Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 22, 2010

Tragedy Central

The only thing interesting about the recurring stories of Muslim extremists who take offense at portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad is tracking the cowardice of the Western media covering the action. Aside from that, the plot is always pretty much the same: a Westerner portrays Muhammad; some Muslims threaten his life.

So here is how the New York Times ArtsBeat blog and other outlets have been describing the latest flair-up involving the animated Comedy Central series South Park:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet.

What’s a “Muslim Group”? Call me old-fashioned, but I thought bodies that reportedly threatened violence and murder because of the portrayal of religious figures were called alleged terrorists.

I just hope someone tracks this angry bunch down before they’re able to pull off a deadly act of groupism.

The only thing interesting about the recurring stories of Muslim extremists who take offense at portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad is tracking the cowardice of the Western media covering the action. Aside from that, the plot is always pretty much the same: a Westerner portrays Muhammad; some Muslims threaten his life.

So here is how the New York Times ArtsBeat blog and other outlets have been describing the latest flair-up involving the animated Comedy Central series South Park:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet.

What’s a “Muslim Group”? Call me old-fashioned, but I thought bodies that reportedly threatened violence and murder because of the portrayal of religious figures were called alleged terrorists.

I just hope someone tracks this angry bunch down before they’re able to pull off a deadly act of groupism.

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Jim Mattis: Unsung General

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

Slate has a great interview with Jim Mattis, one of our great unsung generals. I first met him in Iraq in 2003 when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in the south. It was also on this trip that I met another two-star general named David Petraeus who was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in the north. Petraeus has since become world famous — and for good reason. Mattis isn’t as well known, although he’s also a four-star general. But he isn’t in charge of Central Command, Iraq, or Afghanistan — the most high-profile operational commands a military officer can have today. Instead he runs the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is charged with preparing troops for deployment, for enhancing joint operations between the services, and for shaping the doctrine and training of the armed forces. (Full disclosure: I serve on a civilian advisory board at JFCOM.) In that position he has been grappling with some of the most basic challenges confronting the United States as it seeks to preserve its power and influence in the 21st century.

You can see some of the results in this thoughtful document: the “Joint Operating Environment 2010.” For more of a flavor of Mattis the man, read John Dickerson’s profile in Slate. Mattis, like Petraeus, has an unusual gift: He is both a deep thinker and a decisive battlefield commander. He is a soldier who is engrossed in military history but, even as a general, doesn’t hesitate to plunge into the middle of a firefight.

The U.S. Armed Forces can ill afford to lose Mattis, who is due to retire later this year. (It has been reported that he will be succeeded at JFCOM by the outstanding Ray Odierno, fresh off his stint as the top commander in Iraq.)

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RE: More on Jews and Obama

Jonathan, it’s certainly heartening to see that a large percentage of Jews (67 percent) have woken up to Obama’s anti-Israel bent and disapprove of his Middle East policy. Unfortunately, the same pollsters show that 59 percent of Jews still approve of his overall performance. What that tells us is that a large number of Jews just don’t care all that much about Obama’s policy. This, unfortunately, fits with findings of the McLaughlin poll: most Jews, especially Reform Jews, remain extremely liberal and focused on domestic issues. Obama’s given them nationalized health care and is going to deliver another pro-Roe v. Wade Supreme Court justice. So what that he’s anti-Israel. That’s what it comes down to for a very significant segment of American Jews.

This is a huge challenge — how to elevate concern about Israel to a top-tier political issue for American Jewry. It is not merely a political one but one that also should concern our shuls and Jewish educators. If Jews don’t prioritize their concern about Israel, then they cease to be effective advocates for a robust U.S.-Israel relationship, and politicians will quickly learn there is no downside to pummeling the Jewish state.

Jonathan, it’s certainly heartening to see that a large percentage of Jews (67 percent) have woken up to Obama’s anti-Israel bent and disapprove of his Middle East policy. Unfortunately, the same pollsters show that 59 percent of Jews still approve of his overall performance. What that tells us is that a large number of Jews just don’t care all that much about Obama’s policy. This, unfortunately, fits with findings of the McLaughlin poll: most Jews, especially Reform Jews, remain extremely liberal and focused on domestic issues. Obama’s given them nationalized health care and is going to deliver another pro-Roe v. Wade Supreme Court justice. So what that he’s anti-Israel. That’s what it comes down to for a very significant segment of American Jews.

