Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 20, 2010

What Lesson Will David Cameron Teach Americans?

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

The prospect of Florida Governor Charlie Crist pulling out of the Florida Republican Senate primary will, no doubt, send into a tizzy those who want the GOP to move to the center and away from the dreaded Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin. While this is more a matter of a flabby, pointless Crist campaign being knocked out of the box by a hugely popular and principled opponent in Marco Rubio than of a “moderate” being driven from the party by so-called extremists, there’s no question that this race is an indication of where the Republicans are headed.

While an independent candidacy by Crist might pose a challenge to Rubio in November, those who have advocated for Republican to move closer to the Democrats on health care and a host of other issues must come to grips with the fact that all the energy and emotion in Florida has come from those who want the GOP to challenge the Obama administration, not to copy it. The point is, when Republicans lose touch with their base and find themselves bogged down in the mushy middle, they tend to lose and lose badly.

Florida’s politics couldn’t be much more different from those of Britain, but the way the general election in that country is going has to give pause to those who believe that a nonideological candidate and party of the Right is the only way to fight the Left. Conservative Party leader David Cameron thought he was coasting to inevitable victory after 13 years of Labor government. But Cameron, a telegenic upper-class swell, believed that Tories who were actually conservatives couldn’t possibly win. So he recast his party to be advocates of global-warming alarmism, criticized the closeness of the Labor government to that of George W. Bush (Obama’s disdain for Brits of any political persuasion has taken the juice out of this issue), and proposed an approach to domestic issues based on a communitarian idea of a “Big Society,” which sounds suspiciously similar to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” liberal boondoggles of the 1960s.

Yet far from greasing the skids to victory, trying to be liberal has actually derailed his campaign. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, is further to the Left than Labor on many issues and has in Nick Clegg, a far more focused leader than either Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labor or the good-looking but feckless Cameron. Cameron thought that fudging the differences with Labor would make it easier for him to win. But, instead, it has given Clegg and the Lib Dems an opening to be the party of change in Britain. Thus, rather than a Tory cakewalk, the May 6 election looks increasingly like a dead heat that could leave Labor in power by itself or even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It could be that by discarding genuine Conservative ideology (this is the party of Margaret Thatcher, after all), Cameron may be pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. It may be too late for Cameron to tack to the Right and give voters a reason to vote for his party. As it is, a watered-down Conservative Party is rightly seen as no different from the incumbent Laborites to an electorate desperate for a real alternative.

Last November, David Frum wrote in COMMENTARY that Cameron’s tactics provided a good lesson for American conservatives as they sought to rebuild from their 2008 defeat. He believed that by tacking to the Left, Cameron had aligned his priorities with those of the country and had essentially volunteered to do what political necessity would have forced him to do anyway. As Frum put it, “the leader you want is someone who appeals to the voters you need to gain, not the voters you already have.” Since “educated and professional voters, once the backbone of the Republican party,” had swung away from conservatism, Frum believed that Republicans must follow them as Cameron had done.

David Cameron’s fate is not yet decided. And we are months away from the proof of whether a candidate like Marco Rubio will lead Republicans to victory in a key state like Florida. But if in abandoning conservative principles Cameron has set the Tories up for a colossal reversal of fortune, it may be that the lesson the handsome Brit will teach his American brethren is how to lose an election that was considered in his pocket — not how to win one.

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No Ideological Segregation on the Web

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong. At least according to David Brooks, who cites new research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, both of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Brooks:

[T]he core finding is that most Internet users do not stay within their communities. Most people spend a lot of time on a few giant sites with politically integrated audiences, like Yahoo News. But even when they leave these integrated sites, they often go into areas where most visitors are not like themselves. People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck’s Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times’s Web site than average Internet users. People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users. Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web.

Brooks’s conclusion?

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

For the gatekeepers of the Old Media, whose influence and dominance have so rapidly diminished since the advent of the Internet, this finding will be most unwelcome. For the rest of us, it’s more evidence that the Internet is one of the wonders of the modern world and a huge gift to the public, and to politics itself.

