Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 21, 2010

RE: Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

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RE: Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel-Bashing

There is reason to believe that Indyk is playing fast and loose with the facts. In his op-ed, he states:

As he studies his options, Netanyahu would do well to reflect on the decisions taken by two earlier prime ministers from his Likud Party — Menahem Begin and Ariel Sharon.

Begin gave up all of Sinai for a peace deal with Egypt that avoided a fight with Jimmy Carter over a Palestinian homeland. Sharon believed that the best way to survive politically was to allow no daylight to show between him and the president of the United States. That led him to propose full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in order to head off what he foresaw as inevitable friction with the United States over the West Bank and Jerusalem. Both Sharon and Begin were excoriated by their right wings.

The fear of creating “inevitable friction” is a bizarre explanation, especially given the close and productive relationship between the Bush administration and the Sharon government. Other individuals with direct knowledge of the relevant negotiations say just the opposite: that it was the close relationship with the Bush team and promises concerning settlements and the final status of Jerusalem (which the Obami have now reneged on) that induced the withdrawal.

Indeed, there is no evidence that Indyk’s version is correct. A knowledgeable source relates that no one on Sharon’s staff “can recall such a conversation between PM Sharon and Indyk — indeed they cannot recall Indyk ever visiting Sharon when Sharon was PM during the Bush years.” So what’s the basis for Indyk’s claim — or is he making it up? After all, the alternative version, which Bush officials have confirmed, doesn’t mesh with the Obami’s favorite narrative.

There is reason to believe that Indyk is playing fast and loose with the facts. In his op-ed, he states:

As he studies his options, Netanyahu would do well to reflect on the decisions taken by two earlier prime ministers from his Likud Party — Menahem Begin and Ariel Sharon.

Begin gave up all of Sinai for a peace deal with Egypt that avoided a fight with Jimmy Carter over a Palestinian homeland. Sharon believed that the best way to survive politically was to allow no daylight to show between him and the president of the United States. That led him to propose full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in order to head off what he foresaw as inevitable friction with the United States over the West Bank and Jerusalem. Both Sharon and Begin were excoriated by their right wings.

The fear of creating “inevitable friction” is a bizarre explanation, especially given the close and productive relationship between the Bush administration and the Sharon government. Other individuals with direct knowledge of the relevant negotiations say just the opposite: that it was the close relationship with the Bush team and promises concerning settlements and the final status of Jerusalem (which the Obami have now reneged on) that induced the withdrawal.

Indeed, there is no evidence that Indyk’s version is correct. A knowledgeable source relates that no one on Sharon’s staff “can recall such a conversation between PM Sharon and Indyk — indeed they cannot recall Indyk ever visiting Sharon when Sharon was PM during the Bush years.” So what’s the basis for Indyk’s claim — or is he making it up? After all, the alternative version, which Bush officials have confirmed, doesn’t mesh with the Obami’s favorite narrative.

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NFL Action: Goodell on Roethlisberger

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

According to ESPN:

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games on Wednesday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the NFL announced. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.

In his letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said:

I recognize that the allegations [of sexual assault] in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.

Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.

I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life.

In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.

Good for Roger Goodell — and good for the Steeler organization and the city of Pittsburgh, which is not standing behind Roethlisberger. The disappointment and anger directed at Roethlisberger, who has found himself in trouble before, is hard to overstate. In fact, ESPN reports that the Steelers are entertaining trade offers from other clubs (such a trade would surprise me).

Goodell has made it clear in the past, and with this latest action, that he takes the phrase “integrity of the game” seriously. He understands that athletes, whether they want to or not, are role models, and they should be held to some minimal standards of conduct. And he knows that as commissioner, he has a “brand” — the best in sports — to protect.

I have no idea whether Roethlisberger is going to finally get his life under control, but what Goodell has done will increase the possibility that he will.

What Goodell did was impressive. Ben Roethlisberger is down to his last chance. He can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

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Peace in Our Time: A Tale of Two Port Cities

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

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More on the Jewish Vote

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

John McLaughlin, who recently conducted a poll of American Jews, reviewed his results in a conference call today. He stressed that although exit polls showed 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, it is significant that 46 percent would now consider voting for someone else. That number is dramatically higher among Orthodox voters (69 percent) and somewhat higher among denominationally Conservative Jews (50 percent) as well as those with family in Israel (48 percent) or those who had been to Israel (49 percent). This pattern – linking criticism of Obama with religious observance and affiliation with Israel — held on virtually all questions, including Obama’s job approval, the imposition of a peace plan, and the division of Jerusalem. On Obama’s job performance, for example, 80 percent of Orthodox Jews disapprove, and 50 of Conservatives disapprove, but only 26 percent of Reform Jews.