This is a huge challenge — how to elevate concern about Israel to a top-tier political issue for American Jewry. It is not merely a political one but one that also should concern our shuls and Jewish educators. If Jews don’t prioritize their concern about Israel, then they cease to be effective advocates for a robust U.S.-Israel relationship, and politicians will quickly learn there is no downside to pummeling the Jewish state.

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Sage Advice for Obama: First Do No Harm on Middle East

From an unlikely publication (Huffington Post) and from unlikely sources (a Wharton professor and a negotiations “expert”) comes some generally sound advice for Obama on the Palestinian conflict. The article recommends that Obama:

1. Avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping movie downloads won’t stop the rain, and stopping the construction of new settlements won’t end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances.

2. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.

3. Understand the complexity of the problem as it is. Making a problem undiscussable does not make the problem go away. President Obama seems to believe that use of phrases like “radical Islam” suggests Americans view Islamic states as terrorists and that the phrase should be banished; actually, this phrase suggests that the United States does make important distinctions between violent terrorists and others who disagree with us strongly but express this through different means. But denying the existence of radicals does not make them or their grievances go away. As long as the Islamic world feels it has real grievances, then palliatives, as expensive as they may be for the Israelis, are not a real solution. And as long as there are Islamic radicals there will be threats to the West, some of them quite severe. While some of these grievances and the problems they create may require real concessions from the West, others may require a truly forceful, even violent military response instead.

4. Above all, President Obama should do no harm. Although this is a Medical School takeaway, not a law school one, it is worth mentioning in conclusion. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well.

I’ll take exception to the authors’ objection to the use of the phrase “radical Islam” (although they aptly note that Obama’s aversion to descriptions of our enemies amounts to foolish denial). However, they get to the root of Obama’s error in dealing with the Palestinian problem: he’s not operating in the real world. It’s no accident his Cairo speech zipped past 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism or that he avoids talking about Israel’s multiple offers of a Palestinian state — these are unpleasant facts at odds with his linkages and that suggest he is, at best, doing nothing productive and, at worst, making things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that this is the “ideology is so yesterday” crowd. In fact, “ideology” in the worst sense of the word — and as the Obami intend it, as a dig at George W. Bush — is the insistence on seeing the world through dogmatic blinders, impervious to facts and reason. It is precisely what Obama is all about when it comes to the U.S.-Palestinian conflict and why he is dangerously not following the most important bit of advice — “do no harm.”

From an unlikely publication (Huffington Post) and from unlikely sources (a Wharton professor and a negotiations “expert”) comes some generally sound advice for Obama on the Palestinian conflict. The article recommends that Obama:

1. Avoid proposing simple solutions to complex problems. Look for causal linkages, not just proximity. Stopping movie downloads won’t stop the rain, and stopping the construction of new settlements won’t end centuries of misunderstanding and grievances.

2. Work with these linkages and with the situation as it is, not as he would want it to be. For example, if the Palestinians think they can get all of Palestine just by waiting, President Obama needs to create a better option, either by making it clear that they cannot just wait, or by offering them something they cannot get just by waiting.

3. Understand the complexity of the problem as it is. Making a problem undiscussable does not make the problem go away. President Obama seems to believe that use of phrases like “radical Islam” suggests Americans view Islamic states as terrorists and that the phrase should be banished; actually, this phrase suggests that the United States does make important distinctions between violent terrorists and others who disagree with us strongly but express this through different means. But denying the existence of radicals does not make them or their grievances go away. As long as the Islamic world feels it has real grievances, then palliatives, as expensive as they may be for the Israelis, are not a real solution. And as long as there are Islamic radicals there will be threats to the West, some of them quite severe. While some of these grievances and the problems they create may require real concessions from the West, others may require a truly forceful, even violent military response instead.

