals. (And I still get Oregon’s wrong.)

This generation of kids, however, will have to dream of working for the government in other capacities, like used-GM-car salesman, or perhaps branch out into the expanding field of debt-consolidation advocacy.

I’m almost tempted to say, “Save us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.” Almost.

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The Times Makes It Official: Obama Has Shifted U.S. Policy Against Israel

If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Democrats who care about Israel that the president they helped elect has fundamentally altered American foreign policy to the Jewish state’s disadvantage, they are now gone. The New York Times officially proclaimed the administration’s changed attitude in a front-page story this morning that ought to send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Barack Obama when he pledged in 2008 that he would be a loyal friend of Israel.

In the view of the paper’s Washington correspondents, the moment that signaled what had already been apparent to anyone who was paying attention was the president’s declaration at a Tuesday news conference that resolving the Middle East conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States.” Mr. Obama went on to state that the conflict is “costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure,” thus attempting to draw a link between Israel’s attempts to defend itself with the safety of American troops who are fighting Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. By claiming the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a “vital national security interest” that must be resolved, the “frustrated” Obama is making it clear that he will push hard to impose a solution on the parties.

The significance of this false argument is that it not only seeks to wrongly put the onus on Israel for the lack of a peace agreement but that it also now attempts to paint any Israeli refusal to accede to Obama’s demands as a betrayal in which a selfish Israel is stabbing America in the back. The response from Obama to this will be, the Times predicts, “tougher policies toward Israel,” since it is, in this view, ignoring America’s interests and even costing American lives.

The problem with this policy is that the basic premise behind it is false. Islamists may hate Israel, but that is not why they are fighting the United States. They are fighting America because they rightly see the West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs and a threat to its survival and growth as they seek to impose their medieval system everywhere they can. Americans are not dying because Israelis want to live in Jerusalem or even the West Bank or even because there is an Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, that catastrophe would certainly be cheered in the Arab and Islamic world, but it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al-Qaeda out of business. In fact, a defeat for a country allied with the United States would strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda.

But undeterred by the facts and the experience of a generation of failed peace plans that have always foundered not on Israeli intransigence but rather on the absolute refusal of any Palestinian leader to put his signature on a document that will legitimize a Jewish state within any borders, Obama is pushing ahead. In the view of unnamed administration officials who have helpfully explained Obama’s policies to the Times, it is now only a matter of time before the president puts forward his own peace plan. And as the debate on health care illustrated, Obama will attempt to shove his diktat down the throats of the Israelis, whether the vast majority of Americans who support Israel like it or not.

As the Times notes, there is a great irony to Obama’s blazing anger at the Israelis and the urgency with which he views the issue. It comes at a time when the overwhelming majority of Israelis have “become disillusioned with the whole idea of resolving the conflict. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has long been skeptical about the benefits of a peace deal with the Palestinians. But skepticism has taken root in the Israeli public as well, particularly after Israel saw little benefit from its traumatic withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.” In other words, after countless concessions made to the Arabs at Oslo, and in subsequent accords and after offers from Israel of a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem were refused by the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, most Israelis have finally figured out that the other side doesn’t want to end the conflict. And they are baffled as to why Obama and his advisers haven’t come to the same all too obvious conclusion.

But with the Obama administration now so passionately committed to hammering Israel even as it apparently neglects to take action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the question remains what will be the response of pro-Israel Democrats. As Obama draws closer to all-out diplomatic war on Israel’s government, the obligation for principled Democrats to speak up in open opposition to these policies cannot be avoided. While many Democrats have sought to confuse the issue or avoid conflict with the president, stories such as the one on the front page of the Times this morning make it clear that sooner or later, pro-Israel Democrats are going to have to decide whether partisan loyalties will trump their support for the Jewish state’s survival.

If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Democrats who care about Israel that the president they helped elect has fundamentally altered American foreign policy to the Jewish state’s disadvantage, they are now gone. The New York Times officially proclaimed the administration’s changed attitude in a front-page story this morning that ought to send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Barack Obama when he pledged in 2008 that he would be a loyal friend of Israel.