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Holding Karzai Close

The Obama administration claims “its problems with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to be a thing of the past.” Count me as skeptical.

I am encouraged that the administration says that Karzai’s visit to Washington — which they had publicly considered calling off after the Afghan president made some unfortunate comments denigrating the U.S. and the UN — is now definitely on for May 10-14. But while Karzai is in the U.S., the administration will have to display superhuman strength to avoid its default impulse with Karzai, which is to treat him like a distant, embarrassing relative with some repulsive habits (he smokes! he smells! he dresses funny!) that you just have to let him know about “for his own good.” Few appreciate this kind of treatment, and Karzai is no exception. In fact, it tends to send him around the bend, which in turn triggers disparaging comments from administration officials that only exacerbate the situation.

Granted, he has massive failings, notably his complicity in corruption and general thuggery. But browbeating him doesn’t make him improve; it only makes him more defensive and drives him further into the arms of his disreputable warlord allies. The Obama administration needs to swallow its pride and adopt the Bush approach — smother wayward allies like Karzai and Maliki in a bear hug. Hold them close, and then, once you’ve won their confidence, gently push them to do better.

The Obama administration claims “its problems with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to be a thing of the past.” Count me as skeptical.

I am encouraged that the administration says that Karzai’s visit to Washington — which they had publicly considered calling off after the Afghan president made some unfortunate comments denigrating the U.S. and the UN — is now definitely on for May 10-14. But while Karzai is in the U.S., the administration will have to display superhuman strength to avoid its default impulse with Karzai, which is to treat him like a distant, embarrassing relative with some repulsive habits (he smokes! he smells! he dresses funny!) that you just have to let him know about “for his own good.” Few appreciate this kind of treatment, and Karzai is no exception. In fact, it tends to send him around the bend, which in turn triggers disparaging comments from administration officials that only exacerbate the situation.

Granted, he has massive failings, notably his complicity in corruption and general thuggery. But browbeating him doesn’t make him improve; it only makes him more defensive and drives him further into the arms of his disreputable warlord allies. The Obama administration needs to swallow its pride and adopt the Bush approach — smother wayward allies like Karzai and Maliki in a bear hug. Hold them close, and then, once you’ve won their confidence, gently push them to do better.

Read Less

Assassinating Tocqueville

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

Reading François Furstenberg’s ill-founded assault on Alexis de Tocqueville on Slate.com, one is left wondering whether the history-professor-turned-reviewer has ever actually read Democracy in America.

Furstenberg, in reviewing Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch, purports to answer “what Tocqueville and his friend really did on their travels.” Because collecting material for what would become a political-science classic must have been a paltry time commitment, the reviewer suggests that Tocqueville “flirted his way through salons and dinner parties, stumbling along in mediocre English, complaining about the prudishness of American women.”

This review makes several ungrounded criticisms of poor Alexis, who is quite regrettably too long gone to defend himself. But because Democracy in America is such an enduring work, and because some of Tocqueville’s warnings are at their most relevant today, the review deserves to be dismantled piece by piece, pairing Furstenberg’s cheap shots with Tocqueville’s actual words.

(Furstenberg might be thrilled to discover that Democracy in America is not only found in libraries around the country, including at the New York Public Library, to which he has full access through May 2010 as a fellow there — it is also available online in its entirety, both Volume 1 and Volume 2 — searchable, even, for the sake of convenience. Given Furstenberg’s demonstrated interest in the topic, I highly recommend it to him.)

Furstenberg’s criticism centers on class and race, both of which Tocqueville treats at length. He repeatedly takes out of context Tocqueville’s writings on race relations. “[Tocqueville] bumped into Native Americans being expelled from the eastern states on the infamous Trail of Tears. But he didn’t make much of it, failing to connect that experience to his own reflections on the danger of the tyranny of the majority,” writes Furstenberg.