4. Above all, President Obama should do no harm. Although this is a Medical School takeaway, not a law school one, it is worth mentioning in conclusion. The law of unintended consequences suggests that any time anyone adjusts a complex system, the results may be surprising. In this instance, we suspect that President Obama and the rest of the world would find the results of this stare-down with Israel disappointing as well.

I’ll take exception to the authors’ objection to the use of the phrase “radical Islam” (although they aptly note that Obama’s aversion to descriptions of our enemies amounts to foolish denial). However, they get to the root of Obama’s error in dealing with the Palestinian problem: he’s not operating in the real world. It’s no accident his Cairo speech zipped past 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism or that he avoids talking about Israel’s multiple offers of a Palestinian state — these are unpleasant facts at odds with his linkages and that suggest he is, at best, doing nothing productive and, at worst, making things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that this is the “ideology is so yesterday” crowd. In fact, “ideology” in the worst sense of the word — and as the Obami intend it, as a dig at George W. Bush — is the insistence on seeing the world through dogmatic blinders, impervious to facts and reason. It is precisely what Obama is all about when it comes to the U.S.-Palestinian conflict and why he is dangerously not following the most important bit of advice — “do no harm.”

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Poll: An Overwhelming Majority of Jews Don’t Back Obama’s Israel Policy

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

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Blindness to the Real Syrian Problem

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

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How the West’s Silence Undermines Its Mideast Policy

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

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Containment Has Its Own Costs

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

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Containment Is Coming

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

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Immigration Reform — Really? No.

It is hard to take this seriously:

Democratic leaders in Congress have agreed to try to pass immigration legislation this year, placing the explosive issue ahead of an energy bill on their agenda and upending conventional wisdom that it was dead for now.

Democrats hope the measure will quell frustration among Hispanic voters at inaction on immigration in advance of the fall elections, where those voters could be crucial in many races. A comprehensive bill would include a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally, a priority for immigrant advocates but something opponents deride as amnesty.

There are many reasons why this seems implausible. There’s no time to draft and pass a mammoth piece of legislation from scratch, especially with a Supreme Court nomination pending. It’s very controversial, especially with organized labor. It didn’t pass last time, and it’s not clear there is a ground swell of support for it now. So what’s going on?

Well, for one thing, it’s an excuse to not doing anything on cap-and-trade, for which there is no Senate filibuster-proof majority. (There may not even be a simple majority.) So this gets cap-and-trade off the table without admitting yet another item on the Democratic wish list is unpassable. Second, it is a sop to Hispanic advocates, whom the Democrats figure can be mollified in much the same way as gay rights advocates are with distant promises for retraction of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the strategy is to start the process and tell them the Democrats are working on it.

Therefore, I wouldn’t expect to see an immigration bill pass in either the House or Senate anytime soon. But elevating that to the next priority is another indication that the Democrats have run out of things they can jam through Congress. For that, we can be grateful.

It is hard to take this seriously:

Democratic leaders in Congress have agreed to try to pass immigration legislation this year, placing the explosive issue ahead of an energy bill on their agenda and upending conventional wisdom that it was dead for now.

Democrats hope the measure will quell frustration among Hispanic voters at inaction on immigration in advance of the fall elections, where those voters could be crucial in many races. A comprehensive bill would include a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally, a priority for immigrant advocates but something opponents deride as amnesty.

There are many reasons why this seems implausible. There’s no time to draft and pass a mammoth piece of legislation from scratch, especially with a Supreme Court nomination pending. It’s very controversial, especially with organized labor. It didn’t pass last time, and it’s not clear there is a ground swell of support for it now. So what’s going on?

Well, for one thing, it’s an excuse to not doing anything on cap-and-trade, for which there is no Senate filibuster-proof majority. (There may not even be a simple majority.) So this gets cap-and-trade off the table without admitting yet another item on the Democratic wish list is unpassable. Second, it is a sop to Hispanic advocates, whom the Democrats figure can be mollified in much the same way as gay rights advocates are with distant promises for retraction of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the strategy is to start the process and tell them the Democrats are working on it.

Therefore, I wouldn’t expect to see an immigration bill pass in either the House or Senate anytime soon. But elevating that to the next priority is another indication that the Democrats have run out of things they can jam through Congress. For that, we can be grateful.