In the view of the paper’s Washington correspondents, the moment that signaled what had already been apparent to anyone who was paying attention was the president’s declaration at a Tuesday news conference that resolving the Middle East conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States.” Mr. Obama went on to state that the conflict is “costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure,” thus attempting to draw a link between Israel’s attempts to defend itself with the safety of American troops who are fighting Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. By claiming the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a “vital national security interest” that must be resolved, the “frustrated” Obama is making it clear that he will push hard to impose a solution on the parties.

The significance of this false argument is that it not only seeks to wrongly put the onus on Israel for the lack of a peace agreement but that it also now attempts to paint any Israeli refusal to accede to Obama’s demands as a betrayal in which a selfish Israel is stabbing America in the back. The response from Obama to this will be, the Times predicts, “tougher policies toward Israel,” since it is, in this view, ignoring America’s interests and even costing American lives.

The problem with this policy is that the basic premise behind it is false. Islamists may hate Israel, but that is not why they are fighting the United States. They are fighting America because they rightly see the West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs and a threat to its survival and growth as they seek to impose their medieval system everywhere they can. Americans are not dying because Israelis want to live in Jerusalem or even the West Bank or even because there is an Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, that catastrophe would certainly be cheered in the Arab and Islamic world, but it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al-Qaeda out of business. In fact, a defeat for a country allied with the United States would strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda.

But undeterred by the facts and the experience of a generation of failed peace plans that have always foundered not on Israeli intransigence but rather on the absolute refusal of any Palestinian leader to put his signature on a document that will legitimize a Jewish state within any borders, Obama is pushing ahead. In the view of unnamed administration officials who have helpfully explained Obama’s policies to the Times, it is now only a matter of time before the president puts forward his own peace plan. And as the debate on health care illustrated, Obama will attempt to shove his diktat down the throats of the Israelis, whether the vast majority of Americans who support Israel like it or not.

As the Times notes, there is a great irony to Obama’s blazing anger at the Israelis and the urgency with which he views the issue. It comes at a time when the overwhelming majority of Israelis have “become disillusioned with the whole idea of resolving the conflict. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has long been skeptical about the benefits of a peace deal with the Palestinians. But skepticism has taken root in the Israeli public as well, particularly after Israel saw little benefit from its traumatic withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.” In other words, after countless concessions made to the Arabs at Oslo, and in subsequent accords and after offers from Israel of a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem were refused by the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, most Israelis have finally figured out that the other side doesn’t want to end the conflict. And they are baffled as to why Obama and his advisers haven’t come to the same all too obvious conclusion.

But with the Obama administration now so passionately committed to hammering Israel even as it apparently neglects to take action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the question remains what will be the response of pro-Israel Democrats. As Obama draws closer to all-out diplomatic war on Israel’s government, the obligation for principled Democrats to speak up in open opposition to these policies cannot be avoided. While many Democrats have sought to confuse the issue or avoid conflict with the president, stories such as the one on the front page of the Times this morning make it clear that sooner or later, pro-Israel Democrats are going to have to decide whether partisan loyalties will trump their support for the Jewish state’s survival.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Why the Western Sahara Matters

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Any Deal, However Meaningless

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

In case you were momentarily hopeful that the “agreement” with China to pursue sanctions against Iran was real or that “pass sanctions in the Spring” meant sometime soon, think again. This report explains:

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allow foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtail Tehran’s ability to raise new investment in the country’s energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the confidential text of the proposed resolution. . . .

China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting on the text last week in New York, and insisted that it would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions this week on how the United States should modify its text.

The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington on Monday between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.

And the timing of this? “U.S. officials hope to adopt a sanctions resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear activities before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.” These time frames have a way of slipping, we’ve learned.

Clearly, diplomats love to make deals and the focus is now on getting an international agreement, any agreement. But this is different from doing something calculated to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. That’s not in the realm of consideration here. We know petroleum sanctions aren’t even on the Obami’s wish list and now we must tiptoe around China’s economic interests. The mismatch between means and ends is vast. The Iranians can see that even if Obama refuses to.

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What Judges Should Do

George Will writes:

Conservatives spoiling for a fight should watch their language. The recent decision most dismaying to them was Kelo (2005), wherein the court upheld the constitutionality of a city government using its eminent domain power to seize property for the spurious “public use” of transferring it to wealthier interests who will pay higher taxes to the seizing government. Conservatives wish the court had been less deferential to elected local governments. (Stevens later expressed regret for his part in the Kelo ruling.)