I asked McLaughlin if Reform Jews were also more liberal. He answered, “They are definitely more Democratic, more liberal and more concerned about domestic issues.”  I also asked about the correlation between support for Obama and age. His poll screened for likely voters in the coming November and suggested there will be a drop-off in general among younger voters from 2008, which brought many new voters to the poll. Within American Jewry, older voters are more loyal to Obama and to the party. Among voters over 55 years old, only 42 percent would consider voting for someone other than Obama, while 52 percent under 55 would. In the sample, among voters over 55 years old, 64 percent were Democrats, while “only” 53 percent under 55 identified as Democrats. As a group, however, Jews remain far more liberal (40 percent identified as such in the poll, only 21 percent as conservative) than voters in general.

McLaughlin stressed that it is unusual for a Democratic president to potentially lose the support of Jews and that the issue with Israel has created a potential wedge between Obama and this constituency. He advises to keep an eye on some key Congressional races for signs of dissatisfaction with Democrats among Jewish voters — the special election in Pennsylvania’s District 12 and some New York races, including in District 4, as well as Mark Kirk’s seat in Illinois.

Is there an opening for Republicans to make headway with Jewish voters? Among Orthodox, Conservative, and young voters, most certainly. But stay tuned, as we have learned it takes a lot to separate overwhelmingly liberal Jews from their Democratic affiliation.

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Israel Prepares for the Enemy It Faces

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which perpetually talks down the potential for a military strike, Israeli officials are beginning to talk openly about such action. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Israeli security establishment is divided over whether it needs Washington’s blessing if Israel decides to attack Iran, Israeli officials say, as the U.S. campaign for sanctions drags on and Tehran steadily develops greater nuclear capability.

Some senior Israeli officials say in interviews that they see signs Washington may be willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, an eventuality that Israel says it won’t accept. Compounding Israeli concerns were U.S. statements this past weekend that underscored U.S. resistance to a military option. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday discussed a memo to National Security Adviser James Jones warning that the U.S. needed new strategies, including how to contain a nuclear Iran—suggesting that Iran could reach nuclear capability without any foreign military force trying to stop it.

Until now Bibi has played along both with the Obama engagement gambit and the sanctions effort, but we now hear that “Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.” We are, after all, running out of time. The concern for the Israelis tells us much about the state of U.S.-Israel relations and the real weak link in going after Iranian nuclear capabilities:

Many Israeli military experts say Israel can easily cope with any military retaliation by Iran in response to a strike. Iran’s medium-range rockets would cause damage and casualties in Israel, but they aren’t very accurate, and Israel’s sophisticated missile-defense system would likely knock many out midflight. Israel has similarly proved it can handle attacks against Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel also hosts a contingent of U.S. troops attached to a radar system to help give early warning against incoming rocket attacks.

More worrying to Israeli strategic planners examining possible attack scenarios is the possibility that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by ramping up support to groups battling U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recently retired officials familiar with the military’s thinking on Iran. If American soldiers start dying in greater numbers as a result of an Israeli unilateral attack, Americans could turn against Israel.

The debate and planning go on within Israel, which, unlike the U.S. president, does not have the luxury of procrastination or the ability to wish away the looming threat it faces.

Meanwhile, a newly released unclassified report on Iran’s military and terrorist activities is worth a read, especially the description of its foreign policy goals and tools — “diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power, and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are the tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy.” Left unsaid is the lunacy of expecting that such a regime would voluntarily — unless its survival were threatened — give up the most powerful tools it could acquire: nuclear weapons. Also of note is the section on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qod Forces, which are “well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.” The report also details “Iranian Support to Terrorists and Regional Military Groups” — the very sorts of groups Obama said he is most concerned might acquire a nuclear weapon.

So the gap between the Israelis’ planning and ours is vast, as is the mismatch between the nature of the Iranian regime and our chosen strategy for thwarting its nuclear ambitions. Whatever the merits and risks of a military strike, at least Israel is focused on the real world that confronts it and an enemy determined to use every weapon to undermine and destroy the Jewish state. As for the United States, our meandering, slow walk through engagement and toward itty-bitty sanctions seems spectacularly unsuited to blocking the ambitions of the regime described in the report.