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Bibi Tells Obama “Officially”: No Jerusalem Housing Freeze

According to the AP, Bibi has told Obama — “officially” — to forget his Jerusalem housing freeze:

Aides to Israel’s prime minister said Thursday that he has officially rejected President Barack Obama’s demand to suspend all construction in contested east Jerusalem, a move that threatens to entrench a year-old deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

The aides said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his government’s position to Obama over the weekend, ahead of the scheduled arrival later Thursday of the U.S. president’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.

This report suggests that Bibi may have offered some other “confidence building gestures.” (“The release of some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails; the easing of the flow of goods into the Gaza strip, and the removal of more roadblocks in the West Bank.”) And of course the Palestinians are threatening to walk from the proximity talks, having been served up a ready-made excuse by the Obami.

The players all continue the useless charade. The Palestinians claim outrage. Israel will be pressured to cough up more concessions. And for what? To lure the Palestinians back to “proximity” talks — where precisely nothing productive will be accomplished. This is what passes for smart diplomacy. It is hard even for the most die-hard peace processors to pretend this is doing anything but aggravating all sides and straining U.S.-Israeli relations to the breaking point.

What is most notable in the reports is this nugget:

U.S. officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been communicating much of its position through the White House’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, at times bypassing the Obama administration’s special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell.

That decision has been interpreted by some in the administration as an attempt to sideline Mr. Mitchell in favor of Mr. Ross, who has advocated U.S. cooperation with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than confrontation. Mr. Ross has publicly taken positions in line with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, particularly the centrality of stopping Iran’s nuclear program as a means to underpin Mideast peace efforts.

That tells you all you need to know about Israel’s confidence in Mitchell and the prospects for the proximity talks.

According to the AP, Bibi has told Obama — “officially” — to forget his Jerusalem housing freeze:

Aides to Israel’s prime minister said Thursday that he has officially rejected President Barack Obama’s demand to suspend all construction in contested east Jerusalem, a move that threatens to entrench a year-old deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

The aides said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his government’s position to Obama over the weekend, ahead of the scheduled arrival later Thursday of the U.S. president’s special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell.

This report suggests that Bibi may have offered some other “confidence building gestures.” (“The release of some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails; the easing of the flow of goods into the Gaza strip, and the removal of more roadblocks in the West Bank.”) And of course the Palestinians are threatening to walk from the proximity talks, having been served up a ready-made excuse by the Obami.

The players all continue the useless charade. The Palestinians claim outrage. Israel will be pressured to cough up more concessions. And for what? To lure the Palestinians back to “proximity” talks — where precisely nothing productive will be accomplished. This is what passes for smart diplomacy. It is hard even for the most die-hard peace processors to pretend this is doing anything but aggravating all sides and straining U.S.-Israeli relations to the breaking point.

What is most notable in the reports is this nugget:

U.S. officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been communicating much of its position through the White House’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, at times bypassing the Obama administration’s special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell.

That decision has been interpreted by some in the administration as an attempt to sideline Mr. Mitchell in favor of Mr. Ross, who has advocated U.S. cooperation with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than confrontation. Mr. Ross has publicly taken positions in line with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, particularly the centrality of stopping Iran’s nuclear program as a means to underpin Mideast peace efforts.

That tells you all you need to know about Israel’s confidence in Mitchell and the prospects for the proximity talks.

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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Christie Targets Public-Employee Unions

George Will, like a lot of us, is impressed with Chris Christie. He won the gubernatorial race in one of the Bluest states and is now governing like a tough fiscal conservative. Will explains:

He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year’s projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state’s $29.3 billion budget, the nation’s worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic — “Tax the rich!” — that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the “millionaire’s tax,” which hit “millionaires” earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealth as “the rich,” including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had “raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone.”

So he closed the $2.2 billion gap by accepting 375 of 378 suggested spending freezes and cuts. In two weeks. By executive actions. In eight weeks he cut $13 billion — $232 million a day, $9 million an hour. Now comes the hard part.