The recent decision most pleasing to conservatives was this year’s Citizens United, wherein the court overturned part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The four liberal justices deplored the conservatives’ refusal to defer to Congress’s expertise in regulating political speech.

So conservatives should rethink their rhetoric about “judicial activism.” The proper question is: Will the nominee be actively enough engaged in protecting liberty from depredations perpetrated by popular sovereignty?

Will has it wrong. There is no roving mandate for the Court to protect liberty (or income equality or anything else) from depredations of any sort. The Court — like all courts engaged in textual interpretation — has a single mandate, one consistent with democratic governance and with the structure of the Constitution: to divine the meaning and the intent of the Constitution and the statutes at issue in the cases that come before it.

As for the two cases Will cites, they weren’t really about deferring to other branches of the government at all. In both cases, what was at stake was the meaning of explicit restrictions on the government contained in the Constitution, specifically the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and the First Amendment. It’s not the job of the Court to decide how much “deference” this or that law requires, but rather to ask: does the Constitution permit Congress or the states to do this? In Kelo, the Court seemingly read out of the Fifth Amendment the “public use” requirement for exercise of eminent domain (allowing the government to hand property from one private owner to another) and in Citizens United the Court robustly defended core political speech protected by the language of the First Amendment.

There is a great temptation to devise all sorts of rules and tests for justices. But conservatives go astray when they choose to devise shiny new rationales for judging. The tried and true is perfectly sufficient: interpret the text, treat all litigants impartially, and put aside political considerations.

George Will writes:

Conservatives spoiling for a fight should watch their language. The recent decision most dismaying to them was Kelo (2005), wherein the court upheld the constitutionality of a city government using its eminent domain power to seize property for the spurious “public use” of transferring it to wealthier interests who will pay higher taxes to the seizing government. Conservatives wish the court had been less deferential to elected local governments. (Stevens later expressed regret for his part in the Kelo ruling.)

The recent decision most pleasing to conservatives was this year’s Citizens United, wherein the court overturned part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The four liberal justices deplored the conservatives’ refusal to defer to Congress’s expertise in regulating political speech.

So conservatives should rethink their rhetoric about “judicial activism.” The proper question is: Will the nominee be actively enough engaged in protecting liberty from depredations perpetrated by popular sovereignty?

Will has it wrong. There is no roving mandate for the Court to protect liberty (or income equality or anything else) from depredations of any sort. The Court — like all courts engaged in textual interpretation — has a single mandate, one consistent with democratic governance and with the structure of the Constitution: to divine the meaning and the intent of the Constitution and the statutes at issue in the cases that come before it.

As for the two cases Will cites, they weren’t really about deferring to other branches of the government at all. In both cases, what was at stake was the meaning of explicit restrictions on the government contained in the Constitution, specifically the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and the First Amendment. It’s not the job of the Court to decide how much “deference” this or that law requires, but rather to ask: does the Constitution permit Congress or the states to do this? In Kelo, the Court seemingly read out of the Fifth Amendment the “public use” requirement for exercise of eminent domain (allowing the government to hand property from one private owner to another) and in Citizens United the Court robustly defended core political speech protected by the language of the First Amendment.

There is a great temptation to devise all sorts of rules and tests for justices. But conservatives go astray when they choose to devise shiny new rationales for judging. The tried and true is perfectly sufficient: interpret the text, treat all litigants impartially, and put aside political considerations.

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Statesmanship 101

There isn’t a lot more to say about the bizarre quality of President Obama’s reference this week to America remaining a dominant military power “whether we like it or not.”

But it is worth noting how far this formulation diverges from the customs of responsible statesmanship. Comments of this kind belong in seminar discussions and spitball sessions, not in the public addresses of national leaders.

A national leader’s job is to communicate his nation’s intentions and interests, and to reinforce, when necessary, what the nation can be relied on to do. There is no need even to use words like “dominant military power.” That’s a theoretical description; a wonk’s expression. What a president should be stating is what America’s policy is. Instead, Obama has offered an explanation for our interest in reducing conflict overseas that can only come across as cynical and gratuitously insulting. Such conflicts, he laments, inevitably draw us, the dominant military power, into them.