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Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

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Why Buying Time on Iran Matters

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

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The Left Is Grouchy

Reuters reports:

Five million first-time voters turned out in 2008, many drawn by Obama’s promise of hope and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. Now disappointed, or at least apathetic, they may not go to the polls this year. Obama’s support has dropped below 50 percent from nearly 70 percent after 15 months in office, Gallup opinion polls show. Gay rights supporters, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists and backers of immigration reform all have seen their agendas stalled, with watered-down healthcare the main accomplishment of Obama’s once-ambitious agenda.

At Monday’s rally in Los Angeles, protesters shouted at Obama to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy that allows gays to serve if they keep quiet about their sexual preference. Gays believe that makes them second-class citizens, and Obama has vowed to repeal the policy.

“Hey hold on a second. We are going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re hollering,” he added.

Supporters shouted “Yes we can,” his slogan from the 2008 election, and “Be quiet,” but the discontent lingers.

But didn’t health-care reform boost the Left’s spirits? Not really: “Many on the left who want more are fighting the president and one another. Others are abandoning politics. Both trends bode poorly for Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since January 2009.” Health-care reform seems to have aggravated as many as it pleased. (“A fight over whether federal funds could be used to pay for abortion tied up the bill and split the party, which has been a strong supporter of abortion rights but now has a significant wing opposed to abortion.”) And without the public option, many on the Left are as angry as those on the Right that Big Insurance now gets enriched as a result of a liberal president’s signature issue. Other liberal wish-list items — climate control, card check, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the closing Guantanamo – are not going anywhere.

The Left’s grumpiness is not simply a problem for presidential appearances. It was the new, younger, and largely liberal Democratic electorate that boosted Obama over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain and delivered huge majorities to the Democrats in the House and Senate. When that electorate doesn’t show up supportive in November, many Democrats are at risk: “Four of the 10 Senate races where Democrats may lose, including Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada, are in states that had above-average increases in turnout between 2006 and 2008, Professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, calculated. … Battles for governor that could be affected by the new 2008 voters include California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Illinois, he calculated, noting that new governors will oversee redrawing federal voting districts after the 2010 census.”

It’s a rare president who doesn’t disappoint some starry-eyed supporters. But Obama’s problem is more acute, in large part because expectations were so high, and he consciously played into the cult of personality that worshipped him as the savior of the Left. He’s lost the Center, enraged the Right, and bummed out the Left. Not every president can do all that.

Reuters reports:

Five million first-time voters turned out in 2008, many drawn by Obama’s promise of hope and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats. Now disappointed, or at least apathetic, they may not go to the polls this year. Obama’s support has dropped below 50 percent from nearly 70 percent after 15 months in office, Gallup opinion polls show. Gay rights supporters, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists and backers of immigration reform all have seen their agendas stalled, with watered-down healthcare the main accomplishment of Obama’s once-ambitious agenda.

At Monday’s rally in Los Angeles, protesters shouted at Obama to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy that allows gays to serve if they keep quiet about their sexual preference. Gays believe that makes them second-class citizens, and Obama has vowed to repeal the policy.

“Hey hold on a second. We are going to do that,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re hollering,” he added.

Supporters shouted “Yes we can,” his slogan from the 2008 election, and “Be quiet,” but the discontent lingers.

But didn’t health-care reform boost the Left’s spirits? Not really: “Many on the left who want more are fighting the president and one another. Others are abandoning politics. Both trends bode poorly for Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the White House since January 2009.” Health-care reform seems to have aggravated as many as it pleased. (“A fight over whether federal funds could be used to pay for abortion tied up the bill and split the party, which has been a strong supporter of abortion rights but now has a significant wing opposed to abortion.”) And without the public option, many on the Left are as angry as those on the Right that Big Insurance now gets enriched as a result of a liberal president’s signature issue. Other liberal wish-list items — climate control, card check, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the closing Guantanamo – are not going anywhere.

The Left’s grumpiness is not simply a problem for presidential appearances. It was the new, younger, and largely liberal Democratic electorate that boosted Obama over Hillary Clinton and then John McCain and delivered huge majorities to the Democrats in the House and Senate. When that electorate doesn’t show up supportive in November, many Democrats are at risk: “Four of the 10 Senate races where Democrats may lose, including Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election bid in Nevada, are in states that had above-average increases in turnout between 2006 and 2008, Professor Tom Schaller of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, calculated. … Battles for governor that could be affected by the new 2008 voters include California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Georgia and Illinois, he calculated, noting that new governors will oversee redrawing federal voting districts after the 2010 census.”