But that’s not going to get New Jersey back to fiscal sanity. So Christie is going after public-employee unions’ gold-plated benefits:

Government employees’ health benefits are, he says, “41 percent more expensive” than those of the average Fortune 500 company. Without changes in current law, “spending will have increased 322 percent in 20 years — over 16 percent a year.” There is, he says, a connection between the state’s being No. 1 in total tax burden and being No. 1 in the proportion of college students who, after graduating, leave the state.

Partly to pay for teachers’ benefits — most contribute nothing to pay for their health insurance — property taxes have increased 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual increases.

In the past, the “solution” to all this was to raise taxes, which created an exodus of the “rich” and small businesses to neighboring states. But Christie is taking a page from another northeastern Republican (and another former federal prosecutor) who when he came into office was told he had to raise taxes, but proceeded to show that budget discipline and tax cuts could revive the greatest of American cities. Rudy Giuliani became a conservative rock star and New York came roaring back. If Christie pulls this off, he will not only elevate himself to the top tier of Republican politicians; he will also point the way to taming state budgets (California, are you paying attention?). As Will notes:

In the state that has the nation’s fourth-highest percentage (66) of public employees who are unionized, he has joined the struggle that will dominate the nation’s domestic policymaking in this decade — to break the ruinous collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers whose affections the officials purchase with taxpayers’ money.

No wonder labor leaders are going berserk. If Christie wins, Big Labor will get its comeuppance, New Jersey will prosper, and once again liberal governance will be replaced by something better — responsible fiscal conservatism.

George Will, like a lot of us, is impressed with Chris Christie. He won the gubernatorial race in one of the Bluest states and is now governing like a tough fiscal conservative. Will explains:

He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year’s projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state’s $29.3 billion budget, the nation’s worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic — “Tax the rich!” — that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the “millionaire’s tax,” which hit “millionaires” earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealth as “the rich,” including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had “raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone.”

So he closed the $2.2 billion gap by accepting 375 of 378 suggested spending freezes and cuts. In two weeks. By executive actions. In eight weeks he cut $13 billion — $232 million a day, $9 million an hour. Now comes the hard part.

But that’s not going to get New Jersey back to fiscal sanity. So Christie is going after public-employee unions’ gold-plated benefits:

Government employees’ health benefits are, he says, “41 percent more expensive” than those of the average Fortune 500 company. Without changes in current law, “spending will have increased 322 percent in 20 years — over 16 percent a year.” There is, he says, a connection between the state’s being No. 1 in total tax burden and being No. 1 in the proportion of college students who, after graduating, leave the state.

Partly to pay for teachers’ benefits — most contribute nothing to pay for their health insurance — property taxes have increased 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual increases.

In the past, the “solution” to all this was to raise taxes, which created an exodus of the “rich” and small businesses to neighboring states. But Christie is taking a page from another northeastern Republican (and another former federal prosecutor) who when he came into office was told he had to raise taxes, but proceeded to show that budget discipline and tax cuts could revive the greatest of American cities. Rudy Giuliani became a conservative rock star and New York came roaring back. If Christie pulls this off, he will not only elevate himself to the top tier of Republican politicians; he will also point the way to taming state budgets (California, are you paying attention?). As Will notes:

In the state that has the nation’s fourth-highest percentage (66) of public employees who are unionized, he has joined the struggle that will dominate the nation’s domestic policymaking in this decade — to break the ruinous collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers whose affections the officials purchase with taxpayers’ money.

No wonder labor leaders are going berserk. If Christie wins, Big Labor will get its comeuppance, New Jersey will prosper, and once again liberal governance will be replaced by something better — responsible fiscal conservatism.

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Litmus Tests for Supreme Court Nominees

One wonders how politicians are able to say, with conviction and solemnity, the most absurd things, which no one listening takes seriously. Obama has let loose with some doozies. He told us he didn’t want to take over the car companies. And he told us he didn’t like spending so much money on government. But when he says there is “no litmus test” for abortion when selecting his Supreme Court nominee, one is tempted to holler, “Enough!” Puhleez.