He must have somehow missed Tocqueville’s lengthy analysis of the injustices committed against the Native Americans, to be found in Volume 1, where he describes how, through trickery and coercion, American settlers “obtain, at a very low price, whole provinces, which the richest sovereigns of Europe could not purchase. … These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable.” In fact, Tocqueville portrays the Native Americans as the last remnants of the noble warrior-aristocracy, and he bemoans their degradation and the loss of their civilization.

Yet Furstenberg continues with his race-based criticism. He wrongly implies that slavery was not a big issue for Tocqueville:

Clearly Tocqueville, unlike Beaumont, believed that slavery and racism did not touch on “the essential nature of democracy,” as Damrosch puts it. … When he did turn his mind to the subjects [of race and slavery], moreover, Tocqueville was exceedingly gloomy, convinced that a multiracial democracy was impossible. If slaves ever gained their freedom, he predicted a genocidal war: ‘the most horrible of all civil wars, and perhaps the destruction of one of the two races.’ … One of the most striking features of emancipation, as it actually happened a generation later, was the lack of violence foreseen by Tocqueville and many others.

But Democracy in America clearly outlines Tocqueville’s strong concern about slavery and its consequences for the future of American democracy. He describes slavery as a “permanent evil,” a “calamity,” and a “wound thus inflicted on humanity.” The consequences of slavery would be even more far-reaching and disastrous, Tocqueville supposes, because “the abstract and transient fact of slavery is fatally united with the physical and permanent fact of color.” He expects that “the moderns, then, after they have abolished slavery, have three prejudices to contend against, which are less easy to attack, and far less easy to conquer than the mere fact of servitude, — the prejudice of the master, the prejudice of the race, and the prejudice of color.”

Furstenberg seems to misunderstand Tocqueville entirely on this point. Far from downplaying the importance of slavery, Tocqueville questions how it can be overcome, and without the violence and devastation of the kind seen in the French Revolution. Furthermore, one might wonder what sort of historical rejiggering has led Furstenberg to think emancipation or civil-rights strides occurred in an atmosphere “lack[ing] of violence.” Democracy in America predicts the ways slavery has promoted racism and acknowledges that the abolition of slavery will not solve America’s racism problem. It is especially baffling that Furstenberg, who has written a book about slavery and U.S. nationalism, missed this.

But the writer is not only wrong about Tocqueville’s ideas about race. He also writes, “Busy chatting in the parlors of wealthy Americans, Tocqueville didn’t seem to notice the artisans slowly being forced into unskilled labor, or immigrant dockworkers, or freed blacks struggling to eke out a living on the margins of American life.” He must have missed entirely the portion of Democracy in America where Tocqueville worries about the intellectual consequences of division of labor:

What can be expected of a man who has spent twenty years of his life in making heads for pins? And to what can that mighty human intelligence, which has so often stirred the world, be applied to him, except it be to investigate the best method of making pins’ heads? … Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.

Tocqueville goes on to acknowledge that the supervisor-worker relationship begins to look like that between the aristocratic master and the “brute” — and “what is this but aristocracy?” he asks. More broadly, Furstenberg overlooks Tocqueville’s plentiful examples of working-class Americans who find both their work and the profit earned from it honorable. A close reading of Democracy in America proves the author both realistic and respectful about the working class.

The bigger point is that, read in context, Tocqueville’s writing often portrays the working class favorably and emphatically condemns slavery and racism. The advocates of Big Government may have good reason to go after Tocqueville, who was one of the first to warn about the dangers of the welfare state in democratic societies. Perhaps their bone with Tocqueville is that he prizes liberty and dares to note the risks of absolute equality, even after fairly observing the conditions of workers and minorities. If this book review is not an academic oversight on Furstenberg’s part, it is certainly character assassination.