It’s a rare president who doesn’t disappoint some starry-eyed supporters. But Obama’s problem is more acute, in large part because expectations were so high, and he consciously played into the cult of personality that worshipped him as the savior of the Left. He’s lost the Center, enraged the Right, and bummed out the Left. Not every president can do all that.

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Views on the Supreme Court

The American people are not a model of consistency when it comes to their take on the Supreme Court. The latest Quinnipiac polls tells us:

“A total of 53 percent of American voters are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” President Obama will make the right decision in nominating a U.S. Supreme Court justice, while 46 percent are “not too confident” or “not confident at all” …

Voters trust the President rather than Senate Republicans 46 – 43 percent to make the right choice for the Supreme Court, but say 48 – 41 percent that Senators who do not agree with the nominee on key issues should filibuster the choice.

American voters approve 49 – 21 percent of the job John Roberts is doing as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and approve 52 – 32 percent of Obama’s nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Court.

The court is too liberal, 29 percent say, while 19 percent say it is too conservative and 40 percent say it is about right. Saying “about right” are 36 percent of self-described liberals, 44 percent of moderates, 38 percent of conservatives and 30 percent of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party. Voters say 78 – 16 percent that Supreme Court justices allow political views to enter into their decisions.

Huh? They trust the president, but a filibuster is fine to block Obama’s choice. They trust the president but think the current Court (the majority of whose members Obama would never nominate) is just fine. They approve of Roberts, the conservative, textualist scholar, but are delighted with the newest justice, who is neither of those things. Well, suffice it to say there’s something in there for everyone, and the public has become exceptionally cynical about the politicization of the Court.

The American people are not a model of consistency when it comes to their take on the Supreme Court. The latest Quinnipiac polls tells us:

“A total of 53 percent of American voters are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” President Obama will make the right decision in nominating a U.S. Supreme Court justice, while 46 percent are “not too confident” or “not confident at all” …

Voters trust the President rather than Senate Republicans 46 – 43 percent to make the right choice for the Supreme Court, but say 48 – 41 percent that Senators who do not agree with the nominee on key issues should filibuster the choice.

American voters approve 49 – 21 percent of the job John Roberts is doing as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and approve 52 – 32 percent of Obama’s nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Court.

The court is too liberal, 29 percent say, while 19 percent say it is too conservative and 40 percent say it is about right. Saying “about right” are 36 percent of self-described liberals, 44 percent of moderates, 38 percent of conservatives and 30 percent of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party. Voters say 78 – 16 percent that Supreme Court justices allow political views to enter into their decisions.

Huh? They trust the president, but a filibuster is fine to block Obama’s choice. They trust the president but think the current Court (the majority of whose members Obama would never nominate) is just fine. They approve of Roberts, the conservative, textualist scholar, but are delighted with the newest justice, who is neither of those things. Well, suffice it to say there’s something in there for everyone, and the public has become exceptionally cynical about the politicization of the Court.

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Who Likes Obama and Who Doesn’t?

The new Quinnipiac poll has many interesting nuggets of information. We learn:

President Barack Obama’s job approval, which bounced slightly to a 45 – 46 percent split March 25 in the wake of his health care victory, has flattened out at 44 – 46 percent, his lowest approval rating since his inauguration, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. … “President Barack Obama’s approval rating hovers at an all-time low. The White House had predicted passage of the health care overhaul would boost his fortunes, but that has not been the case, and that legislation itself remains decidedly unpopular,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Voters disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way Obama is handling the economy and disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way he is handling health care. By a narrow 42 – 39 percent margin voters trust Obama, rather than congressional Republicans to handle health care. But they disapprove 53 – 39 percent of the federal health care overhaul that he recently signed into law.

Even more interesting is the breakdown along racial and religious lines. Obama is down to 35 percent approval among whites, while African Americans remain his most loyal supporters, with a 92 percent approval. Among religious groups — yes, you know where this is going — Jews are his most devoted followers, with 59 percent approval, far ahead of Evangelicals (20 percent approval), other Protestants (27 percent), and Catholics (35 percent).

Obama’s broad-based ideological coalition has fractured. Among liberals, 77 percent approve of his performance (accounting, no doubt, for high approval among Jews and African Americans, who are more liberal than the population as a whole), while 54 percent of moderates and only 38 percent of independents, 10 percent of Tea Partiers, and 11 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance.