There is no issue more dearly embraced by the Democratic party than legalized abortion on demand and no greater fear — contrived or sincere — than of losing the judicial monopoly on the issue and — heavens! — be left to the mercy of voters to decide this issue of public policy. There is no Democratic president who won’t make absolutely certain that his nominee will doggedly defend the current abortion jurisprudence. Indeed, Obama couldn’t help but give away the game:

Obama said his nominee would be someone who interprets “our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights.”

“And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me,” Obama said. …

On abortion, Obama said that he is “somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

But no “litmus test,” he hastened to add. We are not supposed to ask judges to predetermine matters. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg took this to absurd lengths and set a tradition of saying nothing much of interest during her confirmation hearings (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). So no president will ask and no judge should answer whether she’d uphold Roe v. Wade. The president doesn’t need to. The era of stealth Supreme Court candidates is over, and each potential Obama nominee certainly will be one inclined to roam through the constitutional terrain spotting rights and finding penumbras that neatly fit the political agenda of the Left. It is “living Constitution” time once again. There’s not a single judge with that jurisprudential inclination who isn’t going to find a constitutional right to abortion and consider the matter “settled.”

So feel free to laugh when the president says “no litmus test.” When the cameras leave, I am sure he does too.

One wonders how politicians are able to say, with conviction and solemnity, the most absurd things, which no one listening takes seriously. Obama has let loose with some doozies. He told us he didn’t want to take over the car companies. And he told us he didn’t like spending so much money on government. But when he says there is “no litmus test” for abortion when selecting his Supreme Court nominee, one is tempted to holler, “Enough!” Puhleez.

There is no issue more dearly embraced by the Democratic party than legalized abortion on demand and no greater fear — contrived or sincere — than of losing the judicial monopoly on the issue and — heavens! — be left to the mercy of voters to decide this issue of public policy. There is no Democratic president who won’t make absolutely certain that his nominee will doggedly defend the current abortion jurisprudence. Indeed, Obama couldn’t help but give away the game:

Obama said his nominee would be someone who interprets “our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights.”

“And that’s going to be something that’s very important to me,” Obama said. …

On abortion, Obama said that he is “somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

But no “litmus test,” he hastened to add. We are not supposed to ask judges to predetermine matters. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg took this to absurd lengths and set a tradition of saying nothing much of interest during her confirmation hearings (“no hints, no forecasts, no previews”). So no president will ask and no judge should answer whether she’d uphold Roe v. Wade. The president doesn’t need to. The era of stealth Supreme Court candidates is over, and each potential Obama nominee certainly will be one inclined to roam through the constitutional terrain spotting rights and finding penumbras that neatly fit the political agenda of the Left. It is “living Constitution” time once again. There’s not a single judge with that jurisprudential inclination who isn’t going to find a constitutional right to abortion and consider the matter “settled.”

So feel free to laugh when the president says “no litmus test.” When the cameras leave, I am sure he does too.

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No Human Rights Atrocity Too Awful for the Obami to Ignore

Fox News reports:

Seventeen members of Congress are pressing the State Department to act on the “grim reality” faced by Coptic Christian women in Egypt, who frequently are coerced into violent forced marriages that leave them victim to rape and captive slavery.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote on April 16 to Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who heads up American efforts to thwart human trafficking around the globe.

In their letter, they exhort the State Department to confront the “criminal phenomenon” of forced marriage they say is on the rise in Egypt, where the 7 million Coptic Christians often face criminal prosecution and civic violence for their rejection of Islam.

“I think it is about as bad as it can be” for Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who penned the letter. “It is very tough to be a Coptic Christian. … Keep in mind that we have given Egypt about $53 billion since Camp David” — the 1978 peace accords between Israel and Egypt that were arranged by the U.S. government — “so we’re actually funding them,” Wolf said.

We’ve come to expect very little from the Obami on human rights, and absolutely nothing when it comes to the protection of religious freedom. One suspects that slothful difference is at work here, as the Fox report explains:

The State Department’s 2009 report on trafficking singled out Egypt for its Level II Watchlist, noting that the government made only “minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons” last year.

But while it notes the plight of Sudanese women and others in bondage in Egypt, it does not mention Copts once — nor does the report mention Christians anywhere in its 324 pages.