Read Less

Reading Roger Cohen’s Mind Is Easier Than Reading His Columns

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

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There Could Have Been Two Independence Days

Today is the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which commemorates something as close to a miracle as we are ever likely to see — the re-creation of an ancient state in the Land in which it stood 2,000 years before, the resurrection of an ancient language to provide for common discourse, the ingathering of millions of exiles who had no other place to live, the creation of a democracy that extended citizenship not only to Jews but also to Arabs in the midst of an Arab war to destroy the state, the safeguarding of all holy places of all religions and the provision of free access to them, the creation and maintenance of a free and vibrant civil society while under continuous terrorist attack and multiple genocidal wars, and the growth of the nation from a third-world economy into one of the most technologically advanced in the world. It is no exaggeration to say, in the words of Hillel Halkin, that “for all its shortcomings and mistakes, Israel is and will always be one of the most glorious historical adventures in the history of mankind.”

But didn’t this new state cause the creation of a new group of refugees, whose own plight remains unresolved 62 years later? The short answer is “no,” but the longer answer is one that many have forgotten or in some cases may not have been permitted to know. The Jewish Press excerpts on its front page Israeli UN Ambassador Abba Eban’s November 17, 1958, speech to the General Assembly’s Special Political Committee (worth reading in its entirety), which began as follows:

The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab states against Israel in 1947 and 1948. … If there had been no war against Israel, with its consequent harvest of bloodshed, misery, panic and flight, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.

Once you determine the responsibility for that war, you have determined the responsibility for the refugee problem. Nothing in the history of our generation is clearer or less controversial than the initiative of Arab governments for the conflict out of which the refugee tragedy emerged. …

“This will be a war of extermination,” declared the secretary-general of the Arab League speaking for the governments of six Arab states, “it will be a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”

The assault began on the last day of November 1947. From then until the expiration of the British Mandate in May 1948 the Arab states, in concert with Palestine Arab leaders, plunged the land into turmoil and chaos. On the day of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, supported by contingents from Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, crossed their frontiers and marched against Israel.

The tragedy of the Palestinians is that they could have been celebrating today the 62nd anniversary of their own state as well. But 62 years ago, they rejected a two-state solution and commenced the first of multiple wars to extinguish the other one. They have rejected multiple offers of a state since then. Six decades after their first war, they are left without a state but with the refugees created by their attempt to destroy the Jewish one. It is a nakba, but it is not one that Israel caused.

Today is the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which commemorates something as close to a miracle as we are ever likely to see — the re-creation of an ancient state in the Land in which it stood 2,000 years before, the resurrection of an ancient language to provide for common discourse, the ingathering of millions of exiles who had no other place to live, the creation of a democracy that extended citizenship not only to Jews but also to Arabs in the midst of an Arab war to destroy the state, the safeguarding of all holy places of all religions and the provision of free access to them, the creation and maintenance of a free and vibrant civil society while under continuous terrorist attack and multiple genocidal wars, and the growth of the nation from a third-world economy into one of the most technologically advanced in the world. It is no exaggeration to say, in the words of Hillel Halkin, that “for all its shortcomings and mistakes, Israel is and will always be one of the most glorious historical adventures in the history of mankind.”

But didn’t this new state cause the creation of a new group of refugees, whose own plight remains unresolved 62 years later? The short answer is “no,” but the longer answer is one that many have forgotten or in some cases may not have been permitted to know. The Jewish Press excerpts on its front page Israeli UN Ambassador Abba Eban’s November 17, 1958, speech to the General Assembly’s Special Political Committee (worth reading in its entirety), which began as follows:

The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab states against Israel in 1947 and 1948. … If there had been no war against Israel, with its consequent harvest of bloodshed, misery, panic and flight, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.

Once you determine the responsibility for that war, you have determined the responsibility for the refugee problem. Nothing in the history of our generation is clearer or less controversial than the initiative of Arab governments for the conflict out of which the refugee tragedy emerged. …

“This will be a war of extermination,” declared the secretary-general of the Arab League speaking for the governments of six Arab states, “it will be a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”

The assault began on the last day of November 1947. From then until the expiration of the British Mandate in May 1948 the Arab states, in concert with Palestine Arab leaders, plunged the land into turmoil and chaos. On the day of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, supported by contingents from Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, crossed their frontiers and marched against Israel.