The urge to editorialize is something effective statesmen rigorously suppress; their least-scripted comments align with the policies they advocate in official settings. Obama shouldn’t even utter words that dilute and detract from his message about America’s intentions. In the end, no one cares whether this president “gets” the irony and ambivalence attendant on national greatness. What will matter is the effect his words produce in the lives of millions. Perpetual consciousness of that is indeed a strain. It means setting a guard on one’s tongue every waking moment. But as we say in the military: that’s what we pay him the big bucks for.

There isn’t a lot more to say about the bizarre quality of President Obama’s reference this week to America remaining a dominant military power “whether we like it or not.”

But it is worth noting how far this formulation diverges from the customs of responsible statesmanship. Comments of this kind belong in seminar discussions and spitball sessions, not in the public addresses of national leaders.

A national leader’s job is to communicate his nation’s intentions and interests, and to reinforce, when necessary, what the nation can be relied on to do. There is no need even to use words like “dominant military power.” That’s a theoretical description; a wonk’s expression. What a president should be stating is what America’s policy is. Instead, Obama has offered an explanation for our interest in reducing conflict overseas that can only come across as cynical and gratuitously insulting. Such conflicts, he laments, inevitably draw us, the dominant military power, into them.

The urge to editorialize is something effective statesmen rigorously suppress; their least-scripted comments align with the policies they advocate in official settings. Obama shouldn’t even utter words that dilute and detract from his message about America’s intentions. In the end, no one cares whether this president “gets” the irony and ambivalence attendant on national greatness. What will matter is the effect his words produce in the lives of millions. Perpetual consciousness of that is indeed a strain. It means setting a guard on one’s tongue every waking moment. But as we say in the military: that’s what we pay him the big bucks for.

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RE: Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.’”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.’”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

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We Could Use Some Rooftop Shouting

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

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Ready to Dump the Democrats

This AP-GfK poll shows Obama at a new low in approval. But congressional Democrats are really in hot water:

For the first time this year, about as many Americans approve of congressional Republicans as Democrats — 38 percent to 41 percent — and neither has an edge when it comes to the party voters want controlling Congress. Democrats also have lost their advantage on the economy; people now trust both parties equally on that, another first in 2010.

Roughly half want to fire their own congressman.

Adding to Democratic woes, people have grown increasingly opposed to the health care overhaul in the weeks since it became law; 50 percent now oppose it, the most negative measure all year. People also have a dim view of the economy though employers have begun to add jobs, including 162,000 in March. Just as many people rated the economy poor this month — 76 percent — as did last July.

And it could get worse for Democrats: One-third of those surveyed consider themselves tea party supporters, and three-quarters of those people are overwhelmingly Republicans or right-leaning independents. That means they are more likely to vote with the GOP in this fall’s midterms, when energized base voters will be crucial amid the typical low turnout of a non-presidential election year.

The Obami and the congressional Democrats can hardly be surprised that the voters, who’ve consistently registered disapproval of their agenda, now want to dump them in favor of those who will listen. It shouldn’t surprise the Democrats that really, honestly, the public doesn’t like ObamaCare and really, honestly, don’t care for the rest of the aggressive ultra-liberal agenda. (One small-business owner implored them: “Slow down! Breathe! Think!” Hmm. Could fit on a bumper sticker.) A severe and emphatic message is awaiting lawmakers who cavalierly ignored the electorate. As Obama says, it’s what elections are for.

This AP-GfK poll shows Obama at a new low in approval. But congressional Democrats are really in hot water:

For the first time this year, about as many Americans approve of congressional Republicans as Democrats — 38 percent to 41 percent — and neither has an edge when it comes to the party voters want controlling Congress. Democrats also have lost their advantage on the economy; people now trust both parties equally on that, another first in 2010.

Roughly half want to fire their own congressman.

Adding to Democratic woes, people have grown increasingly opposed to the health care overhaul in the weeks since it became law; 50 percent now oppose it, the most negative measure all year. People also have a dim view of the economy though employers have begun to add jobs, including 162,000 in March. Just as many people rated the economy poor this month — 76 percent — as did last July.

And it could get worse for Democrats: One-third of those surveyed consider themselves tea party supporters, and three-quarters of those people are overwhelmingly Republicans or right-leaning independents. That means they are more likely to vote with the GOP in this fall’s midterms, when energized base voters will be crucial amid the typical low turnout of a non-presidential election year.