Obama has essentially lost the carefully assembled, broad-based majority that elected him. He is now kept from drifting into George W. Bush–like polling by the loyalty of devoted African Americans, Jews, and liberals. It’s not a winning model for re-election, but then he hasn’t governed in a way to maintain a majority of support from Americans.

The new Quinnipiac poll has many interesting nuggets of information. We learn:

President Barack Obama’s job approval, which bounced slightly to a 45 – 46 percent split March 25 in the wake of his health care victory, has flattened out at 44 – 46 percent, his lowest approval rating since his inauguration, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. … “President Barack Obama’s approval rating hovers at an all-time low. The White House had predicted passage of the health care overhaul would boost his fortunes, but that has not been the case, and that legislation itself remains decidedly unpopular,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Voters disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way Obama is handling the economy and disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way he is handling health care. By a narrow 42 – 39 percent margin voters trust Obama, rather than congressional Republicans to handle health care. But they disapprove 53 – 39 percent of the federal health care overhaul that he recently signed into law.

Even more interesting is the breakdown along racial and religious lines. Obama is down to 35 percent approval among whites, while African Americans remain his most loyal supporters, with a 92 percent approval. Among religious groups — yes, you know where this is going — Jews are his most devoted followers, with 59 percent approval, far ahead of Evangelicals (20 percent approval), other Protestants (27 percent), and Catholics (35 percent).

Obama’s broad-based ideological coalition has fractured. Among liberals, 77 percent approve of his performance (accounting, no doubt, for high approval among Jews and African Americans, who are more liberal than the population as a whole), while 54 percent of moderates and only 38 percent of independents, 10 percent of Tea Partiers, and 11 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance.

Obama has essentially lost the carefully assembled, broad-based majority that elected him. He is now kept from drifting into George W. Bush–like polling by the loyalty of devoted African Americans, Jews, and liberals. It’s not a winning model for re-election, but then he hasn’t governed in a way to maintain a majority of support from Americans.

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Crist’s Escape Hatch Closes

Charlie Crist can stay in the Republican primary and lose, run as an independent and lose, or just go away. That’s what the polls seem to suggest, no doubt to the dismay of those who fancy the Republican party as Democrat-lite. This report observes that “the gilded political career of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is dangerously close to expiration.” What once seemed like a face-saving move — an independent bid — now sounds like a potential debacle:

Of the three alternatives, an independent bid might prove to be the most advantageous path to the Senate. But his top supporters and donors in Washington made clear Tuesday that they would yank their support if he left the Republican Party. … “If he runs as an independent, I think the best day he has is the day he announces,” a longtime Crist adviser conceded. “The normal rules of gravity apply. How do you raise money?” This source, who has talked to Crist about his decision, said, “I told him that every Republican official is going to support [Republican Senate challenger Marco] Rubio. And by telegraphing this, you’re making them jump.”

This is all a bit, well, pathetic. Crist was a respected governor, ran a horrid campaign, revealed himself to be badly out of touch with his party’s base, imagined he had some personal appeal that extended beyond party identification, and now faces humiliation. Florida is an expensive state in which to run a campaign, and the absence of an available fund-raising apparatus is a serious impediment to Crist’s running as an independent. He might still try to mount such a run – he’s got little to lose at this point, and he may have passed the point where a graceful exit is possible. Like his entire campaign, it won’t be pretty should he decide to test how much appeal he has without the “R” next to his name.

Charlie Crist can stay in the Republican primary and lose, run as an independent and lose, or just go away. That’s what the polls seem to suggest, no doubt to the dismay of those who fancy the Republican party as Democrat-lite. This report observes that “the gilded political career of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is dangerously close to expiration.” What once seemed like a face-saving move — an independent bid — now sounds like a potential debacle:

Of the three alternatives, an independent bid might prove to be the most advantageous path to the Senate. But his top supporters and donors in Washington made clear Tuesday that they would yank their support if he left the Republican Party. … “If he runs as an independent, I think the best day he has is the day he announces,” a longtime Crist adviser conceded. “The normal rules of gravity apply. How do you raise money?” This source, who has talked to Crist about his decision, said, “I told him that every Republican official is going to support [Republican Senate challenger Marco] Rubio. And by telegraphing this, you’re making them jump.”