A State Department spokesman said that violations of religious rights are covered in the annual reports of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. But the most recent report from the commission made no mention of forced marriages or forced conversions targeting Copts in Egypt.

Wolf is not optimistic that the Obami will leap into action. (“‘I expect the State Department to do nothing,’ he said, ‘because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.’”) Indeed, the Obama administration has been nothing if not consistent in its disdain for human rights and unwillingness to rattle the despotic regimes of the “Muslim World.” It remains unclear how it is that we’re going to win the hearts and minds of the people in those countries and wean them from the temptation of  Islamic fundamentalism when we are so reticent in the defense of our own values.

Fox News reports:

Seventeen members of Congress are pressing the State Department to act on the “grim reality” faced by Coptic Christian women in Egypt, who frequently are coerced into violent forced marriages that leave them victim to rape and captive slavery.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote on April 16 to Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who heads up American efforts to thwart human trafficking around the globe.

In their letter, they exhort the State Department to confront the “criminal phenomenon” of forced marriage they say is on the rise in Egypt, where the 7 million Coptic Christians often face criminal prosecution and civic violence for their rejection of Islam.

“I think it is about as bad as it can be” for Copts and other religious minorities in Egypt, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who penned the letter. “It is very tough to be a Coptic Christian. … Keep in mind that we have given Egypt about $53 billion since Camp David” — the 1978 peace accords between Israel and Egypt that were arranged by the U.S. government — “so we’re actually funding them,” Wolf said.

We’ve come to expect very little from the Obami on human rights, and absolutely nothing when it comes to the protection of religious freedom. One suspects that slothful difference is at work here, as the Fox report explains:

The State Department’s 2009 report on trafficking singled out Egypt for its Level II Watchlist, noting that the government made only “minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons” last year.

But while it notes the plight of Sudanese women and others in bondage in Egypt, it does not mention Copts once — nor does the report mention Christians anywhere in its 324 pages.

A State Department spokesman said that violations of religious rights are covered in the annual reports of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. But the most recent report from the commission made no mention of forced marriages or forced conversions targeting Copts in Egypt.

Wolf is not optimistic that the Obami will leap into action. (“‘I expect the State Department to do nothing,’ he said, ‘because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.’”) Indeed, the Obama administration has been nothing if not consistent in its disdain for human rights and unwillingness to rattle the despotic regimes of the “Muslim World.” It remains unclear how it is that we’re going to win the hearts and minds of the people in those countries and wean them from the temptation of  Islamic fundamentalism when we are so reticent in the defense of our own values.

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Obama Drops His Game Face: The VAT Is Back

Obama really can’t conceal his fascination with a VAT. The AP reports:

President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, “I want to get a better picture of what our options are.”

After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution that calls the such a tax “a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.”

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.

“I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn’t something that the president had under consideration,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.

OK, so it’s back on the table, now? No, no. Not at all. “After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is ‘not considering’ a VAT.” You wonder how they do this with a straight face. And you wonder whether Obama cares at all about the number of Democratic losses this November. He forces through a hugely unpopular health-care bill with a bevy of new taxes (including taxes on those making less than $200,000), he’s made clear he wants the Bush tax cuts repealed, and now he holds out the prospect of a VAT. Apparently, he is determined to hand the tax issue back to the Republicans. I suspect this interview may pop up in a few campaign ads this fall.

Obama really can’t conceal his fascination with a VAT. The AP reports:

President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, “I want to get a better picture of what our options are.”

After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution that calls the such a tax “a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.”

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.

“I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn’t something that the president had under consideration,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.

OK, so it’s back on the table, now? No, no. Not at all. “After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is ‘not considering’ a VAT.” You wonder how they do this with a straight face. And you wonder whether Obama cares at all about the number of Democratic losses this November. He forces through a hugely unpopular health-care bill with a bevy of new taxes (including taxes on those making less than $200,000), he’s made clear he wants the Bush tax cuts repealed, and now he holds out the prospect of a VAT. Apparently, he is determined to hand the tax issue back to the Republicans. I suspect this interview may pop up in a few campaign ads this fall.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

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