The tragedy of the Palestinians is that they could have been celebrating today the 62nd anniversary of their own state as well. But 62 years ago, they rejected a two-state solution and commenced the first of multiple wars to extinguish the other one. They have rejected multiple offers of a state since then. Six decades after their first war, they are left without a state but with the refugees created by their attempt to destroy the Jewish one. It is a nakba, but it is not one that Israel caused.

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Champions of Leviathan

I wanted to pick up on the Wall Street Journal op-ed you flagged, Jen, written by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. According to Kohut, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of their government these days. There is a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

The Pew study is important and, for Democrats, alarming. Right now the pieces are in place for a massive, perhaps historic, Democratic loss in November. Beyond the mid-term elections, though, it’s worth noting just how badly liberalism itself is faring in the Age of Obama.

Mr. Obama’s election was supposed to usher in the greatest progressive period since FDR; it marked, we were told, a dramatic shift away from conservatism, which dominated national politics, more or less, for a quarter century (1980-2005). Sophisticated liberals like Sam Tanenhaus assured us that we were witnessing the “death of conservatism.” Others said we had entered a period of liberal dominance that would last for decades.

In fact, Democrats and liberals invested far too much ideological meaning in the 2008 election. This led them to overreach with their agenda, particularly (but not exclusively) on the fiscal side of things. Rather than take incremental steps to build up confidence in the government, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid pushed proposals that dramatically expanded the size, reach, and power of the state, especially on health care. The results have been the repudiation and discrediting of their agenda and of the liberal project more broadly.

So here is where things stand: At a time when confidence in government is at low ebb, the Democratic Party and modern liberalism have made themselves the proud champions of Leviathan. It will turn out, I think, to be a politically lethal mistake. And that, in turn, has presented the GOP as a party, and conservatism as a movement, with a tremendous opening. Depending on what they do with it, the New Progressive Era may end up lasting all of a year or so.

Call it one of the ironies of American history.

I wanted to pick up on the Wall Street Journal op-ed you flagged, Jen, written by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. According to Kohut, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of their government these days. There is a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

The Pew study is important and, for Democrats, alarming. Right now the pieces are in place for a massive, perhaps historic, Democratic loss in November. Beyond the mid-term elections, though, it’s worth noting just how badly liberalism itself is faring in the Age of Obama.

Mr. Obama’s election was supposed to usher in the greatest progressive period since FDR; it marked, we were told, a dramatic shift away from conservatism, which dominated national politics, more or less, for a quarter century (1980-2005). Sophisticated liberals like Sam Tanenhaus assured us that we were witnessing the “death of conservatism.” Others said we had entered a period of liberal dominance that would last for decades.

In fact, Democrats and liberals invested far too much ideological meaning in the 2008 election. This led them to overreach with their agenda, particularly (but not exclusively) on the fiscal side of things. Rather than take incremental steps to build up confidence in the government, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid pushed proposals that dramatically expanded the size, reach, and power of the state, especially on health care. The results have been the repudiation and discrediting of their agenda and of the liberal project more broadly.

So here is where things stand: At a time when confidence in government is at low ebb, the Democratic Party and modern liberalism have made themselves the proud champions of Leviathan. It will turn out, I think, to be a politically lethal mistake. And that, in turn, has presented the GOP as a party, and conservatism as a movement, with a tremendous opening. Depending on what they do with it, the New Progressive Era may end up lasting all of a year or so.

Call it one of the ironies of American history.

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Conflict — What Conflict?

Some might find it off-putting that the “most ethical administration ever” (or is that the Congress?) would see its White House counsel Greg Craig representing the administration’s juiciest and most fortuitous target, Goldman Sachs. How can this happen? Politico reports:

“A former White House employee cannot appear before any unit of the Executive Office of the President on behalf of any client for 2 years—one year under federal law and another year under the pledge pursuant to the January 2009 ethics E0,” said a White House official.