This is all a bit, well, pathetic. Crist was a respected governor, ran a horrid campaign, revealed himself to be badly out of touch with his party’s base, imagined he had some personal appeal that extended beyond party identification, and now faces humiliation. Florida is an expensive state in which to run a campaign, and the absence of an available fund-raising apparatus is a serious impediment to Crist’s running as an independent. He might still try to mount such a run – he’s got little to lose at this point, and he may have passed the point where a graceful exit is possible. Like his entire campaign, it won’t be pretty should he decide to test how much appeal he has without the “R” next to his name.

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The Brzezinski Card — In Play or Not?

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

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The Distracted President, the Frustrated Prime Minister

You can imagine Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration: a nuclear-armed Iran is perhaps only a year away and all Obama wants to talk about is Jerusalem housing and proximity talks with intransigent Palestinians who are utterly unprepared for a “peace” deal. As this report makes clear, Bibi is struggling to get the American president to focus on the real issue:

“If you stop Iran from importing refined petroleum — that’s a fancy word for gasoline — then Iran simply doesn’t have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt,” Netanyahu said on the morning [ABC Good Morning] program.

The U.S. is leading a push in the United Nations to apply another round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop it from pursuing a nuclear program that Western nations believe is aimed at building atomic weapons.

Tehran says its program is designed to produce electricity for civilian use.

Calling the standoff with Iran “the biggest issue facing our times,” Netanyahu said the international community could deliver “crippling sanctions,” without the support of China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“You’re left doing it outside the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “There’s a coalition of the willing and you can have very powerful sanctions.”

Asked whether Obama had given assurances Washington would go along with refined oil sanctions and other restrictions, Netanyahu said: “What the United States has said is that they’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an important statement.”

Well, that’s a “no” on oil sanctions, obviously. Obama is getting little push-back domestically for his lackadaisical attitude, and Bibi is having little success redirecting the Obami, who don’t have a real answer to the dilemma of Iran. So naturally, they’d rather talk about virtually anything else and spend their time on eye-catching summits. What is missing is that sense of urgency one would expect from an administration facing the most perilous national security challenge in a generation. But I suppose they don’t see it that way.

You can imagine Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration: a nuclear-armed Iran is perhaps only a year away and all Obama wants to talk about is Jerusalem housing and proximity talks with intransigent Palestinians who are utterly unprepared for a “peace” deal. As this report makes clear, Bibi is struggling to get the American president to focus on the real issue:

“If you stop Iran from importing refined petroleum — that’s a fancy word for gasoline — then Iran simply doesn’t have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt,” Netanyahu said on the morning [ABC Good Morning] program.

The U.S. is leading a push in the United Nations to apply another round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop it from pursuing a nuclear program that Western nations believe is aimed at building atomic weapons.

Tehran says its program is designed to produce electricity for civilian use.

Calling the standoff with Iran “the biggest issue facing our times,” Netanyahu said the international community could deliver “crippling sanctions,” without the support of China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“You’re left doing it outside the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “There’s a coalition of the willing and you can have very powerful sanctions.”

Asked whether Obama had given assurances Washington would go along with refined oil sanctions and other restrictions, Netanyahu said: “What the United States has said is that they’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an important statement.”

Well, that’s a “no” on oil sanctions, obviously. Obama is getting little push-back domestically for his lackadaisical attitude, and Bibi is having little success redirecting the Obami, who don’t have a real answer to the dilemma of Iran. So naturally, they’d rather talk about virtually anything else and spend their time on eye-catching summits. What is missing is that sense of urgency one would expect from an administration facing the most perilous national security challenge in a generation. But I suppose they don’t see it that way.

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The Iranian Stall Continues

You knew this was coming:

Facing increasing momentum behind a U.S.-backed bid for new sanctions against it, Iran is launching a broad diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading as many U.N. Security Council members as possible to oppose tougher punishment for its nuclear program.

Iran wants to focus on reviving stalled talks about a nuclear fuel swap to build trust on all sides, according to politicians and diplomats in Tehran. But leaders of Western nations say that unless Iran alters its conditions for the deal, they will refuse to discuss it again. Under the arrangement, aimed at breaking an impasse over Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts, Tehran would exchange the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Mind you, the sanctions at issue are not the sort of crippling ones that might actually influence the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, but the Iranians’ diplomatic offensive will no doubt spur some more compromises and more watering down of the already thin-gruel sanctions under contemplation. And we can hear the knees already buckling: “Brazil and Turkey already have said they are wary of imposing additional punishment on Tehran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, visiting Iran on Tuesday, announced that his country is ready to mediate on the uranium swap proposal and other nuclear issues.”