The Obami and the congressional Democrats can hardly be surprised that the voters, who’ve consistently registered disapproval of their agenda, now want to dump them in favor of those who will listen. It shouldn’t surprise the Democrats that really, honestly, the public doesn’t like ObamaCare and really, honestly, don’t care for the rest of the aggressive ultra-liberal agenda. (One small-business owner implored them: “Slow down! Breathe! Think!” Hmm. Could fit on a bumper sticker.) A severe and emphatic message is awaiting lawmakers who cavalierly ignored the electorate. As Obama says, it’s what elections are for.

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Congress Objects to Feckless Iran Policy

AIPAC is touting letters signed by 76 senators and 363 House members calling for tougher action on Iran. They really do want “crippling sanctions.” The House version explains:

Iran’s nuclear weapons program represents a severe threat to American national interests. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could lead to the proliferation of these weapons throughout the Middle East and beyond, destabilizing the global non-proliferation regime and greatly increasing the likelihood of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. It would also dramatically expand Iranian influence and threaten our allies in the region. It would undercut prospects for peace between Israel and her neighbors, with emboldened Iranian surrogates enjoying the strategic backing of an Iranian nuclear umbrella. And it would pose an existential threat to the State of Israel.

Iran is making steady progress in its nuclear program. It now has stored enough low enriched uranium to serve as the core for two nuclear weapons. It will soon be able to install much more advanced and efficient centrifuges. Iran has recently begun to enrich uranium to twenty percent fissile. Its weaponization program now appears to be at an advanced stage.

Mr. President, you have stated this issue is a priority for your administration. You have attempted to engage the Iranian regime for over a year. You have gone to the United Nations Security Council in an effort to impose tough new sanctions on Iran. But time is not on our side. We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts. As you said last July, we cannot wait until we “wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act.”

What do they want? First, “We call on you to fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do ‘everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’” (No more que sera, sera.) Second, they want Obama “to reverse the practice under which the US government has awarded at least $107 billion over the past decade in federal contracts to companies investing in or doing business in Iran” and to gather support for “crippling sanctions.” And finally, they advise the president that they are proceeding with the Iran sanctions measure making its way through the House and Senate and that “by imposing punishing measures on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, rocking Iran’s banking system, and dramatically impacting Iran’s ability to import or refine petroleum” they can force the Iranians to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and “possible reconciliation.”

But we know much of this isn’t going to happen. The president has already let the cat out of the bag — he’s no longer saying that he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the mullahs from getting the bomb. His apparent resignation to the distinct possibility that Iran will not respond to his entreaties isn’t going to be erased from the public record. What — now he’s going to say, “I really didn’t mean to sound so blasé”? And we’ve already heard from him and from Medvedev that the sanctions won’t be crippling. So that leaves the unilateral sanctions by the U.S. Do we think Obama will actually implement those? It would only highlight how insufficient are the possible mini-sanctions under consideration by the UN.

It’s nice to see Congress go on record. But it’s a tall order to wrest control of foreign policy from the executive branch. For now, Obama appears entirely averse to employing a “whatever it takes” strategy. We know it, Congress knows it, and the mullahs know it. Until that changes, it is only a matter of time before the Islamic revolutionary state acquires its nuclear bomb — and the entire Middle East embarks on a deadly arms race. It sure will throw cold water on Obama’s whole nonproliferation effort, won’t it?

AIPAC is touting letters signed by 76 senators and 363 House members calling for tougher action on Iran. They really do want “crippling sanctions.” The House version explains:

Iran’s nuclear weapons program represents a severe threat to American national interests. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could lead to the proliferation of these weapons throughout the Middle East and beyond, destabilizing the global non-proliferation regime and greatly increasing the likelihood of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. It would also dramatically expand Iranian influence and threaten our allies in the region. It would undercut prospects for peace between Israel and her neighbors, with emboldened Iranian surrogates enjoying the strategic backing of an Iranian nuclear umbrella. And it would pose an existential threat to the State of Israel.

Iran is making steady progress in its nuclear program. It now has stored enough low enriched uranium to serve as the core for two nuclear weapons. It will soon be able to install much more advanced and efficient centrifuges. Iran has recently begun to enrich uranium to twenty percent fissile. Its weaponization program now appears to be at an advanced stage.