The official also said that the White House had no contact with the SEC on the Goldman Sachs case. “The SEC by law is an independent agency that does not coordinate with the White House any part of their enforcement actions.”

Well how do we know there was no coordination? In fact, the entire Goldman strategy is that this was a political set-up from the very beginning:

An attempt to discredit the Securities and Exchange Commission by painting the case as tainted by politics because it was announced just as President Barack Obama was ramping up his push for financial regulatory reform, including a planned trip to New York on Thursday.

“The charges were brought in a manner calculated to achieve maximum impact at point of penetration,” a Goldman executive said.

Among the points Greg Palm, co-general counsel, plans to emphasize on the call is “how out of the ordinary the process was with the SEC,” the executive said. The SEC usually gives firms a chance to settle such charges before they are made public. Goldman executives say they had no such chance, and learned about the filing while watching CNBC.

So if the White House was meddling, or doing so with intermediaries, and this is central to Goldman’s defense, what is Craig doing litigating against the U.S. government?

Some might find it off-putting that the “most ethical administration ever” (or is that the Congress?) would see its White House counsel Greg Craig representing the administration’s juiciest and most fortuitous target, Goldman Sachs. How can this happen? Politico reports:

“A former White House employee cannot appear before any unit of the Executive Office of the President on behalf of any client for 2 years—one year under federal law and another year under the pledge pursuant to the January 2009 ethics E0,” said a White House official.

The official also said that the White House had no contact with the SEC on the Goldman Sachs case. “The SEC by law is an independent agency that does not coordinate with the White House any part of their enforcement actions.”

Well how do we know there was no coordination? In fact, the entire Goldman strategy is that this was a political set-up from the very beginning:

An attempt to discredit the Securities and Exchange Commission by painting the case as tainted by politics because it was announced just as President Barack Obama was ramping up his push for financial regulatory reform, including a planned trip to New York on Thursday.

“The charges were brought in a manner calculated to achieve maximum impact at point of penetration,” a Goldman executive said.

Among the points Greg Palm, co-general counsel, plans to emphasize on the call is “how out of the ordinary the process was with the SEC,” the executive said. The SEC usually gives firms a chance to settle such charges before they are made public. Goldman executives say they had no such chance, and learned about the filing while watching CNBC.

So if the White House was meddling, or doing so with intermediaries, and this is central to Goldman’s defense, what is Craig doing litigating against the U.S. government?

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Job Hopping

Rahm Emanuel wants to be mayor of Chicago. Robert Gibbs is angling for a broader strategy job, touting his disdain for Israel. (“He did chime in during last month’s escalating tensions with Israel, if only to make sure the president understood the ‘conventional wisdom’ promoted in the media, that Obama’s toughness with Likud hard-liners would potentially erode his domestic Jewish support. ‘For a lot of reasons, he would discount that,’ Gibbs said, referring to the president.) Well, that should help his stock with this crowd.

There is something a bit peculiar about all the public jockeying and self-promotion, the likes of which I am hard-pressed to recall in any prior administration. Moreover, the degree to which the mainstream media is enlisted in the job hunt is a bit startling even for them. Did the Post reporter merely stumble upon a whole slew of current and former White House aides touting Gibbs’s strategic abilities? How does this work — Gibbs picks a helpful reporter, pitches his credentials, finds some quotable allies, and presto — we have a “news story”?

Perhaps if Emanuel and Gibbs spent more time on their current jobs, the country would be better served and they wouldn’t look quite so craven.

Rahm Emanuel wants to be mayor of Chicago. Robert Gibbs is angling for a broader strategy job, touting his disdain for Israel. (“He did chime in during last month’s escalating tensions with Israel, if only to make sure the president understood the ‘conventional wisdom’ promoted in the media, that Obama’s toughness with Likud hard-liners would potentially erode his domestic Jewish support. ‘For a lot of reasons, he would discount that,’ Gibbs said, referring to the president.) Well, that should help his stock with this crowd.