This is the endless loop of “engagement” and the problem with signaling to the Iranians that there is no downside to perpetually stalling. Had we adhered to any previous deadlines or talked up, rather than down, the potential for a U.S. military strike, we might be in a better position. But for now, as Gates noted, we have few options. And the Iranians seem to have endless time.

You knew this was coming:

Facing increasing momentum behind a U.S.-backed bid for new sanctions against it, Iran is launching a broad diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading as many U.N. Security Council members as possible to oppose tougher punishment for its nuclear program.

Iran wants to focus on reviving stalled talks about a nuclear fuel swap to build trust on all sides, according to politicians and diplomats in Tehran. But leaders of Western nations say that unless Iran alters its conditions for the deal, they will refuse to discuss it again. Under the arrangement, aimed at breaking an impasse over Iran’s uranium-enrichment efforts, Tehran would exchange the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Mind you, the sanctions at issue are not the sort of crippling ones that might actually influence the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, but the Iranians’ diplomatic offensive will no doubt spur some more compromises and more watering down of the already thin-gruel sanctions under contemplation. And we can hear the knees already buckling: “Brazil and Turkey already have said they are wary of imposing additional punishment on Tehran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, visiting Iran on Tuesday, announced that his country is ready to mediate on the uranium swap proposal and other nuclear issues.”

This is the endless loop of “engagement” and the problem with signaling to the Iranians that there is no downside to perpetually stalling. Had we adhered to any previous deadlines or talked up, rather than down, the potential for a U.S. military strike, we might be in a better position. But for now, as Gates noted, we have few options. And the Iranians seem to have endless time.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Oops — maybe we shouldn’t have pulled our missile defenses out of the Czech Republic and Poland. “The stated rationale at the time was: Since the sites were intended to defend America and our allies from Iranian missiles, and our intelligence estimated that the Iranians were a long way from fielding such missiles, the sites were unnecessary. Now, this was a transparently flimsy excuse even at the time. … But the story gets even fishier. A new estimate sent from the Defense Department to Capitol Hill puts the date at which Iran could threaten the U.S. homeland with a ballistic missile at 2015.”

Oops – Gallup delivers some bad news to the Obami (but then again, they say they don’t look at polls): “President Barack Obama averaged 48.8% job approval for his fifth quarter in office, spanning Jan. 20-April 19 Gallup Daily tracking. That is the lowest of his presidency to date, though not appreciably worse than his 50.8% fourth quarter average. … Obama’s latest quarterly score of 48.8% is below average by historical standards, ranking in the 35th percentile of all presidential quarters for which Gallup has data, dating to 1945. The average historical quarterly approval average is 54%. Additionally, Obama’s latest quarterly average does not compare favorably to other elected presidents’ averages at similar points in their presidencies.”

Oops — message confusion: “Wall Street provided three of Obama’s seven biggest sources of contributors for his presidential bid. In 2007 and 2008, Goldman Sachs employees and family members gave him $994,795, Citigroup Inc. $701,290, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. $695,132.”

Oops — for those who vouched for Obama’s pro-Israel credentials: “Israel’s defense minister expressed concern Monday about deteriorating relations with the United States and warned that ‘the growing alienation’ with President Obama’s administration ‘is not a good thing for the state of Israel.’ … As for reports that the Obama administration might try to impose some sort of peace plan on the Israelis and Palestinians, Netanyahu said, ‘I don’t believe anyone will seriously think you can impose peace. Peace has to come from the parties sitting down with each other and resolving their differences.’”

Oops — apparently no one really likes Charlie Crist. From Public Policy Polling: “It’s his fall with Republicans that gets all the attention, but Charlie Crist’s poll numbers have declined almost as badly with Democrats and independents over the last year as they have within his own party. And that makes me doubt he would be successful in an independent Senate bid even if he did decide to make a run for it.”

Oops — Bill Clinton’s cover is blown. “Mr. Clinton’s opposition to ‘demonizing the government’ would be more credible had he been heard from on the subject during the first eight years after he left office—when, for example, Hollywood demonized George W. Bush by releasing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ or when Mr. Clinton’s own former Vice President railed against the man who beat him in 2000: ‘He betrayed this country!’ Instead, Mr. Clinton’s effort to exploit the memory of Oklahoma City looks like a partisan cheap shot. In his speech last week, the former President observed that, unlike the Boston Tea Party, ‘this fight is about taxation by duly, honestly elected representatives that you don’t happen to agree with, that you can vote out at the next election.’ Our guess is that the next election is what he’s really afraid of.”