Mr. President, you have stated this issue is a priority for your administration. You have attempted to engage the Iranian regime for over a year. You have gone to the United Nations Security Council in an effort to impose tough new sanctions on Iran. But time is not on our side. We cannot allow those who would oppose or delay sanctions to govern either the timing or content of our efforts. As you said last July, we cannot wait until we “wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act.”

What do they want? First, “We call on you to fulfill your June 2008 pledge that you would do ‘everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.’” (No more que sera, sera.) Second, they want Obama “to reverse the practice under which the US government has awarded at least $107 billion over the past decade in federal contracts to companies investing in or doing business in Iran” and to gather support for “crippling sanctions.” And finally, they advise the president that they are proceeding with the Iran sanctions measure making its way through the House and Senate and that “by imposing punishing measures on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, rocking Iran’s banking system, and dramatically impacting Iran’s ability to import or refine petroleum” they can force the Iranians to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and “possible reconciliation.”

But we know much of this isn’t going to happen. The president has already let the cat out of the bag — he’s no longer saying that he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the mullahs from getting the bomb. His apparent resignation to the distinct possibility that Iran will not respond to his entreaties isn’t going to be erased from the public record. What — now he’s going to say, “I really didn’t mean to sound so blasé”? And we’ve already heard from him and from Medvedev that the sanctions won’t be crippling. So that leaves the unilateral sanctions by the U.S. Do we think Obama will actually implement those? It would only highlight how insufficient are the possible mini-sanctions under consideration by the UN.

It’s nice to see Congress go on record. But it’s a tall order to wrest control of foreign policy from the executive branch. For now, Obama appears entirely averse to employing a “whatever it takes” strategy. We know it, Congress knows it, and the mullahs know it. Until that changes, it is only a matter of time before the Islamic revolutionary state acquires its nuclear bomb — and the entire Middle East embarks on a deadly arms race. It sure will throw cold water on Obama’s whole nonproliferation effort, won’t it?

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Holder on the Hill

Eric Holder went to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to testify. He walked back his statement that Osama bin Laden wouldn’t be captured. Now he says we could capture and interrogate him — sans Miranda rights. He also insisted that a New York trial for KSM isn’t off the table. The administration still wants to close Guantanamo but would have to get congressional approval to open the Illinois prison for the detainees. (Translation: it’s not happening.) And he’s not telling us the names of the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented al-Qaeda members.

It was in some ways a perfect distillation of the Obama approach to Islamic terrorism: nontransparent, politically untenable, impervious to facts, and increasingly unbelievable. The positions Holder advocates — closing Guantanamo and trying KSM in New York — increasingly have a theoretical and academic feel to them, in no small part because it’s obvious that public and congressional opinion runs strongly against the administration. Somehow that’s fitting for the law professor turned president. It sounds so reasonable and so high-minded in the classroom, but in the real world, the criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism runs into national-security concerns and political and practical realities. Meanwhile, one wonders who is going to craft the real policies — the ones that will actually be implemented. It sure doesn’t seem that Holder or his crew of former al-Qaeda defense lawyers are the ones to do it.

Eric Holder went to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to testify. He walked back his statement that Osama bin Laden wouldn’t be captured. Now he says we could capture and interrogate him — sans Miranda rights. He also insisted that a New York trial for KSM isn’t off the table. The administration still wants to close Guantanamo but would have to get congressional approval to open the Illinois prison for the detainees. (Translation: it’s not happening.) And he’s not telling us the names of the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented al-Qaeda members.

It was in some ways a perfect distillation of the Obama approach to Islamic terrorism: nontransparent, politically untenable, impervious to facts, and increasingly unbelievable. The positions Holder advocates — closing Guantanamo and trying KSM in New York — increasingly have a theoretical and academic feel to them, in no small part because it’s obvious that public and congressional opinion runs strongly against the administration. Somehow that’s fitting for the law professor turned president. It sounds so reasonable and so high-minded in the classroom, but in the real world, the criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism runs into national-security concerns and political and practical realities. Meanwhile, one wonders who is going to craft the real policies — the ones that will actually be implemented. It sure doesn’t seem that Holder or his crew of former al-Qaeda defense lawyers are the ones to do it.

Read Less




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