There is something a bit peculiar about all the public jockeying and self-promotion, the likes of which I am hard-pressed to recall in any prior administration. Moreover, the degree to which the mainstream media is enlisted in the job hunt is a bit startling even for them. Did the Post reporter merely stumble upon a whole slew of current and former White House aides touting Gibbs’s strategic abilities? How does this work — Gibbs picks a helpful reporter, pitches his credentials, finds some quotable allies, and presto — we have a “news story”?

Perhaps if Emanuel and Gibbs spent more time on their current jobs, the country would be better served and they wouldn’t look quite so craven.

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Blaiming America First for No Middle East Peace

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

Foreign Policy has posted a forum online on why we have failed to achieve Middle East peace. It’s an odd question, which reveals the foreign policy establishment’s predilection to see this as something we control. The real answer is, obviously, because the Palestinians and their enablers don’t want peace. But that’s not the answer from many of the participants who say the problem is — I know you’ll be shocked! — the U.S. just isn’t trying hard enough or we haven’t browbeaten Israel sufficiently. Zbigniew Brezinski says the U.S. is at fault because we just haven’t gotten “seriously engaged” and haven’t come out with a plan to impose on the parties. Daniel Kurtzer echoes this claptrap: “When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink.” Some willfully distort history, as Robert Malley does when he insists that “Americans, Palestinians, and Israelis were all to blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks.” Hmm. I thought it was Yasir Arafat who walked away from the deal and started killing Jews instead of accepting a Palestinian state.

Now there are some voices of sanity. Gen. Anthony Zinni: “By now, we should realize what doesn’t work: summits, agreements in principle, special envoys, U.S.-proposed plans, and just about every other part of our approach has failed. So why do we keep repeating it?” (You can see why he didn’t get an administration job — too much realism.) And then Michael Oren rightly challenges the entire premise of the discussion:

Calling this an Arab-Israeli conflict today is largely a misnomer. We have two states that have peace treaties with Israel. The largest antagonist is Iran, which is not an Arab state. … I don’t think assigning blame is productive, but I think the main obstacle is getting the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. It’s quite extraordinary: We now have a situation that existed before Oslo in ’93 and before Madrid in ’91 — we can’t get the Palestinians to sit down face to face with us and discuss the issues.

Well, you can see the divide between those who would willfully ignore the experience of the past 60 years and those who plead for the others to pay attention to it. The administration is in the first camp, which explains why the Obami are heightening tensions, unraveling the U.S.-Israel relationship, and making the Middle East a more dangerous place. They dare not acknowledge Oren’s point — that the threat to Middle East peace is not the Palestinian conflict but Iran — for that would require that they do something about it. And that’s not happening.

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Talking Down the Military Option

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

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They Doth Protest Too Much — or Not Enough

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

Robert Gibbs went nuts over the New York Times story reporting that Robert Gates had sent a memo to the president in January warning that the administration lacked an adequate plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He claimed the Times didn’t have the entire memo and that the reporter took Gates’ warning out of context. But of course Gibbs didn’t release the memo or read from it; he only pointed to Gates’s damage-control statement after the fact. Gibbs went to great lengths to stress that the memo really didn’t set anyone’s “hair on fire.” Well, I’m sure this crowd never finds it hair-inflaming when someone points out that its Iran policy lacks seriousness.

As Peter Feaver points out, the damage control was less reassuring than the original memo:

The original story had Gates warning his administration counterparts in January that their Iran strategy was failing and that they needed to scrutinize more carefully military contingency options. … More to the point, what is alleged to be in the Gates memo is true, almost inarguably so: after a year of patient effort, President Obama’s Iran strategy was failing and showed little prospect of actually deflecting the Iranian nuclear trajectory. At that time, the administration’s Plan A of unconditional outreach to Iran had clearly failed, the administration was walking back from its stated Plan B of “crushing sanctions,” and many observers were beginning to talk about Plan C as “learning to live with the Iranian bomb.”