Oops — an inconvenient truth for climate-change fanatics: “Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans now believe there is a significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, up seven points from early December just after the so-called ‘Climategate’ scandal involving doctored or deliberately undisclosed scientific evidence first broke.”

Oops– a crack in the Eric Holder stonewall: “For nearly a year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the Department of Justice’s voluntary dismissal of a voter intimidation suit against the New Black Panther Party and some of its members. On Friday morning of this week, the commission will conduct a public hearing on the matter. A number of witnesses are expected to testify concerning the incident that gave rise to DOJ’s lawsuit. A second hearing will likely take place in May to adduce additional evidence from the DOJ. The commission will issue a report on its findings to the president and Congress in the next few months.”

Oops — maybe we shouldn’t have pulled our missile defenses out of the Czech Republic and Poland. “The stated rationale at the time was: Since the sites were intended to defend America and our allies from Iranian missiles, and our intelligence estimated that the Iranians were a long way from fielding such missiles, the sites were unnecessary. Now, this was a transparently flimsy excuse even at the time. … But the story gets even fishier. A new estimate sent from the Defense Department to Capitol Hill puts the date at which Iran could threaten the U.S. homeland with a ballistic missile at 2015.”

Oops – Gallup delivers some bad news to the Obami (but then again, they say they don’t look at polls): “President Barack Obama averaged 48.8% job approval for his fifth quarter in office, spanning Jan. 20-April 19 Gallup Daily tracking. That is the lowest of his presidency to date, though not appreciably worse than his 50.8% fourth quarter average. … Obama’s latest quarterly score of 48.8% is below average by historical standards, ranking in the 35th percentile of all presidential quarters for which Gallup has data, dating to 1945. The average historical quarterly approval average is 54%. Additionally, Obama’s latest quarterly average does not compare favorably to other elected presidents’ averages at similar points in their presidencies.”

Oops — message confusion: “Wall Street provided three of Obama’s seven biggest sources of contributors for his presidential bid. In 2007 and 2008, Goldman Sachs employees and family members gave him $994,795, Citigroup Inc. $701,290, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. $695,132.”

Oops — for those who vouched for Obama’s pro-Israel credentials: “Israel’s defense minister expressed concern Monday about deteriorating relations with the United States and warned that ‘the growing alienation’ with President Obama’s administration ‘is not a good thing for the state of Israel.’ … As for reports that the Obama administration might try to impose some sort of peace plan on the Israelis and Palestinians, Netanyahu said, ‘I don’t believe anyone will seriously think you can impose peace. Peace has to come from the parties sitting down with each other and resolving their differences.’”

Oops — apparently no one really likes Charlie Crist. From Public Policy Polling: “It’s his fall with Republicans that gets all the attention, but Charlie Crist’s poll numbers have declined almost as badly with Democrats and independents over the last year as they have within his own party. And that makes me doubt he would be successful in an independent Senate bid even if he did decide to make a run for it.”

Oops — Bill Clinton’s cover is blown. “Mr. Clinton’s opposition to ‘demonizing the government’ would be more credible had he been heard from on the subject during the first eight years after he left office—when, for example, Hollywood demonized George W. Bush by releasing ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ or when Mr. Clinton’s own former Vice President railed against the man who beat him in 2000: ‘He betrayed this country!’ Instead, Mr. Clinton’s effort to exploit the memory of Oklahoma City looks like a partisan cheap shot. In his speech last week, the former President observed that, unlike the Boston Tea Party, ‘this fight is about taxation by duly, honestly elected representatives that you don’t happen to agree with, that you can vote out at the next election.’ Our guess is that the next election is what he’s really afraid of.”

Oops — an inconvenient truth for climate-change fanatics: “Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans now believe there is a significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, up seven points from early December just after the so-called ‘Climategate’ scandal involving doctored or deliberately undisclosed scientific evidence first broke.”

Oops– a crack in the Eric Holder stonewall: “For nearly a year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the Department of Justice’s voluntary dismissal of a voter intimidation suit against the New Black Panther Party and some of its members. On Friday morning of this week, the commission will conduct a public hearing on the matter. A number of witnesses are expected to testify concerning the incident that gave rise to DOJ’s lawsuit. A second hearing will likely take place in May to adduce additional evidence from the DOJ. The commission will issue a report on its findings to the president and Congress in the next few months.”

Read Less




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