So the original story amounted to this: the most impressive member of President Obama’s Cabinet sent around a memo describing fairly and accurately the perilous condition of one of the administration’s most important national security initiatives. I can understand why the administration didn’t like the story, but I would have been far more worried if the story was untrue.

The real question is why the American Jewish community and Congress aren’t more alarmed about the absence of anything approaching a viable plan to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. If the administration is ho-hum, the rest of the foreign policy establishment, Congress, and American Jewish leaders aren’t exhibiting much more urgency. The sanctions bill is in a holding pattern, Congress is meandering through financial regulation and climate legislation, and from Jewish officialdom we’ve yet to hear more than politely worded letters suggesting it’s time to get going on sanctions.

We’re told Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon, and we still have no sanctions (crippling or otherwise) on the table. The administration has spent quite a bit more time trying to restrain Israel from acting. (How many trips have U.S. officials made to Israel for this purpose? Many, I would venture.) What it should have been doing is rallying public opinion and devising a feasible plan — military or otherwise — that would block the mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So if Gibbs says the memo didn’t raise many eyebrows — why not? And what are Israel’s supporters going to do about it?

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RE: The Tax Issue Is Back

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

As I’ve noted before, Obama has brought the tax issue roaring back. Nothing like a liberal president willing to raise taxes on the non-rich (after promising not to), small businesses, and capital before the economy has rebounded to remind voters of the difference between the two parties. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors note:

Bipartisanship has broken out in the Senate, not that the media bothered to notice. Last week John McCain introduced a resolution stating that “It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax is a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.” The resolution passed 85 to 13.

A VAT is a form of national sales tax applied at every stage of production and carried through to the final price paid by consumers. The typical VAT rate in Europe is close to 20%. That’s about how high a VAT would have to be in the U.S. to balance the federal budget, according to the Tax Foundation. Mr. McCain said about his VAT resolution that “With the economy in such bad shape, we should be cutting tax rates now, shouldn’t we?”

Who were the 13? Two who are retiring — George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — and a whole bunch of Democrats: Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), James Webb (Va.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). Kaufman may be toast already, but the others might come to regret walking out on the tax limb.

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RE: What the U.S. Should Do About the SCUDs

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” — silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

The U.S. government has confirmed the delivery of SCUD missiles by Syria to Hezbollah. Its response? A remarkably tough press release from a State Department spokesman, which reads as follows:

The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hezbollah.  This was the fourth occasion on which these concerns have been raised to the Syrian Embassy in recent months, intended to further amplify our messages communicated to the Syrian government. Our dialogue with Syria on this issue has been frank and sustained. We expect the same in return.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah. The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. The risk of miscalculation that could result from this type of escalation should make Syria reverse the ill-conceived policy it has pursued in providing arms to Hezbollah. Additionally, the heightened tension and increased potential for conflict this policy produces is an impediment to on-going efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. All states have an obligation under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to prevent the importation of any weapons into Lebanon except as authorized by the Lebanese Government.

We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the region. Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.

This is certainly a step above what we usually hear from the Obami when it comes to aggression by their friends in the “Muslim World” — silence. It doesn’t exactly say what consequences there will be for violation of the UN Resolution 1701. But after all, there has already been such a violation. And who knows what we and Israel have agreed on. It would be nice if we’ve changed our mind about sending our ambassador to Damascus (should he ever be confirmed). And it would be even better if we actually mentioned Israel and its right of self-defense. But this is the first sign that reality has crept into Foggy Bottom and that some re-evaluation of our Syrian engagement policy is underway. Perhaps next we could go to the UN to get a declaration that Syria is in violation of 1701 and that states in the region are entitled to act in self-defense. Well, we can always hope.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.'”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.'”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

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